Literaturschock: England is one of the most popular settings for fantasy novels. What was your intention in making the novel take place in England?

Jonathan Stroud: My very first idea was to write a story about magic, in which normal rules were turned upside-down – the human magicians would be the villains, and the hero would be a demon. My second idea was that I would give the book a ‘realistic’ setting. Many fantasies take place in make-believe worlds, and I thought it was more interesting to try mixing the magic with ordinary, familiar things, to see what happened. I decided almost immediately that the villainous magicians would be politicians (!), and rule Britain from the Houses of Parliament in London. From that moment on, I had a lot of fun creating a London that was very similar to the one that I used to live in, with the single big difference that magic exists and is used by the magicians to maintain their power. Of course, I chose London because I know it well, so it was easy for me to spice up familiar streets – Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square – by adding lots of imps, demons and magical adventures. It also meant that I was able to include a hint of satire too: making quiet comments about politics and power, which are important issues in Britain at the moment.

Literaturschock: It’s very interesting that you give no witchery to the magicians. They are powerless without a demon. Can you tell us a little about that idea?

Jonathan Stroud: This was an idea that I had right at the beginning. In many fantasies, magicians have special powers that they are born with, and which they use for good (and sometimes evil). They are marked out as fundamentally ‘different’ from ordinary people, who don’t have this ability. I decided that my magicians would be no different from anyone else, except that they have been trained, since their childhood, in the craft of summoning demons. They have to learn many languages and be able to create the correct formulae for bringing the demons over safely, but apart from that they do no magic themselves. It is all done by the spirits, who are unwilling slaves of the magicians. This means that even ‘good’ actions by the magicians are morally questionable, since they are brought about by a kind of slavery. It is a problem that is gradually explored through the three books of the series.

Literaturschock: How would you describe the characters of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel? Who’s your favourite and why?

Jonathan Stroud: Bartimaeus is a middle-ranking djinni who has been enslaved by many magicians over 5,000 years. He has seen many things and had many amazing adventures and narrow escapes, but he is naturally bitter about his treatment by people over the centuries. He is energetic, witty, sarcastic and a bit cynical; he has a certain anarchic bravery, but is also a little prone to over-confidence. He thinks himself effortlessly superior to all humans. Nathaniel, by contrast, is very young and highly idealistic. He believes that demons are evil and that it is right that they should be enslaved. He also thinks that magicians are the rightful rulers of Britain, because they can use their powers to protect the ordinary people, or commoners. Nathaniel has many good qualities: he is brave, forthright and passionate, but because of his harsh upbringing, he is also solitary, lonely and very proud. Bart has to be my favourite, because of his energy and humour, and the way he uses words, but he needs to have Nat there as an antidote. If the whole book was told through Bart’s perspective, readers would quickly become tired! You need the cooler, more detached perspective of Nat’s story to balance him.

Literaturschock: The relationship between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus is very well on the one hand and on the other hand there is a bit of ambivalence. Is that the spice of the story?

Jonathan Stroud: Yes – for me their relationship is the heart of the book, and also the dynamo that drives it forwards. To begin with they loathe each other – each is very good at irritating the other one, and they are constantly attempting to gain advantage over their enemy. First one, then the other, gets the upper hand, and this endless battle powers the narrative. As time goes on, they begin (grudgingly) to admire each other too – by the end of Das Amulett, they have reached a kind of temporary truce based on mutual respect. I wanted them both to be morally ambivalent – neither one wholly good or admirable. This was more interesting to me than having a ‘simple’ hero, who is virtuous in every way. The readers must make up their own mind who they like, and what they admire. I think this very small-scale relationship is crucial – because it is so strong, I am able to build lots of other (lighter) things around it, such as all the fantasy fights, chases and magical excitements. But Bart and Nat are at the centre of everything.

Literaturschock: If you could choose: Magician or djinn.

Jonathan Stroud: This is a tricky one! If I had to be one or the other… I guess it would have to be a djinni, because of all the abilities that they have. It would be great to change shape into anything that I wished, or to fly, or to fight using Detonations and other magical attacks. Having said that, Bartimaeus and the other djinn have to endure much pain when they are in this world, and they have to obey their human masters, so they don’t really have a great time. Most of the magicians aren’t very attractive at all, since they get their slaves and servants to do all the nasty jobs for them. They are clever, but mostly selfish. As Nathaniel discovers in the book, many of the ministers in government are corrupt, and want nothing more than wealth and power. Yes, the more I think about it, I would rather be a long-suffering djinni than a rich, but reprehensible magician!

Literaturschock: Keyword: footer. We all love it, but it’s very unusual. Do you never think about the risk that many young people are deterred when confronted by so many footers?

Jonathan Stroud: The footnotes have been a feature of Bartimaeus’s voice ever since the first day of writing. I decided to try to find the demon’s voice, and began with Bart’s account of materialising in the cloud of smoke in Nat’s bedroom. Almost immediately, I found myself adding the footnotes, and I knew straight away that they would fit his character well. He is very knowledgeable, having been around for so many centuries, but the problem is he KNOWS it too – he thinks he is far wiser than all his human readers. So it made sense for him to add these little extra bits of information, almost like an academic textbook! As a writer I love them too, because it allows me to put in extra things that would otherwise clog up the main text, or (conversely) add silly jokes when they occur to me. It means I can play around with the tone of the story, keeping everybody (including myself) on our toes. I don’t think younger readers will worry about the footnotes – in fact, most will enjoy them. They are like little presents at the bottom of the page. Of course, if they don’t like them, they can just ignore them and get on with the main story!

Literaturschock: We heard that Bartimaeus is going to be filmed. Can you tell us more about it? How do they handle the footers which are very important for the story?

Jonathan Stroud: Miramax Films bought the rights to the three books of the trilogy back in 2002, and they have been working on the script to Das Amulett for two years now. I saw an early version of the script last year, and it was very good, although there were many differences between it and the original book. I think this is inevitable (it is a very long book) and I’m very excited about the possibilities of the film. You’re right that the footnotes are a big challenge for the filmmakers! One option is that Bartimaeus might deliver them as ‘asides’ to the camera, like he is talking directly to the audience, but there are probably problems with that approach too. At the moment, the script is being rewritten, so maybe someone will come up with a perfect solution… I am crossing my fingers that the book will become a movie, because I think it would work very well on screen. We shall see…

Literaturschock: Jonathan Stroud as a private person. Would you tell us more about your hobbies?

Jonathan Stroud: Well, for the last 3 years, I’ve been so busy scribbling away on this trilogy, that most of my hobbies have been temporarily neglected. In the past, when I had a job as an editor at a publishing house in London, my main hobby was writing – and that has now become my career! Aside from that, I like to read, sketch, run, play the piano, and go for walking holidays in mountains. Recently, all these have suffered a decline, but I intend to carry on with them (not necessarily all at once) this summer, when Book III is finished. At the moment, when I’m not writing, I spend most of my time playing with my small daughter Isabelle, who was born in December 2003. She is VERY energetic, and demands a LOT of attention…

Literaturschock: What are your favourite books and authors?

Jonathan Stroud: When I was 10 years old I read The Lord of the Rings, and that had a profound influence on me – for years I read lots of fantasy, and spent a lot of time creating fantasy board- and card games. Now, I don’t read fantasy so much; and the books I like are often very different from the ones I wish to write. I am a great admirer of RL Stevenson, who wrote Treasure Island, because that book embodies many of the values that I would like to attain: it is an adventure story for children that is also great for adults; it explores moral conundrums in the main characters, problems of good and evil, and has Long John Silver, who is bad, but also attractive. So it is a simple book that is also complex, under the surface. I also read a lot of fairy stories from across Europe and like authors who create new things with these old narratives, such as Italo Calvino. Other favourites on my shelf are: PG Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Charles Williams, Evelyn Waugh and Dickens – some for their style, others for their invention, others for their narrative gusto! As a reader, I am quite omnivorous.

Literaturschock: In Germany, The Golem’s Eye is going to be published in autumn 2005. That’s a very long time. Could you tell us more about the trilogy?

Jonathan Stroud: Well, in Das Amulett, the focus is on Nathaniel, the magician, and Bartimaeus, the djinni. In book two, we introduce a new main character, Kitty, of the Resistance. She appears briefly in the first book, but comes a major player, and she is important because she changes the perspective: we see the wider, social consequences of the magicians’ rule, and glimpse how ordinary people – the commoners – are affected by the magic. We learn why Kitty is an enemy of magicians and demons and how she becomes involved with the Resistance fighters who are trying to bring down the government. Before long, her path crosses those of Nat and Bart – who are working together (reluctantly) once again. There are lots of monsters, mysteries, arguments and explosive consequences for all concerned! There’s also a trip to the ancient city of Prague, and something very nasty in a crypt. Book III, which I am working on now, is set a few years later. In it, Bart, Kitty and Nat must find a way to work with each other, if they’re to avoid a catastrophe that threatens to destroy London… I can’t say much more, but don’t worry – autumn isn’t too far off!

Literaturschock: Thank you very much for your time, Mr Stroud! Many greetings from Germany!

Das Interview wurde von Maria Scherrer für Literaturschock geführt

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