Monday, October 28, 2013

Blog Tour: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

As I'm sure a lot of you guys know, Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow releases tomorrow.  Today I have Erin on the blog to talk about the games that children play.

In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled or destroyed with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders.

Otter is the daughter of Willow, a binder of great power. She’s a proud and privileged girl who takes it for granted that she will be a binder some day herself. But when Willow’s power begins to turn inward and tear her apart, Otter finds herself trapped with a responsibility she’s not ready for, and a power she no longer wants.

There are certain things in the world that are so old that their origins are not remembered – so widespread that they seem somehow essentially human. Things like tossing salt over your shoulder.  Things like scrying in mirrors.  Things like our widespread hunch that things like hair and blood and teeth can, when the moon is right, be used for magic.

 That by itself does not seem surprising:  humankind is old. Science and rationalism are just a thin layer on top of vast depths of traditional knowledge. What’s surprising to me is how often these ancient things turn up in children’s games.  

Modern grown-ups might scoff at superstition and never mention their sneaking suspicion that mirrors are actually doorways, but all modern grownups were children once. For centuries – sometimes for millennia – unbroken chains of children have taught each other games that preserve these strange little rituals.

Did you know, for instance, that the game and chant that starts “London Bridge is Falling Down” (see is quite a bit older than London Bridge itself? It’s so old that some folklorists think it might reflect a cultural memory of foundation sacrifice – that is, the practice of either burying a sacrificial victim or walling up a living person at the foundation of an important structure, such as a castle, a city wall, or – most commonly – a bridge. 

Junior high kids at slumber parties still know all the rules and hazards of mirror scrying – ever play “Bloody Mary”?  Even the tooth fairy, if you stop to think about it, is pretty creepy.  

Some of the creep perhaps comes from the Children of the Corn effect – the contrast between the innocence of children and the ancientness of their games. I will never forget the day my three-year-old came home from preschool with a new chant; “Pale horses, pale horses, what time of day? One o’clock, two o’clock, off and away!”

Her sweet little voice chanting these strange words – I had never heard the rhyme before, though it sounded old – made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle up.

But I think most of our perception that children’s games make good nightmare fuel has its roots in our sense that children’s games are OLD, and our hunch that anything that old is probably important, even if we don’t know why.   

If you love fantasy literature, then children’s games are a gold mine.

As I writer of fantasy, I’ve had to pull off a few strange tricks. One of the hardest has been to create systems of magic and kinds of ghosts that feel both fresh – no more vampires, please! – and authentic.  To do it, I’ve had to edge my way backward in human history – out of the modern era, which is well lit but not as scientific as we’d like think, and into the gaslight, into the candlelight, into the dark.  I was sniffing after things that felt old.  Feeling my way with snatches of folklore, old fairytales, ghost stories, and -- of course -- children’s games. 

Take cat’s cradle, the game of creating figures by crossing strings. No one knows where it comes from.  It seems to come from nowhere, from everywhere – it’s played by traditional cultures in East Asia, Australia, Africa, the Arctic, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands. The version played in America seems to come from Asia, and probably crossed the landbridge during the Ice Age, making it at least 16,000 years old.  It might be older still. It’s connected to whole system of fortune telling with knots and string, with a terrifying fairytale about a woman in labour and the witch who ties knots in her hair, another about a home defended from monsters by a single red strand ….

If you’re a fantasy writer, there’s only one reaction to this kind of information. It’s: turn down the lights, children – let me tell you a story.

 Thank you so much for the fantastic guest post, Erin!  

In addition to the guest post, Erin's publisher has graciously offered copies of Sorrow's Knot for giveaway.  I have three print copies to share with you guys today.  Here are the rules if you're interested:

*Three winners will receive a print copy of Sorrow's Knot.
*Open to U.S./Canada only.
*The giveaway will end on November 11th at 11:59 p.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I loved Plain Kate--can't wait for this one!

  2. Sorrow's Knot is a book that doesn't disappoint. I really loved the interview and the insight. Thanks for posting this Liz! (And thank you Erin Bow for your nifty answers!)

  3. Really looking forward to reading this book, I totally agree that we have so many similarities in culture and it's so fun seeing how they progress.

  4. "If you love fantasy literature, then children’s games are a gold mine." It's amazing. I've never thought about this until I read this sentence, but it's absolutely true.

    Great post, Erin and Liz :) I can't wait to read the Sorrow's Knot.

  5. I am so excited for this book!

  6. I am such a fan of Plain Kate & Erin Bow! I'm itching to get my hands on a copy of this book---can't wait!

  7. I JUST got Plain Kate and cannot wait to read it. Erin seems to have a wonderful ability to make an easy read. I cannot wait to read Sorrow's Knot too!

  8. So excited for this book! Thanks for posting about this book and the giveaway!

  9. This book was all kinds of awesome. Thanks for the giveaway.



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