The Bookstore of Gloucester is very kindly throwing a release party for the new book today. After the cover image, one or two notes on The Mornith War.
Some thoughts about having the word “war” in the title of my book. “War” is not a word I want to use without care. I never want to gain from maiming, killing, and misery; I never want to exploit anyone’s fancy to see others suffer and die—even in a story. (Yet I have read of the brutal fights in the tunnels in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the Long Sun with pleasure, and have been entertained as starfighters exploded over the Death Star.) Still, the story led me to a war, and I chose to keep following even after I saw where it was going. I have tried to be sure that the war over the Mornith is not, as Ursula K. Le Guin puts it, “a mere excuse for violence” (in her talk “Some Assumptions About Fantasy”, collected in Cheek by Jowl, Aqueduct Press 2009). Whether I succeeded or not, war is the primary event in this part of Elwood’s story, and so the word is there in the title.
I also believe that, for someone like me who has never seen war firsthand, even writing about it is questionable. But all of this pertains to a deep trouble that could and should be dealt with much more fully than I am prepared to do here in this post. (In a way The Mornith War itself, at least in part, attempts it. And so do other things I have written, and so do other things I will write. I will never be done with that trouble.)
Mistakes! I want to note two mistakes in the book, both entirely my fault and both regarding the compass: on page 209, Elwood should scan the woods to the southeast, not the southwest, and on page 216 Granashon, Elwood, and company should reach the pasture’s southwestern edge, not its northwestern. These are the only two mistakes of consequence I have noticed, but there may be more. Hopefully not.
Mistakes aside, I am delighted with Mornith as an object. August Hall’s cover reproduced beautifully, it feels good in the hands, and it has that lovely new book scent. Mm.
And having such kind words on the back cover from both Christine Brodien-Jones and Frederic S. Durbin! The whole thing is a daydream come true.
This blog is off to a wonderful start! (I love the header photo!) On the issue of violence — very well said. I struggle with that myself. Tolkien was in the trenches in WWI. He experienced the horrors of war and lost some of his closest friends in battle. When I talk to veterans . . . when I read about wars . . . when I see movies such as Saving Private Ryan . . . I think, “What right do I have to write about war? What business do I have attempting it?” But I think you’ve arrived at the best answers. War is a terrible but always-present aspect of the human situation. If we’re going to write about consequential events, about large-scale conflicts of interest, we can’t ignore it. So the best we can do is to handle it with the appropriate respect — never being gratuitous, always being aware of its horror and consequences, and striving for authenticity.
Thanks, Fred! J.R.R.T.’s experience in WWI was very much on my mind when I was writing this post.
I’m glad you like the header image, especially since I filched the idea for a wall/fence from your blog’s header! Seriously, though, I like that the wall represents a point where the land and human intentions met for a time–a time that is now past. I have always wondered: what significance is attached the fence atop your blog?
I finished the book last night and was thinking of what you said here. I feel like the violence in the book was suitably horrible enough to not be a glorification of same. Elwood’s interaction with the bat truan and his leaving of the food for the Ringishman show that the characters are thinking about the consequences and alternatives of/to violence.
One narrative move can be to have a beloved character actually die as a result (for example, Drallah, of her wounds), but this is a tricky thing and perhaps unnecessarily harsh for readers. It’s something Leiji Matsumoto does quite a bit and quite effectively–something I like about his work–he demonstrates that his pacifism in the midst of some agonistic narratives is not merely a guilty pose. I’m not saying that one has to brutally kill off one’s characters to demonstrate a commitment to non-violence, just hypothesizing that it’s one way to mimetically represent the horrors of war. But just one way, really.
There’s always this fine line between not euphemizing and not being pornographic (because violence is the real pornography), which I think you walk rather well in the book. A certain amount of explicitness is useful for young readers, I think–I will never forget the gory scene with the Otak in The Wizard of Earthsea when I encountered it as a young adult–and it remains as a visceral image of the potentially harmful consequences of some actions. Not that I’ve learned my lesson very well…but it at least remains in my head as a model!
I felt foolish writing (in so many words), “I do not want to exalt war”–I mean, all my adult life I have assumed that was something others understood about me. But it would be greater foolishness, of course, to assume others see things like I do.
I appreciate the reaction to violence in Mornith, Mark. It means a lot, coming from you, and it’s the first I can remember on that particular aspect of the book.