So, you’ve heard about The Left-Hand Path, you’ve heard me tell you how much I love Nathan and the world he lives in, but you still need a little convincing. That’s cool. Let’s talk about magic.
My thing with writing magic and witches and whatnot is that I believe magic should be dirty. It’s all very well for Harry Potter to wave his wand and make wonderful things happen, but I like to see what I think magic would really be like (assuming it’s not real to begin with). Singed shirts, animal parts, and complex rituals make magic seem more grounded and honest to me.
For The Left-Hand Path, I wanted to step away from the usual Western, Celtic-type witches, all cauldrons and deals with Satan. I like that stuff too, but I feel like it’s well-represented without my help. Elton grew up in Vancouver, which has a huge East Asian population, so his style reflects that. But I wanted Nathan to practice a kind of magic that I think gets a bad rap and is frequently presented in an unfair light–voodoo. I don’t mean the mass media version where Baron Samedi is equated with the devil (I’m looking at you, American Horror Story), or that shows “voodoo dolls” with pins stuck in, causing pain to unfortunate targets. That sells, and it’s the only version of voodoo most people in the U.S. are familiar with, but it always comes off a little “scary black man magic” to me, and that seems to do the religion a disservice.
During my research, I found that it’s a very nuanced, deep religion, with a strong sense of family and community. For my purposes, I focused on Haitian vodou, as Nathan spent a lot of time in Haiti as a young man, and it’s where he learned most of his tricks. We in the U.S. tend to think of voodoo as chicken bones, curses, and Marie Laveau, which are all certainly part of its history, but we tend to forget that it’s a real, living religion practiced by thousands of people. I don’t consider that something to be caricatured or misrepresented. I could write a whole post about Haitian vodou on its own, but for now let’s focus on how it relates to The Left-Hand Path.
Nathan is so successful and so powerful in part because he’s naturally talented, but also because he isn’t afraid to use whatever magic is best for the task at hand. He’s picked up techniques from all over and uses them to his advantage, and hoodoo, the folk traditions commonly associated with and closely related to vodou, is something he relies on a lot. I like it personally because it is dirty. There are chicken bones, and sacrificed goats, and spider webs, and snake heads, and graveyard dirt. Much like in our world, it’s the sort of tradition that frequently gets side-eyed in polite company, and I thought that was perfect for Nathan. He’s a villain, a trickster, a dangerous maleficar shadowed by urban legend and exaggerated retellings. Of course he does magic that involves blood and altars and creepy shit. Of course he frequents a shop that sells dried animal parts in baskets. Of course the tradition he follows is the same one that makes zombies. That’s what everyone expects of Nathaniel Moore, the killer.
But if The Left-Hand Path is about anything, it’s about expectations, and how people can sometimes live up to them perfectly, but on occasion can prove you completely wrong. Vodou, for Nathan, isn’t just something that comes in handy in a pinch–it’s a religion, and one that he takes seriously. Wherever he goes, Haiti is home in his heart, and the lessons and traditions he experienced there have helped in large part to form his character.
I think it’s important to vary the kind of magic we write and read about beyond the generic fantasy tradition. There’s nothing wrong with The Elf Character or The Scholar Character who wave wands or boil things in cauldrons, but there are so many cool traditions and cultures out there, guys, and they deserve to be written about. I hope I’ll be able to expand on vodou practice and include more different kinds of magic in the books to come, and I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I’ve enjoyed researching them.