I got this message today, and thought the questions were solid and worth posting.
Hello Mr. Story. My name is Damon, and I am a high school librarian in Colorado. A group of students chose to read Things Grak Hates as a contemporary novel of choice, and they have a question for you–if you would be willing and able to respond. They wonder why you chose to set this contemporary novel in prehistoric times. And they also wonder about the character of Grak. Why create such an anti-hero? As one student asked, “Is Grak symbolic of certain societal views today?” So sorry to bother you, but these are great kids with great questions. Thank you so, so, so much for reading this and considering our request!
Hi there, Damon! I’m honored that this group of students chose to read my novel. I’m always happy to respond when I have the time.
“Things Grak Hates” was written as an allegory. As such, many elements in my story represent something else, often multiple meanings, even in a simple line. I chose the prehistoric setting to this end. It was an effort to show that the dangers I discuss are both ancient and intrinsic. Or in other words, Acton’s “absolute power corrupts absolutely” has no temporal or societal requisites.
And you’re not alone in asking about Grak. I sometimes wonder that too. Some can hardly stand him and have to put the book down. Others are more like me and find the character and the deep dive into his psyche mesmerizing.
In short, it delighted me to write him and it delights me to read him. I generally prefer to write characters that others aren’t writing. While Grak isn’t wholly unique in the literary world, I haven’t run across his sort too often and wanted to take up the challenge. Of course, he is often vile, and if I were to meet his full incarnation in the flesh, I would likely distance myself. But there’s something safe about the printed page, where you can step back and appreciate the faults of humanity in an abstract way.
As for what Grak represents, I’ve been hearing that question more often in recent days. Of course, having written this in 2014, I did not and could not have foreseen what our current year would bring. If I had that power, I imagine I’d be famous by now.
While Grak represents a great deal, I didn’t write him as a sketch of anyone or any situation in particular. I’m not a fan of narrow critiques, as I find those often miss the forest for the trees. What I attempted to do with this novel was to critique general ills as I see them and point out their origins as I see them.
Most of all, Grak represents a seed. I can’t say with certainty that this seed is present in all of humanity, but I’ve not seen it absent. Further, my own studies have led me to believe that it is there, deep inside us all. I don’t believe that our core is intrinsically bad, but neither do I believe it to be intrinsically good. Rather, a mixture appears to be present, and when we allow our lesser traits to flourish, they inevitably lead to the worst we see in history. Acton’s words again come to mind. Bradford’s “there but for the grace of God go I” also seems apt and likewise has no requisites.