Brought to you by OBS reviewer Marie-Reine
- Be sure to read our review for The Dark Citadel, The Green Woman, Book #1 here at OBS.
Beware! Possible spoiler.
Marie-Reine: There is a frankness in this book about the violence that occurs in oppressive societies, particularly towards women and the less fortunate. What are your thoughts on the level of honesty about the consequences of violence and oppression in speculative fiction, especially in what is being written for younger reader?
Jane Dougherty: Fantasy societies are almost always either violent and repressive, or are beset by violent and repressive forces. Whether it’s quasi-medieval or a futuristic 1984 type society, the underlying injustice is rarely challenged by the protagonists. If they fight it is usually for a well-defined personal rather than idealistic reason.
In speculative fiction it is easy to identify the villain; the Dark Lord usually wants war on a massive scale followed by world domination. The hero though, rarely wants anything that I would recognise as good. It’s just more of what we had before, same old king, same old nobles, same old army, same old peasant folk. Without being preachy, I think that replacing the Dark Lord with another Lord is a bit of a cop out. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned utopian, but I don’t like to see reactionary, out-dated ideas being set up as model institutions. I want my protagonists to speak out, stand up and be counted, whatever their age. I don’t want them to fit that arrow to their bow and shrug off the moral consequences. The ‘I was just obeying orders’ argument doesn’t wash with me.
One reason why I don’t write for a younger age group—I wouldn’t expect children to make heroic gestures. But history, especially modern history is full of young people, teenagers, who have done just that, often in peril of their own lives. If you can’t be idealistic when you’re a teenager, when can you be?
Marie-Reine: Going along with the previous question, do you think younger readers can handle (and should be exposed to) more serious content?
Jane Dougherty: If by younger readers you mean older teenagers, I think they need to be given serious content. If we want to produce open-minded, outward-looking adults there’s no point feeding teenagers a staple diet of what they already know. The way I look at it, a young adult is an adult waiting in the wings. Young adults have an adult reading age, adult sensibilities and intellectual capacity. The main difference is that they don’t have adult responsibilities, like family, a job, bills to pay. They have all the same kinds of moral decisions to make though. They can have babies, drive cars, own guns. Shouldn’t they be considered capable of dealing with serious subjects like equality, love, death, and justice?
Marie-Reine: I was curious about your use of the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Through the Dananns, you present a different version where Eve becomes the keeper of life and knowledge rather than the source of original sin. Could you explain what your inspiration or motivation was for that? Do you feel it is important for you as an author and as a woman to reclaim the foundational myths of our own society and thereby sweep away the prejudicial residues?
Jane Dougherty: We don’t know for sure, but there is strong evidence that the first myths that early people wove to explain the big question about the meaning of life, were centred on women. Woman was the creator and sustainer of life, the healer, the cultivator, the root of all wisdom. The idea that physical strength was the most important attribute in a human being came much later. That’s when man, the warrior, the death-dealer took over. And that, in the view of many, is where things started to go pear-shaped.
Adam and Eve is a myth like any other, and it’s one I happen to dislike intensely. Myths evolved and were propagated to give society structure. The society bounded by a myth of woman’s inherent wickedness, man’s eternal punishment, and the taboo on acquiring learning and knowledge, is going to be oppressive, misogynist and pretty ignorant. I can quite understand why men have felt happy with this myth, but as a woman I can only deplore it.
As a writer, creating my own personal utopia, it seemed obvious that religion as we understand it, with all it’s baggage of misogyny and insistence on a completely rigid, servile social structure, was not going to figure at all.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to tell people what they should believe. I’m not a theologian and have no interest in arguing over how many angels can stand on a pinhead. But I do think it is a mistake to equate morality with religion, and I prefer to ask the question, could we not do without religion altogether, and give the more basic, maternal values a chance?
Marie-Reine: You seem to have no compulsion about putting your main characters in harms way (and even *Spoiler Alert* killing them, in some cases). Do you think that is essential to writing meaningful stories, being able to take characters and stories to dark places? Or was it just a product of this specific story?
Jane Dougherty: The Green Woman gets a lot darker before a glimmer of light appears, but in this particular story it couldn’t have been any different. What the Protector plans is dreadful, and it brings out the worst in humanity as well as the best. Generally speaking, if you are writing for children, darkness in a story can be unsettling and even disturbing. It has to be done delicately. A child’s psyche is not like an adult’s. A child needs reassurance, comfort, and to have utter confidence in a safe place.
Growing up and leaving childhood involves coping with life’s unfairness and dangers. Death, loss and grieving are part of the human condition and I don’t think adolescents needs to be protected from this side of life. It’s difficult to imagine how you could write a story with any depth that steered clear of that dark side altogether. A story without moral and emotional challenges is a children’s story.
Marie-Reine: Darkness and evil are personified in the demon Abaddon and various other frightening creatures. Do you believe that evil is an external force that acts on us, much like it does the characters in the book, or do we hold that potential for evil inside ourselves and project our own darkness on mythical creatures like Abaddon?
Jane Dougherty: Good question. I’ve never really gone for this idea of evil as an external, independent force. If you have a ‘force of evil’ its opponents are automatically a ‘force of good’ without them having to do very much to justify their title. Honestly, sometimes there seems to be very little fundamental difference between the two. Nothing much changes after the defeat of The Dark Lord; the men polish their swords while they wait for the next enemy to show up, and the womenfolk creep out of hiding and go back to looking after the children.
What I tried to do in The Dark Citadel was to show that the evil personified in Abaddon was exactly the same as the evil already lurking in the minds of the Elders. I want the reader to make the link, that although Abaddon is able to twist and control weaker individuals, his power feeds on the wickedness inherent in Providence society.
As you’ve probably gathered, I’m a great one for placing people in front of their responsibilities. Abaddon is wicked, but it isn’t Abaddon ordering the persecution of the Dananns, it isn’t Abaddon doing the beating up and murdering. The Protector’s nastiness surprises even Abaddon sometimes.
Marie-Reine: When can readers expect the next book in the trilogy? Everyone is on the edge of their seat following The Dark Citadel’s dramatic ending.
Jane Dougherty: The good news is that all three volumes of The Green Woman are written. There is also a prequel, three stories that fill out Rachel’s, Jonah’s and Hector’s backgrounds. The release schedule is up to Musa Publishing though. I hope the next instalment won’t be too long after the release of The Dark Citadel—there’s nothing worse than finishing the first book in a series and finding you have to wait at least another year for the next one.
Marie-Reine: Are there writers you look up to or you feel have influenced your writing that you want to mention? Or maybe books you have read that have stuck with you?
Jane Dougherty: My first childhood obsession was with fantasy places, like Moonacre in Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, Narnia, Moominvalley, and all the deep, dark forests and rolling oceans with silvery beaches that I longed to be real. I still do. One day I will go to Finland and live in a house with a great porcelain stove, and a bathing hut at the end of a jetty.
In terms of style, I wish I could say I succeeded in being influenced by Natalia Ginzburg, one of the first writers whose clear, limpid prose was able to make me cry. She writes about life’s great and small tragedies so simply that her stories reduce me to tears even when I know the end off by heart. Ursula K. Le Guin is another writer whose prose, even when dealing with the fantastical is clear and economical. If I could choose how I write, it would be in the uncluttered style of Le Guin or Ginzburg. But I also have a great and abiding love for the poetry of WB Yeats. If I could touch, with even a single image, any of these great writers I would be satisfied.
Thank you to author Jane Dougherty for a great interview!!