Of the many characters I have created over the years, few have captured the imagination of readers as powerfully as Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man. Alan Fisher, the award winning author of 'Terioki Crossing', and a fan of the film Casablanca, has a phrase that sums up characters like Shannow. "They walk out of Rick's bar, fully formed and real. The author doesn't have to work on them at all. There is no concsious act of creation. One moment they don't exist- the next they stand before you, complete and ready." I remember the moment Shannow walked out of Rick's bar. It was at the end of a miserable, wet day in Bournemouth at the start of autumn in 1986. I was the group managing editor of a series of newspapers stretching from Brighton to Portsmouth on the south coast. The previous week I had a call from my father to tell me that my mother was in hospiatl and that the surgeons feared she had terminal cancer. They were right. A year before she had suffered the aputation of her right leg, and fought back to make a dramatic entrance at the Christmas dance. This time there would be no fightback. I had visited her in London, and then driven to Bournemouth for a business meeting, concluding it at around ten that night. I was staying in a small hotel of remarkable unfriendliness. The kind of place- as Jack Dee once said- where the Gideons leave a rope! I hadn't eaten since the previous evening and I called the night porter. He said the kitchen staff had gone home, but there was a plate of olives someone had left at the bar. Nursing the olives and a very large glass of Armagnac I returned to my room and opened the Olympia portable typewriter. I was at the time preparing a Drenai novel, featuring the Nadir warlord Ulric, which my publishers had commissioned. According to the contract the book was to be called 'Wolf in Shadow' and was, lossely, a prequel to Legend. I had completed around sixty pages. They weren't good, but I was powering on as best I could. Sitting by the window, looking out over Bournemouth's glistening streets, I tried to push the events of the week from my mind. My mother was dying, I was waiting to be fired, and staff, who had joined my team in good faith, were facing redundancy. After the fifth large Armagnac I decided to continue work on the book. I knew I was drunk, and I also knew that the chances of writing anything worthwhile were pretty negligible. But forcing my mind into a fantasy world seemed infintely more appealing than concentrating on the reality at hand. The scene I was set to continue had a Nadir scout riding across the steppes. The intention was to follow him to the top of a hill and have him gaze down on the awesome army camped on the plains below. I focuse dont he typewriter keys and typed the folowing sentences... 'The rider paused at the crest of a wooded hill, and gazed down at the wide, rolling ampty lands beneath him. There was no sign of Jerusalem... The walls of the mind came crashing in as I typed the word 'Jerusalem, ' thoughts, fears amd regrets spilling ver one another, fighting for space. There followed a bad hour, which even Armagnac could not ease. But after midnight I returned to the page and stared down at it. It called to me. Who is he, I thought? What is he looking for, the Jerusalem Man? And suddenly he was there. Tall and gaunt, seeking a city that had ceased to exist three hundred years before. A lonely, tortured man on a quest with no ending, riding through a world of savagery and barbarism. The story flowed in an instant, and I wrote until after the dawn. Through all the despair that followed in those next painful months I found a sanctuary in the company of Jon Shannow. Through his eyes I could see the world clearly, and understand how important it is to be strong in the broken places. As a result Shannow will always be one of my favourite characters. For a while back here he was the best friend I'd ever had. 1995
~The following was written by David Gemmell as a foreword to 'The Last Guardian,' his second Jon Shannow story. It's about Jon Shannow's refusal to stop living and breathing- despit anything David might have planned. Here he explains...~ There was no doubt in my mind about what happened to Jon Shannow when he rode into the mountains, wounded and alone. He was dying. And Jerusalem beckoned. Yet once the novel was published, reader reaction was immediate. How long to the next Shannow story? The answer was simple: Thankyou for your letter, and I'm glad you enjoyed Jon Shannow's tale, but he is dead. There will be no more adventures. I sent just such a response to a fan in Liverpool. He knew better and wrote back immediately. "No he's not! No way!" It was a real shock- as if he knew something I didn't. I showed the letter to one of my test readers. Her amused response was, "Hey, maybe he's right. you don't know everything David: You're only the author." From that moment I started wondering about Shannow. Could there have been some miracle on the mountain? At around the same time I recieved a number of reviews for 'Wolf in Shadow.' Some were very good, some were indifferent, but one was downright vile. One of the lines struck me particularly. "I dread to think of people who look up to men like Shannow." The writer was named Broome. Twenty years of journalism had taught me not to overreact to criticism. A writer's work is not his child. It is just work. A work of love and passion, but work nonetheless. Even so, I wanted to react in some way. All my characters in my novels are based on real people, and I thought it would be a neat response to use a character named Broome- a man passionately oppossed to violence who would loath the hero, but be drawn into his world. It was in my mind that he would be a cannon-fodder character, of little consequence who would die early. But, as with so much in the magical world of creative writing, events did not- as you will see- turn out anything like I had planned. It took only one more little nudge to push me into a second Shannow novel. I was driving home one night, listening to the radio, when the haunting lyricof a new song struck home like an arrow. The singer was a brilliant new American artist named Tracy Chapman, and the song spoke of racism and riots and the appalling violence that has sadly become commonplace in the impoverished inner cities of the USA. One line had immense power for me... "Across the lines who would dare to go..." I knew who would dare. I got home around 2am and immediately switched on the word processor. I had no idea how to get around the apparent death of my hero in the first book, and I did not wish to write a prequel voevel. In the end I used the simplest device there is. I began with the words... 'But he did not die...'
There is something about the character and personality of Shannow that leaves people loving or loathing him. Sometimes both emotions are aroused simultaneously. It is hard to pin down the reasons. There is an iron quality about Jon Shannow that is admirable and worthy in a lone knight riding though a savage world. The decisions he makes are based solely on what he sees and experiences. He lives with a code of honour that refuses to allow evil to rage unchecked. He will always seek to defend the weak against the predators. Offset against this is his capacity for violence, and his certainty that his actions are right. It is just such certainty that can lead to horrors like the Spanish Inquisition, the butchery of the Aztecs, the burning at the stake of Catholics and Protestants, and the vileness of the Holocaust. When ruthless men are certain then the gulags and the concentration camps follow. I have tried to present Jon Shannow as a flawed man in a flawed world. There is more to him than the nature of his deeds, just as I hope there is more to the stories than simple adventures of good versus evil. The tales have a spiritual centre not based exclusively on any recognised religion or creed. For me the message is simple, though I know from conversation and correspondance with fans that the underlying sub-text is very often- though not always- misunderstood. But what is of enormous value to me is that 'Bloodstone' sprang from the inter-action between myself and the readers. For some years the weight of mail was light, and I was able to respond to every fan who took the time to write. Increasing letters meant I could reply only to first time writers. Now even that has become difficult. But every letter is read by me, and often the points made will find their way into subsequent stories. This is especially true of 'Bloodstone.' The questions from readers that prompted the novel were many. One young fan wrote to ask whether Shannow was a symbol for the way I thought society should behave, as Forrest Gump is said to be a symbol for America. Others talked of the nature of legend, or the lack of spiritual centre in politics. One wrote saying that, while he enjoyed the novels, he hated Shannow because he was the epitome of men like the Ayatollah Khomeini. Can you imagine, he asked, what any society was like if a man like Shannow ever had power? Could I imagine that? Yes I could. 'Bloodstone' is the result and concludes the story of Jon Shannow. I do not believe there will be another. Though I don't doubt there's a fan in Liverpool who knows better. David Gemmell (1995)