Friday, November 9, 2012

Hippogriffs, Harry Potter and Warrior Maidens

The inspiration for my novel Quest of the Warrior Maiden was due to my previous obsession with the Harry Potter series.  No really, it was.

I spent several years re-reading and studying the series before it was complete.  I formulated theories and shared them online with other likewise obsessed fans.  I wrote fanfiction fleshing out my wacky theories as to where I thought things might go in the fifth year. I was also drawn into speculating about the significance of romance in the series. I became convinced that it was not just an amusing subplot, but that the Power of Love was integral to the resolution of the storyline. I became drawn into the shipping debates.

"Shipping" is a slang term used when fans advocate for romantic relationships of characters in a series. I believe the term dates back to the original Star Trek series days when fans wrote their own stories about Spock, Captain Kirk, etc.

As I debated ship in the online debates, I became a notorious defender of the Harry/Hermione (H/Hr ship) with my numerous and lengthy (!) essays. I was even a participant in the only live ship debate held at a Harry Potter symposium in Orlando, Florida back in 2003.
One of the theories floated by my H/Hr shipmates was the idea that hippogriffs were a symbol of love.  (A hippogriff is a mythical creature who is the offspring of a griffin mating with a mare and so the front portion is of an eagle with wings and the back is of a horse.) Some of my shipmates suggested that Harry and Hermione flying alone together on the back of a hippogriff indicated a strong symbolic image of a future romantic pairing.

I decided to follow up on that possibility and read the epic poem Orlando furioso since it was the first time in literature a hippogriff was used as a character.  I doubt that I would ever have read Orlando furioso had I not participated in the online Harry Potter fandom debates.

I had no real expectations when I began reading this classic, but largely forgotten poem.  I discovered a sprawling tale with an immense cast of characters and multiple interweaving plotlines.  Think of it as a medieval fantasy of swords and sorcery set against a backdrop of a holy war between Muslim and Christian forces in the time of Charlemagne.  The poet engaged his audience with one intense duel between famed warriors and then stopped at an exciting part to then pick up where he left off on a different storyline that had been previously paused with something like, "Let us leave Rinaldo and Gradasso's fight here and go back to Orlando who when we last saw him was battling..."

My first attempt at reading this poem was using a public domain version that can be found online for free and translated by William Stewart Rose.  I found the nineteenth century language to be stiff and difficult to follow.  That's being kind, I found it confusing and I became easily lost.  I found the story much easier to understand once I got my hands on the Penguin Classics version translated by Barbara Reynolds.
Reading her translation, I became immersed in a Medieval world of knights.  I was captivated by the love story of the kick-ass heroine Bradamante and the virtuous knight Ruggiero.  I skimmed storylines featuring other characters and anxiously awaited the return of the Bradamante and Ruggiero plotline.

My original intent of reading Orlando furioso was to see the usage of the hippogriff in context and I recognized that this mythical creature symbolized the impossible love between Bradamante and Ruggiero. 

Bradamante is the niece of Charlemagne and Ruggiero is a Saracen warrior descended from Hector of Troy.  They are both respected warriors, but theirs is an impossible love since they sworn to serve opposing leaders in the midst of a holy war.

Hippogriffs are the personification of impossible love.  The first mention of a hippogriff dates back to Virgil's Eclogues where it is mentioned in a few lines in the eighth eclogue:

"soon shall we see mate 
Griffins with mares, and in the coming age 
Shy deer and hounds together come to drink." 
Here is the pertinent background legend:  Griffins were known as fierce protectors of gold and avengers of evil.  The legendary one-eyed Arimaspi rode on horseback while raiding gold guarded by griffins which was the source of the long standing enmity between griffins and horses.  Hippogriffs are the offspring of the impossible love between griffins and mares.

Bradamante is a fierce warrior maid who has the difficult task of maintaining her reputation and honor while at the same time rescuing her beloved who is being held prisoner.  That's right, the maiden rescues a knight who is locked away in a castle.

I loved that reversal in plot conventions and was impressed that literature included such a powerful female character.  That this story featuring such a strong female was written centuries ago by a man impressed me even more.

There were many powerful obstacles to Bradamante and Ruggiero's ultimate union.  I remember being overcome by emotion when I read one of the ending passages of this poem where Ruggiero was willing to die out of love for Bradamante.  I was reading this on my lunch break, and crying on the patio.

Upon finishing the story, I wondered why I had never heard of Bradamante and Ruggiero before.  I felt this literary couple deserved to be as well known as Tristan and Isolde or Arthur and Guinevere.  

After publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the online interview that dispelled all doubt as to JKR's planned romantic pairings, I was disinterested in continuing my same level of active participation with the HP fandom.  I needed a new writing project and it was then that I remembered my desire to see the Bradamante/Ruggiero love story reach a larger audience and became inspired to adapt this classic work.  That was the genesis for the writing of my novel.

I began reading extensively about Medieval history and Charlemagne. To further my research, I traveled to France to see the settings of my story and discovered real life magic in the Midi Pyrenees region. I scoured many museums, trekked hilltop villages and castle ruins.  My novel became infused with detail that I could only learn from being there in person.

Quest of the Warrior Maiden is the first book in the Bradamante and Ruggiero two volume series.  So for those who enjoy epic historic fantasy, please consider reading this saga of chivalry, secret romances, betrayal, revenge and magic.