Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Concrete ... Fantastic

One of the frustrations and joys of writing in fifth and sixth century Gaul is the dearth of primary sources.  There is a great mix of reportage and legend, some of it one and the same, and choosing how to treat certain stories can be either a minefield or a liberation.  For me, it was both – I dismissed some of the bloodier tales of Clotilde’s Burgundian family (and, indeed, was able to somewhat skip over some of the tales of the Queen-Saint’s own bloodthirst, which tend to be attached to stories about her sons and daughter, and take place after Clovis’ death).  I sufficed, in her case, by creating a woman growing up – gaining confidence and even hauteur as she grows in her role as queen, in her role as wife.  Strong she had to be – but as to repeating legends of her vengeance, I didn’t believe the legends, and was glad to be excused from repeating them.

It is the legend of Clovis’ time, though, which fascinates and eludes me.  It might have been possible to write a novel far less grounded in the concrete – to weave the magic of the times and tales into the story, and come up with a tale just as gripping, and yet more fantastical.  I’m not that writer, unfortunately; as much as the mystical appeals to a certain frame of my mind, it would have been impossible for me to apply it to Clovis.  And already I see the new story framing up with a similarly practical bent – practical in the sense we use it when discussing set design, practical in the sense we use it when describing a tool, not a person.  Parts must have a purpose, and my mind isn’t well suited to remembering magic and legend and making them palpable.

And yet, I can imagine Clovis’ life as told by his mythology – there is no lack of myth to be had – and it is a pleasurable idea.  Seeing the same places I trod in writing him myself, cloaked in mist and that peculiar darkness of the preternatural, endowed, imbued, with something beyond the human.  Clovis was said to have descended from a god of the sea, bestia neptunis - seduced by a woman back in his father’s line.  What a story that would make.  Or the tale of Basina, Clovis’ mother, who sent his father Childeric out into the night three times the night she conceived their son, and wove a dynasty’s fate out of the sights Childeric saw and reported to her.

The magic of those women.  The divinity of the men; their charisma, their power, their increasing wealth, culminating in Clovis himself, as a shining scion of a race touched by greatness.  The Catholic mysteries; the echoes of Constantine – surely cultivated, but still humming with the echo of the legendary.  The role of king as priest, the role of king as warrior, the elusive charisma of blood, the rallying power of deeds – dux ex nobilitate, rex ex virtute.

I brought some legends to down earth, and omitted more than one.  A tale where he finds his way to victory on the spoor of a stag.  Passing references to the fleur de lys, or the pagan practices of burial – the explicit argument of Clovis with St. Remigius, discussing the tenet of divine descent … versus that tenacious – still *with* us – tenet of divine right.  The ineffable importance of law – Clovis’ reasons for recording it, synthesizing it from tradition, and between two cultures within his realm.  His driving need to see it done – and the legacy of a code most have heard of, even if they don’t know who laid it down.  The Salic Law.  Most know its effects upon male heirs (though few know that in Clovis’ time, male heirs shared and divided – as did his four sons – as did the sons of the Merovingians for three hundred years) – and females.  A law later much famed for its deprivation of regnal rights to women … set down by the son of Basina, the king whose consort was the formidable Queen Saint Clotilde.

No sacred ampoule descends from Heaven at the moment of Clovis’ baptism in The Ax and the Vase … yet some tales could not be omitted.  The oft-told displays of his vengeance, the Vase at Soissons, the deceptions of avaricious soldiers who would kill their own rulers for gold, the story that by the end of his life, Clovis ranted in lamentation that he was alone and without kin … having killed off so many of them himself, for their lands, their crowns.

“In the end … so history has said …”

Who needs magic – I had to feel – writing such a story as Clovis’?

And yet, I do love magic, I love to see tales grounded in the mythical rather than the tangible.  I’d love to see stories told from Clotilde’s point of view, or seated on the legend and the lurid – that special light that illuminates beyond-natural happenings, that special echo of footsteps creeping down the halls of the gods, or the eye-bending mists of powerful pagan priests.

I’d love to see Clovis bloom across English-speaking publishing, and to be a part of a varied library of short stories, poems, and other novels than my own.  Right now, my Ax stands alone – and there’s pride in that, in taking on something that has not been done before – and, too, there is anticipation that this story might inspire someone else, might intrigue and take hold as the Tudors have, as the Pharaohs have, as sorcerers and goddesses have.  I’d love to be part of a sorority and fraternity, of those who all shared this story, and found different passions in it and coming out of it.

As for mine … I am still so proud of it.  And excited, where it stands right now – in the hands of good agents, getting the attention it deserves, to make its way out into the world.


Avery said...

A really beautiful and heartfelt post. Good luck to your Clovis.

DLM said...

Thank you VERY much!

Anonymous said...

Honestly I'm bored of all the magical, mythical pseudo-medieval stuff & very very happy that your work will be grounded in reality. Interesting reality is enough!
Looking forward to reading your finished product!

DLM said...

Oh yaaayy! Thank you Heather. :)