On my writer’s website, I refer to my “Garden of Heaven” (coming soon to print) and “The Sun Singer” novels as adventures for the spirit. I often call them mythic, though that sometimes causes people’s eyes to glaze over when they think back to their boring high school mythology class.
Last year a friend and I talked about how odd it was that we both watched the exploits of Jack Bauer on the popular TV series “24.” It was odd because both of us are non-violent and–in real life–would never sanction more than a fraction of the stuff Bauer got away with as a government operative on that show.
So why did we watch a show where people were getting shot, knifed, kicked, blown up, or crushed during one of the many car chases? Because it was fun seeing somebody getting results in a world where there are so many shades of grey, it’s often hard to make any project move forward. Jack brought out the dark and dangerous hero in us–while we were watching the show.
Weeks later, we had little memory of one episode of “24” or another because it was all rather like pure sex, a string of one-night stands, an orgy of sensation that–while hot and thrilling at the moment–didn’t mean anything, didn’t help anyone, and didn’t leave anyone with any food for thought.
An adventure of the spirit is rather like a car chase with meaning. “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “The Matrix” “The Golden Compass” and similar feature films have their share of high-pitched action, but they are also mythic. They address universal themes, show characters struggling against great odds (including their personal demons) to improve themselves and the world around them.
In the process, mythic books and films also leave the reader with food for thought, something to ponder and talk about after the thrill of the car chase or the gun fight in the lobby or the battle is over. If an author is lucky, some readers find ways to improve their own lives after seeing how the fictional characters did it.
If you’ve seen one Hollywood car chase down a busy street and through a crowded parking garage, you’ve seen them all. Each new car chase sequence has to show larger explosions, more cars flipping over or careening through plate glass windows, or we’ll all be bored. That’s how it is with one-night stands and drugs: without a higher peak experience, there’s nothing there.
Neither “The Sun Singer” nor “Garden of Heaven” have a car chase in them. But each has elements of grief, mystery and danger. I hope readers will find meaning in the way my characters resolve their challenges. One is caught in a battle, and the other is kidnapped. Both discover their lives are at in danger.
Unlike so many of the lives in a non-stop-action car chase movie, I want you to come away from “The Sun Singer” and “Garden of Heaven” thinking “these lives matter.” I want you to care what happens to Robert Adams and to David Ward. I want you to feel that they’re more than one of the innocent people along the street Jack Bauer runs over them en route to catching a world-class criminal.
That’s an adventure of the spirit, a car chase or a plane crash or a battlefield scene that stays with you–perhaps even bothers you–long after you’ve read the book.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Garden of Heaven,” “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”