Brenna Yovanoff On The Mythology Behind The Space Between
Author Brenna Yovanoff's sophomore novel, The Space Between, follows Daphne, a half demon half angel, who must decide if she wants to commit her life to good or evil, all while struggling with her developing feelings for a human. Today, the author shares with us how she developed the mythology behind the story to create this beautiful, intricate world.
First, just so we’re clear—I am absolutely crazy about folklore. I think it’s pretty much the best thing ever, and I would cuddle it and wear it and swim around in it if I could. I love remakes, modernizations, retellings, and most of all, reimaginings.
The idea behind The Space Between is one that took several years to really evolve.
I was an English major in college and my school had a basic requirements class called Mythical and Biblical Backgrounds. All the reading was divided up by theme, rather than culture or time period, and one of the units was called “Journeys to the Underworld.”
And I started thinking about that—about where you’d have to journey to fulfill your story arc if you already lived in the underworld. The character of Daphne first took shape based around this idea of setting out from the land of the dead, but also because we’d just had a mini-lecture on stories about girls who turned into trees (the Greek myth of Daphne being one of the more prominent examples). So basically, my starting place was a girl from the underworld whose upbringing has muted her to such a dramatic extent that she might as well be made of wood.
To populate her world, though, I had to go a bit farther. (Well, really just to the university library.) Over the next few months, I spent a lot of time in the basement, reading stacks and stacks of very dusty and funny-smelling books on demonology and apocrypha and drinking way too much coffee.
One of the most fascinating things I learned from hanging out in the basement is that demons often started out as gods. Especially in areas where there were a lot of territory disputes and the societies were relatively small, religion was a very localized thing, and one person’s god could quickly become another person’s monster. I wanted to have some fun with this idea that most of Daphne’s family members have some measure of cultural ambiguity. They’ve gone from deities to demons based purely on whose tribe won a territory war, and they kind of have to live with that.
I also wanted to take advantage of what kinds of settings we tend to think of when we think about Hell. In The Space Between, Hell is depicted at this clean, static place. It's glossy and mechanical and ornate, but also kind of frozen. Just beyond the edges though, there’s a lot of evidence that what we’re dealing with is actually a very brutal environment. The whole city is filled with noise and fire and pain, but for Daphne, all that stays in the periphery. Even though it’s something she sees on a regular basis, she feels like it can’t actually touch her.
While the library basement was instrumental in helping me give Daphne a world to live in, when it came to the overall feel of the book, my go-to inspiration was always, always Paradise Lost. I knew, more than anything, I wanted to tell a story that had this aura of gritty, doomed glamour. I wanted the dark, complicated romance of the antihero, and I wanted to do something that played around with ideas of good versus evil, without necessarily trying to answer one overarching question. Because of this, Daphne’s struggle with good and evil is big and difficult and overwhelming, but it’s always completely personal.
- Brenna Yovanoff