Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
Spines of the six first editions
|Illustrator||Geoff Taylor (chapter headings)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback), audiobook (CD & cassette)|
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness is a series of six historical fantasy novels by the British author Michelle Paver, her first books for children. The books chronicle the adventures of Torak, an adolescent boy, and his friends Renn and Wolf. The main story arc revolves around Torak and his quest to defeat the Soul Eaters, a group of power hungry mages who seek out to destroy all life in the forest. Paver has called it simply "a single story: the tale of Torak's discovery of himself and his world."
Since the 30 May 2004 release of the first book in the series, Wolf Brother, the series has gained critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide. Wolf Brother became a national bestseller in the United States, and the rights to the series were bought by 20th Century Fox to be made into major motion pictures. In October 2013, Nick Hirschkorn's production company Feel Films picked up the film rights, with Will Davies attached as screenwriter.
The books are set 6000 years ago in prehistoric Europe during the Stone Age. The main character, Torak, alone in the world, soon meets a lone wolf cub, Wolf, with whom he can communicate (having spent around three months in a wolf den as a baby). A girl named Renn, who is part of the Raven Clan, soon befriends them and supports them throughout the series. Torak's quest, along with Renn and Wolf, is to defeat the Soul Eaters, a group of former clan mages who have turned to evil, and who seek to control the forest. The story is told from three different third-person narratives: Torak, Renn and Wolf.
Torak, the main character, begins the series as a naive, defensive, and curious boy of twelve. Over the course of the novels, he acquires several spiritual titles, including "Spirit Walker", and learns of titles his late father had, including "Soul Eater": this last title causes numerous difficulties, due to his desire to end the Soul Eaters and the evil they cause. He is slow to mature emotionally, but from the fourth book on he is described as taller and brave, in sharp contrast to the short, scrawny boy portrayed in the first three books. He becomes protective of Renn in the later books as they grow closer: this often annoys and frustrates her. He has the power to vanquish the Soul-Eaters and at first despises his power: he eventually grows to accept it.
Renn, the niece of the Raven Clan's leader, Fin-Kedinn. She is a year younger than Torak and is described as slim and small in the first few books. Later on, she is portrayed as tough, courageous and is shown to be an expert in archery. She has been forced into becoming a mage all her life because of her skill with magic but truly desires being a hunter. Torak, Wolf and Fin-Kedinn are her only true friends. Throughout the books, Renn is often described through Torak's eyes as older and beautiful, but is often frustrated by his seeming thoughtlessness. She also has a bad relationship with her brother, Hord, and disagrees with him many times throughout the first book.
Wolf, a wolf, is Torak's guide and adoptive brother. He grows from a wobbly cub to a young adult over the course of around a year, but stays with Torak and Renn throughout the series of books. As a cub his fur is grey, but as he matures his pelt molds into a golden grey tinged with white, with gold fur around his shoulders. At first he hates Renn intensely because of the way he treated her when he and Torak are first captured, and in the chapters that are written from his point of view, he initially refers to her as the "female tailless": as he develops affection to her, he begins to call her pack-sister. The author gives him an unusual vocabulary that often describes exactly what things are to a wolf or any other animal: for example, he refers to fire as the Bright Beast-that-Bites Hot. Wolf eventually finds a female wolf named Darkfur, with whom he produces cubs.
Fin-Kedinn is the wise leader of the Raven Clan, Renn's uncle and eventually Torak's foster father. In the past he was best friends with Torak's father and his brother Tenris, both of whom were ambitious to become mages. Fin-Kedinn was in love with Torak's mother, but she loved Fa, Torak's father, and followed him into exile when they fled the Soul-Eaters. Fin-Kedinn has won the respect of all the clans and even that of Wolf, who admire the 'lead wolf who smells of raven' because he has the habits of a wolf, such as only sleeping for short periods of time. Although impassive and refusing to show emotion, Fin-Kedinn cares deeply for both Renn and Torak.
The Soul-Eaters are a group of mages who united to combine their powers for the good of all people calling themselves the "Healers", but became corrupted and now wish to have power over everyone, using a crystal called the Fire Opal to make demons do their bidding. There were initially seven of mages in the group. Torak's late father, Fa, joined the group against his wife's advice, before rejecting their desire to take power. He summoned the seven together and shattered the Fire Opal into three pieces, causing a great fire that ripped across the forest. The Soul Eaters were scattered and Torak's father and mother went into exile. Torak's mother then gave birth to her son, and when she died shortly afterwards Fa continued his exile with his son for 12 years, before Fa's death at the beginning of the first novel. The seven mages were from the Otter Clan (the Walker/Narrander), Seal Clan (Tenris), Wolf Clan (Torak's Father), Bat Clan (Nef), Viper Clan (Seshru), Oak Clan (Thiazzi), and Eagle Owl Clan (Eostra).
Fa is Torak's father, the former Mage of the Wolf Clan, and one of the seven Soul Eaters. Although he only appears briefly at the start of Wolf Brother when he is killed by the demon bear, his legacy is the driving force behind the whole of the books. His name is never revealed, but is always referred to by Torak as ‘Fa’. Once a young man coming from the secretive Wolf Clan, Fa's ambition was to become a Mage and he eventually succeeded, becoming the Wolf Clan Mage; in the words of the Clan Leader, Maheegun, Fa was the greatest Mage the clan ever had and succeeded in 'becoming wolf for a few heartbeats'. However, Fa was also naive and easily fooled in his youth and he blindly believed the promises and good intentions of the Soul Eaters. When they revealed to him their true natures, Fa tried to leave but they refused to let him. Determined to undo the evil he had unintentionally created, he summoned all of the Soul Eaters together and tried to kill all seven with fire before going into hiding with his wife. The World Spirit, angered by the Soul Eaters' crimes decreed that, Fa's son would be the one to destroy them and he granted him the ancient power of the spirit walker to help him accomplish his task. Fa raised Torak away from the clans after his wife's death to prevent the Soul Eaters from finding out about him and instead of teaching Torak magecraft, he decided to teach him important hunting and tracking skills, which would prove invaluable in Torak's quest to defeat the Soul Eaters.
Hord is Renn's brother. He unknowingly helps Tenris, who’s acting as a ‘crippled wanderer’ create a demon by capturing a young bear. Throughout the first book Hord behaves stubbornly, and fueled by guilt, believes that he must deliver Torak's blood to the World Spirit himself. In the end, he follows Torak to the Mountain of the World Spirit and tries to kill him, he fails and he and the bear are killed by an avalanche created by the World Spirit.
Bale is a young man from the Seal clan who is also Torak's kinsman as Torak’s paternal grandmother was from the Seal Clan. They initially get off to a bad start as he captures Torak and takes him to Seal Island, but later become friends. Bale first appears in the book Spirit Walker. Bale is killed in the beginning of the book Oath Breaker by the Soul Eater named Thiazzi.
Torak is twelve years old when his father is killed by a bear that is possessed by a demon. As he is dying, he tells Torak to swear to find the Mountain of the World Spirit and ask for the Spirit's help in destroying the bear. On his journey he encounters Wolf, a lone wolf cub whose family has been killed by a flash flood. Wolf becomes Torak's guide in finding the World Spirit. Torak and Wolf are captured by the Raven Clan for hunting a deer on their land; they are befriended by Renn, the prickly and outspoken niece of the clan's leader Fin-Kedinn. Torak appears to be the fulfillment of a prophecy about a "listener" who will give his heart's blood to the Mountain of the World Spirit, kill the bear and defy the Soul-Eaters, a group of erstwhile Mages who were once healers but became power-hungry and now use their magic for selfish ends. Torak, Wolf and Renn journey to the Mountain, collecting the three parts of the Nanuak,(the world soul in everything) that Torak needs to offer to the World Spirit. When Torak sets off to the Mountain with only Wolf to fulfill the prophecy, Renn's brother Hord follows Torak. Hord, who makes his dislike of Torak clear when they first meet, believes he must kill Torak and take his blood, as well as the Nanuak, to the Mountain. On the Mountain, as the bear gets closer, Torak and Hord fight. Torak realizes Hord unknowingly helped the Crippled Wanderer, one of the Soul Eaters, and his father's sworn enemy, create the bear. Torak also realizes that the heart's blood in the prophecy means Wolf. Knowing he must sacrifice Wolf for the World Spirit, Torak tells Wolf to run away. Wolf takes the three pieces of Nanuak to the mountain, as Hord and the bear are killed in an avalanche. Wolf leaves to join a pack of wolves and Torak, knowing his pack-brother still lives, returns to the Raven Clan.
The clans fall prey to a stalking sickness. Torak embarks on a search for a cure, which takes him to mysterious islands where the Seal Clan live. The Seal Mage, Tenris, promises to help him make a remedy. Torak meets a Seal Clan boy named Bale, who later becomes his friend. While on the island, Torak discovers that he is a spirit walker: his souls can move into other creatures, allowing him to feel and think as they do, but still remain himself. Tenris is not as helpful as he originally seemed: he is one of the Soul Eaters and plans to increase his powers by eating Torak's heart and becoming a spirit walker. Torak finds out that Tenris is actually his uncle, and the man known as the Crippled Wanderer who created the demon bear that killed Torak's father. As Tenris is about to kill Torak, Renn wounds Tenris, allowing Torak to escape. Tenris is killed by an orca, in revenge for Tenris killing its offspring for its teeth. Eventually, they discover the reason for the mysterious sickness is that Tenris sent enslaved children known as tokoroths to poison juniper berries.
In their desire to subjugate all the clans, the Soul Eaters have captured a range of hunting animals—including Wolf—which they will sacrifice to unleash demons. They plan to control the demons with a fire opal. Torak and Renn make a dangerous journey across the frozen wilderness into the Far North to rescue Wolf; their friendship is tested to the limits and they become separated. They escape, but not before the Soul Eaters brand Torak against his will as one of them. Torak manages to deceive them into thinking Renn is the spirit walker who caused the death of Tenris. Renn, meanwhile, has possession of the fire-opal and is about to sacrifice herself to destroy it. When three of the Soul Eaters try to kill Torak, Renn and Wolf take back the fire opal, Torak spirit walks into a Polar Bear to save his friends. Nef, one of the Soul Eaters, saves Renn and sacrifices herself instead, using her life to destroy the power of the fire opal and repay the Torak's father for saving her life before he was killed. Fin-Kedinn and some of the Raven Clan make the journey North and save Renn and Torak, and bring them back home. Torak is then told that the fire opal that was destroyed was one of three parts. The original fire opal was broken by Torak's father to start the great fire that scattered the Soul Eaters. Another of the fragments was used by Tenris to create the demon bear and the Tokoroths, and is believed to have been lost when he was killed. The whereabouts of the last fragment are unknown.
After the secret of his Soul Eater mark is discovered, Torak is cast out by the clans, though Renn fiercely and furiously does all she can to stop it. Bale, who has traveled to the forests from his island in the sea, teams up with Renn to go after him: Renn helps him and then both Renn and Bale follow him as Torak wanders, suffering from insanity. Renn and Bale fight along the way, as Bale treats Renn condescendingly because of his beliefs about women, and he is confused about how strong and insistent Renn is. Renn sends help to Torak in the form of two ravens, which Torak has named Rip and Rek. While Torak is recovering his reason, Seshru the Viper Mage, a Soul Eater, uses her powers to draw him to her so she can control him. Renn and Bale together defy clan law by trying to help Torak. Seshru is revealed to be Renn's mother. Torak shows the clans that destroying him will not help them in their struggle against the Soul Eaters, and they accept him back. Fin-Kedinn makes Torak his foster son. Torak learns that his father hid the last fragment of the fire opal inside the knife he gave Torak before his death, and it is part of the reason why Seshru was hunting him. Seshru then steps forward to try and claim the fragment. Renn is about to kill Seshru, but Bale steals her bow and kills Seshru himself, because Renn would be tainted if she killed her own mother. In Seshru's final moments, Torak uses her life to destroy the fragment of the fire opal. Fin-Kedinn changes Torak's outcast tattoo, making him part of all types of clans. Bale also tells Torak and Fin-Kedinn that the fragment of the fire opal thought lost when Tenris was killed may not have been with him when he died. The three realize this was why the two surviving Soul Eaters were not hunting Torak as well.
While guarding the Seal Islands against the Soul Eaters for fear of them trying to take the last part of the Fire Opal, Bale asks Torak for his permission to take Renn for his mate, which makes Torak angry. Later, Bale is murdered by Thiazzi the Oak Mage, who then takes the last fragment of the fire opal. Torak vows to avenge Bale's death, and with Renn, Wolf and Fin-Kedinn follows Thiazzi into the Deep Forest where the Forest Horse and Auroch (sic) Clans are at war. As Torak, Renn and Fin-Kedinn are about to enter the Deep Forest, Fin-Kedinn is injured and turns back. Torak and Renn discover that Thiazzi is controlling the Deep Forest clans by impersonating their mages. A forest fire takes hold and Torak and Renn are separated. Torak finds his way to Thiazzi, while Renn is taken by the Deep Forest tribe. She defies the tribe and their belief that women can't be mages, by insisting that she is a mage and showing them her bond with Wolf and the ravens, Rip and Rek. She is then kidnapped by Thiazzi and imprisoned in a giant, hollow tree, where she cuts herself free in time to avoid choking on smoke. She climbs to the top, from where she sees Torak fighting Thiazzi. She throws a burning brand of wood to Torak, and a burning ember sets fire to Thiazzi's hair. He falls to his death as Eostra's eagle owl snatches the fire opal from the Oak Mage. Many months later, Wolf and his mate Darkfur show Torak and Renn their new cubs. Although Torak is happy for Wolf, the fight is not over, as Eostra, the last and most dangerous of the Soul Eaters, now has the fire opal.
The Eagle Owl Mage, Eostra, sends a shadow sickness among the clans, to spread fear among them. Torak then sees his father's soul, seemingly in pain. Torak sets out alone to try and confront his destiny. Renn follows Torak, catching up with him. Wolf's family is then attacked by Eostra's owl, sending Darkfur to her death, killing one of the cubs, and using the other to lure Wolf away for a time. Renn and Torak venture to the Mountain of Ghosts with a grieving Wolf to stop Eostra from killing all life in the forest. When Renn injures her leg because of Eostra's demon dogs, Torak leaves without her: when she has recovered, she goes after him, furious. Torak is captured by a strange boy named Dark who has been cast out by his clan. After much pleading, Dark releases Torak and ventures with him to the Mountain of Ghosts. Torak and Wolf enter the Mountain, but Dark is trapped outside. Dark then meets Renn, who after trying to follow Torak had found Darkfur. Wolf's mate had nearly perished after going through miles in the snow with an infected wound to rescue her last cub. Torak and Wolf confront Eostra, who is summoning the ghosts of the dead Soul Eaters, including Torak's father. Renn and Dark also attempt to intervene, but Eostra appears unstoppable. Then the Walker, who appeared insane when Torak and Renn previously met him in Wolf Brother, arrives and reveals himself to be Narrander, the seventh Soul Eater thought to have been killed in the great fire years before. Torak destroys the Fire Opal, breaking Eostra's hold over the dead Soul Eaters. Eostra then tries to use Torak's hair to claim his power. Narrander summons the Hidden People to cause a rockfall. Eostra falls into a crevice, pulling Torak with her. Shortly afterwards, Wolf finds Torak's body and forces Torak's spirit to re-enter it. Renn, Dark, Rip and Rek reunite with Torak and Wolf. The last of Wolf's cubs, Pebble, who has survived his ordeal, is then discovered by his parents. Three months later, Dark is named the new Raven Mage, and, after saying goodbye to Fin-Kedinn and promising to return one day, Torak and Renn set off with Wolf, Darkfur, Pebble, and the ravens Rip and Rek, to continue to explore the forest.
In 1980, while Paver was attending Oxford University, she had the idea of writing a story about a young boy and a wolf cub. She scribbled down a few pages of a rough draft taking place in the 9th century, focusing on an orphaned boy with his wolf cub. Displeased with the rough draft, she locked the story away.
Fifteen years after writing the original rough draft, while Paver was hiking by herself in southern California, a large female black bear with two cubs walked onto the trail she was following. Paver was aware that brown bears are at their most dangerous when they have cubs, and any sudden movement might cause the bear to attack. Paver began singing "Danny Boy" to the bear in an effort to show she meant no harm. The bear approached Paver, swaying its head from side to side and smelling her. She began backing up very slowly until the bear was out of sight, and she then fled the scene. Several years later, while looking through a pile of old notes, she stumbled upon the rough draft she had written in 1980. She felt the story was missing something, and her mind raced to the memory of her encounter with the bear, and the plot of Wolf Brother unfolded before her. Paver began researching the timeline of her story, and she traveled to northern Finland to research how the people in her book would have lived nearly six thousand years ago. After hours in the library and much travel, Paver began writing the book. Wolf Brother was published in September 2004, and shortly after the book's publication Paver began work on the next book in the series. Wolf Brother was not meant to be a series at first, but Paver said, "after writing my first draft, I knew one book could not hold this story."
Paver researched extensively while developing the book. In addition to academic study, she travelled to north-eastern Finland, where she trekked with a field guide over 300 miles across the forests. To understand life in the New Stone Age, they used tools and clothing that would have been available 6000 years ago, slept in a traditional laavu shelter in a sleeping bag made of reindeer skin, and ate only foods that Stone-Age hunter-gatherers would have. In addition, she spent time at a wolf reserve studying the wolves and observing their behavior, and also named the main character "Torak." From the one of the wolves in the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.
Paver places the series in north-west Europe. She says about the fruit of her research, "I've tried hard to make Torak's world accurate, and I’ve been delighted that the stories have met with favor in archaeological circles. A few years ago, I was asked to open a special WOLF BROTHER display case at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The Museum had taken excerpts from the book, and exhibited them alongside real archaeological artifacts mentioned in the story, such as flint blades, red ochre, etc."
In 2004, 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to make feature films of the book series. The first book in the series, Wolf Brother, has been optioned from $250,000 against $1 million. The film series was going to be produced by Ridley Scott and Erin Upson. A script was in production, according to an answer to a fan letter. However, the project was put on hold. The project has since been revived as announced at a Superfan event in July 2012, when Michelle revealed the books will be made into films for theater or television.
On the 18th of March 2019, Michelle announced to fans in a live-streamed Youtube video that she is planning three new books set after Ghost Hunter. In the announcement she mentioned that she seriously started thinking about it during a visit to arctic Norway, but that it had always been on her mind since finishing Ghost Hunter. The first book, "The Viper's Daughter", is already well on its way and will be published in spring 2020. Paver's original editor Fiona Kennedy, and original illustrators Geoff Taylor and John Fordham will be involved in the new books.
- "An Interview With Michelle Paver". The New York Times Sunday Book Review. 15 July 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
- Page, Benedicte (8 October 2013). "Hirschkorn buys film rights to Paver's 'Chronicles'". The Bookseller. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
- "Michelle Paver". Authors: Interviews. BookBrowse. n.d. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
- Guardian children's fiction prize 2010 (top page). The Guardian. Retrieved 6 August 2012.
- "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". guardian.co.uk 12 March 2001. Retrieved 6 August 2012.
- "The Writer's Life". www.michellepaver.com. Michelle Paver. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- Michelle Paver. "Michelle Paver on Chronicles of Ancient Darkness #1: Wolf Brother". Author Essays. Harper Collins. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
- Michelle Paver ((c) 2011). "Creating a Stone Age World". Retrieved 7 August 2012.
- "The Clan - The Front Page". Torak.info. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
- "WOLF BROTHER RETURNS". www.michellepaver.com. Michelle Paver. Retrieved 7 January 2020.