Borders Essay by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey

I’ve always loved mythology in all its forms. These are the stories that inform our collective unconscious; these are the raw stuff of our dreams. Gods and monsters, heroes and villains, saviors and victims. All our archetypes derive from myth. The challenge is to make of them something new.

The earliest seeds of Kushiel’s Dart were planted in my mind many years ago, when I discovered the passage in Genesis about how the ‘sons of God’ came in to the ‘daughters of Men,’ and they bore children to them. That was the first glimmer of the idea of drawing on Judeo-Christian tradition and wedding it to an element of sensuality.

In 1997, I took a commission to write the text for a coffee-table book on angels. Since the topic had already been strip-mined, I elected to research angelology and develop selected stories as narrative mythologies. I went straight to the source material, books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, compilations of Jewish legend and folklore. In doing so, I encountered the same story in greater detail: Rebel angels engaging in congress with mortal women, betraying divine secrets and begetting a powerful nation.

Ultimately, of course, they were destroyed for it. What I thought was interesting was the subtle suggestion that their realm posed a threat to the sovereignty of Heaven. This is the story I adopted for Kushiel’s Dart, and that realm the basis of my fictitious nation of Terre d’Ange. I wanted to take it in a very different direction and give it a medieval setting, placing it within the framework of epic fantasy. This is how Elua came into being, an angelic deity wholly of my own creation.

Each of the angels I chose has a distinct character and motivation. Kushiel, ‘the rigid one of God,’ is one of the most unusual. As a presiding angel of Hell, he was in charge of administering punishment; little else is written of him. There is a human need for atonement and expiation. What, I thought, if Kushiel truly loved the sinners in his charge? What if they loved him in turn, and welcomed his cruelty as mercy? What if this aspect were turned loose in a society whose only real more was, “Love as thou wilt?”

Thus, a mythos was born.

The story of Kushiel’s Dart is set a thousand years after the advent of Elua and his Companions, who have long since struck a bargain with God and Earth and departed the mortal coil. Their descendants, however, bear their blood in their veins. Onesuch is my heroine, Phèdre nó Delaunay. As one who is marked by Kushiel’s Dart, Phèdre bears a distinctly dubious gift.

This is the source for a dark sensuality that permeates the book. I don’t think, in the annals of literature, there has ever been a heroine quite like Phèdre. It was a challenge and a joy to write in her voice. Ultimately, however, I think she does triumph as an epic heroine, and that triumph lies not only in the feats of courage, wit and will that propel the action, but the fact that she never loses sight of compassion. Above all, that is what it means to be stricken by Kushiel’s Dart.

And that, for me, is a myth worth believing.

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This essay was originally written for Borders in 2001 and is reprinted here (originally Bookspotcentral) with the permission of Jacqueline Carey. All rights remain with her.