In many ways, Jennifer Garlen’s debut novel, ‘Wierm’s Egg,’ is a tribute to classic fantasy inspired by a mother’s love. The story about the noble she-dragon Sylla that raises an orphaned human boy named Wiermig radiates with all the warmth and compassion of a caring parent.
‘My daughter really loves books about dragons, and I wanted to write something for her,’ Garlen says in an exclusive interview with yeahstub.com on Oct. 21. ‘I also wanted to create a story with a strong, positive mother figure because we see very little of that in fantasy. Sylla, being a dragon, embodies a mother’s strength but also has that dangerous edge to her. She’s not a monster, but she has qualities that make Wiermig afraid of her sometimes, and I think that’s how most children feel about their mothers.’
Released Aug. 23, ‘Wierm’s Egg’ is available at Amazon.com.
A native of the small south Georgia town Jesup, Garlen has lived in Huntsville, Ala., for the past 17 years with her husband of almost 18 years, David Sparks, and their 13-year-old daughter, Cate Sparks. A former English professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where she taught for 14 years as an adjunct, lecturer and visiting assistant professor, Garlen is a classic movie blogger and a founding member of the Tennessee Valley LEGO Club, an adult hobby organization.
When writing ‘Wierm’s Egg,’ Garlen embraced her influences, which include names and titles familiar to fans of classic fantasy. Like J.R.R. Tolkien, Garlen created an entire world rich with history and language.
‘I used to teach ‘The Hobbit’ quite often, and I admire Tolkien’s literary depth as well as his world-building, but I also wanted to create a fantasy world that was more gender-inclusive, with lots of female characters who had fully realized roles to play,’ Garlen says. ‘Peter S. Beagle’s ‘The Last Unicorn’ is also a major influence. I love his poetic language and sly anachronisms and humor. Lord Dunsany’s ‘The King of Elfland’s Daughter’ also had a big impact. Of course, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ and T.H. White’s ‘The Once and Future King’ play critical roles, too. English majors will probably pick up all kinds of literary references and allusions in the book. I couldn’t resist shout-outs to ‘Beowulf,’ fairy tales of all sorts, classic English literature, Arthurian romance and Shakespeare.’
Despite the references and allusions, ‘Wierm’s Egg’ is a surprisingly fresh and original entry into the genre of young adult fantasy.
‘For me, it was important to create a fantasy where might didn’t necessarily win the day,’ Garlen says. ‘Wiermig is a poet, not a warrior. He thinks his way through problems and sees art as a vital part of his world. So much YA literature these days is about fighting and killing, learning to be strong and even relentless. There has to be room for a different model of being, one that values intelligence, creativity and a gentler approach to the world. Hope is so important to ‘Wierm’s Egg.’ Loyalty and friendship matter, too. Stories and songs matter. I wanted young readers to appreciate those things because they’re important to me, too.’
At first glance, Wiermig seems an unlikely choice to try and save the world from Erozur, the evil black dragon that terrorizes the land, but he embodies Garlen’s definition of hero.
‘A hero is a person who uses his or her abilities, whatever they might be, to stand up for what is good,’ Garlen says. ‘Wiermig never has a sword. He’s not a fighter. He more often finds himself in the position of ambassador, storyteller or even willing victim. Three times he has to be still and let bad things happen to him for the greater good – with the hoard spiders, with the princesses and with Erozur. That takes a lot of courage.’
While Wiermig is the main hero of Garlen’s novel, two dragons play heroic roles in molding the young lad – his adopted mother Sylla and her brother Willais. Garlen portrays Sylla as a model mother, firm but fair, concerned and caring. Willais is Wiermig’s mentor, the dragon that takes the boy under his wing and teaches him the ways of the world and prepares him to find the legendary Seeker in the Deep. A magic ring allows Sylla and Willais to assume human form. While Sylla takes the shape of an older, maternal woman, Willais transforms into a mischievous rogue, which he enjoys a little too much at times.
‘I like dragons because they can be so different from story to story, either beautiful and wise or terrible and greedy,’ Garlen says. ‘There has been so much fantasy involving dragons that you would think it had all been done, but dragons are versatile enough to handle a lot of interpretations and revisions. I think my dragons have a lot of personality because they have had centuries to form their natures, while Wiermig is just beginning to form his identity. I admit to having a soft spot for Willais. I love a good rogue, and he ended up being a real scene-stealer.’
During his quest, Wiermig encounters a venerable sage imprisoned by his own magic, wood witches, an obsessed pirate named Captain Jesper Mims … and love. In the final act, a romantic interest for Wiermig appears by the name of Salt, who is referred to as ‘the plain princess’ by the other spoiled princesses in the book.
‘Salt is a different kind of hero, more active in her courage but also less patient,’ Garlen says. ‘She and Wiermig complement each other, but she has her own history, which has to wait for another book.’
Prequels and sequels are in the works as ‘Wierm’s Egg’ is just the first story set in Garlen’s fantasy world of Erishem, which means ‘fire and water’ in her dragon language called Serpentine.
‘There are definitely more stories, with and without Wiermig,’ Garlen says. ‘I have the prequel plotted and the outline for a book that tells Salt’s story. There’s also a sequel, so we’ll get to see what happens with the new City of Sages and Wiermig and Salt’s relationship. I really fell in love with a lot of the characters and want them to have more adventures. It’s a big world, too, with lots of things that have been hinted at but not really seen yet. We certainly haven’t seen the last of the Seeker in the Deep or Captain Jesper Mims.’
Read the 5-star review of ‘Wierm’s Egg’ here.