When Australian author John Flanagan arrives stateside in early November for a two-week, cross-country tour, he’ll have a lot to talk about. On October 4, Philomel published Ranger’s Apprentice: The Lost Stories, a collection of tales starring the characters from Flanagan’s bestselling 10-book fantasy adventure series. On November 1, the publisher will release Brotherband Chronicles: Book 1: The Outcasts, the inaugural volume of a series that is set in the world of Ranger’s Apprentice but introduces a new cast of characters who embark on seafaring adventures.
Ranger’s Apprentice, which has sales of more than three million copies in the U.S. alone and has been sold to publishers in 18 countries, debuted in 2005 with The Ruins of Gorlan. The series began as a sequence of stories whose central character was based on Flanagan’s then-adolescent son, Mike. The author wrote the stories in hopes of getting Mike interested in reading.
“I’d like to say that the stories turned him into an avid reader, but they didn’t,” says the author. “They did show him how much reading could involve all his senses and emotions, however, and he did love the stories. I started out by giving him a story every Friday afternoon when he came home from school. I told him that I was planning to write some stories for kids and asked if he’d check them over and see if he thought kids would like them. Parents can be so sneaky. I knew he was beginning to get hooked when he came to me on the fourth Friday and asked, ‘Where’s my story for this week?’ ”
Flanagan says he then “put the stories away in a drawer—literally” for more than a decade. “I’d never intended them to be part of a book,” he notes. “I was looking for a project to work on when my eldest daughter suggested I should have a look at ‘those Ranger stories.’ Glad she did!”
It’s safe to say that Michael Green, president and publisher of Philomel, is glad as well. When he read the opening chapter of Flanagan’s first draft of The Ruins of Gorlan, he recalls, “It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I knew in my gut that I was reading something special. John has a unique ability to create both world and characters that feel real, yet touch the edge of the fantastic, to the point that everything is completely believable and nothing is so far-fetched that it feels like pure fantasy.”
Though Flanagan viewed his 10th Ranger’s Apprentice novel, last spring’s The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, as “the final episode in the existing story sequence,” feedback from his fans led him to add The Lost Stories to the series. “I wrote this collection in reply to a lot of requests from readers of the first 10 books,” he explains. “They asked lots of questions, and I thought I might be fun to answer them, and then write a prologue that pretended this world of mine was real. Revisiting the characters was gratifying indeed. They’re old friends and I was a little saddened—make that a lot saddened—to think I had left them forever.”
A Move from Land to Sea
The Ranger’s Apprentice crew will make cameo appearances in the seafaring Brotherband Chronicles, described by Flanagan as “more of a parallel series than a spinoff,” in which competing bands of teenage boys are trained in warfare, weaponry, seamanship, and navigation. The central character is boy who is half-Skandian and half-Araluen (Skandia and Araluen are countries introduced in Ranger’s Apprentice). “Because of this, he’s a bit of an outcast,” Flanagan says. “He is not fully accepted into the society he’s living in, and in the first book, he asks, ‘Why do people only see the part of me that’s different? They never see the part that’s the same.’ I think that often happens in today’s world, and I wanted to address that issue.”
Flanagan notes that another source of inspiration for the new series and its theme was his love of the sea and sailing. “I sailed a Laser dinghy when I was younger and loved the feeling of being almost at one with the boat, feeling the rudder take effect, hearing the boat hum as it began to move at speed,” he recalls.
Ranger’s Apprentice: The Lost Stories has an announced first printing of 200,000 copies, and a 250,000-copy first printing is on order for Brotherband Chronicles: Book 1: The Outcasts. The Ranger’s Apprentice Web site receives an average of 50,000 unique visitors a month, the series has been optioned for film by screenwriter Paul Haggis, and Ranger’s Apprentice summer camps have popped up across the country.
“Who can really tell?” Flanagan responds when asked about the root of the series’ popularity. “I guess it’s a combination of action and fast movement. I try to keep the books from bogging down. And then there’s the humor, and the characters. I find them immensely likable, though they’re not perfect. A lot of readers have told me that they like the fact that there’s no magic in the novels. My characters have to solve problems by their wits and ingenuity.
“John is quite simply a terrific writer,” Green says. “I often say that this is a series that began as an effort to get one boy to read, and has made readers of millions of boys across the world.”
Ranger’s Apprentice: The Lost Stories by John Flanagan. Philomel, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-399-25618-9
Brotherband Chronicles: Book 1: The Outcasts by John Flanagan. Philomel, $18.99 Nov. ISBN 978-0-399-25619-6