Friday, 9 March 2012


Scribble City Central's second #FantabFri A-Z is brought to you by #UKYA fantasy novelist N.M.Browne.  I stumbled across Nicky's first novel, Warriors of Alavna some years ago, when it was just published, and was happily reminded of a favourite childhood book of mine, Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth, both by the impressive quality of the writing and by the very real feel she had for the Celtic period. 
I've gone on admiring Nicky's writing ever since, and am looking forward to reading her recently-published further foray into the Celtic world, Wolf Blood, (Bloomsbury 2011) about which I'm hearing some very good things. 

Today, however, is all about B for Basilisk, a creature about which Nicky is eminently qualified to write, having produced an excellent novel of the same name. The late, great Douglas Hill said that Basilisk 'ranked with the best in modern fantasy', and I definitely don't disagree with him.  It certainly hooked me by the back teeth and held me till the very last page.  Its richly lush language is a pleasure to read, and the world of Above and Below Nicky has created here is both compellingly convincing and scarily bloody enough to satisfy those who like their YA fantasy with a dark edge.

Here's Nicky to tell you some fascinating facts about this scary monster...and a little about her book too. 
B for Basilisk
Creature of Nightmare

NMB: Writers in the medieval world thought that the basilisk had the upper body and head of a rooster and the bottom half of a snake. It is sometimes called a cockatrice.

I think this image is more funny than scary. The Romans thought of the basilisk as a kind of highly poisonous serpent, the king of snakes that could kill with its breath. That is definitely scarier - only it is described as being only thirty centimeters long! It is still very powerful though and in some accounts its indirect glance could turn a man to stone. I imagine the basilisk as more like a cross between a dinosaur and a serpent, massive and terrifying and much closer to the Harry Potter version.

Basilisks were once seen as desert creatures but over time were believed to live everywhere. Britain was once full of them! They are mentioned in the Bible and in Shakespeare and are generally seen as an embodiment of evil, a symbol of the devil. Unlike dragons they are never presented as being good or beautiful - they are the ultimate baddies!
I think I came across the word and the idea of the Basilisk before I saw any pictures. I like the sound of the word - it makes me think of stone perhaps because of basalt (a type of rock) though in fact the word itself means ‘little king.’

The poet Shelley writes:
"Be thou like the imperial basilisk, Killing thy foe with unapparent wounds!"
and Shakespeare mentions basilisks three times, each time in association with certain death.
"I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall; I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk (from Henry VI Part 3);  "Would they were basilisks, to strike thee dead!" (from Richard III) and "It is a basilisk unto mine eye, Kills me to look on't." (from Cymbeline). 
All very sinister!

I like the basilisk because every good story needs a villain and the basilisk is the ultimate villain! The basilisk sounds so very powerful and a little mysterious. There are far fewer images of basilisks than there are of dragons, though both are serpent like and deadly and often winged. As a writer I can use the idea of the basilisk and all its mythic associations but there is still room for me to use my own imagination.

In my book Basilisk I made up my own myth of the basilisk.The story is set in an imaginary city called Lunnzia and the citizens worship a god called Arche who is both creator and destroyer of the universe. In her guise as a creator she appears as a beautiful dragon, and as destroyer she is a basilisk. Lunnzia is at war and a couple of crazed inventors build a machine, ‘the Basilisk Contrivance’ to harness the power of nightmares. My poor heroine, Donna who used to dream of dragons, is forced to dream of the basilisk and when she is hooked up to the ‘contrivance’ her dream is amplified and projected into the minds of everyone in Lunnzia and they experience her dream basilisk as if it were real.
This is what it looks like:
"...filling the vast space was the gargantuan figure of the dark basilisk...The wings that gave it elegance and a certain malevolent beauty were constricted, half-folded like a crumpled fan.The thick vanes that stretched the leathery membrane of the wings stood out like cords of vein on an old man’s hand; they had the same blueish tinge. Rej was careful to avoid the basilisk’s eyes- it was said that the coal-black eyes of basilisk brought death in its stare... Somehow the basilisk elongated its slick, slug dark tail and, using it for balance, partially fanned its wings so that the jet of flames that issued from its mouth burned hotter and more brilliantly. Rej watched in horror as five or six men fell from the cliffs on to the stone beneath. The flame licked at their hair and clothing, the blazing fire illumined their open mouthed terror as they fell, and only the roaring and the the piss-freezing hissing of the creature drowned out their screams and the sound of the impact of their fall."
From Basilisk by NM Browne
You may be pleased to know the basilisk is defeated in the end by the positive power of love and the dragon.

SCC: Thank you for visiting, Nicky - B for Basilisk is certainly a brilliant and worthy addition to Scribble City Central's alphabet of mythical creatures. 

Next week: B for Bastet (Cat Goddess Extraordinaire) with Inbali Iserles, author of The Tygrine Cat


catdownunder said...

Basilisk - ooh makes my fur stand on end - totally scary!

Stroppy Author said...

I've always rather liked basilisks. My first published story contained a basilisk, so I have a bit of a soft spot for them. Though rather inappropriately, I suppose. Must look out Basilisk!

Katherine Langrish said...

I too had a basilisk - in an unpublished/unpublishable early fantasy! Love the creatures... sort of - and will look our for your book! Mine ate fruit and was sly and sweet-tongued - NO! I tell a lie. Mine was a manticore. There was a basilisk, but it only had a bit part...

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