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July 06, 2005

Author2Author: Tom Morris and Kevin Guilfoile, pt. 2

by Ron Hogan

After exploring Superman's existential core, Tom and Kevin turn to the classic debate between free will and determinism as it plays out in the contemporary thriller...

Tom Morris: In Cast of Shadows, you vividly portray the dark side of human behavior. You show how both physical impulse and philosophical ideology can lead to violence. Here again, we have the distinction between psychology and philosophy, and an interplay between the two. One character has a philosophy of life centered on a particular theology that leads him to view certain human beings as objects to be eliminated. One or two other characters, and perhaps even more, have psychological impulses that drive them to treat certain other people as objects to be used or eliminated, as whim or frenzy might dictate. Did you mean to draw a parallelism between ideology and illness, or was this just a coincidence in the storytelling? Do you think of ideology as just another impulse, explainable wholly in psychological terms, or is there ever something more going on? Are you reminding us that there is danger in both our primal urges and in our seemingly higher artifacts of thought? Whatever your intentions, the results are strikingly effective in their impact on a reader.

castshadows.jpgKevin Guilfoile: I love it when I'm talking with someone about Cast of Shadows and they're able to describe its themes in ways I haven't considered. Thanks to readers who are smarter than me, I'm still learning from this book all the time.

The first character you mention, Mickey "The Gerund" Fanning, is a radical Christian fundamentalist who believes he carries out God's plan by assassinating professionals in the human cloning industry. Once Mickey decided to follow this particular ideology, he found his choices were all made for him. If you can imagine a decision tree, Mickey's beliefs tell him how to act in every instance. And what separates him from others who share his beliefs is his willingness to follow those branches to the very end, where they finally instruct him to kill. In the face of what he believes to be Truth and Righteousness, Mickey denies even God the ability to make choices. Although he believes he is carrying out God's will by committing murder, Mickey recognizes that killing is a sin and that God must punish him for it. In a sort of mirror of the Grand Inquisitor, Mickey sees himself as a true martyr, one not just willing to die for God, but to suffer in hell for Him.

As you suggest, Justin, the cloned child, is twisted by complex psychological forces. When he discovers that he is a clone (and more specifically, begins to suspect from whom he was cloned) his own beliefs about the world radicalize him. In contrast to Mickey, however, Justin's ideology is determinism. Justin believes that "a hurricane has more choices than man," and that, having been cloned from a murderer, his own fate is sealed and he speeds down that path. The reader is left to decide if Justin's fate really is predetermined, or if he chose that fate because he believes so completely in his own destiny.

Davis Moore, the doctor who has cloned his daughter's murderer, is horrified by the consequences of that decision and tries to abdicate responsibility for them by refusing to make almost any choices at all for much of the book. This makes him easily manipulated by others, especially Justin. It is only when a character makes a free and difficult choice at the story's end (albeit a choice with its own potential consequences) that Davis is saved from the cycle of tragedy and violence that he set in motion.

If you think of the exercise of free will as being "healthy," which I do, and that (as in Mickey's case) strict adherence to an ideology can interfere with your ability to choose freely, then I guess the book is framing ideological extremism as a disease in that context. I want to be careful, however. At least one reader I know has said Cast of Shadows is "anti-religion," which I would argue is a complete misreading. For me, faith is an essential tool in the ongoing search for truth. When we make choices based on what we believe is right or wrong we are testing and fine-tuning our beliefs. What I find troubling is when people embrace an ideology (whether it is religious or political or philosophical) as an end in itself. When they are so certain of the truth, so beyond doubt, that they surrender their responsibility for choosing what is right and what is wrong.

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