Monday, 22 August 2011
W is for WALTER HOCHBURG
seemed to emerge from the ether, then WALTER E HOCHBURG was based on Kurtz from Heart of Darkness – at least to begin with. I wanted a character who was a mixture of the messianic and murderous, a man with an obsession to ‘civilise’ Burton Africa. Unlike Conrad’s character, however, and because of the genre I was writing in, he is much more clearly flagged as the villain.
That said, I wanted to create a carnivalesque villain, one who combined the elements of mass murderer with all the best jokes. I also wanted to portray his backstory as sympathetically as possible. Some readers have commented on their moral queasiness about this – but that’s exactly the effect I was aiming for.
Physically, my initial instinct was to play against type with Hochburg and make him a slight man (I always had in mind the British stage actor Michael Pennington). I was intrigued by the idea of so much energy, power and violence emanating from such an inconsequential figure. However, when I wrote the book and pictured Hochburg in my mind, he was always a bigger, broad-shouldered character; the type of person who fills a room with his physical presence. I resisted this depiction of him for ages, till finally – in the fourth draft of the book – I relented and changed his description to what we have now.
His baldness comes from
’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, another source for the character. This is also where he gets his first name (never mentioned by Conrad) and initial. The latter was an in-joke between John Milius and George Lucas (the writers of Apocalypse) and was a reference to Walt E. Disney. I like this type of layering of references; in fact my book is packed with them which I’m sure discerning readers are picking up on. Brandon
As for the name Hochburg... well, I don’t want to give away all my secrets! But if you look up ‘Hoch’ and ‘Burg’ in a German dictionary I’m sure you’ll get the allusion. (NB – please don’t post the answer in the comments section.)