Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trawl history for authenticity: On mysterious earth energies, the Nazis, and bad beginnings to novels by Guest Author C.J. Fenge

Tips 5: Trawl history for authenticity: On mysterious earth energies, the Nazis, and bad beginnings to novels

The Salamander Stone has a mysterious earth energy, Vril, at the heart of the story. I didn’t make this up; I ‘borrowed’ it from history. With a little research I amassed detail that made the fantasy feel much more authentic.

The term ‘Vril’ was coined by a nineteenth century English author, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his novel The Power of the Coming Race. Published in 1871, this tells the story of a civilisation able to utilise this mysterious energy for good or ill, to heal or destroy.

The book was a huge success in its day and is credited with helping give rise to the Science Fiction genre. But it was Bulwer-Lytton’s interest in all things occult that led to the most surprising development in the Vril story. People began to believe in Vril as a real force or energy, even attracting interest from the celebrities of that day such as George Bernard Shaw. Soon Vril became the centre of secret societies devoted to its study, the most remarkable arising in pre-Second World War Germany.

Even Hitler was rumoured to belong to the ‘Thule Society’ and its inner sect the ‘Vril Society’, as were the most prominent members of his Nazi party: Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Hermann Goering and others.  Himmler set up an occult research bureau, under the aegis of the SS, known as the Ahnenerbe which spent about £10 billion in today’s money on occult research – almost the same amount the Allies were spending on Atomic research. It’s a curious thought that in diverting funds this way, Hitler’s atomic programme was seriously hampered and he fell well behind the allies. Without Vril to distract him, Hitler might have had the bomb – and a little red button to press!

Whatever the truth of the Nazi connection, Vril as a concept entered the lexicon and came to be associated with vitality and life-enhancing energy. The only remnant of this today is in the name of a beef product: Bovril, which is sold here in Britain (I’m not sure whether you can get it in the States). Bovril is a portmanteau word combining Bovine with Vril – the message being obvious. 

And what of poor old Bulwer-Lytton who started the furore over Vril? I wouldn’t bother downloading The Power of the Coming Race, unless you fancy a giggle.  His prose style is incompatible with modern taste which can be seen from an annual competition run by a Californian University: the ‘Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest’. The only condition of entry is to “compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” Click here: if you would like to check out the 2012 winners. Guaranteed to raise a smile, if not a hearty belly laugh. And if you really want to have fun, see if you can write a better (or should that be worse) opening to a novel.

C.J. Fenge
I’m an English Teacher, and all my working life I’ve been telling students: “Don’t put labels on yourself. They’re restricting.” I little realised that I was guilty of exactly that because I’d classed myself as analytical, not creative. And it was only when I was forced into some writing that I discovered I could create worlds, not just comment on other people’s creations.

So that’s what I do now and I have an increasing amount of time to do it in. My teaching career is winding down, my two children have grown up and left home, my husband of 40 years, also a writer, is busy creating worlds on his computer all day. To a casual observer ours is a very quiet, boring household. There aren’t even any pets making a racket since my two adorable, but elderly, ‘rescue’ cats died last year. But the inner life of our house is far from boring. Take a journey with Amber and her Salamander Stone and see what I mean. And remember not to put labels on yourself. If I can break free, anyone can.

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