|By Henry Neff|
In many ways, my series The Tapestry is a byproduct of all my childhood obsessions. As the son of art historians, I was constantly exposed to weird images (Bosch anyone?), books on mythology, and parents who encouraged me to explore my creativity. Given my upbringing, there were innumerable influences, but looking back, I’d say my biggest influences were Tolkien, D&D, and Frank Herbert.
Riddles in the Dark…There and Back Again…The Old Forest…. No fantasy geek can hear these phrases without almost smelling Gandalf’s pipe smoke or hearing the patter of hobbit feet stealing across Middle Earth. They are simply iconic; worn and weathered touchstones for any fan of the genre, and I still remember my terror of Gollum or listening to the BBC radio production of The Lord of the Rings and the awful wail of the Black Riders as Frodo sought to escape the Shire. I have probably read The Lord of the Rings fifty times and still listen to that wonderful old BBC production when I’m working on my illustrations.
For me, Tolkien will always be the undisputed ruler of fantasy – he created a world of such depth and history that we’re all just trying to stand on his shoulders.
In fact, I doubt D&D would have been created without Tolkien to blaze the trail. I think I was nine years old when my brother and I were given the D&D Basic Sets as a Christmas gift. Old school fans will remember those boxed sets and classic modules such as “Keep on the Borderlands” or “Against the Giants”. I have no idea how many hours I spent playing those modules, meticulously drafting my character sheets, or memorizing various rules and statistics, but it must number in the thousands. To this day, I can probably tell you how many hit dice a lich has or where you might stumble upon Count Strahd in Ravenloft. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are setting up the dining room table with all the AD&D books, DM screens, and funky dice as my buddies joined me to tackle some new adventure.
By high school, D&D went by the wayside as I became more interested in sports and girls. I’d like to say that peer pressure had nothing to do with it, but that would be untrue. Like many teens, I wanted to be cool and being cool was not compatible with twenty-sided dice, hobbits, or The Monster Manual. My love of fantasy – the books, games, and character sheets – literally went into the closet.
I’ll credit Frank Herbert for keeping my love of fantasy on life support. During high school and college, I discovered the Dune series and quickly became obsessed with the Atreides, the Harkonnens, and Herbert’s fascinating universe of political rivalries, religious cults, mysticism, and technology. His exploration of politics, economics, and biology were fascinating and challenged my growing understanding of the subjects while injecting just enough fantasy into his stories to nourish my slumbering obsession with magic, myth, and archetypal themes.
After college, I entertained the idea of law school, but ultimately opted for a career in management consulting. If you’re not familiar with consulting, just envision lots of suits and ties and traveling the world as you try to help companies do something better, faster, or cheaper. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do – it was prestigious and you could make lots of money.
But I learned a powerful lesson: you can never suppress your passions. Consulting was fine, but it just wasn’t me – it didn’t permit me use my particular mix of interests and talents. One day when I was howling at the moon, my brother asked me how I’d choose to spend my time if I had all the money in the world. My response was nearly instantaneous: I’d teach high school while writing and illustrating children’s books. Within the year, I walked away from corporate life to teach history and art at a San Francisco high school. That same year, I started writing The Tapestry’s first book, The Hound of Rowan. Once I’d finished the manuscript and dusted off my drawing pens and pencils, I knew I’d made the right decision.
Last week, Random House published The Fiend and the Forge, the third installment in The Tapestry. The book is somewhat bigger than its predecessors – 560 pages with over thirty drawings that I created using old-fashioned dip pens. When I hefted my copy and flipped through the pages, I was strangely moved. Beyond the satisfaction of seeing the final product, I realized that I’d created something that I would have truly loved as a boy. Inside that cover were gods and monsters, heroes and villains, drawings and maps. In short, it contained all the wonderful things that stoked the imagination of a boy in Chicago decades ago. I’m just glad I had the good sense to look him up after all these years.
Now, if I can just track down that twenty-sided die….
Henry H. Neff is an author-illustrator who weaves together fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and folklore. The results are spellbinding tales with an unforgettable cast of characters and an unmatched sense of wonder and suspense. A former consultant from the Chicago area, Henry H. Neff teaches history and fine arts at a San Francisco high school. This week as part of a blog tour, Henry is also writing guest posts at Random Acts of Reading and Shurtugal. Click HERE for Henry’s official author site or HERE for more information about the Tapestry series.