Edgar Calabia Samar—”Egay,” as some are wont to call him—is no gamer, but the virtual world of Terra Anima Legion of Anitos (TALA) and the heroes, monsters, and perils that revolve around it come alive in his first young adult novel, Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon.
The novel opens as such: in the middle of the TALA semi-finals, in a computer shop in Balanga, five teenagers simultaneously die. One of them, when nudged on the arm, turns to ash by way of internal combustion. Janus Silang, a boy who spends his time and money playing TALA with his peers, seems to be the only one unaffected. The story follows Janus as he tries to uncover the truth about the mysterious incident, ultimately requiring him to face the secrets connecting TALA, his family, and the Tiyanak ng Tabon.
Edgar Samar is a Filipino author whose writing has been recognized in awards such as the Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, PBBY-Salanga Writer’s Prize, NCCA Writer’s Prize, Gawad Surian sa Tula, and Gantimpalang Collantes sa Sanaysay. The English translation of his novel, Walong Diwata sa Pagkahulog, was also longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize. He currently teaches literature and creative writing courses at the Ateneo de Manila University. Despite all this prestige, Samar arrives for the interview looking as normal as anyone else. Donning a plaid shirt and brown jeans, Edgar Samar is easy to talk to, and the conversation flows comfortably.
Samar hails from the city of San Pablo, a place well known for its seven lakes. Each lake has an accompanying legend, lending an almost mythical feeling to the province of Laguna. Growing up in this environment, we were curious as to whether Samar himself believed the myths and legends were true. He laughs when we ask the question. After a moment’s consideration, he tells us, “Naniniwala ako na may totoo sa mga alamat (I believe there’s something true about legends).”
The characters of Filipino folklore are no strangers in Samar’s works. His other novels, Walong Diwata sa Pagkahulog and Sa Kasunod ng 909, also contain elements of Philippine folklore and myths. For him, what is fascinating is that the stories reflect a culture’s deeper consciousness. “Tawag natin sa ibang contexts ay subconscious, collective unconscious, so maganda talaga siyang kunan ng pag-iisip kung ano ‘yung… mga primal na themes at aspiration ng isang bayan, natin. Nandoon iyong koneksyon natin eh (In other contexts we call it the subconscious, collective unconscious, so it’s a good source of ideas regarding… the primal themes and aspirations of a nation. That’s where our connection is).”
Although the novel was released just last May, the idea for Janus Silang was birthed in 2010. Samar admits, gesturing his hands as he explains, that back then the character of Janus Silang was only a vague idea. It was only in the process of writing that Samar fully discovered him. “The knowing is in the writing,” Samar shares; it is a mantra that appears as the title of the renowned Butch Dalisay’s work. Eventually, Janus Silang became juno-s06, a skilled TALA player whose Bayani-Anito Tandem (BAT) is a Pusong-Nuno combo.
If Egay Samar were a TALA player, his BAT would be the Pusong-Diwata. The tandem’s description in the novel reads: “Palaisip ang Pusong, mahusay na pilosopo ng bayan. Marunong, maliksi, magaling magplano ng bawat hakbang (The Pusong is a thinker, the town’s great philosopher. Knowledgeable, nimble, and masterful in planning each step).” Similarly, Samar crafts his works so that every scene coalesces to the novel’s end, leaving readers awed and restless to know what happens next.
Thankfully, Janus Silang’s story is far from over, and Edgar Samar looks forward to revealing more of the world of TALA, the Baganis, Nunos, and the adventures in store for Janus. The second book in the series, Si Janus Silang at ang Digmaang Manananggal-Mambabarang, is already in revision. As Janus Silang advances to the next level, Edgar Samar continues to weave the intricacies of mythology into his plot and characters, pouring his time into a work that’s well worth logging off to read.
Text by Leona Lao and Michelle Parlan