(Post about the title story of the Peacock Cloak collection. It was first published in Asimov’s SF.)
The original idea for this story came from an account I read somewhere about a piece of music theatre by Carl Orff called De Temporum Fine Comoedia or ‘Play for the End of Time.’ I’ve never seen the piece performed, or heard the music, or read the libretto, and I don’t know if the following account is even accurate, but this is what I took from what I read. The Day of Judgement is far in the past. All the souls in hell have finally repented and been forgiven except for Satan, and finally Satan himself has come to kneel and seek forgiveness from God.
I liked this idea. The Day of Judgement has always seemed to me, to be perfectly frank, to be a pretty crap ending of the story. (Countless souls have been brought into being out of nothing, and then the story ends with most of them frying away in an eternal torture chamber! What kind of resolution is that?) This idea of Orff’s, or whoever Orff got it from, struck me as much more satisfying: the cycle ends, the universe is complete. The Big Crunch at the other end of time from the Big Bang.
I’m a jackdaw. I love bright little titbits of knowledge. The second mythological titbit that went into this story comes from Kurdistan. Most Kurds are Muslims, but a small minority of them belong to the Yazidi religion. Again, no big research was involved here, but what little I happened to come across told me that in this obscure and secretive religion, the world is in the care of seven angels, whose leader is Tawus Melek, or Taus Melek, the Peacock Angel. Yes, the Peacock Angel! Like Lucifer, or like Iblis in Islam, Tawus disobeyed God, but unlike these other fallen angels, Tawus was forgiven and placed in charge of the whole world.
The cistus flowers and the children with the lamb came from a week I spent with my good friend Jonathan in Oued Laou in Morocco. We also met some other little children – I think they were on their way back from school – who seemed very awed by us, and came to kiss our hands, one by one.
The mood comes from this period of my life, when I seem to be letting go of some things, and learning to accept the world as it is.
As to the cloak with its restless eyes and its whispering voice… well, there are various magical feather cloaks in fairytale and mythology, and I think there is something here too of the imagery of Miyazaki’s wonderful Spirited Away (one of my favourite films), but basically I made it up. Every story I write waits for some little detail, some little trick, to bring the whole thing alive. And in this story the thing that did it for me was the cloak.