I like makers. I find people who build or create things endlessly fascinating. In Lord of the Rings, I really wanted to learn more about those who made the Rings of Power more than anything. It’s probably why I enjoy the glass blowers and blacksmiths at Ren faires so damned much.
So it’s no surprise—to me, anyway—that I chose to write something called The Spellmason Chronicles, where sculpture and magic meet.
In book one, Alchemystic, I wrote about one woman’s discovery of her family’s secret history. Spellmasonry runs in the Belarus family—an ancient alchemical and arcane practice of creating creatures of living stone: gargoyles, or as they prefer to be called, grotesques. In the recently released follow-up, Stonecast, I further explore what it means to be a maker of such things—the responsibilities and burdens it creates in a modern Manhattan that may not be ready to handle winged stone golems that fly in the night.
But I realized that it’s not just my curiosity over makers and creators that set me on the path to writing this particular series. I’ve always had an obsession with creatures made of stone, or at the very least—as with my gargoyles when the sun comes up—petrification.
With that on my mind, I thought I’d share with you some of the more memorable stone creatures of fantasy that helped form me into the twisted little gargoyle scribbler you see here today.
Having Tolkien read to me is one of my best childhood memories, in particular when Bilbo is saved from the stone trolls Bert, Tom and William when the dawning light of day hits them. Even way back then I was touched by the idea of daylight transforming these otherwise powerful creatures into nothing more than statues. And in the LEGO Lord of the Rings video game, one of my favorite things to do is run to the Trollshaws and check out their frozen forms.
Just don’t tell the Tolkien estate I cribbed from them, as they are fairly litigious.
Dungeons & Dragons
I played a lot of games as a kid, but when D&D was introduced to me by the new kid in school, it blew my friggin’ mind. No board or pieces, just maps, storytelling imagination and miniatures if you wanted them.
It had to be ’79 or ’80, but as I was ten, I was prone to falling into every kind of trap and calamity the game had to throw at me. Stone based monsters and spells? Yep. There was the basilisk who turned me to stone, and the Beholder eye stalks that did, too. Then there were the actual stone golems we had to fight… you can bet as soon as I smartened up I had every mage in the campaign learning both Flesh to Stone and its counter, Stone to Flesh. Not original spell names, I know, but regardless, they worked!
I’m not sure exactly when I first read or heard about Medusa, but I remember the time she scared the bejesus out of me. 1981, in the movie theater. I was eleven and the original—and in my opinion only—Clash of the Titans had come out. As Perseus skulks through her lair, you can see the horrifying results of other people and creatures she’s turned to stone. She’s so badass that even after Perseus has taken her head, she still had the power to turn the Kraken to stone. Lesson to be had? You do not effing mess with the Medusa!
Also, I’m a sucker for those stop motion Ray Harryhausen monster effects.
The Empire Strikes Back
Okay, look, I know it’s not stone, per say, but I’m going to include Han Solo being dipped in Carbonite here. Why? Because it made me claustrophobic, and anything that can do that merits a slot on my list of petrifications, dammit! The idea of being put into stasis like that, and then spending an indeterminate length of time mounted on the wall as a trophy for Jabba… shudder. No, thanks. I even hate watching Han go through the shakes coming out of it. That’s how I feel inside when imagining being petrified like that. *shiver* Let’s move on, shall we?
Speaking once more of litigious estates….
There is no truth to the rumor that The Spellmason Chronicles is merely fan-fiction of Gargoyles. I swear I only got into the show because both Commander Riker and Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation were both doing voices on it… and with that statement, the last drop I had of manliness just shriveled up and left the building!
Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I am a fan of gargoyles inhabiting a modern day Manhattan…
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
As a kid, I never realized that some of the contents of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, might be based on pre-established mythos. And it wasn’t until I read Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon that I even knew about the Jewish mythological creature known as The Golem of Prague. The idea of a savior of the people who had been formed into a living clay creature centuries ago was fascinating, and not only did it feature in the Superman inspired tones of Chabon’s work, there was a real history behind this mythos-rich tale.
Looking over all the creatures that have secretly crept into my psyche over the years, it’s no wonder that I created the gargoyle-y world of The Spellmason Chronicles.
Yet I think, ultimately, Kavalier & Clay hits closest to why I ended up writing what I write. If I consider it closely, my main gargoyle Stanis seems cut from the same cloth as the Golem of Prague, serving as a centuries long protector of the people in much the same capacity.
Hmmm.. maybe I write Kavalier & Clay fan-fic…?
If you have fascinations like mine with makers and magic, then perhaps Spellmasonry is the arcane art for you. My humble thanks in advance if you give the world I’ve created a try.
Now go get stoned!
Anton Strout is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and the Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books; he is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. Stonecast, the second book in the Spellmason Chronicles, publishes on September 24. His latest project is The Once & Future Podcast, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format.