dude, seriously?

I cannot count the times I’ve said this during my research.

John Dee and Edward Kelley were two borderline heretical Protestants traveling in hardcore Catholic Europe during the wars of religion. When does it get smart to tell a Jesuit they talked with angels (seriously?) or try to show a priest their records of the same (dude!)?

Right now I’m wrestling with a scene in which Kelley tells a papal representative – in detail – what he thinks is wrong with the Catholic church.

Dude, seriously?

I know – in reality people sometimes just do stupid things, but in fiction actions need reasons lest the reader shut the book in disbelief.

Dee never described Kelley’s motive in his account of this incident. While this gives me freedom to make something up, I’m pulling historical and personality threads from everywhere to plausibly explain this blind spot.

Kelley’s not the only one to leave me scratching my head – these guys sometimes baffle me to the point that I stammer like a stoned surfer! I doubt “Dee and Kelley’s Excellent Adventure” would sell to the historical fiction crowd but I’m tempted to write it just to get the “OMG WTF were you thinking?!” out of my system.

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5 thoughts on “dude, seriously?

  1. dustdaughter says:

    ‘Stoned surfer.’ hehe. Anyways, maybe they thought that they’d found a sympathetic ear inside the church? Someone else who questioned some tenets of religious dogma? Sometimes people need to talk about an issue so badly that they start blabbing at the first sign of interest. These days, we’d just tell Kelley to get a blog but he didn’t have that luxury back then.

  2. A. Thurman says:

    One of the things I’m figuring out is just how alchemists and other “natural philosophers” identified each other when their practices were so controversial. I imagine conjuring spirits in the 16th century was rather like doing drugs today – people do it though it’s still illegal, and how do you identify likeminded sorts who won’t rat you out?

    In the incident I describe above, Dee gave a verbose, evasive answer to the papal nuncio; it seems obvious he knew something was fishy. In my estimation the historical Edward Kelley was something of a con man and I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be more paranoid in this instance!

    • CyberDave says:

      Maybe they had a device such as early Christian’s fish. (One draws in the sand an arc, the other an opposing one that creates the fish). Make up some secret sign. Like Spanky’s He Man Woman Hater’s Club’s ‘secret sign’. Whatever you make up, no reader can refute it because it’s (duh) a secret.

      • A. Thurman says:

        My apologies for not approving your comment and replying sooner!

        As it turns out alchemists used a wide symbolic “alphabet” to hide what they were doing while simultaneously revealing it to insiders: http://alchemicaldiagrams.blogspot.com/2011/10/alchemy-symbols-with-meanings.html . This also extended to metaphorical descriptions and names, though I’ve not ironed out the research yet.

        “The Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy” (yes, such a thing exists in 2014) has been a wonderful primer for translating the visual metaphors in alchemical texts (flying birds = dissolving; birds landing = coagulation, different animals representing different compounds, etc.).

  3. JLS says:

    I think dustdaughter’s hit the nail right on the head … though “at the first sign of interest” isn’t necessary for a lot of folks. The number of people who’ve started telling me all about intimate details of their lives within seconds of introduction is mindboggling … I”m talking sex lives, drug problems, financial stuff, serious, “Are you crazy? You don’t even KNOW me or what I might do with this info!” territory. And this type invariably can blab all this without even a pause for breath so there’s not even an opening in the wordflood to use to say something that will allow escape. If people who do this exist, in varying degrees of bad judgment, now, they surely did back then as well.

    For how to handle this in writing, maybe follow George Macdonald Fraser’s example and have a section of history-is-stranger-than-fiction footnotes at the end of the book? Speaking for myself, I’ve always found his odd historical tidbits as much fun to read as the novels they accompany. (other fiction authors have done this as well but Fraser always stands out in my mind because he was a master of digging up and using the strangest and thus most memorable bits and pieces)

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