‘Rhymer’ Combines Scottish Ballads With Alien Elves
Gregory Frost’s fantasy novel Rhymer puts a fresh spin on Thomas the Rhymer, a character from Scottish folklore whose poems were reputed to predict the future.
“It’s the origin story of Thomas the Rhymer as a kind of Michael Moorcock Eternal Champion battling against aliens—effectively, these elves which are passing into our world from another world,” Frost says in Episode 544 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “He’s just one person fighting this war that nobody even knows is going on right under their noses.”
Rhymer features a wild mix of Lovecraftian horror and fantasy, and presents a marked departure from earlier versions of the Thomas the Rhymer story. Frost felt it was important to do something big to set his story apart. “Ellen Kushner a number of years ago wrote, to my mind, the definitive retelling of Thomas the Rhymer from the ballad,” he says, “and I didn’t want to go there at all, because I would have felt like, ‘Oh, it’s already been done to perfection. There’s no reason for me to touch that.’”
Frost hit upon his new angle, the idea of a time-skipping Thomas the Rhymer, when he noticed striking similarities between Thomas and the later character Tam Lin, who lived in the same area and who also had dealings with the Queen of Elfland. “You’ve got Thomas the Rhymer, whose full name in some cases is Thomas Lindsay Rimor de Ercildoun—which is the town he was from, which is now Earlston,” Frost says. “And then you’ve got Tam Lin. So you’ve got Thomas Lindsay and you’ve got Tam Lin, and I’m going, ‘This is the same person.’”
Frost is at work on a sequel to Rhymer, which will see Thomas the Rhymer skip forward in time to become the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. “All of the versions of Robin Hood anybody’s ever seen have basically been the Sir Walter Scott riffs on Robin Hood, and that’s not really who Robin Hood was,” Frost says. “So I’m kind of having a field day a century after Thomas the Rhymer would have existed and trying to map a journey through the world of Robin Hood that nobody’s ever played with before.”
Listen to the complete interview with Gregory Frost in Episode 544 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Gregory Frost on the Clarion Writers Workshop:
There was a running gag that every year Damon Knight would, at some point during the week, pull out a squirt gun and go hunting students, so everybody came with squirt guns … He was chasing us through the dormitory, and Damon at some point smacked into a door and pretty much retreated for the night. We couldn’t find him, so we all went to his room—there were separate quarters for Damon and Kate—and knocked on the door, and it was like being 5 years old again, because Kate Wilhelm opens the door and we said, “Can Damon come out and play?” and she said, “No, Damon has to stay in the rest of the night,” and closed the door on us, and that was the end of that.
Gregory Frost on the Liars Club writers group:
For a couple of years we went around to mostly independent bookstores in the Philadelphia area and did group signings, group events, which were an awful lot of fun to do. There’s nothing more suicidal-driving than sitting at a bookstore by yourself trying to make eye contact with people coming through the door, because, at least in my experience, the first thing they do is see that there’s a writer sitting there with their book and they immediately look everywhere else but at the writer with their book, and they go right past you like you don’t exist, so if there’s a group it’s a lot harder to get around you.
Gregory Frost on Bill Johnson:
We started riffing on a story idea based on the coldest spot in the universe, which is the Boomerang Nebula, and went back and forth and back and forth on it, and came up with almost a point-by-point structure of the story that we were going to write together. Bill had suffered his whole life with Marfan syndrome. It’s a really bad condition for your blood vessels where they basically start to come apart, and he’d dodged that for a very long time. Right after we had structured the story out, he went into the hospital for a simple checkup or something and pretty much didn’t come out. So I had all of the notes for that story, and I thought, “I’ve got to write this story. I can’t just set this aside because Bill’s gone.”