David Bryan Russell interview, September 2012
A couple of years ago I read and reviewed Enchanters by David Bryan Russell, which I found to be an imaginative and accomplished debut from an author with great potential. 2012 will see the publication of the ebook edition so I thought it would be a great time to catch up with David and talk to him about his influences and inspirations.
You were born in Los Angeles and moved to Australia in 1996. I would imagine that these two locations produced wildly different lifestyles, and I’d be interested in knowing how these two places have influenced both how you write and also what you write about.
-Thanks again for the invitation to discuss my work.
-Los Angeles was a great place to grow up. Hollywood cast a kind of dream-net the minds and hearts and minds the city; it seemed everyone had some connection with the film business, no matter how slight. As a child, I, too, was fascinated by the magic of the industry; in fact, several major studios were located within ten miles of my home. Owing to my early interest in mythology, Hollywood’s fantasy and science fiction films and television productions definitely stimulated my imagination. One some levels, the physical city itself is a kind of mirage: built on desert land, fed by distant, looted water, it has a feeling of impermanence, a quality well captured by writers such as Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, two of my personal favourites. This dream-like quality has unquestionably influenced my development as a writer.
However, like all cities, Los Angeles is also weighted by its bleak undersides: the sad echoes of the vanquished Chumash Native Americans; its militaristic police force, amongst the most oppressive in the world, especially towards minority groups; the greedy cluster of wealthy politicians, energy and resource magnates, property developers and other parasites who continually mulct the region of its resources; and the unstable nature of the land itself, which is prone to earthquakes, occasionally of devastating force. All of these malign circumstances (and more) also shaped my development as an artist.
Needless to say, working in the film industry has taught me much about the art of storytelling. I’ve also repeatedly witnessed how a bright, imaginative narrative could be reduced to mediocrity. I’ve striven to absorb the techniques of Hollywood’s story masters, who regretfully are vastly outnumbered by the talentless wankers.
As for Australia… well, it’s an endlessly fascinating country, and I consider myself very fortunate to live here. I’ve journeyed to over 30 countries, and there’s no place like Oz.
Many things make it a special place. Significant tectonic activity ceased long ago; the land is largely eroded, soft; its desert regions evoke something of the Martian landscape. The majority of the population embody a unique blend of Irish and Aboriginal heritage. However, I credit the influence of the nation’s Indigenous folk–who possess a profoundly deep environmental and spiritual reverence for this arid land, and who have welcomed me into their society–for the final evolution in my development as an artist and storyteller. From this exposure I’ve gained new perceptions of the natural world, and of humanity’s place within it. Some of these concepts have found their way into my books. I’ve likewise been influenced by the tenets of Deep Ecology, as championed by the late Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess.
Your love of Norse mythology features strongly in Enchanters: Glys of Myradelle. Is it, in your opinion, the most interesting of all the mythologies, and do you understand how the great J.R.R. Tolkien also became so enamoured – and influenced – by it?
-I certainly share Tolkien’s fascination with this rich, evocative mythology! Still, who could fail to be entranced by the shimmering Rainbow Bridge, gleaming Valhalla, the Frost Giants, the vivid adventures of Thor, the intriguing Odin, who sacrificed an eye for the sake of knowledge, or Yggdrasil, the World Tree? These ancient visions have endured, and form part of the narrative backbone of both of my novels.
Norse culture is itself remarkable in many ways, most importantly because of its almost unique, historic rejection of dualism—a widely practised philosophy which I assert has created a literal hell on earth. Dualism posits the existence of a black and white universe; actions, systems, even human beings themselves are stamped either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. So democracy is good, and all other systems, to one degree or another, are bad; only a single religion, political party, racial group, etc. can remain on the positive side of the ledger. Idiotic on the face of it, of course; but this is the guiding ideology of aggressive nations such as the US.
In contrast, as far back as the Viking period, the Norse began developing a rudimentary egalitarian culture. The people rejected dualism and its attendant evils, and over a long, testing period developed one of the world’s most socially and politically advanced nations. The Enchanters series, which is largely set in Norway, incorporates elements of this successful philosophy.
Did you get to go to Norway for research purposes?
-Yes, on several occasions. It was important to infuse the novel with a strong sense of place, including such background details as landscape, botanical and wildlife descriptions. I’ve often been the guest of the country’s film institute, which has sponsored several of my Storyboard Master Class presentations. I feel an almost magnetic attraction to Norway; ancestral linkage no doubt accounts for some of this feeling. Norwegians, a practical and self-reliant folk, possess a deep reverence for nature, coupled with an understated acceptance of the mystical entities believed to inhabit the country’s remote places. This appealing aspect of the culture has also been folded into the Enchanters narrative.
Your work features a very strong environmental theme and can be viewed as a cautionary tale. When the average persons talks of the “end of the world”, I think that they are really speaking of a time when the planet is no longer able to sustain human habitation, – do you think along similar lines? And that maybe the Earth would begin to heal if the human race no longer existed?
-Among other concepts, Deep Ecology considers humans no more important than any other species. This runs directly against the grain of, for example, Christian philosophy, which states rather baldly that the earth belongs to humans, to do with as they please. This approach has dominated mainstream Western thought for centuries, with cataclysmic results. So prevalent, so entrenched is this mindset set that, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, most people stubbornly refuse to alter their destructive patterns, and in fact have accelerated the ravaging of the planet in recent years. While we can accurately point large –scale polluters such as the military-industrial complex, pesticide, nuclear and drug companies, we are all, in fact, complicit to some degree in the degradation of the earth. Consider the dreadful North Pacific Gyre; how could a purportedly advanced race tolerate such an appalling situation?
Some scientists believe it is too late to repair our global environmental damage, that humanity is doomed. I don’t subscribe to such a fatalistic viewpoint; however, unless we halt our most destructive activities, radical changes to our lifestyle cannot be avoided.
The Enchanters series confronts this situation primarily through its lead character, Glys Erlendson, whose philosophical beliefs drive her to find solutions not only for the hidden, nature-empowered Enchanters, but for humanity at large. Glys—heroic, indomitable, yet gentle—is very much a hero for our times.
Your work as a film illustrator has led to your involvement in some of the best known feature films of the past 30 years. An impressive list contains The Color Purple, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Batman, Tombstone, The Thin Red Line, Moulin Rouge, Master and Commander, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Red Tails and Paradise Lost. Of all these great titles, which are you most proud to be connected to?
-A difficult question… filmmaking is such a powerful medium, something like a collective dream. Films have an almost atavistic effect upon its audiences; the best explore universal themes, and deftly transcend cultural barriers.
I’ve always sought out projects which had the potential to grip audiences in this fashion, regardless of the genre—although, needless to say, I have a particular interest in speculative fiction narratives. So, to answer: Return of the Jedi, for I have always been Star Wars enthusiast; The Color Purple, a daring film about the plight of a kind soul living under oppressive patriarchal rule, and which has resonated with women across the globe; Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which gave me the chance to work with genius animator Richard Williams, and which began the resurrection of the animation industry; Batman, a favourite character since childhood, and a film to which I made a significant design and story contribution; Moulin Rouge, a giddy, brilliant realisation of the life of late 19th century bohemian artists, and a moving love story; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Voyage of the Dawn Treader, beloved tales which were successfully translated to film; and Paradise Lost, a stunning realisation of Christian mythology, guided by the sure storytelling instincts of director Alex Proyas. Alas, due to complex political issues, this film is now unlikely to be produced.
Your fine art is included in the Getty Museum collection, and in numerous private art collections including those of Steven Spielberg and Eddie Murphy. Could you tell us a little more about which work these talents liked so much?
-As might be expected, many directors and producers are keen collectors of film production art and so-called ‘fine art’. At present my work is included in over 15 private collections and in 4 institutes, including the Getty and Smithsonian. I’ve created two private large-scale canvas paintings for Steven Spielberg: Peter Pan, and a portrait of his then-wife Amy Irving and baby son Max. Eddie Murphy owns several concept paintings for two unproduced films.
More information on David and his work can found at the following websites: