Where is Napoleon’s tongue? Am I anything like my character, Marjorie Campbell? Bringing you more great artwork and a final round of questions about ‘Pumping Up Napoleon’ from students in South Korea studying dystopian science fiction.
Blessings upon you for joining me here for the last time to see what the marvellous young students from South Korea wanted to know about my short story ‘Pumping Up Napoleon’. At 21 years and counting it’s older than they are! I love their questions and their artwork inspired by their wider reading and hope you will too. Can you tell which books they have been studying?
Thanks again to all the students from the Chung Dahm Institute, and especially to their teacher Richie Madewell for making it all possible.
First today is Liam.
Why did you make Napoleon without his tongue in the whole story, do you have any reasons?
Dear Liam – what a good question. The short answer is: no tongue = no talking.
The slightly longer answer is that sometimes writing a story can be a bit of a puzzle. In early drafts I tried out a ‘voice’ for Napoleon. It was hard to get that right because it needs to sound like him, but in a modern English-speaking version. I also worried that he would dominate every conversation.
Then it dawned on me that I could solve this quite easily in a way that would fit the story: a missing body part is a reminder of his gruesome reality and a missing tongue in particular contributes to the comic possibilities for someone who is hired to speak to students.
Are you similar to Marjorie? If so, how so?
- Bum Soo
Hello Bum Soo. Thank you for your question. I am not exactly like Marjorie but we have a few things in common and I found it easy to imagine being her. She and I were about the same age at the time and both worked at a university in Wales.
One of the things I gave her, and made fun of, was the way I used to feel awkward and clumsy when I fell in love. She discovers, as I did, that idealising someone without getting to know them means there is a good chance they will not live up to your expectations.
I am concerned about what is going to happen to Napoleon and so is she, and she is also worried how his presence is going to affect her personal freedom, just as I would be.
I also gifted her the knowledge of encountering a portrait of Prince Rupert, as I did when I was fifteen or sixteen, in the National Portrait Gallery on a trip to London. I was impressed by the way he could look out of the painting and make what felt like a real connection with me. It was so odd that I kept going back for another look. That strange feeling stuck with me for years and years until I was able to give it a place in Marjorie’s story.
Why did people bring Napoleon back to life despite that Napoleon could ignite controversy, protests, and cause harm?
Dear Aiden. I think they did it because they could and because they felt there would be glory in it for themselves, and fame. Possibly also they did it to attract attention and funding for further research and less high-profile resurrections. They also felt they could keep control of him with the threat of withholding further treatments. The story does not intend to say it was a good idea – but it is an interesting one, to me anyway.
Do you think a perfect yet unreal love (like Marjorie’s) or a real yet imperfect and breakable one is better?
Yes, Julie, that is a good question and it’s the very one that Marjorie is left asking herself. The first kind of love has served her very well for many years and she is feeling some regret that her ‘perfect’ love for Napoleon is no longer an option once he appears in person. At the same time it is both thrilling and sad to have met him.
I feel that an idealised love means emotional distance: it’s rather quiet, and easy to keep under control, and so everything can remain in harmony. But to me it also seems rather lonely.
My answer these days would be that I prefer something real, even if it is flawed, because it is wonderful to love and be loved in return.
In the story, Napoleon gets back to life by science, but becomes all worn-out, and miserable. Then I heard from my teacher that you like nature. So I came to think that maybe you designed the story to emphasize how preserving nature is important. Because making Napoleon live artificially didn’t work out well. And I thought maybe you were criticizing scientific acts like experimenting with animals. Is my guess close to what you intended to point out?
Yes, I feel that it is important to give nature room to be what it needs to be – to look after it, or at least to do no harm. I feel that humans tend to put their own interests first and yet all creatures matter and so does everything in nature. We’re all interconnected.
And yes, I certainly intended to question the ethics of allowing an animal to suffer in order to do something to prolong human life beyond its natural span. It is amazing what people can do – but should they do it just because they can?
Which factor or intention took a bigger portion of the story? Dystopian or Comedy?
A difficult one to answer, Rex, because I feel it is very hard to separate them into what is more or less or more important as they are meant to balance each other. I know that I wanted both elements right from the start.
If there had to make a choice I would say the dystopian element is unmissable. I could have written a story with no comedy at all but it would have been a different kind of story.
If I had to put a label on it, I would call it comic dystopian fiction, rather than dystopian comic fiction.
The last image and I don’t know if it is by Bob or Anonymous and haven’t found a question it links to. If I got that wrong, apologies! I love the picture anyway. ‘Everything is beautiful and nothing hurt’.
Finally, I want to wish the students all the best. I hope you enjoy your present and your future. I’m really glad you read my story! And to Richie, thanks again.
And you, dear Reader. Are you a fan of dystopian science fiction?
What has stuck in your mind as a classic?
Did you spot any of your favourites reflected in the students’ artwork?