The Golden Hills of Westria

Guide and Commentary

Why write a sequel, anyway?

They say you can’t go home again.

I suppose that returning to a world which my mind inhabited, off and on, for twenty years must be rather like going back to a house where one used to live. Actually, my real life has been much more stable. We moved into Greyhaven in 1971, a few months after I began writing what was to become the first book about Westria. I have lived here ever since, though about ten years ago I did move from a bedroom on the second floor to the attic eyrie.

The first six books tell the story of how the four Jewels of Power were lost and recovered, and how Julian and Rana eventually redeemed the mistakes made by Faris and Jehan and restored Westria to balance. In the process, Julian was tested and trained as no king of Westria had been since, perhaps the first to bear that name (so actually, he ought to be Julian II, though no one in the books seems to have noticed this, probably because his ancestor is always called “the Jewel-Lord”). Fantasy novels always end with the great confrontation between hero and villain, after which he presumably lives happily ever after. It seems rather a waste of effort.

So here are Julian and Rana, king and queen of Westria. After defeating Caolin, are they going to spend the next fifty years resting on their laurels. What does an Olympic champion do after winning gold. Some teach the next generation of champions, some turn the discipline and energy they used to win to other things, and some spend the rest of their lives looking backward. Real life says, “That’s nice, but what have you done for me lately?. Well, for one thing, there’s always the period of clean-up and healing that follows any disaster. “After the ecstasy, the laundry…. Healing wounds, dealing justice and keeping people fed is just as worthy as fighting evil sorcerers.

But it doesn’t make for a very exciting plot-line.

Westria is the home of my heart. I loved living there, and any fantasy world worth its salt invites more than six books’ of exploration. I wanted to go back. I wanted to find out how Julian and Rana and Frederic and Ardra got on, what their children were like, and what else happened to Westria. Even when I was writing the Jewel books I began to wonder about the future.

At the end of The Jewel of Fire. Westria has been saved from one threat, but unlike some fantasy kingdoms, it does not exist in isolation. So I started asking what might happen if someone from outside, someone who knew nothing of the Covenant of Westria, decided they wanted the Golden Land. And what kind of threat would test Julian in a way different from anything he had encountered in Caolin’s war?

Ideologies and antagonists

In the afterword at the end of Golden Hills, I mentioned my reaction to the story of the tragedy Jim Jones and his cult in Guyana. That still seems to me to be a more deadly, and unfortunately more common, kind of evil than anything Caolin ever manages to do. So I had the idea to write about a new kind of antagonist, whose evil sprang from spiritual corruption. I also thought it would be interesting to see if Westria could defeat a more formidable military threat than her old opponent Elaya could provide.

By the time I actually started writing the world had changed. Fanaticism and fundamentalism had become a threat to everyone, and I had more examples to draw from than I could ever have desired. The faith of the Children of the Sun is not so much a religion as a totalitarian ideology. Mother Mahaliel preaches love, but it is love without free-will, love without compassion or understanding, a love that denies rather than encouraging individual growth and responsibility. Originally I had intended the leader of the invading cult to be male, like Jim Jones. When Dave Hartwell encouraged me to beef up the female roles in the book, I realized that distorting the “Mother” image would make for a much more powerful story. When “Mommy knows best,” the child never grows up, but Mother knows how to press all the buttons, and can elicit both love and guilt in a way no father can.

The ideology of Westria stresses personal and environmental responsibility. And that, as anyone who tries to live an ecologically responsible lifestyle knows, is a lot of work. As the story developed, it occurred to me that the real war was not going to be for territory, but for men’s minds.

A question of identity.

When I began I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen to Julian. Like many of my readers, he was now middle-aged, and dealing with a lot of things we never dreamed of in the days when I first wrote about Jehan and Faris and thought that 40 was old. The great unknown factor was the next generation, the children of those who had fought Caolin’s war. It seemed to me that a good place to begin would be with the initiation ceremony in which Westrian children become adults and citizens. What names would Julian’s son and Frederic’s daughter choose? I was as surprised as Phoenix was when his grand-father King Jehan, whom I had thought safely buried, showed up in his dreams. I knew that Sombra would have some concerns about being the grand-daughter of Caolin, but her choice of Luz was also unexpected. Julian and Rana may have dealt with part of the Faris/Jehan/Caolin legacy, but some aspects of it had apparently been left for the next generation.

As the story developed, the only way to solve certain plot problems proved to be the disintegration of Jo’s psyche. At that point, I looked back at what I had written so far and realized that from the very first paragraph the book had focused on identity. Eventually, the problems of the younger generation connected to the larger theme, for until you know who you really are, you can neither take full responsibility for your actions nor become free.

Theological underpinnings

During the period when I was writing the Jewel books I was also studying various aspects of pagan religion and theology. I found the structure and symbolism of the Western Esoteric version of the Hebrew Kabbalah both inspiring and useful as a way to organize all the material. This included the Westrian novels, which set up the Pillars of Mercy and Severity in Lady of Light and Lady of Darkness, ascended the steps in Silverhair the Wanderer, and in the four Jewel books drew on the imagery, and especially the elemental associations, of the first four Sephiroth (see the Commentaries for those books for more information).

Although one story was concluded in The Jewel of Fire, I wanted to continue up the Tree of Life. Thus the next sequence would need to deal with the spheres of Tiphareth, Geburah, and ‘Chesed–or Beauty, Strength, and Mercy as they are called at the College of the Wise. My original plot-line included all three, but it gradually became clear that the logical story-arc for this book was going to deal with the issues of sacrifice and war, and sovereignty and government were going to have to wait for another story. The dominant colors of Golden Hills are the gold of Tiphareth and the scarlet of Geburah. The astronomical influences are the Sun, in aspects both positive and negative, and Mars. For a time I wondered how I was going to include the Guardians, who in the earlier books are so closely associated with the four Elements. But whereas the lower four Sephiroth are elemental, and the top triad is called Supernal because the concepts with which it deals are transcendent, the middle triad of the Tree might becalled Societal, because it is concerned with issues relating to humanity. So it made sense that the Guardians who appeared in this book would not be Powers of Nature, but gods. And an unexpectedly multicultural bunch they proved to be! The Lady of Pain and Roses owes a lot to the Brazilian orixa, Pomba Gira. The Wanderer, who spends a lot of time in the body of the arms-master Garr, is Odin in yet another clever disguise. And the lady who rides the White Dragon is Kuan Yin. The Defender, who made a brief appearance as The Champion in The Earthstone, is the magical image associated with the sphere of Geburah, which draws on the characteristics of Mars and Tyr. The Lady of Westria, however, owes her being wholly to this lovely golden land.

Travels with Ravens

In the days when all I could afford was local travel, I tried to visit the most important sites for each book (see their Commentaries for details). This was usually limited to one or two expeditions, and a lot of work with maps and guidebooks. However by the time I got the contract for Golden Hills, I had some enthusiastic readers, old and new, to encourage me. And more research was clearly going to be necessary. By this time I knew California pretty well, but much of the action was set in the Southwest, only a few parts of which I had seen. Ideally, I would have followed the route of the Suns’ migration all the way from Lincoln, Nebraska in the Sea of Grass, but that’s an awfully long drive from the San Francisco Bay, and my car was old, and I don’t like driving that much anyway, and…

Then I got an invitation to attend a festival near Albuquerque, New Mexico. My first response was a regretful “no”, as the airfare would have been too expensive. At this point, Lorrie Wood, my friend and webmistress without whom this site would not exist, cheerfully observed that if we drove to the festival in her car, we could cover the territory actually shown in the book, and take pictures for research and illustrating the website. The photos in the “Scenes from The Golden Hills of Westria” album in the gallery, will give you the highlights of what we saw. Additional shots will be found in the Aztlan album. As always, actually traveling through the countryside and collecting local lore provided details I would never have found in the library. And everywhere we went, we saw ravens.

During the past three years, we have also driven to Mt. Shasta (Father of Mountains), and to the Sierras (the Snowy Mountains). We’ve also been north into Normontaine (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia)–which doesn’t appear in this book, but will come in handy eventually. So if you think the scenery in the book feels authentic, thank Lorrie. Someday we ought to write an account of the trip that we (as opposed to Jo and the Suns) made, including how Lorrie turned into a raven on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and we visited the land of Fire and Ice, and nearly froze to death in a state whose symbol is the sun, and… but that really is another story….