I’ve never been the sort to think myself particularly exceptional. I find it very hard to think of myself as ‘better’ at anything than any other person on the planet, and generally operate on the assumption that if I can do it, anyone can.
Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t really know, but it does lend a degree of confusion when I think about my education.
I consider myself pretty smart. Nothing compared to rocket scientists, brain surgeons or other specialists, but when it comes to general knowledge of how our world works and whats goes on it, I like to think I have a darn broad education on the basics of many, many things. Learning is great, and the world fascinates me.
But I don’t have a university degree. I have the equivalent of 3 A-levels in the UK through my childcare courses I took when I was younger, but I’m technically not that highly educated, at least on paper. It has certainly come as a shock to many people including the children I have taught here in the States, as the assumption seems to be you must have a degree to be smart… and I don’t. Nor have I ever wanted to pursue a degree.
Despite this, I can follow along most university lectures on many subjects, I have an extensive knowledge on various topics just because of my own interest, and the ability to mix and match what I know about different subjects to form complex opinions and theories of my own on everything from black holes to the domestication of ancient cats.
What does all this have to do with writing a scholar character? Well, for that, we need to talk about the application of knowledge, and some history.
The Learned Elite
It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t until very recently that education was a wide spread thing for all people in even the most developed countries. Before that, education was expensive and very much wedded to the class system, favoring the wealthy.
While the ins and outs of that, what was right and wrong, aren’t really my remit here, it is fair to say the intelligentsia has had more than its fair share of wealthy and influential people in its ranks.
When it came to fitting a scholar to my trilogy, therefore, I very much had in mind the intellectuals of the 1800’s, as well as particular bright minds from the past that I have been inspired by.
Perhaps the most important among these is a man named Sherman, who studied the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.
There is a wonderful dramatization documentary about that particular event, wherein Sherman is depicted as a light-hearted and energetic young man, the kind to laugh in the face of danger. How true this is of his real personna I cannot say, but there are two moments from that film that stood out to me when it came time to create a man of science of my own.
At one point, Sherman makes the comment ‘of course this is science. Everything is science.”, which is a statement I can get behind. Science and learning are wonderful things because it is a line of human thinking that is always first to go ‘I don’t know’ in the face of phenomena we have no rationale for, and then try to work it out. It’s a progressive thing, and I’m the kind who believes understanding betters us all as a species.
The second comment comes when, days after what might now be called a ‘throat-clearing’ on Krakatoa, Sherman and his older colleague, Doctor Van der Stok, are climbing the peak (unaware the main event is still to come). Whether this happened for real or not, there is a moment in the film where Van der Stok wishes to turn back. Sherman simply says ‘You’ve become too comfortable stuck in your observatory. Come on!’ and charges off up to the crater.
This is what I wanted for my scholar. Not a rich, portly man with a white beard pontificating on just one topic for his whole life in the safety of a paneled office.
I wanted an active scholar. One who went out and followed his passion, as I have tried to follow mine.
I wanted someone who could convey all my thoughts on what is good and bad about how we educate people, and have a true love for the topics in which he was interested.
And for him to have those interests that go beyond mere scholarly insight.
Orrin ended up being a geologist. It was going to be that, or a botanist, but with the nature of the story I wished to tell, geology was more conducive to my plot, so rocks became his passion over the weird and wonderful plant life of Rasaal.
A man of learning, he has fastidious habits, and while his mind may be terribly orderly when it comes to facts about stones, other things have become less important to him, such as establishing only one basket in which to leave his laundry.
There are points in the story where I use him to state how important I think it is to apply knowledge, and not just horde it inside books and records to only ever be talked about and not used, but I didn’t want him to be preachy about this. This led me to ensuring he got his fair share of genuine traits to match his/my thoughts, such as a habit of carrying out practical experiments on whatever currently has his attention and of taking samples whenever possible.
Orrin shares his passion with those will listen, and being a true scholar, listens just as intently to anything anyone has to say on a topic to further his own understanding and theories. On meeting a certain rogue crew of rough and ready men, his attention (after assuring himself cutlasses were not to be turned on himself) was to ask questions about the mountain ranges the men have flown over and their shape rather than their epic deeds and battles.
In time, Orrin also develops as a person. Rocks are his passion for most of the books, but even with those, I have tried to portray him as having a personal bond with Anka throughout the first book.
While he was never designed to be a main character in his own right, I was not all surprised on reaching a certain point in the second book when I realized matters would have led a man of his standing and brilliance to come into contact with others who share his passions. And thence, to love. His wife and child turned up in the story as naturally as water flowing down hill, and even his thoughts on the religions of Hevna and Rasaal in specific came smoothly in their own time.
Ultimately, writing a scholar turned very much into writing someone who could help expand the world, deliver necessary information and genuine learning, all without seeming contrived or anything more than a ‘real’ person, as caught up in events as the characters he operated in support of.
While I may have started writing him with no agenda beyond service to the story, he definitely ended up being someone who reflects my own views and thoughts… but not in a preachy manner, I hope!