The Corruption of Power
Posted by Literary Titan
The Fortieth Thief follows young Henry as he sets out to become a thief and learns a lot about life along the way. How did you uncover this fascinating story?
Well, like my other stories it just sprang up from my unconscious, or somewhere. So your ‘uncover’ is exactly right.
I now also see that, again like my other stories, it actually fits with my preconceptions and personality. I always like to think about the life of the underdogs – in a way the thieves were that, else why would they have been forced into that life? Like many people, alas, they probably had few if any choices open to them.
As an anthropologist too, I like to explore the lives of those (like taxi drivers, my next nonfiction project) that are not much noticed, possibly looked down on, and at any rate about whom we mostly know little. Since we can’t in practice do it for everyone in any particular category, we often focus down on a specific case or cases. Just like in this story.
So it happened that I started to wonder what those legendary thieves were like. We don’t know – where did they come from, what backgrounds, how recruited? were they all the same?
I went to sleep with those questions in my mind – and when I woke the story was just there. I can’t help feeling that in some other age or universe it did indeed happen just like this.
How did you set about bringing this story to life for modern readers?
I have to confess that at first I partly misremembered the story and thought that Ali Baba had been with the thieves all along. So I had to the change the start a little so as to explain that. I was happy to do so as it’s a familiar thing that power can go to your head – part of the moral (it happened to the thief leader too, can happen to us all).
All right the setting is in the long long ago – but what can be more contemporary than the bullying of powerless little Henry by the mighty gang or, all around us, the corruption of power?
I think the story was a morality tale, but also one of the natural world. What were some themes you wanted to capture in your story?
You’re quite right.
Well I suppose two, no three, main things.
First, at the start the idea that ‘power corrupts’. Yes, all around us.
Second, it takes me back to my core (not exclusive) discipline of anthropology, one that is now taking fiction seriously. Maybe it’s a case of the old saying that ‘fiction can be truer than truth’ – at least in a metaphorical or transferred kind of way.
From the story we can see, symbolically, that it is good to think with compassion and (same thing isn’t it?) understanding of those who, in a different way from ourselves seem to have gone wrong, even the biggily-yelling Thief Leader, let alone little loving Henry. And not just ‘thieves’ either.
And yes, nature. We are left with Henry’s gesture at the end of not keeping the jewels to himself or even his adored little sister but giving them (back?) to the sweetly flowing river, where (just to prove it’s true) we can see the signs of them still, glinting in the sun on the rocks. Like Henry, we need to recognise that the world’s riches are not for ourselves or for hiding uselessly away or for squandering but for returning to the earth from whence they came. Then heaven will look down, or the moon, or whatever, and keep our planet green and living and lovely. Quite a ‘green’, maybe even religious, message in fact, one with which, once a little barefoot Irish girl wandering with wonder through the trees, I wholeheartedly agree.
About Literary TitanThe Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.
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