We’re getting close to the end of the fifth draft of our next novel, working title Masks. Nothing autobiographical here, just a story of a family of touring players making an annual circuit playing their own comedies from village to village. Major difference: this is set in the beginning of the 7th Century, they travel by donkey cart, and their circuit is up and down the east coast of Italy.
Another difference: they have a lethal wicker hamper of props, a set of ancient masks carrying a curse: they cannot abandon them, and they are forbidden to use them. They know the masks were taken by the wife’s father in a bloody raid in his homeland, the far north, but nobody knows where the masks themselves were made. That doesn’t matter: the masks themselves know. It’s their story now, and once they have been snatched from their wicker cage to save the family of players from a pirate raid, their power awakens and they will not rest until their saga has been played out. That story is the Ragnarok, the death of the Norse gods.
We know first-hand the power of mask and puppet to take the player beyond his/her limited human experience. In our own work, we know the tale being told before we create the puppets and masks that will being it to life. For the family in Masks, the tale is an unknown, except to six-year-old Bragi. The boy has inherited the Sight from his northern mother, and the masks use him as a channel to let this apocalyptic tale compel the players to give them voice.
As the troupe play their own earthy farces on the summer’s northbound tour, Bragi’s nightmares begin little by little to interfere and leak into what happens on the rough trestle stages. They try to turn southward to get back home before Bragi’s pregnant mother faces childbirth, but one mishap after another keeps them northbound under increasingly surreal circumstances, until they arrive at a realm that can’t be comprehended: Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. There, they are commanded to play the Ragnarok.
Why? They are told by the Loki-avatar: the gods desire to die. “These gods fed on fear and grew fat with it. Whatever power they held, it was never sufficient. . . . Nothing suffices to conquer fear. Only in death can they be secure. Nothing then to fear.”
This is not at all comfortable to write, for it reeks of our present day. We live our lives as best we can and try to resist the tiny cohort of oligarchs whose lives are so far removed from our own that we don’t seem to be the same species. They have epic wealth and power, but somehow they don’t seem to be very happy. Look at the faces you see daily on the web: would you invite them to your birthday party? It isn’t a great stretch to imagine them bringing on Armageddon just to get out of the damn rat-race.
Our player family survives, a daughter is born, and after the carnage blows away in mist, there is still a branch of the shattered World-Tree. The exhausted parents plant it, the children grow and go on with their lives, and we wait for our own masks to come to critical mass.