– Art by Mark Zug
– Divya Iyer, II B.S.W
There are lots of things I can say if we’re talking about fandom – possibly enough to fill a book or start a podcast. What I find most enthralling is how completely fictional worlds have the power to affect and influence us, so that’s what I’m going to focus on in the context of the world of Septimus Heap. Septimus Heap is the protagonist of a seven-part series of the same name written by Angie Sage, who has also written Araminta Spook and the TodHunter Moon trilogy, which occurs in the same universe as Septimus Heap, but in the future when the kids have all grown up.
Unlike most fellow Sep Heap enthusiasts I have met, my introduction to Angie Sage’s work was her Araminta Spook series. The summer between third and fourth grade was probably my first time reading these books. They’re very important to me, because they introduced me to Angie’s work, and gave me a relatable pre-teen female heroine.
Araminta is a vibrant protagonist who does what she wants almost all the time. She’s bold, creative and outright ridiculous in the way that only people who take things very seriously and feel things intensely are. She can sometimes be thoughtless or non-empathetic, but she’s not a bad person and she almost always has good intentions. Some of her plans are unnecessary and extreme but that is what is so compelling about them – Araminta to me personifies those aspects of childhood that are naive but knowing and what it feels like to be young and not to be taken seriously but to enjoy yourself and learn how to live with that anyway. Araminta’s universe is strange in the same way that magical surrealism is – if you convince yourself that there is nothing out of the ordinary, you may be able to believe it.
For those people who haven’t read the series, or who do not remember being nine years old, allow me to remind you of how intimidating big books were. The Septimus Heap volumes were immense. There were seven books has forty nine chapters as well as an appendix. The length would have been intimidating, but the world within the books was compelling enough to draw me in.
The Septimus Heap series instilled a real sense of wonder and adventure in me. For most of my pre-teen years, especially when I was twelve, I lived with a sense of amazement at being alive and the awareness that anything could happen, anytime. They also taught me a lot about friendships and perspectives. This series has been praised for its strong platonic bonds and how the friendship dynamics are healthy and realistic, as well as for its abundance of strong female characters. All the characters have motives and beliefs that helped give them depth and made them more real and relatable. Even the most minor characters were not forgotten, which is truly a feat in such a large narrative with so many characters.
I asked Angie Sage to tell me a little bit more about Septimus Heap, and she sent me a small essay via email that I found very inspiring and I am incredibly grateful for. She says, about writing Septimus Heap that “characters just turned up. Some, Like Marcia Overstrand arrived one morning with their suitcase packed with ideas and turned the whole story upside down. Others, like Beetle, kind of snuck in quietly and stuck around so that I got to know them slowly and then one day realised that they had become real kingpins. The characters brought their own ideas to the world, and after a while the whole thing seemed to run on an energy all of its own. I felt as though I was in a partnership rather than writing alone.”
This just solidifies how alive a fictional character can be, despite never having been alive at all. It’s truly magic. Angie also says, about the world, “I truly did feel as though I had stumbled into a world that actually existed. In my mind’s eye I could see where I was, I could find my way to places and I even knew on which compass point I was facing. It was eerily real. Even now I can still go there.” This clarity is something that I, as a reader, have also felt. Each Septimus Heap book has a map at the beginning, but more than the maps, it’s the distinct feeling of being there, and how the characters’ actions are so closely tied with where they are and what it means for them, to be there. The fictional world is made alive by these fictional characters, and even though the entire series is fantasy, it feels incredibly real.
Angie says, “Writing Magyk taught me a lot. One of the very early things I learnt was to describe everything that I was seeing. My early drafts were much too perfunctory, I made the mistake of thinking that if I knew where things were then surely everyone else did too. But once I realised I had to show everything as it unfolded in front of me, it worked much better. And I think this is maybe why the world had drawn so many people into it. I do truly try to show everything I see. I also like to get inside the heads of as many of the characters as possible. I do write from multiple Points of View – which is not always thought of as good practice – but I think that allows us to know so many of the people in the world and feel part of their lives.
It took me a while to understand that people who read the books were there, in that world with me, and cared as much about it as I did. And then, once I understood that, I felt a little bit amazed and very happy too. Almost humbled by it, actually. It is really something to create a place that people want to be in. It’s meant a lot to me to hear this, as writing is both isolating and yet oddly competitive. As a writer it is hard not to feel judged on your sales figures, your reviews, your invitations to Book Festivals (or not) – and if you’re invited, how many people turn up. It is so easy to forget what it is really about – the people you are writing for and the story you are trying to tell. So when I hear how much the Septimus Heap world means to readers, how it has seen them through difficult times, how a particular character has informed not only their life but their rocky trek towards adulthood, then I feel really blown away by that. And very grateful to have had a part to play. And in fact, incredibly happy.”
I could probably go on about this series, and how important the world and the characters are to me, but unfortunately word limits and time constraints exist (and I’ve probably overshot on both.) To conclude, I’d just like to tell you that I once spent fifty-five minutes of a mentoring hour talking to one of my Professors about Septimus Heap and what I learnt from it, in a completely academic context – with regards to trauma and personality development, and what it would be like as a social work student to work with children who have undergone instances where their lives were repeatedly put in danger. Seems excessive? I don’t think so. Sometimes you learn a lot from things and these lessons stay with you for life.