Those are the questions
2013/05/14 § Leave a comment
For a long time, I’ve struggled with reading (and wanting to write) fantasy. I was asking myself, should I occupy my time reading about things that don’t exist? Am I just escaping reality? Am I learning?
The answers, of course, are yes, no, yes.
I’ve come to realize that any story will be about more than its plot and characters. Every story will have ideas about the human experience, for the very simple reason that they are written by humans and for humans. Even the most basic of tale about hero X fighting the evil Y to achieve Z will raise important questions, about good and evil, about why Z is important, about struggle and heroism, etc. As to fantasy, well, first, it is never complete fantasy, in the sense of absolute fabrication. As I said before, any fantastic story will in some way relate to life because it is anchored in a human brain. Second, I think fantasy can allow for a cleaner and deeper exploration of what it is to be human (in part by confronting and comparing humanity with unhuman things).
I’ll stop there before I make an ass of myself with this pop philosophizing – I’m sure a lot of much more articulate/intelligent/educated people have discussed these questions and more in detail (please feel free to point me to any, thanks!).
Beyond concluding that writing fantasy would not be a waste of time, I’ve also come to realize that for me to write anything, I need to know what message I want to send, what themes I want to explore. I need to know that, in some way, I’m telling a story that matters.
So, what do I want to write about?
I want to write about heroism. I think it’s an important concept. It’s crucial for people, particularly the young, to have models to inspire their lives, and stories’ heroes can play that role. I’ve had plenty: Frodo and Sam, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Raistlin and friends, Paul Muad’Dib, Jason Bourne, Kaneda, the incomparable Drizzt, and many others. They taught me many things, or at least reinforced many lessons, about what counts in this world, what it is to be heroic (where I’m lacking is in the implementation…)
As I got older I’ve found that I lean more towards the grayer, more ambiguous fantasies, probably to mirror my growing awareness of the messiness of the world and of the unavoidable flaws in all of us. But heroism in that context is even more important. The crooked hero is much more inspiring than the strong and straight one, his story usually more beautiful. (Crime fiction is particularly good at that, authors like James Lee Burke or Dennis Lehane for example)
(Although I’ve found that I can be particularly touched by moments of transcendent accomplishment, which through exceptional characters show the greatness that humanity can achieve. Two I can think of, if fuzyly, right now come from Guy Gavriel Kay: first, in Sailing to Sarantium, the performance of the wounded champion at the horse race; and second, in the Lions of Al-Rassan, when the blind doctor performs surgery in the night (I’ve tried to be spoiler-free, not sure if you’ll recognize those). There are of course many, many others (Sam at Mount Doom, the arena battle between Rage and Voltan), moments of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things…)
So I want to write about what it is to be a hero in a messy world. But what kind of hero, and what kind of messy world?
I like heroes who are of above-average competence, and possibly extraordinary, though not necessarily. Ideally, their competence would come from effort and learning, rather than from talent (I tend to like when effort beats talent…). I like heroes who are persistent in the face of adversity. I like heroes who do what they must, no matter the consequences to themselves. I like heroes who are masters of their own faith, who are active drivers of their stories instead of simply passengers taken along for the ride (I don’t like Deus Ex Machina). I think I like intelligence more than physical prowess for plotting purposes (the wily detective), but I find feats of physiques always gripping. The best is when both are combined (fight/battle scenes!). I like wounded heroes, possibly cynical heroes, but not so much reluctant heroes, or if reluctant, more reluctant in words than deeds (posturing, that blazé thing…). And of course, I like heroes who have a decent moral compass.
So that’s who I’ll try to write. I have a few ideas in mind, the reformed bandit, the fallen mercenary, the young accidental protagonist… Not sure yet who’ll fit better (and if I can make them more than clichés).
For the messy world, I have this overarching idea grounded in some ways in our reality. It a universe where the way to other worlds is through magic, which I call Animancy (the ability to talk to the soul of reality, to affect its basic coding), not technology. In its distant past, in the age of its first civilizations (Atlantis, Hyperborea, etc.), humanity discovered Animancy and made its way to other worlds. But the kings of Man angered the established order of more powerful races and humanity’s empire was destroyed, with any knowledge of Animancy and its wonders erased from Earth, and with other worlds either eradicated or left adrift.
My story would be situated in one of the worlds originally colonized by humanity. I want a world gone wrong. A world of extremes but not far from ours in its organizations. I want a world where wealth is absolute power, where everything is for sale, where death is close and people commodities. I want to deal with the cost of power, the corruption of greed, the arrogance of lords.
And I want to put heroes in the face of all that, see what happens…
Nothing super original, and maybe too ambitious for me, but it’s worth a try, me thinks.