INFLUENCES, PART 2

 

H.G. WELLS

H.G. Wells (1866 - 1946), the brilliant British thinker and sci-fi/fantasy writer, was definitely one of my biggest influences, and I suppose he is taken more seriously than Ian Fleming, though less so than many other authors who kept their tales more 'reality-bound.'  However, for me, his highly imaginative fantasy-medium for bringing cogent real-world subjects before the public eye was a strength, not a weakness; the light coming through his sci-fi prism had a special force/archetypal purity that the unfiltered depiction of reality lacked.  Chief among the works by Wells which I admire are:  The War of the Worlds, a powerful exposť of European colonialism and imperialism, veiled in the imagery of a Martian invasion of the earth (how would we like it if it were happening to us?);  The Time Machine, a brilliant little piece exploring the division of social classes and projecting that divide far into the future to place before our eyes a warning of the boomeranging effect of injustice (also forcing us to think more deeply about what is the essence of being human);  The Island of Dr. Moreau, a masterpiece touching on the issue of hubris (Man stepping into the shoes of God), as well as the question of whether civilization can truly be built upon the human material (our thin layers of moral codes pitted against our primal instincts); and The Invisible Man, an all too familiar tale of the temptations of power, made fresh by Wells' vivid imagination and retelling.  Then, there was the very interesting book The Shape of Things to Come, a kind of future history envisioned by Wells (starting from the world as he knew it in 1933), and later transformed into an engaging screenplay by Wells, himself, for the 1936 movie Things to Come (one of my favorites).  Wells also wrote a substantial history of the world known as The Outline of History (1919), an ambitious undertaking which might, today, be considered in some ways dated and deficient, but which was nonetheless brilliantly written and filled with knowledge, and provided the public of the day with a spectacular resource (so much more so than van Loon's Story of Mankind)...  Wells' use of science fiction and fantasy to create exotic but resonant-realities affecting our perception of our real circumstances influenced me deeply as an approach to writing.  And his treatment of "the invisible man" served as a training manual for my own use of invisibility in The March of the Eccentrics!  In fact, I love H.G. Wells so much that I gave one of the main characters in my book his last name!

 

JULES VERNE

 

The great French science-fiction Jules Verne (1828 - 1905), is another one of my major influences.  His works, which often incorporated marvelous inventions and technologies not yet in existence, interesting and somewhat scientific descriptions of nature, exciting travelogues and thrilling adventures, have sometimes been described as "boyish", and criticized in numerous other ways, as well.  But what a wealth of interesting storytelling "Father Jules" (to quote Isaac Asimov) gave to us!  He stimulated and excited the imagination of his times with tales such Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Off on a Comet, Around the Moon, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and Around the World in Eighty Days.  Many of us are left to conclude that 'boyish literature' is not as bad as it is made out to be; and our ranks are today swelled by the exciting new devotees of Steampunk, who would be in a terrible quandary were it not for "Father Jules", and the amazing legacy he gave to us of men in top hats flying to the moon!  Of course, in the character of Captain Nemo, one of the great and early prototypes of the mad scientist was created.  Nemo's brilliance, alienated by the hypocrisy and cruelty of the way men live on this planet, assumed a dark edge, and this development and turning-away from benign service to the unworthy mainstream became the basis for many subsequent depictions of the man of genius 'gone bad', among whose number, you will find the premier mad scientist of my own novel, The March of the Eccentrics.

 

SCHEHERAZADE

Scheherazade is depicted in The Thousand-and-One Nights (or The Arabian Nights' Entertainment) as the bold and beautiful heroine whose enchanting story-telling abilities mesmerize the woman-hating Persian king who has decided to marry a new woman every night, then execute her in the morning.  (He has decided to punish all of womankind for the infidelity of a former wife.)  To put an end to this outrage, Scheherazade marries the mad king herself, risking her life to save the womanhood of Persia; she then binds him under the spell of wondrous tales such as "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", "Sinbad the Sailor", "The Fisherman and the Genie", and "Prince Ahmed and Periebanou", until at last he is humanized and unable to continue with his reign of terror.  Such is the power of art.  Of course, not a single historian in the world believes there was a real Scheherazade; she was but a "literary device" created to provide a dramatic frame-story for the presentation of the many disparate tales of the "Arabian Nights", actually gathered over a period of many centuries from the Arab world, Persia, India, Egypt and elsewhere.  That aside, here is a case of a character so fully embodying a living and breathing archetype, and raising that archetype up from the depths of our unconscious where she has slept to the middle of our hearts where she awakens with all of her resplendent charisma, that she has become as real to us as anyone who ever was.  For me, Scheherazade is real.  She has influenced me with her amazing imagination, with her exciting stories that expand the mind and resuscitate the heart which is tarnished by limits; she has influenced me by adding colors to my sight and by making me fly higher in my dreams; she has influenced me by coming to life, in spite of only being a character in a book!   And thus, I have named the main female protagonist of my novel 'Ellen Scheherazade Abu.'  (A special thanks, here, to artist Jeni Kubicek, who kindly granted me permission to use her beautiful painting of Scheherazade, which captures the brilliance and allure of this spirited woman better than any other picture I have encountered.  You can see more of Jeni's work at https://www.facebook.com/jenikubicekart  .)    

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

 

Beautiful though Scheherazade may be, when speaking of influences let's not leave out William Shakespeare, who is not, by the way, featured in the above picture!  Instead, there we see the magician/illusionist Prospero (along with Miranda and Ferdinand) from The Tempest.  I have included this image because even though the greatest contributions of Shakespeare to my development as a writer have most certainly been plays such as King Lear, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, where deep and powerful characters, filled with passion, will, or doubt rumbling from within, interact with stunning language, The Tempest features an appealing personality configuration which has echoes in my novel.  Of course, I am referring to the bond between the marginalized but great Prospero and his beloved daughter Miranda (powerful conjurer and his sheltered child) which is reflected in the relationship between Julius Abu (the mad scientist) and his daughter Ellen.  (Before the novel is over, however, Ellen will react against her role as the 'protected daughter' and seek to become a helpful and important figure in the world on her own.)  I suppose Shakespeare and his characters have also influenced me, to some degree, in the development of Julius Herman Abu, himself, who I imagine in the Shakespearean mold:  a man of great emotional power and depth and mercurial moods, a whole universe of human possibilities clashing inside his troubled head:  joy with depression, kindness with cruelty, nobility with indecency, intense focus with shocking dissipation... a towering man rife with 'tragic flaws', a savior who is in dire need of healing.  I often think, if they were ever to make movies from this material, who would play Abu, who could play Abu; who could capture both the dramatic and comic aspects of his personality, the full range of his complex and unstable nature?  And I can't help but think:  it would have to be someone with a background in the Shakespearean theater.  Someone who had played Hamlet, or Lear, or Macbeth, and thereby stretched his soul so that it could fit Abu; someone who had played Hamlet, or Lear, or Macbeth, and  thereby unleashed all the demons of his unconscious so that they might thereafter be placed in the service of his art.  Yes, Shakespeare is definitely required here...  And now on to the next batch of geniuses!

INFLUENCES 3

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