Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Research for The Valley: Researching a World That Never Was, an essay by A. M. Linden

Thanks to author A. M. Linden for contributing an essay on creating a plausible historical world for her new novel, The Valley, second book in her Druid Chronicles series set in the British Isles in the 8th century. The Valley was published by She Writes Press on June 28th.


The Research for The Valley:
Researching a World That Never Was
A. M. Linden

Book 2 of The Druid Chronicles expands on the premise that the remnants of a once powerful pagan cult have survived into the last years of the eighth century, a time when the conversion to Christianity is all but complete throughout the rest of the British Isles. While the other four books of the series are set in fictional but historically based Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Llwddawanden, the valley of the book’s title, is entirely hypothetical—a place I conceived of as a lost world where its inhabitants live according to a system of beliefs dating back to the Iron Age. That said, it was always my intention to make this part of my characters’ story at least plausible, and I began my research with a broad review of the relevant academic and popular literature.

Although Druids do not appear in the historical record after the Roman conquest of the Gauls on the European continent, and the Celts in what is now England, they are described by Julius Caesar and others as members of a priestly class of polytheistic Celts that performed functions as bards, oracles, and healers as well as serving as judges and political advisors. Caesar further reported that becoming a Druid required a training period as long as twenty years. With that to go on, I turned to ethnographic studies of societies with comparable social roles and to the works of folklorists who have recorded and studied epics and folktales from around the world—focusing on creation stories, epic poetry, and folktales conveying cultural mores.

By then I knew that one of The Valley’s underlying issues was to be the internal tensions of a persecuted minority struggling to survive and to pass on deeply held beliefs, and I had settled on the three main protagonists—Herrwn, the shrine’s master bard, Ossiam, their oracle, and Olyrrwd, their physician—who shared a collective responsibility as advisors to the shrine’s chief priestess and as judges on its councils.

Herrwn, the novel’s viewpoint character, had his origins in what I’ve learned about bards as the keepers and transmitters of cultural traditions through oral sagas and poetry, Ossiam is more of a mix, part-shaman, part-trickster, while Olyrrwd has his counterparts in non-western healers as well as in pre-nineteenth-century medical practitioners.

From the first, I intended the series’ major conflict to be between my Druid cult’s devotion to the worship of a supreme mother goddess and the paternalistic monotheism of the Christian world outside their secluded sanctuary. There is documentation of goddesses having a significant role in pre-Christian Celtic religions but, to me at least, their function was not as dominant as I had in mind, so again I looked at the larger literature—ranging from speculation about the paleolithic “Venus” figurines found across the Eurasian continent to the views of modern-day Wiccans—blending what I learned into the theology that would govern life in the imaginary valley of Llwddawanden.


Ann Margaret Linden was born in Seattle, Washington, but grew up on the east coast, returning to the Pacific Northwest as a young adult. She has undergraduate degrees in anthropology and in nursing and a master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. After working in a variety of acute care and community health settings, she took a position in a program for children with special health care needs where her responsibilities included writing a variety of program related materials. In a somewhat whimsical decision to write something for fun, she began what was to be a tongue-in-cheek historical murder mystery involving Druids and early medieval Christians. It wasn’t meant to be long or involved, but the characters seemed to acquire lives of their own and their story grew to become The Druid Chronicles. Prior to her retirement, this remained an after-hours endeavor that included taking adult education creative writing courses and researching early British history, and was augmented with travel to England, Scotland, and Wales. Since then, the insistence of those characters on getting themselves into print has prevailed. Currently completing the final draft of the last book, the author lives with her husband and their cat and dog in the northwest corner of Washington state.

For more information, visit the series website.

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