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On the Origin of the The Light Bearer
About the Author

   --- by Donna Gillespie

Origin of the The Light Bearer

Because this book was my life for so many years, it was not driven by any single intent; it seems to have sprung from a number of constantly shifting and developing central life concerns. The person who began it was very different than the person who recently completed it. When I set out, the motives that were to develop into the themes of this book lay dormant in me; consciously I was aware only of a desire to write an adventure story with depth, an odyssey with developed characters, a rich, full book with a broad scope. But over the years, themes started emerging, almost in spite of myself. I found my concern with the practical and concrete gradually giving way to the intangible. I began delving into the deeper sources of these two cultures, two worlds, sometimes hauntingly beautiful, sometimes disturbingly barbarous, that were being illumined by my research. I began dwelling less on physical details--what they wore, what they ate, how they fashioned their weapons--and began shifting more toward a concern with myth and its effect on outlook and behavior, the possibility of transformation through mystery traditions, the effect of culture on patterns of thought. For Auriane, what began as a simple search for safety began evolving into a search for enlightenment. Auriane's practical plea that dominated the earlier drafts: Tactics must be questioned, opened out into: All-you-accept-in-life-as-true must be questioned. I feel that I grew up with Auriane. So much love and hope and intensity were poured into this effort that sometimes I fantasized I was not so much writing a book as building a temple. She was a cult, whose rites I performed every day for twelve years. The book was becoming a sort of psychological and spiritual laboratory in which I could test out new ideas. If I experienced and processed something, then Auriane must experience and process it too. She both led me and followed me. The book in a sense is an emotional diary of the years spent writing it, a psychological record of a life in the twentieth century transposed into the first.

Setting out to write this book was like beginning the exploration of a cave. In the beginning, I saw the cave's entrance, and felt reasonably certain there was a sizable chamber hidden within. As I explored it, I stumbled along in darkness, often frustrated, able to discern only the limited space illumined by my lamp. Then I began blundering on passages whose existence I'd never suspected, that led to greater chambers deeper and deeper underground. Some proved useless, others proved bottomless. When it was time to let the book go, the pleasure I felt was mixed with desolation because I had to leave so much in these caverns unexplored.

I originally conceived of the book as a portrayal of contrasting cultures, the Roman half--those people who lived in the full sun of the historical record--more staid, rational, Apollonian, while the barbarian half--an older stratum, where people still lived in prehistory's dark-of-the-moon--more Dionysian, passionate, wild. Auriane was at first meant simply to personify that wild freedom. But, over the years, steadily and organically, her purposes grew. Auriane was, I feel, an attempt to explore, through art, a being with a philosophical mind caught in a culture without the written word, where thought follows deep-worn, tribal pathways, where philosophy and myth are one--dramatized at the moment she encounters the wider world with its crosscurrents of ideas. Decius the outsider becomes her library; the volumes that live in his mind are her texts. I also wanted to consider the life of a woman afflicted with a deeply-embedded sorrow she does not understand--her struggle to unravel the source of that sorrow interested me. And I wanted as well to explore the mind of a woman who endured the life-transforming experience of losing family, culture and all that gives comfort. Auriane is pulled out of the familiar world in which she has learned to survive, and thrust into an alien world where little that she has learned is of any use. She struggles to re-create her culture in the new land, until she comes to the realization that this is not possible, and really, not even desirable. The new way of life she fashions is a much richer one because it contains elements of both. At the end, she comes to understand Ramis' words: Catastrophe is fertile, it brings forth worlds. This was something I felt compelled to show: That the most disastrous circumstance in life is often, much later, shown to lead to liberation from many limiting conditions--without it, a new world could never have been born.

Auriane from the first was fully formed: I had a sharp, clear vision of her face, knew the sound of her voice, the shape of her opinions, how she would respond in any situation. I feel that, in a way, Auriane taught me to write, because I felt a great urgency to learn the craft of constructing a novel so that I could do her justice. As years passed and her portrait began to feel complete, I was a little surprised at what was there: A woman both human and idealized, a sort of female 'sun hero' with whom you wouldn't feel reluctant about sitting down and divulging your most humiliating secrets. Or an adventurer on a quest who still was not above crippling bouts of self-doubt. When I thought of her story in terms of myth, the only mythical antecedents I could think of were male: Beowulf, Ulysses, or maybe St. George setting out after the dragon. Yet she was so undeniably a female force. She also seemed to have no precise antecedents in history. Though originally inspired by Queen Boudica, in the end, her nature and circumstances became quite different. And the Germanic tribes produced no exact equivalent--at least, not that has been entered into the record. She seemed a great risk, yet all along I had a suspicion she did exist, that her story simply failed to catch the notice of the historians. She seemed to belong nowhere, yet she was brazenly, undeniably there, demanding I make room for her.

Although historical accuracy was extremely important to me, I hope this book will be read less as history, more as an artist's interpretation of a psychic journey, a lyrical rendering of a life. Approaching it purely as history would be like attempting to study botany by examining impressionist paintings of trees! There is truth in those trees, but it isn't literal truth. I feel the book is first and foremost a poetic exploration of experience.


author picture Donna Gillespie was born in Gainesville, Florida, and graduated from the University of Florida in 1970 with a degree in Fine Art. She studied for seven years with Leonard Bishop, a novel writing instructor at UC Berkeley Extension who places a strong emphasis on mastering structure; without him, she doubts she would have made the transition from the short story to the novel. Since childhood, she'd been collecting and reading archeology books, so when she began her novel, using a classical setting seemed a natural choice. THE LIGHT BEARER is her first novel. She presently lives in San Francisco with her dwarf rabbit, Edie. Her current work is a continuation of the same saga begun in THE LIGHT BEARER.

"Historical novels have always had a powerful allure I'll never completely understand; I think it all began when I discovered, at age ten, the novels of Mary Renault--those lyrical and evocative tales that so sensitively revealed ancient Greece. I knew immediately THIS was what I wanted to do when I grew up: to be able to time travel as Mary Renault did, to conjure up the ancient world so that it was as graphically real to me as the small Florida town in which I grew up. Years later, I saw the PBS presentation of I CLAUDIUS, and never fully recovered: First century Rome took over my life. My novel, THE LIGHT BEARER, came about partly as the result of the fact that I just couldn't get enough of I CLAUDIUS! I read all the sources Robert Graves used for the book, and then began repeatedly raiding the San Francisco Main Library, devouring everything I could find on Roman history and culture. When I began THE LIGHT BEARER, I didn't realize that I was mired in a mammoth project that wouldn't let me go for twelve years. While working on the book, I especially enjoyed the challenge of portraying history from the unknown side, the unpopular side, the seemingly insignificant side, revealing the lives of those individuals about whom the historical record is silent."

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