Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Road to Shambhala: an interview by Mary E. Choo

In  1995, when my first YA historical fantasy Dance of the Snow Dragon was released, I talked with fellow fantasy writer Mary E. Choo about my choice to set the story in 18th century Bhutan. Here's the beginning of that conversation. The interview continues at http:/

mec: Your work as a whole covers a wide geography and explores a variety of mythological, legendary and cultural backgrounds. Why did you decide to set this novel in Bhutan?

ek: While I was editing an interview with the Dalai Lama for a non-fiction book on reincarnation (Walking after Midnight), I became interested in the northern (Tibetan) form of Buddhism, and did some further research. As a setting for a fantasy novel, it appealed to me on several levels. Tibetan culture is intensely rich and intensely visual, and I'm the kind of writer who enjoys reading, and writing, that kind of rich visual imagery. The Himalayas are a fascinating setting for a fantasy story -- because of their innate mystery, and because in northern Buddhist culture, magic is not a thing apart, but an intrinsic, everyday part of life. And because Tibetan Buddhism is rooted in Bon shamanism -- the original animist religion of Tibet -- it allowed me to explore a particular interest in shamanist religious experience.

Why Bhutan? I knew my story was to be set in one of the Himalayan kingdoms, and I wanted a country where northern Buddhism, and Buddhist culture, has been preserved to the present day. Nepal has been overrun by tourists; Tibet itself has had its culture systematically destroyed. Sikkim? Ladakh? Then a friend who had just been to a performance of the touring Royal Bhutanese Dance Troupe and the Asia Pacific Festival, came up with the answer. "Write about Bhutan," she said.

A monastery in the hills in Bhutan

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