With all the recent hype surrounding the theatrical release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I find myself recalling my early inspirations for Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. It was ten years ago and I had just finished writing my first published book, Corranda’s Crown (thankfully now out of print!). I wasn’t sure what I would write next, so I just ended up doing a lot of painting. One of the pieces I produced was this one:
This painting clearly riffs on The Hobbit, a story that has fascinated me since I was a boy. Truth be told, my first connection to Tolkien’s world was not through his books, but through the wonderful animated version of The Hobbit that was made in the 1970s. Over the years, I was exposed not only to the books, but to all of the wonderful artwork that was produced of Middle Earth.
As an interesting side note, the premier illustrator of Tolkien’s world, John Howe, is Canadian by birth and, in fact, spent some of his youth in the same rural community—Keremeos—that my mom grew up in. If you want to explore Howe’s visionary take, then I encourage you to find a copy of the wonderful book, Myth & Magic: The Art of John Howe.
In any case, at the time I produced my humble painting, I had just re-read The Hobbit, so images of Middle Earth were vividly dancing in my imagination. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t thinking that my painting would lead to a book; I was just painting for fun. Don’t ask me how or why I chose the particular characters who are sneaking past the dragon. I just followed my whimsy and ended up with this peculiar gang of misfits.
When the painting was completed, I hung it on my studio wall, as is my custom, and left it there for a few weeks to see if I liked it. Funny thing is, I found myself concocting a little tale in my imagination to go along with it. I began asking myself, “Who are these characters?” And, “What’s inside that mysterious box?”
Well, the next thing I knew, I was answering these questions in my sketchbook. Then, to cut a long story short, I ended up writing Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. Not all of these original characters survived my writing process to make it into the final book. You can probably guess that the rabbit became Kendra Kandlestar, but I wonder if you can find the precursors of Uncle Griffinskitch or Professor Bumblebean?
I never thought about my audience at the time, but Kendra Kandlestar has ended up being a sort of Hobbit for kids. The publisher thought it would be ages 8-12, but really, it’s turned out to be more for 7-11, with many parents and teachers reading it to their five- and six-year-olds. I suppose it’s all of the illustrations that call down to those younger kids.
There have been comparisons to the later books in the Kendra series to Lord of the Rings (I think Agent Lurk and Trooogul obsessing over the shard from Greeve has something to with that). Personally, I tend to think those books owe more to Star Wars than anything else . . . but I’ll leave you to be judge of that.