Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At an Age

Very recently, I ran across a talking head in one of those documentaries I so enjoy, discussing a historical figure at age sixteen.  She described the woman as being “at an age” where she would be highly self-conscious, while events played out in her life which would have been humiliating and difficult.

In a way, the point is valid; though we invented the teenager in the twentieth century, those things that cause humans genuine embarrassment and pain are not unique to any particular time period.  Yet I was struck by the implication of tortured adolescence.

The figure in question, hardly a personage famed for a typically twentieth-century persona (indeed, almost a symbol of precisely the opposite, when that time came upon her), is not one I would readily cast in the image of tortured adolescent, no matter what happened to her at age sixteen.  I also, as an amateur student of and writer about history, find the tendency to view the population of our past, no matter how far back, through the lens of the psychological and social expectations of the past century or so a little bewildering more often than not.

A part of my personal fascination with history is not just taking myself out of the present and an ordinary world I know, but also taking myself out of the present and ordinary mindsets and people familiar from my own life.  So when I see all-too-identifiably contemporary characters waving the occasional fan or scimitar or what have you, it is frustrating.

Let it not be said that I am any expert at honestly, fully, and accurately rendering a 5th-century Frank in all his glory, but I did what I could in relating Clovis’ story to address both the misconceptions about what “Barbarian” means, and to avoid, as much as possible, turning him into a corporate raider or king of the surfer dudes.

This goes beyond *not* modeling his character on anyone I know, but into an honest consideration of those things that make up the whole of who he might have been, given what I know.  I didn’t throw around a lot of self-consciously antique language, but did work hard avoiding anachronism.  I thought about the smell of the air in his cities, northern and on down to Paris, the quality of air containing different kinds of pollutants, the manner of food, the way time would worked and been observed.  One of the deepest dives I took into Clovis was the examination not only OF his religion, but its ultimate expression in the novel.

In sum, while I didn’t gadzook my way around the place, I did *look* around it, really consider motivations, remember that humans in every age are funny … and maddening … and go from there.

This. will. NOT. satisfy everybody.

There will be some who quite love a good gadzookering, and will resent not finding it in *Ax*.  There will be others who’ll find the voice alienating and foreign even without a thou to be seen.  And that is the world WE live in.  I’m too old to try to create one where I can make everyone happy.  It would take far more hallucinogenic drugs than I am capable of dealing with, and there’d still be some guitarist with commentary about the décor.

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