Nine visits to the Crystal Maiden.


Photo credit.


I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been to the cave I first fell in love with in 2012. But for the sake of the sacred number of Xibalba, let’s say it’s been nine.

I spent my birthday there this year. We got to the terminal chamber where the “Crystal Maiden” has been lying for a thousand years, so called because her entire skeleton is preserved in glittering calcite. I sat there for awhile in silence. Francisco and I talked about how she isn’t bound like captives usually are; her ribs are collapsed forward, as if her chest cavity had been opened and her heart extracted; she’s splayed out, as if she’s been pushed; or as if she was left there in the dark without food or water, and finally just laid down.

My next novel The Actual Star imagines her as a fierce, brilliant, and lusty teenager, a royal heir of an ancient city-state, taken captive by the neighboring drought cult. But sitting right next to her made me question the ethics of inventing a story around this very real body. We know almost nothing about her. We don’t even know if it was a man or a woman (the jawbone apparently argues for the former, and the jury’s still out). The story I will invent is almost certainly not the “real” story—just one story that doesn’t contradict any of the existing data. There are a thousand possible solutions to the uncollapsed probability function that is her body.

One might argue that any story that fits the data is as ethical as the next, given that, like in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the full story is fundamentally unknowable. But given that I serve specific masters—namely, the commercial and narrative concerns that govern the modern USian novel—my actions feel like a form of neocolonialism: projecting a story onto a body that can’t speak for itself.

I don’t have any answers, except to proceed with this in mind.


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9 Comments on “Nine visits to the Crystal Maiden.”

  1. Susan says:

    All the stuff politicians are inventing this summer, and here you are pondering the ethics of writing historical fiction. I’ll have to think about that. . . .

  2. Arvind says:

    Sounds like a good story. Its heartening also to see a writer self aware of the effect of the outsider narrative on a colonized culture. I would like to also ask if you are not tired of the traditional paradigm of exceptionalism of the ruling classes? The whole royal savior thing.

  3. L.A. Barnitz says:

    I believe you have handled the writer’s dilemma honorably. You recognize that the source of inspiration once had its own volition and its own living arc, and there is nothing wrong with you finding inspiration in that to weave a new story. This what writers do. No disrespect to the source is intended, and your story will now feed many hearts and minds.

  4. Julie E. Byrne says:

    Arresting post, Monique. SHE. She has such a life in the caves but you are giving her more life, or immortality.

    I did hear from Hans Küng’s friends that he is too ill to take on a blurb, but thanks anyway for help with the connection. I thought of other good people.


  5. Julie E. Byrne says:

    I showed Glen this post and told him a little more about your book, the part about the birth of a religion. He said, if there is a world catastrophe and Monica’s Actual Star is one of the found books, then it will really be a religion.


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