Seeking a New American Mythology
In writing The Lies That Bind (DarkHorse Trilogy, Book 1) — released by TouchPoint Press on Dec. 8! — I was attempting to create a new American mythology. There are a couple of wry hints of this intent within the book (one section title and the name of the county seat), but the novel’s true mythology is in its milieu (the antebellum South), structure, and characters, as I’ll explain.
“Elysian Fields” Indeed
First, Section I is titled “Elysian Scrubland.” That tells you something right away. “Elysian Fields” is the ancient Greek approximation of Paradise or Heaven, where the very best, most virtuous people go after they die. In America’s inception, the perfection we sought began merely as scrubland, not neat fields.
The novel begins with Durksen (Durk) Hurst, an itinerant “visionary” charlatan, escaping a mob into the Chickasaw swamp. Isn’t that like the original colonization of America: People leaving the Old World, often escaping oppression and/or seeking opportunity, for the wild New World of America?
There, Hurst encounters a group of stranded slaves. These slaves are rootless, coming from the oppression of slavery. Together they agree to create an egalitarian plantation, an equal partnership, which they call DarkHorse, after Hurst’s Chickasaw nickname. Isn’t that symbolic of our ancestors’ arrival in this country—an extreme version of their plight?
So the DarkHorse plantation represents the attempt by these dispossessed men to create their own “civilization” based on equality. Sound a bit like the founding of American representative democracy? It doesn’t matter where they came from. Durk’s past is revealed, and he can never return. His partners can never return to their past either. Their old plantation, where they were slaves, is gone. Besides, they had no rights there. And their African homeland is an ocean away, an impossibility to cross.
A Uniquely American Concept
Thus, symbolically, their DarkHorse enterprise is like the original America. These people have no model to follow, no rules waiting to be adopted, no preconceived ideas on which to base their actions. And no clear consensus on how to govern. For the first time in their lives, the former-slave partners are free from fear of the lash. Durk, too, who had to keep his abolitionist opinions to himself, is now free to treat black men as human beings.
The adjustment of these very different men, from very different circumstances, to each other is an important dramatic element of the book. Isn’t that symbolic of multi-cultural America, the inclusion of so many different ethnic, religious, and racial groups into the “melting pot” that is America?
Studies have been done of historical colonization. For example, the Greeks colonized the Mediterranean centuries before our ancestors colonized America. In every case, the original belief systems and social structures of the old civilization weren’t retained in the new colonies; they were dispensed with or dissipated. Aren’t things constantly being created anew in America? Wasn’t our constitution, with its checks and balances, its dispensing with kings and aristocracy, and our social formations very different from Europe, Africa, or Asia? And aren’t we still evolving?
I should mention, the establishment characters in the novel, the powerful French family, also contribute to the story’s mythology — especially regarding the role of women. But you’ll have to read the novel to find the meaning which is deeply hidden and only revealed as the novel progresses.
Nod to the Greeks
Oh, a funny tidbit: The town’s county seat, where the big money cotton exchange and wealthy brokers are located, is named “Lethe Creek.” In Greek mythology, when people died, they were taken on a boat down the river Styx by the ferryman Charon, to Hades, the underworld. The river Lethe is one of the five rivers in Hades, and all who drink from its waters experience complete forgetfulness, forever.
With the word lethe defined as “oblivion,” “forgetfulness,” or “concealment,” Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion. Indeed, lethe is related to the word aletheia, the Greek word for truth, which literally means “un-forgetfulness” or “un-concealment.”
Concealment! All the novel’s characters are concealing profound secrets (which are unraveled as the story progresses). Indeed, a major element of the novel is the eternal war between truth and lies—oops, the word Lies in the title is a clear giveaway! Read it and you’ll find out why :)
Enjoy your holidays and let me know how you like the book.
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