My fans, who are typically open minded readers, are often puzzled by the naturism in the world of Aenya. Sometimes, when people learn how often Xandr and Thelana roam about naked, they become quietly embarrassed, as if I just told them I’m gay. I find this aggravating, considering we live in a world of South Park and Family Guy, where constant references to S&M, rape, bestiality, and in one instance, necrophilia, is so embraced by the public as to have become standard household viewing.
In all honesty, I love nudity in all its forms. I even love the words nude and naked, which can carry so many, often dichotomous meanings, from natural to truthful to indecent. On the contrary, I hate porn, Hentai, and grotesque deformations of the human body on display in magazines like Heavy Metal.
Before I even knew what naturism was, it was part and parcel of my fiction. My first fantasy hero, the Greek demi-god, Dynotus, whom I created when I was 14, was more often naked than not. My inspiration for him and for Xandr came from summers on nude beaches and Greek sculpture. Neither Heracles, Perseus or Theseus bother with a stitch when standing gracefully in the Louvre or in the countless other museums of France and Italy. The late Frank Frazetta (RIP) also featured nudity in his art, which was never obscene—but in the exotic worlds of Conan seem only natural. Nudity in comics and film is not uncommon either. Before the film 300 popularized the Spartan myth for the modern age, Frank Miller had Leonidas traipsing around in nothing but a red cape (and no loincloth) throughout the graphic novel. In Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan’s genitalia is only hidden by the blue tone of his skin.
What makes Xandr and Thelana unique, and I think, shocking for some people, is the way they are naked. People seem bothered by the notion of natural nudity, or nudity in non-sexual social settings. Perhaps it is the “ism” in nudism that our modern society is afraid of. But for the Ilmarin people, to whom Xandr and Thelana belong, nudity is a non-issue. In their language, the word “nude” or “naked” does not exist. After the Great Cataclysm, when the planet Aenya stopped rotating, a paradise formed in one niche of the world which provided perfect weather . . . and isn’t clothing, traced through prehistory, simply a protection from the elements? Doesn’t environment dictate cultural norms as evidenced by Amazon tribes who know nothing of clothing, or Arabic cultures whose ancestors relied on head and mouth coverings to retain moisture?
The Ilmarin people are naked in the same sense. It is not to arouse or shock or to be risqué—it’s simply their way of life. Or was at the start of the story. Just as in the Garden of Eden, the Ilmar lose their innocence when they are ousted from paradise (unlike Adam and Eve, however, they never accept their shame). The loss of innocence, and the other side of that coin, paradise, is a recurring theme in Ages of Aenya. Nudity becomes then a powerful metaphor when Aenya’s “civilized” cultures, who are greedy, hubristic and materialistic, show nothing but contempt for the shameless, nature loving Ilmar. A quote from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, which could have been lifted from Ages of Aenya, beautifully expresses how Xandr and Thelana feel,
Clothes he abhorred – uncomfortable, hideous, confining things that reminded him somehow of bonds securing him to the life he had seen the poor creatures of London and Paris living. Clothes were the emblems of that hypocrisy for which civilization stood – a pretense that the wearers were ashamed of what the clothes covered, of the human form made in the semblance of God.
From Ancient Greece to the colored “tights” of Superman and Batman, the nude form has been an icon of heroism for thousands of years. So when, as heroes, the Ilmar go into battle sans apparel, it is intended to evoke the same heroic ideal as can be found in Classical and Renaissance art. For Xandr and Thelana, their skin is their costume and nature their armor. If there is anything truly original about Ages of Aenya amid the torrent of elves and dwarves and chainmail bikinis lining bookstore shelves today, this is it. And yet, it should not be so strange or original, when one considers how commonly the heroic nude features in the Louvre and every major museum in Europe. The Internet is rife with sex, but what it is sorely lacking is the “heroic nude”. With Xandr and Thelana, I do not wish to add fuel to the fires of noncomformist thinking. Rather, I hope to revive a very old tradition, what the Christian Orthodox conversion abolished with its grotesque images of humanity. I hope to revive the innocence and beauty and divinity that is in the human form. And if that isn’t the best way to add something new to the fantasy genre—a genre that, like science fiction, should challenge social biases—I don’t know what is.