Originally, I wanted to write the great atheist fantasy novel.
Every author starts with a plan. Mine are, if I may be so modest, fantastic. You can rob banks and hold up galaxies with my plans.
Sometimes you can even write books.
Now, I grew up reading fantasy in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time early enough that hysterical parents still believed Dungeons & Dragons led to devil worshipping and heavy metal convinced you to murder innocents. A bit of that hysteria seeped into the big fat fantasy books that were on the shelves, though those books were, by and large, filled with Christian values. In fact, a lot of the gods and religions that appeared in the books bore a striking similarity to mainstream, Western religious values. There was a lot of chastity for women. Men got to die for honour. The love and honour your parents and elders thing was pretty prominent. Destroying false idols got a good run. Adulterers were nearly always villains, or characters who learned important lessons. Characters who wanted their neighbours stuff and or wives were bad as well. It was so prominent that even the portrayal of a god (or of the gods) was often that of the bearded old white man who was oh so wise. Of course, to be fair, quite a few of the portrayals of gods were cheap knock offs of historical myths and religious figures, but still, the point remained that a lot of fantasy books weren’t teaching you witchcraft and being subversive. I can’t even think of one that promoted Satanism – though I am sure, somewhere, one does exist.
But that’s fine, really. I don’t need to know about the Satanist fantasy novel. When you get down to it, Satanism is a bit silly. Personally, I blame Liberace.
Of course, with all of this in my head – especially that part about Liberace being in the Church of Satan – my original plan to write an atheist fantasy book got hijacked at the start.
My first inspiration was to kill the gods and leave their bodies strewn across the world. With no real thought about my atheist fantasy, I let their blood seep into the ocean and turn it black. I had a coastline with a dead god turn people mad. I left more gods kneeling in forests that burned and beneath mountain ranges where they formed the foundations. As I went on, I created seventy two gods, and I accounted for each and every one in the world, even though I knew I would write about no more than a handful.
By the end, it was fairly clear that I didn’t have an atheist fantasy novel. My gods were alien, unknown, and dead, but even in death they clearly had influences on the word.
Instead, I ended up with what I began to call an agnostic fantasy trilogy, a set of books that were about exploring what it was that a god brought to our world. From morals, to language, to our very own identity, I found myself caught up in those very questions. When I created my villain, I made a new god, and gave myself a figure for who all these questions would define her righteousness and tyranny. She believed that the world was her own and that she could do with it as she pleased.
I spent four years, give or take, exploring the nature of a god, of divine power, and of how it interacts with us, and how we interact with it. It became not just a question of belief, but of how we take that lesson given to us by the divine through books and people and process it in our lives and our societies. Because a certain number of people believe in god, our individual belief doesn’t really matter, to a degree. Our relationship between the real and unreal – a term I use here only to signify the difference between mortal flesh and divine flesh – defines us regardless of what we think. It certainly defines the characters of my books, especially as they rise against a new god who seeks to reassert its definition of them.
The Eternal Kingdom is out now.