Unicorn and Dragon


Extra Thoughts on the 2003 Editions

What can I say about the Unicorn and Dragon books? I had a lot of fun doing them, but initially, they weren’t my idea and that’s come back to haunt me in the years since the two books were published.

My agent called me one day in 1985. She said she’d just gotten a called from a book packager who was interested in pairing me and Robert Gould on a series of 10,000-word illustrated childrens’ books with a historical fantasy theme. Now, as it happens, Robert Gould is one of my all-time favorite fantasy artists and though I wouldn’t normally associate either his style or mine with traditional childrens’ literature, I told my agent I was game for the idea.

When the proposal arrived it was for an Arthurian fantasy (in the style of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon which was very big just then. There were two characters, sisters named Black (the Dragon) and White (the Unicorn) and a suggestion that there be some sort of “conflict” between them. The idea was that I’d “flesh out” the proposal and meet in New York City with the packager and Bob Gould a few months later.

In the course of “fleshing out” the idea, I junked the Arthurian setting and substituted the decades of the 11th century Norman Conquest of England. I renamed “White” Allison and made her the daughter of a Anglo-Saxon nobleman. I renamed “Black” Wildecent and made her the ward of that nobleman. I gave them an aunt who was an initiate of the old Cymric rites. Finally I catalyzed their household by depositing a young Norman squire, Stephen/Etienne, in their midst and giving Stephen/Etienne a companion, Ambrose who had been trained by magi in Byzantium.

In short, I added a lot of flesh--enough to make a six-volume series... and the project was underway... sort of.

The packager called me one day to tell me that there’d been a little mistake... It seems he’d confused me, Lynn Abbey, with another author, Elizabeth Lynn. He’d never read my books and, well -- he offered to let me keep the advance money as a “kill fee.” I, on the other hand, had a good story cooking and still wanted to collaborate with Bob Gould, so I didn’t accept the “kill fee” and the project lurched forward to its next obstacle...

No publisher wanted it. The publishers, at least, were familiar with my Rifkind novels and the work I’d been doing on Thieves’ World ® and Bob’s work as the cover artist for the mid-80s and they didn’t see the pair of us a childrens’ lit material... Then, finally, Avon made an offer -- for a potential series of Young Adult novels, 60,000 words each with a half-dozen or so Gould illustrations. Although this changed the balance of work everyone agreed it was a change for the better.

I wrote a book I liked and which I called “Basket of Light,” but the packager preferred Unicorn and Dragon, so, Unicorn and Dragon it was. Bob did superb illustrations and a cover which I liked so much I bought the original. Avon put all the pieces together and then was disappointed that a 60,000-word YA book--that is to say a short book with a PG-13 rating--didn’t rack up the numbers like Mists of Avalon.

By then, I’d finished the second volume, which I was calling “The Green Man,” but the packager thought should be called Conquest (never mind that, as I’d outlined the stories, the Battle of Hastings and conquest of England wasn’t scheduled until book five). I turned it in and heard back that “the powers that be” wanted an additional 15,000 words and, specifically, they wanted those 15,000 words to include all the violence and cruelty I’d left out of the YA/PG-13 version, because they’d decided that if we put in R-rated material, then we’d surely get Mists of Avalon numbers.

Of course we didn’t. And the whole project was abandoned after two volumes. I still have my notes for the rest of the story, but the packager and I didn’t part on the best of terms so it’s not likely that they’ll ever see the light of day... although I did hear, as 2002 drew to a close, that he’s licensed “e-book” editions of Unicorn and Dragon and Conquest -- which he has the right to do, though I do wish he’d offered at least a token payment when he did.

I have no idea if the “e-books” will include the cover art. On the chance that they don’t--and because the covers, for both the US and UK editions, are quite attractive, I’ll include them here...

cover art copyright Robert Gould

Cover art copyright by Robert Gould



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