Valkyrie has many inspirations. And like the stories within the novel, mashed and remashed, told and retold, these inspirations liquify into a tonal bath. So, for my first blog post about the novel, I thought I'd share a few of these inspirations with you to convey that tone.
The earliest inspiration, chronologically speaking, would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. This was my favorite novel in high school (probably until I read Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). One aspect of Fitzgerald's novel I fell for was the form of the story. The book occasionally switches from prose to playwriting. Here’s a brief example, truncated for clarity.
The arc-light shining into his window seemed for this hour like the moon, only brighter and more beautiful than the moon.
BEAUTY: (Her lips scarcely stirring, her eyes turned, as always, inward upon herself) Whither shall I journey now?
THE VOICE: To a new country-- a land you have never seen before.
Since first reading the book I’ve wanted to write something using this technique, and Valkyrie, with its themes of parallel worlds and theater, seemed a good place to do so.
/ The Beautiful and Damned can be found at all great booksellers!
On the mythological front, I was quite moved by Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. I thought her retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus was startling intimate, and not aloof as retellings can sometimes be. The relationship between daughter and father was so human. So far, I’ve only seen one production, directed by Geoff Elliott, several years ago at A Noise Within in Pasadena, California. The play has stayed with me-- and given me a sense of how mythology can be rendered so personal.
The apocalyptic vision of Valkyrie has some obvious antecedents. I just love Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. A fantasy painted in stark blacks and rich reds-- otherworldly creatures lurking in every shadow, their very presence upending known reality-- mortals struggling with their relationship to the divine, or at least to the corruption thereof.
The opening battle of the film is told with silhouetted figures against a red sky, a ferocious conflict in Romania. This scene is later seen again, retold in a modern London with shadow puppets. It's a beautiful, recursive moment of narrative-- Dracula is there to witness his own history mythologized. Partway through Valkyrie a character named Kollr puts on a shadow play to try and convince Widsith, one of the book's heroes, to abandon her quest to save her people. The story he tells her is also part history, part myth.
I enjoy creepy supernatural movies from Japan like Onibaba and Kuroneko, to name two from the same director, Kaneto Shindo. They immerse you in a place between worlds, or perhaps in a world threatened by another as it leaks through. I enjoy the heightened emotions and action. Similarly, Kwaidan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi, is a film of four ghost stories which utilizes theatrical imagery to situate the audience in what we would ordinarily call an unreal world. In this case, you can see the brush strokes on the cyclorama behind the performers, as well as other theatrical and stylistic touches.
This might be a visual metaphor for Valkyrie-- the visible brush strokes of a creative force (not me! I mean in the book) suggest the threshold of reality has been crossed. But instead of snapping you out of the story, I think the artifice brings the audience and the theater troupe together as one, inviting both to make meaning together. We acknowledge the story before us, and so actively take part. This is in contrast to realism which seeks to lull the theatrical participant into a false notion of truth. In this manner of storytelling, the audience is encouraged to rely on the author instead of actively work with them. A kind of sleepwalking predicated on believing in a reality that doesn’t truly exist in the first place, but is instead just as artificial as the more stylized one. But we don't recognize it as such, because it more closely resembles our own.
Thank you for reading this post. I invite you to leave a comment below! Next time I will begin a series of posts introducing the characters of Valkyrie! Until then!
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