Friday, December 14, 2012

On Reading Ben Hur

What a week! Last Saturday our water heater spouted a leak just a few hours before Ben got home. Then, with the new snow, we finally figured out that the truck needed new tires; Ben’s winter boots went the way of the water heater; and the starter went awry in the Subaru.

Merry Christmas to us: we have a new water heater, new tires on the truck, Ben’s new boots, and a new starter in the Subaru. So this week we contributed heavily to some sort of economic stimulus plan.

Amidst all this chaos and between writing sessions I am reading Ben Hur. Or, rather, I should say I’m wading my way through it. It was written over a hundred years ago and  the author decided to us a lot of less-than-perfect antiquated language even for his time. I’m reading it because one of the publications on writing that I subscribe to published an article wherein that author told of how nearly perfect the plot was formulated. Yes, I see that already and I’m only a third of the way through it. Other than the difficult language that forces me to fully focus on the writing, the story is a very good one and I would recommend it in spite of the author’s prejudices and liberties with reality. (Near the beginning, which was when Jesus was born, he describes Mary, the mother of Jesus, {keep in mind we’re discussing a Jewish woman long before they were so widespread throughout Europe and marrying into European families and bloodlines} as a stunningly beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed girl of about sixteen.

I nearly slammed the book down, but quickly passed by those early passages as though someone had passed a cloud of highly fermented flatulence. A lot of older literature I can read with a grain of antiquated discretion, but Mary as a blue-eyed blonde? That has nothing to do with cultural differences, other than  northwestern Europeans making Jesus look northwestern European because it makes them more comfortable being in his ‘presence.’

Right, then, I’ll stop shouting and climb down now.

From a different angle, the book has helped me re-think the setting of my own novel. I’ve been a bit . . . what’s the right word . . . hesitant about the setting I had chosen: a foreign planet far, far away. Part of the plot was even how humans ended up there. My problem with that distant planet is that it ostracizes a lot of people who just don’t, won’t, or can’t connect with something so foreign and exotic – rather like Jesus being a Jew with black hair and olive skin, rather than being a blue-eyed blond European – and my underlying message, which is rather important to me, won’t make it very far out of the chute before I’m bucked off.

So, out with the planet Haedeortha, the nearby planetary system of Pevliad, and the older, home planet Elysion. Out with all the purely exotic, dangerous and foreign native animals with varying levels of intelligence. Out with the continents mapped out with deserts, forests, mountains, jungles, and secrets held by the more intelligent native animals. It was a lot of fun creating it all, but it’s time to let them go. Swoosh! Gone with the wave of an eraser.

I  had toyed a few weeks ago with changing the setting to Earth, but hadn’t considered an ancient era, so I nixed it. A current or near-future era on Earth would not have worked; the plot would have been too controversial for too many people.

My new setting will be in a fairly early pre-Christian era of eastern Europe; I haven’t quite decided how long before our current calendar system started, but probably at least a thousand years or so. And I have some research to do; the challenge before me is that research for this particular setting is purely based on archeology, since it’s in an area that had no written language at the time, so there’s no recorded history. To be truthful, doing research is much easier than creating a planet, the animals, plants,  terrain and the results of interactions between them all. So I’ll be writing about someplace midway between a wholly new, self-created world attached to some distant star and someplace already created for me. It will be here at home, and the terrain will be very close to what it is now and most of the animals won’t be too foreign, but the people, the actual architecture they created, and the way they viewed the world will all be true fiction.

It’s time to get back to work, so I’m off and running . . .

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