Shot Down, Getting Back Up

on November 4, 2011 in Misc

Talk about being shot down.

Have you ever come up with what you think is an original idea, and you work out the details, and you think you’re onto something and you believe your idea or theory or gadget or story will fly?  Then you send it off to an expert who’s a stranger but who may deign to respond and give the teensiest sign of approval, and lo and behold the expert does indeed reply and with bated breath you open her email and she…

Shoots you down so fast you don’t know what hit you.

That’s what happened to me.

See, in a flashback scene in The Compass Master lead character Layla presents her controversial Master’s thesis, which states that the Book of Revelation is the result of an opium-induced hallucination or “walking reverie.”  Now this may not sound very original to you, but what was original was how I worked this theory out to the nth degree – not in my novel, which would be terribly boring, but in my background research.  Of course I don’t bore the reader with reams of facts or an appendix or footnotes or any other nerdy stuff.   This is a thriller, after all, so let’s keep the story going.

But now that TCM is published I wanted some feedback from one or two of the best experts in a religion departments of an Ivy League bastion.  I won’t name who I contacted, let’s just say I have a couple of her books, she’s a MacArthur Fellowship grant recipient, speaks half a dozen or more languages, and in 2012 her book analyzing Revelation will be published.  In other words, this woman has all the credentials I ain’t got.

Feeling pretentious and presumptuous, I boiled down the traits of the opium dream and addict and sent them in an email to her.  Her response?  She politely stated that she knows about the effects of opium and this “could sound like a possibility,” but that she has “no evidence at all that opium was known and used in first century Judea.”  And how “we also have to account for the visions in Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah circa 600 B.C. from which much of John’s imagery is patterned.”  Have a nice day.

And that’s when I thought….


See, because I’d assumed the archeology and history of opium was a given I didn’t mention it in my email.  And her polite but dismissive attitude so devastated me that I felt as if I’d fallen into an alternate world where all the facts I’d worked with had suddenly evaporated in a poof of smoke.

Once I recovered I looked up my sources, and thought…


I mean, opium was the medicine of choice all over the ancient world.  Of course in ancient Greece and Minoa and Mycenae and Cyprus and Asia Minor and Egypt and Rome.  But also all over the Mesopotamian area and hence among the Sumerians and Assyrians and Babylonians (and these people and others were often overrunning and conquering each other) and how the B.C. Hebrews “cannot but have been cognizant”  about opium and its uses.  And how there are all these archeological discoveries with pictures of poppies and how to harvest and get opium from them and clay tablets describing medicinal uses of opium…

I re-read page after page of one long scientific article that documented the use of opium as far back as 3000 B.C. through 1500 B.C.  through 600 B.C. and beyond in this part of the ancient world.  I checked the footnotes, scrutinized the sources of fact after fact because… Hell, I’m a nobody, and here’s this expert who speaks Hebrew and Greek and Coptic and Latin and Jehovah only knows what else, and she’s emailing me from (I assume) her Ivy League office and telling me there was no opium in First Century A.D. or Sixth Century B.C. Judea, so obviously opium couldn’t have influenced those Old Testament prophets or John of Patmos or Fred the goatherd.

So as much as I believe my theory is correct, I’m still wondering what does this brilliant expert know that I don’t that makes me feel like I’m having my own hallucination? Does she possess some ability or inside scoop that allows her to dismiss what I perceive of as historical and archeological facts because… well, because she’s a genius and I’m not?

Nothing like having your confidence in your very brain shaken to its core.

4 Responses to “Shot Down, Getting Back Up”

  1. Alonzo says:

    Maybe she’s just upset that she never came up with the idea. Maybe she will just wait a while and pretend that it was.

  2. Helena says:

    Alonzo – Maybe, but my impression was that she genuinely doesn’t know that opium was widespread in the relevant area. And for better or worse, now that my novel is out I can claim that it was my idea.
    In case you readers are interested, Alonzo did a neat trick of making his name on this post a link — click on it and it’ll take you to a page of a Hunter S. Thompson book in which the great writer/drug experimenter gives his chemically authoritative view on the Book of Revelation.

  3. Sorry about that.
    That’s why I like writing science fiction – I can make up stuff.

  4. Helena says:

    Alex – What’s ironic is how much reality will follow science fiction, like how Star Trek and H.G. Wells and Jules Verne influenced scientists. You got power!