Friday, July 26, 2013

Martyrs and Misfits

A few months back, I wrote a post on “Difficult Characters.” It’s hard to imagine a more difficult character than John Knox—who in the words of Marie Macpherson, the author of The First Blast of the Trumpet (Knox Robinson Publishing, 2012) and the guest featured in my latest interview for New Books in Historical Fiction, gets credit for “banning Christmas, football on Sundays,” and more.

Knox was the driving force behind the Reformation in Scotland, the sixteenth-century version of a born-again Christian who fell under the spell of a charismatic preacher, George Wishart, and carried on his mentor’s crusade to reform the Scottish Church after Wishart was burned at the stake for heresy. In doing so, Knox risked coming to the same end, but he pressed on, undeterred, and eventually triumphed.

Committed zealots, indifferent to if not actively seeking martyrdom, are never comfortable for the rest of us. We might consider them the epitome of difficult characters. But for that very reason, they enliven our fiction. As readers, we get to admire their devotion despite the sneaking suspicion that we would be in their figurative gun sights if we ever ran into them in person. And the effort to understand them enhances our appreciation of the human condition as a whole—which is, ultimately, the purpose of fiction.

John Knox left almost no information about his life before the age of thirty-three, when he was already a major figure in the Reformation. Perhaps he consciously or unconsciously imitated Jesus, of whose childhood and youth we know little. Perhaps he had something to hide. Perhaps he simply saw his own past as irrelevant to the overwhelming importance of his mission. We will never know. But Marie Macpherson has done a wonderful job of imagining Knox and his world.

You can find out all about her approach, the historical characters whose lives she re-creates (and in some cases re-imagines), and the research that went into her story by listening to our interview. As always, the podcasts are free to listen to and to download.

And for a quite separate interview exchange about Five Directions Press and Triskele Books, another writers’ cooperative based in the United Kingdom, see “Five Directions Press—Author Collectives I.” I will repost both sides of the exchange here next Friday.

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