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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE LION

"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Shadow of the Lion" is the title of my work-in-progress novel. I've been living in the Shadow of the Lion for several years now. It's the story of a boy's long voyage of self discovery as he grows up in the shadow of his father, Alexander the Great. It is also the story of how ruthless ambition, greed and the quest for power corrupted and destroyed a World Power.

"I forsee great contests at my funeral games." Reported deathbed words of Alexander the Great.
"They asked him when to perform the rites, and he said, 'When you are happy.' "
The death of Alexander, Babylon, June 323 B.C.

I first became interested in Alexander the Great when I was a sixteen-year old high school student. I spent my last year of school writing a lengthy Alexander-themed novel about a girl, Adele, who is captured by the Macedonians in Thebes on the night of her wedding.
I have had a fascination about the young Macedonian king since then, spending long hours in libraries reading and studying about him, devouring everything I could read. It seemed as though the characters were alive, that I had somehow met them before.

Many years later I began a new novel, this one a first person Celtic tale "Dragons in the Sky" which connected the Celtic chieftains to Alexander when he was organizing his army to invade the Persian Empire. The protagonist of this novel, Olwen, is kidnapped by a renegade Celtic chieftain and finds herself in Macedonia, and is thus introduced to the young warrior king. This novel was shelved some years ago and is still unfinished because of technical problems. During my research for it, I had run across several vague references to Alexander's only legal heir, Alexander IV, born after his death to his Soghdian war-bride Roxane.

"Born with no father to protect him, the boy ws carried about, even as an infant, from camp to camp, province to province. He became the watchword of the parties, cloak for ambitions, excuse for murders. In the charge of two homicidal women (his mother and grandmother), he was gradually neglected, confined and imprisoned, and while titular lord of all the Eastern world, he became the captive of a cruel and relentless despot. At last he died, without leaving a trace of his chracter or person. The imperial child is but a name, and yet so tragic a figure that few of the greatest sufferers known to us can claim a higher place in the hierarchy of human martyrdom." John Pentland Mahaffy "The Story of the Nations: Alexander's Empire."

This is how my idea for writing "Shadow of the Lion" began. I first thought of writing a juvenile historical about Alexander IV. But after a year of writing I realized that the story was too political, too vast and complicated to do it justice by writing for only young readers. On the advice of a well-known children's author, I began again.

"Write it the way you want to," she suggested.

So I started over, writing from a multiple point of view, giving a voice to not only the child, Alexander IV (known by his Persian name Iskander in my story), but to the other 'victims' of the power struggle that ensued after Alexander's death.

"But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it." Thucydides 460 - 400 BC

As the after-shocks of Alexander's death brought disorder in his Empire from Macedon to Persia, a deadly power-struggle began over who would rule. Every character in Shadow of the Lion remembers Alexander through their own eyes, always according to the conditions under which they were involved with him. We see him through the eyes of the Persian whom he conquered, and from the point-of-view of his generals and soldiers who loved and admired him. We see him through the eyes of the women who came under his charismatic spell. And we see him through the eyes of his enemies.

Shadow of the Lion is a story of political intrigue, ruthless ambition, racial prejudice, child abuse and exploitation. It is a true story, with all the ingredients of a Greek tragedy. The 'shadow' and spirit of Alexander is the golden thread woven throughout this vivid tapestry, the differences between the opulent, aristocratic Persians and the rough highland warriors of Macedon provide a colourful contrast in the warp and weft of the prose.

Writing Shadow of the Lion has been a long, arduous journey. It has been a journey that I took not only through history books, (I've had the privilege of researching at the Gennadius Library as well as the British School Library in Athens, Greece), it has brought me in contact with archaeologists and Classical Scholars, all to whom I owe many thanks. It has taken me to places where I have walked in Alexander's footsteps, and in the footsteps of his family members. I have stood at the place where Olympias, his mother, was stoned to death and visited the fortress where his son was held captive and murdered at the age of 14. At Vergina, a royal tomb belonging to a Macedonian Prince was discovered next to the tomb that is believed to be that of Philip's (Alexander's father). It is thought to be the tomb of Alexander IV. Inside the tomb were spears, one wrapped in gold foil, a cuirass of linen with gold epaulettes, and a pair of gilded bronze greaves. They are too large to fit a young boy of 14. I asked the archaeologist at the site about this. He said often the grave offerings were gifts, not necessarily personal belongings. I wonder if those greaves and that cuirass had belonged to Alexander when he was a youth of eighteen, leading the west flank of the Cavalry against the fabled Sacred Band of Thebes at the Battle of Chaironea.

The characters in Shadow of the Lion live in my imagination. I live the shadow of Alexander. Sometimes I feel as though I was meant to be the spokes-person for the boy, my Iskander, who until now has been forgotten in history. His early and tragic death at the hands of Alexander's life-long enemy Kassandros, was the end of Alexander's dynasty.

I have had the ending of the story written for some time, but I am currently filling in the final pictures of this massive tapestry and hopefully will soon complete the project which has almost become my 'life's work'. I don't regret all the years it has taken me to write it. I have taken my time, created Alexander's world in words. It is a Greek tragedy, and I have chosen to use a certain cadence of prose that suits this kind of Homeric epic. Hopefully I will do justice to this amazing story of valour, and political corruption.

"If you are very valiant, it is a god, I think, who gave you this gift." Homer, 700 BC





7 comments:

Diana Gallagher said...

It will be a fine day indeed when it is complete and you can look to having it published.

Wynn Bexton said...

Nobody will be happier than I am when I have written the final page and sent it off to a publisher. Yet somehow it will be a sad ending for me...saying goodbye to these very 'real' characters who I have lived with all these years.
(Except, I do have a second novel already planned about Alexander's mother. Quite an amazing woman!) And hopefully it won't take so long to write it!

Sam said...

LOL - that sounds like a wonderful book!
Poor child - killed at ten years old by his uncle- (Alexander's sister's husband?)
My book (my mammoth) is a sci-fi time travel - alternate reality book, not serious at all, about a women kidnapped by Alexander the Great. The series is composed of three huge thick books (or seven normal sized ones, lol).
As for Olympius, she was fascinating!

Wynn Bexton said...

You're kidding, Sam! My first novel (written in high school) the protagonist was also 'kidnapped' or at least captured by Alexander. I'd like to redo it as a young adult historical one of these days as I was 17 when I wrote it.
In"Shadow" Iskander is murdered at age 14 just before he became of age to legally take the throne. Kassandros, Alex. enemy killed him and destroyed all the Argead House so that was the end of A's dynasty.
Olympias is an amazing character. I thought Angelina Jolie did a fine job of portraying her in the movie!

Sam said...

That is a funny coincidence!
Would you believe I haven't seen the Alexander movie yet? lol. I am waiting for it to come out on DVD, I suppose. My son saw it and loved it.
I started the Iskander series as a short story, lol. It sort of ballooned...At any rate, I probably won't have any news for ages.
Do you have crit partners for your books? I managed to find a woman who reads a lot of ancient history:
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~mharrsch/
She was a terrific help (plus all the research I did -) mostly French and Italian books, actually. I found an Italian professor who was bent on discrediting everything written about Alexander, lol.

Wynn Bexton said...

Another coincidence is that my novel is almost as long as yours except I can't break it down (it is written in six parts) so I have to shorten it. Yes, I do have critiquers which have helped me get this far, and if you look at my website you will see an excellent critique of it by a writer Jack Dempsey (Ariadne's Brother) www.dreamwater.org/ruthaki
There are links to chapter segments of the novel too. I have a Persian friend in Athens who has also been a reader for me (and her son, who is Persian/Greek!) My most precious critiquer though, Roberto, my Argentinian soul-mate who I used to share a flat with in Athens, unfortunately has passed away. There will be a dedication in the book to him, for sure!

I loved the movie, by the way, in spite of critical reviews. Saw it 3 times!

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