Borzoi News
 The Druid King

Written by Norman Spinrad __
A Conversation with Norman Spinrad

Q: The Druid King is a historical tale that you adapted into a novel.
What is the actual history behind your novel?
A: The Druid King is the story of Julius Caesar?s conquest of Gaul from
the heroic but ultimately doomed resistance of Vercingetorix, who united
the disparate tribes, fought one of the first ?People?s Wars,? gained
the respect of his adversary, and who by arcane, non-military means,
succeeded in turning a straightforward military defeat into a synthesis
on a higher level. It moved the center of the Roman Empire westward,
Latinized what was to become France, and arguably was instrumental in
the creation of what we are now pleased to call ?Western Civilization.?

Q: What inspired you to turn this epic story into a novel?
A: How The Druid King came to be written is a long and complex story,
but very briefly, it began life as a screenplay called Vercingetorix. I
wrote many, many drafts, in both English and French (because the film
was to be shot in both languages) in collaboration and argument with the
producer-director Jacques Dorfmann, the last of which was done in
Bulgaria 4 days before he started shooting.

What was shot was nowhere near what I believed my concept or the full
and best version of the story, but I sort of nursed my creative wounds,
until my friend Richard Shorr, through whom I had met Jacques in the
first place, insisted I should turn my definitive version into a novel.
At first, I was reluctant.

At Richie's insistence, I re-read what I had written. And when I did, I
became both sad and angry. I still wasn?t sure I wanted to take on the
much more formidable task of turning it into a novel, so I sent it to my
agent, Russell Galen, for another opinion. His reaction was enormously
positive and infectious, and so I became convinced that I owed it to
myself, to the story, and somehow to the characters themselves because
they were real historical personages, to do it.

Q: Most everything we know about Vercingetorix comes to us from Julius
Caesar?s The Gallic Wars. Why did you reimagine this story with
Vercingetorix as the protagonist?
A: I don't think of Vercingetorix as the "protagonist" and Caesar as the
"antagonist." Rather each is the protagonist of a very different
civilization, a very different mode of consciousness, a very different
culture, meaning, of course, that each considers himself the "hero" and
the other the "villain." And what eventually comes out the other end of
the clash a long time later is Gallo-Roman culture, arguably the
beginnings of what is now known as "Western Civilization." I've tried to
make both men, both cultures, sympathetic at least partially, reflecting
the real world, the real history.

That virtually nothing except what his adversary reported is known about
Vercingetorix may seem restrictive, but it afforded me greater
flexibility with the character as a novelist than with Caesar, about
whom much is known?except, of course, his intimate internal life, which
I have forthrightly extrapolated.

Q: Your previous novels seem to fall into the science fiction category,
while The Druid King tends more towards a historical fantasy in the vein
of The Mists of Avalon. What inspired this change?
A: As both a novelist and literary critic, I don't think in those
categories. I don't believe them to be very useful as a critic, and they
are quite harmful as a novelist. The Iron Dream, for example, is an
historical meditation in the form of a science fiction novel full of
fantasy elements that Hitler, the "author" of the internal novel, does
not believe are fantastic.

It seems to me that the thematic, psychological, and cultural concerns
of a writer are more relevant than whatever literary mode he or she
chooses to deal with them in any given novel.

I've always been primarily interested in the relationship between the
total external surround, the culture, the political matrix, the
technology, etc., and the internal human consciousness. And particularly
the clashes and interactions of two or more different cultures, hence
two or more different styles of consciousness. Sometimes I've dealt with
this in extrapolative science fiction, sometimes in the contemporary
novel, as in Pictures at 11, sometimes, as in The Iron Dream, in a
complex alternative past, and now, in The Druid King, in a real past
somewhat transmogrified.

Q: It seems inevitable that The Druid King will be compared to novels
such as The Once and Future King. Did you look to this novel for
inspiration as a child or even as an adult when you thought about
writing? Has historical fiction always been a passion of yours?
A: The Once and Future King is certainly one of my all time favorites
and I did read it before I became a novelist. As a child, I did read
science fiction, but also, from the very beginnings of my reading for
pleasure, I read a lot of non-fictional history, particularly historical
biography.

This may be hard to believe, but I couldn't have been more than 6 years
old and maybe less, I was a precocious reader,when an "adopted uncle"
handed me a copy of H.G. Wells' Outline of History and suggested that it
would be a good general overview for me to take a look at. I did. It was.

Q: What sort of research did you do for this novel? Was it different
than research you had done for previous novels?
A: The Druid King is the first novel I've written for which the Internet
was a major resource. It was quite different than research for some
previous books like Russian Spring, which involved traveling to the
places where it was set and traditional book-based reading.

With The Druid King, I could hardly travel to ancient Gaul, and while I
did make use of books, Caesar's in particular, being able to ask very
specific questions of the whole wide world about the time, the places,
what things looked like, and get back whole hierarchies of answers, not
just in prose, but pictures, maps, diagrams,made a big difference.

Even though I had The Conquest of Gaul in book form, I downloaded an
electronic version, which made searching for specifics while I was
writing much, much quicker. I believe I referred to it much more often
than I might have otherwise.

Q: Americans are currently very caught up in the glorification of
heroes. Was this a consideration at all when you began work on your
novel or do you think that the interest in heroes is universal and
withstands current events?
A: No, it wasn't a consideration because I think the current American
glorification of heroes is a post September 11 phenomenon, and I began
writing The Druid King long before that event.

I do believe that interest in heroes is universal and eternal. What
changes with current events, with the larger mutations of cultures and
civilizations, is what we mean by a "hero," and how we react to such
exemplars. El Cid is certainly not Nelson Mandela is not Siddhartha is
not Murakami is not John Lennon.

I must admit to being greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell's The Hero
With a Thousand Faces, a masterly cross-cultural study of the "Hero,"
which draws deep mystical, psychic, and mythic parallels among the hero
figures of many cultures to paint a picture of the Ur-Hero. From this
perspective, Vercingetorix and Caesar can both be seen as "heroes"
within their own cultural traditions.

Q: One of your novels, Bug Jack Barron, was denounced on the floor of
the British Parliament and another, The Iron Dream, was banned in
Germany for eight years. Why were these novels so controversial? Do you
think that if they were published today, would the reaction to them have
been the same?
A: Bug Jack Barron was serialized in the magazine New Worlds, which
had a British Arts Council grant, which is why the issue came up in
Parliament. W.H. Smith, a private company, refused to distribute the
magazine with the serialization in it on grounds of "dirty language" and
sexual content. The Arts Council, a governmental body, defended the
novel and the magazine, and was attacked for doing so by right-wing
members. I believe the true objection was to the political stance of the
novel, which was left of the center in the 1960s, which would have made
it even more left today. So while I believe that the explicit language
and sex would not raise an eyebrow now, the reaction to the political
themes would be even more extreme now.

The Iron Dream is a kind of double alternate history novel, in which
Hitler, instead of rising to power in Germany, migrated to the US soon
after WWII, became a pulp writer, and, while suffering from tertiary
syphilis, wrote the internal novel, Lord of the Swastika, his demented
fantasy of a Nazi-like empire as a sword and sorcery fantasy. It was on
the index in Germany for eight years because, under German law, any
person could complain to a governmental body that a work of any art
might be harmful to impressionable youth, whether it was aimed at youth
or not, and it would be guilty until found innocent. Interestingly
enough, no one really contended it was a pro-Nazi novel at the time. And
the novel has published in about 15 countries and widely reviewed
without such a charge, so I believe the banning was a peculiarly German
phenomenon. It's hard to say what would happen if the novel were first
published there now, since eight years of appeals finally exonerated it
in Germany.

Q: You have lived in New York City, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco,
and now Paris. How have each of these cities inspired your writing? Did
you find yourself more influenced by certain cities?
A: Strangely enough, I've tended to write novels set in one city while
living in another. Bug Jack Barron and The Children of Hamlin, set in
New York, were written in Los Angeles. Pictures at 11, set in Los
Angeles, was written in Paris.

There have been exceptions to this of course. Russian Spring, which I
deliberately moved to Paris to write, takes place in Paris, Moscow,
California, and in orbit. I think living in these different cities has
given me a wider and more complex viewpoint.

In particular, living in Paris, in France, in Europe, has tended to
cause me to write more "world books," like Russian Spring and The Druid
King. Even Pictures at 11, set entirely in a TV station in Los Angeles
captured by international terrorists, is about German reunification,
British punk culture, and Japanese anti-Ainu prejudice, among other things.

It's trite to say that the world has gotten smaller in the age of
globalization, but my travels have told me that it's wrong to think that
this means we've all gotten more alike or that there is some kind of
uniform world culture. Far from it, the world has become more complex as
technology and easy travel mixes cultures without homogenizing them.

Q: What other sorts of things have you written besides fiction?
A: I've written a great deal of literary criticism, and was a regular
film critic in Los Angeles for several years. I've written teleplays and
screenplays. I?ve written a lot of political essays and have been a
political columnist from time to time. I also write songs: lyrics and
sometimes the music.

Q: It sounds like you have a pretty literary life. But what would you do
if you weren't a writer?
A: Being who I am now, I might very well be a songwriter and maybe a
performer, since this is a kind of minor secondary career, and I hugely
enjoy it, though I know damn well I'm an infinitely better novelist than
performer.

If I had parallel lives to pursue from the beginning, I would also want
one as a painter, I think. I paint some, but I began late, and would
take decades for me to be able to achieve the level to do it seriously.

I've done a little of teaching, enjoy it, deeply respect the profession.
I might also be a chef, as I enjoy not only cooking but creating new
dishes.

Q: So what should we expect to see next? Or will you be busy cooking?
A: My next novel, already in the late stages of research and early
stages of writing, will be The Feathered Serpent: the story of how
Hernando Cortes with 500 men conquered the empire of the Aztecs. Except
that is not how he really did it, and this will not be a mimetic
retelling of this well-known story. It will, I suppose, be what might be
called a kind of Magic Realism. Magic because Mexico was conquered more
by manipulation of myth and archetype. Realism because this is the way
it really did happen.