WHO THE **** IS ALICE? - WHAT SMOKIE TAUGHT ME
When I was in Primary School, dancing about the yard in my little blue and white checked cotton dress that was part of our summer uniform, everyone started singing a certain song at the top of their voices, because one line of it was rude. It was, of course, by Smokie. And, of course, THAT was the only line that got bellowed across the playground at the top of our ten-year-old lungs, because that was the one with a four-letter word in it.
Later, when I was fourteen, I found a copy of Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris in the school library. I took it out and had to buy the sequel myself. Hannibal, above all other books, introduced me to characters so vividly realised that it made me appreicate the importance of psychology.
Perhaps that one question resonating through the Smokie song [never adequately answered in the lyrics] stayed with me. I've always been the overly analytical type. Who the **** is Alice? Who is the central character of the song? Who is the central character in my story?
... of course, Alice is not the protagonist of the song. That would be the singer, who is just saying what he and Alice did (live next door) without describing her or telling his increasingly infuriated friends who the **** she was. So in a way, that song was always telling you about the singer, and not the elusive Alice. Which is rather the point.
While Smokie subconsciously taught me about vicarious perspectives and how peripheral characters can tell an audience or a reader about someone entirely different, Harris taught me a lot about the direct approach in Hannibal. I was suddenly fascinated by psychology, and in particular, the construction and gradual evolution of a character. There is a reason why Hannibal Lecter is Hannibal Lecter, and in that name, so evocative even to those who have never seen the film or read the book, there is a beautifully coherent jigsaw of pieces that the reader is able to identify and assemble as the trilogy unfolds.
For various reasons I was a very shy, introverted teenager. My grandparents thought that going to a local performing arts Saturday school - - would be good for me, and they were right. I did Drama at A-Level too, and while I learned plenty of transferable skills like public speaking, confidence (and how to convincingly fake it), presentation and so on, I also got to find out what it was like to embody another person. Actually having to become a character written out by someone else forces you to think in so many different ways.
This brings us (finally!) on to one of my own characters, and how they were constructed into the form they have today.
I'll be discussing two characters from THE BOOK OF FATE - click the cover to read a full-length draft of the novel for free on wattpad.com!
I asked for votes on which character to talk about here, and votes for F nryr and Kristof tied. I think that's quite apt, because they are blood-brothers, and therefore supposed to share everything... Of course, in practice, that's not quite how it is. [I will warn you now that there are spoilers ahead, but I will keep them to an absolute minimum and NOT give the plot away too much.]
F nryr 'The Deathless' N mainsson and Kristof Isrod von Hisse are complete opposites.
F nryr is a stoic, self-disciplined and deeply spiritual warrior who never really saw the glory in fighting. Far from wanting the honour and glory of a true warrior's death, Fenryr would be happy retiring to some hermitage somewhere or becoming a farmer.
Kristof is a passionate, unbalanced, self-destructive debauch e, who tends to lose complete control of his lusts and his temper and never wanted to live forever. The fact that he is immortal is very unfortunate. For everyone.
KRISTOF THE IMPALER
Kristof was conceived first. He's a kind of successful Sheriff of Nottingham (as played by Alan Rickman in Prince of Thieves, for preference), and actually looks almost exactly like him, even down to the boots. What a coincidence...
Kristof was based on Vlad the Impaler, and I have read Dracula (another favourite of my fourteen-year-old self) and watched so many incarnations of and documentaries regarding the (in)famous Wallachian [NOT Transylvanian!!!] prince that I really couldn't imagine Kristof being based on anyone else. Vlad III and his brother Radu were hostages of the Ottoman sultan as guarantees of their father's good behaviour. Tragically, both boys were sexually abused by their captors, which was not an unusual practice at the time. Radu "the handsome" became the Sultan's favourite, while Vlad began to impale rodents on sticks, and maintained an unhealthy fascination with that particular method of execution as an adult. I really didn't want to tackle that part of the back story, but the fact is, Kristof has the same sadistic need to impale people, and therefore that stems from a similar childhood trauma. Unlike Vlad, Kristof actually did impale his abuser - so the sadistic pleasure he gets from executions and the odd cold-blooded murder he later justifies in law as an execution is more for its own sake rather than the need to punish a surrogate for his ordeal.
Add to this his inability to win his father's respect or affection leading to some serious unresolved daddy-issues, his naturally passionate nature and his violent temper, and you have a recipe for an incredibly volatile villain.
Enter the Deathless, stage left.
F NRYR "THE DEATHLESS" N MAINSSON
Of the three main players in Kristof's life before Elsa arrives, F nryr is the first on the scene. F nryr spent the first twelve years of his life in a cloistered community, learning about life and death. His father N main sold him into the service of Yury von Hisse to be a Champion-in-training, one of Yury's personal guards and the elite among the household warriors. F nryr disliked fighting, but unfortunately excelled at it because he possessed natural talent and the ability to swing a battleaxe.
F nryr also had a hereditary skin disease which began to manifest itself in adolescence, resulting in his face being slowly eaten away. Eventually, after herbal preparations kept it at bay for several years, he resorted to wearing a full face mask of beaten steel in public.
In a way, F nryr is characterised almost entirely by his mask. He plays many parts, and is a man of several public faces, none of them a real reflection of who he is. Even when he isn't wearing it, it creeps into the descriptions as if it is a second face or an entity of its own. This is quite a contrast with Kristof's sensual and expressive features, which aren't as good at hiding what he's thinking or how he feels. The counterpoint for F nryr's mask is probably Kristof's marble bust, which captured in stone one soft and sincere expression that is very rarely present on Kristof's face. [The idea for the marble bust actually came from looking at the bust of in the , Athens, from which city most of the descriptions of Brising are drawn. The comparison was made subconsciously, and I realised it was the perfect counter-point. Lesson here: never underestimate your subconcsious when doing redrafts and edits. It knows what it's doing.]
F nryr is Kristof's foil - and the first person to teach the young Impaler about loyalty. Kristof was inspired to kill his abuser with F nryr's support, and to save his new friend from the same fate. F nryr for his part sympathised with Kristof, and spent most of his time in the various battles they fought together trying to keep his self-destructive, berserking comrade alive.
When Kristof succeeded to his father's lands and became immortal (a M ggraiv), F nryr should have received great rewards as Kristof's blood-brother and closest friend. This never happened. F nryr became Kristof's Champion, and very few outside the household were aware that the M ggraiv of Friggin had a blood-brother of lower social status than he was.
STRIKING A BALANCE
Since most of the book is about the extremes a person can go to out of revenge, love and fear, I thought it would be a bit much for F nryr to also be a vengeful, double-crossing character. Because of his back story, however, and the fact that he has been so badly treated and let down, not to mention the personal struggles he faces with his disfigurement and desire to leave the warrior's life, F nryr teeters on the edge of being a constructive and a destructive force. He is a much better fighter than Kristof, and has never lost a to-the-death Tournament despite now being in his forties - that presents quite a bit of temptation, especially when Kristof goes too far.
F nryr is, therefore, hopelessly in love with Kristof's little sister Vassilissa, an unmarried and jealously guarded virgin half his age, who is herself torn between wanting to live her own life outside of her brother's shadow and her loyalty and love for him. It is his love for Vassilissa that ensures F nryr's continued loyalty to Kristof, as well as his own sense of duty and honour.
If it wasn't for F nryr, Kristof may not have done such a good job of raising Vassilissa after the death of their parents; if it wasn't for F nryr, Kristof would not have been as capable of loyalty himself, nor would he be so well-instructed on spiritual matters. He is immoral rather than amoral, and frequently acknowledges the fact that he is "not a good man". If it weren't for F nryr's friendship, King Hardrada's concern and role as paternal substitute, and Vassilissa's unconditional affection, Kristof would be much, much worse.
Inspiration for what Kristof calls "the best chip of my marble soul" - Portrait of Rhoemetalces or Sauromates II, kings of the Bosporus Kingdom. 150-125 BC
I'll discuss Vassilissa and Elsa next time, perhaps, if people would like me to - leave a comment if so!
If there's anything you'd like to know about Kristof and/or F nryr (there's a lot I've left out on each!) then ask!
Next time, I am spotlighting Cheryl Rosecrans's work and discussing the difficulties of constructing FF (Fan Fiction) and the wonders of Sci Fi.