Earlier this month I reviewed Gwenda Bond’s young adult thriller Woken Gods. Whilst not completely convinced by the novel as a whole, I became fixated with its central premise. – What would happen if the Gods from mythology really walked the Earth? Gwenda kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.
1) The Gods that feature heavily in the book are quite obscure. Was this a deliberate choice? To use Enki and Legba, rather than say Hermes and Loki.
It absolutely was a deliberate choice. While I wanted there to be some gods and pantheons people might be more familiar with–as you mention, Hermes and Loki would be good examples of that, and both are in the book–I also very much wanted to mix things up and include some gods and pantheons that are not among the usual suspects that turn up routinely in fiction. The vast body of world mythology is filled with rich and fascinating stories and characters, so why not use more of them? I wanted the gods in the book to feel more alien and less familiar on the whole.
2) Which is your favourite mythological God?
I have a problem with favorites! I’m too greedy to pick. Honestly, I don’t have a favorite, but a slew of favorites instead. I will say it was great fun getting to research the Sumerians for the book. I wasn’t overly familiar with them beforehand, and there were lots of interesting alleys and corners (and ziggurats) to explore in that mythology. But I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a mythology I don’t find fascinating or that doesn’t have a god or goddess I’m particularly intrigued by.
3) The book contains almost no reference to modern deities. Considering the pantheistic nature of Hinduism and the importance of Christianity in the US I found this surprising. Why aren’t they referenced more?
Well, the entire premise of the book is that these are the gods of ancient mythology who have awoken. There’s simply no way I could have fit in all the gods or even all the pantheons directly into the confines of this single story–it’s a difficult proposition, writing a world with all the gods. And I very much knew I wanted this to be an urban fantasy set in D.C., but I did not want to imply that the U.S. would be the only place in the world that mattered or a place all the gods would flock to.
Tricksters have always been my overarching favorites among the gods, and given their traditional and special roles in most much of mythology, it made sense to me that they would be the ones that would be willing to play intermediaries with humans, in this world. Even within that subset, however, I obviously couldn’t use every trickster (and also some tricksters are more “culture heroes” than gods, so those were out), and then I picked the seven that seemed most diverse, defined, and right for this book to me. Likewise, the government has shifted elsewhere, and the main political power as far as dealing with the gods is the Society of the Sun–I didn’t want them tied to any one religion either, because that just doesn’t scan to me. And there are semi-spoilery reasons why the Society uses their U.S. HQ as their main base for dealing with the tricksters, rather than their offices in other parts of the world, that have to do with the architecture of D.C.
All that said, there is a relic in the book that’s discussed called the Babel Stone, and its ties to the Judeo-Christian tradition are obvious. I didn’t want to leave it out entirely. But I think it’s important to know what you want to write about and I was not so much interested in exploring religion and religious issues as in mythology and politics.
4) Do you have any plans to show what happened to the Christian church in light of all the other Gods turning up? (You may be able to tell I’ve been thinking a lot about this!)
Not particularly. There are a few places in the book that address religion and worship in this world–and I believe there’s an outright statement that (in Kyra’s view) in a world filled with gods, all the religions are true and none of them are. I think there would be people who would continue to be strong in their faith from before, be it Christianity or any other religion, and lots of others who might worship or pay tribute to a particular other god or gods, or to all of them. I think there would be plenty of cults that would spring up in certain places or that people would embrace apocalyptic traditions in various faiths (like the church member Kyra meets in the book). But we’re also only five years from the gods’ Awakening at the beginning of this book. That’s not a tremendous time for all these things to shake out. While it may have somewhat settled down and into a new normal, this is still a time of tremendous upheaval and a world that is very different not just on a global scale but on a localized one.
5) Why did you decide to write the novel as a YA book? I could see it working really well as a brick sized American Gods style book. I felt I wanted more depth on the history and politics of the Gods, but maybe that’s just me. I’m probably significantly older than most of your readers!
Ha! Well, I’m sorry you wanted more of that than was here–it would have been difficult to justify much more world-building explication on those things when the book’s largely in first-person present POV. As a reader, I tend to like more suggestive world-building that leaves some questions…so that’s the approach I take (though I did try to include everything you need to know to understand this story). I think most fantasy readers tend to fall in one camp or the other, most of the time. And, of course, no book is going to work for everyone.
Anyway, it’s funny, because I was an early reader for American Gods and I do love that book. As I say in the acknowledgements Neil actually is how I first discovered Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World (he recommended it to me), without which I doubt The Woken Gods would exist. But I had no desire to try and rewrite American Gods myself; I had to write the book I had to write. I wanted a world in which the existence of the gods was very much out in the open, and that had undergone a big shift, and I wanted to tell a specific kind of story within it. I write YA because that’s my natural voice, or at least has been for the stories I’ve been drawn to tell so far, and I really wanted this big, strange world to be centered on one girl, who gets pulled into intrigue far beyond what she would think she could ever deal with. Kyra’s story is the most interesting part to me, and fits in with the larger mythological tradition of humans left to grapple with the games of gods.
Many thanks then to Gwenda for some very thorough answers. The more I think about Woken Gods the more captivated by the central idea. There are countless stories to be told. The possibility of writing some fan fiction is tantalising; for example what does the Pope do these days? I think it would also make brilliant source material for a role-playing game. My final question to Gwenda was whether she would welcome Woken Gods fan fiction.
She replied ‘I very much did want to and try to design the world of the book hoping it would feel that way — filled with possibilities and stories — and that people would want to see other corners of it and possibly make up stories themselves. (And so there’d be lots of room to play in it myself.) So, yes, I encourage it. That would be the coolest ever.’
It is very tempting…
Woken Gods is out now, published by Strange Chemistry.