Bewitchments and Fulfilments
If you saw Storm Constantine at a SF convention, you'd notice her. Even in a room full of armed Klingons, seven-foot Wookies, scantily-clad Xena wannabes and undead creatures of every ilk, Constantine turns heads. And if you caught one of her panels, you'd probably be charmed by her juxtaposition of surreal fantasy and wry humor, and rush out to buy one of her books.
Which isn't as easy as it ought to be. Her books are much harder to find in the U.S. than in her native England. And if your taste for fantasy begins and ends with the latest Tolkien clone, Storm Constantine may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you're ready to explore several of the strangest worlds you're ever likely to find without benefit of opium or absinthe…
Crescent Blues: The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit -- and its sequels, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate and The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire -- portray a society in which the Wraeththu, a race of long-lived, magically gifted and exotically beautiful hermaphrodites are gradually replacing the humans from whom they evolved. What inspired the Wraeththu and their world?
Constantine: The main inspiration for the Wraeththu books was the alternative music scene I was involved in at the time. This later became the phenomenon known as Goth, but in the early Eighties, it was a very different scene than what it is now. It flirted with the iconography of death, vampires, etc., but in a playful mischievous way. It did not take itself too seriously, and was not at all gloomy and melancholic, as Goth often has the reputation to be now.
Goth evolved from Punk in the late Seventies, and was also influenced by the gay scene. In the beginning, a lot of the best Goth clubs were gay clubs, especially in Birmingham, which is the biggest city near where I live. The people around me, in bands, in clubs, were all very androgynous. Many of them seemed like fantasy creatures. Some of the gay guys had amazing clothes and hair -- they taught us what we could do with ripped fishnet, leather and black lace! You can imagine how this influenced my imagination in the Wraeththu books.
Crescent Blues: Do you see the action in the Wraeththu novels as taking place in the future of our world or in another, alternate reality?
Constantine: I think it's really an alternate reality. Whenever a new writer asks me for advice about what kind of book they should write first, I always say they should write the one they've always wanted to read but have never found. That was what Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit was for me. It was a fantasy world I created, and in which I wanted to play.
Crescent Blues: Are Wraeththu a purely artistic creation, or do they have a political or metaphysical symbolism?
Constantine: Metaphysically, they refer to the dual, hermaphroditic nature of the soul, which is an idea that comes from alchemy, among other sources.
Crescent Blues: The Wraeththu's somewhat exotic sexuality is a defining aspect of their culture, and thus an important theme in the books. Has the eroticism -- and often homoeroticism -- of the Wraeththu trilogy affected your ability to reach your audience? Have you experienced either censorship or criticism that limited your readership or notoriety that helped increase it?
Constantine: When the books first came out in the United Kingdom in the Eighties, they were seen as quite ground-breaking. Few fantasy or science fiction writers had addressed sex and sexuality so openly. I was lucky that the majority of readers and critics welcomed this, but I did have a problem with a couple of feminist reviewers who refused to review the books. They said my work was misogynistic, because the Wraeththu came from males rather than females.
To me, this was missing the point. The Wraeththu are male and female in one body. In one way, I was trying to say that men could do with being a bit more like women. In my view, this is not misogynistic. I have never been censored, fortunately, and I don't think notoriety increased my readership.
My work has gradually become more widely read, and I like to think this has been because of word-of-mouth from readers who liked my books and wanted to recommend them to others. I have never had major publicity from any of my publishers, but in some ways I'm glad about this. I know the books are successful because of what they are, not just a big, blaring promo campaign.
Crescent Blues: What is the significance of the Kamagrians, who appear in the final volume of the trilogy and seem to be a new race evolving from human women as the Wraeththu evolved from human men?
Constantine: The Kamagrian were an experiment really. I wanted to play around with the concept of Wraeththu and bring in a more feminine element -- perhaps, if I am honest, as a response to some of the criticism I received at the time. The Kamagrian are a race I might explore further if I do any more Wraeththu material, which is becoming ever more likely, strangely enough.
When I first wrote the books, I had synopses mapped out for several more volumes, but no publisher wanted to take them because the Wraeththu books were not major best-sellers. Therefore, I had to compromise and write something different. But the fact that the trilogy has remained in print in America for so long, and still continues to sell, has proved there's mileage in the idea. There were so many themes in the books that could have been expanded and explored.
Crescent Blues: With Burying the Shadow and Stalking Tender Prey, you began a new series based on the legends of the Watchers and the Nephilim or Grigori. Could you tell us something about these new works, and the research that has led you to write them?
Constantine: I have always been interested in the legends of fallen angels, since I first discovered them back in the mid-Seventies. "Burying the Shadow" was my first foray into writing fiction on the subject. I wanted to write a book about angels and vampires that did not mention either of those words once. It was a bona fide fantasy novel, set in an invented world, but the Grigori trilogy, which came much later, was dark fantasy, set mainly in this reality.
One of the reasons I came to write the Grigori books was…