Author Ross Montgomery's Top Five Books Inspired By British Folklore
Ross says, "When I started writing THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIANS, I had rediscovered the classic books that I read in my childhood: stories filled with mythical and mysterious figures from British folklore. I’ve always loved folktales – British ones have their own unique strain of weirdness (if you don’t know it, look up the Lambton Worm), and there’s something special about hearing stories that have been part of the fabric of the country where you live for centuries.
I wanted to write a story that conjured up that sense of story – a place where brownies and goblins and stalking black dogs would fit right. Here are five examples of books that inspired me, or that helped me on my way!"
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
This book was the first stepping point for me. I took a copy of this book to a circle of trees in Brockwell Park in London, near where I lived, and sat down on a stump and started reading. I was instantly transported to an imaginary world that I thought I had forgotten about – one filled with wizards and sleeping knights and unimaginable evil forces. Those first few mythical pages reminded me how much I loved folk tales – I loved how evil characters were invoked through nature and Grimnir smelling of “foul waters”. It reminded me of stories about creatures like Nuckelavee, Redcap, Black Annis and Jenny Greenteeth – all characters who I was desperate to in include in THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIANS, and some of which I did, but I had to be sparing!
The Dark is Rising
This book was instrumental for me, too – a frankly terrifying story of a boy being pulled into an ancient, mythic battle fought in the land right before us, which we cannot see but whose outcome affects us enormously. The way Cooper summons up the sense of being outside on a winter day is just perfect: special and liberating and sinister and silent all at once. The figure of The Black Rider was a huge inspiration for the character of The Midwinter King in THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIANS – in the first draft, Col was pursued not by the Lord of all Darkness, but by a sort of bounty hunter figure.
The Box of Delights
I went to see Piers Torday’s adaptation of THE BOX OF DELIGHTS at Wilton’s Music Hall back in 2017, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It reminded me exactly of the sort of thing I was trying to do in my own book: chiefly, it reminded me of the legend of Herne the Hunter, who lived and died in (and supposedly still haunts) Windsor Great Park where I grew up. I realised that a huge part of my book was about those stories I’d heard as a child about the park, and this terrifying figure of a man with antlers who some say could still be seen there. He doesn’t feature in the book – but in searching for a similar figures, I remembered The Green Man, who becomes an instrumental part of the plot and world of THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIANS.
PS: I tried to find the oak tree where Herne the Hunter supposedly hanged himself, but it’s now part of Prince Andrew’s private golf course, and the security guard patiently informed me that he would tazer me if I tried to enter.
It wasn’t until I was two drafts into THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIANS that I realised I was missing something vitally important to British folklore – giants! They’re integral to our national stories, particularly English ones. The story goes that Brutus of Troy came to Britannia and fought “the descendants of Albion” – a number of giants that lived in Cornwall – fought one called Gogmagog and defeated him. I love the idea that the inhabitants of Britain used to be enormous, mean smelly giants that kept fighting each other, and gave us the rivers and mountains and stone circles that we know today. It made me think about the giant story that I was raised on – the BFG! Those giant names alone are worth the entry fee: Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, Fleshlumpeater… In THE MIDNIGHT GUARDIANS, there are two giants called Gog and Magog, which is a reference to the two statues that were destroyed in the raid of 28th December 1940 – they’re the protectors of the City of London, and their effigies are still carried in the Lord Mayor’s Show each year.
The Chronicles of Narnia
C S Lewis
Confession time: I haven’t read much Narnia. I remember reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as a child – I did read The Last Battle while doing research for this book, which is fantastically weird and has one of the most jaw-dropping end sequences of any kid’s book I’ve ever read. I *did* however, watch the children’s TV series when it came out, and I think that more than anything it had a huge influence on my impression of how folklore fits into a fantastical quest: the idea that a journey needs its own mythical backstory, and has to feature stops along the way with sanctuary in strangers and friends. Behold, spoiler alerts: the summoning of the dark forces in the ravine by The Midwinter King and the transformation of the Green Man are all pure Aslan-on-the-stone-table.
The Midnight Guardians
Ross's own new book, The Midnight Guardians, is an enchanting, edge-of-your-seat magical adventure set in December 1940 in wintry World War II Britain and follows a boy and his Guardians on a quest to save his sister and perhaps even the very world itself.
Find out more about The Midnight Guardians on our blog.