Friday, May 16, 2014

Compression Ratio

It is odd but true that storytelling provides contradictory commands.  Going through Ax again, with eyes perhaps better open than they have been in the past, I recognize some of those legends I've spaced out in years.

The tales of Clovis are like most half-fabled histories; there is much that is apocryphal, plenty of fancy, and an intriguing lot of possible-facts which present in suspiciously tidy little anecdotes.  Clovis is humiliated before his army at his first conquest:  having to ask for a treasure back from one of the soldiers (to return it to the church) he sees the treasure smashed before his eyes, to the soundtrack of a few choice words about what a bad king he is for doing takebacks.

No finer a moment for a king than any kid on a playground - and significantly more expensive in prestige, if you measure things by crowns.

The immediate next breath of this legend illustrates Clovis' revenge upon this soldier.

Thing is, the immediate next breath is generally retold with some allusion to time having passed.  Sometimes it's a year, sometimes it's not recounted - and, often of course, it's not really said at all.

I put YEARS between the destruction of the Vase at Soissons (please note the title of my novel; it comes from this famous propaganda).  It worked with my rhythms - I'm a capricious creature - the times when they were named seemed too neatly story-teller-ish - choose your reason, the revenge is served seriously cold The Ax and the Vase.

Similarly, Clovis' conversion to Catholicism (I'm not spoilering the action too badly for you, am I ... ?) occurs, and tends *usually* to be followed with the assertion he immediately also was baptized.

Based on real research, in this instance, I'm skeptical this was the case.  The tale is told, again, with the cadence and breathlessness of legend, most often.  Not as a recital civic record.

In this matter, I separated the baptism from the conversion both because it makes no sense to me the whole hog got et in a moment - but also because, based on certain parallels to Constantine, and based on Clovis himself, these two steps were quite distinct for him - and the one in no way demanded the other.

Baptism is an anointing, and Clovis was the anointed king.  He was also, according to family legend from a god of the sea.  His royal coronation anointed him and enshrined the mystical charisma of his blood - which he believed was the blood of a god.  (No.  Not of Jesus of Nazareth.  Don't even start with me, y'all.)

To go from accepting the Catholic religion to actually submitting to an anointing - the very rite which provided him his THRONE - must have been prodigious.  Extraordinary.


The crux of the baptism of Clovis I - for him, for all of Europe and its history for the past fifteen hundred YEARS - is that it was a shift from the tenet of *divine right* to that of *divine descent*.

Let me tell you this.  For a king like Clovis:  THIS.  Was a step down.

He went from believing he had the blood of a sea god in his veins, the bistea neptunis of legend ... to meekly accepting permission to rule, from a god whom for most of his life he had no use at all.  Even when he did convert, there is reason to wonder how deeply sincere the moment - and the years after - were, in terms of Clovis' faith.  Let it not be said his reign suffered from his endorsement of his Church.

As for the novel, I posited some political canniness working in concert with spiritual conviction.  As any human who's ever had it or sought it knows, spiritual conviction isn't the bedrock we want it to be.  We abandon it often, and find it both invincible and fallible, all in the same lifetime.

Sometimes, in the same day.

I have to believe that, for Clovis to commit as he did to the Church, faith was *necessary*.

But I also know, he's most famed for killing off his own kinsmen and then whining about being alone (and here we have another writer's tale, about how we dealt with *that* legend - but that's another post and, frankly, doesn't hew to the theme of today's musing on the chronology and compression-in-time of legendary events).

Human hearts contain multitudes, and it's no contradiction, to me as an author, to consider that Clovis both believed and held some part of himself back from his new religion.  That he thought he could have his divine descent, and his faith in Christ.  Most of us know people with greater contradictions still - almost all of us house them in ourselves, whether we can recognize and/or admit it or not.

It has more logic, for me, than "he did everything all at once, the happy happy end."

Plus, it means my novel is not a short story.  All to the good, that.

And now, back to polishing the thing.  So it can get out and be sold.

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