Was Tolkien a plagiarist? How many gritty police detectives can one genre of fiction reasonably accommodate? And, does Iceland have trees? Important questions all; the answers to which, respectively are: kind of but not really; apparently many, and; the odd one or two.
Already a successful author, Ridpath was in the depths of a massive writer’s rut and needed to come up with something fresh and exciting. After some serious research and some creativity-inducing pints at the pub, he arrived at the outline for Where the Shadows Lie. It is an excellent story involving an Icelandic-speaking Boston cop seconded to the Reykjavik Police Force in order to help solve a murder case.Iceland, perceived as bleak, isolated, weather-battered and mythology-saturated (hence the tree question), gave Ridpath the perfect place in which to situate both his hero and story.
But first, to pacify any outraged LOTR fans with my suggestion of plagiarism. Tolkien was obsessed by Icelandic sagas, the extent to which he started the Old Norse Drinking Club at Leeds University in the 1920’s. This involved getting raucously drunk, singing Icelandic drinking songs and reading Icelandic stories. The Völsunga saga was a favourite, and it talks about a ring of great, destructive power. Combine this with parts of other sagas and, voilà, a rudimentary basis for Lord of the Rings. As Ridpath says: “It turns out there is a bloody great volcano in Iceland called Mount Hekla which erupts all the time. It was known as the Mouth of Hell in medieval times, and is the perfect place to drop a ring, should you be passing by. ” So, perhaps it is best, then, to suggest that Tolkien was at least inspired by the sagas and as a result gave us a magnificent, wonderful story, expanded upon by his own unique imagination.
Where the Shadows Lie weaves the Icelandic sagas and Tolkien into an intriguing murder mystery involving a university professor of Icelandic Literature. We are introduced to Magnus Jonson, a Boston police detective who has all the necessary traits of a successful fictitious detective. Just think of Jackson Brodie, Aurelio Zen and Rebus: all extremely sexy, with a dark past and a drinking problem, which makes them appealing to both men and women. Jonson’s secondment to Iceland is a case of them scratching his back as well as him scratching theirs. If he were to stay in Boston, he might not live to see another day.
With enough personal drama interspersed into the story and the intrigue of finding out who the murderer was and why, we are carried along wondering what would happen if the saga really was true, and if a great ring of power actually does exist. What would you do to find it?