I was catching up with Orville Schell, one of my mentors, last night. That’s always fun, but I was especially delighted by how he immediately got the plot of my book as I told it to him. (I’m not quite ready yet to start giving it away on the Hannibal Blog, but I’m getting closer.)
At one point, Orville says: “Oh, so it’s like Plutarch.”
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know why this made me happy. First, to be compared to Plutarch is tall praise for any writer. But in my particular case, it means a lot more.
Plutarch, you recall, was the first biographer. More to the point, what he did was to pair one Greek and one Roman at a time in order to draw lessons and comparisons from their lives. Alexander and Caesar, for instance. He assumed that we would be able to apply these lessons to our own lives.
One way to express the idea for my book is to call it a “modern Plutarch”–although I would never say so unless prompted, since “Plutarch” doesn’t mean much to most Americans. But the idea is quite similar:
I don’t have pairs in the sense of twos, but I do follow my main characters–Hannibal, Fabius and Scipio–through their whole lives and, in each chapter, pair them with other figures. (Amy Tan, JK Rowling, Tiger Woods, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ludwig Erhard, Cleopatra, the Dalai Lama, and so forth.)
In each case, or so I hope, it will be so obvious what the theme of the chapter is that the segues are fluid and natural. Hannibal went through X; and so did Einstein. Scipio responded with Y, and so did Steve Jobs. You get the point.
So, for Orville to listen to some of these individual comparisons and instantaneously blurt out “Plutarch” is a great vote of confidence that I executed my idea well. But I’m still waiting for my editor’s reaction; he has the manuscript right now.