Good Day Bookworms.
Are You Having A Fantastical Friday?
After our wonderful interview with author Sonya Kudei this past week,
I’m excited to share a guest post from the talented author herself.
An unlikely literary inspiration: the Black Queen – historical villain, local myth, childhood bogey man.
One of my earliest memories is of hanging out with a group of childhood friends and playing a bizarre game called “Black-Queen-One-Two-Three” in a dark corner of our school’s playground in a rather unglamorous part of Zagreb, Croatia.
The game was bizarre for several reasons.
First, because no one was ever sure what the exact rules were – one of the players was supposed to stand in front of the wall and impersonate the Black Queen, whoever that was (none of us were quite sure back then), and the rest were supposed to do the queen’s bidding, which usually meant “transforming” into something. But as to why these odd transformations were taking place or what was supposed to happen next, no one really knew.
Second, because of the setting. As far as I know, there was no rule prescribing that the game had to be played only in the darkest, most weed-infested part of the playground. And yet it always was. Finally, the game was just inexplicably creepy. On the one hand, there was the strange chant-like wording of the game. On the other hand, there were all the references to the Black Queen.
Who was the Black Queen? Why did she command Zagreb school children to turn into weird creatures during their midday break? I had no idea.
But I knew one thing – the Black Queen was watching.
Not long after finishing elementary school, I relocated from this particular unglamorous part of Zagreb to another, equally unglamorous part of the city, and it was as if this move wiped out all my memories of the strange game and the terrifying Black Queen.
From my new house I had an unobstructed view of a prominent Zagreb landmark – Bear Mountain (Mt. Medvednica), with the curious Bear Town Fortress (Medvedgrad) sitting on top. On sunny days you could clearly see the ruins of the castle sitting right there at the top of the mountain. I was mesmerized by the sight.
I was aware that Bear Town Fortress was associated with many medieval legends and that one of its historical occupants used to be the so-called Black Queen, who I understood to be some sort of tyrant in the 15th century. Later I also realized that the Black Queen was the kind of semi-historical Blood Countess figure that Central Europe is so fond of (the Hungarian Elizabeth Bathory being another notable example). But I didn’t immediately make any sort of connection. My mind had become too bogged down in the mires of adolescence, and besides, in my new school I had so much algebra, calculus, and other draining subjects to cope with that childhood legends were the last thing on my mind.
It was only much later, after I had left Zagreb, that I had a sudden flash of insight that brought these two apparently unrelated things together – the spooky childhood game and the Blood Countess. And I knew then that the Black Queen of my hazy early-childhood recollections and the historical Black Queen were the same person. It was a ground-breaking moment. I actually felt the ground move beneath my feet (which is only appropriate, since earth is the Black Queen’s element).
This “aha!” moment was so powerful that it generated an idea for an entire novel – and not just a novel, but an entire fictional universe, including the Black Queen’s Tolkienesque underground kingdom. So it’s no wonder that Black Queen, White City contains a scene that is a faithful representation of my memories of playing the scary Black-Queen-One-Two-Three game. The descriptions of all the details – including the playground, the school building and the characters – are as faithful to real life as they could possibly be. I knew my writing had to be true, or else the Black Queen would be angry.
And you don’t want to make the Black Queen angry.