In his book, “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories,” the English journalist and author, Christopher John Penrice Booker (no apparent connection with the award), expands upon the long-held view of many literary experts that there are only so many basic plots in fiction writing. While I have not yet read his critically-acclaimed book, I could not help but be struck by two things about it: first, that the author has two middle names, an encumbrance that he apparently was saddled with at birth as was I (my parents having had great expectations for baby Robert—a goal against which, I freely admit, I have under-delivered, in large part because of the snooty sticker slapped upon my rosy red and quite commonplace bottom). But I digress…
The second thing that caught my eye about Booker’s Jungian-based analysis was that the first basic plot he cites is precisely the one that has dominated my writing in all four of my novels; namely, “overcoming the monster,” or as some authors have interpreted it, “good versus evil.” In my case, I have taken this a step further and restated it as “God versus Satan,” a topic that is certainly controversial to many among the reading public and anathema to some. Let me now share with you how and where this theme manifests itself in my writing.
My first book, “Where Freedom Reigns” is the story of a Second Civil War in America that begins over the issue of gun control. While neither side is depicted as being good or evil, the bloody war that ensues is the monster that threatens to destroy the nation. Beyond the obviously controversial nature of this topic, the plot draws heavily upon the Book of Revelation and while the protagonist and antagonist are painfully mortal, the sub-plot involves the archangel Michael and Satan as the embodiment of good versus evil.
In my next book, “The Tempest’s Roar,” an anthropomorphic tale of the whales and dolphins who rule the Seven Seas, the monster is once again war. However, the protagonist is a white dolphin whose destiny is to save whalekind from destruction on this planet man calls Earth but whales know as Planet Ocean. Here the controversy (the issue of sentient beings with flukes notwithstanding) arises over my depiction of a Humpback Whale as an archangel of God and all of mankind as the army of Satan, which is destroying the oceans either through willful acts or apathy.
“The Covenant Within” is a thriller set in the Orkney Islands, a rugged archipelago in the North Sea off Scotland. The central theme is genetic memory, which is a vast ancestral inheritance passed down through DNA that surfaces only in dreams, déjà vu, or visions of past lives. Here the protagonist and antagonist are twin brothers but at the heart of the story is the stark contrast between good and evil embodied in a two sided talisman that grants invincibility to the person, good or bad, in whose hands it rests. The story’s controversy stems from the fact that the talisman is made of wood from the two crosses on Calvary that stood on either side of the cross upon which Christ died. And the monster is the beast of onrushing insanity that such omnipotence inflicts upon those who possess the talisman.
My most recent work, “No Greater Evil” is also a thriller. It is about an elite group of covert professionals within the National Security Branch of the FBI whose mission is to capture or kill domestic terrorists, although few of their targets are brought in alive. Here, however, I have added a twist on the more typical juxtaposition of good versus evil that is usually represented by two opposing people or groups (or whales). In this story, the hero is a seemingly invincible member of the team but there is a dark side to his complex persona: he is tormented by dreams filled with the image of a terrifying beauty. She is Hel, the Norse Goddess of Death and Queen of the Underworld, who he believes has overtaken his soul. And the controversy rests in the fact that in this case there is no greater evil than that which lies buried in the soul of a good man.
So there you have it. Regardless of the setting of my novels, or whether my principal characters are members of mankind or whalekind, the pervasive theme throughout all my writing is “overcoming the monster.” In and of itself, that’s not necessarily controversial; however, the controversy arises because to me good and evil are always synonymous with God and Satan, and both have a central role to play in my stories.
Thank you for this honest and erudite exploration of a universal theme. I believe it is very difficult to write about the human story without confronting the monster. Expressing this in terms of a spiritual duel is as natural as the air we breathe. The attempt by some writers to deny mankind’s spiritual dimension is to part company with the greatest story-tellers of all time.
Thank you, Christopher, for your comment.