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[GUEST POST] Sarah Fine on The Guards of the Shadowlands

Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. When she’s not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist. No, she is not psychoanalyzing you right now. Sanctum is her first novel. She also writes with Walter Jury under the name S.E. Fine, and their YA sci-fi thriller, Scan, comes out in fall 2013. For more information, please visit her website:

The Guards of the Shadowlands

In Sanctum, Lela sneaks into a dark, walled city she believes to be hell and is captured by the Guards who patrol and police the place. With the exception of Malachi, their Captain, the Guards are distinctly … inhuman. They are freakishly tall and muscular, with bright, glowing eyes and big bald heads. Lela sometimes refers to them as “bull-like” (and she calls at least one of them a “rhino”) as she tries to wrap her head around exactly who and what they are.

Sanctum takes place in the afterlife, and I wanted to create a setting that was somewhat recognizable yet surprising for readers. To do that, I wove quite a few different mythologies and ideas together. For the Guards, as well as the Mazikin (the baddies of the book), I drew on different ancient cultures as a foundation. The inhuman Guards are based on creatures from Mesopotamian mythology called shedu, the male counterparts of the female lamassu (this term is more common). The shedu are often depicted as having the heads of humans but the bodies of bulls (sometimes they have wings). In ancient Sumerian writings, they are described as being very tall. The Babylonians considered them protective spirits, and statues of them were placed at city and palace gates, as well as the entrances to temples (the pictures shows lamassu placed at the entrance to the Gate of All Nations in Persia/modern Iran). I could think of no better creatures to act as gatekeepers for a walled, dark city in the hereafter.

Now … that’s what the mythology tells us. But, like everything in Sanctum, I wanted to take the idea and twist it a bit so that it wasn’t entirely familiar. So, I began with the idea of the shedu and built off it. The Guards are the protectors of the city and were created for that purpose, but they aren’t entirely detached or noble about it. They don’t have the bodies of bulls, but they are described as “bovine”! I gave them heavy armor, police batons, hunting knives, a healthy disrespect for certain authority figures, and a fondness for baby animal figurines. This is the pleasure of creative license! None of us really knows what the afterlife, if there is one, holds. We all have different beliefs about it. But if it does indeed exist, maybe there are beings there that get funneled through our human understandings. Maybe their earthly presences, rendered in art and myth, are an echo of their actual selves. This area is fertile ground for authors of fantasy, right? I’m certainly not the only one taking advantage of that possibility!

One thing I’m absolutely sure of, though: if the ancient shedu and the mazikin ever did actually meet, they probably loathed each other as deeply as the Guards and the Mazikin of Sanctum do. But that is a post for another time.

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