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   I told Henderson that I imagined Salma Hayek in the role of Gabriela as I read the novel. “Yes. And well you should,” he said enthusiastically. “I really had this idea of these wonderfully tumbling brown tresses and the Hayek hips.” And though Henderson writes Gabriela as a true woman of the ‘90s—or at least the 1890s, as the case may be—her character was originally confined to the past.

 “This is a book that was done in the course of seven weeks,” Henderson says. “I was in law school at the time, and we had a tremendously short amount of time to do it, which happens with lots of professionals. We were writing it and editing it as we went, and one of the things that changed was that in the first draft, all of the Gabriela stuff was actually in the beginning. The present period was 1897 and the past was all of the different time periods in the past, just like in a television episode. So you’d be flashing back to the prior meetings with Khordas. Warner Books decided—and I’m not sure how familiar they were with the TV show—that it would be less confusing for the audience if we rearranged it and put all the old stuff in the beginning and then brought Duncan around to the present. It became more picaresque once I rearranged what happened because you get into this plot of Duncan being the student. And then a tremendous amount of time passes, so I wrote some transitions.”

For those transitions, Henderson settled on skimming along a stream as a metaphor for Immortality. “I loved that,” he says. “Fundamentally, I think this is the reason the book has been somewhat of a dividing line. I don’t know that any other Highlander book I would ever do would follow the same theory. Writing this book, where I was in law school, I decided to make this the darkest concept I’d ever heard of in Highlander. What I wanted to do from page one, what I wanted to get rid of, was romance with a capital ‘R.’ I didn’t want anybody to go, ‘Oh, look how sexy he is because he’s brooding.’ I wanted it to be, ‘Oh, how horrible because he’s brooding.’ Because look what he’s brooding about. This is a guy, Duncan MacLeod, who is trapped in a really brutal life where he has absolutely no proof whatsoever that The Prize is real.”

 Many fans were disturbed that Duncan would even question such a thing. And so, initially, were The Powers That Be. “I was knee-deep at the time in Rene Girard’s ‘Violence of the Sacred,’ which is all about sacrifice and faith crises,” Henderson says. The book not only brought elements of Khordas to life but also allowed Henderson to explore the relationship of Duncan and Connor by having Duncan ask the “Elder Highlander” important questions about The Game and The Prize. As Connor tells him, it’s one part tradition and another part duty. In the hands of an evil Immortal, The Prize would mean eternal damnation. That is why Connor fights to protect it, and that is why he trains Duncan to do the same. The conversation takes place in 1632, but Henderson’s first draft had the conversation taking place in the “present” of 1897.

“I was told, ‘We’ll let you keep this whole faith crisis thing since you’re so wacky crazy about it, but put it back in the deep past where Duncan is less mature.’ They were a little concerned that Duncan would question ‘the rightness’ of his cause. But they decided to leave it in, so they must have thought it had some valuable things to say.

”The faith crisis wasn’t the only aspect of Duncan’s character in the novel that some fans took offense to. He’s sent thank-you e-mails to people who’ve praised the novel, but has also engaged in continuing dialogues with readers who didn’t care for the book. “I’ve had some very loyal oppositions and that’s been sort of fun,” Henderson says. “They don’t like Duncan’s character as it appears. It’s a dark concept in a dark world, and Duncan is suffering from this identity crisis. And it’s not that he’s unhappy just enough to be attractive."

    "Duncan’s not a very happy guy and he takes it out on a lot of people. Looking back I think, ‘Jason, what the hell were you thinking?’ I would have backed off. I would not have had Duncan torture the Quaker,” he says with a laugh, describing a scene where Duncan gets information on Khordas’ whereabouts the hard way from a man who has been dealing with the Salamander. “People were really turned off by that.”

 He also talks about how the Internet has changed the relationship between author and critic. “I’ve been on the Internet since the dawn of time. I was on the Highlander list, HIGHLA-L, before the book came out. I kind of dropped off at that time because I couldn’t take it. I felt it just wasn’t my place to comment back. You can be sitting in a room with a whole bunch of people who have read your book and they can comment on it. ‘I really think that’s a good point,’ or, ‘No, I really don’t think you’ve got that right.’ It totally changes the rules of literary conversation.”

 While some readers couldn’t get past the mud and the darker elements of the story, others remain fascinated by the visual and emotional scope of the story. “A lot of people have said it’s more like a Duncan story in the movie world,” Henderson explains. And indeed, the book is filled with amazing visuals. Duncan and Connor, swords raised, slog through the mud of Rannoch Moor to engage Khordas in battle. The hot, flaming arrows used by Khordas as weapons and the fires that burn within his cold dwelling are an amazing sensual and visual contrast to the wet mud that the Highlanders find themselves up to their knees in.

 In a later 1853 scene, Connor’s ship bucks and shudders at sea in the middle of a violent storm at night as Khordas rams a lightning rod into the deck through the body of a fallen sailor. His new Companion, Lauren, takes the head of Duncan’s student, Amber, and Khordas captures the lightning of the Quickening with the lightning rod to spark the ship as Amber’s headless body hovers in the air belching her Quickening into the triumphant Lauren. “The Element of Fire” inspires an amazingly visual movie in your head as you read it. We also see how Connor and Duncan regard mortal life and love. Characters like salty sea captain Carmichael and Gabriela’s father, Captain Savedra, allow the Highlanders to explore beautifully written emotional territory.

 Henderson also brought a new dimension to the Quickening. He writes his Quickenings thoughtfully and intensely, connecting the Immortal not only to his fallen opponent but also to the environment around him. “I remember going to a con and reading the Quickening scenes to people before the book came out. I made the Quickening this ecstatic agony, lightning pulsing through you so much that you begin to burn, the little arcs would be running between your teeth. I tried my best to be extremely intense. I could have gone other ways. I could have made the Quickening more glorious, I could have made the sensing of other Immortals less painful.” In the early Scotland scenes, sensing another Immortal is at first painful to Duncan. Connor assures him that the sensation will ease with time.

 The natural and supernatural aspects of “The Element of Fire” aren’t the only areas that Henderson concentrated on. Technology also plays a big role in the story. Since many scenes take place at sea, Henderson turned his attention to maritime technology. “The thing I researched the most was the ships and how steam processes in the ships worked. I invented a science fiction element that Connor has where his steam engine is hidden in the hold of the ship so he can disappear into a cloud of smoke by pumping smoke out of it.”

 This is why Highlander translates so well to a novel. A book, like a TV series, has more potential for character development than a feature film does. But like a feature film, a novel has an unlimited budget for locations and special effects. Henderson explains the aspects of “Highlander: The Series” that endear the show to him. “What I always admired about the television show—God bless them—is that it was so sophisticated,” he says.


   “It took the concepts in the movie and really made them into something that you could come back to. You could very much get involved with all the characters. And since you’ve got all these years of episodes, every season you can try different things and play off different concepts, which the movies can’t do. The movies have to be basically a 90 to 100 minute story where you have to pretend it’s the entire story, which is why such broad strokes end up being used. You’ve got to have three acts, you set up your bad guy at the beginning, and wrap it all up in the end. It doesn’t give the same kind of character development that a TV show does. They did a wonderful job.”

 Henderson and his wife even got to visit the set of “Haunted” from the series’ fifth season. “They were kind enough to allow my wife and I to visit the set,” he says. “It kicked ass.”

 He also has high praise for the episode itself. “It’s a lovely idea that you could carry an echo of someone you killed within you so that somebody else could fall in love with you. That’s a very sophisticated extrapolation and it takes a television show to get to that.”

 Writing “The Element of Fire” allowed Henderson to introduce new elements to the character of Connor MacLeod. “Connor is my favorite character in the book. The way I found a Connor that I liked was picking the idea of Connor as a seaman. I’d been reading Thomas Merton, the philosopher, and he had this theory about how the sea is the last truly guaranteed wilderness because you cannot build there. There is no sense of history moving on in the desert or on the sea. So it occurred to me that if you are an Immortal, possibly the place where you would go to be most at peace would be the desert or the ocean. So Connor goes to the ocean and that’s where he comes from. And you have this idea that Duncan can pretty much call on him at the drop of a hat.”

 Since “The Gathering,” until the release of “Endgame,” remains the only story that features both Highlanders, Henderson had to create a relationship between Duncan and Connor. “I just remember knowing what this guy would have been like as a teacher. Connor is just strange. He has that wacko laugh and he has an accent that doesn’t make any sense.” He found part of his inspiration for the relationship in the run of Batman and Robin stories written by Doug Moench.

 “I love the stuff with Connor explaining things,” Henderson says. His analogy is that Connor MacLeod is to The Game what Batman is to Gotham City. “Duncan is fundamentally a good man, but he’s different from Connor. I’m not saying that Connor is a bad guy, but Connor would never question The Game. Connor takes The Game so incredibly seriously. He wants Duncan to be The One if it’s not Connor.”

 When our conversation turned to “Endgame,” I told Henderson about the ripple of excitement that shot through Highlander fandom when it was announced that Gillian Horvath was involved in the film’s story.

 “That is brilliant!” he says of Horvath’s involvement. “I think that’s lovely. Gillian’s really cool. She was extremely cool and very helpful when I was writing the book. It was a good experience for all of us.”

 He’d like the chance to talk to some of the Highlander authors whose novels followed “The Element of Fire.”

 “When the book came out I went to a couple of Highlander conventions, and that was such a blast for me,” Henderson says. “I’d like to do it again, actually, to get with some of the other novelists so we can all argue about our concepts. Ultimately, it would be silly,” he laughs. “But it would be fun.”

 So if you find yourself wearing out your copy of “The Gathering” waiting for the release of “Endgame,” check out Jason Henderson’s “The Element of Fire” for a fascinatingly visual, richly told story of Connor and Duncan MacLeod … The Highlanders.


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