GRAHAM HANCOCK is the author of the major international bestsellers Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, Fingerprints of the Gods, and Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization. His books have sold more than five million copies worldwide and have been translated into 27 languages. His public lectures, radio and TV appearances, including two major TV series for Channel 4 in the UK and The Learning Channel in the US – Quest for the Lost Civilization and Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age – have put his ideas before audiences of tens of millions. He has become recognised as an unconventional thinker who raises controversial questions about humanity’s past.
Hancock’s newest work is Entangled, his first fiction.
John Ottinger: You are an international bestselling author of several nonfiction books, but Entangled is your first novel. Did you have to change your approach to writing in any way? What changes did you see in your writing practices in the switch from nonfiction to fiction?
Graham Hancock: I’ve made my living as a writer all my working life, and part of the reason I’ve been able to do this is that I’m disciplined about my writing. I will often be at my desk from 12 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week when I’m immersed in a book. This was true of all my non-fiction and I approached the novel the same way.
But there were important differences in how I wrote.
Most obviously I wasn’t quoting from or synthesising existing knowledge, I wasn’t making statements of fact that needed to be supported by footnotes and I wasn’t building a case or an argument. I was telling a story, pure and simple and the key building blocks were characters, plot and action.
Unlike non-fiction, which was quite an intense intellectual and scholarly endeavour, I’ve discovered I write fiction best when I de-focus and just allow the story to flow through me.
It’s easier said than done.
JO: You are best known as a historical provocateur, making arguments for older Egyptian civilizations than are currently accepted and delving into the role of the supernatural in the development of human civilization. What sparked this interest in the relationship between belief and human development?
GH: My interest is not really in the relationship between belief and human development. Mainstream science has a huge blind spot around the possible role of spiritual forces or influences in history. Such influences are ruled out, a priori, by the reductionist reference frame of mainstream science with the obvious result is that no scientist looks for them. But I don’t accept the scientific reference frame. I think it’s possible spiritual forces have played a decisive role in human history and I’ve sought to bear witness to this in my work.
JO: One of your two main characters is a twenty-first century woman, who travels back in time 24,000 years to age of humanity where a demon is set on destroying humanity. Why did you decide to bring someone into the past instead of just telling a story without time travel?
GH: From the very beginning I was in no doubt that the essence of this story was the “entanglement” of two young women living at opposite ends of history, brought together by supernatural forces to do battle with a demon who travels through time. There was no way I could have written Entangled “without time travel”. If I had it would have been a completely different story.
JO: What themes are you exploring in this novel?
GH: Human courage in adversity, along with the dark side of humanity, good and evil, tests of character in difficult times, the quest for self-mastery, the healing power of love.
JO: You worked in a great deal of “subversive” (your words) ideas into Entangled. What are these ideas, and what makes them subversive?
GH: On the surface Entangled is an action-driven fantasy adventure story in which my two heroines must literally fight for their lives from beginning to end. But going deeper the novel also has radical things to propose about the nature of reality and of consciousness. The plot is built around the notion that multiple domains, realms and dimensions not normally accessible to our senses lurk behind the everyday reality of the material world, and that time itself is a realm that may be traversed. My heroines gain access to these realms, and to the angels and demons who inhabit them, in altered states of consciousness brought on by the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs.
Consciousness is not well understood by science. There’s a general view that the brain makes consciousness much as a factory makes cars. But there’s no proof that this is how things work. The brain could equally well be a receiver or transceiver that manifests consciousness on the physical plane – rather in the way that invisible TV signals are transformed into visible images by our TV set. The factory analogy forbids any possibility of consciousness surviving death. The factory is broken; there are no more cars. The television analogy, on the other hand does allow consciousness to survive death. The TV set is broken but the TV signal goes right on broadcasting.
The default view of mainstream science that seeks to reduce all conscious phenomena to matter is unable to explain a wide range of anomalies that feature strongly in Entangled, including near-death and out-of-body experiences, and transpersonal experiences of “spirit” worlds and “spirit” entities encountered in visionary and ecstatic states. It is subversive to the materialist reference frame of mainstream science to provide a convincing explanation for how and why such worlds and entities might exist.
Likewise the notion at the heart of the book that psilocybin, DMT and other Schedule 1 psychedelics might shift the wavelength setting of the brain to give us reliable access to other levels of reality runs counter to the whole ethic of the so-called war on drugs – in which hallucinogens have long been typecast at best as mere “brain candy” and, at worst, as dangerous and destructive “psychoto-mimetic” agents. Entangled subverts the existing order by considering hallucinogens in an unusually positive light and bringing to the fore their profound implications for the mystery of consciousness.
JO: You use such phrases as “Now it was payback time.”; “The whole thing gave Ria the creeps.” and semi-modern expletives which are distinctly modern. What led to the decision to aver making the tone of the Stone Age portions of the novel more ancient sounding?
GH: We can’t know how people spoke in the Stone Age. We can’t even begin to guess. But whatever the actual style of their speech I think it a reasonable supposition that it could be translated into the idiom of any other time or place – just as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs can be translated into modern English, and Classical Greek into modern Japanese. Indeed, rendering the idiom of one culture into the idiom of another is an important part of the translator’s job.
Rather than contrive a “ancient sounding” style of speech for my characters of 24,000 years ago, I have therefore generally expressed their dialogue in the modern idiom.
The exception is the “thought-talk” of the Neanderthals which I represent in pidgin in the early parts of the book. As I conceive them, these are telepathic creatures forced to compress the complex multi-layered imagery with which they normally communicate into the narrow boundaries of another species’ language – so it reasonable, I think, that they would express themselves in a clumsy way. Later, when Ria receives the magical gift of languages, she is able to understand the Neanderthals perfectly and their speech is thereafter no longer rendered in pidgin.
JO: Your descriptions of drug use, rape, and even a gang-bang occur in just the first four chapters. So the novel is very violent and highly sexualized, at least initially. Isn’t this a little trite? Shock value just for the sake of gaining readership?
GH: No, quite the contrary, I thought the graphic nature of these and other scenes would cause me to lose rather than to gain readers – and subsequent experience since publishing the book seems to bear this out. Quite a number of readers who’ve posted comments on Amazon.com, for example, state that they’re disgusted with the violence in Entangled and don’t want to read further. I knew I was running this risk when I wrote the book because the dark side of the story is very dark, but I never felt it would be right to soft-pedal on the descriptions of wickedness. Entangled is a story of the battle of good against evil. It makes no sense to pretend that evil is less evil than it is.
JO: You have stated elsewhere that the plot of the novel was given to you in a vision while taking ayahuasca, a mind altering substance from the Amazon, a drug you have taken at least thirty times. What led you to believe that this substance is more than a hallucinogenic, and that the visions you received were more than just the ravings of a drug-enhanced mind and actually from a higher power?
GH: Ayahuasca, and its active ingredient dimethyltryptamine (DMT) are extremely interesting agents for bringing about deeply altered states of consciousness. People from many different walks of life and from many different cultures all report finding themselves in similar otherworldly landscapes where they meet similar intelligent non-human beings with teachings to offer.
Increasing numbers of serious researchers are willing to consider the possibility that these beings and realms are real – perhaps in ways that quantum physics can elucidate.
For example, Rick Strassman MD carried out research with DMT and human volunteers at the University of New Mexico. In his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule he writes: “I claim little understanding of the physics underlying theories of parallel universes and dark matter…What I do know, however, causes me to consider them as possible places where DMT might lead us … These worlds are usually invisible to us and our instruments, and are not accessible using our normal state of consciousness. However, just as likely as the theory that these worlds exist ‘only in our minds’ is that they are, in reality, ‘outside us’ and freestanding. If we simply change our brain’s receiving abilities, we can comprehend and interact with them.”
This seems to me a more balanced and nuanced view of so-called “hallucinations” than simplistic notions like of “the ravings of a drug-enhanced mind”. There are very good scientific reasons for suspecting that something truly mysterious is going on with DMT. To this I can only add my own personal impression of contact, over a series of Ayahuasca sessions in Brazil in 2006, with an immense, benign, deeply loving and creative intelligence. In the process I received the spark and the inspiration for the story that became Entangled.
JO: You have also mentioned that the story of Entangled is full of constant action, constant jeopardy. What kind of action should readers expect, and can readers expect times of introspection and a slowdown of plot, or are we always to be on the edge of our seat?
GH: The book describes violent times and violent events. The action is bloody and readers are plunged into it pretty much from beginning to end. There are episodes of introspection but I don’t let them go on and on. I think it’s a key part of the novelist’s job to keep readers on the edge of their seats and hope I have achieved this with Entangled.
JO: Where can readers find you online?