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Today’s guest is Hannah Whitten! Her first Wilderwood novel, For the Wolf, is described as “a dark, sweeping debut fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom” that is for “fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale.” It has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus, and it will be released in about a month—on June 1!

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten - Book Cover

The first fantasy I ever fell in love with was the Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, best known for the animated movie Disney made based off the second book in the series, The Black Cauldron. The movie was, to put it lightly, very bad. Thankfully, by the time I got around to watching it, I had already devoured all of the books and thus couldn’t have what is a really excellent story marred by lackluster execution (I did develop a weird crush on The Horned King, though, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone).

Oddly, it wasn’t the first book in the series that caught my eye at the library and made me want to read them all, though. It was the third.

The Castle of Llyr, the third book, had a gorgeous illustrated cover depicting Princess Eilonwy, the love interest of main character Taran, holding a golden sphere and a crescent necklace. I remember her face so vividly—she looked so sad. And despite her fairly passive pose, her expression is quietly fierce, in a way I can’t quite explain but definitely feel. The artist managed to capture something in her eyes that was both soft and aching and spoke of barely-harnessed power. I picked up the series just because I wanted to read this book and know this girl’s story.

The Castle of LLyr by Lloyd Alexander - Book Cover

It didn’t disappoint. Spoilers ahead: Eilonwy is a gifted sorceress, imbued with ancestral magic that her former foster mother, Achren, is desperate to wield. She’s kidnapped and brainwashed, with Achren planning to rule through her by controlling her mind and thus her magic. Taran and her friends, naturally, travel to rescue her from her literal tower prison. When they arrive, Eilonwy has no memory of them, and barely any memory of herself. The things that make her a whole person have been stripped away, leaving only her power as a sorceress and her position as a princess.

I don’t know whether the metaphor was completely intended—having Eilonwy reduced to only an archetypal placeholder, her power viewed as something to be controlled rather than inherently her own—but it stuck with me. It made me think about power structures in fantasy, specifically power given to non-cis-male characters, and how it’s so rarely allowed to be kept. How power wielded by anyone other than a (usually white) cis man is often seen as something that must be done away with in order to be “good.”

In The Castle of Llyr, at least, Eilonwy doesn’t stay devoid of her agency—and when she regains it, it’s through the reclaiming of her magic. As part of her plan to take over Prydain, Achren has Eilonwy read from a spellbook that only she can decipher. But rather than read the spells and fully bind herself into Achren’s thrall, Eilonwy burns the book and saves herself.

Achren, the villain who locked the princess in the tower, is saved, too. Her plans are dashed, and in subsequent books she joins with the heroes to take down Arawn, the Big Bad of the series to whom she previously owed fealty.

The book isn’t groundbreaking, especially by our standards now. But it was the first high fantasy book I read that truly gave the “princess” character agency—that really gave her wants and desires of her own, to the point where the absence of them was a marked tragedy. Granted, they were squeaky-clean, nice desires, desires that didn’t ask much of the narrative to give to her. But they were there.

I have my qualms, sure. When Eilonwy regains her magic, she burns her family’s spellbook, reducing the scope of her power (because Too Much Power Bad, you see), and by the end of the series, she becomes little more than a prize for Taran to win. But for all that, I still think about The Castle of Llyr often. I think about a princess who owns her magic, and how the narrative (mostly) let her have it. How the story was about her learning to use it, rather than the magic being good or bad in and of itself, and how the resolution of the tale came down to Eilonwy’s choice.


So much epic fantasy is about being caught in destiny’s teeth. Pulled along as a moving piece inside a story so much bigger than you, playing a role that maybe you feel unequipped for, but managing to rise to the occasion nonetheless. Our unassuming main character defeats the empire, throws the ring in the volcano, becomes the rightful ruler, successfully completing every step despite their shortcomings or internal debate, because They Were Destined For This, even if they fought against it at first.

I didn’t want to write that story.

Or, to be more precise, I wanted to write a story that could’ve been that, but wasn’t. A story where choice was the central factor. The characters might be caught in destiny’s teeth, but they were going to make damn sure destiny had a hard time swallowing them down.

FOR THE WOLF is, fundamentally, about choice. And, to quote Season 7 Episode 1 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it’s about power.

I attribute a lot of that to Red. I’m very much a character-first, plot-second writer, and when Red first dug into my brain, she was not the noble hero, or even the “angry girl” protagonist that has seen so much love in recent years. She was resigned and reckless. She was both strong and brittle, a study in contrasts, imbued with power that she detested and was fascinated by in equal measure.

And she wanted so much.

That was the most crystallized part of her, the center from which it all grew, the plot and the world-building and everything else—Red wanted, and she was in a position where all her wanting was pointless. A Second Daughter meant for sacrifice from the beginning, barely a person at all. A bundle of raw nerves and lashed-down power and endless yearning for things she’d never have.

And then: a life, after she’d thought it was all over.

At the risk of spoiling a book that isn’t out yet, I won’t go into plot details. But it turns out the power that seemingly resigns Red to one fate is more malleable than she thinks. It turns out the situation she and Eammon, the Wolf, find themselves in, forced into roles of villain and victim, is more able to be changed than either of them anticipates.

Because all of it comes down to choice. To giving destiny the finger and forging a different path with nothing but your will, forcing the life you’ve been given to change shape around you, rather than the other way around.

Red does that with her magic. She takes the power within her and makes it bend, makes it do what she wants, remakes the world because she wants and she wants and she’s going to find a way to get it.

And she never has to give a single bit of that magic up.


I refer to WOLF often as fairytale soup—it’s a bunch of different influences tangled up in knots, the pieces of them taken apart and fitted back together. But while there are elements of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White and Rose Red,” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” it’s no accident that the Red Riding Hood factors are the ones that are most in play.

It’s easy to see the thread of a morality tale in the Grimm Brother’s version of the Red Riding Hood story, the one we’re most familiar with. Between the scarlet cloak, the basket full of sweets, and a literal admonition to the heroine to “stay on the path,” it couldn’t be more of a purity tale if you smacked an early-2000s Christian alt-soundtrack behind it. Stay on the path, don’t get lured into the woods, because the things that look harmless are just waiting to eat you up.

My Red is a little different.

She’s an adult, for one thing. She carries nothing into the woods, because she herself is the sacrifice required. And these woods have no path for her to follow—she has to make her own, wandering into the dark, thinking it’s her end when it’s only her beginning.

Like the fairytale, my Red is susceptible to temptation. To making her own way rather than following the trajectory laid out for her. To wanting so much more than she’s been given, maybe wanting too much. To having a soft spot for monsters.

But she isn’t punished for her wanting, or for her power. Instead, it becomes the catalyst for the transformation of her world, and herself. Red has no illusions of being good. She just wants what she wants, and she fights tooth and nail to get it.

Those are the kinds of stories I want to read. The kinds of stories I plan to write for as long as they’ll let me. Stories that tell us there is power in our wanting, and that the magic we have is ours alone.

Photo of Hannah Whitten

Hannah Whitten has been writing to amuse herself since she could hold a pen, and sometime in high school, figured out that what amused her might also amuse others. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, making music, or attempting to bake. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and children in a house ruled by a temperamental cat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hwhittenwrites.