Behind The Edan Trilogy

by Philip Chase

While wandering the forests and hills behind the log cabin I lived in as a teenager in rural Vermont, I kept an eye out for elves. I blame J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that I found in the trees and the wildlife around me an echo of the sense of connection to something vast and ancient that Tolkien awakened in me through his descriptions of elves and the poignant beauty of Lothlórien. I did not know at the time that others had articulated this sense of wholeness and union resulting from immersion in a made-up world, but it was something I knew I wanted.

For example, in his essay “Epic Fantasy: Necessary Literature,” Stephen Donaldson refers to epic fantasy as “the literature of reintegration.” Tolkien explored a similar concept when he discussed “Escape” and “Consolation” in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” and Ursula Le Guin touched on it in “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie.” All three essays recognize fantasy’s capacity to bestow empowerment, meaning, and a sense of connection to our fellow beings in a world where we often feel powerless, without meaning, and alienated.

Whereas much of modern literature answers the void with an absurdist shrug or a lonely cry of despair, fantasy often insists on being unfashionably determined to carve meaning from existence through defiance and the celebration of wonder. In this way, a fantasy tale can enact the restoration of meaning and dignity by offering a vision of transcending the self – it can confer reintegration. This function of reintegration sometimes appears in other types of literature and, more commonly, in myth and ritual. With the psychic distance it offers through imagined worlds and its embracing of wonder, modern fantasy can serve as a perfect vehicle for it.

Though I could never have articulated it as a twelve-year-old boy finishing The Lord of the Rings for the first time with an ineffable sense of catharsis sweeping over me, I experienced what Donaldson calls reintegration in that moment, and again while reading Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and so many other times in my childhood and into my adulthood, most recently with series like N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy and Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Imparting a sense of transcending the self and the known – and even, in moments, touching the sublime – all these stories wrestle with the ages-old questions: Who and what are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

The Edan Trilogy is my attempt at an affirmative response to those questions, and I hope it might offer a sense of reintegration to my readers. In the process of imagining, writing, and revising it over the last eighteen years, primarily during the summers when I had time off from teaching, I took inspiration from modern fantasy authors as well as individuals much further back in time giving their answers, speaking in voices we recognize across the centuries.

In the Old English poetry I have studied for the better part of my life, especially in Beowulf, the keen awareness of life’s fleetingness gives rise to the determination to create meaning through courage, often in the face of certain doom. The Old Norse sagas likewise portray their characters’ noble struggles against the fate looming over them. Celtic myths and legends respond in a different manner – less stately and more whimsical and colorful, with a poignant sense of beauty. Myths and legends of all sorts, with their unabashed inclusion of monsters, magic, and gods, have offered meaning and purpose to generations of people, and it seems to me that all those storytellers who passed them along were on to something.

Of all the old stories I’ve encountered, however, it might be the myths and the underlying philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism that put me on the path I followed in The Edan Trilogy – that helped me toward the answers I explored to those timeless questions. In Nepal, where I was fortunate enough to live and to which I often return since I married into a Nepali family, Hinduism and Buddhism not only dwell side by side but often blend into one another. In both, one can find emphases on the concept of impermanence on one hand and, on the other hand, the concept of transcendence through the realization of our connection to the life all around us.

These two concepts are not just abstract – they are woven into daily life in Nepal. From greetings between friends that salute the god within one another to the temples and shrines tucked away on nearly every urban street and in every village to the graciousness and reverence with which people host their guests, reminders of transcendence through connection are pervasive. I will never forget returning to Kathmandu from my wife’s family farm during Tihar, the festival of lights, with my head full of bhajans sung during the rituals and stories from The Puranas, The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. As the night bus rounded the hairpin turns in its descent into the valley, the city below glowed with myriad lights like reflections of the stars above, a scene that brought home to me those twin insights of impermanence and connection. Those old insights are not just important. Learning them might be what saves us, if we are indeed savable.

The Edan Trilogy is a dialogue with this conviction in the form of an epic story that is full of sorrow and joy, loss and love, tears and laughter. It is my attempt at offering a journey of reintegration to readers following along with the characters. My hope is that, with a feeling of wonder akin to what a teenaged boy once felt while wandering the forest and thinking of elves, such readers will find in those characters reflections of themselves, their struggles, and their triumphs.