Gay Love in A Magical Land :: Andrew Grossman on ’Lost Sky’
Fantasy novels often transport readers to mythic, magical realms where the laws of nature seem to be different: Dragons fly and breathe fire, wizards and warlocks cast spells in eldritch tongues, creatures both human-like and horrifically nonhuman build cities and castles and, when clarion calls for war echo across the hills and shires, the various denizens of fantastical lands strap on their swords and pluck up their shields, ready to do battle.
But who are the people in these novels, and where, precisely, do they live? Tolkien had his vague "Middle Earth," a place that seemed to be in-between in just about every sense; not quite real, but not quite imaginary; not quite historic, and yet certainly not contemporary. The HBO television series "A Game of Thrones" unfolds across a vast continent that spans snowy Northern climes, seaside kingdoms, and desert wastes.
For some fantasy buffs, the exact time and place might not matter. For others, however, the setting, and the question of how it relates to the world we know, is a useful part of the tale. Are we setting out to a realm of pure imagination? Are we headed for a lost island, or a mist-shrouded crater in a jungle, or an alien planet?
Andrew Grossman provides an answer in his fantasy novel "Lost Sky," as well as hinting at the origins of the unusual creatures that dwell in the realm he’s invented. Grossman’s novel follows a young gay man, Matthew, as he unwittingly sets out on a journey that will empower him. At first, Matthew is something of a pawn in the hands of a lawyer serving as executor of a gay great-uncle Matthew’s family has edited out of the official record. As the story unfolds, though, Matthew comes into his own.
After inheriting a parcel of Vermont woods and a house from his great-uncle, a wealthy world traveler named Alexander, Matthew reluctantly finds himself leaving New York City and his handsome, albeit straight, roommate Jason (who is getting married and striking off on his own anyway). Country life turns out to be a mixed blessing: Mathew finds his garden is supernaturally productive, and, being a green thumb, he’s thrilled. But the locals look at him with open hostility and suspicion, except for Diana, the owner of the local store, who takes the newcomer under her wing--but even then, something seems a little odd about the way she interacts with him.
Moreover, strange occurrences at his new home disturb Matthew, including extreme weather and the appearance of what seems to be a spectral entity. Is the house Alexander bequeathed him haunted?
In due course, Matthew stumbles (or is guided) to a hidden world that seems far removed from the world of human beings and ordinary concerns. It’s there that he discovers the most remarkable--and the most universal--miracle of all, when he falls in love with the not-quite-human being who has threatened and terrified him, a creature named Salal. As he learns about his great-uncle Alexander’s life and the role Salal played in it, Matthew draws closer to his extraordinary new companion. But is Salal the complex, even tragic, figure he’s made himself out to be? Or is he manipulating Matthew for his own mysterious reasons?
Grossman has constructed a fantasy novel that’s both tender gay romance and compelling otherworldly drama. "Lost Sky" combines ingenious inventiveness with heartfelt storytelling, resulting in a fantasy novel that blends same-sex romance with elements of magic and an exotic land hidden from ordinary mortals. But Grossman also strikes a tone that feels realistic.
"When I began writing ’Lost Sky,’ I focused mainly on the internal lives of the two main characters,
"Grossman told EDGE in a recent interview. "They aren’t knights or trolls, but two rather tormented individuals. Matthew, in particular, is a very realistic protagonist. I think that the fantasy elements are engaging because the characters are compelling in their own right. I hoped that the reader would empathize with their conflicts and struggles. In a way, the fantasy elements are simply the icing on the cake."
To be sure, fantasy (or any fantastical genre, such as sci-fi or horror) amplifies human impulses and primal concerns through the use of certain narrative devices that define the genre, such as spells, potions, or exotic creatures. So, too, with this book, much of which takes place in what is literally a garden of unspoiled delights. There is something captivating in forms of literature that talk about things lost to us, or things we once dreamed about and then realized we might never have; setting a same-sex love story at the heart of a fantasy novel could be, for gay readers, the best of two rarefied worlds.
"One of my most poignant early childhood memories involved watching a flock of birds and suddenly realizing that I would never be able to fly," Grossman recounted. "I can still remember how devastated I felt at that moment.
"Then in the eighties, while I was a modern dancer living in New York, I choreographed a piece entitled ’Lost Sky,’ which was about an angel who had lost the ability to fly. Somehow, I always new that I would use the title again. When I think of the sky, I think of something so vast as to be almost incomprehensible.
"With regard to the novel, the title has an obvious interpretation, which I won’t explain for fear of giving too much away," Grossman added, "but it’s also a metaphor for something precious and irretrievable."
Thinking of recent inclusions of gay characters and storylines in fantasy-based video games such as "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" and "Final Fantasy VII," EDGE asked Grossman whether the genre in general might be starting to welcome the GLBT community.
"If by open you mean welcoming, I’m not sure." Grossman replied. "I’m not a gamer, but I’ve heard that there is bigotry and prejudice in the gaming community."
That said, however, "I think the world in general is becoming more inclusive and so GLBT characters are more apt to appear in mainstream culture including literature, movies and television," the novelist added. "I think the realm of fantasy is especially appealing to oppressed people, and the LGBT community certainly falls into that category."
Grossman went on to explain his own interest in the fantasy genre. "I read to escape," the author told EDGE. "I love being transported to different worlds or different times. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction for that reason. If I were to delve into another genre it would probably be along those lines, though I’m not sure I have the patience for the tremendous amount of research a historical novel would require."