This post is probably not going to mean a lot to most people, but I’m going to write it anyway. This is week 21 in my 26-Week Book Challenge, and the topic this week is your favourite book from your childhood. Bearing in mind that I’m Dutch, and my childhood was therefore spent reading Dutch books, I’d be very surprised if anyone had heard of this book, or even the author, but here goes.
This is a book which I have read many, many times, even well into my adulthood. The title translates as Children of Mother Earth, and I’ve always loved the central concept of it. Basically this is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, set in an unspecified time in the future after World War Three. During this war, which lasted about five days, a nuclear warhead landed in a volcano and caused such a catastrophic underground eruption that the earth’s axis tilted further. After the devastating effect of the earthquakes, tsunamis and whatnot pretty much destroyed civilisation as we know it, the poles settled somewhere else, and Greenland thawed out and got a lovely subtropical climate. The people who live there call it Thule, they live in harmony with nature, and they have a matriarchal society.
All this is explained in the book’s prologue, but the book itself centres on Christian, only son of the Konega (queen) of Thule, whose lot in life is to marry a girl of good breeding and produce a daughter to take over when his mother dies. Christian himself won’t ever get a look in, since he’s only a boy and therefore cannot be trusted with power. Worse than that is that he’s fallen in love with a common girl, who he knows will never be considered good enough to marry the Konega’s son.
At the same time the inhabitants of what used to be Europe have found old maps and worked out there should be an island around where Thule is, and they want to conquer it for its resources, since they still follow the destructive ways of pre-WWIII which got the world into trouble in the first place.
The book is very idealistic and black and white, though there are some interesting twists towards the end in relation to power and who wields it. It’s the first part in a trilogy, and they’ve always been my favourite of Thea Beckman’s books.
Thea Beckman herself was (is?) a very prolific Dutch writer of teenage-level books (she’d probably be classed as YA now, even though back in my time we’d never heard of any such thing), and she specialises in historical fiction, with stories about ordinary teenagers in turbulent times, such as the witch trials in Utrecht during the seventeenth century (Stad in de storm – City in storm), the fights between Protestants and Catholics (Hasse Simonsdochter – Hasse Simonsdaughter) and the 100-year war between France and England (Geef me de ruimte! – Give me space!). Probably her most famous book is Kruistocht in spijkerbroek (Crusade in jeans), which I’m pretty sure has been translated into English. That one tells the story of a 16-year-old boy who is sent back in time and ends up in the children’s crusade.
It’s been a long, long time since I read any of those books other than Children of Mother Earth and its sequels, and I’m not really sure how well I’d like them now. They have undeniably coloured my childhood though, just as Paul Biegel coloured my slightly younger childhood, and I’ve never stopped being intrigued at the idea of a matriarchal society where men are seen as strong and useful, but entirely incapable of wielding power.
The strange thing is that however much I’ve always been intrigued by it, when I then went on to write my own novel, I immediately went back to the status quo of a society where men hold the power and women don’t get much of a look in. This wasn’t a conscious decision as such, nor was it due to the age-old adage of ‘write what you know’. If anything it was more a case of ‘if you don’t think about it, you end up writing what you know’. And what I know is a society which is only just struggling to free itself from millennia of treating women as less important than men.
The result of that was that I have a book where men are in charge, and women are barely respected, or at most underestimated. Bad guys are men and good guys are women. I don’t really believe that the book suffers for it, but it did make me think when I noticed it, and it made me examine my own preconceptions and prejudices. As a result I’ve tried to slowly readjust the society to be more woman-friendly (over the course of the 100-year period spanned by my trilogy), and book three (my current WiP) has a good score of female villains. The project I have planned for after this trilogy, which is a collaboration with my volcanic-lair-dwelling evil overlord Hillary, even includes a proper matriarchal society (though I should mostly credit Hillary for that).
Has anyone else ever had something like this, where a book had a clear theme and you loved it, yet you completely ignored that in your own work? As always I’d love to hear from you!