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How storytelling can speak to the modern world

An interview with T.M. Doran, the author of the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy.

T.M. Doran is the author of several novels, including Terrapin: A Mystery, Iota, and the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy: Toward the Gleam, The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos. He is also a regular contributor to Catholic World Report. He recently spoke with with CWR about the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy.

CWR: What is the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy?

T.M. Doran: Three connected novels: Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos, that are grounded in the 20th and 21st centuries while harkening to a famous mythological world.

CWR: How do you think the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy can speak to the modern world?

T.M. Doran: Chiefly, as a contrast to what literature depicts today—the straitjacket that’s been imposed in recent generations and is only getting tighter. Modern literature may go so far as to admit that choices produce physical or psychological consequences, but can’t admit that such choices are inherently good or bad, right or wrong.

So, modern literature often depicts human beings as intelligent animals programmed by natural processes to respond in predictable, albeit dramatic, ways, though even the dramatic arc of modern literature is increasingly being narrowed by publishing and media gatekeepers who demand “diversity, equity, and inclusion” guardrails on literature. The subtext in the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy is that moral choices have transcendent meaning, and consequences that migrate like cracks on an ice-covered pond.

At the other extreme, authors with a religious perspective have to be careful not to fall into the trap where good choices are always rewarded in this life and bad choices are always punished in the here and now. Even though modern society is moving away from transcendent perspectives, there’s something embedded in humanity that’s attracted to mystery, and the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy is packed with big and small mysteries, from the first page of Toward the Gleam to the last page of Kataklusmos.

A big surprise over the last 10 years has been hearing about many non-Catholics/non-believers who have been stirred in positive ways by these stories.

CWR: What are the novels about?

T.M. Doran: Someone with no religious sensibility might read the trilogy as loosely connected stories spanning over a hundred years (1916-2020), featuring big and small mysteries and deadly peril in locales from Europe to Africa to the Middle East to east Asia.

Readers can also go deeper by viewing these stories as a series of thematic trilogies within a trilogy of novels. What I mean is that even though The Lucifer Ego and Kataklusmos take place in a different time period than Toward the Gleam, all three books are thematically closely connected.

CWR: Did you set out to do this when you composed Toward the Gleam?

T.M. Doran: That was around 2005, or sooner. No, I didn’t anticipate three books in those early days but the themes for all three novels were developed in that first book and carried on, though the time period and characters changed.

CWR: What are the thematic trilogies you refer to?

T.M. Doran: The first thematic trilogy was weaving together the arts, science/speculative science, and scriptural truths that are subject to stern tests in the lives of characters—art, science, and faith as different lenses on Truth rather than unrelated pursuits as the world views them today.

The second trilogy was a Dantean theme, personal journeys through hells, purgatories, and toward a heaven. In the course of these journeys, characters come up against spiritually compromised adversaries who aren’t immediately recognized as such. Right out of the gate, we find the main character in Toward the Gleam in the hell of a World War I combat trench. Another character experiences a long purgatorial period, battling addiction while trying to keep his brother alive.

The third thematic trilogy consists of the quest for truth—wherever it leads, self-sacrifice, and what I call the law of the choice.

CWR: What do you mean by the law of the choice?

T.M. Doran: Just as the law of gravity is necessary for stable galaxies and solar systems, so the law of the choice is necessary for human freedom. While the choices we make aren’t inevitable—we possess God-given freedom—consequences must follow, starting with Adam’s and Eve’s choice in the garden. Moreover, the consequences of choices one person makes often cascade from that person to others, including those who don’t bear the moral burden of the original choice.

There’s a prominent character in books two and three who comes up hard against the law of the choice. As that scene finally landed, he still has the ability to improve on, if not nullify, prior bad choices right up to the end—God’s mercy working along with human freedom. How he responds turns the law of the choice into a life and death event.

CWR: Why not read good non-fiction books about hell, purgatory, and heaven, or about the virtues?

T.M. Doran: I couldn’t have composed these stories without reading and learning from many such books, but we learn differently from Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, “The Lord of the Rings”, or “The Chronicles of Narnia”—a more imaginative way of learning.

Storytelling can also expose people to ideas they wouldn’t consider if it entailed reading a “religious book.”

CWR: Can young people read the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy?

T.M. Doran: The quest for truth, self-sacrifice, and the law of the choice can be messy, so parents should read the books first to make informed decisions.

CWR: Do you have a final word for prospective readers?

T.M. Doran: I’ve always hoped the “Toward the Gleam” trilogy entertains, mystifies, and provokes.

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  1. I wish the CWR interviewer had probed Doran a bit more on what exactly he means by “the law of the choice.” It could be as simple as humans cannot not be moral or ethical beings all the way to Sartre’s existentialism, we are condemned to a radical freedom of deciding, without any transcendent help, what is essentially human.

  2. We read that, “…the consequences of choices one person makes often cascade from that person to others, including those who don’t bear the moral burden of the original choice.”

    Bernanos offers this dialogue: “‘We couldn’t go on living if we thought of such things.”No madame, I don’t think we could. I don’t suppose if God had given us the clear knowledge of how closely we are bound to one another, both in good and evil, that we could go on living, as you say'” (Diary of a Country Priest).

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