James Treadwell’s Advent mixes fantasy and religion, and adult and YA themes, in the story of a teen boy in the present day who encounters mysterious artifacts created by legendary magus Johannes Faust.
What led you to Faust? How does it feel to be sharing him with Christopher Marlowe and Goethe?
Embarrassed, in a word. I didn’t actually know that my magician character was Faust until I was a fair way into the first version of the book. It came as something of a surprise, but it made sense of lots of aspects of his story. Needless to say, the last thing I want to do is invite comparisons with Marlowe or Goethe.
The Faust sections are written with a reversed chronology. What impression did you hope to make on the reader?
I didn’t have any specific effect in mind, except for the idea that the magus’s story, like the other parts of the book, needed to unfold from mystery toward revelation. The reverse narrative probably owes itself more than anything else to the fact that I knew where I wanted the book to start: the man leaving the sleet-swept city in the winter night, hurrying aboard ship, fleeing some kind of obligation, taking something with him he knew he shouldn’t be taking. After that, the only direction his story could go was backward. What thing? What obligation? Who’s he fleeing? If I’m honest I also had in mind a nod to one of the most perfectly structured of all novels, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, whose story proceeds simultaneously backwards and forwards. Not that I’d dare to suggest actual comparisons with Le Guin, any more than I would with Goethe.
You draw on several mythological traditions, and the fantastic characters often cross boundaries. How did you combine the different concepts?
I honestly don’t quite know how it happened. It struck me—it still strikes me—as strange that Holly, my dryad character, would know Christmas carols. But then, “dryad” is just the word that one of the other characters uses to describe her/it; I don’t know if Holly really “is” a dryad. In fact, I don’t know what a dryad really “is” at all (and neither does anyone else). Who knows what sort of existence and knowledge such beings have? All I knew was that I could hear Holly’s voice incredibly clearly, singing those carols, and speaking the way she does, and so that’s what I wrote down. The nonhuman world won’t obey anthropological logic, any more than it will obey any of our other expectations. It’s very important to me that the magic in Advent should be genuinely strange, raw—like what Prospero in The Tempest calls “rough magic.”