This is the story on which all later Arthurian tales are based. It has monsters, a sword in a stone, and a rightful King. But unlike other Arthur tales, it has bottomless wells in which monsters swim. In these wells factory owners go fishing, for the monsters burn when exposed to air, and make a powerful fuel, able to melt metal and make stone run like water. The trouble is, the more monsters they catch, the further the land of Lyonesse sinks. It is already far below sea level when Arthur appears on the scene. Can he save his land from drowning?
The Isles of Scilly have always been supposed to be all that remains of the green, wooded lands of Lyonesse. They are a few beautiful crumbs of granite scattered over the turquoise sea thirty miles west of Land’s End, Britain’s most southwestern point. The islands are dotted with prehistoric tombs. At low water, the remnants of cyclopean walls can be seen snaking from island to island along the bottom of the sea. My mother’s family have lived there for six generations. My childhood was full of tales about a sinking of the land that transformed Scilly from a range of mountains into an archipelago, and a world in which people knew how to exchange thoughts with animals – the birds and beasts of Scilly are still remarkably tame.
In the tales, it was not only Scilly that had sunk. In the mid-18th century, fishermen in the Atlantic trawled up window-frames that they assumed came from a drowned village. A petrified forest lurks deep under the sands of Mount’s Bay. Just as it was common knowledge on Scilly that Lyonesse had sunk, it was also common knowledge that Lyonesse had been the home of Arthur, or Idris as he was called. We believed in dragons, monsters, star and stone, and that all actions had consequences. I was born in a room overlooking the body of water from which the sword Excalibur came, and into which it was flung. I grew up with the certainty that Arthur and Tristan and Morgan and the rest of them originated here and in the related French Atlantis of Ys. While Lyonesse has featured as a springboard for the wilder type of fantasy, it has had no real chronicler. I decided that this was something I needed to put right.
In a proper legendary universe Lyonesse cannot sink as a matter of mere geology. It is human wickedness that must cause the inundation, and human virtue that must strive to keep it above water. Idris, I was assured since earliest years, was a good person because he saw that his actions had consequences for others; Murther/Mordred and his monstrous gang were evil because they were interested in the hoggish pursuit of power for its own sake, whatever the consequences for other people. Certainly some readers may find in the story of Lyonesse parallels with the world we live in now.
The battle between the dark and the light lives strongly in my heart. So do the stones and islands of Scilly that are all that remain of the mountains of Lyonesse, and the sun that still shines over Lyonesse, and the gales that still blow there. I visit them often. I am glad that I now have a chance to take you with me.
Book 1, The Well Between the Worlds, was published in spring 2009
Book 2, Darksolstice, is published in spring 2010