Tuesday, September 21, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 43

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Foucault's Pendulum
by Umberto Eco

Foucault's PendulumI was one of those readers who had some chuckles a few years ago when Dan Brown's novel The DaVinci Code became such a huge hit because of its somewhat controversial reinterpretation of the mythology behind Jesus and the Christian church. Why did I laugh? Because all this controversy was over material that's quite old, not new at all, and hasn't been given much credence by scholars, religious or secular. To me, the big hubbub was over nothing. And honestly, I didn't think The DaVinci Code was even that great a book; Brown's novel didn't completely suck, after all it did have solid pacing and was an easy read, but the characters were not detailed and the background material seemed laughable, at least to me.

Obviously, the re-imagined history Brown presented was new to the majority of his readers (and viewers, for those who saw the movie version). Why was I one of the few who found his material lacking?

Because I had read Foucault's Pendulum nearly two decades before, and I'd studied history, the occult, religion, philosophy, etc.

The plot to Foucault's Pendulum is quite complex, and as always I don't want to give too much away, but here goes a little info on the novel: Three friends working together for a publishing company decide they've read one too many manuscripts about conspiracy theories. They decide they can create their own unique, and better, conspiracy theory. They do this as a joke, with the help of a computer. Soon, however, their constructed conspiracy theory begins to take on a life of its own. It seems to have connections to all the so-called real conspiracies. Other characters come into play, some of them quite dangerous and most of them believing in at least some conspiracy theories. These new characters want answers, and some of them are not above violence to find those answers or to do the opposite, to keep ancient secrets hidden. The original three characters find themselves embroiled within an underworld of the occult, a world where conspiracy theories are not just theories, but reality. Is this reality true? Is it really reality? Or is it all just poppycock, dreamed up by lunatics?

The novel's conclusions and answers are surprising. I won't give them away here.

But I will say this novel changed my life. I read it when I was 19, about a year after the book was first published in English (the author is Italian, by the way). I had always had some interests in the esoteric, and in history and philosophy and religion, but this novel opened my eyes to just how deep the world of the occult really could go. It opened me up to a lot of history that was little known, not-remembered, and sometimes not quite believable.

After I finished reading Foucault's Pendulum, I spent the next several months seriously studying much of the material this book was based upon. A lot of it I felt to be garbage, reworkings of history by lunatics or people trying to find a name for themselves or trying to make money off suckers. But some of it isn't garbage, but worth further study. And all of it is interesting.

Even after my brief period of hardcore study on the occult and odd history, I've remained interesting in the subject matter. From time to time I still read or study such subjects, sometimes quite seriously for extended periods. Will I find any answers to life's mysteries? No. But I don't expect to. For me, the journey is the thing, not so much the conclusion, which I don't expect to ever reach anyway (at least not in this life).

One of the major side effects to writing all this stuff is that it has helped me as a reader and a writer over the years. For example, if an author mentions a lesser-known, minor historical character as le Comte de Saint-Germain, I know who he or she is talking about. If, as a writer, I want to use a mysterious figure from Christian history and mythology, I'm well aware of such characters as the Wandering Jew or Simon Magus or others.

Admittedly in this day and age, finding out about such things is easy. It just takes a few clicks on the Web to discover such information. That was not the case when I was first looking into all this decades ago. And I'm actually glad my research wasn't easy to come by; it gave my studies weight, importance, at least to myself.

Up next: The New War

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't read this one, though I will some day. I did enjoy the name of the rose by him.