A Conversation Between
Eric Darton, Historical Novelist
& David Myers, Novelistic Historian
Initiated & Moderated by Tobias Meinecke
Eric Darton, Historical Novelist
& David Myers, Novelistic Historian
Initiated & Moderated by Tobias Meinecke
In April 2020, Tobias Meinecke, founder of Love Child, a Berlin-based company providing scripts and concepts for film, television, and graphic novels, invited two American writers whose books he is adapting, to discuss the boundaries of fiction, nonfiction, storytelling and genre.
Their conversation is followed by a scene from Meinecke’s adaptation of Myers’ book.
Tobias: I’m happy to host this conversation with William David Myers, who goes by David, and John Eric Darton, who goes by Eric. And I am – hold your horses – Stephen Tobias Hubertus Meinecke…
Eric: Quite the power name. Even if the “von” is silent.
Tobias: Modesty forbids. I go by Tobias. Now both of you have popular first and middle names but have chosen to go by the latter.
Eric: Well, I didn’t learn I was John until I was maybe ten, since no one called me anything but Eric. But the two together, “John Eric,” sounds “generic.”
Tobias: If you’re one thing it’s the opposite of generic. And that goes for David too. And I’m glad we’re finally making it happen since I think you have a lot in common: you’re both professors, writers and historians living in New York City. Both of you have written historical nonfiction, though Eric sees himself primarily as a fiction writer. And most importantly, I find it tremendously interesting that two contemporary American writers have published independently from another books about Germany in the 1600s – a fact, and choice, I find highly unusual.
Before we talk about your books, and how they became source material for television and movie projects, I have this question: as writers of historical books, would you say one interest – writing vs. history - drives the other? Meaning, did your interest in writing come first, and the interest in history follow? Or was it the other way around?
David: Well, professionally, I’m a historian. I've always loved writing, but what I decided to take on as my vocation is history and the writing of history. And that does affect a great deal how I approach a topic. When I sit down to write something, for example, in a historical book that goes beyond the boundaries of what I can actually quote, I find that I can’t do it. And so for me, crossing over the boundary between history and historical fiction would go beyond the obligation of a professional historian to get things right, to follow the sources rather than my own imaginative capacities.
Tobias: Nevertheless, your Death and the Maiden is a page-turner. In the book you reconstruct a really heart-breaking infanticide trial that took place in Brunswick, Germany, in the late 1600s. And from what you just said about only following the sources, you were able to tell the complete story, not only of the trial, but of the story that led to it – 400 years later. I could not imagine the arc of that story being any more complete, dramatically speaking. Was there any moment in the writing where you felt tempted to conjure connections or where you felt you had to connect missing dots?
David: Well, one of the things that I have to correct here is that it’s not entirely complete. The protagonist, the young woman disappears. We don’t know anything about what happens to her after her ordeal.
Tobias: But for me as a reader, and a potential storyteller of this for the screen, that’s actually a perfect ending. As a fiction writer, I couldn't have come up with anything better.
David: But I could have. If I wrote this as fiction, I would probably try to go into her life afterwards, and the same is true for her lawyer, Oldekop; again, that part of the story peters out. And it only picks up later with the fortuitous discovery of his funeral sermon that was preserved. Because of that, I was able to put a kind of “The End” to his story. But if I were to write it as fiction, I would want to have a resolution. And one of the things that doesn’t happen and that I can’t make happen is the actual resolution. It may come out fortuitously in terms of imagination, but as a piece of fiction, I would have rounded it off some.
Tobias: Fascinating. Well, in my opinion, you make your work sound much more academic than it actually reads. It reads like a fantastic, almost detective-style novel. It’s quite brilliant.
David: Thank you.
Eric: I think part of the book’s brilliance is also the way you’ve chosen to alternate the somewhat subjectively voiced chapters with the analytical chapters. I don’t know how you came to that method, but it seems to me to be the foundational dynamic of the book.
David: As you know, if you’re stringing together a very long narrative and the chapters get too long, people stop reading. And this allowed me to cut the chapters up and then put them into interesting positions. There is some historical material you simply can’t get past and with this technique I was able to put some of that material in the “off” chapters, so that the chapters about the girl could remain more or less starkly narrative and I could follow her story that way and then intersperse it with analytical or historical background. That was the conceit of doing that and I actually do think it worked out pretty well. I mean, if I ever do another book like this, that’s probably the model I would follow.
Tobias: Eric, you have written both fiction and non-fiction. But when I read your work, the boundary seems clear. I see very different techniques and approaches to storytelling in your Free City trilogy of novels and in your social history of the World Trade Center. How do you navigate fiction and non-fiction with regards to history?
Eric: It’s an evolving process. I feel I’m basically just a historical subject – one of an increasing number of people on the planet, who all are historical subjects. On one hand there is the story of what happens to us objectively. But there’s also the story of how we experience being historical subjects. I’m always interested in exploring the rift between the two modes and calling across the chasm between them.
You ask, how do these two trains of fiction and nonfiction run in me? I’m not really sure they are two distinct trains. My father was not super-educated. But he had literary sensibilities and introduced me pretty early on to Tolstoy and read me a lot of Russian writers. When I got around to reading, say, War and Peace, on my own, it felt like: Well, okay – what is this? Is this history? Is this fiction? Of course, as I got older, I was able to make that distinction. But I had number of reading experiences in which I found great overlaps between one and the other.
And when the time came – picking up the point that David was making – to write the one history book I’ve published, which is the World Trade Center book, it adhered to the methods of social historians in the late 20th century. I was guided by some first-rate advisors and got some real intense courses in historiography.
By then, I’d written a lot of fiction, but I was well-prepared to restrain those instincts in myself that David calls imaginative, but which I prefer to call associative. And by associative, I mean I don’t believe that I imagine any of my fictions. Maybe that’s a conceit on my part, but my approach is to follow a train of associations that doesn’t necessarily have a factual base, but rather an experiential base in my characters.
David was talking about the resolution for which he had no sources. Writing the World Trade Center book, I had a couple of odd moments in relation to a resolution myself. I wrote a book about buildings that were standing, and the resolution came, and those buildings were no longer standing. And that happened pretty soon after the publication.
During the process of writing that history, I ran into some significant gaps in the record. But I learned that I could often infer what had happened to produce a particular outcome in the absence of an actual record. Alas, I was able to say: “In order to get to this documented result, here’s what most likely happened.”
But even in the cases where we have tons of archival material, the downside of factual sources is that they can impede the associative process, because it’s all there and it’s all clear, and it’s all literal. So, for me, the job of the historian is not – is certainly not – to falsify. But it’s also not to get caught in what we know, or what someone wrote down someplace. Because then you’re trapped in the Bible – you just reinvent Scripture.
David: I think one of the things Eric is talking about that’s really important is the associative stuff. I mean, when you’re trying to write the history of the World Trade Center, you want to have some sense of what's going on just atmospherically in Lower Manhattan at the time. Or if you’re writing the history of the end of the World Trade Center, there is this incredible fear that everybody had at the time, that the “bathtub,” the structure underneath was going to break down and then you’d have tunnels flooded all the way. But that didn’t happen and yet you would want to capture, as Eric is saying, you would want to capture the sense of what that fear, what that anxiety was on the part of politicians, on the part of the New Yorkers. So, I think that's actually very important.
I guess what I would have to do is, if I were going to make the kinds of associations that Eric is making, I would simply have to footnote it and say: "This here is associative speculation. There's no evidence to establish a causal connection," and that kind of gets you off the hook, obviously.
Tobias: You both transport your readers, and hopefully at some point in the future lots of film and television viewers, into two very similar worlds: these small and, for their time supposedly liberal, Free City states within Germany in the 17th century. No one I know of in Germany has taken that sort of microscopic view of that world and has written about it so powerfully.
David: Free City is very cool, by the way.
Eric: Oh, thank you. I’m in the midst of Death and a Maiden chapter three. And, things are really beginning to… well, does she or doesn’t she have a bun in the oven? And, of course you don’t say it in so many words, but boy, do we not like her employers.
David: No, we don’t either. They’re annoying, really.
Eric: If that’s a free city, I would rather be under a benevolent dictator.
Tobias: When it came to consider adapting these stories for the screen, both of you gave me key insights that helped me see the power of the material. David, you mentioned, that I should not forget in my moral judgment of the inquisition what was known and what was not known about pregnancy in 1660. Basically, very little was known. And that led me to the central idea around which to adapt the material: the unknown. Your emphasis on this topic of the unknown--together with all the horrors and fears experienced at the tail end of the Thirty-Years war, exemplified by the marauding soldiers or horsemen--has led me to think that there is a feeling of horror and fear that permeates this entire narrative and infects all characters. It’s not a horror movie. But there is clearly a fear of what’s coming, and that is very specific. It’s not, "Oh, I fear what's coming because I know it's bad for me,” but instead “I fear what's coming, because I don't know what that is."
Eric, I was already a fan of Free City. But the Eureka moment came, when you introduced me to see the not yet published manuscripts of the rest of the trilogy, and it became clear that your story feels historically real, and yet fantastical and satirical at the same time – a blend of genre, that is highly original and very much thought after. And that was such valuable insight – because every adaptation starts with the question: what is the genre?
Coming back to my main question: what got you to the 1600s and to this particular part of it in Germany? What brought you into Brunswick or into the Free City, which for me is Rostock, Lübeck, Danzig (Gdansk) or the like?
David: My answer is incredibly simple and banal. I was wandering around a library that gave me a fellowship. I found the sources in the library. I said, “Oh, cool, I’ll go find the rest of the sources.” So, I did and that’s what they pay me a good salary to do.
Eric: Well there’s also the question of what disposes one to even be looking. One of the fascinating aspects of your book, David, is, that you have an extremely good grasp of legal and judiciary concepts. Your ability to explicate not just what Tobias was saying about ideas of physiology, biology, gynecology, but also to explicate the evolution of legal concepts through time and how that comes together with religious ideas.
Aside from the gripping story itself, it’s fascinating how you narrate the confluence of a kind of endgame Christianity, the Christianity of the Middle Ages, coming together with these early modern interpretations of science and scientific theory.
You make it clear that for the authorities trying Grethe, truth was paramount. The authorities will resort to torture, if need be, to establish the truth – which is part of what makes your book obviously very relevant to readers today.
Where did that idea come from that the truth is so absolute and so essential – that one would go to that length to establish it? Obviously, it seems to me to come out of the religious or even pre-religious need for certainty, an Aristotelian kind of concept. Which, at that moment in history, is playing out in a funny way. Now there is science, through which truth can be established. And it is their job to find the truth, using the available scientific system to find it, whatever the cost is and not to think about anything else. All they have to do is go for the truth. And that empowers the truth-seekers to create whole systems around the idea of truth. It also can be an enormous delivery system for human misery.
David: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Eric: Because you’re thinking about the truth to the exclusion of all else.
David: I think you’re right about the religious connection. That’s why confession to the crime was so important. The idea of confession in early modern continental jurisprudence comes out of the significance of confession as a religious act, and then obviously the significance of testifying. So, there’s that. The other side of it is, when you think about lawyers, the one thing that I did think about were these legal theorists, including the lawyer Oldekop himself.
I have very good friends who are lawyers. And one of the things that they kept saying was, this isn’t theory. This guy is a lawyer, and what lawyers do is law. In this case, he's asking about jurisdiction, he's looking where can he place the case. Lawyers through time think like lawyers, and that is a continuity in Western society, in Western history. And lawyers are usually not great intellectuals. Most often they are practical people who follow leads and see what they can make out of them. So that, I think was actually something that was really, really important.
But I want to come back to Free City and how you got into that, and I still want to know, why that?
Eric: I don't know. What I can say is that I was ripe to do a novel because I’d written a lot of short fiction and a novella. I’ve always loved words and pictures, had all kinds of picture books growing up, I just wanted to do something like that. So, I came across a book called Lebek, filled with black and white line drawings about eleven by fourteen, a decent sized book. And every page is a bird’s-eye view showing a stage in the evolution of what ends up as modern city, which is kind of fictionalized Lübeck. It begins with a Stone Age settlement and page by page shows you the process of growth and development. They’re beautiful drawings.
So, when I was going through the book and came on the drawing of the city in the 17th century, I said to myself: I can live there. And then I don’t know how many years later, four, five, six, seven years, an image rose in me and it clicked and I was like, Oh, okay, well! So, bingo, 17th century, here we go, and I was in. And I don’t think I realized at the time how much background material I had already ingested. For example, I had just come off of reading Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus.
And it was the language in that book that pulled me into that specific time and place, even in translation. Phrases like someone “paying his debt to nature,” meaning dying. Peoples’ use of language showing how they conceived of the world.
To fully answer you, I come back to your Death and a Maiden. To me, the subtext of your book is: how does patriarchy iterate a set of functions that allow it to survive in one way or the other. I mean, you’ve got all these free women out there, nubile women, if not maidens. They're out there. And they are an uncontrolled, potentially uncontrollable force, like the Netherlands and the water surrounding it. How do you make dikes around members of your population so that you can use them productively? Basically, work them to death for pennies a day, because all that human energy, sexual energy is going to be channeled into work. So, in a Foucauldian sense, you’ve got one set of processes legally and conceptually overtaking another set of processes. Now infanticide comes in and you make a very good point, which is that prosecuting it is actually not about protecting babies at all. Not anymore than putting missing kids on milk cartons. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to find them. I’m just saying it’s more difficult to ask what made them go missing?
So that’s how I came to Free City, through a process to a place where there is the beginning of scientific rationalism, yet again, as in Simplicissimus, guys are going into battle – into the first really metalized, mechanized modern war we know off, right? And they’re going in with charms around their necks to protect them from bullets! And there is Mother Courage! I mean, it was like bang, bang, bang – it all jumped into place. And then the narrator started talking to me. It’s like a guy who buttonholes you in a bar, saying, “Oh, God, you wouldn't believe what happened to me." And that’s when you start listening. And fortunately, since he’s not a boring guy, I kept listening and writing it down.
Tobias: Both your stories concern themselves with knowledge. David, you talk about the power legal scholars and Universities are given in the interpretations of Law; they become the ultimate arbitrator. And Eric, you built your story on the emergence of Science at the time of the Thirty-Year War. There is a reverence for learning in both your stories.
When I read Death and the Maiden, I was really surprised that these seemingly omnipotent Ratsherren succumbed to the final judgment of a University, which told them outright: no corpus delicti, sorry. You can flog the girl to death for fornication, if you want. But you cannot drown her for infanticide. For me to see this omnipotent Magistrate and his Ratsherren surrender to the opinion of a University, a center of learning, was a shock – when there was nothing enlightened or revering of higher learning in any of his actions before.
And obviously, knowledge and learning are also very important parts of Free City, as Lambrecht, the narrator, is the embodiment of the highest level of knowledge, learning and inquiry in his time. So, did this confluence of these topics come out only from the source or was there something in our times that directed your interest? I mean, obviously, I recognized the Taliban in New Brunswick – no, I mean Brunswick – Braunschweig… (laughter)
Eric: They are also in New Brunswick, believe me. Just go through the tunnel…
Tobias: …but also the evangelists and their attempt to control of the reproductive system in America and other places. And I saw, to me obviously, Trump in Roberto, Free City’s villain. I’m not speculating that you had that intention at the time of writing – for Eric it would anyhow have been more of a premonition. But does historical writing in general, and yours specifically, need that connection to the contemporary?
David: To our times? Oh, yeah. Look, we’re modern 21st century people. The concerns we have are contemporary. First of all, what’s interesting about Death and the Maiden is the girl, really. And then the legal story that connects to it. At least half the readers of this book are likely to be women. I have four sisters. I know what their concerns are. So, you talk about the question of pregnancy. You talk about the question of sexual assault. You talk about all of these contemporary issues.
But maybe, if I were to look at this material from a standpoint of maybe thirty years ago, I would not have thought as much about the question of sexual assault or about consent. And in fact, the women in the story might not have been as interesting to me. What might have been more interesting is the absolute social history of the time, poverty vs. wealth, etc.
So, yeah, you can’t avoid the current times, because no matter how much we want to say, "Oh, yeah, I really am really interested in the 17th century," we are really interested in our times. And if you’re writing, you want to have an impact.
As it happened, while writing the book, torture became an issue for Americans in a very serious way. And so, I probably would not have spent as much time talking about torture, had we not had the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in which the Americans went berserk. And so torture then, and the question of how you extract information and what that means became more important in my writing, not because of history, obviously it was in the source, but because at every point I had to be influenced by what was going on around me and also what people were asking me. The minute you say somebody was tortured, one of your friends, your students, your colleagues, is going to ask, what exactly did they do? I know that’s a little creepy. But people are immediately interested in it.
So, yeah, my writing definitely was influenced by the audience I thought I would have. And that even applies to history in general. One of the things is that I knew the audience for this book would be largely professionals and people who are in my field. And that was one of the reasons why I couldn’t go beyond the boundaries of what the historical sources would allow me to say, because I’d get hammered just on that.
Eric: I get it. But I think this could easily be a much more of a mass-market publication.
David: Well, when we get it translated to German, we’ll work on that.
Tobias: Well, when I started to talk to people in Germany about adapting this for the screen – we did develop a treatment, and I wrote various scenes – the very thing that makes it strong and relevant, works both for it and against it. Saying it is relevant for today gets their interest initially. "Yes, yes, yes. It's really relevant for today.” And then it's like, "Oh, hang on a sec. It's really relevant for today. Oh shit, it's about torture. Oh, shit." You know?
One of the things that interests me, and I found so contemporary, and that obviously was interesting you, is the opposition of sexual assault vs. sexual self-determination. What I admire about Grethe Schmidt is how this young woman is not shamed by the wrong thing – even if in our contemporary understanding she was assaulted, coerced, raped. She says, "Yeah, yeah, of course. We had sex. But I never had a baby.” That not only saves her life, but also makes her a kind of modern young woman. At least in my view. We don’t know, maybe all young women at that time were defiant. But I found that candid distinction amazing.
Eric: I think we are talking about the ground the story is falling on, both in the writer and whoever the readers are. As David said thirty years ago, you’re telling a different story with different emphases. And those emphases don’t just affect your storytelling, they even affect your reception and uptake of the material.
In my case, I’ve been politically radical since I was in my mid-teens. Because I grew up in the aftermath of the civil rights movement and had some very strongly politicizing experiences growing up. What I had to do, my chief task was to basically sublimate my political ideas and not even think about them when writing stories, which makes it possible for me to, for instance, write a story about a monstrous guy like Lazzaro (Roberto in Free City).
I mean, Lazzaro is not necessarily the most active of the dynamic component of my personality, but he’s certainly in there just as are all the characters that one encounters, whether they’re historical or not.
Part of what was a personal, emotional triumph for me – and even an intellectual triumph – in the World Trade Center book was recognizing myself in some of the people I thought of as the villains and realizing how, from where they were sitting and how they got to be sitting there, why do they do what they do. You know, once you’re on the city council of Braunschweig your job is to walk this delicately, part of it being the political insecurity of the moment.
Not that most of human history isn’t insecure, but if you're in the middle of a plague, it’s not just insecure. You’re fucked. Which brings me always back to, how is it that people behave in these places where it doesn’t feel like you really have a complete story or have a story that you can really flesh out , as you have in the aftermath of 9/11. So, where do you go for your truth? Basically, collectively speaking, societies tend to freak out and they tend to freak out toward the defaults, what they’ve done in the past, reactions that, even if they weren’t successful at least they made them feel more secure in the moment. And torture is one of those things in which you have a perfect subject and object relationship, or at least you can imagine you do.
I have a book about Achilles by Elizabeth Cook. It’s wonderful. In it, Achilles is down to the underworld after being killed in Troy and he’s asking the people who are coming into the underworld after him, “Have you seen my son? Have you seen him?” And one of the newly-dead guys says, “Yes, I did see him. He was fighting. All harm came from him. None came to him.” It was put so economically. Just beautiful. Neoptolemus is doing his thing and he’s alive and all harm came from him, none to him. It’s that absolute Aristotelian thinking. It’s that binary switch. It’s on. It's off. It’s black. It’s white. We in the West don’t have slots for those things meshing and that's why we have problems with anything that's ambiguous.
So, part of my job as a historian is to sort out thinking. I start with something like “Is the mind of an urban planner like that of a terrorist in some respect?” And the answer is, yes, because they both indulge in a lot of abstract thinking. And so do some of the guys that are populating your stories, David. One of the reasons that Grethe emerges as such a heroine, almost by default, aside from our natural sympathy for her as a person who is in the jaws of these awful men, is that she’s a Mensch. She's not indulging in abstract thinking. She’s living a difficult life with all of its consequences. And she’s paying the price. None of these guys are doing that. I mean, not in the way that she is. And I think that that's partly what makes her like a fictional character. You know, like Bigger Thomas (Native Son, by Richard Wright) or Scout (To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee) – those young characters who are both witnessing and experiencing at the same time. And to me, that’s where the whole conviction comes, regardless of what time we’re living in. Because if you take a writer of the classics, like Shakespeare or Cervantes, they’re always being recycled for the new moment. When is madness going away? When will Quixote become irrelevant? I don’t know. When human beings really change – maybe. Baudelaire put it a little bit differently when he was talking about the Haussmannization of Paris. He said that the city changes faster than the human heart, the mortal heart. That there's something almost immortal about a city, whereas the human heart is mortal, and it cannot keep pace with that.
Tobias: I recently heard somewhere that more than 60% of all film and television could be described as historical. That doesn’t mean it is historical in a way that David or you are writing your books, but it is not contemporary, not about our current times. Hence, I want to close with associations, associations one might come upon when thinking to adapt either of your books to the screen. So, I'll start with my associations
With Free City it was easy. There was one film, that helped me more than any other to recognize what Free City could be when adapted for the screen: The Death of Stalin. Not stylistically, mind you –
David: Great film.
Tobias: Basically, in that film the historical truth** and the complete liberty taken in the storytelling are kind of not just both there, they are almost one and the same.
For Death and a Maiden, I am wavering between two references. I first thought about The Crucible, the Arthur Miller adaptation with Winona Ryder and Daniel Day Lewis. But that is too literal. So, one of my references is an American film called The Witch, a recent film set in New England. The other one is a British Film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Those two, for the intimacy and the subjectivity of the heroine’s point of view, are for me a good starting point when thinking to adapt Death and A Maiden into a movie. David – is there a movie that comes to mind when you think of Eric's book?
David: Well, there’s a miniseries that comes to mind that comes out of a Thomas Mann novel, and that’s Buddenbrooks – because it’s about Lübeck and it is about the bourgeoisie. And then there’s another, Metropolis (Fritz Lang), you know, an old, old film. But you have this imagined city, that has its beauties, but particularly its horrors. And I think that would be an interesting parallel for all of us. I’m also trying to think of a historical movie about a city, something about London…
Tobias: There's a series called Taboo (created by Stephen Knight, starring Tom Hardy), which is very strong and takes place in London around the time of the slave trade and the American War of Independence. It’s of a little different flavor. But it actually works for both of you guys. It cuts straight to the historical core issues of that moment in time. And yet it is also – sort of – a work of pop culture. It spices history up in a way to make us see it clearer. It almost plays out like hallucination. Eric, you have anything for Death and a Maiden?
Eric: The one film that immediately comes to mind is Kasper Hauser (Werner Herzog, 1974). Because it’s again that element of mystery: how did this guy get into this predicament? You have, in a sense, a prodigy of nature who’s been created by the social moment. He didn’t jump into this voluntarily. And with Grethe we have the same thing. Whatever her personal tendencies may have been, they were forced into a certain configuration by the ethos her time and situation.
Along those lines, there is a non-central character in David’s book who nonetheless have real weight in the game. It is the cavalryman – who I think of as Hals’ “Laughing Cavalier” (1624).
So, how real is he? I mean, do we ever find out whether there was an actual cavalier in Grethe’s life? I’m never certain one way or the other. But right away, the minute he gallops onto the scene, my imagination gets going. Who conjured this stock figure of the casual libertine – you know what I mean? We would refer to the situation as statutory rape, but he was also a figure of tremendous romance within the culture. Danger and temptation. And he gets to ride off without consequences.
Tobias: The cavalryman, who was supposed to have gotten her with child?
David: That’s one of the rumors cited in court.
Eric: The cavalryman – I see him as Hals’ Cavalier because I can't help it now - the Cavalier is interesting because we don’t know if he actually exists.
Tobias: As far as we know, he didn’t. Or only as a fantasy of the inquisitors.
Eric: OK, well, great. It’s good that he didn’t. I love that there’s the historical material and then there’s that imaginary stuff intersecting right in the text. What intrigues me is the man-and-the-horse combination. We have a centaur figure, and when we go into the urban culture of early modernity, sure there are animals in the city, but we’re not on the farm anymore. In the cities the well-off have begun riding in carriages, they’re no longer on horseback. Of course, there are gardens in the city, but it’s not the same as the countryside, much less the forest. So, the wild, what represents the wild, is the cavalryman. Grethe is a domestic, literally domesticated. The Cavalier real or not, resonates with the wild which lives suppressed in her. You can never really cage the wild, and the Cavalier cannot even be caged within the bounds of whether he’s actually a real person or not. So that’s where an element enters into the narrative which transitions a wonderful story based on historical material into the mythological.
I love this, because the most concrete, verifiable narratives are always filled with symbolic elements. They are written in us at the deepest level. When we think of the horseman – the horse-man – it cuts right through a thousand layers of cultural history. It goes from the mythical centaur, to the whole myth that comes out of the Arthurian romances, which were a way of domesticating the fact that these guys were a bunch of rapists on horses. And then we come straight through to “The highwayman came riding, riding up the old inn-door” (poem by Alfred Noyes, 1906). We go straight through. It’s a narrative through line where history and myth intertwine.
Tobias: Thank you both. This was wonderful.
* The Return of Martin Guerre is of a similar genre to ‘Death and a Maiden’ – historical true crime.
** Most of the dialogue in The Death of Stalin is supposed to come from historic transcripts.
David Myers’ Death and a Maiden and Eric Darton’s Free City are available at Bookshop.org
For more information on Love Child, Storytellers for Film, TV and Graphic Novels: https://www.love-child.tv
READ a scene from Oldekop,
Tobias Meineck’s adaptation of Myers’ Death and a Maiden
Tobias Meineck’s adaptation of Myers’ Death and a Maiden