One of the most startling things for me when I’m working on The Unwritten is how quickly we seem to get to climactic events that we always knew we’d include but didn’t have a fixed schedule for. The events of Dead Man’s Knock are a case in point. Killing a major character so early in the game seems crazy, on the face of it, but the more Peter and I talked about it, the more sense it seemed to make. And the title is a subtle clue as to why.
When I was about nine years old, my brother Chris gave me a book of poetry he bought in a library sale. It was called Classic Poems for Children, and it was full of slightly weird, slightly sinister stuff that had been considered suitable for kids in an age when the concept of psychological trauma didn’t exist.
In among the rest – Struwwelpeter, The Pied Piper, The Listeners – was a poem called The hand of Glory, ostensibly by Thomas Ingoldsby (but really by a slightly crazed English cleric named Richard Harris Barham). The poem tells of three cut-throats who mount a raid on a rich man’s house in the middle of the night, aiming to rob and murder him. They’ve armed themselves with the hand of a dead man cut down from a gibbet, which – after suitable magics have been performed on it – has the ability to open any door. You knock on the door with the dead man’s hand, and it just flies open, no matter how many locks or bolts are on it. I’d forgotten most of the poem, but a few lines stayed with me:
'Now open lock
To the Dead Man's knock!
Fly bolt, and bar, and band!
Nor move, nor swerve
Joint, muscle, or nerve,
At the spell of the Dead Man's hand!
Sleep all who sleep!— Wake all who wake!—
But be as the Dead for the Dead Man's sake!!'
Tommy Taylor’s magic doorknob probably owes its existence to those lines – but more important is the idea of a power that only comes into its own when the person who forges and wields it is dead. So yeah, that went into the mix for volume 3 of The Unwritten. It’s a lot cheaper than going to a therapist…