The OTHER Laurie King: Mila’s midrash
The upcoming publication of Lockdown has encouraged me to write a series of blog posts on “The OTHER Laurie R. King,” talking about my non-Russell-&-Holmes writing, and what I can do in the OTHER pieces that I can’t in the series. Here’s one about a theological short story.
Interviews and bios often pick up on my previous existence as a student of religion, noting how Laurie King has gone from a life of God to a life of Crime (often adding some witty remark about how the two might not be all that different…)
I did indeed spend my early years studying religion and theology (religion being a system of belief, while theology is, literally, “god-talk”.) Both of them pop up from time to time in my novels—particularly the Russell stories, but also novels such as Darker Place and the Martinelli tales To Play the Fool and Night Work.
But I were ever the recipient of a MacArthur grant, I’d spend my time burrowing more deeply into that topic of god-talk, in a collection I’ll call Ladies of Spirit. So far, there’s only this: “Mila’s Tale” is midrash—the re-shaping of a Biblical passage for a new audience. But it’s also scholarship, because I there is no such thing as a “good” translation, because every generation needs to wrestle with their angels, and because I think everyone should be aware of the challenges of understanding a text thousands of years old.
“Mila’s Tale” is a short story based on the Jephthah’s Daughter episode in Judges 11—one of the more problematic episodes in the Old Testament. In it, a soldier with a shady history takes a vow, and unwittingly sacrifices his daughter to a bloodthirsty God.
Except it’s nowhere near that straightforward.
There are reasons that stories like this remain firmly in the canon, despite the theological problems they raise. They’re meant to challenge us, forcing us to take a closer look and reconsider precisely what it is the story is telling us. Stories such as Jephtha’s Daughter, or Job, or Judith and Tamar, or Lot’s daughters—there’s nothing simple about them. Like a novel that lingers in the reader’s mind, they can demand some wrestling.
Anyway, that’s what I was aiming for with “Mila’s Tale,” the first in an eventual collection of modern midrashim. Each re-tells a tale, as well as giving the original text (in translation) to show what I’ve done to it. And for the sake of encouraging the amateur scholar, I’ve tossed in some recommended reading as well.
Because God-talk is the business of us all.