by Toby Johnson
As myself a writer of fiction with a spiritual message, I'm especially intrigued by how differently different authors try this.
Central to the notion of the fictional novel is plot. There are many variations,but there is a so-called "plot skeleton" that literary novels are supposed to follow. It is, of course, the Hero Cycle, the pattern of which appears in every TV cop show and drama.: The hero is faced with a problem. As he tries to resolve the problem he gets deeper into it and into more trouble. When things seem at their worst, the hero solves the problem through his own skill alone (without a deus ex machina). He (or she) then returns to normal life bringing boons for him or herself and for others as a result of the resolution of the problem.
There is another kind of novel: the coming of age story and the journey story. They really have no plot. They simply recount a series of experiences and discoveries. Biographies are generally of this sort. While they can be quite interesting and informative, these aren't really novels: they donÕt have a climax and resolution.
The trick in a wisdom novel is to work the message into a real plot.
Here are four novels that in various ways convey wisdom about the meaning of life. The first two books are specifically what are called New Age novels, the second two mainstream gay genre novels.
High in the Andes A Spiritual Adventure Novel by William Michael Kaufman
Dorrance Publishing Co. 643 Smithfield St, Pittsburgh PA 15222, (800) 788-7654. 128 pages, PB, $13.00
Like the immensely popular Celestine Prophecy, this novel is set in South America, the jungles of the Andes providing an appropriately exotic place for New Age revelations to be discussed and discovered. The book opens on a train with a passenger becoming hypnotized and turned inward by the rhythmic clacking of the rails. He breaks out of his revery to discover another passenger has sat down next to him. The newcomer recounts his fabulous adventure while hiking in Peru.
The storyteller explains how he got separated from his hiking companions, then slipped and hit his head. When he awoke, he had become another person, an ancient spirit being named Narada, one of a group of highly evolved Incan spiritual masters. One by one, his colleagues explain to him, first how he came to lose his memory of who he really is then what particular spiritual message each of the collegues has come to remind him of. One by one, basic spiritual teachings about forgiveness, energy, meditation, reincarnation and the true nature of human consciousness are presented, as Narada comes to understand and appreciate his true nature.
At that point, the original traveler wakes up to realize there is no storyteller. This has all been a dream and he is really Narada and he must now use his spiritual power to wake himself and to wake others to their true divine nature.
Well, there is really no plot in a novel like this. It's just one discussion of esoteric themes after another. But Kaufman is very good at describing meditative and mystical experiences. This is a book of special effects. That is what makes it a "spiritual adventure."
The author is a gay man, though that only comes through the story obliquely. But that he is articulating spiritual wisdom seems to me to demonstrate nicely the gay role of mystic seer.
Planet of Darkness: A spirit's journey through time and matter to save his planet by Jerry Belvo
Jae Publishing, POB 3533, Littleton CO 80161 150 pages, PB, $9.95
Like William Kaufman, Jerry Belvo is a gay man. He too wants to articulate ideas and wisdom he has learned as a student of metaphysics and New Age idealism. And like High in the Andes, Planet of Darkness doesn't really have a plot. Again the quest in the story is the protagonist's search for his true, deeper identity.
The story describes a series of meditation experiences the main character has as he learns to expand his meditation and to communicate with and move in other dimensions with ease. In his soul travel he reaches a level of consciousness where he discovers the Earth is being judged by a High Court of masters who will decide the planet's fate. Overpopulation and ecological disruption, arising from fundamental ignorance contaminate Earth. With the help of the masters, the character participates in cleaning up the contamination on a karmic level by his meditative practice. His final realization is that all beings are one.
As a novel, Planet of Darkness is a little clunky. But as a description of meditative experience and a summary of mystical wisdom it's quite interesting and readable. It also proffers good special effects for imaginative readers. And the message is right-on.
Where the Rainbow Ends by Jameson Currier
Overlook Press, 432 pages, HB, $24.95
A nostalgically lush and beautifully written memoir of the "end of the party" and the beginning of AIDS, this lovely, long and involving novel articulates a message about loving life in spite of, and therefore transcending, the sometimes horrible details. AIDS was such a horror. Gay men, like the protagonist of this story, learned and taught an important message about transforming horror.
The novelistic technique of having a gay man father a child as a symbol of life-affirmation seemed too standardly heterosexual. And the long, winding narrative overran the meager plot, but the book was truly a joy to read.
Every Man for Himself: A Novel of Love, Romance and Findng Mr. Right by Orland Outland
Kensington Books, 265 pages, HB, $22.00
In the breezy style of a fluff, semi-porn pulp, this surprisingly wise and at times startlingly disturbing novel addresses a classic mythical theme: what if you got what you always wanted.
By a curious quirk of modern AIDS treatment, the protagonist has been saved from death by protease inhibitors and then ,by testosterone supplmentation and devotion to his workout routine, been transformed from a nice but wimpy guy into a dancefloor stud and sexy hunk.
His fascination with the world of beautiful boys he's never felt welcome in exposes him to the speed-using side of young gay life. It's that world and the character's abandonment of himself to its allures that is disturbing. But the ending--and the lesson learned from the paradoxical problems of the fulfillment of all your desires--is very satisfying.
It is interesting to observe that this last novel, with no pretense of conveying gems of spiritual wisdom, probably got its message across the best of the four.
It did follow the basic plot skeleton to a T. There's a message here about spiritual plots and New Age novels!
Toby Johnson is author of Getting Life in Perspective, a gay "spiritual romance novel."