The story simply begins with me playing tourist at the Tower of London. I stop in front of one of Henry the VIII’s suits of armor, which seems unbelievably impressive and completely ridiculous, both at the same time. The suit of armor is unwieldy to the point of being useless, with a huge waist circumference, obviously made for a man with enormous health problems, but at the same time, jeez, someone incredibly brutally strong and autocratic. In all its simplicity, it is a perfect picture of the Middle-Age historian Ernst Kantorowicz’s idea about the two bodies of the king, one perfectly ordinary body, mortal, frail; but also another body, one which is eternal and omnipotent. This is why a king, even today it seems, can get away with doing extremely stupid things. Because he is still the king. The political body remains untouched. In the end, I buy a biography in the tourist shop…
But why write a novel about Henry VIII, one of the most famous people in world history, whose life has been televised and made into numerous movies, etc.? Precisely because he is so extremely famous: You get so much for free. It’s like writing a book with Donald Duck as the main character. If you write: “When Donald Duck woke up he was incredibly crabby,” people immediately get it. The Henry equivalent would be: “Henry VIII has fallen in love.” You immediately begin to worry, right?
But my goal has not been to create a well-written, clever, historically correct and stylistically perfected novel - I had considerably higher ambitions than that: To explore the possibilities and the limitations of the historical novel, to find new ways to tell a story and see what happened when I took a new object, an already finished story filled with blood and gold, and projected my poetical arsenal onto it.
It’s not actually the story itself that’s important in this book, even though it’s of course crazy good, but the fact that it is already in place makes it a perfect backdrop for my real ambitions: because I do have several. My stylistic ambition is that I wanted to use a very large number of methods to tell a story; small scenes and dialogues in the vein of the absurdist Ubu Roi, passages with purely classic ambitions, high literature with Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as the beacon, list-poetry with inspiration from the Japanese court lady Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book, backward storytelling, the poetry of journaling, the poetics of dementia and a royal speech in the form of random lines from fifty or so speeches given by our own King Carl XVI Gustaf, gathered from our Swedish court’s home page.
In addition, there’s also the actual content where certain ideas or themes that are important to me have found an obvious place thanks to Henry Tudor: fertility and childlessness (Because Henry is entirely preoccupied with the question of a crown heir), I am after all a psychologist and worked for ten years in a fertility clinic, the philosophical question around the sovereign as the one who decides about a state of emergency, something which Carl Schmitt and Agamben, among others, have written much about, also Georges Bataille’s general economy and Thomas More’s political fantasies in his book Utopia from 1516 that for me provide an example of all the ideas that came to naught, and the bizarre fact that society today has come to view consumerism and capitalism as pure laws of nature. In addition, the book contains everything that a really good novel should, chess, impotence, bible translations, ship wrecks, torture methods, heartache, debility, horse husbandry, a for Swedish literature longed-for new interpretation of the Middle Age folksong Greensleves and a mini-essay about what it means to be a true loser.