||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Sunday, May 07, 2017
The founding of a rapture-cult
I'd read "City of the Singing Flame" over a decade ago. Last month I found out that Smith published a sequel, "Beyond the Singing Flame" - this answered the central question of the original, what happens within the flame at Ydmos. But... I really hated Smith's answer: that here was a backdoor to Paradise, acquired by hidden knowledge. As a depressive myself I rate this sort of talk as evil - and at least one member of Smith's circle, Robert Howard, would later take his own life at a too-young age. So I started musing over how best I, myself, could confute this gnostic blasphemy. A counter-story would get the job done.
The general form of the counter-story wasn't the hard part. Its antagonist was inevitable: that the Flame's gatekeepers, in any world, should organise themselves as a (death-)cult. It was more challenging to find its most-appropriate setting. At first I thought, hey, let's have some archaeologists dig an ancient Earth ruin - how about prehistory, under the current Black Sea or high and dry near the Caspian. But then I remembered that Smith himself had written a world of straw-Catholics, whose commons might seriously consider the Flame as an alternative to mainline Christianity.
That world is Averoigne in para-France. And the best time in Europe for a debate over gnosis and Rapture is the late twelfth century AD, about when the Cathars were gaining steam in the hinterlands. Averoigne is not Languedoc in most of the relevant stories (cf. "Les Hiboux"), but in the twelfth century it could have been at least near-enough.
In my chosen setting, I also got to use Azédarac, whom Smith had used to voice his own cynicism; so the second act of the three-act play takes place in Ximes. I treat Azédarac as a plot-device. Earlier draughts had imposed upon Azédarac a greater rôle but I realised that Onfrei, protagonist, needed more agency.
That led me to pivot to a love-story. Why is the Flame such an evil? My argument is that Rapture is evil because it destroys sentient life, or at least removes it from us; and its Cult is evil because it exploits love.
A love-story, especially starring a late-teenage boy, means Male-Gaze. I am male myself so I must write what I know. But I'll concede to the feminists this much: they did challenge me to allow to the Madeleine her own agency and choices. (Not for the first time.) I do hope I did justice to the Madeleine's choices. As for the MRAs, they can read the story as a 6000-word tale of a Shit Test. Because that is what The House of David is all about - bringing people together.
The love-story also wrote the whole ending for me. HP Lovecraft himself had taught that the ending was the most important part.
For verisimilitude I wanted to frame the overall story such that, somehow, rumour of it had got to us. So I framed it as a deposition / confession to proto-inquisitors - the Inquisition itself wasn't yet an Office. This MS would be stored in a vault, intermittently copied, and damaged. This way I could end with the, like, ending and not epilogue it with that cliched Smith / Lovecraft bit where Onfrei seeks out again the allure of death and damnation.
As a story featuring music I wanted Onfrei to be an expert in music. Problem: I am not a musician and I know nothing of music theory - so goes that "write what you know" thing. But what I needed was mediaeval music theory anyway, the so-called Modes. So I read Cecil Gray's 1925 book; I also hunted for how mediaeval theorists applied Modal templates to works of various type. The twelfth-century Western Christendom having defined Onfrei's boundaries, the Singing Flame can then twist and break them.
Also I limited my story's colour-palette. Most permanent buildings in the Auvergne are dark grey, from Massif basalts, and I've applied the same to the stone dwellings here. Wherever there is a person or place or thing important to the plot, I sought out in it what is like a fire: the Madeleine's auburn hair, the bishop's eyes, and of course the Martyrion (Christian-speak for Temple). My inspiration in this is the comic form: the comic of "Cult" will be coloured black-and-white with shades, except when highlighting something and then it takes the yellow-to-red spectrum. No green; no blue, and purple only in the portrait of Ydmos we glimpse once.
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