Deborah A. Wolf on Real World Inspirations in Fantasy

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Deborah A. Wolf‘s debut epic fantasy novel, The Dragon’s Legacy, has been hailed as ground-breaking and complex. She joins us this week to tell us the real-life inspirations behind her fiction!

I always cringe a little when people ask me “Where do you get all your wild ideas?” Because 1) Who the heck knows, and 2) You probably don’t WANT to know, especially considering how much I write about cannibalism. But I can point out a few specific things that spoke to me as a human being. Here are five true things about our wide, weird world which have directly influenced my writing:

1. MAD HONEY HUNTERS OF NEPAL

Ok, so these guys in Nepal hunt for while honey. Whatever, right?

Yeah, this is a “hold my beer and watch this” honey hunt.

The Gurung hunt honey made by bees the size of single-engine aircraft, and this rhododendron-based honey is so intense it has been used as a weapon against invading armies.

The honey itself—laced with a naturally occurring neurotoxin and not for consumption by the spoonful—is only half as interesting as the men who harvest it. These men, dressed pretty much as one might dress for a neighborhood barbecue, in shorts and t-shirts, casually tromp barefoot through the forest, hacking up bamboo with machetes as they go so that they can make hundred-foot-long rolled ladders on the fly, ladders that they then sling casually over their shoulders as if the darned thing didn’t weigh a ton. They shimmy up these ladders, smoke out the enormous and highly pissed-off giant bomber bees, and just as casually saunter away with neurotoxin-laced honey. When one of the guys tastes just a little too much and gets sick, an older dude slings the enormous rope ladder over one shoulder, the dazed young guy over his other shoulder, and takes off whistling down the jungle path.

Seriously, Navy SEALs have nothing on the Gurung honey hunters for sweet badassery.

Image: Titan Books

2. BULLET ANT GLOVES IN THE AMAZON

In researching different coming-of-age ceremonies, I came across an extremely painful ritual peculiar to the Sateré-Mawé people, who live deep in the Amazon. They weave giant oven-mitt-like gloves, and then painstakingly stick hundreds of smoke-drunk bullet ants in head-first. When the ants wake up, they are supremely pissed, and more than willing to bite the next bare human hand that is thrust deep into these gloves.

You have heard of bullet ants, right? With venom so toxic and so painful the bite turns a human arm black up past the elbow when it’s bitten like that? Thirty times more painful than a bee sting? Yeah, those ants.

In order to be considered a man and a warrior, a young Sateré-Mawé man wear the gloves 20 times for 10 minutes, performing a dance while those angry insects sting them.

This ceremony is intended to teach young men that a life lived without suffering or effort isn’t worth living.

3. SWEET STINKING SU GALLU

Su Gallu is a Sardinian cheese made by removing the milk-full stomach of a newborn baby goat, sewing it shut, and hanging it in the sun until it hardens. For, like, a couple of months. This is, unsurprisingly, described as a “pungent” cheese. It’s also quite illegal.

I know. Bummer, right?

4. CAMEL SPIDERS

Camel spiders are not nearly the size of a human. They are not really spiders, they do not chew holes in camels’ stomachs so they can lay their eggs inside, and they are not known to be deadly to humans. They do, however, utilize digestive fluids to liquefy their victims’ flesh, making it easy to suck the remains into their stomachs. And that, folks, is enough “nope” for anybody.

5. DRAGONS

Don’t even start with that “Dragons aren’t real” crap. I know better, and so should you. Do you really think that earthquakes in California are caused by the movement of tectonic plates? Not a believer? Fine. How about Titanoboa, then…

This giant snake had a total length of about 12.8 m (42 ft) and weighed about 1,135 kg (2,500 lb.). They lived around 58-60 million years ago in what is now northern Columbia—one hopes they are completely and unalterably extinct—and likely ate everything from man-cubs to that lawyer guy sitting on the john.

42-foot goddamn python for the win, folks.

So there you have it: five true things about this world that I had to tone down for use in my fantasy novel lest it seem too unbelievable.

Deborah A. Wolf was born in a barn and raised on wildlife refuges, which explains rather a lot. As a child, whether she was wandering down the beach of an otherwise deserted island or exploring the hidden secrets of Alaska with her faithful dog Sitka, she always had a book at hand. She opened the forbidden door, and set foot upon the tangled path, and never looked back.

Deborah attended any college that couldn’t outrun her and has accumulated a handful of degrees. She has worked as an underwater photographer, Arabic linguist, and grumbling wage slave. Throughout it all, she has held onto one true and passionate love: the love of storytelling.

Deborah currently lives in northern Michigan with her kids (some of whom are grown and all of whom are exceptional), an assortment of dogs and horses, and a pair of demons masquerading as cats.

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