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Eros and Magic :: Warren Rochelle on ’The Called’

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 28, 2010

With his new novel The Called, fantasy writer Warren Rochelle explores religion, politics, and sexuality in ways that depart daringly from the conventional--and venture into the magical.

The Called is the sequel to Rochell's 2008 novel Harvest of Changelings, in which the author outlined a mythological universe of faeries, demons, and human beings caught in a struggle that transcended three parallel realities. The dark realm of the evil Fomorii is a used-up, dying cosmos; the Fomorii see Earth as a viable place to live (and humans as a good supply of slaves and food). The world of Faerie, by contrast, is a place of light and magic--literally: the rules of nature in Faerie involve spells, special powers such as flight or shape-shifting, and supernatural beings straight out of Celtic lore (as well as a bunch of other mythological traditions).

In Rochelle's novels, Earth itself is not the Earth with which we are familiar. Harvest of Changelings is set in the early 1990s, and the events of the novel bring about a crisis when it becomes widely known that magic actually exists.

More upsetting is the revelation that there are part-Faerie people among the general population, due to centuries of cross-universe mating. In the first book, four part-fey children living in North Carolina--Malachi, Jeff, Russell, and Hazel--discover their true origins, and realize that they are meant to live together in a four-member group marriage, or "tetrad." The tetrad is a common family structure in Faerie, because magical beings there derive their powers from the four elements. Only when a tetrad has four members, each associated with one of the elements, is a family unit complete.

It's easy to read into the books a gay subtext; they weave characters with innate differences in affect and sexuality into their story lines about good confronting evil, and present family structures that are completely natural to some, but extremely alarming to others. The religious and social backlash that Rochelle explores in The Called mirrors our deepest dreads about where the media- and faith-driven culture war threatens to take our country. Not inconsequentially, in the first book the characters are exposed to the heartbreak of abandonment, loss of parental love, and even sexual and physical abuse that gay kids often face--and those same themes are magnified on a wide-spread social and political scale as the characters reach adulthood. The religious and legal attacks magicals suffer in the books are not at all different in kind or motive from the attacks that gays endure.

In The Called, Rochelle jumps ahead two decades, to the year 2012. The prophesied end of time is coming, and whether that means that Earth--and, eventually, Faerie--will fall to the ravening Fomorii, or whether it means that human consciousness will be transformed, is an open question. In any event, as the story recommences, human nature remains lamentably unadvanced. The revelation of "magicals" among the "mundanes" has sparked a holy war, with religious zealots pushing for a bloody ethnic cleansing to rid the world of Faerie folk. The pastors behind this call for bloodshed call the violence they propose "Weeding the Garden," and cast the mass murder it involves in a light of righteousness.

Needless to say, the Fomorii are behind the impending ethnic cleansing--and also behind the military coup that triggers the second American Civil War, which entails months of vicious fighting, with innocents being slain and American cities bombed by their own armed forces. Just before the onset of the war, Malachi is captured; Hazel and the children are forced to flee; and Russell and Jeff, living in Faerie (and aging much more slowly) realize, through the empathic link of their tetrad, that they have to return to Earth to fight the Fomorii once again.

Warren Rochelle chatted with EDGE via email about the sources he referenced for his sprawling canvas of magic and myth, and about how his fantasy resonates with contemporary America.

EDGE: The Called has got a pretty detailed mythological fabric that you've worked out, involving Greek and Roman traditions along with American Indian and, of course, Irish myths. Have all these elements come together by themselves in your mind to form the great mythic backdrop, or were you creating intricate diagrams to work it all out?

Warren Rochelle: I'd say both. While writing both books, Harvest and The Called, I did a lot of reading and studying, including such scholars of myth as Joseph Campbell, and, of course, the actual myths themselves: the Greek and Roman and the Celtic (mostly the Irish versions), some Norse (not so much of those), and the Cherokee. As Campbell (and other comparative mythologists) points out in The Hero with A Thousand Faces there seems to be common threads in mythologies all over the world: parallel stories, recurring themes and metaphors and characters, such as the Hero and the Quest or the Hero's Journey, such archetypes as the Wise Old Man and the Crone, animal helpers, the creation, fall and loss, sacrifice and redemption, the world as numinous, gods interacting with mortals, and so on. The Hero and the Quest myth, or the Monomyth as James Joyce named it, is found in cultures all over the world.

Fairy tales, which seem to be descended from myth, bring along magic as part of attempts to explain the mysteries. So, this common mythic field, as it were, let me bring the Greek and the Roman and the Cherokee and the Celtic (and some Mayan) into the same universe of Faerie, which has been leaking into ours on a regular basis. The idea of the leaking of light and the creation of mythic space seemed to fit all this. Also, this common mythic field--yes, I know, very Jungian--meant the stories could be seen as retellings and reinterpretations by a particular people for a particular people, yet have something in common with each other. Here are the stories the Cherokee tell--with common elements with other mythologies--yet elements distinctive to the Cherokee. The story of the NunnehĂ­ attempting to save the Cherokee from the Trail of Tears--and taking those who would back through a door in the mountains--sounds like a fairy tale to me, the door a portal to Faerie.

I also had the idea that the Faerie elders, the Tuatha de Danaan, would be myth-makers as well: they created the Greco-Roman characters, such as the centaurs and the pans, the tree and water-numina, and the mers and the rest. They paid for this act of hubris with the Great Revolt and the destruction of Atlantis, and then the Long War with the Fomorii, for whose creation they are also indirectly responsible.

Before I started The Called I went back to Harvest as my source, as it were: what had I created or borrowed, what had I put in place, what rules of how the universes worked had I set up?

I also wanted in some way to make homage to Tolkien and Lewis.

So, things came together by themselves and there were diagrams and lists and notes as well.

EDGE: The first book, Harvest of Changelings, was, as I recall, focused mostly on Malachi. The Called seems to focus more on Russell. Will there be two more books to tell stories more from Hazel and Jeff's points of view?

Warren Rochelle: When I wrote Harvest I hadn't yet imagined The Called. But I found when I finished Harvest that there was more story to be told. People asked me if there was going to be a sequel and I found the sequel gaining a weight of its own. As I wrote The Called I realized, and sort of my surprise, that the novel was a lot about Russell, as Harvest had been about Malachi. Characters often seem to have wills of their own. Another way of looking at the two novels is that Harvest is about Air, and The Called, Fire. This second way does give me a little more latitude for the third to be about Water, and not just about Jeff.

Anyway, what I have come up with so far is the third book, which is still somewhat nebulous at this point, is another quest for both Russell and Jeff to find their mothers and demand answers. More than once Russell said in The Called that he wanted to know why she left him, and why she chose to take his little brother, Adam, with her. Jeff, not so much, but he deserves some answers, too. And, this seems to be about Water to me. I have only written the beginning of the first scene, which takes place on December 25, 2012, in the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island (where the Roanoke Gate is). I know Russell and Jeff are going to go looking for their mothers and I know where their journey will end (I have to know where a story ends before I can start it). I want the structure this story to be something akin to the Irish imramha, or tales of a hero's journey by sea to the Otherworld, which involved stops and adventures at odd islands. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis, was modeled on the imramha: different islands and adventures, and the journey and the ship and its passengers being what tied things together. This is a way of exploring the brave new world that comes into being at the end of The Called.

Jeff and Russell, who still have a lot of healing to do, I think, are my two favorite characters, by the way.

As for Hazel, I tried to give her more sections in The Called, but she does have her own story, too. But an Earth book is a little farther away.

EDGE Are you thinking about Hazel's book in terms of general ideas right now, or do you have a fairly detailed plan? And are sequels possible beyond Book 4?

Warren Rochelle: Just general ideas right now, and a sequel beyond Book 4? I don't know yet about that. I have a story about a gay werewolf that will probably be demanding attention, and I am hoping The Golden Boy, a novel based on a 2003 short story in [the SF/Fantasy anthology] The Silver Gryphon, will get picked up. It might have a sequel, too.

Next: Gay Text and Subtext



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