Exclusive Interview: Author Christopher C. Doyle on ‘The Magadh Mystery,’ His Journey to Audio, Mythology, and More
In a recent chat with TOI Books, Doyle spoke at length about “The Magadh Mystery,” his shift to audio, mythology, and more.
1. Your latest work, ‘The Magadh Mystery’, is in audio format. What prompted you to switch to this new medium?
While manuscript books have been around for over 2000 years, the printed medium is more recent – the printing press was not invented until the 15th century, just 500 years ago. But oral storytelling dates back millennia. Our first stories were oral. And, in India, our tradition of oral storytelling is ancient. The Mahabharata, which forms the basis of all my stories, including “The Mystery of Magadh”, was told by Ugrashrava to the rishis of Naimisharanya and also by Vaishampāyana, a disciple of Veda Vyāsa, at the serpent sacrifice of Janamejaya. So I think it was natural that I wanted, as a storyteller, to write a story that could be told rather than read.
2. For the regular reader or listener, how would you explain ‘The Magadh Mystery’?
The Magadh Mystery is an audible original, based on a story from the Mahabharata and the story of Rajgir, known as Girivraja in ancient times. The mystery of Magadh concerns an ancient legend from the time of Jarasandha and a secret that was hidden by Bimbisara, the ruler of Magadh 2500 years ago. The protagonists’ grandfather, Vidya and his brother Amar, had told them a story called the Magadh Mystery which had been passed down from generation to generation in their family. It involved a secret and an ancient map that made no sense. Vidya, an archaeologist, and Amar, a history teacher, had always dismissed the story as a story made up by their grandfather. Until a surprise discovery in modern-day Kashi revealed the story was true.
3. What fascinates you so much about Indian mythology? Because your works are part of mythology.
I think we’re all fascinated by the stories we grew up listening to. I have always been fascinated by the Mahabharata, which unequivocally and repeatedly declares it to be ‘Itihāsa’. And Itihāsa is a Sanskrit word that doesn’t mean “story” but means “that’s what happened”. I always wondered if there was any truth, events that actually happened, that the Mahabharata stories are based on. And that’s what I explore through my work. I have been researching the original Mahabharata text for over fifteen years and when I first started writing I wanted to see if I could find scientific explanations for some of the Mahabharata stories. And, indeed, there are some interesting explanations based on facts and real science.
4. How much of your work is fiction and how much reality?
All my stories are fiction, but they are rooted in well-documented facts. While writing ‘The Mystery of Magadh’, I have read nearly 100 books and journals, including the ancient Jain and Buddhist texts which chronicle the history of Magadh and Girivraja, in the 6th century BC And for my other books, I ‘sometimes read up to 300 books on history, science and archeology, just to get my facts straight. All of my theories are checked by experts in their fields to ensure that the basic facts are correct. But the theories used to create the plot are fictional. I use real facts, then I use fiction to connect them.
5. Following on from the previous question, is there anything like a “fact” in mythology? If so, doesn’t that change the very definition of the word “mythology”?
There has been much research over the last half century or more into the roots of mythology and many respected scholars have written books and articles which demonstrate that much of the mythology in the world is rooted in a kernel of truth, which is then embellished and told as a story. Astronomical events and calculations are the most commonly accepted themes in mythology around the world. And there is a very fine line between history and mythology. Alexander the Great, for example, is a historical figure, but there is absolutely no archaeological evidence to prove he ever existed. We know he existed from the writings of people like Plutarch, Arrian, and Strabo, among others, all of whom lived long after Alexander’s death. Another great example is Aśoka the Great. He was considered mythological for 2000 years, until James Prinsep deciphered an inscription in 1837 which eventually led to the recognition that Aśoka was, indeed, a historical figure.
6. You also run “The Quest Club”, in which you share your research on science, history and mythology and also provide free content to your readers. What was the inspiration behind it?
In the years since the release of my first two books, “The Mahabharata Secret” and “The Alexander Secret” (Book 1 of The Mahabharata Quest series), I realized that many of my readers were very interested in extensive research I do for all my books, and which I mentioned in a previous answer. I was getting a lot of emails asking questions and looking for more information. So in 2015, I decided to start a free club on my website where I post snippets of my research, free chapters, and other information related to my research and my books. It has helped me forge a connection with my readers, who have full access to me and my research and can interact with me through messages or through Quest Club meetings which are both in person and online. .
7. Can you tell us something about your next project?
This year is going to be a busy year for me, with a lot of new projects. In January I started a non-fiction series at the Quest Club called “Revealed – Mysteries of the Mahabharata” which is an in-depth exploration of the Mahabharata for those who have not read the original text but want or have questions on the epic. I found over the years that many of my readers wanted to read the original text of the Mahabharata but did not know where to start and were not interested in the stories or the translation available. They wanted something they could understand and relate to, that didn’t cut the stories from the epic but covered the whole epic. In this new series, I share my research and explain the original Sanskrit shlokas of the epic. Book 3 of “The Mahabharata Quest” series, the sequel to “The Secret of the Druids”, is also slated for release in the coming months. And in the second half of the year, I plan to release volume 3 of “The Pataala Prophecy” series.