There is a nice write-up for The Last Stoic in this weekend’s Kingston Whig-Standard, by entertainment editor Greg Burliuk.
Then and now
By Greg Burliuk, from The Kingston Whig-Standard, Oct. 1, 2011
Sometimes the axiom that history repeats itself it can seem like deja vu, so startling are the similarities. That’s what sent Morgan Wade on his way to creating his first novel, The Last Stoic, which shows the parallels between the ancient Roman Empire and former president George Bush’s United States.
It began in 2003 when Wade read Henry Gibbon’s mammoth six-volume The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire, written in the late 18th century.
“It was a book I’d wanted to read for ages,” says Wade. “At the time, the Americans were invading Iraq and I could see all these amazing parallels between the two eras.”
For his book, Wade chose the period when Caracallus was emperor in the early third century. “Caracallus even invaded the exact same place that Bush did in 2003,” says the author. “Both were unnecessary wars in the Middle East.”
Wade found the parallels so eerily similar that he decided to tell a story that alternates between the two time periods. A chapter will end in ancient Rome but the story will be picked up next in modern times. The plot is about a young man who comes to the big city with bright prospects, but whom another young man grows to hate and plots his downfall. The plotting of the other eventually succeeds and our hero is false imprisoned and tortured by an intolerant government. What keeps him going is reading from The Meditations, written by the founder of stoicism and one of Rome’s last great emperors Marcus Aurelius.
These days, if someone says you are stoic, the implication is that you are cold and impassive. But such was not the intent of Marcus Aurelius in his writings, says Wade.
“Stoicism was the state religion for 600 years,” he says. “Even the early Christians espoused some stoic tenets. The main one was that you should let reason rule your appetites. You should take what you need but something like hoarding was irrational. You should live in the present not the past or the future.”
One could theorize that trouble began in both eras because the philosophy of stoicism wasn’t followed. “In ancient Rome they gave in to their appetites and fears,” says Wade. “And in modern times, there was a lot of war profiteering going on during the invasion of Iraq. In stoicism there’s nothing so absurd as an old man trying to get even more wealthy. They would say why did he try so hard to get wealthy in the first place.
“I didn’t know very much about Marcus Aurelius and his writings before but I’ve become a big fan now. That was one of the perks of researching this book. ”
Wade says that another central theme in stoicism is that its practitioners be ethical.
“They talk a lot about the right way to live,” he says. “One of the questions the book raises is who exactly is The Last Stoic. It could be one of the characters or even Marcus Aurelius himself.”
The author says “the central conceit of the book is that the eras are so similar you could have a continuous narrative. That was a lot of fun trying to put together.
“My first draft was twice as long as what was published because I was trying to cram a lot of history in there. A lot had to come out and I had to re-organize it all.”
However, the first-time novelist had an experienced hand to guide him through it. Acclaimed local author Helen Humphreys served as the novel’s editor. Wade met her while she was a writer in residence at Queen’s. He showed her his work, she suggested a publisher and then agreed to edit the manuscript. “She helped winnow out all the unnecessary bits and make the novel tight,” says Wade.
A computer programmer by trade, Wade and his wife moved to Kingston in 2001, after falling in love with the city almost by accident. In fact the Limestone City will serve as a backdrop for his next novel. “I’d like to set it in Kingston between 1820 and 1840,” he says. “It was after the war of 1812 and it was an exciting time here then. I’ve already done quite a bit of historical research on the period.”