Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Gore Vidal’s Creation

Creation is a historical novel.  One of those epic, all-encompassing, ones.  It is more than just a silly “historical fiction” book- not just a fictional character wandering through a time, a vacant vessel to be a surrogate for the reader.  This is deep and involved; you have to know about history, and preferably also about some world religions, before you pick it up.  Or perhaps it could be a sort of gateway book – if the various historical figures and events are interesting enough by all means do the research!

Our hero, Cyrus Spitama, is a Persian ambassador and friend of Xerxes.  He is also the grandson of Zoroaster, the founder of the Zoroastrian religion.  This gives a new dimension to the novel, because not only is Spitama a globe-trotting ambassador, but also takes an interest in the various religions and philosophies he encounters along the way.  So, let the fun begin!

- Spitama travels to India, gets involved in the intrigue between the various Indian princes, meets Siddhartha Gautama and various Hindu sages.

- Spitama is sent to China, where he travels through various warring Chinese kingdoms, and meets Confucius and Lao Tsu.

- Spitama’s last diplomatic mission is to Greece, where he is involved in the war/peace/stand-off/machinations between Persia and Athens.  He meets various Greek philosophers, scientists, poets, and playwrights.

- When Spitama is actually in Persia he is always involved in the various palace intrigues and drama that continually surround the royal family.  He is involved vicariously in the continuing philosophical battles between the Zoroastrian priests and the purveyors of the older religions of Persia, Sumeria, and Babylon.

What connects the story together (besides our protagonist) is the search for meaning in all of these religions.  Spitama specifically seeks the answer to the one question that continually eludes him – Why do we exist?  What created the universe and why?  Each religion has a different perspective, from “it doesn’t matter” to “serving the gods”.  The novel leaves the question unanswered because, as Spitama says, regardless of the religion or philosophical concept each person adheres to, it can only be answered by each person’s own individual journey through life.

Creation is like a historical fiction novel I wish I could write.  Very interesting and mostly accurate.  There are a very few tiny quibbles – my main one is our main character is able to meet both Confucius and Lao Tsu in fifth century China, although it is likely that Lao Tsu lived before that time period.  As an historian I would ordinarily be irritated, but within the novel it makes sense – the point is to introduce and discuss formative world religions and the best way to do that with Taoism is for Spitama to speak with Lao Tsu.

If I ever did write a historical fiction work it would be very accurate, and likely boring.

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