Edge Chronicles and Muddle Earth creators Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell talk us through thumb-sucking vampires and Winnie the Pooh
When the idea for Muddle Earth first occurred to us, we were not intending to write a parody at all. We just wanted to write a funny book, something irreverent and comic, as a spot of light relief from the rigours of serious fantasy. We were in the middle of working on an eleven-book series called the Edge Chronicles. The title we came up with made us smile. It was an obvious play on Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’, and like Middle Earth, our world was populated with elves, dragons, goblins, barbarians, ogres and trolls – though not of the usual kind, which is when the real fun began.
Our influences were A.A. Milne and Monty Python. A.A. Milne’s Once on a Time is a spoof fairy tale purportedly rewritten by Milne from the writings of Roger Scurvilegs, a fictional historian. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a wonderfully funny take on the legend of King Arthur. Both book and film share an obvious affection for their source material, which is used as a springboard into freewheeling storytelling and that results in something that is so much more than a simple parody.
In Muddle Earth and its sequel, Muddle Earth Too, we used some of our favourite fantasy novels, both classic and contemporary, as our starting point. If, in the first book, our main influence was Lord of the Rings, then in Muddle Earth Too, we have thrown The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, Mortal Engines and Twilight into the mix. Along the way, we’ve also managed to fit in a bit of Norse mythology (the Gods of Cake-Baking); Arabian Nights (a flying stair-carpet) and Shakespeare (the fairy king and queen, Ron and Tania). Muddle Earth Too is not a focused parody like Bored of the Rings or Barry Trotter, but rather, an attempt to tell a broader story that is engaging, inventive and, most of all, funny.
To achieve this, in Muddle Earth Too, we sat at a computer in a small, airless study, taking turns to type and delete each other’s attempts at silliness, drinking endless cups of coffee and generally muddling through. Many plot twists and mugs of Colombian Fair Trade later, we discovered that our characters seemed to have taken on a life of their own, and our job became to follow where they led. We found the Horned Baron in the throes of marital difficulties, learned of an internet witch’s unfortunate christening curse, and experienced the frustrations of life as a tree giant with a beetle infestation. Once the writing was done, we set about the illustrations – lots of them, liberally sprinkled throughout the book – in the best children’s book tradition; just like Alice in Wonderland and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
While the shelves of our bookshops may be stacked with dark romance, epic quests and serious sagas about games involving thrones, which thrill and enchant the avid reader of fantasy, we like to think there is a little corner left for the sort of books in which elves are tiny, fairies are toxic and warrior heroes are 12-year-old schoolboys. Far from the all-seeing eye of the dark lord, Sauron (that’s the children’s book buyer at Waterstone’s to you and me) lies a far-off enchanted place where it is ok to have a jolly good laugh - at least that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!
Muddle Earth Too (Macmillan) by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell is out tomorrow.