An epigraph is a quotation at the beginning of a book. I am fond of them and they have drawn me to a book more than once. Case in point, one of the two epigraphs in Steven Pressfield’s classic Gates of Fire,
“The fox knows many tricks,
The hedgehog one good one.”
Although I did not include one in The Olympian, an epigraph appears in each of my succeeding novels. Here’s the story behind the first, which appeared in The Hamsa …
The Hamsa and Tobit
About a decade ago when I began writing The Hamsa, I returned to the daily practice of ‘praying the hours.’ By the 6th century, there were eight liturgical hours beginning with Lauds at daybreak and concluding with Matins at midnight. The practice has evolved. No, I never prayed all eight liturgical hours, but I prayed at least one every day. One of the first books I used was A Contemporary Celtic Prayer Book by William John Fitzgerald. I found great peace in Thursday’s Midday Prayer, the hour of Nones – the ninth hour – that Father Fitzgerald opens with this scripture reading from the Book of Tobit,
“Raphael answered, ‘I will go with him; so do not fear. We shall leave in good health and return to you in good health, because the way is safe.’”
The reference inspired me to read the Book of Tobit, which is included in the Vulgate version of the Old Testament in the ‘history books’ between Nehemiah and Judith. The short Book of Tobit is a wonderful story that includes a dog. As I wrote The Hamsa, a dog emerged as a significant character. I named him Raphael after the archangel in the Book of Tobit. Raphael first appears in Chapter 14 and accompanies the protagonist Bronisław Czech to the final pages. I fashioned him after my own dog, Caesar.
As I prepared the book with the publisher for release in 2010, there were no words to better introduce this perilous journey than the quote from the Book of Tobit. “But the way is not safe,” you might ponder, “and Bronek does not ‘return in good health.’” I smile and recall the final two sentences of the book
“A mighty angel with outstretched wings descends towards me to take me home. I commend myself to him and to his God.”
Bronek’s commendation is the ultimate ‘return to good health.’
I so much love the Book of Tobit that I fashioned my next novel around it, Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South. Another dog plays a prominent role. I chose to name him after my pal Caesar. I selected an Epigraph from C.S. Lewis to set the tone of the magical tale,
“I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.”
Next time you browse through a bookstore or view a preview on Amazon, look to see if the author included an epigraph. It might be the thing that tips you in the direction of a book you might not otherwise have considered.