The Big Idea: Mark Teppo
Got faith? This question is more complicated than it seems here in our world — and in the world of Mark Teppo’s Codex of Souls series, of which the newly-released Heartland is the second installment, it’s even more complicated than that. Why? Because in Teppo’s world, faith has a quality to it that’s distinctly different than it is in our world — a quality that, at the very least, makes the world of the Codex of Souls a lot more interesting, in a teleological sense. Here’s Teppo to give you the lay of the land.
It starts with the idea of faith. One of the underlying conceits in modern thrillers is the occult macguffin–some divinely blessed thingamajig crafted from technology so otherworldly that our ancestors immediately shat themselves in fear when they realized what it was and then scattered it across the known world like Set hiding the evidence after he dismembered the body of his brother, Osiris. Typically, what separates the rag-tag group of heroes from the band of villains is the idea of faith: one group believes in the power of the thingamajig, one doesn’t. These secular empiricists, through the right and principled application of their rational minds, triumph over the apocalyptic dementia of faith and belief.
Or do they? Because the little trick these writers always pull is to tag on an epilogue wherein they show the reader that maybe–just maybe, if you let them take you down an alternate path a little ways–the zealots weren’t crazy. Maybe there was something to the mystic device they were seeking. Maybe God does live in the Machine.
Now, there are two ways to read this technique. The cynical way, which is to say that writers are aware of the preponderance of some manner of religious belief in their readership, and they don’t want to alienate their audience by sticking to the hard and fast definition of a scientifically discernible universe. In which case, this little nod and wink at the end is to say, “It’s okay; I understand that you need a little mystery, so here, let me give it to you.” Or, they actually want to hedge their bets. They want to leave the door open on the idea of faith. Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing, religious zealotry aside. There may be more things in Heaven and Earth than our wee brains can discern, and we shouldn’t discount the possibility.
But the trouble with that tiny quibble is that it is a thread that will unravel everything. If the author, who has just spent several hundred pages discounting the religious and philosophical implications of the occult macguffin, suddenly flashes you the secret hand signal–It’s okay; I’m in on the secret!–where does that leave the heroes? It makes their rational pragmatism just another crazy dogma, and their victory dance into the sunset is the Fool dancing off the edge of the cliff. Indiana Jones stands on the steps of a building in Washington, D.C. and says, “Damnit, the government can’t take the Ark and put it in a box; it needs to be studied.” Then Marion sidles up to him and says, “Hey, sailor, can I buy you a drink?” Really? These two just witnessed the power of the Hand of God, and they’re heading off to the nearest bar for a drink?
If you’re going to suggest the world is not as it seems, why be so coy about it? Why have only a few of your characters believe that something lies beyond the Veil? If you’re going to hunt for occult artifacts, then why wouldn’t people who believe in the occult be working for Team Heroic as well as Team Nefarious?
Once you go there, the rest is easy. Magic is afoot. The Grail, the Spear, the Ark of the Covenant, the Emerald Tablet: they’re all real. Alchemy works. Astrology and tarot are viable means of charting and seeing the future. Aleister Crowley’s maxim of “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law” becomes the driving principle of how the world works. Occult knowledge is knowledge of the secret workings of God, and you had better believe that everyone who is looking for the secrets is going to know how to use them.
This is the basic premise of the Codex of Souls series. I assume every occult conspiracy theory, every scrap of religious doctrine, every third-world myth, every blood-soaked grimoire, and every justification for sacrificing babies and cute animals is true. The entire occult history of the human race is up for grabs, and the rest is a matter of finding patterns in that world of crazy. You know what? After a while, you start seeing some.
The first two are called Lightbreaker and Heartland, and they’re about faith. Our hero needs to discover how to have faith in himself, because in a world where everything is true (and nothing is permitted, says the Old Man in the Mountain), believing in yourself is the first step toward discovering some real truth. If, like the Gnostics attest, you can’t trust the Demiurge, then who can you trust?