Here’s a recording of the reading from tonight!
And interview by Paul Semel:
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 Prelude and 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.
More here: https://paulsemel.com/exclusive-interview-master-of-rods-and-strings-author-jason-marc-harris/