There Is No Time

I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.

After I wrote Martin of Gfenn, I wanted to write a “prequel” about one of the characters in the novel. I did write it. In the second novel he was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived on the, on the, on the? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some cool information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Beatrice, but I changed it to Anna and a fiancee named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf, but he changed his name after certain important events, to Johannes.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancee — Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out and I got a fan-email from a man in Switzerland asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zurich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower. Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives and his brother is killed. I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one change I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It seemed to leave the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. He had also had children, the “real” Rudolf. I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. He would have to do the same. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

My ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are three chapters here.

I also remembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family was on that wall. You can see it at the top of this blog. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful and their sons even more powerful in Zürich and in Bremgarten. In Aargau there is are towns that bear their name.

16 thoughts on “There Is No Time

  1. Thanks for the mention of Solothurn. We have a castle just up on the hill in the village where I live, a nice big castle, Schloss Waldegg. It was the summer palace of the French Ambassador to Switzerland for some time. He had a town palace in Solothurn for Winter.Although I lived in Zürich for two years, I did not see any castles. There is a Schloss Hapsburg in Kanton Aargau, near the village of Bad Schinznach.

    • This castle was the first one that made an impression on me — we hiked around the lake and for some reason, this castle caught my imagination. It’s a cool place because they have very thoughtfully also built reconstructions of lake dweller’s huts along the hiking trail. We parked at the castle, then went through the reconstructed lake dweller village, skirted some towns, and then had Vermicelles in a nice hotel — it was winter. I wish I could go back.

  2. The castle ruins near Solothurn I learned of when I was doing research for that second little novel is Schloss Grenchen — it’s a ruin but I was fascinated by the archeology and what they found. I haven’t seen it. It turns out I’d found a good model since it’s a pretty typical kind of castle fortress.

    Around Zürich there are lots of ruins — I didn’t even realize what I was looking at most of the time or that it would ever be important to me. One is a ruin where a friend and I engaged in some marginally illegal behavior, Dübelstein Castle outside Dübendorf.

    In 1997, I actually HIKED to my family’s very ruin and didn’t know it. I just didn’t want to write about it in this. But we hiked along the ridge of the Albis and one of the things we went to see that day were two ruins; one was Schnabelberg and the other was Lunkhofen above Affoltern am Albis. I had no idea that in a certain sense I’d come “home.” On another trip, we went to Bremgarten which, for some reason, just freaked me out. The brothers of my ancestor founded the town along with some random Hapsburg. Perhaps I was freaked out by the Mexican restaurant with all the California memorabilia… But around Zürich are lots of ruins and some not so ruined. Kyburg Castle is one that I also didn’t pay any attention to.

    • It was beyond belief. It just made me agree that there “are more things in heaven and hell than are dreamt of…” in anything we think we know.

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