GUEST POST: “Oh, Those Wild and Crazy Puritans!” by Tom Doyle

Those Puritans never seem to catch a break.

 My debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, is a thoroughly modern-day fantasy of military intrigue. My backstory, however, starts with the founding of the English colonies in North America and focuses on Puritan New England.

The Puritans have always had a public relations problem. Yes, they grew in numbers to the point that they could win the English Civil War, but their stance on the arts made them many enemies among more memorable voices. Even the mild Shakespeare didn’t like them (see Malvolio in Twelfth Night).

In America, Thomas Morton, a real-life figure and fictional ancestor of my protagonist Dale Morton, ran a one-man campaign against what he considered the fanatical Puritan settlements, and was arrested and expelled three times for his trouble. Later, the peculiar tensions of Puritan communities would help to generate the notorious Salem witch hunt, over which my fictional present-day characters still hold grudges.

Still, most Americans prefer to look towards the upright Puritans as the national ancestors and ignore the claims of those opportunistic and sometimes cannibalistic rascals in Jamestown. As pointed out by writers such as Edmund S. Morgan and Sarah Vowell, the dilemmas that sprung from all that religious tension and paranoia led to some creative solutions in governance that eventually helped produce the United States.

Enter my modern-day Puritan character, Major Michael Endicott, the sometimes antagonist to the main character, Captain Dale Morton. Endicott is a fictional descendant of the real-life John Endicott of Salem, who was the Puritan’s Puritan. John Endicott was the one who led the attack on Thomas Morton’s settlement at Merry Mount. He also brandished his sword during the trial of Anne Hutchinson, a notorious heretic among the Puritans (and ancestor of another of my characters, Colonel Elizabeth Hutchinson). In America’s first declaration of independence, John’s sword sliced the cross of Saint George the Dragon Slayer from every flag that he saw.

Major Michael Endicott finds that he has to be more realistic than his Puritan forebears about many things. Michael can laugh at his ancestor John wanting veils for women. But Endicott continues to admire his ancestors for their faith, discipline, and freedom. He is above all loyal to his family.

In my earliest draft, Endicott started out as almost totally unsympathetic, which didn’t work. So he evolved into a quite different character: a person trying to maintain his integrity even as his trials and tribulations seem to mock him.

Endicott’s patience and integrity are particularly tried by his encounters with Dale Morton. The pagan and atheistic Mortons and the Puritan Endicotts have continued as enemies for hundreds of years. Endicott believes that at best Dale is untrustworthy due to his seeming instability, and at worst Dale has gone over to the evil practices of his Left-Hand Morton ancestors.

As Endicott pursues the fleeing Dale across the country, he begins to suspect that Dale may be telling the truth about corruption at the heart of Langley or the Pentagon. But if Dale is right, this also means that some terrible deception may have occurred in the Endicott family.

Despite the gravity of the situation and his normally stern demeanor, Endicott tries his best not to take himself too seriously. When things go wrong, even in ways that make him look slightly ridiculous, he faces adversity with a churchy sense of humor and as much patience as he can muster. Challenged by a great threat to the nation, Endicott is perhaps the character that has to grow and change the most, and in that regard his core principles are more help than hindrance.

As Sarah Vowell came to like the Puritan subjects of her book The Wordy Shipmates, I’ve come to like Michael Endicott’s character as well. I hope you find him and my other magical, fictional descendants of the real-life founding colonists, my American craftspeople, entertaining.


About Tom Doyle:

The Internet Review of Science Fiction has hailed TOM DOYLE’s writing as “beautiful & brilliant.” Locus Magazine has called his stories “fascinating,” “transgressive,” “witty,” “moving,” and “intelligent and creepy.” A graduate of the Clarion Writing Workshop, Doyle has won the WSFA Small Press Award and third prize in the Writers of the Future contest.

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