Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Glutton For Punishment

I couldn't help it. I tried. God knows, I tried. I said to myself, I'll have a nice wee break. I'll catch up on some reading. Maybe I'll keep my hand in with a short story… a novella at most. But no. Within two days of finishing INK, what do I end up doing but throwing myself straight into the next novel? Fuck R'n'R. Fuck recovering from the mental mindfuck of INK (you thought, VELLUM was fucked-up? Heh. You ain't seen nothing yet). So, man, I already have 18,000 words of the next one done.

Actually, OK, those 18,000 words aren't really mine; they're the public domain translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh which I'm currently rolling my sleeves up to go through line-by-line, phrase-by-phrase, with an aim to cut, fold, splice, dice, graft, torch, weld, distress and generally fuck over until it's entirely my own, being, as I am, an unrepentant myth molestor. So all I really have right now is the bare skeleton of one thread of the text, hacked up into bite-size chunks which will be maniacally -- sorry, lovingly -- tweaked and teased into those, um, whitespace-separated sub-sub-chapter things I do and interwoven with the two other threads of the narrative.

Which is where the fun starts.

Cause, yes, the next novel is, in part, a retelling of the Gilgamesh Epic. Sure sure, I know, it's been done before, and by people like Robert Silverberg no less… so it's kinda old hat and all… and after redoing Inanna and Tamuz in VELLUM it might sound like I'm on some mad quest to rewrite all the ancient myths from the Year Dot onwards... but listen -- no, no, listen -- honestly, I've got this stonking idea as to what to do with it.

Right so.

It's a classic tale and all: boy meets hairy boy; boy loses hairy boy; boy goes mad with grief and goes on quest for magical plant of immortality; boy fails and mopes off home to Uruk. It's timeless, I say, timeless! So it's just begging to be updated, and what I wanna do -- and I know this sounds bugfuck crazy, but bear with me, really, bear with me -- is add two other threads to the story. OK. Fair enough. Not exactly a blinding newsflash for anyone who's read VELLUM. But here's the thing: one of these threads is fairly sensible, transplanting the action to pilgrim America, so the Gilgamesh character would be mapped to one of those uptight buckle-hatted settler types, while the Enkidu character (aforesaid hairy boy, wild man of the woods, and Gilgamesh's close-and-cuddly companion) would be mapped to a Native American. It's the other strand that has the tendency to raise eyebrows when I tell people about it and which gave me the first working title for the project…

Gilgamesh And The Furries.

Cause what I wanna do, see, is set the third thread in the present / near future, with Enkidu -- Gilgamesh's fuzzy fuck-buddy -- being a member of the furry community -- furries, for those of you who don't know, being fans of anthropomorphic animal art, some of whom (though not all) like to dress up as animals, and some of whom (though not all) like to dress up as animals and have sex… or yiff, as they call it (although I understand yiff also applies to petting that ain't really heavy at all). So I'm thinking that the modern-day Gilgamesh character is an academic, an anthropologist, sociologist or something, some kinda intellectual studying totemism in primitive and modern societies, ya know? I mean…

You're not listening anymore, are you?

You're thinking, "Hang on… you're going to rewrite the first known epic of written history and you're going to make it about people who dress up as animals and have sex."

You're thinking, "Are you off yer fucking trolley, mate? Are you a complete fucking mentalist? You're going to rewrite Gilgamesh and make it about FURRIES?!?!?!"

Trust me. Just put your preconceptions to one side, lift that dropped jaw back into place and come with me for a wee stroll through the crazy logic of my mind. I swear to God it makes sense. And I swear to God this could be a fucking stonker of a book if I can pull it off.

I mean, what's Gilgamesh about? Ye've got the Big G, who's King of Uruk, and Enkidu, the wild man of the woods who becomes his, um, close companion (it's one of those David and Jonathan, "closer than brothers", "like husband and wife" relationships where, OK, maybe it's not explicit but it's so goddamn suggestive that… well… fuck it… they're gonna shag like bunnies in my book). Anyhoo, it's the "civilised man" versus the "noble savage". What distinguishes a "man" from a "beast"? Those sorta questions.

Gilgamesh clearly represents the whole neolithic culture of kings, priests, scribes and so on, anthropomorphic and sociomorphic deities. He's part man, part god and in terms of the "civilised" religion of Sumer that god part of him can be understood in fairly modern terms -- spiritual, divine, "higher", immaterial, blah blah blah. Enkidu, on the other hand, is the wild man of the woods. He's paleolithic culture, animistic, totemistic religion. The fur that covers his body, the way he hangs out with the animals at the waterhole -- this is humanity as animal, man as not-so-naked ape, at one with nature. So the European Settler / Native American thing is a no-brainer. "Civilised Man" with aspirations to fleshless eternity meets "Primitive Man" whose whole belief system focuses on animal spirits. Simple.

So thread 2: the journals of aforesaid European settler, detailing his friendship with Native American Enkidu character, interwoven with the original, rewritten epic.

But think about that whole totemism thing. Aren't furries basically identifying themselves with animals in a manner not too unlike the totemism of nomadic tribes. Hell, there's a lot of furries (from the brief (and sometimes scary) interweb research I've been doing) who seem much closer to proper totemism than any of the New Age wind-bags wanking off about dream-catchers, crystals and what-not. I mean, the New Age tossers always have wolves for their spirit guides, or maybe stags. Something cool and powerful which serves the old compensatory power-fantasy nicely. Ya don't hear these people saying that their animal spirit is a squirrel, do ya? Well, cracked as it sounds, a lot of furries do go for animals like that -- squirrels, voles, badgers. "My furry self is a marmet." WTF?! Point is, if ye can look into yerself and see a marmet, yer probably a damn sight closer to totemism than the twat who thinks he's Grey Wolf Bloggs.

Anyhoo my point is just that if you happened to be an anthropologist, looking at the whole animal-as-identification-figure, as-metaphor-for-personality, looking at the clash between modern religion and totemism from the neolithic (as evidenced in, say, the Gilgamesh Epic), up through Native American cultures (as evidenced in, say, the letters of a European Settler who got rather chummy with a totemist dude), well, furry culture is an obvious modern day area of investigation. And if you take an academic, an intellectual, and dump him in at the deep end of this culture, in the more extreme, the "wilder", parts of furry fandom where the "yiffing" ain't just a wee tickle under the chin, then bingo-bongo and hey presto, you've got the "civilised"/"primitive" theme right there and ye've got thread 3: the journals of an academic doing a study on totemism, looking at the Gilgamesh Epic and the journals of European settler man as material for his thesis about the transition to "civilised" religion, and gradually getting dragged into a futuristic world of living fursuits, fetishistic fandom and hedonistic excess.

I mean, what -- if we wanna fuck with this and make it more interesting -- if yer animal self is an ape, or an apeman, homo Habilis or somesuch? Enkidu as a chimp furry. Enkidu as a dope-smoking, hard-drinking, mosh-diving monkey-boy. Meeting this academic character -- this intellectual Gilgamesh analogue -- who would be likely, if asked , to say his furry altar ego was, well, I guess, a human being. And being a monkey-boy, a fuck-like-a-bonobo, fight-like-a-chimp, bona fide, balls out, banana-in-hand monkey-boy, dragging our hero into scenes of sordid abandon.

Ye see where I'm going now?

(Update: I've noticed this post is getting a shitload of hits through LiveJournal links. If yer a furry reading this: don't worry. That initial jaw-dropping "Furries?!" reaction is not the point. Sure, I can't say I don't relish the gopsmacked reaction from folks who generally think that no-one in their right mind would treat furry culture as a serious subject... but this isn't, I assure you, a freaksploitation book I'm talking about. Fuck that shit. Yes, the Enkidu character's going to be a wild one, into all sorts of crazy shit, but he'll be treated as exceptional, not an exemplar of furry culture as entirely composed of scary weirdos. Yeah, I know. I'm an outsider. Yeah, I know. I've seen *that* episode of CSI. Just trust me, OK? I don't do cheap laughs. I do the human condition and all that poncy stuff. Like this:)

But there's more. The whole turning point of Gilgamesh is the death of Enkidu. People die. People are animals, whatever bullshit smokescreen we throw up between "Man" and "Beast" (and, man, it pisses me off, annoys the fuck out of me when some fuckwit fucking asswipe motherfucking brainless eedjit comes out with some line of crap which works on the assumption that there's human beings over here and there's animals over there… makes me wanna smack them upside the head with a rock and jump up and down on them, pissing on their face and shrieking like a goddamn chimp… but ANYWAY…), so the single, central, thematic fucking CRUX of the epic is Gilgamesh's realisation that, just like Enkidu, he is gonna DIE. Two-thirds god don't matter a fuck; it's that one-thirds mortal man that's the killer. We're all animals. We're all monkey-boys when it comes down to it.

So I think we got us a whole heapload of interesting material to explore now. The civilised and the primitive, the human and the beast, the domesticated and the wild. Seems to me like that first ever story has a pretty cool grasp of the human condition at the core of it… with an idea, basically, that humanity, maturity, civilisation is predicated on an awareness of mortality. As Gilgamesh stands on the walls of Uruk at the end, knowing he's going to die, the one thing that comforts him is the legacy of the great walls he's built. He's gonna die. We're all gonna die. It's understanding that, it's the sorrow, the empathy, the insanity, the raging against the dying of the light, and even plain old acceptance that makes us human.

So, anyway. That's the new project. Gilgamesh and the Furries. I'm not gonna go into it any further as I'll just expend all my energies. And, yes, I do know that it sounds seriously cracked. But, come on. Ye can see it, can't ye?

I'm gonna fucking love writing this book.

19 Comments:

Blogger MJ said...

Just in time for me being in first year of a potential joint hons sociology/anthropology degree!

Will let you know when we do the relevant cultures I guess. There's actually a book on totemism in the socsci section of Caledonia books, which I noted with interest while clinging for dear life on one of those ladders for big bookcases and peering at the anthropology section.

My advice - if you're after professional advice on first nation culture (native americans), contact Edinburgh unis Anthro dept. Ours is seriously underfunded and has two immensely stressed out anthropologists to its name! But I'll be happy to help if I can!

10:50 pm  
Blogger Paired Cylindrical Organelles said...

You should rewrite a fairy/elf myth involving Otherkin after that.

11:52 pm  
Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

I'm gonna fucking love reading this book. You go for it, d00d. If anyone can pull it off, you can.

4:04 am  
Anonymous scott w said...

See, Hal, what I love about this post is how at the beginning the phrase "unrepentant myth molestor" seems quite figurative and playful. But by the end of the post the same phrase seems almost . . . literal. (That is, it's just about as "literal" as the molestation of myths can be.)

And of course we've all seen this informative graphic, but it seems necessary to take a good look once more:

http://www.brunching.com/geekhierarchy.html

And wonder if Gilgamesh and the Furries will twist the whole structure into some sort of five-dimensional toroid or something.

I'm just saying.

4:19 am  
Blogger Paul F Cockburn said...

Personally, I think you should put "unrepentant myth molestor" on your passport.

Sounds fun.

8:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Hal. You don't know me, but I just picked up Vellum on account of how enthusiastic, smart and generally awesome your writing on this blog generally is.

If I can ask: David and Jonathon? Reference from what?

Anyhow, you've piqued my interest in this book too now, dammit, so, best of luck.

Ryan

12:49 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Scott, Paul: I'm thinking business cards now.

Ryan: That's a biblical reference to my favourite Hebraic homos, David and Jonathon. Homos? you say. In the Bible? you say.

Well, as the Good Book puts it:

"And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt." -- 1 Samuel 18:3-4

See this link for more details: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bmar.htm

2:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks. That's an awesome quote and I am totally swiping it for future reference.

Ryan

3:28 pm  
Blogger taleswapper said...

Have you read that book about ape people? The writer who used to be on that horrible Shooting Stars show? Dang, what was his name?

1:18 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Will Self? Don't know the book, I'm afraid. Is it any good?

7:16 pm  
Blogger taleswapper said...

Yeah, that's it. Will Self. Great Apes. The premise was that Bonobos had evolved. It had a lot of gross stuff in it.

2:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I think it's a great idea myself. As...disturbing as the furry culture can be, it certainly lends itself to literary fiction. In reality, you've got the perfect venue already presented. Take the Gilgamesh-Analogue, in whatever guise he might be, and stick him headlong into the furry convention in Philadelphia, Anthro-Con.

3:17 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Anonymous: Cool. Thanks! I was wanting to base the modern/near-future thread on the East Coast, so's to have the Gilgamesh analogue coming more from an Ivy League background. So Anthrocon sounds like a perfect setting.

7:28 pm  
Anonymous Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

It's a brilliant marketing idea as well... if you can do for furries what Kushiel's Dart did for SMsters. :-)

I'm least sold on strand 2 so far -- you don't seem as excited about it. That'll presumably come with the research, though.
Though, are you sure you're stuck on Pilgrims & Indians? You don't want some other encounter of literate/centralized/theological and preliterate/distributed/animist cultures... Celts & Romans, Arabs & Africans, Aryans & Dravidians, Egyptians & Israelites?

(Hey, if you're foolhardy to discuss the plot of your new book on the web, I figure I'll kibitz. :-> )

I love David and Jonathan as a couple, and I tried to be faithful to their relationship (while keeping it off-stage in the manner of the original) in The Book of Jashar: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2003/20030317/jashar.shtml

10:44 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Ben: Ooh! I'll be checking that Strange Horizons story out.

In terms of thread 2... actually I started doing the research at the weekend and it's really coming together. I've ditched the pilgrims and decided to base it in British Columbia, somewhere between 1750 and 1800, I think; there's lots of stuff going on in that region which ties in perfectly. I'll probably blog some research notes because the parallels are just so neat.

9:00 am  
Blogger Greyfox said...

Cute idea. And, coming from someone who has been involved in the furry fandom since around '91, I'm rather entertained how this hidden little subculture has been growing in the mainstream consciousness. I can also assure you that simian "fursonas" are all but non-existent, most likely because they're so humanoid already that to anthropomorphize them would be redundant. If you wish to do your research in this bizarre little underworld I can be your guide. But beware the moon. And stick to the path.

1:36 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Thanks, Grefox. If you're up for answering the odd question now and then, I might well take you up on that offer. It's important to me to be fair to furries, to not use the subculture in a cheap and exploitative way.

4:23 pm  
Blogger Greyfox said...

Sure thing. Email sent so you have a slightly better contact point than here.

6:25 am  
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