“Master of Rods and Strings is certainly both a classic revenge story and a model of the difficult path toward truly mastering a craft, it is also a thoughtfully constructed warning of how it is all too easy to let the pains one suffers in the name of ambition supplant—and even corrupt—one’s goals, no matter how good or pure or heroic those goals may seem at the offset.
In the end, Master of Rods and Strings asks us a simple question: what would you give to achieve greatness?”
Queen’s Book Asylum (March 2022) “Harris manages to create not only a vivid breathing ‘here’ but weaves around it an ominous and malignant ‘other’ leading to each and every scene being loaded with both the seen and the unseen.
For a novella that runs at just ninety-two pages, there is an incomprehensible amount of depth and plot, perfumed throughout with the occult and drenched in such eldritch esoterica. Master of Rods and Strings is a novella that can be devoured in a single sitting, but whose taste will linger long into the night.”
Generous review here to read after you’ve read the book! Excerpt: “It’s a rare pleasure – especially nowadays – to find a new author whose horror fiction is truly compelling. But this year, Jason Marc Harris is that author, and Master of Rods and Strings is a morbidly fascinating little book.” Alex Skopic, Signal Horizon Magazine (August 2021)
A dual review here with Zin E. Rocklyn’s Flowers from the Sea: “There’s little more chilling than being menaced by a literally inhuman monster, from antique dolls to futuristic robots, a killer with no compassion, no remorse, no desire other than extermination. I know the movies best, but there are countless literary equivalents, and Master of Rods and Strings is a chilling new addition to that body of work.” Terence Taylor, Nightmare Magazine (October 2021)
Master Of Rods And Strings sounds like it might be scary. But is it just a horror story?
The earliest draft work was during the MFA program for creative writing at Bowling Green State University (Ohio), and my creative thesis advisor Dr. Lawrence Coates remarked that the narrative was a Künstleroman, which is a story that focuses on the development of the artist, so the novella has that in common with works like William Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic The Preludeand James Joyce’s Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.
Master Of Rods And Strings is also an example of a literary fairy tale or künstmärchen.
In some regards, Elias like Faust is experiencing forbidden knowledge, but his fate is not bound to punitive dualistic metaphysics. He is able to explore and grow, though his growth is not narrowly good, moralistic, or heroic. This is a tale of weird horror, after all, but it is also a tale of expanding consciousness and meaning.
Master Of Rods And Strings is your first published book of fiction, though you’ve written tons of short stories and radio plays, as well as the non-fiction book Folklore And The Fantastic In Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Master Of Rods And Strings but not on anything else you’ve written?
Thomas Ligotti’s “The Clown Puppet” had me pondering the idea of other forces beyond mysterious puppets and mannequins.
I think the fairy tale “The King Of The Golden Mountain” helped shape part of the self-righteousness of Elias’s vengeful mindset and the use of magical power to perform that vengeance. In terms of folkloric influences, use the motif found most famously in The Odyssey with the Polyphemus encounter: the trick of using the phrase “no one” or “no man” for a name; there’s an echo of that when Elias confronts Desmond, the tormenter from the school later after he has surpassed the skills of his tormenter.
I thought of Stendhal’s Julien in The Red And The Black. Both stories take place in France and engage with ambition versus class oppression. I think the bloodthirsty vendettas of Jacobean Revenge tragedies, such as The Revenger’s Tragedie and The Duchess Of Malfi, influenced the plot’s momentum. A few people pointed out comparisons with Perfume, which I had more than a decade before starting Master, so I’m sure there’s influence: an ambitious amoral protagonist perfecting a scent which dangerous consequences vs. perfecting the craft of puppetry with dangerous consequences. Master also has some of the unnerving education manifested in the rapport between the Judge and the Kid in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Elias is horrified by the behavior of Uncle Pavan, but he learns from him as well.
“Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this expertly crafted tale of terror is the way in which the narrator changes from an ordinary boy into a man capable of performing great evil in his quest for revenge.” See more here from Tangent Online: https://tangentonline.com/print-other/master-of-rods-and-strings-by-jason-marc-harris/
“Jason Marc Harris’s Master of Rods and Strings is a masterful work the likes of which I have not read in many years. Among its other admirable qualities, it is an adept exemplar of the novella, a literary form peculiarly suited to tales of dark and mysterious themes. [. . .] In captivating and expert prose, Master of Rods and Strings brings to life a world where the enchantment of puppetry inexorably descends into a magical perdition.” –Thomas Ligotti
“A magically unnerving tale of loyalty, artistic passion, and revenge that digs into your skin and pulls you through the back alleys of period France. Harris assuredly directs his characters with the precision of a puppeteer through this fever dream of a novella.” –Sequoia Nagamatsu, author ofWhere We Go When All We Were Is Gone
“Strange and compelling, Master of Rods and Strings is a fantastic foray into the realm of occult puppetry. Like Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, this book is memorable for its vivid sensory detail and portrayal of an obsessive protagonist exploring an arcane world.” –Susan Hubbard, author of the Ethical Vampire Series
“Boundlessly unique and charmingly strange, Jason Marc Harris’ Master of Rods and Strings is a breakneck tale of occult puppetry and the toll of seeking revenge. What a cracklingly compelling book. I can’t get it out of my head.” —Robert James Russell, author of Mesilla and Sea of Trees
In addition, I will also be reading from “Master of Rods and Strings” on the previous night (Wednesday October 28th) at 4:30 PM CDT – 6:30 PM CDT via Texas A&M University’s Big LAAH reading series--Facebook Live: