Conjuring Literary Genius

I’m reading a book based on the premise that there was a previous version of Macbeth using an actual witch’s spell, but because the spell conjured up real evil during rehearsals, Shakespeare hurriedly rewrote the witches’ scenes. The story also postulates that Shakespeare had observed such a rite, and in fact, the rite was done to imbue him with literary genius.

Despite the pseudo-scholarliness of the book, I doubt there’s any way for anyone to know the truth of the legend — after all, those whose life work is a study of Shakespeare and his writings can’t even decide who Shakespeare was and if he did in fact write all that is attributed to him. Nor is there any way to know if he was divinely inspired, if his gift was an inborn one, or if it was magically conjured up. (Apparently, a lot of cauldron spells and conjuring had to do with gaining knowledge and inspiration.) And not everyone believes he is a literary genius. After all, he wrote for the lowest common denominator in his day, and though that might have conferred a special literary prowess on him, it doesn’t necessarily make him a genius.

All you have to do is look at the writers today who have earned great success by writing rather mediocre or even passably literate novels, to realize that success doesn’t necessarily equate to great writing. (Does anyone think the Shades of Gray books are literary or or even passably literate?)

All of this has led me to wonder about a modern-day Shakespeare wannabe. What if a successful literary hack wants it all — not just the wealth that comes from selling books to the masses, but also wants to be acclaimed as a literary genius. So she tracks down Shakespeare’s spell, and even though it might entail a blood sacrifice, as well as other criminal offenses, she goes through the rite and ends up a literary genius.

The only problem is, who today would even recognize literary genius? Her lowest-common-denominator readers certainly wouldn’t, and in fact, they’d abandon her in droves because they wouldn’t be able to figure out what the heck she’s talking about. To be honest, neither would I. There have been several books over the years that I thought were pure bunk even though they had been hailed as genius and ended up winning all the major awards.

So, in typical fairytale fashion, what would really happen is that the author who wanted it all would end up in prison with nothing because not only would people not find her new style inspiring, they wouldn’t approve of how she got it. Well, some people would think the end justifies the means, but even they wouldn’t appreciate her literary genius.

I guess the moral of the story (at least for me as a writer) is to leave well enough alone. Although it would be nice to be hailed as a literary genius and a brilliant writer, it would be even nicer to be able to sleep at night. Though selling a few more books than I do would be good.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

9 Responses to “Conjuring Literary Genius”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    What’s the name of this book? I’m curious, because it reminds me of a Doctor Who episode that’s especially popular with fans.
    Also, the guy who taught my Shakespeare class in senior year of college was pretty adamant that all the stuff about Shakespeare not writing his own works or that Shakespeare was a pseudonym was malarkey. That being said, who knows? The truth can be stranger than fiction some days.

  2. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    I’m too superstitions to read a book with that title. The items in Macbeths’ witches’ spell are real, but the names of the items are not what we call those items today. I put the translation in a blog post and so far nobody’s sent me an e-mail claiming to be a genius (or dead).

  3. Estragon Says:

    A past business life of mine involved selling a different medium of artistic work. In that life, I learned that success very rarely depended on the quality of the work. If published, the work was almost always technically proficient. Work that might not be considered technically proficient was sometimes successful anyway, maybe because the faults gave it a sort of authenticity. Although I got quite good at identifying work that would sell, by thinking about who might be a receptive consumer and how they might be reached, I saw a lot of work languish for want of a channel to connect the work and the potential consumer. I also saw a lot of what I considered mediocre work sell well, simply because of the name recognition of the artist. Out of maybe 10,000 releases in a year, only a few dozen were really commercially successful. Of those, only a handful would be considered enduring successes.

    I suspect the book business is similar. The quality of the work is very much in the minds of the consumer, and the reality is a great deal of work never gets the chance to connect with the right consumer at the right time. When something does click, a lot of copy-cat work gets put in front of those potential consumers, crowding out the channel for more original work. The online/streaming services are trying to come up with the secret sauce for this. Maybe the computers will figure it out better than lowly retail types like me. Maybe the next Shakespeare will hack the algorithms to get the prize?

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