Welcome back to the third part of my extensive rant about Ann Turner’s Father of Lies, a YA historical fiction novel about a teenager, Lidda, with mental illness and a very interesting character inside her head, Lucian. This book does some things horribly and other things excellently. As I’ve detailed, Turner’s version of 1690s Salem during the witchcraft outbreak falls apart under multiple anachronisms. At the same time, the author gives Lidda and Lucian dignity and seriousness almost never granted to fictional people with disabilities, especially when said people are written about by authors without disabilities. Reading Father of Lies is an exercise in frustration, as it’s the novelistic equivalent of the little curly-haired girl of nursery rhymes. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, but, when it’s bad, it’s horrid!
Sometimes, just to put my poor emotions through the wringer, Father of Lies manages to be very, very good and horrid simultaneously, mostly as far as Lucian is concerned. As Lidda’s most active hallucination, he shares her restless contempt for the restrictions of her small-town life, as well as the repressive model of Puritan femininity to which Lidda is supposed to adhere. At the same time, he crystallizes Lidda’s often-inchoate tendencies toward physical rebellion [dancing, tree climbing, not wearing her stays] into an articulate stance of license in all respects. He mocks the villagers’ petty, dissembling behavior; he pushes Lidda to speak out in favor of the truth. He even challenges Puritan religious orthodoxy when he asserts that he has nothing to do with God and then helps Lidda to the conclusion that witches do not actually exist. While he directs her fidgetiness into intellectual rebellion, he also adds sexual aspects to Lidda’s disobedience, as, for example, whenever he appears half naked and then comments that she would look good naked [“You would like being naked, girl. No stays or petticoats to trap you like a snared rabbit” (pp. 102-103)]. In response, Lidda views the smart, sly, sexy, borderline blasphemous Lucian as a private ally, imperceptible to everyone except herself, and spends a lot of time trying to figure him out and please him. His running commentary on her experiences and her disputes with him form the entertaining, engaging core of the book.
As the overview in the previous paragraph intimates, I think Lucian is a wonderful character, but he also has serious flaws in his construction. Just as Lidda is essentially modern into her proto-feminist critique of Puritan beliefs and culture, so Lucian seems to have time traveled from the 21st century back to the tail end of the 17th, a fact most apparent when you take a look at his appearance, described in breathless detail on page 88:
“Then, like something becoming clear under the surface of a rushing stream, piece by piece the creature assembled himself so that Lidda could see him in the darkness of her head: He unfolded his body, starting with his long, elegant feet; up his lean legs, encased in shining black breeches; his bare torso became visible, gleaming as if from distant firelight; then his long smooth arms and hands with exquisite pointed fingers; and last his head, which was frighteningly handsome, more glorious than anything she had ever known, with black hair cascading down his back, waving in an invisible breeze. Complete, there, unlike anything ever seen before in the drab confines of her village.
“But his eyes! Silver like a running stream — a straight nose — and a mouth that curved in an intimate smile over pointed teeth.”
Given that your average Puritan man wore layers of clothing, including a hat, at almost all times and regularly tied his hair back or wore a wig, where does this hatless hottie come from? And what’s with the dramatic, flowing locks, sharp teeth, and silver eyes? Lucian looks like the bishonen fever dream of someone who’s been reading too much vampire romance manga. His sexiness is discordantly ahistorical. [“Hey, everyone, it’s Discordantly Ahistorical Sexiness, opening for Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams!” I imagine both of these groups as New Wave in sound, though Discordantly Ahistorical Sexiness looks like Cotton Mather by way of Adam Ant, while Lucian and the Bishonen Fever Dreams looks like William Stoughton crossed with classic V-kei. Incidentally, both of these groups sound awesome!]
Just as I wonder where Lidda’s image of Lucian comes from, so I wonder where she gets his personality. Lidda uses Lucian as a way to consolidate and refine her iconoclastic thoughts and practices, some of which do have some grounding in her own experience. For example, Lidda’s criticism of Puritan life derives from contrasting it with what little she has heard about the practices of local Native Americans. When Lidda resents wearing her stays, she reminds herself that Indians don’t wear such uncomfortable clothing. Since the Puritans at large were scared shitless by the Indians, whom they regarded as marauding tools of Satan, I can’t believe that a Puritan teenager would admire the dress of the natives. However, that’s what Turner writes, and, while Lidda’s distaste for Puritan fashion rings false historically speaking, it works in a certain way. Lidda’s contrast between Puritan and Indian dress gives a real-world context for her annoyance with restrictive clothes. Thus Lidda’s — and thus, by extension, Lucian’s — interest in loose clothing and the idea of naked frolicking [as well as, now that I think about it, Lucian’s penchant for hanging around in the equivalent of underwear] makes sense.
I can see where Lidda gets Lucian’s concepts of physical rebellion, but I remain at a loss to explain Lucian’s [i.e., Lidda’s] proto-humanist critic of the Puritan religion and worldview. Obviously people other than Puritans lived in and around Salem in the 1690s who could have provided alternatives to the Puritan perspective. Turner mentions two possibilities in Father of Lies: the local Indians and then Tituba and John Indian. The New England natives, however, appear only in the context of a clothing contrast, so they do not serve as a philosophical counterpoint. Likewise, Tituba and John Indian, characterized as dark-skinned servants of Samuel Parris who look and speak differently than the white people, function as contrasts of appearance, not as contrasts of thought. Turner does not set up either Indians or Tituba and her husband as possible influences on Lucian’s anti-Puritan perspectives.
The most historically believable model for Lidda and Lucian’s proto-humanism would have been the Quakers. The Puritans mistrusted the Quakers as they mistrusted the Indians, but, since the Quakers were supposedly civilized and also white speakers of English, like the Puritans, the Puritans tolerated them somewhat more. According to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, however, Quaker beliefs posed a significant threat to the Puritan establishment. Puritans viewed religion as a hierarchical chain of command with God at the top, who then imparted His Word to the [male] ministers, who then imparted it to the people. Quaker theology eschewed the patriarchal rigidity of Puritan practice because it emphasized each individual’s direct, personal experience of God. Both men and women, in Quaker belief, had the capacity for Inner Light — their term for personal knowledge of the Divine. Several aspects of Quaker belief — their insistence on a unique, individualized knowledge of God, their potential for equality of men and women before God, and their resistance to being ordered around from the pulpit — could have convincingly correlated to to some of Lidda and Lucian’s contrarian views. However, the Quakers do not appear in Father of Lies, and so my question remains. With no in-world role models for her modern, anti-Puritan rhetoric, how in the hell does Lidda develop Lucian’s sophisticated, occasionally ironic analysis and detachment?
While I’m discussing Lucian’s failures as a character, I would just like to say that I still can’t get over Lidda’s easy acceptance of him as a non-demonic entity. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this makes no sense, as both devils and angels were real and ubiquitous to your average Puritan. Therefore, if someone like Lucian appears out of thin air and starts chatting with you [and he’s not someone you recognize and thus a spirit], he’s either a devil or an angel. Although devils may disguise themselves as angels and try their hardest to fool you, you can usually determine the nature of an apparition by its topics of discussion. Is it, for example, giving you advice on a cure for your sick family member or exhorting you to renew your commitment to God? If it encourages you to support Puritan society, it’s an angel, and you can trust it. If, however, it recommends swimming naked, doubting the existence of witches, and otherwise contradicting the tenets of Puritan society, it’s a devil, and you should resist it by quoting Scripture, praying, and loudly proclaiming your devotion to God. In other words, everyone around Lidda would, at most, interpret Lucian as a demon and tell him to shove off or, at the very least, have serious reservations about him, but she doesn’t.
Lidda’s welcome of Lucian represents a problem insofar as her entire culture would read him as a devil and a generally bad, unwanted thing. It’s also a problem because Lucian characterizes himself as demonic, but Lidda doesn’t really seem to care. He tells her very early on [p. 12], “Heaven has nothing to do with this, girl,” implying that the other place, Hell, does. Slightly later, when Lidda asks who he is, he says, “You may call me Lucian, light bringer. … I deal in truth and lies, and to you I give the wit to tell the difference” [p. 39]. He might as well say, “Hi, I’m Lucifer, and I’m a fallen angel,” especially since Lucifer, another name for the fucking Devil, means light bearer in Latin. Of course, at this point in the story, I’m screaming at Lidda, “He just equated himself with the Devil and told you he was a sneaky bastard — don’t trust him! And, if you want to be historically accurate, run to your nearest minister for spiritual guidance!” But nope — fictional characters never listen when I yell at them.
As an aside, though, I suspect that Lucian’s oblique comparison of himself to Lucifer constitutes another historical inaccuracy, mostly because I don’t think Puritans referred to the Devil by that name. I’ve read an exhaustive amount about the Salem witchcraft outbreak, and I remember primary sources referring to “the Devil” and “Satan.” Even when warning that the Devil could deceive people in the appearance of an angel, the clergy commentators at the time apparently didn’t remark on the Devil as “the fairest of the fallen” — or, at least, not as far as I know. Then again, I’m not conversant with the history of appellations for the Devil, so I could be wrong.
Yet again, I have gone on much longer than expected and hit my bedtime. More later. Maybe, in the next section, I’ll finally get around to what I think is so awesome about Lucian.
Part I here.
Part II here.
Part IV here.
Part V here.