Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Sickness of the Heart Q&A with Author James LaFond

A Sickness of the Heart, by James LaFond, is a retelling of the expedition of Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba to explore the Yucatan Peninsula in the Conquistador Period.

LL: James, what do you call this type of book, which I believe is similar to the approach you are taking with Sold, where you form a dramatic narrative around historical documents? In the case of Sold, I think the genre would be historical fiction, since there are explicitly fictional characters included in your story, is that the case here, with A Sickness of the Heart?

JL: In A Sickness of the Heart, I had no intention of doing any fictional-style narrative, until I reached the end of the Diaz account and felt the yawning sense that came from the fact that even though this was a complete tale of an Entrada, that it had been written as the first of two prologues to the tale of the Cortez Entrada. The Governor of Cassava Land epilogue felt right after I composed it, which convinced me that I should finish the account of the next expedition published in Our Captain, in the same fashion.

LL: I did not know until reading this, that the new world had woven fabric and used cotton for armor in pre-Colombian times. Do you have any experience with cotton armor through Agonistics?

JL: I have fought against men wearing modern versions of this same armor in the form of the WEKAF arnis jacket, which, when worn, makes one look like across between a transformer and a samurai. The quilting feature, along vertical and horizontal lines increases protection against slashes, as most slashes strike long a diagonal plain. The chief value of the cotton armor, which was also quilted, was against stone tipped wooden sword slashes and piercing missiles, which got through Spanish mail to the point where just about every soldier had numerous shallow punctures.

LL: Topical to another offline discussion we have had, which will soon be published I will quote the following from A Sickness of the Heart:
Ironically, the Catholic obsession with divine blood and the record of biblical sacrifice going back to Abraham through Jesus enabled the Spaniards to easily understand the bloody sacrificial rites of the Central American and Mexican priesthoods they were to encounter, even as they recoiled from the practice.
James, what do you know about Far Eastern spiritual practices, such as Confucianism and Shintoism. To my knowledge they focus on ancestor worship and filial piety. Is there a blood sacrifice element to these practices? Does this point to an early European influence in the New World? Or do you view blood sacrifice as an Abrahamic concept imported to Europe through Christianity, and only incidentally arising in the New World?

JL: On Confucianism and Shintoism I can’t speak. As for new world sacrificial cults, they seem to arise from the same well of primal human beliefs in the blood as a river of ancestral force connected to the supernatural realm. Blood is often seen as the male force coursing through the flesh which is often associated with the female, just as male sky gods are associated with lifegiving rain and sunlight and the earth goddesses with life-harboring earth-the flesh of the world. Reay Tannahill in Flesh and Blood, a History of the Cannibal Complex traces human sacrifice around the word into prehistory. In Campbell’s work he distinguishes between The Way of the Animal Powers, which is a form of sacrifice of a sympathetic creature and the Way of the Seeded Earth, which is focused on sacrifice of men and domestic animals, reflected in the Old Testament. The Judaic root of Christianity can be seen as an amalgamation of herding sacrifice, descending from the hunt, and an agrarian servitude [sacrifice by toil] descending from the feminine gathering root. The Epic of Gilgamesh demonstrates this process with Enkidu being the primal echo-brother of Gilgamesh. The sacrificial aspects of Christianity are enhanced far beyond the Judaic root through Egyptian Gnosticism [a Hellenic-Egyptian syncretism] and the sacrifice of a young god and the Hellenic sacrifice of the virgin mother impregnated by a god. There are three ancient boxers who were supposed to be the product of a virgin birth. The sacrifice of Socrates [body-taker] to the lie in standing for the truth is also woven into this. Catholicism developed with multiple sacrificial roots and was easily spread through pagan Europe by its ability to interact in a syncretic way with existing sacrificial practices, which made Catholicism perfect for Amerindian conquest propaganda. In contrast, the more rational Puritans could never convert the mass of any Indian nation to their forgiving faith, whereas the Spanish priests converted the sons of the Aztec priests in mass. The best reflection of this I have seen, other than the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, is the candle dedicated to Saint Mars, who is described as being a pagan god who came over to Christ and now fights for the savior against the enemies of God! He is even depicted in Roman armor! This is how the conquistadors saw themselves. The novels of crusading adventure from this period are so bloody it is almost mind boggling.

LL: You provide a great deal of detail in the drubbings these Spaniards took, as they sailed the coast of the Yucatan, facing large groups of well armed and armored Mayans, while they themselves were weakened by lack of water (due to faulty equipment). Conquering the New World wasn't such a walk in the park after all. I doubt it would be of any consolation to today's competitively aggrieved minority groups that their ancestors fought valiantly and effectively half a millennium ago.

JL: The conquistadors were uniquely suited, in psychological terms, to such a conflict. You will find that most of the key men came from Estremadura, the West Virginia of Spain, or the Portuguese border. They perfected manhunting in the Canary Islands, with lessons learned against the Moors. The cultures they clashed with in America were recently empowered invaders, with the Aztec and Incan empires both a mere century or so old, and the Mayans basically in a post apocalyptic stage. The very interesting aspect is the conquest of Darien, current Panama, where island conquest methods were modified to coastal operations and then entradas. Many of these failed. Soto was involved in a disaster in the Orinoco watershed. All of the Florida expeditions ended in disaster. The native descendants should be proud and the mixed-race descendants doubly proud of their martial heritage.

LL:  James, I have more questions about this book. It is a short, but densely presented combination of primary material, informed commentary, dramatic history and has an extensive epilogue of reviews of source books. If you don't mind I'd like to do a Part 2 of this Q&A.

JL:  I will wax late medieval Spanish here and act in deference to the maternal while promising to remain brutally paternal.

(c) 2017 James LaFond & Lynn Lockhart

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