Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Etienne de L'Amour: An interview with myself

Q: What prompted you to write the books in the Shadowlands series?

Etienne: The roots of the idea go back a long way ... indeed such things perhaps go back further than we might imagine?

One early influence, which prompted the idea of the mystics and their mountain retreat at babs chu, was the 1937 film, Lost Horizon, which I watched as a child, much of which was set at a mythical place called Shangri-la in the valley of the Blue Moon. Another was reading the explorer Alexandra David-Neel's With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet. Much later, as a young adult, I studied the original 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, as part of a creative writing course. By that time I'd also found an interest in esoteric traditions and spiritual ways such as Buddhism and Zen; and I was intrigued by the possibility that there might be more to the world than met the untutored eye. Something far more subtle, hidden and largely forgotten.

Another major influence was a nervous breakdown I experienced in the mid-1980s, which I'd describe as “blowing my mind on God”. It was a rememberance or awakening of sorts that went awry, and one for which I was at that time utterly ill-prepared.

Later, around the mid-1980s, I was introduced to the works of the writer, thinker and Sufi mystical teacher, Idries Shah, and for a period of perhaps twenty years, I left these former interests behind to concentrate on the Sufi studies. It was only much later that I realized that the way of the mystic was altogether different to the way I'd originally hoped to pursue, which you might call the way of the wizard.

If I were to single out tales from Idries Shah's works that had an important influence on me, I would say The Islanders; The Indian Bird; The Legend of the Design; The Magic Horse; The Magic Monastery, The Palace of the Man in Blue and The Tale of the Sands. These teaching tales which contain layer upon layer of deep meaning, like onions, best describe not only our dire situation as human beings, but also our many possibilities and vast potentialities.

Amongst the works associated with Shah, I came across mention of a hidden, mystical brotherhood known as the Sarmouni, the “Bees”, who had a craft-based community high in the mountains of Afghanistan at a place known as Abshar, which means “waterfall”. The mystic Gurdjieff has also spoken of such a people, whom he knew as the Sarmoung Brotherhood. So I thought it might be an idea to make this community and their work a central part of a series of semi-fictional books, and to overtly integrate that secret work into the everyday world.

I was also influenced by some of Doris Lessing's work, such as Briefing for a Descent into Hell and books in the Canopus in Argos series like Shikasta, a “secret history of Earth”. She was a pupil of Idries Shah and her work, too, had at one time been influenced by him.

You might also say that the mystic Tenzing Jangbu Rinchen's homeland, Narayana, is a bit like C.S. Lewis's Narnia, but for grown-ups.

Q: You describe your work as “mystical faction”. So there are elements of fact in your books?

Etienne: Well, I wanted to explore ways in which fiction could be blended with fact – well, simply do merge with fact – and how I might develop aspects of “creative mythology”.

I loved J.K. Rowling's books and the later films about Harry Potter, which were of course very much about the way of the wizard, or at least about fictional wizardry. Whilst I wouldn't care to or dare to compare myself with J.K. Rowling, I couldn't help but think that so much more could be conveyed through the medium of fiction than magical hocus-pocus with a dash of alchemy. For example, I hoped to give a taste of the Real World, and of the Reality beyond and intermingling with that of the everyday that we mistakenly refer to as the “real world”. To perhaps stir an interest in spirituality and mysticism amongst those who haven't as yet dipped their ties in the water, or who might be experiencing the first stirrings of the subtle organs of high perception, and awakening; or who might, for example, have a general interest in the New Age. The books are perhaps written more for these people than for those who are already on a path and who might already be spoken for and, perhaps, be more set in their ways and less open to fresh input.

Shah's corpus is quite intellectual at times, and I wanted to provide something a little more populist. Not as a substitute, I hasten to add, but as a more accessible taster and introduction. It's not about instruction; it's more about the first stirrings from sleep; resonance, and gradual induction. Something that's not taught so much as caught.

Q. Is the mystic Tenzing Jangbu Rinchen based on Idries Shah?

Etienne: To a certain extent, yes. But you know, like the Sufis who came before him, some of things Shah wrote about did not exactly massage the ego of the would-be seeker. Shah would rightly point out that he was merely being descriptive, rather than moralistic, but some of the things he had to say could be quite challenging. This was, of course, all in a good cause and with the aspirant's best interests at heart.

I deliberately set out to present Tenzing as more accessible, approachable and human, rather than as one of the impeccable, superhuman Elect. So as well as seeing Shah in Tenzing, you might also see a bit of the Dalai Lama, and rather than overtly Middle Eastern culture, there's more of the Tibetan, though the word “Tibet” is not used in the books; nor for that matter the word “Sufi”: the characters largely and simply refer to their path as the “Way” and occasionally there is mention of the word Sarmouni. It's not about promoting any particular spiritual – let alone religious – franchise; and still less about dogma.

Another thing that I wanted to do was to show how the Real World and its metaphors intermingle with the everyday, rather than being something that is separate or only experienced by an advanced Yogi in his or her meditations on some distant Himalayan mountain peak. Like an open secret, hidden to us only because of our wayward imagination and our lack of regeneration.

I didn't want to stretch the imagination too far and break the spell – the voluntary suspension of disbelief – by having elements in the books that would appear to be too implausible. The writer J.R.R. Tolkien did a wonderful job of mixing the familiar and homely with the unfamiliar, rather than creating a totally alien world, so that the unfamiliar would thus seem that much more plausible. So the reader will find himself or herself quite at home in the degeneration of the so-called Freelands and be able to make the journey with us to the not altogether other-worldly realm of Narayana.

When I watch American films these days and I see a car chase with pyrotechnics so vast that you'd think you were witnessing a nuclear apocalypse, rather than a few gallons of petrol catching fire, that's when I lose that suspension of disbelief and the film makers lose me. I don't want that to happen in my books and I'm happy in my writing to wander away from that all-too-beaten path, to explore and experiment, and hopefully to take a few dear readers with me. I really am immensely thankful for, and grateful to, my readers.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

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