William Blake

WILLIAM BLAKE’S INFLUENCE ON FRAGMENTS OF A BROKEN LAND: VALARL UNDEAD

“… The Eternal Man is seal’d, never to be deliver’d.
I roll my floods over his body, my billows & waves pass over him,
The sea encompasses him & monsters of the deep are his companions.
Dreamer of furious oceans, cold sleeper of weeds & shells,
Thy Eternal form shall never renew, my uncertain prevails against thee.”

William Blake, Vala, or the Four Zoas, 4.132-136

Picture: “Elohim Creating Adam” by william blake, 1795

 

My postgraduate research study and resulting thesis was titled: “The Terrible Ones: Blake’s Monsters and the Imagery of Objective Form”. I spent several years immersed in mystic artist and poet William Blake’s thought and imagery — my sympathy for his ideas both led me to study his work in the first place and in turn was fostered by the research.

When I came to write Fragments of a Broken Land, much that is Blakean entered into my imagining of the fantasy world I created. Blake’s beliefs in the essentially subjective nature of the world — indeed his belief that the objective world arose from a spiritual fall into a material illusion — gave a dynamic to my creative approach to fantasy. It’s not the whole of it, but it is a part. Many of my stories explore the spiritual nexus between the objective and the subjective worlds, and this theme plays a significant part in Fragments, too. The levels of reality depicted, the nature of magic, the way in which emotional and moral states become metaphysical realities are elements of an ongoing [unending?] exploration into the nature of perception — and a blurring of the dichotomy between Object and Subject.

More directly, the metaphysical background I created for Fragments reflects Blake’s mythological system itself. In his massive prophecies (and over the course of his life), he created a pantheon of characters, both gods and monsters, which represent aspects of human experience. His imagery is potent and complex, but in essence it is this: Man is fallen from unity into division, his spiritual ‘aspects’ warring with each other and in the process determining the nature of the material world. The Eternal Man, Albion, falls because he comes to believe that he must build an objective world around himself in order to be safe. His gigantic body lies beneath the world as we know it, forming its template, but will one day arise, rejoined with his various alienated aspects into a dynamic unity. This will happen (and in a way continually happens) whenever human perception widens and recognises that the true nature of reality is subjective and that the objective, or Death, world can hold no power over us.

That was the background to many aspects of Fragments. Pretentious, I know. But what the hell!

Picture: “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun” by william blake, 1805-1810

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Is FRAGMENTS A Zombie Story?

Is Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead a zombie story?

Well, that depends which tropes you use to define “a zombie story”. In fact, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead is an epic fantasy novel, albeit in a dark fantasy mode. It features a zombie-like character that isn’t the protagonist, but is central to everything that happens. His name when he was alive was Valarl.

Valarl is one of the living dead, though he’s neither cannibalistic nor infectious. He is, in fact, a corpse whose unnatural movement is driven not by infection but by what amounts to a curse, a curse that compels him to find and recover a mysterious object that was once in his hands and which he lost in a long-distant apocalyptic event. The object is greatly desired by all and sundry as it is reputed to be the source of ultimate power. The corpse (the titular Valarl) follows the path the object took through history, inexorably retracing where it was taken. Driven by the curse, Valarl only gets violent if someone gets in his way. He has no will of his own and only a faint recollection of himself as a human being. When other seekers of the object realize that Valarl will sooner or later catch up with the object in time, he becomes the central focus of their search. But of course nothing is what it seems and the problem with an Ultimate Power is that the one who finds it may discover they didn’t really want what it has to offer after all.
Naturally I think Fragments is a compelling and quite unique novel, albeit appearing at first glance to be in fairly straight-forward fantasy mode. Jack Dann has described it as “one of the strangest and most interesting visions to come out of the modern horror/fantasy genres” and I hope others will agree. I have no exact date for its release yet but there is a nascent website where anyone who wants to follow its progress can come to check what’s happening: http://fragmentsnovel.undeadbackbrain.com/. No one should expect a standard zombie story though.

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