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Brief Analysis of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Biographical Background of Tad Williams’ life at the time of writing.

The Beginning:

Tad Williams was born somewhere in America, and grew up in and around Palo Alto, CA as the son of an average family. His true and legal name is Robert, but since his birth he has only ever been called Tad. His mother was (or is) very creative and encouraged her children’s artistic side. After finishing high school, he started a line of badly-paid boring jobs:

Tad Williams has held more jobs than any sane person should admit to - singing in a band, selling shoes, managing a financial institution, throwing newspapers and designing military manuals, to name just a few.

He also hosted a syndicated radio show for ten years, worked in theatre and television production, taught both grade-school and college classes, and worked in multimedia for a major computer firm. He is co-founder of an interactive television company, and is currently writing comic books and film and television scripts as well as novels.

Tad and his wife, Deborah, live in London and the San Francisco Bay Area. They spend their occasional microseconds of leisure time engineering world peace and making sarcastic remarks about their pets.(18)

In an article on his web-page, he sums up his own feelings during this period:

Always in the back of my mind, though, I was determined to do something creative that would actually MAKE ME MONEY so I could stop doing horrible things for a paycheck. Ambition is like Tinkerbell - when you stop believing, it dies. So I kept at my various projects, with writing becoming a larger and larger focus. When I received the letter from DAW that they were going to buy my novel (Tailchaser’s Song) I was excited and relieved - somehow, the idea that my published books might totally fail to sell never occurred to me that first day, although it was and always is a possibility.(19)

As can be seen, Tad Williams has had a very eventful life, which shows in his varied and deeply vivid story-lines.

The dark phase of Tad Williams’ life:

Tad Williams wrote the last part of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy during a difficult part of his life. In a document on the Official Tad Williams Web Page, aptly titled ‘Tad Speaks,’ he wrote:

Then, it also coincided with a very difficult part of my life, where - among other things - my first marriage ended. I won’t go in to detail, but I was a mess, and just getting out of bed sometimes seemed beyond my strength, let alone finishing one of the most complicated books written in the twentieth century.(20)

Tad Williams states having always wanted to write ‘a big epic fantasy la Lord of the Rings’ (21) as one of the main reasons for writing the trilogy. He intended it to be a single book when he started, but somehow he felt things ‘got muddled up on the way’. Soon, as the story got ever more complicated, the concept was expanded to three books. Unlike Tolkien he states no deeper reasons for starting this major fantasy epic, except for the fact that ‘it might be fun.’

Osten Ard

Osten Ard can safely be divided into two halves, the northern realms of Rimmersgard, Hernistyr and Erkynland; the south of Osten Ard is taken up by the remnants of the Nabban Empire and the grasslands of the Thrithings to the east.

The centre of Osten Ard is taken up by a great and ancient forest, called Aldheorte, or Old Heart. This is where the Sithi are now supposed to live. Far to the north are the fabled mountains of Yiqanuc, where the mountain Trolls dwell. They live in caves high on the mountain-sides and have a fabled enmity with the Rimmersgarders. To the east of the forest are unexplored wastelands, known only to the far-ranging riders of the Thrithings. To the west and north are the lands of the Rimmersgarders. The land of the Hernistyri is found to the far west, bordered on the south by the sea and to the west by mountains. In the central region of western Osten Ard is Erkynland, a land governed from the Hayholt by kings originally from the tribe of men inhabiting Warinsten, an island off the west coast of Osten Ard.

In the south, the Nabban empire is a feudal state governed by Barons from the ancient capital. It closely resembles the ancient Roman Empire in its later Christian days. The ruling King at the beginning of the History, John Presbyter, united all lands of Osten Ard with Erkynland - except Hernistyr, which is closely allied to, yet not under Erkynland’s rule - during many years of war some time before the reader joins the story. In the south of Nabban there is a vast swamp area, known as the Wran. It is largely unexplored by ‘civilised’ people, but inhabited by the Wrannamen, a race of slight, small men, with brown skin and wrinkled features.

The Supernatural limitations of the world created:

There is no pure magic in Osten Ard within the knowledge of the Mortal Races. The mythical Sithi supposedly have the gift of magic, and all inexplicable events are often ascribed to their doing. The mortal Council of the Wise, known as the League of the Scroll, know the secrets of the Art, but they claim this is purely a different way of looking at the possible and the impossible.

For the normal races of Osten Ard, magic is an unknown and mythical power, similar to the view of magic in our mediaeval period. They have no ‘real’ magical artefacts, but only the memory of the tasks the Sithi were able to perform with their inborn powers. Superstition, however was rife, particularly when something of a supernatural nature occurred such as Maegwen’s dreams, or the inexplicable death of Lector Raneisen, or the strange light shows at night on Thisterborg, a tall semi-sacred hill near Erchester.



The Sithi are some of the original inhabitants of Osten Ard, yet even they migrated westward there from across the lands and the fabled oceanto the east of Aldheorte. They enjoyed a peaceful existence alongside the mortal Race of the Hernistyri, who lived there even before the Sithi arrived. They built seven great cities across the breadth of Osten Ard, of which now only one is inhabited, for the others have been either lost or destroyed by invading Men, centuries before the present saga begins.

The Zida’ya, The Dawn Children, as the Sithi name themselves, and the Hikeda’ya, the Cloud Children or the Norns, are two closely related families of this long-lived folk who were sundered thanks to love. A young son of the Sithi fell in love with a daughter of the Norns, and when she was subsequently killed by mortals, the Norns forsook the Sithi, who lived closely with them, and migrated to the northern mountain of Stormspike. There, they hedged a grudge against the Sithi, and finally with the rise of the Storm King’s power, gave them an excuse to take up the war against their more peaceful southern cousins.

Their language is a complicated language understood only by the most learned among mortals. It is spoken in two different dialects, that of the Norns and that of the Sithi. It is a beautifully musical language, seemingly consisting mainly of vowels and apostrophes with the odd consonant thrown in.

The Sithi are golden-skinned, tall and fair, with a plethora of varied hair colour (dyed) making them resemble colourful birds and flowers. The are extremely beautiful in their own way, with a feline grace of movement. Their favoured weapon is the longbow, but they have a certain restriction on their choice of tools: they cannot touch or even abide the presence of iron. Their swords and other tools are therefore crafted out of witchwood, a wood that was brought from across the sea when they migrated to Osten Ard.


The trolls of Yiqanuc are true mountain creatures. They are impervious to cold and are very agile. They herd mountain sheep in the heights of their home mountains to the far north. They are very rarely seen in the south and prefer to remain concealed when visiting southern lands. Nothing is known to the mortal races of their origins, for they keep to themselves. They are, like the Sithi, considered to be an old-wives tale, used to frighten little children.

They speak a harsh language, suited to the height of the mountains where they live, yet also almost impossible for mortal tongues to pronounce. Their culture is steeped in custom and tradition, and they are very superstitious.

Trolls are very small - about the size of a young child. They have broad rugged features, that could be considered beautiful only by members of their own race. They observe all rituals absolutely, and an oath-breaker is punished by death - or more accurately by being thrown down the mountain-side. They use bone as a material for all tools and weapons. They favour the spear and knife as a weapon, and tend to regard the bigger people as clumsy and foolish.


The race of Men seems to be mostly an indigenous people of Osten Ard. The origins of Men are recorded nowhere, except maybe in the records of Morgenes, of which most were sadly destroyed by a fire at the same time as his murder by Pryrates, a former student of his. It is known that the Rimmersgarders came from west across the sea, bringing with them the foreign element of iron. Due to this they were largely shunned by the Sithi.

The Hernistyri, on the other hand, were befriended by the Sithi and their servants, the Dwarrows. They remained still in touch with nature and love the gathering of knowledge. They were a peaceful folk, interested in preserving their special heritage and links with the Sithi, although the latter had largely withdrawn from all contact with men by the start of the epic.

The Men of Nabban and Erkynland are of the same stock, and closely resemble the Men of central Europe, in looks as well as in culture. Being the most numerous, they have naturally taken over the farming and management of most of Osten Ard.


Rimmersgarders are tall, strong, proud and quick to anger, yet also quick to forget any wrongs caused to them. They are fierce fighters and heavy drinkers - generally in that order. All males of this race wear beards and will refuse to shave them, even in the hottest regions of Nabban. The women of this region are as fierce as their men, and will often join them in fighting. Most Rimmersgarders are strict Aedonites since the conversion by John Presbyter during the unification of all the lands of Osten Ard. This is often hard for the older members of the race, who are still used to their ancient gods, yet have finally embraced this new god.

The Hernistyri

Hernistyri are shorter than the Rimmersgarders, yet will fight just as fiercely when provoked. They are generally gentle and kind people, loving animals and all kinds of knowledge. They are the only race of Osten Ard that has not embraced Aedonism as their religion, and they hold true to their ancient gods, which seem similar in form to those forsaken gods of Rimmersgard.

The Nabbanai

The Nabbanai are an honourable race, with a culture steeped in codes and rules of conduct. They hold true to their word and any oath given, even if it harms themselves. They are, like the men of Erkynland, a mixed race, yet true Nabbanai tend to be dark in their features, olive skinned and stocky in build. They are the ‘original’ Aedonites, as Usires Aedon lived and was crucified in their ruling city of Nabban.

The Erkynlanders

The Erkynlanders were originally of Nabban stock, mixed with other races of Osten Ard. They have no true defining features, excepting the fact that they live in Erkynland. They are similar to the Nabbanai in their mannerisms and culture, yet with some differences. They are also Aedonites, and their capital city hosts the finest Cathedral in all of Osten Ard, second only to the Sancellan Aedonitis, the Cathedral of St. Sutrins. Erkynland has a long and troubled history, and was with no king for almost five hundred years before John slew the dragon that had claimed the tunnels below the Hayholt as its lair.


Of the Wrannamen not much is known save that they are savages living in the great swamplands of the Wran. They are subject to the ruling family of Nabban, even if no Wrannaman will willingly leave the swamp. They worship gods of Nature who guide their every step and watch over them.

Formalised Religion

The people of Osten Ard generally worship the one god of Aedonism. According to the scriptures, Usires Aedon was crucified on the sacrificial tree in ancient Nabban for preaching against the god-status the Imperators enjoyed. He had managed to gather a great number of followers, however, and the message and religion he was preaching spread, aided by natural events that happened to coincide with important events in Usires’ life.

In the time of the History, the Church is an important political institution, guiding the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. The head of the Church is the Lector, who is a figurehead for the Church. He performs important ceremonies, such as state funerals and coronations. In charge of larger areas of believers are the bishops, subject to the Lector’s every decree. As in all great institutions, politics plays a great part inside the Church, even to the extent of intrigue and murder.

Religion plays a large part in the development of the story, and every race has its own form of religion, even when lacking any formalised way of expressing this, such as the Sithi who practice a form of ancestor worship.


The languages of men are varied: the men of Hernistyr and Rimmersgard speak ancient tongues with no relation to any other languages in Osten Ard or indeed each other: Hernstiri and Rimmerspeak respectively. The common language at the time of the history is John Presbyter’s native tongue from the Isle of Warinsten, which is related to ancient Nabbanai. In Nabban, a modernised form of ancient Nabbanai is spoken, as well as the common tongue of John’s kingdom. The riders of the Thrithings have their own language, related to that of the Hernistyr, yet this has now become obsolete, as they have adopted a harsher form of the common tongue.

Tad Williams states in an interview carried out via e-mail in answer to the question of languages:

[...] I used a lot of writers tricks to make it look like I was developing languages, where I was either mangling existing languages (Gaelic, Icelandic) or making things that SOUNDED like new languages. Unlike Professor Tolkien, I had neither the skill, knowledge or time (it took him over thirty years) to invent a language.(21)

Each race in Osten Ard has its own language and these languages each have their own rules, to which the author diligently stuck. Even if they are not complete languages, they do manage to give the impression of being spoken in their full form when the reader is not looking. The method used by Tad Williams is one employed by many writers, and, unlike many authors of the Fantasy genre, he has created perfectly good languages without having gone to the trouble of inventing new tongues.

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