A North America TEN exclusive interview with N. Ipek Gokdel
N. Ipek Gokdel is a Turkish storyteller. When Netflix picked up her story about an average young man turned superhero, the Netflix Original series The Protector, starring Cagatay Ulusoy, was born. Based on her book Karakalem, The Protector has been a major success for Netflix.
North America TEN recently interviewed Ms. Gokdel about her book and life. Before diving into the interview, we will provide some background on her Karakalem/ The Protector story to get deeper insights into her amazing career.
The Protector vs. Karakalem
Even though plot mechanisms in the TV series diverges significantly from her book, including changing the protagonists name from Yavuz to Hakan, the essence of the story remains the same. It follows the adventures of an admirable young man, after he inherits a talismanic shirt that gives him superpowers. He is the guardian or the ‘protector’ of Istanbul and must learn to embrace a vision that is bigger than himself.
Per Ms. Gokdel, Cagatay gave life to her character and helped him grow into what she had envisioned in Yavuz – a young man with a conscience and an unselfish earnestness in his life’s pursuits; a character who can inspire the youth of today to develop similar positive attributes.
Those with access to Netflix can watch the three seasons of The Protector, with a fourth and final season about to drop on the platform on July 9, with 10 episodes.
Unlike the series, the book Karakalem pulls from real elements in Ottoman history, and layers in some fantastic details on top to create a mystery thriller with young Yavuz at its center. The story starts when Yavuz inherits a replica of a talismanic shirt worn by a 500 years old Ottoman ruler, Yavuz Sultan Selim. Sultan Selim’s shirt resides at the Topkapi Palace, and when Yavuz is within proximity of the original while he is wearing the replica, mystical powers connect the shirts and Yavuz obtains super-natural powers. While he deals with impending danger from ill-understood enemies and he also finds love with Asli (portrayed as Zeynep in the TV series), Yavuz slowly accepts his destiny as the guardian of Istanbul.
Ms. Gokdel uses five major points of symbolism in the first book of the series, discussed briefly below:
Ms. Gokdel treats the city of Istanbul with an ethereal reverence where the fall of Istanbul is equated to the fall of humankind. It becomes critically important for Yavuz to embrace his destiny to guard this city, which will be under attack from some secret factions looking for a lost Ark of the Covenant, that will eventually allow them to take control of Istanbul away from the Turks and end the Muslim rule established by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1453. As the two sides race to acquire the puzzle pieces that lead to the ultimate prize, based upon copious amounts of research, Ms. Gokdel blends in important Istanbul landmarks within this adventurous quest. The city is as much a character in her book as her heroes.
There are rare Ottoman talismanic shirts around the world and 87 of them are at the Topkapi Palace Museum. They were believed to hold healing and protective powers often worn under the armor during battle. Created by revered master weavers of the time, talismanic shirts were designed and decorated with astrological signs, magic squares, religious narratives, representations of the prophets in a variety of media, Qur’anic inscriptions and abjad numerals (a decimal alphanumeric code, in which the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet are assigned numerical values). Ms. Gokdel chooses these historic items to be the medium through which the power of the past courses through Yavuz.
Elixir of Immortality
Ms. Gokdel also introduces the idea that in order to protect Constantinople from ominous threats of takeover from Muslim invaders, “Heraclius (a short-lived Byzantine Emperor) summoned 40 alchemists and sorcerers from all over the world and ordered them to protect the city from falling, and from all kinds of disasters, earthquakes, fires, epidemics.” These alchemists delivered on their mission and produced a magical potion, that also had the unintended outcome of serving as an elixir of immortality. While the secret sect chases the Ark, a private investor assists their efforts in his search for this Elixir. Ms. Gokdel uses this plot device to pose some important philosophical questions about the age-old quest for immortality.
Old sage/ antique shopkeeper
Turkey is often synonymous with a connection to the divine as it manifests itself in Sufi teachings and the Turkic ancient practices that are derived from Tanri, which is a unique belief system in the sacredness of nature and its affiliation with the divinity. As a nod to this strain, at one point in the story, Yavuz is feeling lost as he prepares for his epic battle and finds himself in the backstreets of Istanbul, when he is inexplicably drawn to an antique shop run by an elderly man. A song by classical musician and tenor singer Munir Nurettin Selcuk is floating from a vinyl record, coincidentally singing the lyrics "If you do not like Istanbul, what does your soul know about love?" As Yavuz is welcomed into the shop, through their brief exchange, the sage senses the depth of Yavuz’s struggles and instinctively gives to Yavuz what he needs in that moment.
A black raven is omnipresent throughout the story from ancient times into present day. Yavuz names the raven that seems to have followed him since childhood, Karakalem. A symbolic witness of times gone by. Yavuz is able to identify Karakalem from a flock of other ravens by the way he moves and his piercing gaze, almost forcing Yavuz to see what it sees. The raven plays a pivotal role throughout the story in guiding Yavuz towards where the sinister forces need him to look, making the raven synonymous with a bearer of prophecies. From prior articles, Ms. Gokdel talks about how ravens have been used symbolically in Greek Mythology, in Native American Indian and Australian Aboriginal legends, among others. The symbolism has meaning in Ms. Gokdel’s own life as well, with tales handed down through her ancestors.
From the little we have shared about her novel, it is obvious that Ms. Gokdel takes an insightful and creative approach in weaving her scenarios, and builds an exciting world within the walls of history. The following interview provides further insight into her process and future directions.
What inspired the story of Karakalem? How did you first form the framework for the story you wanted to tell?
My inspiration is the depth of Eastern stories and the history of my country. Especially the risen era of Ottoman Empire. In the early 2000s when I had a TV series production company, two scenarists and I decided to write a scenario about a Turkish superhero, who found a talismanic shirt. But, unfortunately, I was unable to produce the TV series myself or sell it to local TV channels. Therefore after many years, I decided to transform the story into a novel.
What were the top philosophical messages you wanted to capture in Karakalem?
Peace… my top philosophy is we need sustainable peace in the World. That’s why we need to protect Istanbul which is the borderline of two parts of the globe. Also, I try to explore the greedy nature of humankind and its causes. Therefore, my main character is an ordinary young man who becomes a hero. We need common heroes to maintain the peace.
How did you build Yavuz throughout the trilogy? Things he had to learn to compromise on and others he never waivered from?
Yavuz is a hero of the modern times. He is an orphan who is self-disciplined, has a certain potential in himself even before he put on the talismanic shirt. His loneliness and hunger for knowledge makes him a typical protagonist. Ultimately, he is an open minded young man with a conscious awareness about the world around him. To lead a battle in between good and bad, Yavuz compromises his logical mind and begins to pursue and ‘feel’ the legends and myths. Because my book tells us “what happens in the past creates the future.”
Is there any one character in Karakalem you identified the most with? Who and why?
The raven. His name is Karakalem. This bird conveys deep spiritual meaning for me. At the end of the trilogy the raven also completes its transformation. I believe that life is a transformative journey, even for symbols.
You are now a single mother to a young woman. How much of what you write is guided by the legacy you wish to leave for her and other young women?
I tell her, “Choose to live on the good side of life and always enjoy what you do and do only what you enjoy.” I think many of my characters display a similar passion for life.
You have grown up in Turkey, lived and worked in Europe, and back in Turkey. What are some of the top differences in how and what you can achieve as a woman in the different environments?
Diversity of different cultures enlarges points of view. Every environment has its positives and negatives. If you focus on your own strengths, where you are no longer matters.
Now that you have settled on focusing on your career as a novelist, what topic areas are intriguing to you? What next?
I’m writing my fifth novel and it’s about brotherhood. In the new book I dig into the issue of men who are mystically united. I’m trying to explore the mystic bond of brotherhood which makes all men one.
One of your recent works, Tovbe, centers on the struggles of wounded, urban women in Istanbul. What inspired you to write such stories? How was it received in the local market?
Not just in Turkey, the world is suffering from female violence, murder, rape. Tovbe is the book of three city women’s unsuccessful dealings with life. My book may not stop the vicious cycle women are in but I wanted to pay my respects to the journey many are on.
When will your books become available to the English speaking market? Are there any current copies available our readers could avail?
I don’t know! I hope one day. My agent is pursuing opportunities.
North America TEN thanks Ms. Gokdel for the generosity of her time for this interview. We are delighted with the success Ms. Gokdel has achieved and await the opportunity to read her works in English, available through recognized publishers. Please consider leaving any questions or feedback in the comments section as this post will be shared with Ms. Gokdel and her agents in Turkey.
N. Ipek Gokdel Biography
Nilufer Ipek Gokdel, more popularly known as N. Ipek Gokdel, has created several television projects for national TV channels as a producer and content creator. Credits as producer include Muhurlu Guller, Yadigar, Hicret and Krem. Writing credits include Yanik Koza, Yemin, Bahar Dallari, Inadina Yasamak and The Protector. The Protector is her highest profile project, reaching a global audience through Netflix, and making her name known beyond Turkey. She sold the rights to her book “Karakalem” (Charcoal) to Netflix through ONK Agency, and her name appears in the ending credits in all 25 episodes across three seasons.
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