Norman Spinrad: |
revisiting the Druid King
An interview by Michael Lohr,
Michael Lohr: A historical novel is a fair departure from your more established path of writing science-fiction novels. What inspired you to write The Druid King?
Norman Spinrad: I got involved in writing the screenplay for the film Vercingetorix, la Legende du Druide Roi, or Druids as it is known outside of France, and collaborated on endless versions of it with the producer-director. What was shot was something like version 14. But several friends of mine read version 3 and insisted that it was a masterpiece and should not be lost. And so, after the film was released and bombed, I re-read it myself, was saddened and rather angered at what it had turned into, and decided that they were right, so it became a novel.
ML: When I visit certain historical locations they seem to reach out to me for attention, like history is screaming at me to tell the story of the place. Did you get the chance to visit the areas where Vercingetorix fought Caesar? What resources did you use to gather all the minute Celtic/Gaul historical data used in The Druid King?
NS: Living in France, I did have the opportunity to visit many of the sites, but aside from the vibes, there's really not much left there at most of them. As far as research resources are concerned, the only first-hand written account was that of Caesar and, for reasons that the novel goes into, not entirely to be trusted. The Internet was a great resource, not only for text research, but an abundance of pictures, maps, designs of weaponry, architecture, clothing, art and so forth, which I found in many ways much more evocative than the reading matter. In addition, with a good search engine, you can ask the whole planet the most recondite question about minutiae and you can usually get a good answer quickly.
ML: I know that along with St. Joan of Arc, Vercingetorix is considered a national hero in France. Are there any other French historical figures you would consider writing a novel about if the mood struck you? Do you have any further plans to do another historical novel?
NS: I am currently writing a historical novel called The Feathered Serpent, which is the story of the conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortes. As far as other French historical figures are concerned, Charles De Gaul is a figure that has always fascinated me, so who knows? But I seldom plan more than one book ahead.
ML: Other than co-writing the script for Druids, did you have any other role in the making of the movie?
NS: Not really, though I remained close to the production throughout and had some input into the casting.
ML: In my review of The Druid King I said I thought this was your best and most important novel to date. This is an arguable statement, even though The Druid King is historical fiction and most of your other works are science fiction, and award-winning science fiction at that. Do you think The Druid King is your most important work to date, or are they even comparable?
NS: I think my readership for my science fiction and the historical novels overlap, but are not entirely the same, so aside from how good the novels themselves are or aren't, it's a question of reader taste, of who considers what the most important.
ML: One of the more interesting and little known aspects of the Caesar/Vercingetorix struggle was the involvement of Germanic tribe, the Teutons. I think it is safe to say that if it were not for Caesar bribing the Teutons to assist in the attack on the Gauls, things may have turned out differently. How do you see the role of the Teutons in shaping the history of Gaul?
NS: Well, I think you may be right, but on the other hand, I think Rome was such an enormously more sophisticated military machine that sooner or later, it would have had to prevail. But the interesting thing, I suppose, is the reverse -- at the time, Gaul was basically a more Germanic country, and it was the Roman conquest that created a "Franco-Gallic" culture, which in the end became a Latinate France. Had this not happened, France might now be Germanic, or France and Germany might now be one country. And Rome might have turned eastward, or rather not have been pulled westward, and "western civilization" as we now know it might not exist.
ML: Have you ever considered doing an alternative history novel where Vercingetorix successfully holds off Caesar's advance?
NS: Well no, until your previous question led to the above.
ML: Have you ever heard of the lost Druid city of Tolente? It was supposedly abandoned before Caesar arrived in Gaul and its whereabouts has been suggested to be in either Brittany or Normandy.
NS: No, I never heard of this one. But my research showed that there is a vast amount of material on the druids out there, and most of it is post-facto fantasy. Very, very little is definitively known.