Strange and true: What Anthropology, Detective Fiction and Fantasy Have in Common
by M. Blackwell
"What is the meaning of it? What is the object of this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must have a purpose, or our universe has no meaning and that is unthinkable. But what purpose? That is humanity's great problem, for which reason so far has no answer." Thus the Great Detective himself posed the quest for truth, and for the meaning behind the truth. This search, the red thread of murder, is what connects the seemingly disparate worlds of anthropology, detective fiction and fantasy. Or perhaps this belief is only an outcome of my own idiosyncratic biography, seeing connections in my imagination where none exist in fact?
A brief explanation is in order here: as an anthropologist studying political violence, and addicted to detective stories, I've just self-published my first fantasy novel. Seawind is on the the surface a lighthearted mock-Gothic, with grim underlying themes of greed, violence and justice. It is set in the 'real' world - the haunting, serene beauty of Cape Cod in the winter - but retribution comes through the intervention of mythic beings. And M. Blackwell is a pen-name, my effort at keeping apart the worlds that are joined in ways cannot be easily fathomed, though the unconscious tells us it must be so.
It is was my fascination with detective novels and fantasy as a way of making sense of the chaos of good and evil, with which we are all inevitably confronted in our lives, that led me to write the story. I wonder if the search for meaning informs our fondness for the grim, brooding world of wrongdoing, from high crimes and misdemeanors to the cozy chills of malice domestic? It is easier to take on board, as it were, the crimes of the powerful or the powerless, of love and hate, at one remove, in the world of fiction. But as readers and writers, we are in fact seeking understanding of the world around us.
Coincidentally (or not) Marilyn Meredith's fictional detective, Deputy Tempe Crabtree, deals with spirits helpful or hostile in the course of her work, as she unravels the mysteries of sudden death. Eventually, acknowledging her native heritage, she calls upon the spirits of the dead to discover the truth. Is this a literary device or acknowledgement of truths about the world we live in, truths banished by the cold science of reason? Fugitive truths, but as essential to our understanding as they are to the final deliverance of justice?
Conan Doyle himself, suffering the double bereavement of the deaths of his wife and son, came to have a strong belief in spiritualism and the world of magic. He was derided in his time by the rationalists, who thought that tragedy had unhinged his mind. But grief can open windows of perception, and his powerful and compassionate intellect may have found the truths that most people spend their lifetimes simultaneously searching for and denying.
Is there at the bottom of our love of detective stories a search for truth, order and justice, when these are largely missing in the real world? And for the meaning of all of these? What, for instance, is justice? Or vengeance? Or fate? The quest continues.....
by M. Blackwell
...a haunted Cape Cod inn, the Wild Hunt, an out-of-work anthropologist, a magical cat and some very bad winter weather…
Samantha Black finds work as the kitchen help at a struggling Cape Cod inn after losing her job teaching anthropology. At the Inn, she and her cat Sebastian find friends – Beth the innkeeper, Phil the cook and handyman, and the dog Daisy. A Halloween storm brings a tormented spirit pursued by the Wild Hunt to the quiet, remote location, which turns out to be a crossroads of power. As winter approaches, the Hunt and the evil spirit they pursue bring storms and destruction to the small towns of the outer Cape. Samantha and her friends must summon the Hunt to persuade it to complete its work and leave. Sebastian helps the Hunt to capture the evil spirit and restore the moral and natural balance.
Mary Blackwell is a pseudonym. But she really
– is an anthropologist
– has been unemployed
– has lived on Cape Cod
– worked as the kitchen help
Sebastian is a real cat.