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What's your book about?

Spoiler warning! This discusses themes and passages throughout the story

I started writing Carpenter's Mark in the '90s, and people would sometimes ask what it was about.

I had difficulty finding what to tell them. I would usually say something about magic and elves, but that that was a bit of a dodge.

I wasn't comfortable talking too openly about its actual themes.

Carpenter's Mark is about how religions and institutions are used to control populations and keep them afraid, angry, and misdirected so that people in control can stay in control.

We have elves in this world, humans with control over others. So many aspects of our world are designed specifically to separate as many people as possible from the ideas and actions that would empower them and challenge the supremacy of these controlling institutions.

In Chapter 14, Ivy explains that it would be folly for elves to allow humans to live without their help and guidance. So too in this world, the controlling class can't imagine a world where they are not managing and controlling everything. In the story, the reason given for this is that humans have stronger magic than elves, and so to allow their magic to grow would be dangerous to them. This is a reflection in our world, where our magic may be different in kind, but not in degree. There are so many more of the controlled than there are the controllers.

This is why our lives are covered in religion, monetary policy, education, and governments that are under their control. These are the mechanisms by which the few can dominate the many.

Ideas and actions are magic. As described in episode ten of my Truth Hacker podcast, simply by being conscious creatures with imagination, language, and energy, we are capable of making dramatic changes in our lives and our environments. This is magic. We are magical beings.

Imagine what could be accomplished if this could be drawn together by the many for the benefit of all, rather than being separated and diverted for the benefit of a few.

The journey of Estus to rediscover and reclaim his magic mirrors our own journey through a world that is built of imaginary structures and barriers whose purpose is to convince us that we have no power and that real power can only be found outside of ourselves in religious and secular law.

Chapter 14 of Carpenter's Mark reveals this central lesson. Ivy says, "In Benok's religion, the key to power is purposefully defined as detached and unattainable. You are taught to worship an abstract form, and that salvation only comes from looking away from yourself, where the magic truly lives, and toward an external image."

This is religion. We are taught that our bodies are profane, that we are born with original sin, that anything good in our lives comes from being granted favors from an imagined deity, but only if we offer this supposed creature our faith and loyalty.

That loyalty lands into the hands of the church. In Chapter 19, when Estus is continuing to learn about magic and notices that magic can also be used to convince other people to take action, Kendrick tells him, "Yes! With enough of that type of magic you can direct entire nations as though they were fitted with a bit and a bridle."

This is what I didn't want to say then. This is theme of the novel: Religion is a bit and bridle that is used to direct our lives.

Perhaps, like the religion of Benok, religions in our world once had a noble and useful purpose. When we build societies, we need rules. Because of the natural transcendent nature of our cultural realities, which are enabled through language and shared purpose, it very likely seemed obvious that the laws themselves were transcendent, above the mere physical world. Today we can recognize that our laws, either as legislative mandates or as norms of polite and productive behavior, are in fact elevated and sacred, even though they are not supernatural in origin.

The question of whether society is capable of emerging from, as Dylan puts it in Chapter 12, "this choking cradle of theocracy", is the fundamental question of the novel, which presents two alternatives, represented as the competing Tol and Del plans.

Ivy and Andor discuss this in Chapter 19, where she spells out the ways in which the Tol plan is becoming brittle. The pace of knowledge is increasing faster than Benok's ecclesial guilds can manage. Political power is tied to the guilds, and so if the guilds become ineffective, the entire political order is at risk of being overturned. This may point to another parallel from our world, where religion has been used to advance political goals.

Ivy tells him, "You teach them to be afraid. You are not describing the nature of the humans. You are describing what you have turned them into."

In our world, this is the central question of our age, as we live through our modern scientific renaissance. Do we have the cultural maturity to emerge from our theocratic cradle, or is there something intrinsic in our evolved primate-influenced psychology that forces us into alpha-male hierarchies?

It's not just theocracy that binds us and holds our magic back. Episode seven of Truth Hackers looks at how the concept of money is manufactured. Other episodes consider our health care and political systems. Each of these has aspects that are orchestrated to empower some and weaken others, and it's all imaginary. It's all magic in the form of creating and manifesting invisible structures that guide our actions and constrain our energies. Religions are simply the most egregious and juvenile forms, literal fairy tales that warn of eternal punishment if we don't accept the directives of, as I said in Episode four "a convoluted carrot and stick designed to keep us docile and afraid and separated from others."

Most of the story lines in Carpenter's Mark show magic in action, as the characters face challenges, find their magic, and make changes in their world. Bodie Challuk's war, Captain Gareth's recovery after losing his command, Darla and Katie fighting to be together, and even Peter Calloway's speech to Hanna at the Harvest Ball, all mirror the struggles of Estus as he learns to master magic.

The novel is about a new beginning, that moment in a society when it becomes possible to overturn the old order and awaken the magic of the people. Estus’s speech in Chapter 30 can be understood as a narrative of our current world.

Estus is speaking to us in our world when he says, "No longer do we need to accept the lies and limits that keep us from discovering the full span of our wings. You are living in a time of the new, of infinite possibilities. We have spent far too much time asking for permission to be allowed to accomplish little things, while all the time our energy, our money, our very minds are given in service to those who will take them, run them dry, and always demand more."

When I look at our world today, I see the establishment of the Tol plan, control through religion and old power structures. I also see the promise of the Del plan, the possibility of awakening our magic, our best selves, and our best world. We are not what the religions have historically turned us into. We are not born with sin. We do not need to seek redemption.

We all are indeed living at a pivotal time in history. When Peter tells Hannah in Chapter 18, "There are these times when you’re standing in the empty middle between two completely different worlds, and you realize that you’re living the entire rest of your life in that one moment," we can understand this to be an invitation to consider the the differences between living in the Tol world of domination, fear, and control, or the Del world of empowerment, knowledge, equality, and magic for all.

"You are the light. You hold the magic, and by your heart will it be delivered. The world is unfinished without your voice, so speak carefully and well. Tomorrow is yet unformed and by your hands will it be made. It is time for answers and all understanding. It is time to gather the best of everything that we have learned and to rekindle the magic that we are."