Sunday, November 08, 2009

Biblical Inspiration

When I parked at church, someone said to me, "What is the meaning of that HOMERS on your car?" This is question I hear from time to time, because my license plate reads HOMERS, so I explained why it is a bit of an English teacher joke to drive Homer's Odyssey. Sometimes people chuckle at the explanation, but more often, they are baffled. Perhaps that is because in modern society, even in the south, folks no longer know the old stories.

During our discussion at the Maysville Library, Caine Campbell brought up the subject of the Bible as an influence on southern literature. Georgia's most famous writer of short stories, Flannery O'Connor, is purported to have said that any southern writer has two great disadvantages— a knowledge of the Bible, and a sense of history. As for the Bible, Miss O’ Connor asserts that it is still a great power in the South and that it continues to influence the Southern writers. "For one thing, it conditions him to think in concrete terms, 'we don’t discuss problems, we tell stories'." William Faulkner's title, Absalom, Absalom, is an obvious nod to Biblical themes and names in southern fiction.

The Bible is indeed a great source of inspiration, and by that, I do not necessarily refer to religion. One of my favorite writers, science fiction grand master Robert A. Heinlein, used Biblical phrases or characters for many titles, including Methuselah's Children, I Will Fear No Evil, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Number of the Beast, and Job, A Comedy of Justice. Although most of his work, whether short fiction or novels, stands alone; he did write series fiction, including yarns which feature the character Lazarus Long. A study of Heinlein's work yields many themes, and readers swiftly discern his thorough knowledge of the Bible, yet his work clearly shows that he examined the stories and themes of the Bible without being religious.

Like other writers, especially southern ones, I turned to the Bible for inspiration when I wrote Trinity on Tylos. Apart from the word trinity in the title, I chose an obscure character from the Old Testament, Azareel, as an exotic, yet forceful name for my villain. The key to writing a fascinating story is not creating an engaging protagonist, but in writing a well-motivated villain. In the Bible, Azareel appears in 1 Chronicles 12, as one of the foreign kings who is in diplomatic discussions with the Hebrew king, David. In my novel, he is Captain Azareel aboard his ship, and he is Lord Azareel on the fourth planet in the Tylos star system. Like the namesake character in the Bible, he travels from afar to negotiate for what he needs. My villain is thoughtful and bold leader, unafraid to make hard choices. My knowledge of history, at least the history of story telling, also came into play when I was searching for an appropriate ending for Trinity on Tylos. The last fourth of the novel owes quite a lot to Homer's Odyssey, a favorite tale written almost 3000 years ago.

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, but as O'Connor stated, the southern writer always has history and the Bible.

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