One of the things that motivated me to write The Four Legendary Kingdoms was a desire to explore humanity’s fascination with myths, in particular, the myth of the Twelve Labours of Hercules.
I’ve long been intrigued by the Twelve Labours: those twelve tasks given to the great warrior Hercules that were so monstrously difficult they inspired the adjective “Herculean”. More than that, they were so momentous they are still talked about today, 3,000 years after Hercules supposedly performed them.
We all vaguely know the Labours: defeating the Nemean Lion (with its impenetrable pelt) or slaying the Hydra (with its many regenerating heads) or capture the Cretan Bull.
The task I set myself was to create a real and believable reason for these labours: to explain why these peculiar missions were performed and why Hercules’s success at them has lasted through the ages.
And so I created the Great Games which are the centrepiece of The Four Legendary Kingdoms: a series of deadly challenges that Hercules participated in 3,000 years ago, challenges that feature armoured warriors wearing ornate lion or bull helmets. In my story, my hero, Jack West Jr, has been called upon (in the present day) to participate in these cruel games as they are held for the first time in thousands of years.
Having done this, I was then able to thread into the story everything I knew about the Twelve Labours: the creatures, the callow king who forced Hercules to perform the Labours, and a myriad other things.
It was very enjoyable.
I took some inspiration from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy: in those (brilliant) movies Nolan did essentially the same thing. He gave a solid, grounded reality to the idea of a man dressing up as a bat (military-grade suit; a tank-like vehicle for the Batmobile).
Myths are curious things. For some reason, we enjoy them. And they stand the test of time.
Interestingly, myths still exist today, only today we call them conspiracy theories, and that, I guess, is the final myth in The Four Legendary Kingdoms: the theory that four powerful kingdoms rule the world from the shadows, allowing governments to think they are in charge.
That’s another myth that has stood the test of time.
Matthew Reilly‘s The Four Legendary Kingdoms is published today in the UK by Orion Books; and by Gallery Books in North America, in May 2017. Orion also publishes the first three books in the series: Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, and The Five Greatest Warriors.
Here’s the synopsis for The Four Legendary Kingdoms:
There are sixteen contestants, but only one will survive.
The last thing Jack West Jr remembers is arriving for a meeting at a top-secret military base with his family in tow.
Now he awakes to find himself in a hellish scenario. Jack has been selected to take part in the Games, a series of deadly challenges designed to fulfil an ancient ritual. If he chooses not to compete, both he and his daughter will be killed.
With the fate of the Earth at stake, Jack will have to traverse diabolical mazes, fight ruthless assassins and face unimaginable horrors that will test him to the limit.
In the process, he will discover the mysterious and powerful group of individuals behind it all: the four legendary kingdoms.