A Brave New Era for a Band and a Nightmarish Vision of the Future

The album Brave New World (2000) is subject to a curious contradiction. The release of the album was one of the finest hours for fans of Iron Maiden, the long sought for reunion of the band which brought about the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. The title choice thus seems fitting to describe a new era in band history. Yet, the novel this title refers to, Aldous Huxely’s Brave New World (1932) is nothing of that kind. Neither is the world depicted here glorious nor is it joyful. Huxley’s novel is one of the best known dystopias, meaning a novel that draws a pessimistic vision of the future (other well-known examples are George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1948) which focus on possible dangers communism may bring about, whereas a newer example, Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale (1985), focuses on gender roles). So, ironically enough, the band have named what may be their greatest moment, at least seen from the eyes of many fans, after a nightmarish vision of the future. Isn’t that a bit counter-productive or, at least, odd? But, with Iron Maiden, things are never easy and to find the origin of this enigmatic title, we have to go to no-one else than England’s bard number one, William Shakespeare. I argue that Dickinson has used this connection, combined it with the circumstantial context (the band history) and turned the title song into a completley new narrative that rather comments upon band history than retells Huxley’s novel.

Aldous Huxley’s novel

Before I talk about the novel, I want to have a look at the origin of the title, Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1623). Miranda, a young princess who has grown up pretty isolated on an island with her father and a wild savage (yep, that is where we start out with the savage), learns for the first time in her life that there is a world beyond her island, which makes this play an odd combination of Robinson Crusoe and Kaspar Hauser, although it precedes of course both. Seeing her future husband for the first time, she exclaims her surprise at this wonderous world other than her island: ”O brave new world, That has such people in’t.” (V, I, 205-206).

The savage in the novel takes Miranda’s place. He has grown up in a Reservation which is isolated from the new culture that has united and changed the world forever. He lives with the savages, but the fact that his parents were part of the other culture makes him an outsider. His only education is a book with the complete works of Shakespeare, which leads to a character who inteprets everything he sees and encounters through the lense of Shakespeare plays. This somewhat disturbed worldview has never been ideal to start with and it becomes even worse once our savage meets the new civilisation. Among the first things he is about to learn are that romantic relationships are amoral, parenthood a disgrace, and Shakespeare a forbidden read, a total clash with his worldview. In fact, all forms of art are forbidden in the new civilisation. As is religion, logically. It would only distract you from your work which ends with a blissful night of mindless distraction with changing partners enhanced by drugs.

Confronted with this world, the savage starts to mumble the title words to himself, again, and again, and again, an evil echo of Miranda’s excitement of this wonderful world she has just imagined (she has not seen it yet, she has only seen people who inhabit it). The savage has seen and started to understand this world, and keeps on repeating Miranda’s words to himself as if tortuing himself, because he has already realised that his experiences will amount to the very opposite of Miranda’s. Miranda wins a husband and a father who gives up his (evil) magic, the savage loses his love interest and mother because they follow the new agenda which forbids both romantic and parental relationships. Analogously to “Death or Glory” (The Book of Souls, 2016), which seems to echo an inner dialogue of von Richthofen mumbling the title words to himself, the chorus imitates this moment of the novel. The savage keeps on repeating Shakespeare to himself, emphasising that he actually means the very opposite of what he is saying. This world is not brave. It is horrible. This repetition is a form of mockery or, more likely, an expression of dispair.

The Song: a Different Kind of Savage

I owe this realisation to a fruitful and entertaining discussion with Blake 2_0 and Sweetburlingame on Twitter. Dickinson has changed the characterisation of the savage. Whereas he is something between a pitiful maniac and idiot in the novel, I argue he comes across as much more determined in the song, if we accept the (likely) presumption that the savage is the narrator of the song.

This savage does not only critisice the new society, the lack of motherhood, and, what’s more, the lack of fiction, he paints his suffering in vivid colours and cruel images, like bones that are ripped away or screams that go unnoticed. When it comes to the use of imagery, the cruelty of the song exceeds by far everything described in the novel. Beauty (most likely in this case a synonym for “art”) has become unnessesary and dies in the form of swans with broken wings, imagery that harks back to Dickinson’s solo project “Gates of Urizen” (I do not give further information here because this text is behind a paywall). This savage words his thoughts that the quote is used in mockery. Art, in the form of the Shakespeare quote, has become dark. Art is either dying or a gloomy mockery of itself. In this sense, considering this very sinister imagery, coined either by cruelty or the downfall of art, the song is even more dystopian than its inspiration.

What strikes me as the most significant difference between song and novel is the reaction of the savage, after having realised that the new world is a place that feels deadly to him. This savage wants to go back; he wants to go home. The savage in Huxley’s novel does not have a home, as he is, as mentioned above, an outcast in the community he grew up in. The savage in the novel has nowhere to go, whereas the savage in the song has a place he identifies as home, somewhere where he belongs to. This gives this song a twist that adds a moment of hope if not even a different ending. This savage has figured how he can change his situation. He wants to leave the world of dying art and return to the place where art is still fresh and alive. He only needs to go back. He is pleading with authorities to please bring him home, which is a striking difference to the original text. This savage is not a maniac who only knows the worst of both worlds, he is somehow hold prisoner and kept from coming home.

In context of the release of this song and band history, this opens the song up to two contrary interpretations. If we assume, just for a second, that Dickinson may imply that he is talking here about his own career, where does he want to go back to? Iron Maiden or his solo career? What is “home?” The beauty of this trick is that this is completley open to the listeners who can adapt this according to their preferences concerning band history. Dickinson has written the perfect song for the reunion which caters supporters and critics of this decision alike.

Sources

  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1959.
  • Murray Dave, Harris Steve, Dickinson, Bruce. “Brave New World.” Iron Maiden. Brave New World. EMI, 2000.
  • Shakespeare, William. The TempestThe Complete Works of William Shakespeare. (Ed W.J. Craig). London: Henry Pordes, 1984.
  • Smith, Adrian, Dickinson, Bruce. “Death or Glory,” Iron Maiden.The Book of Souls. Parlophone, 2015.

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