Chris Colfer reveals which character in his new book A Tale of Sorcery is openly gay — and why it's so important
Something wicked this way comes to your local bookseller when Glee alum Chris Colfer's third installment of his bestselling A Tale of Magic series lands on shelves next week. Not only does the highly-anticipated A Tale of Sorcery continue the epic saga of the first two entries, but it also introduces Colfer's first featured out character in his overarching The Land of Stories universe. EW got an exclusive look at A Tale of Sorcery, and spoke to Colfer about the potency of writing an openly gay character in a children's book.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When I read deftly-rendered stories, I find myself giving the books theme songs. For A Tale of Magic, I thought of "Let It Go" and for A Tale of Witchcraft, I thought of Andra Day's "Rise Up." What would you say the anthem of A Tale of Sorcery is?
CHRIS COLFER: Oh my gosh, that's such a good question. Maybe "Born This Way." The Tale of Magic series always explored acceptance and oppression, and this is the first time in my middle grade books that I have my first openly gay character. That was really fun and very cathartic to write.
Can you tell us which character?
I have known since the first time I ever conceived [Xanthous] in my head that I knew they were gay. When I first started writing, many people told me that I was making a mistake because the world wasn't ready to let their kids read a book by an openly gay man, so I really shied away from including any openly LGBT characters in my first set of books because I thought I was already fighting an uphill battle as it was. Also, because [at the time] I was on Glee, I didn't want to be a one trick pony and my trick be coming out, so, I dropped hints along the way. I would describe their interests and their looks and their preferences, hoping that readers would pick up on it — and a lot of them did — but this is the first time I've been able to explore their orientation and be very open and honest about it. I actually refrained from using the word "gay" because so many books get banned in so many countries the minute you have the word "gay" in the text. I think I was able to write a whole coming out story without ever having to use any terms. So hopefully that'll get into the hands of the kids around the world who need it the most.
I drew parallels between A Tale of Witchcraft with its Righteous Brotherhood hell-bent on exterminating magic and the dumpster fire of the last four years, but what was your inspiration?
I'd say more than any of my books, the Tale of Magic series is absolutely inspired by current events. Every time I sit down to write a new one of these books, I think about what is keeping me up at night, and I try to write about it and try to change the world by inserting some compassion and common sense into a younger generation.
A Tale of Magic was based on what it's like to be a member of the LGBTQ community and to have to go through the periods of abuse and harassment, and trying to find a world that loves and accepts you. A Tale of Witchcraft — everything was an allegory for mental health. The word "witchcraft" has such a stigma in our society and so does mental health, so I thought that was an interesting parallel. And, in A Tale of Sorcery, I'd say everything is an allegory for an environmental message. I hope it teaches kids the importance of valuing fact over pride, and I hope it gives them the tools to spot the difference.
In 2017, 20th Century Fox picked up the rights to The Land of Stories series with you set to write the script adaptation, as well as direct. Is that still moving forward?
It's not moving forward with 20th Century Fox. In all honesty, we were developing it with them for about two and a half years. We were under Emma Watts and Kira Goldberg, and it was a wonderful project. It was going at warp-speed and it was so exciting, I used to dance around my house whenever I got home because it was a dream come true. Then, unfortunately with the Disney merger and then the pandemic, there were so many changes that I decided to take the rights back when the option was up to get a fresh start at a new home. Emma and Kira both left 20th Century and there were just so many changes, I thought it best to get a fresh start with it somewhere else.
Have you found a new home for it?
No, I haven't. I'm not in a rush. I've seen how being in a rush can really mess up a project like this. I've been thinking maybe a series would be better suited for this — you could tell more of the story. Then again, in film I feel like you get to show more. I'm open to either, so I think I'm going to start having those conversations again very soon.
My daughter is obsessed with the ATOM series and asked me to ask you how you decided which character would be the focus for each book.
All the other questions have been so easy! I knew the first book was going to be about Brystal. I definitely knew the second book was going to be about Lucy, and then I've always wanted to tell this story of Xanthous, but I think if I continue with this series in the future, each will be about a different member of the Fairy Council.
A Tale of Sorcery is your 18th book. At this point in your career do you consider yourself more of an actor-turned-writer or a writer-turned-actor?
You know, I try not to consider myself, period. [Laughs] It really just depends on who you ask. If you ask my accountant, he would definitely tell you that I'm a writer [Laughs], but if you ask a 14-year-old on the street, they'd probably tell you that I'm definitely an actor. I just consider myself very lucky that I get to do either of it.
A Tale of Sorcery publishes on Sept. 28 followed by a three-stop virtual book tour that kicks off the same day. Read on for the exclusive excerpt after the cover image below:
Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . .
Brystal always resented the sound of a ticking clock. Whether she was counting down the hours before she could escape the School for Future Wives and Mothers, or counting down the minutes she had left to secretly read books in the Chariot Hills Library, Brystal didn't think a clock could sound any more ominous than it already did. But she was dead wrong.
Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . .
Brystal glanced down at the silver pocket watch attached to her waist. To someone else, the watch would have shown it was a few minutes before noon. And to someone else, the watch's soft ticking would have barely been noticeable. But to Brystal, the gentle gears were deafening. Her watch wasn't counting down the hours of her day—it was counting down the days of her life.
Two weeks . . .
That's all you have left . . .
To locate the ancient spell book . . . To destroy
the Immortal . . .
And you still haven't found either of them yet.
Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick . . .
You're no closer now than you were a year ago . . .
You have to accept the truth . . . You're out of time . . .
In thirteen days . . .
You will die.
The curse on Brystal's mind rarely surfaced these days. She had become so good at ignoring the disturbing thoughts that she barely noticed them anymore. Even when they occasionally got her attention, Brystal loved putting them in their place. For her, the disturbing thoughts were no longer a powerful curse—they were an old friend she enjoyed arguing with.
You may be right . . . , she thought. But who isn't on borrowed time? Whose days aren't numbered?
Knowing when my life ends means I can make the most of the time I have left . . .
And I'm not going to waste a second of it.
Brystal clicked the watch shut and tucked it into the pocket of her pantsuit. She was standing at the windows of her office in the Academy of Magic, taking in the view of the rolling green hills, the sparkling blue ocean, and the shimmering golden castle around her. Brystal made a point to admire the Fairy Territory whenever she could, knowing each opportunity might be her last. However, she didn't let herself linger for long—death or no death, she had a lot of work to do.
Thankfully, Brystal didn't bear the burden of finding the ancient spell book and the Immortal alone. For the first time, instead of sparing her friends from the truth, Brystal had confided in them. They knew all about her deal with Death, they knew Brystal only had one year to find the Immortal and destroy her with an ancient spell book, or her life would end. And before Brystal could even ask for her friends' help, they went straight to work.
Over the past 11 months and two weeks, Brystal's office had turned into the center of a thorough investigation. The fairies covered every surface of the glass furniture with stacks of maps and address books of every known library, bookstore, and book collector in the world. While they worked tirelessly on locating the ancient spell book, the witches worked diligently on identifying the Immortal. All the walls in the office were filled with birth certificates, death certificates, and portraits of very, very old ladies.
After Brystal and Lucy's trip to the Chariot Hills Library, all the libraries had officially been searched, so the fairies focused their efforts on contacting bookstores and renowned book collectors. The fairies wrote under pseudonyms to keep the mission a secret, asking the sellers and collectors about any older publications they might have in their possession. Each morning, Horence the knight heaved a heavy sack of mail into the office and the fairies dug through the letters, hoping for a positive lead.