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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Book Five: BSG Theology 2 - The Song

Continuing from yesterday's post on how Book Five fits in with the Lords of Kobol trilogy and the greater universe of the show, this one deals with the last two or three chapters only.

Heavy SPOILERS.  Everything after the JUMP.

SPOILERS.  For reals.

What song am I talking about?  This one, of course.

(Yes.  There are 41 different versions of "All Along the Watchtower" in that playlist.  There could have been a hundred or so more, but I figured four hours was enough. ... The gospel version and Bobby Womack versions are particularly good.)

"Wait ... 'Watchtower' is in Book Five?"  If you're asking that question, then I did a better job of hiding it than I thought.

Let me back up a bit.

It might sound silly, but when I'm writing Lords of Kobol, I pretend as though I'm writing additional episodes or TV movies.  I put myself in the headspace of the series and try to keep what I do within that mindframe.  I've talked before about how overwhelming realism was needed to keep LoK grounded in the Galactica-verse.  It's one of the main reasons I wanted the Lords to be Cylons instead of "angels."  We know and (mostly) understand Cylons; they're more grounded.

Part of being a make-pretend writer for BSG means I abide by their rules.  Hera is unique (there are no other human-Cylon babies), for example.  The ultimate nature of the Messengers and The One True God is mysterious.  Now, for the purposes of writing these books, I've had to pin down a few things about those beings but they are still largely mysterious.

Quick aside ... I was nervous about the conclusion to Book Five, wherein one of the Messengers is so distraught she calls The One to Larsa to help.  I had made The One a speaking character in the books; something I'm sure the show would never have done.  However, because I cloaked that scene in some of the same "flowery" prose that helped keep mystery around these beings in Book Four, it works.  The One plays like a voice in their heads.  I don't believe too harsh a light was shined on that mystery.

So ... adhering to the rules of the series and not revealing too much of the mystery.  Another rather famous element of the series is the use of the Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower."  In real life, the reason for its inclusion is simple enough.  Showrunner Ronald D. Moore has always been fascinated by it and felt there was something special about its lyrics.  He wanted to incorporate them into his previous series, Roswell, but it didn't work out.  But one of the keys to Galactica's success has always been composer Bear McCreary and the music he cranked out.  It was never going to work better anywhere else.

In the show, the reason for the song is, of course, mysterious.  It was composed by Sam Anders on Earth I before the Cylon holocaust.  It was composed by Dreilide Thrace on Caprica before he left his wife, Socrata, and child, Kara.  It was, sorta, composed by Hera Agathon aboard Galactica by way of a rudimentary collection of drawn dots.  Simply put, there is something special and significant about the music.  The fact that it impacts these specific people at the times it does is even more indicative of its importance.

If I'm writing a series of books that ties together the greater BSG mythos, I have to include "Watchtower" somehow, right?  As important as the music was in the series, to exclude it would be just plain wrong.

As part of the whole "All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again" thing, I included a brief scene in Book One featuring Dionysus singing the song at a temple service of his.  Narratively, it served no useful purpose.  In retrospect, it violates one of my personal rules when writing this stuff: "Don't be cute."  You know, don't just randomly name a character "Adama" or "Baltar" so the reader can say, "Oh, look.  It's Gaius' great-great-great-great-etc. grandfather."  I don't like that kind of thing, so I found that my use of "All Along the Watchtower" was gratuitous.

I pulled a George Lucas and retconned it out.  The latest version of Book One doesn't include the Dionysus singing "Watchtower" scene.

That being done, I knew I had to include it.  The greater mythos and all that.  But I also knew that however I used the song, it needed to be important.

If the seeds of that music are going to be sown across multiple star systems and a couple thousand years, of course the Messengers seem like the ones to do so.  It just became a matter of deciding 1) what situation in Book Five could give rise to the origins of that song and 2) what exactly the song means in the first place.

People have been debating point two there ever since Bob Dylan first wrote the thing in 1967.  I listened to and read the lyrics more than a few times myself.  Like nearly everyone, I came to the realization that the lyrics are actually backward in the song.  ("Two riders were approaching" is at the end when, narratively, it should be the beginning.)  There's talk of fate with one character being more at ease with whatever the situation is than the other.  There's also the description of a kingdom's fall, with servants running around, princes and more.

Now, all of that I gleaned on my own and I began to map out a sequence of events to correspond with the lyrics.  I did a little more digging and found a well-researched essay by Kees de Graaf.  In it, he outlines a very specific interpretation of the song, tying it directly to the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves on either side of him.  Also, the conversation is between the repentant thief ("The Thief") and the non-repentant thief (Satan, "The Joker").  Whether or not Dylan really intended such a meaning to the song is unknown, really, but it's an interesting thought, nonetheless.

As intriguing as the conversation portion is, the bits about the falling kingdom flipped the switch in my imagination.  I decided near the beginning of my Book Five writing that the song would come into play, however that would be, at the end of the book.  Of course, at the end of the book, the Tiberian Empire is crumbling and the Caesar sees three millennia of history destroyed before his eyes.

"Businessmen, they drink my wine.  Plowmen dig my earth." ...  The upper and lower classes of society are being talked about here.  This dichotomy between the patricians and plebeians in Tiberia is something I wanted in the book.  I've been intrigued by the concept of "Singularity," the merging of people and technology, and while we're closer than ever to it, the gap between the classes is larger than ever, too.  In their own ways, both the "businessmen" and the "plowmen" are thorns in the Caesar's side.  They aggravate him for all his days in power.

"None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."  ...  "These plebs and patties?  They don't know what we're losing today," I have Maxentius essentially say.  He knows.  He knows because he's been in power for two hundred years.  He knows the history and value of the Empire because he has been burdened by that past his entire life.  ...

I've talked before about how I worried about the length of the book, that it was longer than the others and this is a key reason why.  In addition to illustrating a world that creates Psilons, I wanted to create a feeling of historical weight.  One of the easiest chapters to cut from the book would have been Maxentius' triumph.  It is steeped in ceremony, tradition and it goes on for four or five pages.  I couldn't bear to lose it, though.  Each part of that day has ties to the lengthy history of Tiberia.  When it does fall at the end of the world, I needed the reader to understand Maxentius' pain.  He is in pain because he is all too aware of everything that is being lost.  Tiberia persisted for more than three thousand years.  And it was burning around him.

What Minah Gaber and her line taught the female Messenger about faith, Thon Ahljaela taught the male Messenger about humility, purpose, determination ... the power of the "little guy," that strength can come from unexpected places.  All of that.  Thon was driven for years to the point he found himself at in the Caesar's palace.  Once he was there, once he saw that Max was just another man, he found pity.  He couldn't bring himself to do the animalistic, violent thing that he wanted to do.  He elevated himself above his place and inspired the Messenger.

Inspiring an angel.  The tender who would one day appear before Sam Anders told The One that this lesson, taught to him by a "lowly" human, would stay with him for the remainder of time.  And just like that, I had created a "history" behind the lyrics and a reason for it to appear again and again.  It means something to this Messenger.  At a time of strife (say, when Earth I is nearing the brink), the Messenger could whisper a few lines into Anders' ear and plant the notes that would remain with the Final Five despite their reprogramming by Cavil.  The same notes that would cause Kara to spring into action and lead them all to Earth II.

It's not some cosmic coincidence.  It is part of the Plan.  No, not the Cylons' plan we were told about at the beginning of the show.  This Plan is The One's Plan for mankind, implemented by the secret stars of the entire franchise, these guiding Messengers.

That was lengthy and esoteric, so I apologize.

One more post tomorrow to say goodbye to the Lords of Kobol.

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