Friday, August 5, 2011
CHARLES JOHNSON'S NEXT MOVE
E.Ethelbert Miller asks: "With names like King and Bishop in DREAMER should one look for (or acknowledge) the symbolism of chess in your novel?"
Today's answer, I'm afraid, will be briefer than I would like for it to be. I know that may sound unnecessarily cryptic, but I'll explain why I have to be tight-lipped in just a moment.
My house is filled with chess games of all kinds. There is an elaborately carved one with wooden-and-brass figures I purchased in Berlin in 1989; an equally gorgeous one with sculpted figures representing the followers of the Muslim leader Saladin and Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade that sits on a chess table. I have electronic chess games where you play against a computer (and your invisible opponent's pieces move by themselves); a game where three players can participate at once; and a small chess game that slips easily into my briefcase.
Since my teens I've loved chess and think it is the greatest board game ever created. One of my friends in philosophy and I played chess all the way through our undergraduate years. (And that friend later went on to engage in serious competitions.) At least once, the term for a chess strategy worked its way into my fiction (and maybe more than once but I can't remember more examples). So, yes, I was aware of how the names "King" and "Bishop" in Dreamer have a whimsical resonance with the figures on a chessboard.
When I was writing Dreamer, the idea for a variation on the traditional game of chess came to me. A different way of playing the game that is inspired by the campaigns of Gandhi and ML King, and by the principle of nonviolence. The ontology of this way of playing is firmly anchored in Buddhist philosophy and a non-dualistic vision of the world. My son, who is also an avid chess player, and I tried out this new approach, testing it back in the 1990s. During the composition of Dreamer, I even thought about the various characters (Matthew Bishop, Amy Griffith and Chaym Smith) playing chess this new way. Back then, between 1991 and 1998, I even considered copyrighting this idea. But I didn't and put the idea off to one side because all my thought and energy needed to go into finishing that novel.
I would love to explain this spiritual, Buddhist approach to chess, but I'm afraid I can't because right now I am in the process of applying for a copyright for it. I've only discussed the details with my wife and two good friends. But if you can be patient, and wait as I trudge through the paperwork and process of securing a copyright, in a couple of years a board game based on this idea might become available for your enjoyment. Or at least I hope so.
Posted by Ethelbert Miller at 2:43 AM