Road to "Askar" - Ideas and Themes behind the novel.
Point of View from John Calder, publisher and editor of "Askar",
with a response
by the author, Bronwyn Calder
promoting Askar because it's good, or because I am married to the
writer? The answer is "both". Sure it's good value for
us to have a project in common, but we are both strong on having our
own creative ideas. Being Bronwyn's novel does not earn it my
attention as of right. Askar needed to be excellent to compete for
began writing "Askar" in the late 1980s as a text-based
role-playing computer game. She worked on it little by little
through the 1990s. I pushed her to complete a first version by 2003
and rewriting, editing, debate, and work on the film script version
led us to declare it ready late in 2007. Bronwyn has a track record
in traditional publishing in our small and remote home country of New
Zealand, but traditional publication of a novel for a world-wide
audience would have been a long hard road for her. We are both
interested in and actively experimenting with the new media digital
revolution so taking control of our e-Book and our Print-on-Demand
publishing was very much where we wanted to go.
Bronwyn is a
Christian believer. I am not. That makes for some interesting negotiation. I take an
editorial line of respecting Christian culture and worldview as an inspirational source but argue against
any need to be pushy about promoting Christian belief to secular readers. I
suggest that if there is a God then she or he is not depending on this
story as a promotional package! The most that believers
should expect of "Askar" is that it could be one of
hundreds of God-influences which would work together to affect hearts
Bronwyn's Christian themes is an anti-sorcery message. Bronwyn is
concerned that sorcery is romanticised in popular culture and aims to
counter that in "Askar" by depicting it as an evil and
dangerous force which runs destructively out of control when
unleashed. On first reading these scenes I had another
interpretation which Bronwyn agreed to work with, the idea of sorcery
in her fantasy world as an allegory for weapons of mass destruction
in our world. For example, the sorcerer's duels where destructive
forces can only build because there is a conflict to feed on , are
allegories for any arms race. I have in mind the poison gas attacks
of the First World War as well as the nuclear arms races of our era.
the first complete draft in 2003 and 2007, Bronwyn moved into a more
activist "evangelical" Christian subculture. That had me
worried that she would have less freedom of thought to riff on
biblical themes. When she allowed me to see the completed rewrite I
was mostly relieved. Bronwyn's feisty feminist themes are still in
place and the creator-deity of her imaginary world remains "the
goddess". We did however have several intense debates, one of
which I rate as one of the biggest "fights" we have had
in our marriage!. Bronwyn had written her heroes into disastrously
losing a battle and facing the end of their civilised world when a
magical act-of-goddess rescues them from out of the blue. I had a
BAD reaction when I read this. I think I yelled something like "How
DARE you lead me through 400 pages of sophisticated characterisation,
plot, sex, politics, religion and damn fine ripping yarn only to
spoil it all with this cheap trick!" This started 3 days of
passionate argument. Bronwyn had wanted to make it very clear that
the use of sorcery had failed and the goddess was the only
supernatural force that could be relied on "to protect her
people". I said that Bronwyn's earlier version could be
interpreted as the goddess giving a subtle, perfectly timed and very
clever twist to destiny to trick the forces of darkness into
self-destruction. She agreed and we changed it back.
and Biblical references for Askar
Bible - Deborah,
Barak and Sisira
Deborah the wife of Lappidoth was a prophet and a leader of Israel during those days.
- Judges 4:4, CEV Bible
"Askar" has a plot
similar to The Book of Judges, Chapter 4 where the Israelites are led by a
woman, the prophetess Deborah, who unites rival tribes to fight a common enemy.
Rather than expand this into a historical novel, Bronwyn has created an
imaginary world in the manner of J.R.R.Tolkien ("The Lord of the Rings") or
C.S.Lewis (the "Narnia" stories) where she can bring in many other references
and themes. The civilisation of Urkan has elements of the Old Testament Middle
East and Classical Greece.
The Bible - The
Temptation of Christ
The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him.
- Matthew 4:1, CEV Bible
Bronwyn explores the
big WHAT IF of a religious leader giving in to such a temptation. In a way
George Lucas does this too with Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" movies but
with the idea very dumbed down for mass entertainment purposes. Bronwyn hits it
with a full treatment of the resulting personal and emotional journey from the
point of view of Jena the fallen prophetess. The trigger for Jena's fall is
misplaced patriotism. Her turning point line in the film script is: "If Askar
has such a weapon then Urkan needs it too". You can read that as "If South Korea
has such a weapon then North Korea needs it too" and so on as
arms race mentality echoes as a curse to humanity across the ages.
We have included this in our movie clip "Test Scenes for Askar".
The Bible - Sorcery
They used magic and witchcraft and even sacrificed their own children.
The Israelites were determined to do whatever the LORD hated. - 2 Kings 17:17, CEV Bible
Histories" by Herodotus of Halicarnassus c435 B.C.
With this the herdsman uncovered the infant, and showed him to his wife,
who, when she saw him, and observed how fine a child and how beautiful he was,
burst into tears, and clinging to the knees of her husband,
besought him on no account to expose the babe; to which he answered,
that it was not possible for him to do otherwise, as Harpagus would be sure
to send persons to see and report to him, and he was to suffer a most cruel death
if he disobeyed. Failing thus in her first attempt to persuade her husband,
the woman spoke a second time, saying, "If then there is no persuading thee,
and a child must needs be seen exposed upon the mountains, at least do thus.
The child of which I have just been delivered is stillborn; take it and lay it
on the hills, and let us bring up as our own the child of the daughter of Astyages.
So shalt thou not be charged with unfaithfulness to thy lord, nor shall we have
managed badly for ourselves. Our dead babe will have a royal funeral,
and this living child will not be deprived of life."
first reading "Askar" I saw similarities
between Bronwyn's story of the lost princess Daria and Herodotus'
story of the lost prince Cyrus and I suggested making more of a
connection with Herodotus. Bronwyn felt at first that she did not
want to compromise her originality but she changed her mind and her
Prologue now tells how baby Daria's life was saved by swapping her
for a newly stillborn baby. As co-author of the "Askar"
film script I have gone for a homage to Herodotus by basing the first 2 minutes of
the film script closely on his account. I use Herodotus' names for
adoptive parents and I adapt some of his dialogue.
Response by the author, Bronwyn Calder
remain troubled by characterising Askar as a Christian book because I
feel that Christians may be disappointed that it is not Christian
enough and non-Christians may be put off. As an evangelical
Christian I don't feel it is particularly Christian because there is
no Christ figure and not much in the way of redemption and
forgiveness – although there is some. What I was most
concerned about when writing this book, apart from making a
rollicking good read (ie, love, sex, battles and mystery) was
reflecting the truth of the creation as I believe it to be. That is,
no matter what universe you're talking about (and Askar is not a
place anyone on this Earth can reach by normal means) there is only
one Creator and He (or She) is in charge. That's about as far as the
"Christianity" goes really.
Bible quotes and links are from the
Contemporary English Version (CEV) Bible, translation � 1995 by The American
"The Histories" by Herodotus of Halicarnassus:
A translation by George Rawlinson is provided online by The University of
A translation by George Macaulay
is provided online by www.Gutenberg.org