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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

the magma of which myth is made

A quick post, then, now that Christmas is done. The weather is lovely: the sun has emerged, sending beams through our south-facing windows, including that of my office. Its dusty, water-splashed surface is clearly visible in the unaccustomed light. A bar of sunlight falls across my navy-blue fleece and the front of my new green T-shirt (one of my presents from Kimmie).

Over the holiday I have returned to thinking about the basement of my project. I'm still keying notes from Campbell's Masks of God books over my morning coffee, taken in the dark just after we rise at 7:00. I'm most of the way through Occidental Mythology. And since I've already keyed all the highlights from the fourth book, Creative Mythology, I will soon be done.

Why is this important? Hm. How to summarize how I feel about this. I am writing about the origins of Christianity. Or perhaps better: What I'm writing about is tied up with the origins of Christianity. As I've said before, I'm not writing either a devotional work (a la Mel Gibson or Anne Rice), that merely retells biblical stories in contemporary words, or a euhemerist work (a la Nino Ricci), that accounts for the biblical stories as amplifications of the acts of more or less extraordinary individuals. Rather, I'm seeing it as a coming-together of a number of different streams of causation--historical, personal, symbolic--and also something beyond that, which is hard to name. There are forces at work, and the appearance of an institutional religion is just one of their far-reaching effects.

I think my point is that my story is not in any way told from "inside" the Christian system. Christianity itself is a form, like an igneous rock made from congealed magma. Detached from the flow of liquid rock, it takes a definite, hard shape. It solidifies, cools, and gradually, over time, like all forms, weathers, losing its substance bit by tiny bit. Like a rock, it has already broken in pieces: part of the inescapable process of decay entailed by the very fact of formation. Eventually the rock will be converted to gravel and sand and silt, and the particles will be swept away from where they had been held together for so long. The rock, as such, will no longer exist.

But the great flow of magma lives on. Its fluidity makes it noncommittal as to form. As drops and splashes become detached, erupted, they too cool into definite, discrete forms, which at that very moment start to decay. I'm more interested in this magma. What is it? What is its nature? Where does it reside? Where did it come from? Where is it going? Of course, I'm not addressing these questions in a scholarly way; rather, they form a kind of scaffolding or attitude toward my work.

Campbell's work--all of it--addresses this magma quality, this living, liqueous, energetic, hot, plastic stuff that has the all-potentiality of expressing our longings, insights, and fears. The specific forms are the myths--like the great myth of Christianity. But the substance is something deeper, fluid, malleable.

Now the back stairs are steaming in the sunlight: the vapor twirls complexly like the smoke of ten cigarettes.


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