quinta-feira, 17 de julho de 2008

Heroes in the Mist: Interview with Robert Holdstock

He writes like a classic poet, but his subjects are high fantasy novels based in concepts once structured by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Heroes, legends and ancient poetry are the common ground for his books that join Greek mythology and Celtic folklore in one same detailled universe that is introduced to the readers by the well crafted personality of the men and demi-gods who once lived in Europe and Asia and now are part of our psyche.
For the first time, Robert Holdstock talks to the Brazilian readers about Greek theatre, literary universes and the night when he talk to his wife in a non-existant language.


OCTAVIO ARAGÃO – You wrote the novelization of a John Boorman movie called The Emerald Forest, which was an epic adventure ambiented in Brazil. What was your konowledge of the Brazilian folk or Indian culture and how (as if) it influenced your work?

ROBERT HOLDSTOCK -- The project to write a novel based on John Boorman’s film The Emerald Forest came along when I had just finished Mythago Wood. I grabbed the chance because it would give me an opportunity to read about a different folklore than that of Europe. I knew very little about the folklore and religious beliefs of the rainforest-living people of the Amazon when I started. I read about the ‘Wau-Wau’. Fascinating. By immersing myself imaginatively in the culture, I tried to create a feeling of how it would be to live in such a ‘wilderness’. That engagement certainly brought me very close in my mind to very ancient ways of thinking and interacting with nature, and some of that can be felt in my next novel, Lavondyss. So I was glad of the change of location, because it helped firm up my belief that all human races have deep psychological roots in common. I was particularly interested in the myth of the Great Anaconda, and in the myths reating to the jaguar. Snake and cat imagery in mythology is very common in Europe too.

OA – There is a whole new language created by yourself for the Mythago books, some kind of Ice Age language, and seems that your wife once woke up just to see you sitting in bed, apparently speaking it very well. What were the anthropologic basis for this new language? And how did you managed to actually “speak” it? Can you do it when awake?

RH – There is no real anthropologic basis for the ‘language’ I invented for Lavondyss. It began in 1978 when I wrote a story called ‘Earth and Stone’, about a time traveller returning to ancient Ireland in search of a lost colleague. I used the ‘sounds’ of the Celtic language Gaelic, combined with ‘sounds’ that were guttural and simple, to make a hybrid language that would sound feasible and fluid. I extended this phonetic exercise in the second of the Mythago books, but tried to make all the words meaningful, and the phrases consistent. It is certainly true that I concentrated so hard on this phonetic speech that I began to dream in it, and indeed did, on one occasion, talk in my sleep in this invented tongue. My wife (very amused) told me afterwards that – though the words were nonsensical – it sounded as if I knew what I was talking about! I was very, very deeply engaged with the Stone Age cultures I describe in Lavondyss, and in fact, to this day, I still have trouble remembering what was research and what was invention on my part!

OA – You seem to be a kind of “slow writer”, with lots of time dedicated to the research period and to the building of a very beautiful, strong prose. Please, talk a little about the whole proccess of writing novels like Celtika or The Iron Grail, books one and two of The Merlin Codex. You once told that the core idea came from watching an acting of Euripedes’s Medea, Would you consider this moment as the first step of the Merlin’s saga conception? If so, you always do that, I mean, go back to the classics to chase for inspiration?

RH – I work slowly, I agree. I try to write poetically, and without cliché. Thirty years ago a good friend, and fine writer a generation older than me, dissected one of my short stories, showing me just how much cliché I was using. It was the best lesson I ever had! After that, I decided to try and establish a strongly poetic prose, with deliberate use of
repetition of imagery, and phrases, and a certain ‘rhyming’ style. You will read this at its most deliberate in Lavondyss.

I don’t always refer to the classics for inspiration, though sometimes I find atheme there, or a reference point. Merlin’s Wood and the Merlin Codexx are inspired by our poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Indeed, when I read his poem ‘Ulysses’, the last few lines* became the rock on which I could build the thematic structure of the Merlin Codex books. I had had the idea before that, though.

You ask me about the play Medea by Euripides. This was certainly inspirational in the Codex idea: the performance I saw showed Medea’s sons being brutally murdered by their mother. After their deaths, on stage, they lay in a glass coffin, covered with blood. The young actors were talking, squirming around, and giggling together, even as the rage and anger of the play unfolded on the main stage. The audience was amused.

And it occurred to me that Medea, a loving mother, might only have pretended to kill her sons by Jason. If so: where would she have hidden them? And what if their father Jason discovered they were still alive?

The rest came naturally: Jason rebuilds his ship, Argo, and recruits new Argonauts. And one Argonaut is Merlin, a semi-immortal man wandering the world. This Merlin is the same Merlin whom I had introduced in the mid 90s, in Merlin’s Wood.

So the new books became an extension of the old book, just as Merlin’s Wood itself was an extension of the Mythago Cycle of novels. And Jason, in the new work, is the same Jason who appears in The Hollowing, the third Mythago book. Thus do ideas connect across the years of imagination.

The research I did for Celtika was mainly into the legendary invasion of Greece by a massive army of Celtic tribes, drawn from all over the ancient world at the time. They raided the oracle at Delphi, but with little success. I tried to make a prose style that shifted between the ‘heroic’ style of our own Celtic literature and the ‘heroic’ style of ancient Greek literature. Of course, I can only refer to translations; but it was enormous fun to play with both traditions and styles of narrative. The Iron Grail is a conscious recreation of the narrative style of an early Irish epic, The Cattle Raid, one of the most brilliant accounts of warfare, combat, gods, spirits and Celtic royalty ever written; it is a miracle and a delight that the ancient text has survived into the modern age.

OA – One of the great concepts behind the Mythago series is that all stories, legends and folk songs created by humanity are true and do exists in a physical realm. What were the phylosophical basis to the books? Jung and Plato had something to do with it? Other authors like Michael Moorcock – who said a lot of good things about your series – and Alan Moore walked the same path in some of their works. Do you see any relation among your books and theirs?

RH – I created Mythago Wood in order to be able to explore the notion of ‘lost legends’ and ‘lost heroes’. It was my idea that for every King Arthur we remember, there are twenty wonderful heroes whose stories were lost. For every tale of a Greek hero, there are twenty tales of that heron that were never written down. Lost. During the writing of the book I decided to imply that our own ‘collective unconscious’ minds still carry memories of those great, forgotten heroes. And indeed, of those great, forgotten events. So I drew on Carl Jung, yes, and I researched the mythological past through the work of Joseph Campbell, and The Golden Bough, the massive work by James Frazier. I also drew heavily on Greek and Norse mythology. But the essential point is that all my work is fiction, and the whole point of my fantasy work is to try to illuminate and create in the readers’ minds the sense of how enormous the past of legend and myth has been; and of how very little remains.

In this way, yes, I am close to Mike Moorcock in that he writes robust tales of imaginary heroes, imaginary mythologies. And Alan Moore, too, draws inspiration from the source. We call it, here: ‘drawing water from the same well’. The late writer Keith Roberts said this to me first, and it is certainly the case that Keith Roberts and I were inspired by the same sense of the obscure and vanished past; heroes in the mist; heroism and the summoning of ancient forces, now forgotten and beyond our powers.

OA – Thank you very, very much for you attention.


*Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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