Escher Hands

What's a Hobbit to do?

The recent bit of trouble that Peter Jackson has had with actors' guilds in trying to recruit for his new version of The Hobbit, which has already run into much trouble (Tolkien's heirs haven't yet okayed it, for one), leaves me ambivalent about its fate. While I'd like to see another awesome spectacle on the big screen set in Middle-earth, I can no longer in good faith recommend Jackson's adaptations. You see, I recently reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (along with The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, and The Unfinished Tales) after completing The History of Middle-earth and The History of The Hobbit. Okay, I'm a nut on the subject, a true geek in the purest sense. I love the Legendarium more than I love spicy food, and that's no ordinary love. This is why I'm ambivalent about anything done with them in new works on any media, and have mood swings with regards to recommendations. I'll set aside my opinion of a movie adaptation of The Hobbit (and The Silmarillion!) for a bit, though, and try to explain why I've decided that Jackson's LotR movies should be junked.

In a nutshell, the LotR adaptations are not Tolkien's story. Jackson (and his producers, editors, and distributors) did what movie makers have to do when adapting a mammoth epic to the screen by refashioning scenes and reshuffling them to make the story into a more visually and chronologically understandable piece, but he went too far. Boy, did he ever. We had to do without Tom Bombadil and "The Scouring of the Shire", which were regrettable necessities, although the latter really was an important illustration of the evolution of the characters of the four main Hobbits and gave a logical reason for their later ascendancy to the governing of the Shire.  Nevertheless, they were tangents to the main story and would have bloated the plot. What I cannot condone, however, is Jackson's liberal misuse of Tolkien's characters, and this has been complained about in countless threads around the net. Not only do we get a weak, overly emotional Frodo (furrowed eyebrows do not equal good acting, by the way), but Sam, Boromir and Faramir, Éomer, Gwaihir, Elrond, Arwen, Treebeard, and others have been bludgeoned by the screenplay into almost wholly different characters.

In some instances they've been made almost opposite from Tolkien's originals, but in all cases stretched or combined to better fit the Hollywood mold of dramatic films. In LotR, this is epitomized by Jackson's insistence to make every character have a fuller, more conflicted personality than Tolkien intended. Some of the switching of dialog between characters might be understandable to make the story more succinct, but such turnarounds as Sam's cruelty and the confusion of motives in Faramir to make him look as if he might have gone the way of his brother are simply unforgivable. Sam routinely abuses Gollum, a horrendous insult to Tolkien's character; he is arguably the most earnestly noble person in all of Tolkien's works, and the idea that Frodo (even in his Ring-induced darkness and influence of Gollum) would turn away his most loyal friend is as far from the original story as one can get. Having Faramir vacillate about Frodo and the Ring to the point of having the Hobbits dragged to Osgiliath went against Tolkien's clear intention of showing him as a paragon of a chivalrous and honorable warrior of old, a return to the noble blood of Númenor. That Boromir falls under the spell of the Ring is not supposed to be a sign of his weakness of character, but the twisting of his almost blind loyalty to Gondor and its place as defender of free peoples; and his brother's triumph is that he understands that his true loyalty is to what Gondor stands for rather than to the kingdom itself. This is not a conclusion that Faramir has to come to but an integral part of him that contributes to his estrangement from his father. Gwaihir and Éomer are in part combined to the detriment of both, Elrond is made out to be reluctant to take the side of good and even seems deviously trying to stop his daughter's choice to be with Aragorn, Arwen therefore is shown doubting that choice (let's not even get into Jackson's pandering expansion of the love story), and Treebeard is shown as basically a wandering fool who must be driven to wrath.

What is wrong here is not just that none of this is true of Tolkien's characters, but that it undermines the very idea that they have their places in the story because they are the best of people. There are no accidents or moral dilemmas in the modern fictional sense in Tolkien's world, and the good side wins because it is definitively good, not because every character overcomes his bad side. In Middle-earth, there is only one Bad Side, and even Saruman's fall is not supposed to be tied to ambition, but to his failure to overcome the will of Sauron, who is ultimately behind every evil in the story (actually, Morgoth is behind it all as having sung his discordant note into the very structure of the world, and Sauron is his most powerful agent). All of the characters who are seduced by the Ring are not meant to be caught by their own hidden desires but given those desires by Sauron. This reversal underlies every major trouble I can see with the adaptations, and so dooms the work as a "this is how it should have been written" derivation rather than a faithful retelling. Regardless of Tolkien's incessant insistence that LotR was not an allegory, his characters are purposefully set out as game pieces and never really become multi-dimensional. This can be legitimately criticized, but in a literary venue. A director, especially one purporting to be an avid fan, should not take it upon himself to make such a fundamental change in a story, in this case 'modernizing' its characterizations, to make it more palatable for a general audience. If Jackson had a problem with the stiffness of Tolkien's characters, he should have left the job to someone else. If he merely has misread the themes of LotR, then he can be forgiven, but that does not redeem his work.

Besides Jackson's changing and wrongly trying to fill out Tolkien's characters, he also goes too far in reediting the story to give it a chronological continuity and cut down on secondary and tertiary characters. I've given a few points, but I can't possibly give a full list of scriptural changes in dialog and action. To put it simply, I was hard pressed to find a single scene in the whole trilogy that was not tweaked, added superfluously, or altered in a way to inject something that Tolkien never even implied. From Frodo riding with Gandalf in their introductory scene (and Gandalf setting off some fireworks for the trailing Hobbit children) and the Elves showing up at Helm's Deep for Haldir to find an untimely (and noncanonical) end to the numerous problems in the audience hall scene with Théoden being possessed by Saruman, there seems to be no plot point or bit of dialog that Jackson did not feel the need to alter. Even Gandalf's signature "You shall not pass!" on the bridge in Moria should be a repetition of his seconds-earlier "You cannot pass!" (although, despite what legions of rabid fanbois claim, the balrog can be said to have wings, since Tolkien mentions wing-like shadows or some such). In any case, Aragorn would never have decapitated a messenger of Sauron, Gollum had no explicit second guessing of his intentions much less an argument with his 'Ring side', Merry and Pippin were not playful thieves of Maggot's farm (and did not join Frodo and Sam there), the dead army did not fight at Minas Tirith, and on and on. Many of these things could be forgiven for being necessary changes to save time, but not the whole mass of them. And so many were completely needless, and added questions where none existed in the novel. For instance, why have Frodo see Gollum in Moria instead of on the river, since Gandalf had already explained back in the Shire about Bilbo's mercy regarding him? Why have Elrond wait until Aragorn is about to go on the Paths of the Dead to give him Andúril, when in the novel he had been carrying the sword ever since Rivendell? I can see that by having Boromir pick up the Ring when Frodo drops it Jackson is showing his gradual fall into its power (and Aragorn's distrust of him), but neither the scene nor the slow buildup is evident in the novel; Boromir gives no indication at all of succumbing until the Falls of Rauros, and even then it's a momentary loss of reason. Even Frodo shows far too much paranoia and distrust throughout the films, when in the novel he only begins to lose his perspective in Mordor, where the Ring's pull toward Sauron is strongest. And two elekks for Sam? Seriously? Tolkien's single one going rogue would have been a better dramatic effect...that's why he did it.

No matter how Jackson claims in interviews that he wanted most to be "true to Tolkien's vision", I can only conclude that he never trusted Tolkien's ability to set the right tone or scene. There are just too many changes, from the profound to the perplexing, to call it Tolkien's work any more. It's not fan fiction either, since it's a reworking of the original rather than an ancillary story. At best, it is a gorgeous visual illustration of Middle-earth, but that's never nearly enough excuse to get permission to portray a masterpiece. What Jackson did was take Tolkien's characters and world and rewrite the story the way he wanted it to be, and that's not something I can condone. So, while I'd love to see The Hobbit on the screen, like I said, I'd rather it not be done than to be given the same treatment.

And I've heard that Jackson wants to film The Silmarillion as well. Please, movie gods, for all that is still good in the world, don't let that happen. Christopher, if you're still cognizant, don't sign away those rights to anyone while the blockbuster still rules cinema, especially not Peter Jackson. Those stories deserve a kind of film making that hasn't been invented yet and a filmmaker who will not shy away from making it exactly as dark as it should be. The Silmarillion should not be set within a single two or three hour frame, or even a trilogy of three hour films, but each chapter given all of the time and scope it requires, and forget distributorship. If it's done right, it would be at least twenty-four hours altogether, give people chills just to see the name on the first trailer, and be the biggest fucking thing in the world. If it's done by Peter Jackson, it will be a cgi dagger in my heart.

EDIT: I looked up the relevant passages in LotR, and here's what it gave me about the balrog: "His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings." Then, more conclusively, "It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall..." That's enough for me in that nerdy debate. Whether elves (and hobbits) had pointy ears? Unless Tolkien mentioned it in interviews, there's no telling. From all that I've read, he rarely described anyone in that detail. Gimli would not have been so clumsy or slow, though. Dwarves were supposed to have great endurance in running and savage prowess in battle (even against elves, which is saying something).
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    Holst - Mars, Bringer of War


I remember reading Elizabeth Moon in high school and being transported to cool worlds. Now I feel like I need a shower.
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    My teeth grinding

Somewhere under the steel rainbow

M. A little Pookie bird has been singing in my ear about you. I'm sorry that I can't send out any inspirational lines of bad poetry right now, because I'm not in the best of health. You know I'm not one to believe in empty platitudes, so I'll save you the bullshit. You know I love you, Princess, whatever that means for fucked-up people like us. If you're thinking of flying away, I can't jump up to catch you, but you'll be carrying a part of me with you if you do. I can't tell you that coming back here would somehow make anything better, either. The things that are broken in you and me are beyond the help of doctors and drugs anyway. I can only say that I miss your bright eyes. Please don't make someone else tell me that I'll never see them again.
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    Phil Thornton & Hossam Ramzy / Derwood Green

I'm so old.

A lot has been made lately of the "mindset" of the recent graduating college class, and I admit to finding it quite fascinating, if a little depressing. I didn't have what I'd call a seminal "mindset moment" until this past Saturday, however, when I was out in the college bars. I was having a political conversation with a group of happily tipsy kids, when one guy brought up the recently overused "even a broken clock is right twice a day" cliché. True to form, a young woman at the table, very bright by any standard, said, "I don't get that." The rest of us took five minutes explaining to her what rotary clocks are. Big Ben? We thought. Surely, she'd know about that. The clock tower in Back to the Future? Never seen the trilogy. Apparently, she's never seen a rotary clock or watch in her life. Where's my time-traveling DeLorean? I want to go back to the `80s, when we were sure we'd all get it in WWIII.
  • Current Music
    Neurosis - something droning away

Strangers Among Us

A generation has grown up without knowledge of true solace. Electronic boxes buzz in their ears with the voices of their friends, always available. Always. Their dramas are immediate and acute, their romances as fleeting and delicate as damselflies. Their stories are plotwise dance music; scene-to-scene, they bounce through wafer-thin dialogs...little conversations are they. What blindly heaving dinosaurs we must seem to them. We're not blind, but their sight has passed into the ultraviolet, where only insects with multi-faceted eyes can tell the flowers apart.
  • Current Music
    Joanna Newsom / Only Skin - sonique

The Eternal Empire: Pan-garble

Another potentially long one on the subject of my 'ancient' empire idea, so you can yawn and pass over at will. I devoted my last post to an overview of the lineage of kings, mostly to set the general tone of changes for future reference. In this, I'll try to come up with a preliminary look at the pantheon of gods in my series of kingdoms. As the cultures surrounding the Mediterranean were varied in their theology as well as their theogony, my empire should also be complex in this way. I played at forming a dogmatic mythology for Sita Roryn, but the religions of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome were never so concretely defined. Many of their gods were worshiped before they even had writing, and many factors precluded their religions from ever being defined in a single coherent mythos. Particularly in Egypt, there was a dichotomy between official gods, those used in political ceremonies and whose cults were handled by vast and rich bureaucracies, city and village gods, whom were worshiped locally and generally had a more personal character, and household gods, whose character and attributes shifted with location. As far as I know, only the Hindu pantheon has been given even partial consistency in works like the Vedas and the Mahabharata. Nevertheless, in a given place and time of Ancient Egypt or Greece, the religion was consistent and well understood by the people. It is only when trying to look at every location and time period together as a seamless whole that the tapestry and evolution of the religion becomes needlessly confusing. In my empire, therefore, the religion will also be both universal and local, timeless and evolving, official and personal.

I won't try to create a comprehensive timeline that includes every god, spirit, or elemental force with their interrelationships; this would be folly and would require thousands of pages in its own right. This kind of thing is impossible even for Egypt, though its religion was documented for several thousand years in countless texts and monuments. Such a religion is not a monolithic entity to be looked at in this way, it must be watched as it evolves, with understanding about its origins and inner connectivity gained by understanding this evolution. Instead, I'll come at the problem in the same way as I show the narration - from many different perspectives at different points in time. I do need at least a quick reference on its major aspects to keep what I write in context, however, so I'm setting some of it out here pretty much as I think of it.

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Too good to be true

Okay, I'm not the geekiest guy on the net, but I'm not a rank n00b, either. My IP, Charter Cable and Worldwide Domination, last gave us the round figure for our connection speed at 5Mbps. Now, I know this is averaged, though I'm not sure over what exactly. The US? The world? Avg daily use? Avg website traffic? Anyway, I expected to see that when doing speed tests after momentary cable burps, but what I've gotten consistently for about a year now kinda bothers me. I test connections all over the world and, yeah, Volgograd will only get me a 2Mbps down. Christchurch around 1. But anywhere in the US, I regularly get over 20Mbps. For the short hops from Dallas or Austin, I get 48Mbps every time. That's HUGE. I don't want to take the time to figure out how long my old 1100baud would have to work to pull down the stuff I can get now in a minute. Washington DC? 28Mbps. Bellingham, Washington? 24Mbps. This has got to be a dream.

Some Stuff: Out and In

I hear that California has busted a new hole in the Far Right's asses by getting Prop 8 knocked down. Good on'em. It'll probably breeze through the 9th Circuit, but run up against a wall of bullshit with the SCOTUS. I hope we don't get another 5/4 decision upholding the 19th century values of White Male Privilege, as that could set a precedent for the states regulating all kinds of "immoral" behavior. *sigh* Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Anyway, I've been reading up on the gods and dynasties of Ancient Egypt, getting a better idea of the overall flavor of life in the center of their politics. I'll buy more in depth books on the lives of Egyptian commoners and histories of Sumer and the Greek Isles as needed. This is all for preliminary sketches of stories surrounding my imagined grand epic. I have a better idea of how I'll flesh it out, but I'll still leave most of the particulars to whim when I get to it after finishing Sita Roryn and The Dragons of Cowtown.

In case y'all don't care to read through more speculations on what I might write, you can scroll down now. ;)

I'm thinking of doing three volumes, maybe more, of short stories, novellas, and simulated prayers and poetry set in the Egypt-esque world. Each will loosely revolve around one of the three great Kingdoms, with additional add-ons for the three Intermediate Periods and the final, semi-classical Fourth Kingdom of outside rule. This is meant to echo the actual history of Ancient Egypt, but set in a vast inland sea rather than on a great river, with nods to the Minoans, Sumerians, Caucasus cultures, Hittites, Bedouin, etc. and ending with a general invasion by a kind of amalgam of early Rome with a sudden Islamic-styled internal political upheaval. If it sounds mixed up and chaotic, that's okay for a start. The overall story will basically follow what I outlined in my last post.

The first volume will be about the rise, fast flowering, and sudden collapse of the First Kingdom. Beginning with the rags-to-riches tale of the young tough who becomes the legendary (and forever after worshiped) First Father, it will gradually lead away from the center of power as that power grows to seemingly universal heights. From the first king to a vizier of his grandson, to an artisan of a later king's tomb complex, to the wife of a businessman during the high-point of the royalty, to a lowly soldier who sees the utter destruction of the coast from a tsunami. It will thus go in a step-by-step route from obscurity to palace politics, from boredom inside the gilded cages to the awe of seeing the majesty of palace life from outside, and finally from comfort in the now peaceful kingdom to new-found poverty at the hands of an angry god. I'm not sure if this is how it will go exactly, but the out-in-out, poor-rich-poor theme sounds like a good way to introduce the cyclical story.

The second volume will begin right away with warfare, as the self-proclaimed heirs of the now nearly mythical First Kingdom fight throughout the sea to regain what was lost. Here, I'll have the novella of a sailor who, growing from a fisherman into a naval captain, becomes a king's Master of the Waters, the naval commander finally responsible for the reunification of the ancient empire. During his life, he'll see many battles from all sides and learn that the kings are not only human, but sadly fated to dying young at the hands of their enemies or from the daggers of their brothers. Nevertheless, the sailor will survive to see his sixth king crowned and the empire reborn. From this, I'll jump forward to the daughter of a desert governor being preened to be given to a king, ashamed of her family's lower status among the courtiers, who uses her wiles to gain the rights to the mines in the west and bring to the palace what becomes the fount of the empire's greatest treasure. Next, after several generations, the capital has been moved to the formerly unknown desert town, and its local leaders and priests have become the most powerful nobles in the world. Here, a greedy young priest dreams of taking the throne from the now fat and weak royals, but learns that conspiracies are nothing new to the empire and that generations of viziers and regents learn from childhood how to stop greedy little men like him. Finally, I'll follow the last prince of the empire as he goes out to quell a civil war between two upstart regional governors, only to find that they have secretly set a trap for him with the priests back home taking advantage of the situation to finally end the reign of the fishermen kings.

The third volume will be one novel-length story with a few short pieces thrown into small breaks to spice it up, with the final one a kind of retelling of the whole thing from the perspective of a priest-scholar from long past the fall of the last native dynasty. The main story will be about a Horemheb-like figure who is born during the reign of the last great king of the empire at its greatest flowering. He grows up knowing the eccentric second prince who accidentally becomes king, and watches in despair as this heretic king wallows in religious delusion while the empire begins to show cracks. Later, he tries to hold the regional governors and outsiders at bay as the heretic succumbs to his insanity and dies, then juggles fighting in the hinterlands with trying to keep watch over the new child-king who is unfortunately doomed to follow his father into oblivion. He returns to the capital with the outer empire in better shape but with the dead boy-king's vizier already enthroned as a paranoid old man clutching at any way to justify his reign, and finally takes the crown himself after the dynasty has truly ended and there is no one else left with the power to hold the now fragile empire together. The much later scholar will recount a kind of archaeologist's view of the history of the three Kingdoms from their mythical beginning, through the second and third resurgences of power and glory, to their end as a poor province of his own, much larger and more advanced civilization. He will finish his tale as his workers find the entrance to a forgotten tomb, the one of the ill-fated boy-king who was reluctantly wiped from history by the Horemheb character.

I want to have the three volumes set up as follows; the first as a loosely connected set of short stories, the second as several less-closely related novellas, and the last as a single life-long story interspersed with short cultural snippets to show the rapid changes that occur during the character's lifetime. I want to see this empire from many varied points of view; from bottom to top, from inside and out, old and young, through plain narrative and half-awed legend, and from eerie prophesy to sketchy hindsight. It's an ambitious idea, and probably far beyond my ability to make into a coherent whole, but it's the kind of story I want to read.
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    Battlestar Galactica Soundtrack - Heeding the Call

A Grand Design, Pt.1001

I have a lot of story ideas flitting around in my belfry, too many to ever let them all out. Especially considering how lazy I am. I've proved to myself that I can put out a massive mound of work when properly motivated, however. On this journal I've outlined several ideas I've had for future projects, only bringing up the ones which I can immerse myself in to the extent where I know the full (general) story, and can feel the details itching to flow. If I were a short story writer, I'd probably be able to spit out one every couple of days, but those have never satisfied me. My taste is in depth. Even Robert Jordan's world, epic though it is in length, is too shallow for me. Tolkien is really the only fictional author who has given me the kind of richness of detail in plot, recursiveness in storytelling, and true mastery of the epic in time that my mind craves. And yet, I've studied Ancient Egypt, which filled in dynastic genealogies like Tolkien never could, and Greece, which contained a greater dysfunctional family of city-states than Niven could extrapolate into star-faring civilizations and impossible journeys that put Burroughs to shame. Roma was the Empire, one that dwarfed in its greatness and tragedy that other one dabbled in by Asimov. The Khans really knew how to rock a continent, which places them above the Hyborean Age in my book. Likewise, China's Middle Kingdom drew together strands of culture, wealth, and power that no fictional tyrant could ever dream of, even if his Empire was a whole galaxy far, far away. This is the kind of thing I love, and what I want to write. Yeah, I know, my imagination is not worthy of Tolkien's, much less ten million Romans. I have written something of a sweeping story, though, in my Sita Roryn project from last summer. It's basically only about two women, however, and takes place over only a decade or so. If I want to write something anywhere close to what I'd want to read, I'll have to think bigger.

So I've thought bigger. Actually, I've been thinking that big ever since high school, but my efforts were hardly worth mentioning. A scifi epic to straddle the stars, of course. Taking humanity from your next-door neighbors to the far future in places unimaginable. I've developed the story somewhat, which I've talked about here before. It's sort of an ongoing tale of two lovers, seemingly forever trading off living for hundreds of years and dying, leaving each other alone until the next cycle begins. I realize now how claustrophobic the idea is. Along the way, we might see civilization evolve, but it's directed by the main characters toward an ultimate flowering only they can see. And they're lonely. For hundreds of years, waiting. It's damnably unfair to the reader to outline the basic idea from the beginning and yet still go through all of the frustration and angst over and over. I need a story like the history of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire, that has a direction and destiny, but one that no one in the beginning could possibly have imagined. One that is not about two archetypical images on a Tarot card but many different characters in the great sea of history. Ah, a there's an idea.

I wrote the Sita Roryn project originally to keep my cousin in Antarctica occupied during the winter darkness, but also to study, if informally, a lot of what it takes to build an epic. I think I've learned a lot, maybe enough to get started on the real thing. I still have this young adult version of that project to finish and my story about the geeks in the `80s, but the big one is beginning to build within me. If I can hold onto it through these two novels, maybe I can do some real justice to my imagination. If I do, it won't be a continuation of Sita Roryn, because that's a world that belongs to three women (the third shouldered her way in while I was writing - what could I do? There had to be three, it seems) and one slice of time, kind of like Conan or John Carter. No, this will be analogous to the rise and fall of successive civilizations, told from the perspectives of many of their characters, both major and minor. Imagine Egypt, growing from mythical origins, later sharing political space with Mesopotamia and Greece, each of which having their own semi-fictitious origin stories, then all three conquered by one man of unprecedented ambition, Alexander. Imagine the further rise of Rome, the Eternal Empire that was so full of itself and so drunk on its power that it named the Mediterranean "Our Sea". The heights that Rome rose to and the scope of its power were unmatched in the West, but it stretched itself too thinly and finally unraveled under the feet of barbarians and a cult that it once had laughed at. Finally, civilization around the Mediterranean divided into the West, an uneasy conglomeration of warring sibling feudal states and, in the East, a gilded shadow of greatness, slowly shrinking under the pressure of a rising tide of Muslim fanatics. This is the kind of story I want to write. Too big for a single couple or even one dynasty. Hell, too big for one civilization. I want to bring agriculture into a world of hunters and fishermen, then stomp them down under the boots of soldiers. I want to build the First City, make it the mythical template for a hundred others, and have them all crumble as they are choked by the weeds of the New City. I want to write about the curious man who, four thousand years later, goes back to the buried ruins of that First City and finds that it was not the home of the gods after all. Oh, yeah, I'm loving this. There's even a place in it for three women, the unlikely warrior, the improbable princess, and the killer priestess. They wouldn't be called Roryn, Sindane, and Savane, but they should be recognizable. It won't be centered on them, however. Maybe they'll have their moment on stage near the beginning of the 'second empire', when the world really needs fighters with a vision for a future they won't see. But there has to be more, oh, so much more.

Okay, here goes another flight of fancy into the world of my imagination. I'm writing this out for the first time to try some of the ideas, not to cement them into a final order or design. I want the overall story to be a framework for each individual tale, not too different from Asimov's Robots-Empire-Foundation world except that there will be no single thread to tie them all together beyond the general struggle of people to live. It will be about four great civilizations, each in turn taking its place as the bastion of Order against outer Chaos, yet all (but the last) falling inevitably against the forces of change. Seen through the eyes of those on the ground (though at times being seen from afar by a person long before or after the fact), it will be shown only in part. I can't possibly give the whole story without losing all of the wonderful details, and would have to live a million lifetimes to give all of the details. So, I'll give it as it's seen from within, as the world at war was seen by priests and monks in the Chronicles of the Crusades or far palaces were described by alien visitors like Marco Polo, except that most of my tales will be in the third person (did I mention that I'm lazy?).

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Notes about how the story might be written

The first thing I have to say is that I haven't yet thought of how to name the kings or the empire, but you probably guessed that. Names are a tricky thing in ancient culture, even what they called their own countries, so I'll hold off on that until I have the time to think about it in more depth. I can imagine a system not too distant from the Ancient Egyptian one, upon which this is largely based. It also has shades of Pre-Roman Mediterranean cultures, so I might throw in some identifiable allusions to those. There won't be any direct parallels; my "Tutankhamun" won't be called "Fruitincommon". Even the more recognizable stories won't be so recognizable once I've twisted them around some. I want to echo some of the main themes, though. The conquering native Theban and the heretic king are two that are just too hot to pass up. I'll also be adding in some queens, both those trying to rule after the deaths of their husbands or brothers, like several in Egypt, and one or two who took power for themselves and had a true reign, like Hatshepsut and the Cleopatras. Before everyone starts screaming that I've left them out because I don't consider them important, it's really because they are unique in ancient history, even the Ptolomaic Queens who were of Greek descent. Much more thought has to be taken as to where and how they come to be queen than the men who, after all, basically either get it by genetic accident or by usurping the throne. I believe men like Horemheb were different, so I've included what amounts to the whole Amarna Period. I'll probably mix it up a little, but keep at least three of the primary figures.

This leads me to the next topic. I've defined the timeline by dynasties and kings, but most of the stories (probably short or long, randomly), will actually be about secondary or tertiary characters. The tale of the First Father might be told by a friend-turned-official-chronicler, as a story-behind-the-official-story. This story will again be told in part on later occasions, as legend by a peasant in the first intermediate period, as myth by a priest in one of the later empires, and as a hypothetical reconstruction by a foreign "scientist" of the last period (I used "foreign" pointedly for the outer empire, as all of the separate groups would consider each other foreign in the beginning). Likewise, many different kinds of people can be followed in the different periods. A soldier rising through the ranks of the first empire to become the high commander of the army, only to watch the destruction of his civilization by a massive tsunami from the northern mountain slopes while vacationing at his "summer home". Two peasants looking back to the lost (first) civilization with alternatively a sigh of awe from one and a shrug from the other. The actual youth who rises up to take back his homeland at the beginning of the second empire. A young woman sent to become a minor queen during this period, only to be left holding the crown after many assassinations and battles (this might have actually happened to a few tragic queens in Egypt's Old Kingdom). The possibilities are legion, and should come to me when I decide which parts to concentrate upon.

The point is to take a survey of the civilization, across time and class, showing how much and how little things changed throughout. This also is mostly based upon my studies of Ancient Egypt and Rome, which show an astonishing amount of cultural inertia among the lower classes, with cultural developments happening much faster among the royalty and nobility (but still glacially by modern standards). I want to show the development of the religion, the meaning of being a king and public opinion of the kings, the changing roles of women and the peasantry, the overall swings of power and how they affected (or rather, didn't affect) the lower class, the amazing variety of landforms and how this was reflected in the culture (and how it affects history), and the reasons behind and efforts involved in building the great monuments, as well as how these were seen by the people (some statues in Egypt were themselves deified and given their own small shrines!). Specifically, I want to show things like: the power of visual propaganda in an age when writing was considered to be truth in a way we can barely understand and most of the population was illiterate, how the different classes were seen as different kinds of people (as the Indian caste system can come close to even today), how the theology pervaded every corner of the people's lives (to the extent that the gods practically walked among them), the variety of cultural artifacts (while coming in a very limited number of "types" like pots and beds, combs and sandals), and the comprehensive nature of their culture (how every person and thing had its place in this world and the next). These are what archaeologists learn about, not just the names and fates of kings and queens. Through writing my Sita Roryn project, I think I've learned how to instill the stories with all of these elements and string them together in a way that is understandable, if not quite linear.

This is the last point: I want to build a world through its parts, from the bottom up and from pretty random points of view rather than by telling a single narrative of the various dynasties. There were too damned many kings (emperors, whatever) in the ancient world to do that and keep a reader of fiction interested anyway. There were 30 dynasties of Ancient Egypt and who really knows how many "official" Emperors of Rome and Byzantium. No one knows how many Greek kings there were in the various city-states, much less the earlier cultures in the Mediterranean. The Hittites? The Hyksos? Don't even try, but there were hundreds of kings of various levels of power throughout the region. Only a very few, like Alexander and the Caesars, became infamous enough to be known universally in their own time, and whole swaths of ancient civilizations have been lost because their writing (when they did write) was simply destroyed. I want to give a better picture of an ancient-ish civilization than is normally shown through encyclopedia articles and pretty pictures. I think I can do it, but I have to do it to find out.

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