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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, April 29, 2005

so what is my genre?

Not a terrible writing day. I did 4 pages of chapter 15. If I could write that much every day, I'd probably think I was doing well--anyway, I'd be doing a lot better than I am.

Writing about genre yesterday got me thinking again about the genre of The Mission. It's a historical novel, of course, but that's a wide field with many subgenres. I think of my work as an epic. It does not fit the contemporary bookseller's definition of epic, which is a novel that spans multiple generations (Hawaii, Sarum, Vancouver). I'm harking back to the original definition, which applied to poetry. Here is the definition of epic given by Clement Wood in his Complete Rhyming Dictionary:

An epic is a long narrative poem, dealing with heroic events, usually with supernatural guidance and participation in the action.

My work of course is prose, not verse. But there is supernatural action, both at the character level, with Menahem's shamanic excursions, and at the thematic level, since the story itself centers around the relationship of humanity to God, or to ultimate reality. I believe that what makes an epic epic is that its story embraces all levels of reality. Possibly it also requires multiple protagonists, or at least often makes use of these as a way of depicting a realm that is bigger than the individual.

Warren and I have talked about this recently in connection with The Divine Comedy, which he's studying at an adult-ed class in Chicago. To me, it clearly fits the definition: Dante takes a tour through the entire cosmos, with divine guidance, and finally meets God face to face. And it is in verse.

I'm writing a modern epic. If it makes it to the bookstore, it will have to be shelved in the General section, along with Shopaholic and James Joyce.


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