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Though most of the characters in this story are dark-skinned, this isn’t Earth and they’re not of African origin. Don’t read anything into the use of color as metaphor: the notion of “Shadow” versus “Light” has nothing to do with racial politics, and there are no deliberate (or so far as I’m aware, unintended) parallels being drawn. It’s a simple acknowledgment of diversity in fiction, and when I’ve achieved some mastery of the art of storytelling, I’ll eventually deal with more challenging aspects of that diversity. Baby steps first...
The story world is matriarchal, which is one reason why Mareth has her own home and why Amodai comes to live with her rather than vice versa. The religion is conservative, but not truly reactionary. From the limited evidence I’ve provided, you might be tempted to assume that the tyranny of the Light described from the perspective of the people of Haven is a deliberate statement that some sort of female religious coup occurred, eventually leading to an anti-male theology. That’s not the case. I remind you that you’ve only seen the story’s religion from the perspective of one small “provincial” town, and one whose theology was shaped by a single priestess who brought with here “apocrypha” whose contents she chose not to teach or to pass on to Talmin. Also, I’ve told the story mostly from the point of view of Amodai, who is not what one would consider a particularly profound theologian. So don’t extrapolate too far from your one example of Haven theology.
Speaking of theology: “Mother” is emphatically not Baba Yaga, though I’ve always enjoyed the image of the chicken-legged hut too much to resist borrowing it here. Through his interactions with Mother, I wanted to convey the superficiality of Amodai’s understanding of greater mysteries. Symbolically, Light is portrayed as a female presence and a force for nurturing and stability, whereas Shadow is portrayed as male, and as a disruptive, destabilizing force. Let's not make too much of that, shall we? There are no deep messages here about male and female stereotypes; this is nothing more than a simple narrative choice that arose from one of the dream images that led me to write the story. (Specifically, I remember waking in the middle of the night to fading images of some shadowy figure cooking an “eternal” stew, rich with all that was good in the world, that was never finished and that was constantly added to. From such humble images are novels begun.) I briefly considered inverting the male and female roles in this story, having Light be the male principle and Shadow be the female principle, but found that I disliked the implications of the resulting symbolism. In the end, I was more comfortable portraying the male principle as the problematic one, particularly since that better reflected the story’s matriarchal society.
The primary actors in this story are adolescents, and I definitely intended the concept of Shadow and the changes it causes in the bodies of those who enter it as a metaphor (hopefully not too heavyhanded) for the changes imposed by adolescence and for the adolescent struggle to define one’s identity. Though it’s certainly true that teenagers were forced to mature faster before our modern times, it’s also true in my experience that modern teens are far more mature than most adults give them credit for, though they lack the large amounts of life experience we elderly sorts have accumulated. One of the benefits of this seeming lacuna is that they’re far less fixed in their beliefs about our world and therefore more willing to embrace changes and consider ideas that we adults find increasingly uncomfortable as we get older. I tried to capture that in my story: these aren’t just adults playing the roles; instead, they’re as bright, responsible, and sometimes frustratingly blind as many of the teens I know. It’s generally been a pleasure having my certainties challenged by my own teenage children, and often a humbling reminder that I need to immerse myself more often in Shadow’s shades of grey lest I become too hidebound.
Did the rest of the world really slip into Shadow, or only parts of it? Amodai’s worldview is clearly narrow—confined to a single small village and its surrounds—and I’ve deliberately provided no evidence one way or the other about what has happened elsewhere. But if you think about it, it seems unlikely there was anything so special about Haven that it would become the only surviving human habitation by the end of the story. On the contrary, it seems unlikely at best that large, heavily populated cities would have fallen to Shadow in the manner Graemor described. Adults aren’t always reliable narrators, after all, though I try to play fair with my readers. Here, for example, I deliberately implied that for whatever reason, Haven has isolated itself from the rest of the world, and you’d be justified in interpreting some of the story events, and their interpretation by the characters, in that light.
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