(An Article by Max Overton)
I was sitting on the sofa one evening, coffee in hand, watching the BBC documentary series “Tribe” (“Going Tribal” in the USA). If you’ve never seen this series, a Royal Marine named Bruce Parry visits remote tribes around the world and spends a month living and interacting with tribal members. He eats their food, sleeps in their huts, joins in their rituals, and often forms close personal bonds with individuals. On this particular evening, he was living with the Adi tribe of the Himalayas. They are animists, worshipping the sun, moon and spirits of nature, though Christian missionaries have recently invaded the region, subverting their beliefs.
My wife Julie and I discussed the program and Julie wondered what the people of the tribe thought of this strange Christian religion when it was first introduced. I took it one stage further and wondered what the gods of this tribe thought of Christianity. An idea was born that evolved into Rakshasa, the first of my ‘Demon’ series.
I set my story in the mountainous Indian state of Uttarakhand for several reasons, not least of all because I have ties to the area. My maternal ancestors have lived in India since the late 1700s and frequented the foothills of the Himalayas and the hot dusty plains at their feet. My grandmother and mother were born in Allahabad, and I was told many stories of their experiences there. Some of their stories have made their way into Rakshasa and have lifted parts of the book (in my mind at least) from pure fiction to family history. Naturally, every part of the book has been thoroughly researched, right down to the finer details.
Rakshas are fierce, horrific creatures from Hindu mythology. When I first thought about using one of these demons as my ‘hero’ I wondered if it could be done. After all, they’re evil and kill people! I know, Dexter Morgan does it in Miami and he’s very popular, but demons don’t just kill guilty people – they feast on men, women and children whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Demons don’t have much of a choice though – it’s what they do. They were created to prey on humans and a raksha who kills cannot really be held accountable – or can he? What if the demon decided he didn’t want to be a demon? Could he change his nature? Would that make him more likeable?
Another problem I had was that demons are extremely long-lived (unless a god catches up with them). How could I write about the developing character of my raksha over a period of thousands of years? One way was to take ‘snapshots’ of his life, from ancient times to modern day, as he interacted with humans. I selected fourteen episodes of Indian history, created characters, and interwove the thread of my demon. Fourteen people told their stories and each of the stories were linked by a first-person narrative of the demon.
I have always loved the Mahabharata with its stirring tales of gods and men, so that had to be included. Arjuna, one of the kings of Indra-Prastha and his relationship with the god Krishna fascinate me, so I used them as my first story. I covered many aspects of life in India, from holy men and Buddhist monks to ordinary charcoal-burners and iron-workers, from farm girls to kings – men, women and children. The Sultan of Delhi makes an appearance, as does a British mountaineer. The Cult of Thuggee is there, and the Indian Mutiny, but most stories are of ordinary people caught up in the events of history. I incorporated my family stories, so my mother is there as a young girl, and later my son encounters the raksha while on holiday.
I think the overall story works, and it got me thinking. India is not the only country I’m interested in, and every culture has its own demons. The sub-continent is a great melting pot, and Muslim and Christian beliefs vie with the predominant Hindu ones. Muslim mythology has demons called djinn, and Christian mythology features a whole raft of demons. Could I write about them too? I researched djinn and found a wealth of material, so I investigated Islam and pre-Islamic belief before hauling out the keyboard again.
The second book in my ‘Demon’ series is Djinn, the story of a particular member of these ‘creatures of the smokeless flame’. It follows his life from an early encounter with the prophet Ibrahim on a mountain in Arabia to the Iranian Revolution and modern day India. In between, there are stories about incense growing and bronze smelting, about tanners, soldiers, young girls and doctors. We see the birth of Islam, the invasion of Spain, and the Gallipoli campaign from the Turkish side. We make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and follow a terrorist as he seeks to kill in the name of his faith. Throughout it, the djinn seeks a reason for living, posing as a god when he can get away with it, reverting to his bloodthirsty nature when he cannot, and finally making a play for ultimate power in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Succubus will follow the life of a female demon in Europe and the Middle East and she will follow European colonists to India where she will confront the raksha and djinn for mastery in the final book Destruction. I have not yet started the research for these books, but hope to do so in the near future.