Sunday, November 04, 2007

Surviving the Fugue State of Writer's Block - Part 1

I list within the vortex, matching sun-blessed days of work against super-nova nights thrashing against the confines of my NAW course, springing more and more exhaustedly between modules, trying to keep ahead, trying to stay on top.

Worst of all has been the past two weeks, my task: to write the next 3,000 word piece of my novel for the critique workshops this coming Wednesday. Could I do it? I'd already written 1,600 words from one point of view; how hard could it be to write it from the new pov I'd chosen?

By the beginning of this week I was desperate. It had come down to that most troubling of matters: Writer's Block. And of course, by now, I know enough to understand why I couldn't write: I hadn't set down any thoughts on the characters involved in the scene; where they came from; where they were headed; who they thought they were; what they wanted; what made them tick; and most importantly, what they should discuss.

I am a fool to still be trying to work without such plans. Though, my tale doesn't end here, for, there is another...

Fortunately at the start of the weekend I had reached the stage at which I felt ready to begin writing my creative reaction to the Sir Gawain text. Unlike with the Fiction module task, I did all the right preparation; I made my plans:

Story Subject

On Wednesday, in class, we discussed the impossibility of the perfect knight; the codes of faith, of chivalry and of the court; of how Morgan le Fay (Morgana) wished to humble the Court of Camelot for their presumptions; and, how Camelot died out because of this presumption - there aren't any kids at Camelot. All the knights are too busy on grail quests and playing foolish games.

What then gripped me most about the Gawain text is Morgana's involvement behind the scenes. She wants to deconstruct their humanity and religion and their violent assumptions over their games, by making one of them (hopefully Arthur, but ultimately Gawain) face his own mortality (to have his head hacked off at the neck) and then be offered to first put his faith in enchantment (instead of God - by accepting the green girdle that will protect him from harm) and then subvert the chivalric code he holds so dear (by not handing the girdle to Lord Bertilack when he ought), making him a liar (not really knightly is it?)

I Wondered what Morgana's intention would be? Surely just to humiliate Gawain (or, at first, Arthur) isn't enough. We know she'd hoped to kill Guinevere with terror at the sight of the headless knight climbing back to his feet, but we have to give Morgana more credit - she knows that the knights will accept the game of exchanging blows, that Gawain will come, good on his word, in search of the Green Chapel for the return blow; she sets up the Lord and his castle for another game (that of the Lord's wife seducing Gawain as per the rules of the courtly code) and that Gawain would accept the girdle and hide it from the Lord, because no man can stave off mortality. Finally she knows that Gawain will survive the beheading and return to Camelot. So why this ruse?

I have decided the following:

Morgana believes that Arthur's court will one day grow bored of their games (for they make games of everything). By involving the Green Knight, she will give the knights something else, something new in which to place their pride and valour; ever ignorant of faith, prudence and the future. She knows that because of their games, their bravado and quests, they will begin to decline and Camelot will fall. She fears that if they are ever aware of the emptiness of their codes, then they will save themselves and procreate, and Camelot shall never fall.

Therefore, she knows that Gawain will take the girdle as a sign of his weakness, his lack of faith, and his forsaking of the chivalric code. But she also knows that because the household at Camelot are so full of their games, they will take the sash and make a new game of it as a sign of honour (over the sign of perfidy it represents for Gawain). This, she believes, will keep the knights from foreseeing their final doom.

My grounding for this idea came from reading around the Arthurian Legend, and Morgana in particular. Though her purpose changed as the Legend was developed by many writers it seemed to settle on her witchery in opposition to Camelot and Merlin. There was mention too that she is a pagan, and this (for those of you in the know, or who've read The da Vinci Code) means that she is against Christianity's canon, its slant on men, and favours the old "women as the focus and nature as the tool" theory - Christianity, as we know, kind of blames Eve for the fall of man, etc, etc. So, Morgana will be at complete odds with this. She wants not only the fall of Camelot but the fall of Christianity, and to this end she will want to prove the inherent fallibility of man and his faith (which lacks at every corner and conflict). The game, as Gawain realises, proves that for he covets the girdle, hoping to save his own life.

Themes and Allegory

In order to illustrate all of that I decided that Morgana had to be the focus of my creative response, and what better location to choose than the Green Chapel; what better time than the Green Knight's return from having his head cut off. I could then show how Morgana had wrapped the Green Knight (the enchanted Lord Bertilack) around her finger; how he too has forsaken his faith in favour of her enchantment (I decided he'd only become embroiled in her situation in a compact) - in the Gawain text a squire informs Gawain of the Green Knight's ferocity and murderous nature, and so I used that with the pretense that Bertilack had been suffering at the hands of other Lords wanting to usurp his land. With the Green Knight enchantment, Bertilack would be invulnerable. But then, of course, she still needs him in a year's time, so she needs to user her cunning and wiles and his fear of her abilities to force him to do her bidding - hence the use of the apple (alluding to the fall of man at the hands of Eve) and the suggestion it will ressurect Bertilack's sick wife.

I tried to steer clear of using the words: magic, and spell, because they conjur up ideas of magicians or wizards of the ilk of Gandalf, with great staffs and firebolts from their fingers. I wanted Morgana to remain earthy, and refer instead to her enchantments, as if magic and wizardry are something mechanical and man made. Enchantments and the incantations that Morgana uses in my piece all manifest in appearances more than anything else - the knight becoming a green giant, her own appearance as a child, the tree shedding its leaves, those leaves turning to snakes, the appearance of the apple, even her own explosion and transformation - all are charged with misdirection, striking fear and challenging faith rather than causing harm or producing something physical and tangible. She uses nature to her advantage. The apple, like the girdle, is a cipher. It doesn't serve any real power. The girdle doesn't save Gawain, and the apple won't save Bertilack's wife (though since in the Gawain text, the wife is fine, it is easy to suppose that Morgana's natural skills at herbs/medicine may help - and of course, with my Morgana instructing Bertilack to share only two kisses with his wife, and no more, this sets up a deeper thread in the bedroom/courtship scenes of Gawain - the wife is no longer playing, but desperate for companionship, lustful even - again alluding back to the apple Morgana forces Bertilack to eat).

... Knight and horse wheeled about, all rearing hooves and clamorous bells. Beneath them the girl, resplendent in green sash and naked innocence, was motionless, indifferent to the beast’s flailing feet that might, at any moment, trample her under its weight as it might a hounded deer...

... The Green Knight glanced from girl to apple. He didn’t have a choice for he knew of no other restorative measures. He steadied his head upon the stump of his neck with one hand and threw the fruit into his mouth, swallowing it whole. There was a faint nuttiness within the sweet nectar soothing his throat, the trickle of something perfumed, like crushed lilies and then a bitter tang. Before he could distinguish its taste his body contorted and bent double, wracked by the latent pain of having his head hacked off. He spied the boiling stream, felt its fury eating at his neck and tearing down his arms and back, and bayed like a stuck boar...

... The child imploded in a shower of lights the colour of green’s and gold’s, as if for an instant she had consisted of shooting stars. Bertilack reeled, dazed, too slow as the coloured comets exploded into existence on his right. A wily feminine shape lunged at him out of the phantasmagoria. She struck him down, this lady, with her tumultuous red tresses streaming behind her; felled him, loosing his sword upon the ground. There she stood, over his prone body, in a gown of yellow’s and green’s, her long fingers drawn and crooked, threatening violence. And in her eyes she flashed with cunning.
‘And still your God does not save you,’ she barked.
Bertilack raised his hand to ward away the fox...

- obviously this is the first draft, lots to sort out!

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