What if God is evil?
Author uses cute characters to explore some terrifying ideas. [Press release]
Los Angeles, CA
August 1, 2017
“I wanted to write a story in which God is a bad guy,” says Los Angeles resident and new author, Al Romero. “I find every depiction of God in any book I’ve read or movie I’ve seen to be woefully inadequate. I mean, God is generally used more as a plot device than a character, really. God’s motivations are never really explored in a meaningful way, even though he’s often shown doing really awful things.”
Al doesn’t claim to be an expert. He’s not a theologian, but he does work in the entertainment industry. He’s been working in Hollywood as an assistant editor for ten years. Before that, he was a high school art teacher. But it wasn’t long before he left that in favor of his first love. “I studied animation in college,” he explains. “Teaching was the fallback job. My passion was telling stories; the story.”
The story he’s referring to is “The Tail of the Order of the Blue Maiden.” It’s meant to be one in a series called “The Tail.” The book’s cover, which Al illustrated himself, is adorned with a number of adorable, anthropomorphized animal cartoon characters, with one exception: An orange-skinned, muscle-bound behemoth with gnashing teeth and a slithering serpent’s tongue that lords over the scene like, well, an evil god.
“That’s Griol. He’s the main god of the serans, the people of that world. They worship him just as we worship our gods, or god, really, since many human religions recognize the same god. Of course, in the book, the fantasy of being called upon to go on a quest by God is heightened. You see Griol enter the life of Ayan, this lowly servant who has aspirations of becoming a knight and improving his lot in life. Griol commands him to go and retrieve a weapon of great power and tells him that he’ll be rewarded with the the affections of the girl that he’s in love with. Through the course of the story, Ayan has to choose whether or not to obey him, and that has a number of far- reaching implications.”
The story tackles a number of thorny issues besides faith, including classism, systemic racism, sexism, immigration, all under the guise of being an action-packed adventure. “When I started writing this story over twenty years ago, I was just a kid, so I really had no idea what it was about. But as I grew as a person, so did the book. After struggling for a long time, all of these themes finally started falling into place. The lynch pin was Griol, who personifies my feelings about God and religion. Not all religion, mind you, but the part of it that causes people to hate each other and cast out certain people just because they’re different. If you look at Griol, he’s this terrifying monster with razor-sharp teeth. He has ten arms that carry different weapons, and when he talks, he screams. And yet the people of that world call him the prince of peace and pray to him for guidance. There is a huge disconnect between what he is and how they regard him.” In the text, one of Griol’s arms actually carries a collection plate, which seems rather telling.
Al’s feelings about religion also show through various characters, such as Ayan’s mother Julietta, who casually smokes a cigarette while gossiping about the town priest, or Mieu, the book’s other lead, who views the situation through the eyes of an outsider. She is both a foreigner to the country and of an entirely different religion, which, despite her being nobility, poses a number of challenges for her.
Refreshingly, even though Mieu is the object of Ayan’s unrequited affection, at no point does Mieu play the role of helpless damsel in distress. Romero even repeatedly pokes fun at the tired trope, titling one chapter “Damseled,” where Mieu’s companions are incapacitated, and she ends up having to save herself from a prickly situation, or another scene where Ayan’s romantic expectations are literally, (yes, literally) deflated before his very eyes.
In the end, Al wonders if he pushed the envelope far enough, even going so far as to issue an apology in his afterword. “When I started writing this story so many years ago, I was only thinking of my point of view: that of a privileged, white/hispanic boy that wanted to go on an adventure, save the princess, and win her affection. Having lived through the advent of the nerd revolution, I’ve come to recognize that pretty much all the books and all the movies and all the shows are written for the benefit of my feelings, at the expense of pretty much everyone else’s. I never thought that the rise of the nerds would be so… homogenous and misogynistic.” About Mieu, he adds, “I realized that it is her journey, not Ayan’s, that calls this world into being and sets the events in motion. Having made the classic mistake of creating her to be a love interest, I had inexcusably neglected her story. […] But like a true, strong female, she showed me the error of my ways. She began to do things in spite of my neglect, and influenced the story in ways I never planned. I came to realize that she is indomitable: she’s a princess who has no need of being rescued, who rescues others, struggles with her own demons, and that she deserves her own damn book!” Romero plans to write another book with Mieu as the main character.
Despite the provocative themes, Romero claims that the book is, above all else, a love letter. “Most of the characters were inspired by people that I know. And this book is imbued with my enduring love for them. You don’t spend twenty years working on something unless you love it. My love for all of those people is without end. And even though I haven’t spoken to my ‘Mieu’ in years, this book would have never been complete without her.”