Monday, October 14, 2019

Why I Wrote "An Exile from Atlantis"

by Alfred D. Byrd


Have you felt that you were born in a wrong place and time — that you belong to another world? You share what you've felt with countless others, misfits in our world — masters of another? Perhaps, that feeling explains humanity's fascination with Atlantis — a fascination that's lasted since Plato first wrote of the foundered land in his dialogues "Timaeus" and "Critias" some twenty-five hundred years ago. The land almost surely never existed in the form in which Plato described it, but the dream that it's awoken in some of us lives on.

That dream may interest a writer more than the land itself. The land is beyond our reach; the dream is in our heads daily. That dream can inspire a quest, a story's seed. The quest can take many forms: a quest for meaning, a quest for kindred souls, a quest for a place where one belongs, a quest for ancient wisdom letting us live well in the present day — a quest for raising the foundered land anew. Quest underlies the action of An Exile from Atlantis, a novel of kindred souls trying to live their visions of the Lost Land in remote parts of America in the last half of the Twentieth Century. Their lives' events may seem ordinary to you, but their way of living that life shouldn't.

I've set my exploration of the dream of Atlantis in places that I knew in the time in which I've written of them, and peopled my exploration with characters whom I might've known — or been. My exploration takes the form of an initiate's learning from a mystagogue. Fred, the initiate, lives a life that parallels mine in places where I've lived and in the background in which I grew up. His experiences are uniquely his own, yet familiar to all who lived in those places at those times. Amber, the mystagogue, is a mixture of the familiar and the mystical that I've seen in others — a sage with wisdom hidden to the rest of us, yet a troubled soul struggling with problems common to all of us. Fred and Amber's dance through time marks out a path to enlightenment unique to them, but common to the world.

Fred and Amber's quests take place, not on a fantastic landscape of castles and jousting fields, but in everyday life. School, socialization, work, church, marriage, and child-rearing can be mundane or magical depending on the lens through which you view them. After all, these institutions and activities existed in Atlantis, didn't they? Isn't part of Atlantis' lure that its inhabitants lived in ways that we envy and yearn to emulate? Wasn't it a land blessed by the gods who made it? Venturesome souls can perhaps rediscover an Atlantean way of life that can clothe the ordinary in wonder.

Still, even Atlantis was touched with tragedy. Why shouldn't it have been, peopled by humans whose passions were like our own? If we believe Plato, Atlantis died by divine judgment on its sins when it fell into the sea in a single night. A people of greatness, turning from virtues that'd made it great, suffered the consequences of the self-destructive and other-destructive choices that it'd made. What those choices were isn't clear to us — is perhaps disastrously unclear, for, if we follow a path blindly, it's likely to end in a fall — ours. Even if we raise Atlantis, it may subside into the sea again and take it with us if we repeat our forebears' errors. Could the worst blindness be our faith in our being wiser than our ancestors were? Will that blindness end in our repeating their mistakes?

Fred and Amber's quest takes them through darkness to the light — through darkness unique to each of them to a light that they can share. Their darknesses express themselves in rejection, fear, tears, death, and separation — consequences of a fall, whether of individuals or of Atlantis. The light is something that seekers must find and embrace so that it'll grow in themselves and enrich the lives of those around them. The light is something that seekers of the light must raise within themselves so that they'll be sources of light in a world mantled with darkness. Only when the light illuminates darkness can growth occur.

In the end, An Exile from Atlantis is a novel of growth. That growth comes through a quest, a journey from darkness to the light that each of us can see through finding the Light that is Love. Fred and Amber seek that light by following paths that diverge and then converge — paths filled with stumbling, reverses, and sorrows. Through persistence, will they prevail, reaching a goal that'll reward their quest? Is that goal one that you'd want to find at the end of your quest? Only from the end is the beginning clear.


You can read the opening chapters of An Exile from Atlantis for free by clicking on Look Inside.

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