The villain in The Sign of the Sword was inspired by a very colorful nightmare I had once. I was walking through a New Orleans cemetery just before sunset. A big, bald black man in a black turtleneck was chopping at a stump with an axe. (Think LL Cool J in zombie make-up.) He told me if I wasn’t off the grounds by the time he locked the gate at sunset, I would have to face him. When I got to the gates, they were locked, and the man was perched on the top of the fence. He told me I would have to face him in a kind of spiritual dual. He transformed into a panther and lunged at me. I stood still and recited the 23rd Psalm, and he backed off and changed into another animal shape before coming at me again.
When I woke up, I was still reciting the Psalm and knew I would have to include that scene in a book eventually. That dream was the original inspiration for the Samedi/Samhain character even though I later made the shape-changer his henchman.
In the original draft of The Sign of the Sword, my villain was called Baron Samedi and was based on a voodoo figure that guards the underworld. That character (or close parallels) appeared in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die” and Disney’s “The Princess Frog.” (I wrote about them a few weeks ago when I was writing about Mike Casey’s novel, Chinchuba.) My intent was to use a blend of Arthurian legend and American folklore. The evil city of the dead was called Cibola after the mystical seven cities of Cibola.
When I was revising the book, I decided I probably shouldn’t mix my mythologies and decided to keep it British. Samhain (pronounced Sawain) was named after a Celtic pagan holiday in which the walls between the worlds of the living and the dead grow thin.
In Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, Samhain is portrayed as a kind of grim reaper character which is why I originally chose to use that name. I later discovered that the Samhain in British paganism isn’t a character but an event, so later revisions include the detail that it wasn’t the character’s real name but a name people gave him because he crossed into their world at the time of the Samhain festival.
Samhain, as some readers know, corresponds to the Christianized All Hallows Eve festival.Yes, I know many Christians have issues with Halloween, but the name, at least, reflects attempts to Christianize the holiday. Some see it as a time of spooky/fantasy fun, and others prefer to avoid it entirely.
And that, my friends, is the convoluted story behind the villain in The Sign of the Sword. That’s how writing works. (For me, at least.)