“[A] racing-across the globe, one-step-ahead-of-the-bad-guys treasure hunt.”
—Detroit Free Press
“Filled with intrigue . . . Neville keeps the novel moving at a fast pace. . . . Ariel is not a super spy but an average woman dealing with complex situations with only her wit to combat dangers. She is smart and funny and uses both these traits to survive.”
—The Denver Post
“Compelling . . . fans of that emerging subgenre —– the millennial thriller —- will want to add this one to their reading list.”
“Exciting . . . Suspenseful . . . Many layers of plot twists.”
Interview with Katherine Neville about The Magic Circle (Excerpt)
Full Interview here.
What is The Magic Circle about?
The Magic Circle is the story of transformation. It is the story of an aeon–a 2,000-year cycle–that began at the rise of the Roman Empire and the birth of Christianity and that is approaching its completion right now. The ancients of nearly every culture regarded the transition from one aeon to another as a form of initiation for the planet and everyone on it. At such turning points, the world changes quickly, time seems to speed up. Those who are rigid and wish to turn the clock backwards to an idyllic “golden age” of the imagination often do not survive the transition, but are crushed under the wheel. The Magic Circle is about the flexibility required for survival in times of volatile change.
The book begins during the last week in the life of Jesus, and it shifts quickly to 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down. As the modern heroine, Ariel Behn, pursues the truth behind her grandmother’s ancient manuscripts, we move back and forth with her through the periods of history that marked such major turning points, such as the Middle Ages of Genghis Khan and the time of Alexander the Great. In the course of the story the heroine, Ariel, must discover what actions are required to help bring forth the new age.
How did you go about researching the background for a book of this scope?
The ideas for every scene and plot in my books are based on my own personal experience. In hindsight, I feel very lucky that over the years I was forced, by financial necessity more than choice, to live and work in places where I was exposed to colorful people and interesting situations. For instance, The Eight was based on my years in the petroleum industry of North Africa. And in The Magic Circle, Ariel’s job as a nuclear materials expert is based on the three years in the 1970s that I worked at a nuclear site in Idaho. In preparation for this book, I also lived in Vienna and Germany–where, along with a director of the German College of Dowsers, I dowsed the podium where Hitler always stood at the Nuremberg rallies.
I try never to write an action scene that I haven’t experienced first-hand. In The Eightthere’s the Sirocco at sea and the Sahara sandstorm. I didn’t plan on being in an avalanche or going over the falls of a river like my characters in The Magic Circle, but I’ve gotten a lot of literary mileage out of such experiences.
I always want to tell a story in my novels, but I admit that, like my readers, I’m an information junkie. We have a ten-room house with–at last count–twenty-seven bookcases and more than six thousand books. Since The Magic Circle is about ancient and modern views of transformation I had to delve into many cultures. I learned, for example, that major events happening now have been predicted from the time of Babylon and ancient Egypt. What my readers seem to love is the feeling of being drawn into the story in such a way that they learn enormous amounts about history, science, and so on–without feeling they’ve had to work at it. That’s my job: entertainment, from the French entretenir, to hold them between–in this case, between the pages. But I have to do plenty of hard work to make it seem easy.
You originally planned to write a very different book after The Eight and A Calculated Risk. How does The Magic Circle fit in?
I had actually outlined the book I was planning–a story about painters. But I couldn’t get the research done. It was almost as if doors were being shut against me, museums were closed, books were out of print, things were thrown up to block me–literally, in one case. Traffic jams prevented me from getting to a museum in Naples, and when I finally got there, all the paintings I needed to see were out being cleaned! I finally gave in and switched to another project.
I had thought of the idea of a millennial book–a book about what happens at the turning of the aeon–as early as 1979 when I was living in Idaho. When I started writing it again, it seemed almost magical: all doors opened and the seas parted. Then while we were living in Germany in 1989, people started coming across the border in their little cars from East Berlin to have dinner with us, and they told us the gate of the Berlin Wall was suddenly open and people were tearing the wall down with their hands, just like the Bastille two hundred years earlier. I now have a piece of the wall in my rock collection.
The collapse of walls and of regimes too rigid to accept change–the instantaneous sweeping away of the old and inflexible–appeared in all the ancient predictions as the very first sign of the arrival of the coming aeon. So when I pulled out my old outlines and files for The Magic Circle, and I found that even the title and the chapter headings I’d written ten years earlier reflected what was happening now, I knew it was kismet.
How do you feel about The Magic Circle now?
The Magic Circle was a very important book for me. A breakthrough book.
At an early age, I knew that the kinds of stories I wanted to tell were going to require a larger palette, a very different palette than the one provided by the existing structure of the western novel. I needed a storytelling palette, with lots of colors and contrasts. Even as a child, I listened to the tales of the mountain men of the Rockies and wrote them down. I’ve kept an archive of the oral literature of Native Americans, and of Latin America and the southwest. I did my postgraduate studies in the literature of Black writers in French and English, in Africa, Europe, and America. Many of these writers, like Wole Soyinka, Amos Tutuola, and Chinua Achebe, were creating new forms for the novel that didn’t exist in the west–more archetypal. In my writing today, I borrow from all these diverse techniques.
In The Eight, two parallel action stories are woven together within a plot that itself is an ongoing two-hundred-year chess game with thirty-two characters in each part that are the chess pieces. There are tales-within-tales, a tradition from the Persian, like The 1001Nights, but which I expanded so that the tales are sometimes as many as five or six layers deep. For instance, in one scene Robespierre tells the painter Jacques-Louis David a story about the time he went to visit Rousseau on the Isle of Poplars and Rousseau told him a story about meeting Casanova at the Venice opera, and tells the tale that Casanova told him–and all the while Charlotte Corday is overhearing the entire nest of stories from a back room. I wanted readers to drop so deeply into the
novel that ultimately they felt that they too were listening from that back room inside the book.
In The Magic Circle I was able to stretch the envelope even further: Taking stories, myths, and legends that have sprung from dozens of cultures over thousands of years, I wove them all together into a single plot. Each story takes the heroine, along with the reader, through a series of initiations–the Catholic Mass, Druid shamanic initiation, Sufi Islam initiation–steps that leads us not only deeper into the mystery at the core of the book, but deeper into the heart of the Ancient Mysteries as well. The purpose of all initiation is transformation. Writing the book was a kind of transformation for me, as I intended it to be for the reader.
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