Origin Stories and Story Origins

One of the most commonly asked questions I hear at author Q&A's is "where do you get your ideas?"  Everyone has a different answer to that question—sometimes, as in the case of classroom visits, we hear different answers from the same author in the same day!  The writer's muse is fickle and it's tough to know when inspiration will strike or what shape it might take.

That being said, there are some pretty wild origin stories for different books out there.  Some are probably apocryphal or urban legend, but hey, a good story is meant to be enjoyed, whatever its origin.  One of my personal favorites is the story of the Silvianus Ring.

The Silvianus Ring, also known as the Vyne Ring, is a gold ring dating from the 4th century AD.  It was found in a field in Hampshire, England, in 1785, a relic of the Roman Empire's British outposts.  The ring was intended as a signet ring: the top has an engraved carving of the Roman goddess Venus and her name in reverse, so when stamped it would appear correctly.  An additional inscription was added around the band of the ring.  It reads "SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE," which includes two spelling errors.  The inscription was likely supposed to read "SENICIANE VIVAS IN DEO."  This is an interesting addition as the phrase "vivas in deo" was common among Roman Christians and effectively converted the ring from its original pagan roots to suit a new Christian owner.

That might be where the story ends, except that in the 19th century, archeologists in Glouchestershire (around 80 miles from where the Silvianus Ring was found) were excavating a Roman temple dedicated to the god Nodens and  unearthed a lead plaque known as a defixio, or curse tablet.  This tablet shed some interesting light on the ring found decades earlier, as it read (when translated):

For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one half its value to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens.

If the Senicianus of the curse tablet is indeed the same "Seniciane" who inscribed his name and Christian motto on a ring of suspiciously non-Christian origins, then that might hold a record for the oldest cold case ever solved.  Assuming, of course, Nodens didn't deign to intervene on Silvianus' behalf.  The archeologists working on the dig might have been interested in the connection, but their primary focus was on the temple itself, and, of course, the god to whom it was dedicated.  They even consulted with a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University to help better understand the etymology of Nodens' name.

That professor was one John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

A ring lost and found and lost again?  A curse from one owner to the thief who'd taken it?  Sounds familiar.  

While Tolkien never actually said The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings drew on this real-life ring, it's pretty likely he knew about the story, and personally, I like the idea of a little piece of reality providing the spark for something as grandly imaginative as The Lord of the Rings.  Here are some other origin stories that might prove as fascinating as the books they inspired!



Frankenstein By Mary Shelley Cover Image
ISBN: 9781912714322
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Chiltern Publishing - October 1st, 2019

Mary Shelley told the first iteration of what would become Frankenstein while a trip with her future husband (Percy Shelley) and Lord Byron.  The group was telling ghost stories one evening, each trying to outdo the last.  Mary Shelley's tale, by most accounts, won the day.

Around the World in Eighty Days By Jules Verne, Michael Glencross (Translated by), Brian Aldiss (Introduction by), Michael Glencross (Notes by) Cover Image
By Jules Verne, Michael Glencross (Translated by), Brian Aldiss (Introduction by), Michael Glencross (Notes by)
ISBN: 9780140449068
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Classics - May 4th, 2004

Jules Verne's classic was inspired by an ad in a Parisian newspaper which offered an 80 day tour of the world.

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Don't Look Now: Selected Stories of Daphne du Maurier By Daphne du Maurier, Patrick McGrath (Introduction by) Cover Image
By Daphne du Maurier, Patrick McGrath (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590172889
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: NYRB Classics - October 28th, 2008

Many of Daphne du Maurier's books and stories were inspired by locales in and around her native Cornwall.  One story in particular, "The Birds", was inspired by a farmer plowing his field.  A flock of seagulls followed the tractor, grabbing insects from the freshly turned earth, but du Maurier began to wonder what would happen if their motives were a bit more sinister.

The Hound of the Baskervilles By Arthur Conan Doyle Cover Image
ISBN: 9781912714681
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Published: Chiltern Publishing - September 8th, 2020

This Sherlock Holmes story was allegedly inspired by Sir Arthur's visit to Dartmoor with his friend, Bertram Fletcher Robinson.  While there, Robinson told Doyle the legend of a local squire who'd sold his soul to the devil and was dragged off to hell by a pack of monstrous hounds.  Setting and story combined into one of Holmes' more memorable adventures.

Little Women (Puffin in Bloom) By Louisa May Alcott, Anna Bond (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Louisa May Alcott, Anna Bond (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780147514011
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Puffin Books - August 28th, 2014

Louisa May Alcott famously based her story of four fictional sisters—Jo, Beth, Amy, and Meg—on herself and her real life sisters, Anna, May, and Elizabeth.

The Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery (Miss Marple Mysteries #1) By Agatha Christie Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063213920
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Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - February 15th, 2022

Christie's elderly but quick-witted detective Miss Marple was based on her own grandmother.  In interviews in the 60s, Christie described her grandmother as "a completely cheerful person, [but] she always expected the worst of anyone and everything. And with almost frightening accuracy she was usually proved right."

Where the Wild Things Are By Maurice Sendak, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Maurice Sendak, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780060254926
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperCollins - December 26th, 2012

According to an interview with the LA Times in 1993, Sendak had originally planned to write a book entitled "Where the Wild Horses Are," but as Sendak put it, "it became apparent to my editor I could not draw horses."  They changed the title to Where the Wild Things Are and Sendak created his famous gamboling, lovable monsters which were, he claims, inspired by his relatives.