Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Meanings, Hidden or Otherwise

“I don’t think this kind of thing [satire] has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted. I think the people who say we need satire often mean, ‘We need satire of them, not of us.’ I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin cabarets of the ’30s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.”
 —Musician, singer-songwriter, satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer
“There are times I was not sure if it was fantasy or a political satire (loved Bob) or both. If it was a political satire, I was a little unclear as to what was being satirized.”

So wrote an early reader of my newly published novel Last of the Tuath Dé, and she was by no means alone in wondering if it was actually meant to be some sort of Swiftian parody. That pleased me. I mean, the part where she wasn’t sure.

To be clear, the aim of the book (it’s a sequel to my earlier fantasy adventure The Curse of Septimus Bridge, about a nice young Seattle woman’s induction and baptism of fire in the profession of demon hunting) was really no more ambitious than to provide some escapist entertainment—perhaps mainly for myself but hopefully for others as well. But the provocateur in me doesn’t mind if the book also gets readers to think, question and wonder.

My Dallas Green books (Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, Lautaro’s Spear, Searching for Cunégonde) are all firmly entrenched in particular times and places, and there are frequent references to contemporaneous events and politics. Such real-world stuff generally doesn’t intrude on my fantasy books, but this time the story involved the end of the world being brought about by, among other things, a worldwide collective madness of a religious/political nature. It was going to be hard to avoid parallels—inadvertent, unintended, subconscious or otherwise—with real-world events. Indeed, now more than ever people seem to be finding themselves alarmed by what they see as fanaticism among those they disagree with.

I know from experience that, in reading my book, readers will reliably overlay whatever sociopolitical template suits them. When the Zen’ei, harbingers of the apocalypse in this story and magnets for Mercenaries, cultists and fanatics, trash the major cities of the world with their unthinking violence, I have no doubt that many will nod knowingly and think of the stop-the-steal protestors, trespassers and rioters of January 6. At the same time, I will not be surprised if other readers read the same text and see it as a representation of that segment of BLM protestors and/or Antifa activists who wreaked havoc in several major U.S. cities during the summer of 2020.

So, which is the right interpretation? The answer is: yours.

Once literature is out there in the world, it has its own life. You—and maybe even most readers—may take lessons from my work that are completely different than anything that was in my mind. I know I have certainly done that to other artists’ works. Authors may tell me they intended one thing, but their work may tell me something completely different. There are necessarily two participants in any single literary transaction.

So, is that it? Am I some mealy-mouthed relativist with no positions of my own?

Don’t worry. I did slip in some strongly held beliefs and personal principles. Look hard and you’ll find them.

Or if you don’t want to look hard, then I’ll just tell you what some of them are. Like these:
From Chapter 9:
  “They insist on their own language. Mercenaries call themselves Legionnaires. They call demons ‘hants,’ and for them Demon Hunters are ‘Hant Oppressors.’ ”
  “That is no accident. To control words is to control the mind.”

From Chapter 19:
  “But he fills the world with lies. He should have been stopped.”
   “Do you remember none of my lessons? You can’t stop lies. If you begin suppressing lies, it is not long before every uncomfortable thing you hear sounds like a lie.”

From Chapter 22:
  “… This may surprise you, but I realized you were right. I had never believed the conspiracy theories before, but the more I thought about yours, the more it began to make sense.”
  “You do know, don’t you, it’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s true?”
There may be others, and it might be worth reading the book to find out. If you want to do that, then click here (or on the book’s cover over on the right-hand side of this page) to go to my book blog where you will find lots more information about the new book as well as all my other ones. And you will also find links to many online sellers of the paperback and digital editions.