“Combining History with Fantasy – Why and Three Hows”
To be an historian, you must be detail oriented. But writing fantasy is about creativity and imagination. So when I decided to use my Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history to write a fantasy story for middle grade readers—a story that sends two South Side Chicago kids 3,000 years into the past—figuring out how to merge the historian with the storyteller was a painful task. It seemed so simple the day my son—then nine, now sixteen—first suggested I write a book about a kid who looked like him lost in time. It took many years, and a lot of false starts, but eventually I figure out a few ways to merge the historical details stuffed in my head with the imagination that fired up my heart.
The topsy-turvy journey was worth the effort. I wanted to share my passion for ancient Egypt with middle school aged kids, in part, because I think it’s important that today’s youth recognize that the practices, systems, and objects we enjoy today were inherited from across the globe, including from this impressive African culture. And my hunch was that some kids who wouldn’t read straight history would be open to fantasy drenched in mummies and giant scorpions and magician princesses.
Here are three things I did to make the history in Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh more fantastical…
1. Integrating the theme
The first breakthrough came when I integrated the history into my worldbuilding by selecting a theme that relates to both. Since it’s a three book series, I chose an ancient blessing that captures three themes worthy of exploration: ankh, wedja, seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity and health. Book one is about life (ankh), which brings us to our mummy—the princess Meketaten, who really did die around the time my book is set. But since it’s ancient Egypt, Jagger’s task is not to save her life—that wouldn’t honor the history—but her afterlife. The ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife is both fantastical and historical!
2. Mixing it up … literally
My biggest aha moment came when I figured out a way to mix the modern with the ancient. Artifacts, aka things, were the key. See, everyone has things, modern sixth graders and ancient princesses alike. I thought kids would be interested in the things ancient Egyptians valued, like magical amulets and small figurines designed to spring to life in the afterworld to care for the dead. And imagine the shock an iPhone 3,000 years in the past would trigger. But the real fun came when I started switching modern things with ancient artifact. For example, when the kids’ magician sidekick loses the wax she needs to cast a magic spell, it gets replace by gum from Aria’s purse. (It’s the best way to magic up a killer Apep serpent! Who knew?)
3. Digging the details
Yes, details are key for all writers. But when you’re creating new worlds (writing fantasy) or taking people into unfamiliar historical periods (writing history), giving readers information on what things look like, sound like, and feel like is even more important. When your historical period is ancient Egypt, addressing the sense of smell is a must. That’s because ancient Egypt was a smelly place. No, I haven’t traveled back in time to confirm that suspicion, but scents are so commonly referenced in stories and texts and even images that I feel secure with the assumption. One way I highlighted the sense of smell in my series was to give magicians unique scents—the princess Tatia’s magic spells smell like fresh herbs, while the lovely Mut’s spells release the scent of lotus blossoms. It was just one small way to weave real history into the fantasy.
With book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, available in late May, I hope kids enjoy the adventure and don’t mind the history they pick up on the journey. You can learn more about Egyptian history, my books, and classroom activities like my Jagger Jones themed escape the room activity, on my website here: http://malaynaevans.com
Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh
Author: Malayna Evans
Published May 28th, 2019 by Month9Books
About the Book: Jagger Jones is a whiz kid from Chicago’s South Side. Ask him anything about Ancient Egypt, and Jagger can fill hours describing all that he knows. But when he and his precocious little sister Aria fall more than three thousand years back in time to the court of Amarna, Egypt, Jagger discovers a truth that rocks his world: books don’t teach you everything there is to know.
Mummies, pyramids, and cool hieroglyphics make awesome movie props, but the ancient court of Amarna is full of over-sized scorpions, magical amulets, and evil deities determined to scare unwanted visitors away. If Jagger and Aria are to return safely home, they must find nine soul-infested gemstones, defeat an evil general, save the royal family, and figure out how to rescue themselves!
Armed only with Jagger’s knowledge of history and a few modern objects mined from his pockets and Aria’s sparkly purse, the siblings have exactly one week to solve supernatural riddles and rescue the royal family. If they can pull it off, Jagger Jones just might return to Chicago a hero.
About the Author: Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, she earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, is out in May of 2019. Malayna spends her time visiting classrooms to share her passion for ancient Egypt, traveling with her two kids, and walking her rescue dog, Caesar. She lives in Oak Park, Il.
So cool to hear from a real Egyptologist! Thank you! I know my Riordan fans are going to adore this book!