Dear friend Linda McCabe wrote me weeks ago to invite me to a Writers Promotion project called a ‘Blog-Hop Interview.’ Linda has publicly and privately defended me against unfair criticism within Potter fandom for a decade, confronted me with more errors than I want to recall (usually before publication!), errors large and small, all of which would have been very embarrassing, and she has been a more than genial reading companion. Whatever Linda wants me to do, in brief, I make time to do, with gratitude, even enthusiasm. She writes a good novel, too; check out her re-telling of Orlando Furioso.
But I was clueless about what a Blog Hop Interview involved. Pretty simple it turns out. Authors answer ten questions on their weBlogs about their current project, either the new book, manuscript, or work in progress. They provide a link to the next writer-in-the-chain’s weBlog where that author answers the same ten questions and provides a link to the next fellow. The hope is that readers will ‘Blog Hop’ and learn about a variety of writers’ work that would otherwise be unknown to them.
The writer who linked to me last week is Rob Loughran, aka ‘The Foul Mouthed Bard.’ You can read his answers to the ten questions about what he is writing here. The writer who follows me in the chain will be K. B. Hoyle, author of the six volume Gateway Chronicles; the weBlog link for K. B.’s responses — not until next Wednesday! — is On Alitheia and you can learn more about the Gateway Chronicles and its author on the series FaceBook page. I asked K. B. to follow me for the perfect opportunity it offered me to urge Hogwarts Professor readers to download a sample chapter of Six, the first of the Gateway books. You’ll see why.
My answers to the questions about the writing project I’m neck deep in (and posting so rarely, alas) are after the jump.
Lords of the Ring: The Meaning and Artistry of Ring Composition Story Scaffolding from Homer and the Bible to Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling
2. Where did the idea for the book come from?
I was researching C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy because of its literary alchemy symbolism and structure when I learned in Sanford Schwartz’ Final Frontier that each book in the series was a ‘ring composition.’ I didn’t know what that meant but the helpful diagrams there and reading the book mentioned in the footnote, anthropologist Mary Douglas’ Thinking in Circles, gave me an idea.
Brett Kendall at Fordham had said as much about the series’ chiasmus in 2005 but no one to my knowledge had looked at each book in the series. Turns out every chapter in the work has its parallel in the book in which it appears and beginning, middle, and end define each novel’s axis. I’ve been learning as much as I can, consequent to this discovery about the history of this story scaffolding and trying to figure out why it works as well as it does.
3. What genre does your book come under?
I guess you’d have to call it literary criticism but that sounds pretty stuffy or heady. This is exciting, or at least those audiences with whom I’ve spoken about it tell me they think it is. Lords of the Ring is more of an exposition and exploration of what happens to us when we read, why story design is as important as, probably more important than magisterial prose, plot, or even engaging characters.
While I think what I’m writing about is pretty exciting, especially for serious readers (and writers), I have to concede that, even if Jennifer Lawrence played the literary detective and the screenplay was by the late Ray Bradbury, I doubt it could be made into an exciting film.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Lords of the Ring answers the what, where, how, and ‘so what?’ questions about Ring composition, sometimes called chiasmus, a story scaffolding common to the world’s oldest epics, most beloved revealed scripture, Medieval poems and philosophic work, and modern favorites, to include Harry Potter and The Hobbit.
6. Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
I will either sell it to a mainstream publisher or publish it through Unlocking Press, a publishing company I own. I’ll have to see if my agent is interested and who she thinks she can interest in the project, if anyone.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ll tell you when I finish it!
I’m after some pretty big game here, alas, so the titles I think of were works that tried to move the ball forward in our understanding of what happens when we read and what better writers do to foster this experience. I’m not in their league, I’m well aware, but I think of Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, the Rev Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, and Douglas’ Thinking in Circles. Lords of the Ring is a book about literary magic — and these guides are ones that helped me think much more carefully about that, if Lords will be written in a less nominalist fashion than these scholarly gold mines.
Discovering how much Joanne Rowling’s last name is a description of her circular writing technique (the details of which are mind boggling) and then consequent discoveries in authors as diverse as Louisa May Alcott, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, not to forget Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins, rather shook me up. As Mary Douglas had said, the scaffolding is everywhere. My experience at fan conventions and academic conferences, at which I shared this with Harry Potter readers, was that they shared my interest, excitement, and desire to know more. Which, of course, encouraged me to read more and write up what I found with my guesses about why this ring structure is as powerful as it is.
I doubt that anyone reading it will ever believe they know how a book works until s/he has diagrammed its structure. Alastair Fowler, one of C. S. Lewis’ few graduate students, wrote that he never saw the man read a work without carefully noting how it was put together. I know that Harry Potter readers who have seen my ring composition talk tell me almost without exception, though most have read the books again and again, that they were unaware of the parallel analogies and story axis that cast each book’s invisible magic spell. And that they’ll never read the books the same way again. Wordsworth wrote that we “murder to dissect” but this x-ray experience of the skeletal artistry beneath the surface will elevate every reader’s appreciation of favorite stories and their understanding of what happens when they read.
I’ll be responding, in many cases, to what others have written about story structures. For example, Kelly Kerr has already posted his break down of The Hobbit as a chiasmus structure and Travis Prinzi has been putting together his thoughts on the prequel and Lord of the Rings mother-lode as ring compositions for a book on that subject in the near future. Not to mention the scholarship of the last two hundred years on chiasmus and Ring Composition (not quite the same things, really) in classical and Medieval literature as well as scriptures, epics, and poetry of every traditional civilization.
Much of it, though, will be original work, for which I can only hope to generate a new discussion of the neglected formal aspects of texts. Why? To supplement the conversation we’ve had at HogwartsProfessor for years now about why we read and what happens when we read. I intend to use it to put down another marker for iconological reading, if possible.
Let me know what you think below — and be sure to check out K. B. Hoyle’s On Alitheia next week for answers to the same ten questions about a book with an actual publication date!