The most recent book by Garth Nix, Clariel, has been released, and with came a fast re-reading of all of his other Abhorsen series: I missed Sabriel and Lirael, and I needed to read it all again! Clariel revists the world of the books: the Old Kingdom, hundreds of years before the events of the Abhorsen trilogy. The last book of the trilogy came out in 2003, and fans have been excitingly waiting for this installment! NPR met up with him and asked three questions all Nix fans need to knows the answers to!
1) What was it like to return to the Old Kingdom, after more than a decade?
Nix: "I guess because I've been constantly thinking about Clariel's story and other stories in the Old Kingdom since writing Sabriel in the early 1990s, it never felt like being away to me. It was just that Clariel's particular story had to get to the head of the queue of stories in my head. That said, once I moved from just thinking about it to actually writing, I did have to go back and re-read the earlier books to make sure that I was properly back in that world. I generally don't like re-reading my books, but enough time had gone by that I could do it with a certain amount of distance."
2) What strikes me about Clariel is how hemmed in she is — at one point, she says "I am a card to be played." Sabriel and Lirael (the heroines of the original trilogy) are both young women who are, essentially, shoved out into the world and left to figure it out for themselves. Clariel might have been better off if someone had just dumped her in the forest and said, we don't know what to do with you, so go live your life.
Nix: "I think she would have been unquestionably better off if left alone to work things out herself. It is the pressure of other people's needs and expectations that hem her in and cut off many of her choices. Clariel tries to make her own way, and makes the best choices she can in the circumstances, or the best choices she knows how to make. I wanted to explore that idea, which I think often happens in real life, of people ending up somewhere they don't want to be despite their best intentions and efforts."
3) Just a general fan question – the idea of bells that control the dead is so fascinating, how did you come up with it?
Nix: "This is kind of a retrospective answer that I've come up with due to lots of readers wanting to know, I think it is probably accurate but it is a reconstruction. Way back when writing Sabriel in 1991 or thereabouts, I knew I wanted her and the Abhorsen family in general to be kind of anti-necromancers, who used necromantic magic — but not for evil and power, but to restore the natural order of things, to make sure the Dead stayed dead. I wanted this magic to be distinctive, not like anything that had gone before, and I was exploring various beliefs in different cultures and through history about how to deal with things coming back from death or evil spirits in general. One prominent example is exorcism "by bell, book and candle." Candles didn't sound too narratively exciting, magic books were all through so many fantasy books, but bells ... bells feel magical anyway. Around the same time, I was reading Dorothy Sayer's excellent murder mystery The Nine Tailors, which features named bells in a church. So I put together the idea of named bells with magic and shortly wrote down Ranna, Mosrael, Kibeth, Dyrim, Belgaer, Saraneth and Astarael, and so the seven bells were born."
For a bonus answer, be sure to visit the article: http://www.npr.org/2014/10/18/357014041/back-across-the-wall-questions-for-garth-nix