I was handed a bunch of interview questions a while back and we actually had an audio interview but that interview is now lost in the hills of Argentina (I kid you not). I have been answering them one by one on my blog at www.birthpangs.com but this one (and a couple to come) I thought would be relevant here. You can read the other four questions and answers at the Birth Pangs site. Here, reprinted, is question five and my answer:
Why pick a post-nuclear war setting to explore these themes: first, the theme of human virtue and fortitude, and, second, the theme of ultimate truth?
Interestingly, what I wanted to do in the book decided this setting. I didn’t start out wanting to have a Mad Max landscape. A Mad Max landscape was the natural outgrowth of some of the purposes of the book. What I wanted to get at is a point where everything is stripped away leaving only individual people striving on their own, free from the structures of government, church, and civilization. There aren’t many plausible scenarios that can give you that and one of the things I wanted to remain is plausible. I know that there are fantastic elements to the book… but under my argument (slowly revealed over all the books), is that everything in the books can actually be true in our own world. So, how do we get from the world we are in now to a world in which every man has to fend for themselves, rebuilding what they believe and how they think free from peer influence? A post-apocalyptic setting is required, unless I want to have a completely fantastic Perelandra world.
Now, I wanted that setting to help lay out virtue and fortitude and even ultimate truth because I believe we take the crutches of society for granted. I am not saying that society’s influence is bad or improper, only that we shouldn’t take it for granted. We like to think of ourselves as good and righteous and brave people, but really, what would we be like if there was no policeman to think about or no armies to concern ourselves with? I think we need those curbs, but my point is that we shouldn’t fool ourselves about ourselves. We may only be civil because it is imposed on us. But what if those curbs weren’t in place?
If the curbs weren’t in place, we’d really find out the robustness of our virtues. We’d find out if we’d behave if there was no policeman to tell us to do so. We’d find out if we were brave when confronted with an injustice or a dastardly deed we had no policeman to call, but had to do something ourselves.
This ties in now with the question of ultimate truth. You don’t have anyone telling you what is right or true anymore, yet each and every one of us has an innate sense that there are right or true things, though we grasp at them and nearly always fail to meet our own standards, let alone the standards of others (think CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the first chapter). What are you going to do? You can’t rely on authorities- authorities are gone.
In the Birth Pangs world, this is the real situation and the people struggle endlessly with them. But I do not think that our situation is much different. We still have to answer the same questions, only now we might say there are too many authorities, too many voices telling us what is true and real. Our problem is sorting them out and that basically requires the same process and methodology as starting over from ’scratch.’
I should say that I had wished to make a clean slate in the Birth Pangs world, with literally everything stripped away, but found that I couldn’t. The same principles I explore are the ones that demand that certain realities persist. There are still lingering tensions from past hates, for example. The UN has come in and taken away all of the guns, and a gunless world truly gives us an opportunity to be courageous and test our mettle, but I couldn’t realistically get rid of them all. That meant an on-going discussion about ‘gun rights’ which couldn’t be avoided. There are various political movements that surface that have their origins in our own times, and I couldn’t realistically suggest that they were completely gone, either. What to do about them forms a backdrop to the series.
Still, the main objective I think was reached: people found out what they were made of without the boundaries and crutches of ‘civilized’ society and likewise flail about for ideas on determining the source and nature of real truth.