|How to use an actual German Wolfsangel: (1) Sling the longer|
piece over a tree branch. (2) Wrap meat around the z-shaped
hook hanging from the chain. (3) Wait for wolf to take the bait.
|Wolfsangel on cover of Rice's|
Music, Martinis and Misanthropy
|After the interview, a leading runologist wrote to me|
about the runic origins of the Wolfsangel symbol:
"The whole concept seems very much like 19th-20th-
century rune magic. Pure hogwash, in other words."
ML - It’s a serious point you make, so I’m going to give it some serious attention – starting by telling you how the symbol ended up in the book and going on to discuss if its Nazi associations outside of the US and UK make it illegal or unusable.
The symbol appealed to me because it has three meanings – wolf trap, storm and werewolf, depending on the orientation. I have no idea where I got that information from – it’s something I think I picked up as a kid. I was very interested in runes, in hieroglyphs and all sorts of magical symbols and used to scan the encyclopedia for references to them. So the symbol was in my unconscious, I think, and that’s why it suddenly hopped out on to the page when I was writing.
|However, the Wolfsangel looks|
much more like List's Gibor than
it does like heraldic symbols such
as this one from circa 1340
I was aware it may or may not have been a rune of the Viking Age but I incorporated it as a matter of artistic license. There is some suggestion that it is a version of the rune Eihwaz, which is a Viking rune, but I understood it emerged as a 13th-century Mason’s mark. Had I thought that rune originated with the Nazis – which I don’t think it did – then I would not have used it. I think it’s just part of the Nazis' haul of symbols swiped from Norse mythology, Rome, Victorian and Edwardian pagan revivalists and other cultures. Some of those symbols are beyond redemption, clearly – the swastika is rightly outlawed in Germany. But some of the symbols had a life before Nazism, continue to have a life independently of Nazism, and their association with the ideology – certainly in my country – is weak or non-existent. And in fact, some symbols that actually did originate with the Nazis outgrew them and have an entirely different cultural resonance today. The Olympic torch, for instance, was invented for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the first lighting of the Olympic cauldron by a torch bearer was presided over by Hitler.
|Löns' The Warwolf|
List was certainly an unsavory figure and a Nordicist, but he wasn’t a Nazi and in fact was decried by the Nazi’s chief occult cheerleader Karl Maria Wiligut. However, some of what he thought chimed with the Nazi philosophies. But, then again, ideas of racial superiority and anti-semitism were common in that era. We were only just out of the Victorian age, where racist prejudice had the status of scientific fact. And not everyone who held those views was a Nazi. Churchill, for instance, was a supporter of eugenics and wrote, "the unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the Feeble-Minded and Insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate." So, though it’s tempting to put List into the box "proto-Nazi," that may be a historically-inaccurate way of viewing him. He certainly talked a great deal of bunk and some of it nasty bunk – just as Churchill did – but it’s a long way from there to the Final Solution. He clearly had some horrible views, but they belonged more to the Victorian and Edwardian ages than they did to that of the horrors of Hitler’s Germany.
|There really is evidence of a connection, including|
the 1932 statement by a prominent member of the
Guido von List Society that Hitler is "one of our disciples"
Also, if you’re going to say that the Wolfsangel is intrinsically a Nazi symbol because the Nazis used it, then you’d have to say that Nordic neo-paganism is irredeemably stained by its association with Nazism, which continues to this day. Some neo-nazis do identify themselves as Odinists. I don’t think the link is unbreakable, though. I think it’s possible to be a Nordic religion revivalist and a decent human being. However, it’s undeniable that Nordic neo-paganism has its roots in nationalism and racialism. It’s also undeniable that, for many neo-pagans, it has left them behind.
|German Criminal Code actually does punish anyone|
who "domestically distributes or publicly uses,
in a meeting or in writings disseminated by him,
symbols of one of the parties or organizations"
such as "a former National Socialist organization"
The second decider was that, in my primary market – US and the UK – the symbol has entirely lost any resonance it did have. Very few people would associate it with Nazism in the UK – and I believe very few in the US, too – outside of academic and specialist circles. I had no idea the book would sell in Germany, but we’ll come to that later. I tested it on a wide audience, and no one had even heard of it.
|An obsession with wolves & the occult isn't unique to Germany.|
Example 1: The symbol of Yale University's Wolf's Head Society
I was very pleased with the story, and it’s as well written as anything I’ve ever done. However, I cut it, after a lot of thought. The reason was that I just wasn’t convinced that an event as terrible as the Holocaust could be handled in what is, essentially, a fantasy story. I still don’t know that I made the right decision, because it was powerful stuff that made valuable points about the uses of faith – independent of its truth – in directing correct moral action. I was concerned, though, that my intention would be misunderstood because historical fantasy is, primarily, a form of entertainment. If you incorporate the barbarities of the Nazis in that context, would people think I was presenting them for entertainment? That was not my purpose at all. So I cut all the stuff in Germany out, even though I thought I had come up with something affecting and worthwhile.
|Coventry Cathedral after the German bombing of November, 1940|
|German edition of Wolfsangel|
ML - Well, obviously, I don’t want to upset or offend anyone, but I don’t think I have! The symbol is used in Germany, as I said, entirely independently of fascist associations. I don’t know if most Germans see it as fascist imagery. If any do, then they haven’t mentioned it to me. The symbol is in the book in the German version. No one from the German publishers even raised it as an issue with me. So I don’t know how strong the association is in Germany. I should imagine that it’s stronger than it is in the UK, though. Sometimes books are retitled for no apparent reason. My book Lucky Dog was retitled When the Hound Came in German – not a title that gives the right impression in English at all! No one consulted me about that either. So I have no idea if the book was retitled out of concerns about the symbol’s association or for other reasons. I have no idea if the German publisher even recognized the association.
Let’s assume it was retitled out of concerns about the associations of the Wolfsangel – as seems likely. It was still left in the book, complete with an illustration of the symbol. I think this is because, when Germans read how I introduce the symbol in the context of the story, they can clearly see it is not used to support a fascist outlook, nor to make any political comment at all. I have had no comment from Germans on its use whatsoever, and it’s only come up in one interview worldwide so far, other than this one – and then because the interviewer’s flatmate was a military historian who recognized the sign. Thankfully, I have had no fascist idiots mistaking me for one of them either.
The important thing here is that the symbol is obscure in my country and in the US, and I am clearly not using it in a Nazi context, nor is there a crypto-fascist agenda in the book. Symbols are defined by context, and the context here is very obviously not one that supports Nazism or fascism. In fact, it very clearly points out the value of ordinary, fallible, humanity.
I would explain it to a German or Israeli audience by saying all of the above. There was certainly no intention to offend and, as far as I can see, no one has taken offense.
|The death of Wulf Sternhammer, 2000 AD's time-traveling Viking|
|Surely somebody cares about poor Gollum!|
Painting by Frank Frazetta (1973)
If there is a difference, it’s because we British have a chip on our shoulders about happy endings. Somehow they don’t seem very clever, and we have a chip on our shoulders about that too. We’re the people making vomiting noises in the medal-giving ceremony in Star Wars. And was I the only one who felt sorry for the RDA Corporation in Avatar?
A writer needs to kill some of his characters occasionally to get taken seriously by the reader, to increase the dramatic charge. Otherwise, it’s all too comfortable. I never liked James Bond as a kid, because I never thought he was ever in any serious trouble. Spider-Man, however, earned huge respect from me when the writers killed Gwen Stacey. Wow! That never happened to Lois Lane. However, Bond is English and Spider-Man is as NYC as a stand-bought hot dog. You need to get the reader’s respect, and killing dearly loved characters is just one way to do it..
|English culture hero Basil Fawlty moonlighting as a Scottish wizard|
If there is a difference, perhaps it’s because US writers have an optimism that we lack in our country. We fell quite quickly from our role as the world’s superpower, and perhaps that has an ongoing effect on the national psyche. I don’t think modern British writers are harking back to the days of empire, but they are writing in a culture that still carries the invisible tremors of the aftershock of its collapse. It will be interesting to see, if the US loses its pre-eminent role in the world, how US writing changes.
|Summer Glau as Firefly’s River Tam|
|From the cover of Danielle Dax's|
Blast the Human Flower (1990)
|Martin Johnson & the spoils of victory|
The rest, I don’t really have a solid picture of what they look like – Authun aside. I have a verbal imagination, not a visual one. I get glimpses of the characters, but they don’t sit still long enough for me to get a very clear look at them. One thing is certain, though, I wouldn’t like the corn-fed look of some of the Twilight actors. Nothing wrong with Twilight, but its actors look like what they are – affluent teenagers. My actors would have to appear a bit more starved, hungry and sharp looking.
|Mads Mikkelsen in Valhalla Rising (2009)|
KS - There’s a wonderfully atmospheric video trailer out for Fenrir – the second book in the series – that hints at the power that a film version of the series could have. How far forward in history does this book move the story?
ML - It begins at the Viking siege of Paris in 885, so only about 60 or so years. This actually occurred and was one of the steps on the way to the foundation of Normandy. The trailer is good, isn’t it? The soundtrack is by Jonathan Harvey – Mortuos Plango. Sends shivers down the spine.
KS - What’s your planned schedule of writing and publishing the rest of the series? Has the whole process tilted more towards the exciting or to the daunting?
ML - The third is done, and the fourth will be written early in 2012. The third is set in Constantinople in about 969 and features the beginnings of the Varangian Guard – the Byzantine emperor’s Viking bodyguard.
KS - Thank you for being so gracious and patient during the interview process!
ML - Well, thanks for such an in-depth and challenging interview. It’s amazing to be questioned by someone with such a detailed knowledge of the book’s background. I’m aware that I’ve answered some questions as, "Dunno, just came out that way," but – as I noted several times – this is the prerogative of the creative writer rather than the academic. Thanks a lot, Karl. Much appreciated.