Where Runelords Came From
David Farland shares his inspiration and events leading up to his writing the New York Times Best-Selling "Runelords" novels
As a teen, back in the 1970s, David Farland became enamored with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. “My brother-in-law practically forced me to read Lord of the Rings,” he recalls. I tried several times and just couldn’t get interested. Then when I was about 100 pages in, it all came alive, and I was hooked.
Soon afterward, at the age of 16, he began devouring fantasy novels. “I read everything in the local libraries. My father had a grocery store, and once a week, the book vendor began bringing three or four books to satisfy my thirst. I was reading people like Le Guin, McCaffrey, Donaldson, and Brooks. But there weren’t that many fantasy books being published at the time. So I began making up my own stories.”
He was telling a friend, Paul Toups, one of his stories at work one day, when Paul suggested, “You know, you ought to take all of the stuff and put it in a book.” An author was born. The next day, David bought a used typewriter and reams of paper and began secretly working on his first novel, a story about a young man who goes to a school for magicians.
“Of course, I had one problem,” Farland says. “I didn’t’ know how to write. I got stuck in the middle of the novel.” So he began studying.
Over the next few years, David alternated between studying writing, actually writing, working, and pursuing his second interest—medicine. “I always thought that I would be a doctor who wrote on the side,” he jokes, but his love for writing won out. In fact, his first novel, On My Way to Paradise, which one the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” was a story about a doctor in the far future.
For ten years, David wrote science fiction, working with such franchises as Star Wars, and the Mummy. He hit the New York Times Bestseller list several times, won awards, and even set a Guinness Record for the World’s Largest Book Signing before he went back to his first love, writing fantasy.
Interestingly enough, when David decided to write a fantasy, he went back to his “medicinal roots.” “I began thinking about medieval medicine, particularly the use of herbs and incantations, and the first character that I developed for the novel was the Wizard Binnesman, an herbalist whose magical spells “amplify the powers” of herbs. Before I began writing about him, I studied herb lore and how it had evolved over the centuries. There are some excellent books on the topic, but you have to go to England to find most them. (They aren’t published in the United States out of fear that people will use sometimes quirky traditional medicines.)
“I even went so far as to grow my own herb garden in order to test some of the herbs. For example, Binnesman at one point gives soldiers on the castle walls herbs to grant them courage. Those herbs were used by ancient Roman and Viking warriors in much the same way, and I wanted to test their effects. So I tried them out. I wouldn’t say that I felt courage. Instead I felt a little buzz, as if with caffeine, but also a bit numbed. I suppose that if I had been going into battle with nothing but an ax in my hands, I’d be glad for such herbs.”
David further went to the U.K. to do research, visiting historical sites, museums, and so on. “At one point I took my wife to visit castles in England and Wales. One day we had visited four castles before noon, and as we topped a tower, my wife asked, ‘How many castle do you have to visit to write this book?’ I thought for a bit and answered, ‘Until I feel that I was born in one, that I’ve lived around them and in them all my life.’”
Of course, a story requires more than just one character. “I knew that I wanted a magic system that dealt with ‘economics,’ Farland says. I felt that a number of things were on the horizon. This was in 1995, and I was worried about the upcoming economic collapse brought about by corporate greed. It seemed to me that we had a lot of politicians who were in the thick of it, too, refusing to stem the rising tide. Pension funds were “disappearing” everywhere while financial institutions were making increasingly risky loans. I wanted to talk about the moral implications of the “boss” and “employee” relationship. Among the ancient Japanese, there was a code of honor built around that relationship, and I felt that the whole world might run more smoothly if the relationship was better defined—if both bosses and employees understood that there was a moral relationship here.
“So I studied ancient magic systems, but couldn’t find one that worked. That study took up about nine months of time. I was in Scotland with a friend, when the idea for the Runelords magic system came to me in a flash. We were talking about ancient Scottish history, and suddenly this cool magic system just felt as if it were being downloaded into my head.”
Immediately, the story took off—the idea of a young lord who lives in a world corrupted by greed. Farland gave him the name Gaborn, a German name meaning “Born of the Earth.”
I knew that Gaborn was going to be in love, Farland said, and there was a second threat on the horizon: my concern with the threat of a major war between the West and the Arab world. So I created Iome. Just as Gaborn’s family is rooted in a European background, Iome’s family is rooted in an Arabic tradition.
“I’ve always imagined her as being a dark-haired beauty,” Farland says. “The actress Aishwarya Rai fits closely with my perception.”
Gaborn antagonist is Raj Ahten (Ah-ten is an ancient Egyptian name meaning “Sun Lord). But Farland objects to calling him a villain. “Raj is a man blinded by greed,” Farland says. “He could so easily be the hero of this tale, if he would just open his eyes. Unfortunately, I think that so often that is the case. We’re blinded to our own potential. So Raj perpetuates a bid for power, ignoring greater threats, while he makes his bid for global domination.”
With his major characters in place, and his conflicts growing, Farland then let the story come together organically.
The result, the Runelords, came after ten years of working as a professional writer, and immediately became a bestseller, topping the fantasy bestseller lists at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon.com. The books quickly spread around the world—selling in Japan, China, Germany, France, England, Italy, and many other countries. In the UK, Farland was dubbed “The new king of fantasy,” and Publisher’s Weekly hailed him as “A wizard of storytelling.”
Currently, David is finishing up the ninth and last book in the Runelords series, tentatively entitled A Tale of Tales.