Afterworlds and Otherworlds

We take a little trip to the afterlife this time!  Lynnette Lounsbury is currently writing her PhD in Creative Practice in the School of Arts at UNE.  Her thesis is a science fiction novel that allegorises key moments in Australian history.  As a writer and a historian, Lynnette continually explores the role of belief, myth, and story in her work for young readers, and soon, young viewers as well.

— Elizabeth Hale

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Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas

My favourite mythologies are death mythologies. I think it arises out of a religious upbringing that meant from a very early age I was completely convinced that life didn’t end at death. As it turns out, most people through history agreed with me, though their version of events was far more exciting than the one I was given of heaven and hell. Tales of beasts and mazes and boatmen and malevolent spirits – they make for riveting reading and, as a child, easy believing.

At university, I studied mythology, and in particular the writing of ancient mythologies, in my history degree but the idea of my novel Afterworld didn’t completely gel until I literally knocked a book off a shelf in the bookstore and took it back to my table to read over coffee (remember bookstores with coffee shops? What a magical era that was).

It was an older book, a bestseller from 1996 called Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch, and – to cut a very complex philosophic and theological treatise very short  it brought to my attention the idea of global consciousness, particularly when it came to belief systems. It was something I had already noticed in my study – creation myths and afterlife myths are remarkably similar across cultures that are centuries and oceans apart.

There are of course, many explanations as to why this might happen. We are the same species in the end.  Perhaps we simply biologically arrive at the same conclusions about our origins and our place in the universe. Or it could be the result of trade and the sharing of ideas. Or perhaps they all arose from one original tradition. . . .

Or, perhaps… we share a type of global consciousness where on some subconscious level we connect with each other. I don’t have an answer, of course, but I liked that last idea and I let it evolve into the novel, Afterworld,, a story about a boy who finds himself in an afterlife that is a result of our global consciousness, a belief in life after death that is so strong and has been believed for long, that it exists in a physical way.

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Lynnette’s novel, Afterworld, was shortlisted for the 2014 Australian Aurealis award in science fiction for young adults.

Most of the afterlife mythologies cross each other in some way. There are stories of judgement in most; there are ideas of journey, danger and potential loss; there are spiritual guides, guardians and of course, those who would trick or trap the hapless or complacent. I simply brought them together where they intersected and created what I hoped would work as a complete universe, one with recognisable characters – gods and angels, boatmen and guardians – some classical, some Christian, some Eastern.

My afterworld is an attempt to guess and what might happen if humans across Earth’s history were all correct in our beliefs about what awaits us after death. Not everyone liked this idea. It does, after all, suggest that your personal beliefs are only as valid as everyone else. Not less, but certainly not more. But a lot of readers have told me that they feel very comforted by the idea that we might have some sort of input, however small, into our final journey and that our belief is powerful and creative.

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Orpheus in the Underworld, by Jan Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps that’s just the basic human desire to control everything – or perhaps it is a little bit of the Egyptian hope to avoid chaos, the Classical desire to see people rewarded or punished, the Eastern desire to keep learning and growing towards enlightenment and the Christian desire to meet an infinite source.

After Afterworld, Lynnette takes us to The Piazza

 

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A statue of Dante Alighieri, in the Italian Forum at Leichhardt, Sydney, given a menacing tint by Jim and Lynnette Lounsbury

My current project, a web and television series co-written with and directed by my partner Jim Lounsbury is also an exploration of the afterlife – this time exploring the cross-over between life and death and the idea of fate and pre-destination. Co-writing about imagined spaces was an even more challenging and interesting experience as every writer has such different ideas of what could be waiting “on the other side”. In our story Charon the boatman is determined to save his human lover but offering alternative sacrifices to the beasts of the underworld. Of course, this isn’t what the beasts want. Death is not something we can negotiate with!

Titled ‘The Piazza’ and filmed in the piazza of the Italian Forum in Leichhardt, Sydney, with its Dante Alighieri fountain, the series is a collaboration with the Acting Centre of Australia and features their talented young acting students.

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The Italian Forum by day, in Leichhardt, Sydney. Note the statue of Dante in the lower left.

 

The series has started production and will be finished in late 2017. You can watch the trailer here and there will be more news on our website as the project continues.

 

— Lynnette Lounsbury

 

 

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