Sunday, 1 April 2012

Why is the lighthouse important? [Spoilers]

This is another post that you should avoid perusing if you haven't yet read Turner but you intend to in the near future, for here be dragons and spoilers. You were warned.

If you're still reading then you want to know the answer to the questions below - the most common ones people have asked me about after reading Turner.

Why is the novel called Turner? And why does a lighthouse feature on the cover?

On an obvious level, the novel's name is partly a reference to the fact that the book was designed as a page turner. From the feedback I've had and the reviews I've seen, it succeeds at that. However, there are further ways in which the novel's name is relevant.

Turner is also a reference to the lighthouse, a central landmark. They have a mechanism for revolving light. There is something ambivalent about lighthouses: they are a warning of danger, but also a help; a refuge and a threat. Light is a signal to follow, a way to find your path in the darkness, but it works both ways, since it is also like a searchlight. As is the lighthouse in the novel: a refuge, but also a place of death (to humans and to birds) and a trap. The lighthouse scenes take place in the centre of the novel, and an element of the plot (discussed next) revolves around it.

Just as the light at the top continues to turn, so the novel turns on the actions that take place in the lighthouse: it is central because of the rules of the game. Whoever the novel is about is the protagonist, and will win: they will be The Turner.

For the first half of the novel Lord John leads things, since he claims he is The Turner (with his power of turning people to his will via mind control). Everyone else is on the run as Lord John drives the action, and the killers under his control force the heroes to move.

Up until that point one of the characters - Chris Jones - has been one of those forced to keep moving, and it finally looks like there is nowhere else to run. He’s trapped with a friend and they are probably going to die. He doesn’t want to die with dishonesty on his lips, so he admits his real name to her: he’s a convict on the run, and his name is really Chris Turner. And so we see that he is also a Turner, as Lord John is: Chris's turning power is different though, it is turning a situation to his advantage by overbalancing his opponent: he uses the Bwystfil’s weight against him on the lighthouse to overbalance and defeat him physically, and he overbalances Lord John mentally during the 'barrage of profanities' scene near the end. 

It is unknown to Chris, but from the second that he admits his true name to Megan - and the reader - showing that he is a Turner, he becomes the focus of the novel as it identifies with him, and his luck changes; instead of being on the run, he becomes the person driving the narrative, taking the battle onwards, the hunted becomes the hunter. This is why I talk about the power of words and names, meta commentary on situations like this: it becomes a battle for identity, to decide who is the Turner of the island, the survivor and victor.

Therefore, from the lighthouse scene onwards it is a battle for identity and also survival between the two Turners, each with their own power of Turning. It is only in the climax of the novel, the final confrontation between those two that you discover who the true Turner is. And so the plot revolves around decisions made in the lighthouse.

Going back to the question of the cover, the lighthouse is obviously central to the above, and features prominently in the novel as it does on the island, so it made the most logical choice. I wanted to show it at its most creepy. The idea of a sunset combines the fading of light (hope) with ominous blood-like sunset colours, so I tried to come up with images that combined all those. The lighthouse is an appropriate symbol to capture the events at the heart of the novel.

I hope I've shown that the novel wasn't just an excuse for me to write a rip-roaring adventure and throw in a chainsaw, though they were obviously important aims! And if you have got this far without having read Turner, and now want to, it is available here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the explanation of 'turning'. It's more of an ability than a power. The will to adapt and the refusal to break.