Margaret Killjoy’s new horror novella explores the meaning of anarchy and self-reliance despite the human tendency to authoritarian social structures. The main character, Danielle (not Dani) comes to town in search of the meaning of her friend’s suicide. In Freedom, Iowa, she finds a community based on the concepts of cooperation and anarchism. As with all perfect societies, however, there is a dark secret.
When I spoke with the author, we discussed some of her motivations for writing the book and the meaning she wanted to convey to readers.
Although her emotional journey isn’t the same as Margaret’s, the main character’s experiences as a traveler are drawn from Margaret’s own. “It draws on the same things that I dealt with, what it means to be a full-time traveller encountering a communal experience and also being older than many of the travelers in the world.”
Danielle’s experiences are characterized by her youth, which, like Margaret’s, was filled with a “spirit of anti-globalization and anarchism, building an itinerant community that went from major protest to major protest, and from one small local environmental campaign to another.” Within the traveler culture, there were communities waiting for her, consistent in people even if they weren’t permanent in location.
However, as she grew older, Margaret experienced that community drifting away from her and others, to the point where it “disappeared from underneath our feet.” In her book, she wanted to share that experience, the loss due to aging out or finding roots (such as location-based community or relationships).
When writing The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, Margaret also wanted to focus on the meaning of community and also specifically on how that and other things affected her views on being a survivor of assault. She used these factors to create an emotional distance for a character who’s longing for community, but not capable of interacting with it as she would like.
The occult antagonist, she explains, “came out of an idea that people incorrectly think we need to have a monopoly of power and give over our own agency to violence and power of a benevolent dictator, a more pure spirit. It wasn’t inspired by any existing tropes, but taps into the ideas in mythologies and personified gods.”
In some ways, this book is more cynical than she personally feels. In the past, she has “been in shorter term but not totally temporary communities of dozens or sometimes hundreds of anarchists or people organizing on anarchist lines.” She explains that “when disparate groups of people come together to organize a project (Occupy for example), anarchy is the baseline of political practice in respecting one another’s decision making power.”
This is illustrated in Freedom, Iowa, for the most part. The concept of “consensus decision making or autonomous decision making allows people to choose to come together to create change or community.” Likening it to nations, she explained how the characters interact in a similar fashion, with each member of Freedom’s society having their own autonomy.
This autonomy is challenged by the antagonist who works as an instrument of justice. He was brought into this world to serve as judge and executioner, serving to address a fairly common problem in anarchist communities. She explains this problem as “informal hierarchies forming and people trying to formalize those informal hierarchies.”
Resorting to power and resorting to violence especially authoritarian violence is an easy go-to that she’s trying to show the danger of. A real-world example of this, and part of what she based the book on, is the Russian revolution, and authoritarian communism, which enforced its will and stole the revolution out of the hands of the various groups, including anarchists.
However, in the end, it is intended as genre fiction. She believes “in the power of genre fiction and is trying to write an enjoyable genre fiction story” because she “likes stories and what stories can say about human nature that non-fiction and things like that can’t.”