Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WHY I WROTE THE DROWNING LAND: AN ATLANTEAN ALPHABET

Like J. R. R. Tolkien, I can't seem to get the fall of Atlantis out of my mind. That curling green wave…

Sadly for Tolkien and for a world of readers, he finished none of the projected novels of his vision of Atlantis, Númenor, the Westernesse from which Aragorn's ancestors came to found the Middle-Earth kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, which he would rule. We readers must content ourselves with "The Akallabêth," a summary of Tolkien's majestic vision of Atlantis, which appears towards the end of The Silmarillion. The summary makes you mourn what never got written.

I wouldn't set anything that I've written beside "The Akallabêth," but I have finished four versions of the Fall of Atlantis. You can read one of them, "Ignis Deorum," for free on line. My most ambitious treatment of the Fall of Atlantis is the novella The Drowning Land: An Atlantean Alphabet, in which I follow the last days of the Land amid the Sea through the eyes of an amnesiac who bears a curse: he can't learn his name without destroying the birthplace to which he's returned.

You may wonder about the second part of the novella's title. I must confess that both it and the novella itself were inspired by my memories of long ago having read and often reread Harlan Ellison's "From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet." (I wish that I had his gift for titles.) I gave myself the challenge of writing a story in which each chapter title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet, and each chapter starts with the first letter of its title. Even as I began to plot the novella, I feared that the X chapter would be the plotting's roughest part. Imagine my surprise when I came across an X word that fit the sources that I was using, and determined the conflict and the action for the rest of the novella. Sometimes, what's the most restrictive can be the most liberating.

If you're familiar with the Atlantis legend, you know that it's taken many forms over the millennia. I've generally stuck to the original sources, the Timeaeus and the Crit1as of Plato. In this novella, I added to them details from another ancient source, Diodorus Siculus. Critics of the Atlantis legend tend to see these sources as contradictory, but, for me, they meshed well. Sometimes, contradiction is the mother of consistency.

Enough pseudo-ancient wisdom! (Or is it ancient pseudo-wisdom?) In "real life," if one can speak of such a thing in relation to Atlantis, "Atlantis," a Greek word meaning "land of the god Atlas," could never have been the native name of the land of which Plato would write. I honor this fact by never referring to that land as "Atlantis" in the novella itself. The "Athens" against which the "Atlanteans" fought, if that city existed at all in the legend's time frame, would not have been Greek, but could have been a city of the pre-Greek people that the Mycenaeans would overrun. Athens, believe it or not, isn't a word of Greek origin. Still, a Greek pun is important to the plot that I devised, so Athens is Greek in my story.

When I'm writing fantasy, I like to use prophetic dreams. Properly used, they can be stories within a story and reflect the main story in ways that illuminate it. A prophetic dream can speed the story along. Here, they give you a glimpse into the other world in which the gods — the twelve principal gods of Ancient Greece, though not called by their Greek names — are weighing the deeds of the land's children as their fate is determined. I get to complete the scene amid which Plato abandoned his second tale of Atlantis. For a good pun, one might change the world.

You read a tale of the fall of Atlantis not for that tale's linguistics or dream sequences, however, but for its action. This must lead inevitably to the land's destruction in a single night by the gods' judgment. In keeping with this stricture, I give you prophecy, omens, intrigue, murder, and the X factor, which I don't want to spoil for you in case of your choosing to read the tale. I also give you love, color, pageantry, and a sense of what the antediluvian civilization may've been like. I hope that I give you enough to take you from A to Z.

If you want to learn more of The Drowning Land: An Atlantean Alphabet, you can read its opening sections (A-D) for free by clicking on Look inside.

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