The Big Idea: E. Catherine Tobler
Posted on August 14, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 6 Comments
History isn’t history to the people who are living it — it’s their present, their world and their lives. This is a thought E. Catherine Tobler kept in mind when writing her novel, Rings of Anubis. Here she is to explain what it means for you, the reader.
E. CATHERINE TOBLER:
My interest in all things historical started in elementary school when I discovered a National Geographic book called Secrets From the Past. The book explored tombs of the world, lost cities, and discussed how we could determine what people of the past were like by exploring the things that remained. It wasn’t until high school I heard about the marble Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, removed from the Parthenon in Greece. Many viewed Elgin as no better than a vandal and a thief–even Lord Byron took a position on the matter, the debate concerning the marbles long and fierce. The British Parliament purchased the marbles in 1816 and to this day, they remain in the British Museum.
I wondered, how could people do that? Had archaeologists carried such historical things away, knowingly or not? Surely they had. I knew I couldn’t write about Egypt of 1889 without keeping such events in mind. Within the time frame of Rings of Anubis, Egypt was occupied by the British and many treasures were accidentally and carelessly lost in the haste to discover what lay beneath the dirt. I wanted my heroine, Eleanor Folley, constantly mindful she was exploring a world inhabited by people who had been as real as she was. To make it as personal as possible for her, I placed her in both worlds: an Egyptian-Irish archaeologist, trained by her parents, both archaeologists before her.
Eleanor Folley wasn’t in the business of archaeology for the wealth or fame that came with it; while those who didn’t know her might consider her no better than a vandal and a tomb raider, she never profited from her discoveries. Eleanor Folley was always in search of something else–something more personal than gold or fame.
What would be like to face each tomb with the possibility of something personal beneath the stones? What it would be like to excavate a site and hold your breath as dirt parted to reveal bones that might belong to someone you loved? I wondered how a person might continue such a search in the face of never finding what they sought, how they might struggle if even their own family asked them to stop searching. How do you stop looking for part of yourself and what might you do if you encountered someone else on a similar quest?
The history buried beneath our modern lives isn’t only history. Living, breathing people called the fragmented walls we unearth home before we called them relics. The bones we carefully brush clean are someone who had a name, an occupation; someone who was loved or despised. Mummies aren’t just linen-wrapped bones–they were people who created and dreamed and dared just as we do. What we take from the dirt isn’t simply random debris to be swept away in the quest for wealth and recognition. I wanted to explore the idea that someone buried within the Egyptian desert could be greatly loved by someone still living, someone who, in the end, had no idea what she was about to unearth.
Rings of Anubis: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.
This sounds cool!
I remember years ago the local art museum hosted an exhibit on Amehotep III.
Huge granite statues, whole murals taken from tomb walls (or maybe those were lifesize facsimiles), dozens of objects of gold and precious stones …
But the thing that hit me hardest was a giant urn, about 4-5 feet tall. The way it was displayed, I could see the inside of the upper part, over the rim, and there – very distinct after thousands of years – was a human fingerprint. The actual craftsman who made the urn left an enduring trace of himself behind for the ages.
It really brought the whole exhibit alive for me, & this Big Idea brought that memory to mind.
Happy book birthday, Ms. Tobler! Hope it does well!
Aggie, what a great memory to have! So neat. John, thanks for hosting me today!
I just downloaded a sample, and it grabbed me right away. I haven’t even finished it, and I already know I’ll be going for the whole book after work.
I thank him for hosting you too. I wouldn’t have heard of your book otherwise.
This sounds so great that I have purchased it. Now I only have to wait 4 hours to get home from work and start reading.
I think I may have read the same National Geographic book you did, and I have spent many happy hours wandering the halls of the British museum, particularly their Egypt and Persian sections.
Ummm, this was the book sitting out on the Scalzi dining room table – it looked good, so I read it. Why yes, I am opportunistic. It was good. I would read more.
I MUST READ THIS STORY AT ONCE
Why does my darn job take so much time? Life is not fair.