14 April 2013

Dismissing a Stereotype

I'll warn you now that I tend to burble off at the mouth sometimes. I have my little think moments and you're welcome to read along with them. And discuss at your leisure. Enjoy this one -- it has a lot to do with The Savior.

I love writing historical fiction. I get a chance to live in other times with other people. Don’t get me wrong; I love the time I live in. But to be able to walk with the likes of Henry the VIII or Thomas รก Becket or Catherine the Great is a thrill. But there’s always the problem of how to make historical people real to those of us in modern day. To introduce the elements of humanity, to see the many layers of a person – good and bad – which takes them from a fairly simplistic character to a person who could be sitting next to you on the sofa.
When it came time to write The Savior, I chose a Messiah as one of the main characters – not so much as the main character but certainly the reason the action was happening. And that proved to be a challenge for me. There are so many portrayals out there of Jesus. So many actors have portrayed someone of such great importance to so many – always with a quiet dignity, a regal bearing. How was I going to portray him? Follow that same path? Or find a different one? I decided very quickly that I was going to have to make this my own, to dismiss the stereotype of Jesus the Christ, if I wanted to make this my story and not just parrot what others had done before.
I did a lot of reading about who Jesus might have been really, beyond the way the Bible portrays him. Which involved quite a bit of learning about the “typical” Judean at the time, too. Did you know that there are a lot of Biblical programs on cable? And each program had a different take as well, always looking at what could have been. The History Channels – one and two – and the Biography Channel became my best friends. I DVRed a lot of programs and watched them several times.
I also had my own Catechism to draw on. I took my Instruction from the coolest nun ever, Sister Barbara. I don’t know if the Pope would have sanctioned a lot of what she taught me, but I do know she gave me a lot to think about. She encouraged me to open my mind and not accept the traditional just because. But she also taught me a lot of fascinating legends within the Catholic Church and I used them to form the basis of the plot. I wonder, sometimes, if Sister B wasn’t a Gnostic at heart. I would not be surprised to find out that she was.
So, rather than play the same old, same old when it came to the Christ, I decided to explore the humanity of the character. I picked up the action just after the brouhaha in the temple, the day that a twelve-year-old Yeshua gave the Sanhedrin one heck of an education. I borrowed from the legends that Sister B taught me, but also from a lot of the Apocryphal texts. The Yeshua of my story was raised as an Essene – a radical group that was very zealous in their beliefs, taking traditional Judaism to an extreme. They believed in a literal sense of the Messiah coming to kick the crap out of the Romans, taking over as a very real King with a palace and a kingdom here on earth.
The legends of the Catholic archives talk about the grand tour that Jesus took, the missing years between that day in the temple and the day he started his ministry. How he traveled from Israel with his uncle – Joseph of Arimethea – to see the lands of Gaul and the UK, then traveling down to Tibet. And how he learns of other beliefs, is influenced by them. The character becomes very real as he transforms from this bratty, arrogant kid to the Messiah that we have known and been taught of within the Christian religion. There are obvious changes in the “mission” he has taken on, something that fits in with the Bible’s take on it all – when he says he’s come to teach a new covenant. To sort of shake up the status quo a little with a gospel of love and peace.
In a literary sense, to show that change, I had to start with the exact opposite. In writing, I took very few liberties outside of the stories and the alternate gospels. But I did add that humanity to him, add that sense of the historical. Which added an interesting dimension, I think, and makes him very real to us.

Let the discussions begin.

1 comment:

JanD said...

I struggled with your take on Messiah. I was raised on the belief that He was always perfect. I appreciated your take on His humanity and teenage years. It opened my mind to possibilities.
Interesting to me is that my husband and I travel by car frequently and listen to 60's and 70's radio. John Denver songs transport us back to our teenage years. Recently We had just been discussing his accident after listening to Annie's Song. I was reading Savior at the time but did not connect the John in your book as the John Denver. What a shock it was to me a few days later when I finish reading your book! Thank you for a great read.