10 Questions for Gary Gregg, Author of the Remnant Chronicles

February’s 10 Question interview with a living author of books we Hogwarts Professors think our like-minded readers will enjoy is with Gary L. Gregg, author of The Sporran and The Iona Conspiracy, the first books in The Remnant Chronicles. Though this interview took place online rather than in person, I’ve met the man and can testify that Prof Gregg is as winsome and challenging in person as his novels’ characters are engaging and memorable. Which is saying something.

On to the interview!

1. Prof. Gregg, you’re a noted political scientist, head of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, and the author of books on topics as varied as the life of George Washington, the genius of the Electoral College, and the representational nature of the Presidency. That’s all well and good — frankly, I’m fascinated — but it certainly isn’t the usual CV for a fantasy fiction author. How do you get from your public life to your fictional world — or is the latter really another, neglected aspect of the political scientist?

    In many ways, my formal training as a political scientist couldn’t be further from my life as a fantasy writer.  The only connection, I think, might be my interest in political ideas and the history of political thought, the central themes of which have often been explored in novels, poetry, and the theatre.  I grew up as a non-reader, really, and have had a lot of catching up to do.  Over the years of trying to “catch up,” I have become convinced, with Napoleon, that “imagination rules the world.”  It is story that really shapes us into who we are and knowing that makes the facts and figures of political science seem not only less interesting, but much less important.  I became a fantasy writer because the genre became what I wanted to read and what I thought young people, in particular, needed to read.  I hoped to strike a few imaginations in the wider world out there and I hope I have done at least that.

    2. Before we get into the substance of the Remnant Chronicles, I want to ask about the structure of the series. The first book, The Sporran, is actually the first two Chronicles and the second book, The Iona Conspiracy, the third Chronicle. Please give us a history of the Chronicles and your plans for the series (as in, “how many will there be?”).

    The structure of my series was really the result of an accident.  When I started writing The Sporran, I thought I was writing a little book for younger readers and had no series in mind.  The book grew and split into two, the story unfolded to a depth I had not understood in the beginning, and in the end I had two books ready for publication.  To make them more affordable for my readers, my publisher and I decided to fold them into one volume. When I started writing the third story, I listened to some young female fans who wanted Jenny to have more of a story of her own.

    That decision really caused The Iona Conspiracy to grow and in the end I again had a bigger and deeper book than I set out to write. (You can see a dangerous pattern here!) There will eventually be two more books in the Jacob Boyd series, but, Jacob is really only the contemporary embodiment of a story going back for centuries  and all the way back to Isildane himself and the bringing of the pelt of the sacred stag into our world from which the sporrans were cut.  So, there are a lifetime of stories to be written, should the muse strike.

    3. I think any reader hearing ‘Chronicles’ is going to be thinking, “oh, it’s a Narnia knock-off.” Forgive me, but I certainly made that short leap. Your Sporran books, though, aren’t portal fantasy, aren’t centered on a Christ-equivalent, and aren’t about groups of adventurers — it’s really Jacob Boyd’s story more than the Hogwarts Saga is just about Harry Potter. But there are undeniable Lewis echoes in theme and symbolism. How important was C. S. Lewis in shaping your idea of the series?

    I very consciously did not want to create a portal fantasy like Narnia.  I also did not want to create allegory or have my stories take place in some other world.  I wanted my readers to come to an understanding that there are wonderful adventures, remnants of ancient worlds, and miraculous occurrences waiting to be discovered right here in our own world. That said, Lewis has had a huge impact upon me over the last six or seven years.  I didn’t read his Narnia books as a kid, but came to all his work as an adult and, frankly, he has been formative in my thinking on questions of story, imagination, the moral responsibility of authors, and the like.  And, yes, I think you are right: my story is really about Jacob Boyd and his transformation as a bearer of the treasures of Isildane even more than the Harry Potter series is about Harry.

    4. This is a Harry Potter site, though obviously we discuss other books; am I crazy or a one note composer for thinking you like Rowling’s work? The Iona Conspiracy seemed two parts That Hideous Strength in social commentary and critique of schools for every three parts of Hogwarts — the three friends at school, the competing houses, the N.I.C.E. bad guys who create magical creatures that would have horrified Hagrid, the magical world hidden away in our world, side by side Muggle-dom. Are you a serious Potter reader?

    Actually, I largely missed the early waves of Harry Potter as I was not interested in such work at all when the first books started arriving in America and started catching fire.  I was focused on my professional life and other literary interests.  By the time I started to understand that the Potter books might be important and worthy of my time, I was neck deep in trying to catch up on the fantasy and science fiction classics I had missed out on.  I still haven’t really caught up in a serious way to Rowling’s work yet.  If there are connections between her work and mine, they are largely subconscious and a result of reading the analysis of experts like you on the Harry Potter corpus and from what I know from the movies and minor dabbling with the series itself. My Iona Academy with its two competing houses was really inspired by a boarding school for girls in northern Virginia where I was married and where my father-in-law used to work–my dedication to the novel should now make more sense to my readers.  Indeed I very consciously attempted to recreate much of that real campus in my fictional world. The true literary inspiration for The Iona Conspiracy you are right to find  in C.S. Lewis’ third space novel, That Hideous Strength.  That book was on my mind from beginning to end and the conscious connections I was making are throughout the book. I went into the book wanting to introduce Lewis’ concerns to a new and wider audience.

    5. What I like about the Potter hints and parallels in your books, is that they don’t go very far. For example, Jacob has a wonderful family with living parents and, mirabile dictu, a decent dad. What a relief that is. The two buddies don’t dominate his waking life. Anyway — Tell us about the Sporran and the secret society sworn to protect it — or is that giving too much away?

    I very much went into writing my series with the dedication to having Jacob be a normal kid with a very normal and intact family.  Along the way I came to understand why almost every such book and movie (including the Harry Potter series) centers on a child character that is either an orphan, a runaway, the product of a broken family, or who has absent parents.  It’s just very difficult to send a kid on a great adventure with loving parents watching over them and attempting to raise them right.  And, yes, I am very concerned that kids today have too much interaction with each other and too little with wise adults (note that none of my good kid characters have cell phones, tablets, or TV’s in their rooms). My series is probably a subtle commentary on this state of affairs, actually, which leads us to the Order of the Sporrai and the apprentice-like relationship of Jacob with the elders, which you ask about.

    I am still developing the ancient back story to the sacred sporrans and Isildane’s bringing of the treasures into our world so I won’t go that far back in the limited time we have today.  But, the treasures and secrets of Isildane reappear in history under the care of children “Bearers” who are looked after by elder “Watchers.”  As with any human endeavor, evil has seeped into the Order of the Sporrai and a remnant of heroes still clinging to the ancient ways work to defeat the bent among their own order.

    6. Do you want to share the pug dog’s secret, too? Really, I don’t want to spoil the book for readers, but this ‘pet’ and his relationship with Jacob is probably the best part of the books, or it was for me, in any case.

    That little pug dog came bounding into my life one day when my kids and I were driving down the highway.  In my imagination I saw him riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by a long-bearded man in leather and that was the moment he and his master Chadwick von Niblick were born.  I had no idea at the time that he would become anything more than a cute little pug.  Then one day Jacob and Ian were stuck in the catacombs beneath Edinburgh Castle and needed rescuing.  Little Mr. Nibbles blowing up like a balloon to the size of that dragon beast was as much of a surprise to me as it has been to my readers, I think.  I think the Hogwarts Professor might make something of a lesson in that “insides are bigger than the outside” stuff.  Now he is essential to the story and, yes, his relationship with Jacob has been one of my favorite things to explore as well.

    7. I want to go back to the Lewis elements in the Remnant stories. The bad guys in Iona especially are stock characters from Lewis’ film backlot — over reaching scientists and godless academics who are given to speech making and demeaning dismissals of the good guys’ faith and principles. Are you saying things here in narrative that an academic of your standing just cannot write in discursive prose?

    Lewis has had as much of an impact on the last decade of my life than has any other writer for sure.  That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man were very much on my mind as I wrote. The influence of Russell Kirk, I think, would be almost as important as Lewis throughout my work.  In the last 18 months or so of writing, I was also reading a good many dystopias, which probably made an impression on my imagination and impacted the book.  Without question, The Iona Conspiracy became a vehicle for making some big statements about education, art, science, culture, the modern project, heroes and heroism, the imagination, and other little things.   To paraphrase Lewis, sometimes Fairy Stories say best what needs to be said.

    8. There’s something of a lurch between the ‘Indiana Jones goes to Gringotts’ quality of The Sporran’s two chronicles and the school boy novel condensed into a near sci-fi Charles Williams-esque summer camp experience in Iona (albeit one with a trip across the Atlantic….). You jump genres the way Lewis does in his Ransom Trilogy. Will later Chronicles be a different type of book, too?

    I don’t intentionally think about questions of genre and such.  I am a mere political scientist with no literary training and even less knowledge about such things.  I just let the pictures come, try to be alert to the muse, and write–then rewrite.  If I am bending genres or jumping them or any of the sort, it is up to experts like you to explain what I am doing and comment on it.  So, after the next is written, I will look for the Hogwarts Professor to explain back to me what I did and what it means!

    9. True Confessions time: Is there a Gary Gregg wish-fulfillment character and mouthpiece in the book? Besides Mr. Nibbles? Someone who does the things, makes the choices, says the things you wish you had said, done, thought?

    There is no direct correspondence from me to any specific character, at least not consciously.  But, my heroes are pretty cleanly drawn (perhaps a flaw in my art, I don’t know) and they all say things I agree with, most of the time.  I try to craft statements and actions for the lead characters that are accessible and yet have a deeper meaning.  Those statements and actions are certainly things I agree with and hope will stick to the ribs of my readers.

    10. Thank you for this interview and for closing with where we can get your books and when we can expect the fourth Remnant Chronicle!

    The Sporran and The Iona Conspiracy are available at amazon.com as paperbacks and should both be available as e-books soon.  I don’t do a very good job these days of keeping up my website, but more information and links can be found at www.thesporran.com.  I also have to confess that the muse is only slowly working on Remnant Rising, which will be the next to last volume in The Remnant Chronicles. I don’t expect it to be ready very soon.  For a younger audience, I’m also slowly working on a short novel about some Chinese orphans and their dragon pugs, which I hope will become an introductory book to my series about Jacob Boyd as the sporran bearer.

    It has been an honor and much fun. Thank you.

    Thank you, Professor Gregg!


    1. Great interview! Great insights into the writing process as a whole. One suggestion, if one searches for Prof. Gregg’s books on Amazon, do so by title rather than by author name otherwise you’ll have to slog through a bunch of political science titles by Prof. Gregg. 🙂

      Which theoretically isn’t a problem for me since my Bachelor’s is in Political Science.

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