The obvious answer to that question is he is the main character of my recent novella, Taken in the Dark of Night. He will also star in an upcoming trilogy and who knows how many more books after that. He’s an anti-hero motivated by anger and an Eloria’an (or elf) cut off from his birthright as a magical being. James is a brutal killer with a soft spot for the innocent. But James isn’t even his real name.
He grew up Jeyim Se’ir Radanathaneal Shetheldorana Eloria’an, one of the Watchers in the Wood guarding the line between darkness and light in the Darkwood. He lost everything in a cruel tragedy: an attack that left him forever changed into something darker, an abomination in the eyes of his people and all those devoted to the Source of Life and All Things.
But that’s all revealed in the books, and more. This is the fictional history of a made-up character who is actually much older than the writings in which he currently appears. He has a much less dramatic – and much nerdier – origin. You see, James of Darkwood began as a D&D character.
That’s right, I took an old, munchkiny character and made him into the protagonist of a fantasy novel. Aren’t I original? I must be the first person do that in the history of literature. Yeah, right. I just hope that others’ attempts, both lame and otherwise, don’t prejudice you against my James.
He was a character I played in an old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaign – that’s 2nd Edition for newer players – in an effort to be a genuine badass. He was, of course, an elf. His nemesis – favored enemies – was humans. He was pretty evil. He had a penchant for black leather. There, however, the similarities end.
James 1.0 was a ranger who wielded a longsword and short sword in melee combat. James 2.0 eschews swords altogether – for personal reasons. And he doesn’t fit as neatly into a “class” as role-playing games would like. He does certainly fight with both hands, like the D&D ranger, but he does so with a pair of daggers. The D&D version carried a long bow. The new-and-improved James uses a short bow, and doesn’t start firing off arrows quite as fast as his previous incarnation. Besides, longbows and great big swords do lots of damage dice, but they’re impractical in a real story, which leads nicely into the next point…
The original James was little more than an imagined image – dark and assassiny with a perpetual scowl – wrapped around a set of gaming stats meant to be some kind of longbow sniper. He was a munchkin, a character played to max out certain stats but not provide any significant role-playing opportunities. I probably role-played him more than many of my other D&D characters, which is why I’ve remembered the character so fondly, but he was not what a literary mind would call “developed.” Neither was I when James was created. I think I was about 14.
Now, I’m 34. I have degrees in English Literature and Biology. I’ve been reading, writing, working, and experiencing life. Words like “insurance,” “taxes,” and “long-term investment” are not so foreign. I’m recently married, and with luck the pitter patter of little nerdlet’s feet will soon follow. In essence, I’ve grown up. But I’ve never stopped imagining, so when I decided I wanted to write a fun story with a dark anti-hero, James of Darkwood came rushing back at me out of the past. He’s one of those sinister archetypes that hangs around in the corners of a lot of fantasy fans’ imaginations. I decided to write his story.
So far it’s a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. James has developed into a complex character without losing his slightly cartoonish fun. I enjoy my time with the snarky grouch that he has become, and it’s a thrill to watch him exact his vengeance from those who have wronged him. As the author of the James of Darkwood books, I’m as excited to see what happens next as anyone else. Ol’ James has come a long way in the last twenty years, but his journey isn’t over yet. I’m pretty sure it’s only just begun.