The first impression Tunde Leye’s Guardians of the Seal made on me was with its glossy cover and pristine pages. I love books, but I’m not a particular reader. I’m that reader who wouldn’t hesitate to fold a leaf on the page I have to stop reading for a moment. So I took one look at those pages and I said to myself: Well, here’s one book I would never have the mind to disrespect like that.
The second impression was the mythological storyline, and the headlong undertaking of the Christian bedrock. The story of the creation and Heaven and Hell was getting a contemporary feel, and I loved it. So when I finished reading it, it was only fitting for me to return to the mind that crafted the story for some answers that were so subtly woven into the story.
My Mind Snaps: You have always written contemporary stories. I was mildly startled, at the launch of Guardians of the Seal, when I opened the prologue to behold a story about Lucifer and the creation, something I considered to be a vast departure from your usual story telling. Was there a reason you chose to write this story? What was your inspiration for the story? Tell us about these.
Tunde Leye: I think over the years, I’ve written across varied genres. I’ve written a children’s book, I’ve written a thriller. On the blog, I’ve written a chic flick, I’ve written a novella based on a historical character and even a comedy. Essentially, I try not to be limited by genre in my writing as I am not in my reading. I typically would have multiple stories stewing in my mind at a time. I write the one I feel is most “cooked” at the time. Guardians of the Seals took about 3 years to get to that point and then another 5 years to write.
My Mind Snaps: I have a feeling this book is trying to say something about your belief, as an individual, on matters of faith, spirituality and the Christian message of salvation. If this is correct, what is it?
TL: The book is multi-layered. One of the layers is an imagining of the story of the past and the future as told in Christianity but with the presence of magic, swords, dragons and superpowers. So there are parallels, for example going through the wicket gate is an allegory of the New Testament doctrine of being born again or the seals being a representation of the Abrahamic covenant with Israel. But I’m also mindful that I’m telling a story and not preaching a sermon hence the focus is always the story.
My Mind Snaps: Guardians of the Seal is rooted in Christian mythology. Were you not worried about the sensitivity of exerting creative license over Biblical material?
TL: A certain lady wrote me and said the story offended her Catholic soul. On T.I.T.I’s show on Inspiration FM, some of the people that called in hard pretty hard words for the liberties taken. But was I worried? No. The liberties were part of the creative process and they were essential to creating this specific incarnation of the world, complete with its own rules that are different from our own.
My Mind Snaps: Throughout the story, there is a relentless, sometimes emotionally exhausting war between good and evil, Heaven and Hell. Is this your conception of how the world works?
TL: I think ultimately this is the case, on the grand scale. But on the granular, daily scale, life is more nuanced and there are more grays that the outright black and white battles. For the story though, I thought such rolling consistent contrasting was necessary.
My Mind Snaps: From the names of the characters, to the setting and the highly sophisticated technology, the story doesn’t quite situate itself on a specific place, least of all Nigeria. There is this expectation of Nigerian writers to make their characters predominantly African/Black. Was there any reason why you chose to leave the story’s setting ambiguous?
TL: This was deliberate. The race, location and situation of the characters were left to the reader’s imagination. Ultimately the question is this – what makes a story African? I read American writers write stories about Australians for example and no one says the writing is unAmerican. It’s important that African writers are not limited to writing stories that are situated in Africa and in which the characters have to be African. African is even such a varied description of a people. Will African mean the Arab in the North or the Oromo in Ethiopia? Or the San? Or the Berber? Our experiences of the world have grown beyond these bounds and so should our writing. Of course there is writing where the origins of the characters are important to telling the story. In this one, it wasn’t and I chose not to make them so.
My Mind Snaps: You have classified the novel as epic fantasy. Who are the writers, if any, that you look up to in this genre, and is it one that’s popularly written in Nigeria? If no, why?
TL: Two of my favourite fantasy writers are Tolkien and C.S Lewis. I’ve read practically everything fantasy that they wrote that I could find. What stands them out for me is the range of their work, their creative process and their friendship and support for each other. How decades after they’re gone, their work is still being adapted to some of the most successful movies ever. For Nigeria, the best fantasy works I’ve written are by D.O Fagunwa who wrote in Yoruba. The only other person who writes fantasy contemporarily in Nigeria I know of is Nnedi Okorafor.
My Mind Snaps: The ending to the story seemed pretty closed. That notwithstanding, should we expect a sequel, perhaps subsequent forays into other scriptural storylines?
TL: There’s actually a sequel and this one is going to be steeped in Islamic mythology. I won’t give much away but the preliminary work on it has started already.
My Mind Snaps: Finally, on a much lighter note, if Hollywood were to come calling for the movie rights for Guardians of the Seal, and you are accorded creative power, which prominent actors would you like to see play the characters of Tara, Imani, Lucan and Lucifer?
TL: Lol. I’ll plead the 5th – or its Nigerian equivalent – on that one. Let them come first.