Friday, 26 August 2011

Days 4 (Inspiration) & 9 (Current Project)

This is the third time I am restarting this post from scratch (I feel a bit like Tolkien trying to write the first chapter of Rings, though of course his project was a whole lot more significant).

I figured since my "Susan Fic" is my first serious/intentional piece of writing, I should include these two days' questions together. I thought I would discuss the influences and motivation behind this, "my current writing project". For the most part, however, this post discusses why and how I got started on this project in the first place.

For those who don't know, my "Susan Fic" is about Susan Pevensie from CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, meaning CS Lewis is my main inspiration for this story. I've already discussed my introductions to Narnia in Day 2. In 2005 (my Grade 12 year) I read the complete Narnia series for the second time. It started in the July holidays when I took the Afrikaans translations of LWW and MN with me on my family trip to Namibia (I knew I wouldn't have much time to study for Matric trials finals that holiday, so by reading some Afrikaans I felt that at least I was doing something constructive and beneficial towards those exams). I went on to read the rest of the books (mainly in English as only the first 4 have been translated) throughout the year. The first Walden Narnia movie (LWW) came out that Christmas.

With Narnia still fresh in my mind, that December I read a Christian book: Harry Potter, Narnia and The Lord of the Rings (what you need to know about fantasy books and movies) by Richard Abanes. I was struck in one section where he quotes Philip Pullman (author of His Dark Materials, who has on occasion been referred to as the "Anti-Lewis") as complaining that "one girl was sent to hell because she was getting interested in clothes and boys."

For those not familiar with the story, The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, ends with all the heroes of the previous books finding themselves, to all appearances in Narnia once again. And yet they realise that this is not Narnia (not the Narnia they know). Everything is bigger, more colourful and more "real". They discover that they are actually in Aslan's Country, and that the Narnia they had all known was really just a shadow of the Real Narnia they were in now (a concept undoubtedly inspired by Plato's theory of Forms or Ideas). All the Narnians who found themselves now in Aslan's country were there because the old Narnia had been destroyed. The people from our world, however, (called in this book "The Seven Friends of Narnia") had come into Aslan's Country by another route.

Lucy, Eustace, Jill, Digory and Polly had been travelling on a train (the older ones accompanying Eustace and Jill to school). Edmund and Peter were waiting for them at a train station. As the train rounded a corner near the station, it was coming around too fast. It derailed or toppled or something, causing a massive accident. All of them had died in this accident and now found themselves in Aslan's Country, which it turns out, is in fact our Heaven.

Susan was not involved in the accident however. She had rejected Narnia as she entered her teenage years and no longer even acknowledged it as a real place where she and her siblings had ruled as Kings and Queens.  Jill says that she is "interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations". One can see where Pullman's criticism is coming from, since Aslan's Country is portrayed as such  beautiful place, and she is not allowed to share in it. But he has completely missed the whole point that Lewis is trying to make in this story.

Most of all he makes an assumption that should not be made. Just because Susan does not join her siblings in Aslan's Country at this point in time, it does not mean she is going instead to hell. On the contrary, she does not die in the train crash. She is still very much alive in our world and has an entire life still ahead of her.

In light of Pullman's comment and with the knowledge I had of the story, an idea began to take shape in my mind. There was a little "escape route" that Lewis had left and I thought of a story which could be written to explain how Susan might have turned back towards believing in Narnia and in Aslan and in the One he represents in our world.

The Seed Lies Dormant
So I had this idea, but I felt I had neither the time nor the ability nor the motive to write it. I didn't see myself as an author, and I knew that for copyright reasons should I ever be able to write my idea into a full story, it could never be published. So I filed it away in my memory.

It was at about that time that my family first got an internet connection, so I was almost completely ignorant of the world of internet and the possibilities it contained. About a year later, I discovered TLC, a forum for fans of Narnia, and mentioned my suggestion in one of the threads there about "What happened to Susan". I discovered that I was not the only one who had thought about this question, and not the only one to suggest (or at least hope) that she somehow found her way back and went to Aslan's Country with the rest of her family and friends when she died.

I also discovered the "genre" of Fan Fiction, a concept hitherto unknown to me. I discovered that many people would write pieces inspired by Narnia, not for profit, but simply for the love and fun of it. I discovered many people had already written various fan fiction pieces about Susan and what might have happened to bring her back to believing in the things she had rejected.

But I never did anything about this new-found knowledge. I had neither the time nor patience to work out my idea. And now that I knew so many had already written on the topic before, I wasn't so sure it would be a good idea.

The Seed Spouts
Then in January this year, as the summer holiday was drawing on, but university had not yet started, I was chatting to Geoffrey F at TLC. I complained that the holidays were dragging and I felt I needed to do something constructive. He suggested writing something, and I mentioned the idea I had for a "Susan Fic". He encouraged me to go ahead with it. That is how it began.

Although CS Lewis was my inspiration for my fiction, in terms of the characters, the initial story and the general direction, I would be lying if I said he influenced my writing style. I have great admiration for Lewis' writing style. He has a gift for moulding words and language that I could never hope to emulate. Some minor influences may have filtered through from him (or any of the other authors I spend time reading), but I wouldn't say any one has consciously influenced my writing.

The story and characters on the other hand, are totally Lewis', at least to begin with. I have created many of my own additional characters and an additional world - but the core elements are his.

The inspiration I had all those years ago, the thing I called an "escape route" was this: In The Magician's Nephew, the second-to-last Narnia book Lewis wrote, he introduced the potential for many more worlds besides Narnia and our own world. In this book, Professor Kirke's crazy uncle creates rings which can take someone to a "world between all worlds" from which all the various worlds can be reached. He even has his heroes visiting a different world called Charn before finding their way into Narnia. At the end of this book, the rings are buried so as to never be used again.

In The Last Battle, Edmund and Peter are sent to dig up the burried rings. The friends of Narnia realise that Narnia is in trouble and decide to send Eustace and Jill back there to help them. The rings, however, are never used. Peter and Edmund were to hand them over at the train station where the accident took place. 

It occurred to me, therefore, that the rings would have been on Peter and/or Edmund's person when they died. If found, they would be passed on to Susan, their only surviving relative. She could use the rings to return not to Narnia itself (which is destroyed in The Last Battle), but to one of the countless other worlds which could be reached from the "Wood Between the Worlds". I thought to create a believable world in which Susan would have an adventure through which she might renew the faith she had lost.

That in essense was my idea. Of course, it turned out to be a lot harder than one would think. To begin with, the story was set in England. I had the idea of Susan staying with her Aunt and Uncle, Eustace's parents of whom we know a little from The Chronicles. Setting a book in London in the mid-20th century is rather difficult when you are familiar with neither the place nor the time. Thankfully I got much advice from Narnia Steward on TLC, who is at least familiar with the place if not the time.

After that, I had to invent my own world - which proved to be even more challenging. I wanted to come up with something unlike anything presented in the Chronicles. This was a little difficult considering that throughout The Chronicles adventures are set in woodlands, beaches, mountains, desserts, islands, marshes and snow-covered lands (among others).

I thought of creating a world in which the entire adventure happened under water (a sea-world), but realised that far too many complications would come of that. Eventually I decided to go for a "canyon/table land" type setting. This itself is challenging considering the only such place I have seen is Fish River Canyon in Namibia, and that only for a few hours one late afternoon (with the setting sun in our eyes). I'm getting through it somehow, but I'm sure there are a few major problems and inaccuracies in my setting. The most difficult part that I found is finding the correct terminology for the geological, geographical and biological environment in which it is set.

My next challenge (and one I'm still working on to some extent) is to find an appropriate adventure for Susan. I didn't want it to be cliché, and also didn't want to repeat anything that had happened in the previous Narnian books. This meant that defeating a cruel oppressor, returning the rightful ruler to their place and going on a sea voyage were all out of the question. I thought of a treasure hunt but that's one of the most cliché of all. While rereading one of my favourite books by Stephen Lawhead, I temporarily thought of having them rescue someone. Then I remembered - oh yes, that's what The Silver Chair is all about. I eventually settled on a hunt, but not one for treasure per se. It's not perfect (and I realise now a little too much like the end of The Magician's Nephew, though at least that isn't what the whole book is about), but it will have to do.

Wow, this turned out to be long. But I don't know how else to do it. I know its a little rambly, this post, but I am not rewriting it a fourth time - so there it is. Virtual chocolate prizes will be awarded to anyone who manages to read the entire thing ;-)


WriterFreak101 said...

I read. It was quite interesting. Indeed, in some cases it is kind of hard to find a suitable plot for characters. I know that's what happened to me lots of times. You and I thought along a similar thought process and chose a hunt. Even more strange, you and I chose to explore conversion. (Except yours is a canon character, mine's an OC.)

Great minds think alike don't they?

Ajnos said...

Yep. Although you have the better treasure item. Susan's horn. That's just awesome :-)

We also both have an eagle-Aslan (although I haven't quite revealed mine yet).

Ajnos said...

Oh, I almost forgot...
*hands Wilf some chocolate*