The history behind "An Awfully Big Adventure"

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection

Note: This is story has been posted on the Mythic Delirium website and can be read there for free. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
A young boy finds that he need to call on his family and his own inner resources to fight a malicious demon.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
I was eight years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. I have a clear memory of sitting on the rug in our darkened living room, my parents on the couch behind me, and watching President Kennedy address the nation. I didn’t understand everything that was happening, but I understood enough to know that things were really serious. I asked my father if there was going to be a war, and he said, “I don’t know.”

Like five-year-old Ben in “An Awfully Big Adventure,” this scared the crap out of me. “And with those words, the bottom dropped out of Ben’s world. A simple fact of his life had been that his father knew everything, could explain everything, and could make everything better.”

I’d always wanted to write a story based on that memory, and had made several unsuccessful starts. When I needed a story to fill out The History of Soul 2065, I was able (with Mythic Delirium publisher / editor Mike Allen’s able help) to finally bring it together.

Humans have been killing themselves for thousands of years, and lately, they’ve gotten a lot better at it. Haven’t you learned anything from your mother’s experience?

An Awfully Big Adventure

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
While the story’s origins lie in my memory of  watching President Kennedy’s address with my very American parents, Ben’s mother and father (whom I’ve named Gretl Held and Wilhelm/William Weissbaum) are loosely based on the parents of my partner Jim, both of whom escaped from Hitler’s Germany.

Jim’s father, like Ben’s, was in the OSS (the organization that eventually became the CIA) during the war. I’ve been told that he spent time as an underground operative in Europe. Like many war vets of his generation, he didn’t talk about it much.

Jim’s mother, along with her brother, managed to avoid the concentration camps when they were smuggled out of Europe by a network of Catholic religious workers, eventually meeting their parents in Morocco. In my story, Ben’s mother was not so fortunate; her experiences more reflect those of a neighbor I grew up with who bore fading blue numbers on her arm.

Ben himself (as mentioned in the entry about “Hearts and Minds“) is based somewhat on a talented young man I worked with back in the 1980s named Mark. The child Ben, however, is completely fictional.

Ben’s Grandmama Sophia is, yes, the same Sophia we meet as a child in the first story in the book, “The Clearing in the Autumn.”

Carlos is someone we will meet more fully in another story. He is a mashup of two or three friends of mine.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
The Cuban Missile Crisis may still be the closest we ever came to nuclear war (at least, the closest we know about). It was just lucky that the men in charge of the two opposing nations had the maturity and intelligence to pull away from the brink. I shudder to think of how a similar situation would have been handled by some of today’s leaders.

Azazel and Shemhazhai are, in legend, two fallen angels who went to live among the people of Earth. Azazel is usually portrayed as male, but I saw no reason why an angel couldn’t be female, both male and female, or neither.

Finally, the nightmare that Ben has is the same one that I had for weeks after that frightening night in front of the TV set. I haven’t had that nightmare since I was a child, but I still remember it.

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