Nanaimo author Joshua Gillingham’s debut novel grew out of an obsession.
Gillingham had fallen out of reading fantasy by the time he was a student at the University of Alberta, but once he started hanging out with members of “an academic club for nerds who were really into [Lord of the Rings author J.R.R.] Tolkien” the myths and magic drew him back in.
“They showed me a few different places in the library that contained all sorts of things including Tolkien’s translations of some of the Norse myths and from there I just kind of followed a rabbit hole down,” he said.
Gillingham said his investigation into Scandinavian mythology led him to come up with some ideas of his own and on May 17 he unveils the fruits of that “obsession,” The Gatewatch.
His debut novel, and the first in a trilogy, follows a trio of heroes who are conscripted to become troll hunters and defend their kingdom from the border village of Gatewatch. They soon learn there is a giant who plans to unite the trolls and launch an invasion and must help prepare for the oncoming attack.
The three main characters are inspired by the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Loki and the story includes numerous riddles, which Gillingham said are common in Scandinavian mythology. For the setting, however, Gillingham recalled his family trips to Jasper and Banff national parks.
“I had these characters and I had this story and it was starting to bubble up and unfold but I needed a setting,” he said. “And for me the most awe-inspiring setting I’d experienced myself was the Rocky Mountains.”
During an online book launch on May 17, Gillingham will read from The Gatewatch, answer questions and hold a prize draw for Viking-style tea and mead, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey. He said his Norse fascination is something he questions himself.
“It seems a little irrational,” Gillingham said. “Why am I so drawn to these stories? I mean they’re from a different time, a different culture, a different era.”
He said an interesting detail that sets Norse mythology apart is the fact that the Norse gods, despite their omnipotence, know they will perish at the end of the world. Although they know their fate, those doomed deities “never back down,” Gillingham said.
“I think we as a society can maybe relate with that a little bit in terms of things like environmental disasters … or this whole thing with COVID,” he said. “We feel that sense of doom sometimes and what I appreciate about the Norse myths is that there’s not a sense of giving up.”
The Gatewatch will be available in stores and online on May 17.
WHAT’S ON … The Gatewatch book launch takes place online on May 17 at 11 a.m. Select ‘Join the Launch Party’ to participate.