In his preface to Nicolas Nickleby, Charles Dickens has a note to the effect that readers might find Dotheboys Hall, a school to which families would consign inconvenient children, unbelievable. No school could be that bad, surely? In fact, Dickens wrote, the Yorkshire schools he knew were much worse and he had played it down to make it more believable.
I find something of the same thing when trying to portray the idiocy of some religious beliefs within fringe groups. So I am really quite grateful for the Watch Tower Society's recent release of their Sparlock video. There it is, folks. Some nasty toys seem to make God cry.
When Margaret read the first draft of my novel she said there was a section which she thought stretched credulity a bit. But when I showed her the Sparlockvideo her reaction was, hey they really can be that silly!
I'd been intending to post another snippet from my novel - this one is from the beginning of Susan's story when, as a kid, she is getting mad about her family's crazy beliefs. And the complete novel is now published as Leaving Gilead
It was getting silly. Somehow it doesn't much matter when you're a little kid and you know there are lots of people around who believe in fairies and ghosts and giants and things. But then when you get to grammar school and nobody, not even the silliest and the most babyish – and, yes, she knew she really ought not to think of people in that way but there actually are people who are stupid – when not even those people will admit to believing in fairies or Santa Claus or Gulliver's Travels, that's when it can be rather embarrassing to think of the sorts of things your family believe.
Yes, okay, lots of grown-ups believe in God and Jesus and angels and maybe that was all right though Susan couldn't think why it was any different from fairies, but her family believed in other stuff as well like the coming of the Lord and the Great Climax before next Tuesday and demons and eschewing things and how terribly wicked other people were, especially those who believed in God but in the wrong way. And they had these phrases they were always using that made them sound like they were reciting things from silly Gilead pamphlets, which they were, of course. Phrases like, 'in these perilous times' and 'the machinations of the devil.' If she heard her mother say either of those once more, Susan thought, she would fling her bedroom window open and scream all the rudest swear words she could think of and hope they got picked up by the radio masts on Alvanley Hill so they could echo round and round the forest for ever and always. And afterwards, even when she was lots older, when she went walking in the forest on a windy day she thought they were doing just that.
The demons thing got to its absolute stupidest when Susan was thirteen. Some idiots started to put it around that things, objects, could be demon-possessed. It was the Wise Old Men of Gilead who started it, of course, but there were plenty of others with the right sort of Gilead-mindedness to fill in the details. The most susceptible objects were things like antiques or any second hand goods which could have been owned by people who dabbled in occult arts. And children were a special target for the demons so, naturally, their toys were the obvious places for evil spirits to lurk.
She might have been able to cope with this if it had just been other people at Gilead Hall who took the hunt for hidden demons seriously. But one Friday afternoon when she got home from school Alan was in the back yard tending a bonfire which was nearly burned out. She didn't think much about it at first but when she went up to her room she saw that Pookie, her teddy bear who always sat on her pillow, was missing. Straight away she went downstairs and into the kitchen where her mother was preparing vegetables.
'Where is Pookie?' she demanded.
Her mother carried on peeling carrots and replied in a wearied tone, 'Susan, you are thirteen. You ought to have grown out of playing with dolls by now.'
'Mother! I don't play with dolls. I never did. Pookie isn't a doll. He's a teddy bear and he's special. I've had him since before I can remember and I want to keep him.'
'Well it's too late. It's gone on the bonfire. You know very well that these things attract the attention of demons. Consider yourself very blessed because your dear brother had the foresight to rescue you from harm. We have to be as cautious as serpents in these perilous times.'
She went back up to her room and flung the window wide open. She checked that there was nobody around who might hear and then sent the swear words out. Damn, bugger, piss, bloody hell. She even included 'fuck' but that one might not have been picked up on the ether because she whispered it.
She might have forgotten about the teddy bear – well, eventually she might – but what continued to needle her was the pressure to behave as if she was always on the look-out for lurking demons. They get everywhere in these perilous times.
You can get the full novel here.
You can get the full novel here.