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The god’s point of view July 19, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in books.
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I was back in comfort book territory this morning. One of my favourite book sequences is “The Dark is Rising”, a five book fantasy series by Susan Cooper, written over a decade or so in the sixties and seventies. The stories weave British myth and legend into a narrative centred round Will Stanton, an boy who awakens on his eleventh birthday to the gradual realisation that he is an Old One, a timeless and immortal warrior in the eternal battle between the Dark and the Light. It’s an enormously powerful series, superbly written.

The fourth book, “The Grey King” is set in North Wales, and involves a series of encounters with the powers of the Dark who would impede Will’s progress in fulfilling his quest. It’s maybe the most satisfying of the five books, bringing in Arthurian mythology and Welsh myth and legend, and mixing it with A Boy and His Dog.

I’d recommend that you try these books, especially since I started on my latest pass through the series after getting halfway through C.S. Lewis’ “The Magician’s Nephew” before putting it aside in annoyance at its trite and patronising tone. Life’s too short for Narnia, I’m afraid. But time spent with Susan Cooper is never wasted.

Still, what I wanted to think about in this post was not the books, particularly, but something that occurred to me while I was reading “The Grey King” this morning. The Grey King (or Brenin Llwyd, as the Welsh would have it) is a great power of the Dark who has a somewhat amorphous existence in the high fastnesses of Cader Idris (Arthur’s Seat), and manifests occasionally as a huge ghostly figure. So, there’s a point in “The Grey King” where he has a conversation with our hero Will. Will’s goal is to awaken the Sleepers, who will form a part of the upcoming battle with the Dark. The Grey King’s goal is to stop him.

I was reading the passage, and it struck me that this interaction was written from Will’s perspective. Of course, you say, it would have to be, since Will is the figure around whom the story is woven. But how would it be to write about the conversation from the point of view of the Grey King? He has motives, he takes action, he makes decisions, he has conversations with humans. How would you go about writing a story where the point of view is that of a god? I don’t mean something like Zelazny’s Amber series, where the protagonists are god-like, but are really just humans with secret sauce, But the point of view of a god must be completely alien – maybe not subject to time or space, maybe constrained in ways we can’t dream of, explicitly non-human. How would you go about rewriting the interaction between The Grey King and Will Stanton -but from the Grey King’s perspective?

I have no clue, but I’m musing on the idea.

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