Monday, May 5, 2008

The Family Feud: Introduction

One of the major conflicts that structures both Spanner and the Dictel trilogy is a long-running family feud. The two families battling over the fate of America and the world in my novels and comics are the Richter-Thomases, a nominally middle-class family with what turns out to be quite the revolutionary tradition, and the Beckets, a very much aristocratic family that traces its ancestry back to Oliver Cromwell and thus claims to be the true American royal family, cheated of its destined tyranny by none other than the Founding Fathers themselves, with the help of some of the Richter-Thomases' more treacherous ancestors.

These two feuding clans have a few things in common:
  1. They are both seen as very strange, much more European than American, and do not resemble "normal" American families in the least.
  2. They are extended families tied by strong bonds. They have a high degree of what I call "coherence".
  3. Their long feud. Some claim it dates back to at least 1780 on the Richter side of the Richter-Thomas family; others say it started in 1871 or even 1848 for the Thomases; but Becket family patriarch Roger Steele Becket insists it began when the Beckets' ancestor Cromwell, establishing his dictatorship, tried to annihilate the Irish, and a family ancestral to the Richter-Thomases, named Kinkaid, vowed to avenge Cromwell's victims and destroy the House of Cromwell.
More important is that the two clans stand for opposite political ideals:
  • The Beckets, a former slave-trading family with close family connections to both aristocratic families in the American South that once held slaves and stubbornly resist civil rights reforms to this day, and to royal and noble families in Europe, champion a highly authoritarian, if not downright totalitarian, political ideal known in aristocratic circles as "synarchy", which basically boils down to the dictatorship of an "enlightened" elite drawn from the aristocracy and following the most elitist of Gnostic sects: the Nicolaitans, whose name is Greek for "those who overcome the people".
  • The Richter-Thomases, by contrast, are populists. They are inheritors of a tradition of revolution coming from three separate families:
    1. the Richters, a family descended from Hessians who defected from the British side to the revolutionaries during the American Revolution, then fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War;
    2. the Thomases, a German family of Russian-Jewish origin, who fled Russia for Prussia just in time to take part in the 1848 Revolution and were ardent Social Democrats until at least 1914. Family members, including Cedric Thomas, Sr. (or 1CAT), took part in the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the resistance against the Nazis.
    3. The Kinkaids, the Irish family of Eleanor Richter's mother. Their vow to destroy the Cromwells and their tyranny — at which time they may have taken that specific surname, which is Gaelic for "warrior" — lasted at least long enough for members to take part in the Irish revolutions of 1916 and 1922. Various members fled Ireland during English persecutions and the series of famines that started in 1849; some came to the US, and these would become the Irish ancestors of the otherwise German-American Richter-Thomases.
    Following their tradition, and their family culture generally, they embrace various radical political ideologies: socialism, anarchism, libertarianism. Even the cultural phenomena they tend to embrace have some radical edge to them, sometimes too radical to be acceptably "American".
There could not be two families more different from each other, or from the majority of Americans. And yet they are central to every event in the whole Spanner cycle.

The key to their importance is the question, "Which side are you on?" The Beckets are usually on the side of the elite and urge their fellow aristocrats to do battle against the people. The Richter-Thomases, on the other hand, are anti-authoritarians who are constantly in conflict with authority and the elite; so whenever they have to choose between authority (or "sovereign right") and justice for the people, they almost invariably side with the people.

The conflict is clear-cut, even if certain family members defect to the other side. What it boils down to, ultimately, is class struggle. That's why this particular family feud has such world-historical implications. A family of totalitarian royalists against a family of revolutionaries? When the Beckets and the Richter-Thomases fight, the stakes could not be higher.

And no event in the Spanner cycle could be more emblematic than that which ends Bad Company: the spraying of the slashed red circle by one of the younger Richter-Thomases (at this writing I'm leaning toward Desiree rather than Shira) on the uncompleted Dictel Tower, symbol of Becket clan power.

Back to Spanner‘s World...

No comments:

Post a Comment