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“Angels, Language, and the Face of God”
Let’s say you’re sitting in the local coffee shop, minding your own business. The door opens. This guy comes in with a gust of cold wind. He shakes off the rain and sits down beside you. Says he’s the fallen angel, the devil himself.
Good for you, man. You go back to the want ads. A job, you’re looking for a job.
No, really. And then he does something to convince you. Maybe he tells you your deepest secret, or turns the salt-shaker into solid gold, or halts the raindrops in mid-fall. Something, some miracle, he proves himself.
So he’s got your attention now, big time. This really is the devil. Now what? Do you run for your life, or try to take his picture with your cell phone? What do you say to a six-billion year-old creature? What do you ask the king of the rebel angels? Of all the things he could tell you, what above all would you want to know?
. . .
In a nutshell, that was my challenge when I began writing Deeper, the second book in my Descent trilogy. Minus the coffee shop and rain, I had to get acquainted with the Dark Lord. I had to see his face and give him a voice. I had to get inside his tricks and loosen him up enough to talk about the ultimate night life, hell. After all that time in the underworld, what would the devil look like? Pale, probably. And hungry…for human beings. Why us, though? And who did he torment before man came along? And what are the chances he’ll ever get the Get Out of Jail card? But of all my questions, the big one would be this: What is the face of God?
Two things used to keep me awake at night when I was writing The Descent, the first book in my trilogy: one was my deadline, the other was my baby. In those early hours, while I changed my daughter’s diaper and walked her in the moonlight and tried to figure out each next chapter, the notion of a second and third book took root in my mind. It may seem incredible that a man could hold innocence in his hands while conjuring up the bowels of hell. But that was my day job, mapping the labyrinth of terror. And that labyrinth – Hell – was far too fertile, and Satan far too beguiling, to abandon after just one book.
The one character you can’t kill, arguably the richest character a writer could conjure up, is the devil. For that reason I left my tale open-ended in The Descent, and buried Old Scratch out in my backyard for a few years, just deep enough so that he couldn’t escape. Out there with the coyotes and the homeless people camped along Four Mile Creek, I let the devil season. I got busy with some different kinds of books. But all the while, I was thinking about my hell trilogy.
Remember – back in 1999 - how the world was going to end at the turn of the millennium? Space aliens were going to appear and whisk away a cult of the faithful. Bank computers were going to crash. The Second Coming was finally coming, or at least the Anti-Christ was. Survivalists stocked their basement fortresses. Wall Street braced for a crash. But beyond some butterfly ballots and hanging chad, nothing wicked befell us. The year 2000 quietly came and went.
Then 9/11 hit, and it felt like the apocalypse was here after all. More evil unfolded. From tsunamis to Katrina, from beheadings to Abu Ghraib, from hate-mongering televangelists and radio jocks to suicide bombers, evil seemed to be breeding madly. You couldn’t look at a newspaper or pull up Yahoo without seeing Satan’s face in one guise or another. Suddenly he was walking among us. But what did he look like?
Over the years, Satan has become more interesting, more complicated, more psychological, more like us. Dante encased him in ice at the bottom of his circles. Milton wrote him as a supernatural Hamlet. Hollywood has cast him as a serpent, a body thief, a chameleon, a child abuser, a torturer, a cannibal, and even a woman. Like Frankenstein’s monster, he’s a hybrid that is part alien, but also part us. How much of which DNA: that’s the creator’s dilemma.
Before setting off on my latest subterranean journey, I was careful to follow Dante’s and Jules Verne’s examples: never descend without a guide. And so I resurrected two characters from The Descent. One is a linguist named Ali, whose search for the first word is key to understanding the proto-language of angels, especially of the fallen one. Another is the explorer Ike, a lost soul even before he got lost in a cave long ago. Together with a band of others, Deeper injects them back into the abyss to find evil and interrogate the ultimate prisoner.
Which brings me back to my big question: I asked it in The Descent, and ask it in Deeper, and will again: What does the face of God look like?
No spoiler alert here, but I happen to have one answer. Every parent does. The first time you look in your newborn’s eyes, you know without a doubt who that is in there looking up at you. That’s God peeking out through the window. Just as surely, you realize that there really are monsters in the world, and that guardian angels really do exist, because now you are one. For that reason, Deeper steals our children and the battle to save mankind begins as a linguist races to understand the Word.