Explorations Interview -- The Curse of Chalion
Corrina Allen, of the Barnes & Noble F&SF newsletter Explorations, interviewed me in July of 2001 for a review/article of my upcoming fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion. Space constraints resulted in an edited version that appeared in the August/September 2001 issue: herewith, with Ms. Allen's permission, are the original interview and my answers in full.
- I have rarely been moved by a fictitious religion, yet I found the
"fivefold path" described in this story to be profoundly moving and very
- Thank you!
- Did you consciously intend to create a spiritual story and if so,
did you draw upon specific personal religious experiences?
- I actually started out to write an adventure tale. But one of my aims as a storyteller is to give good weight -- if I ask a reader to spend money and time to follow me and my characters through several hundred pages, we had all better well arrive someplace that matters. And the journey that speaks to me is the inner one: toward knowledge and self-knowledge, and, sometimes, a reach for grace.
I have been bemused by a certain kind of fantasy that treats religion and magic in a mechanical fashion --
"Throw another virgin on the altar, boys, the power level in the thamaturgistat is getting
low!" People running about shooting lightning bolts from their fingers as though they were mystical uzis, that sort of thing. I don't think religions of demonstrable reality could be an optional overlay in their worlds, especially pre-industrial worlds. Authentic major religions have all been deeply woven into the social fabrics of their times and places, providing a vital framework through which people could perform a huge range of community functions. And the real questions real religions grapple with don't have easy answers. A well-built fantasy world's religion ought, I thought, to reflect that complex reality.
And I have been deeply moved by the concerns, and -- as a writer -- the great stories of some religions. The loveliness or power of their best stories is a spiritual food that can transcend the beliefs or lack of them of the listener, piercing the heart regardless. I do not claim any personal religious experiences, but I surely do know what spiritual hunger feels like. That, at least, I was able to lend to Cazaril.
- There are some great unexpected plot twists in the novel- did you know
how the story was going to end before you began writing?
- This novel had two main sources. First was a course I took a few years ago at the local university on the history of medieval Spain, about which I had known almost nothing. I emerged from it, reeling slightly, clutching a huge armload of incandescent incidents and chewy characters, with no very clear idea what I wanted to do with them. I knew I didn't want to do alternate history or historical fantasy, so I set it all aside while working on other projects. Meanwhile, I'd created a sort of proto-Cazaril for a short-lived letter game my friend Pat Wrede and I had started, based on a type one meets over and over in real history -- the hard-working, serious civil servants, frequently in religious orders, who provided key support to their various monarchs. Sometimes they ended up rich and rewarded, sometimes betrayed and stuck full of daggers, like Mary Queen of Scot's secretary, David Rizzio. In the shower one day, these two halves came unexpectedly together in my head, and my tale began to crystallize around Cazaril.
When I began writing, I had the opening vision of the bedraggled Cazaril approaching a castle to seek employment, plus a vast cast of characters who were avatars of real persons, and some sense of their necessary contexts. Certain key elements rose up out of the fog like burning beacons, but I had no idea how I was going to fit it together or where we would all eventually arrive. That, I had to work out chapter by chapter.
For example, I knew the destiny of Orico's animals -- I seized it gleefully from a footnote about an actual monarch's menagerie in a PhD thesis I read for my course. But I didn't know when, or how, or most of all why, this event happened in the world of Chalion, until I was well into writing the book. It was all rather like frantically laying ties before the rails were delivered from behind. But the rails kept coming from some furnace in my back-brain, somehow. (Some deliveries were delayed by strikes by the Muses' Union, I believe.)
- Umegat, although not a major character, was one of my favorites. Did you
enjoy writing about one particular character more than another?
- Umegat was one of my favorites, too. Interestingly, he does not have a historical template; he arose out of the world of Chalion itself. In fact, I wrote the first scenes in which he appeared before I figured out who he was, and had to go back and tidy them up a trifle -- though not much. Ista, too, developed an unforeseen density and gravitation. But practically the whole cast arrived on-stage alive and already breathing in a most heartening fashion. Cazaril, as the sole viewpoint character, would be expected to dominate the book, but he proved to be surprisingly willing to share the limelight. Cazaril's rich reserves of vocabulary, experience, and observation, as he mediated his world to me, made living in his head for nearly a year a notable pleasure.
- Death magic figures strongly in the novel from the very beginning. Where
did you get the inspiration for death magic miracle?
- It was a back-formation, first, from a real historical incident that will be recognized instantly by any student of the early life of Isabella of Castille, which I will not detail here because it would be a spoiler. People can go look it up later. But in Chalion, it needed another explanation from the one the analogous event had in our own world. It is generally agreed in genre fantasy that magic should have a price, and it seemed to me that mortal magic should have a mortal price. In figuring out what the explanation and underpinning of such an event must be in Chalion's curiously balanced theology, I discovered a lot about my world's possibilities and its magic's -- and gods' -- powers and limitations. Once I had that explanation in hand, I was able to go on and weave the concept seamlessly into the whole story.
- I've heard rumors that there may be a sequel to this book. If so, what
will the second book be called and can you give me any hints as to what will
happen to Iselle and Cazaril in the next Chalion novel?
- I have indeed promised a second novel in this world to Eos, and I'm looking forward to it eagerly. I haven't started actually writing it yet, because I have another book to complete first for my long-running science fiction series. I can't hold two universes in my head simultaneously, alas. So it has no title and, though I have a bag full of ideas, nothing about it is yet fixed, except that it will likely shift sideways and follow different main characters. I hope to start work on it this fall.
© 2001 Corrina Allen and Lois McMaster Bujold
Added to The Bujold Nexus: August 14th 2001
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