Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Thought Process Behind Writing A Play


     My (then) ten-year-old daughter gave me the idea to write a play about King Arthur’s shadowy half-sister, Morgan Le Fay. We had been looking into the reasons behind many of Arthur’s advancements, and the name “Morgan” kept re-appearing. Finally, with genuinely furrowed brow, she turned to me and asked, “Morgan? Who is he?”

     That did it.

     The more-or-less standard literary answer to that question satisfied her curiosity, but started me on my own quest. Simply to say she was Arthur’s half-sister, jealous for power, blah blah blah, seemed shallow. In my reasoning, she had become a medieval novelist’s tool, used to justify the why behind many of the adventures in Camelot - simply that and nothing more; a cause-and-effect woman, without reasoned passion or warm blood. That dismissal was not nearly a good enough answer for me.

     So. Before I placed the first word on paper, I started reading. For two l-o-n-g years I devoured every jot of fact and fiction I could lay eyes upon. I also studied actual histories – the justification of the romance of knighthood in flower, suggesting that it all started with Arthur … which was a lie. Writers at the time placed Arthur a good 500 years later than he actually lived.

     From the start I had been struggling with what seemed like an insurmountable problem. If I portrayed the Arthur of legend as anything but good, I would have a minor riot on my hands. But I didn’t want Morgan to be bad either, at least not in the beginning. The answer came from a TV news report (Thank you CBS), examining rumors that Americans had massacred the inhabitants of a small village during the Viet Nam war. I instantly saw parallels. It was possible for good men to do bad things, and suddenly MORGAN had flesh. As a small child Morgan had seen her father killed and her mother raped, later to give birth to Arthur. It became clear – Morgan wanted justice, and, being a woman, took the only means available to her to achieve her goals – black magic.

     So? What happened? What went wrong?

     Somewhere I remembered reading that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That pointed me in a direction that justified what actually happened in everybody else’s version of the story. Further, the shadow of Adolf Hitler seems to guide her adult years into fear, hate, and paranoia, and at the same time allowing her to be a spell caster in more than one way.

     In the end, I think I was more kind to Morgan than others have been. I had her powers taken from her, yet allowed her to live. I should like to think that in her final years sanity might have been restored to a degree, and she might have found peace of a sort.

     Nope. The story isn’t over yet. In doing all this research, I decided there are THREE plays here. MORGAN is the second play, and there are conclusions from the first play woven into the plot. The third play gives a final – if surprising – end to the Arthur drama. Three plays, then – MERLIN, MORGAN, MERDOC. The third play, MERDOC, has perhaps a dozen pages written so far. The first play, MERLIN, has perhaps one page written – all character.

    At some point I might have the inclination to finish the trio of plays. No hurry. I have all the time in the world.