Why do dragons have hoards?

One of the more enduring ideas of Western-style dragons is that they hoard things. Gold and treasure, most typically. It’s a mental image I have from childhood, where I read The Hobbit in 4th grade and attempted to redraw the cover art of Smaug coiled around his mountainous heap of gold.

I had this paperback version. Wrote an extremely simplistic book report about it.

This is the cover variant I read, and it’s the first mental image I have when anyone talks about The Hobbit.

 

More recently, Smaug’s hoard was brought grandly to life in the Hobbit movies, where the coins in Smaug’s hoard were painstakingly computer animated to spill across his scales. Fans are trying to estimate the worth of Smaug’s hoard, and it seems like no one can agree on the dollar value except to say that it’s astronomically high.

Why did this traditional idea of gold piles come about, though? Why do dragons hoard treasure?

In a basic historical sense, dragons were found alongside gold. Or, at least, that’s what our ancestors would have assumed when they dug up precious minerals and ended up finding dinosaur fossils. We’re a species compelled by stories, so people would have made up stories about these ancient, reptile-like beasts who were always found deep in the earth, near gold.

It’s logical enough that dragon hoards are meant to represent greed. Western dragons are classically portrayed as greedy beings of pure evil. They’re thought to have hoards just because that’s what dragons do: dragons simply sit on their treasure and revel their ownership of it, as opposed to a rich human who could use their wealth to build things, provide for the poor, or otherwise improve society.

Feel free to insert a joke about the 1%, Donald Trump, or similar.

Feel free to insert a joke about the 1%, Donald Trump, or similar.

 

In stories where a dragon hoards treasure, that treasure can doubles as a reward for the human hero. Anyone brave enough to slay the evil beast can claim its hoard as their own — although Norse and Germanic stories often specify that a dragon’s treasure is cursed, dooming any human tempted to be as greedy as the dragon. Maybe the curse would be dispelled by giving the gold away to needy people, or similar acts of charity? That would make narrative sense.

Okay, so the greed metaphor works when dragons are depicted as evil monsters. What about more benevolent dragons, though? More recent fantasy stories acknowledge that dragons are interesting creatures and they might make good allies to humans — so why then would a dragon covet gold and treasure? What motivation would they have to collect it?

I grew up watching The Flight of Dragons, in which dragons need a soft bedding material that can’t be accidentally set on fire. Gold serves this purpose well.

Flight_of_Dragons_17

Other franchises suggest that dragons are just fond of shiny, pretty objects, or they like the idea of owning valuables to impress others with. And why not? That’s why we humans wear pretty jewelry or expensive watches. It’s why we consider a golden crown to be headgear for an important, royal person. It’s not such a stretch to think that other intelligent beings would feel the same way about rare, precious metals.

 

I tend to think that lifespan is a factor, too. Dragons are generally imagined as long-lived beings, able to watch human dynasties come and go like the tides. They have more than enough time to build up a collection of money and valuables. Maybe dragons want savings for the same reason human beings want savings: to look after themselves and their loved ones in the inevitable hard times to come. Whereas short-lived creatures wouldn’t be as concerned about what the world will be like 50 years from now. I’ve never made this idea explicit in my Stories of Aligare, but the dragon-like korvi people have the longest lifespans of the three peoplekinds and they’re also most interested in the earth’s mineral riches, and they’re most likely to have a stash of metals and gems in their homes just in case. That’s not a coincidence.

Peregrine liked to think he could endure a little work. He had tempered himself in the mines, hauling rock until his body balked at the thought of more, until he felt like spent ashes all over and he still needed to cross the plains home. Fyrian hadn’t intended his sky-child korvi to break rock, but they did it anyhow. Someone needed to provide.

     -Remedy (A Story of Aligare), Chapter 9

And the whole reason I wrote the Serpents of Sky collection was to spin lots of different dragon scenarios. Dragons guarding gold to save humans from their own greed. Dragons who physically manifest the concepts of greed and chaos and destruction. Dragons whose close-guarded treasures let them bend time and space. Even a dragon whose precious stash is just cream and sugar to put in their coffee.

In short, there are lots of reasons dragons might hoard gold. It’s one of many traits we can get creative with, and reinterpret as we see fit. If you haven’t seen the Unusual Dragon Hoards artworks by Iguanamouth, I highly suggest taking a look — it’s a cute series where dragons sit possessively on piles of stuffed animals, spoons, comic books and other unexpected treasures. Golden hoards are just one more way for dragons to capture our imaginations.


We don’t all need to be diamonds

First things first: a personal update! Yeah, I’ve been quiet these past few months, mostly because my job situation went belly-up while I was finishing Tinder Stricken. When I say that, I mean the boss thought it was fine to give me zero hours per week.

facepalm

I quit with extreme prejudice and focused solely on Tinder Stricken. After the book launch at What The Fur? 2015 — and a few merciful days of sleep — I got job hunting and found another prep cook position, one with plenty of working hours and lots of physical demands that leave me tired after work. I haven’t had much energy left over for freeform essays. That, and I simply didn’t feel like I had anything to say on this blog. I’m a big advocate of not talking just for the sake of it.

But anyway, here I am with a blog post! Because I read a metaphor today that stuck in my throat like an awkward segue, or perhaps a rock.

We Don’t All Need To Be Diamonds

I subscribe to some book bargain mailouts and today, this testimonial caught my eye:

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 4.41.44 PM

Not because I have any particular interest in Robin Hobb or G.R.R. Martin, but because a series of fantasy novels was described as “diamonds in a sea of zircons”. That turn of phrase saddens me.

We use diamonds as a metaphor for greatness and they are pretty remarkable stones (if not as rare as we often think). But it’s all too easy to keep barrelling past a love of greatness, right into the thought that only the #1 greatest things ever matter. Only the blockbusters and runaway hits are worth noticing. Only the hardest gemstone on Earth is worth wearing or considering beautiful.

It ties into my thought that “typical fantasy” should be an oxymoron. Sure, it’s sad to be a zircon, a material with nowhere near as much merit as the stone it mimicks. There are few things more disappointing than a fantasy story that’s clumsily imitating a better book. But when we’re considering minerals, we have more to choose from than just diamonds and zircons, just as there’s more to the fantasy genre than who writes the grittiest political coup. We’re not limited to winners and losers — why, just look at the variety out there.

tumbledstones
There are minerals for every purpose. Mountains of them, both literally and figuratively. There are quartz crystals for your watch components, and granite that’ll look great as a polished countertop. Quartz and granite are common, humble minerals that will never measure up to a diamond — and why should they? Olivine isn’t the most glamorous stone group around, but if you like how your peridot earrings look when they catch the light, then who cares?

This metaphor is particularly personal for me because I associate Remedy, my first-published novel, with amethysts. At the beginning of the story, Peregrine is a miner who brings home mostly amethysts. These stones aren’t ideal for common useage (clear quartz is preferred, since it’ll take any and all magical charges), but amethyst has its place in Aligare society. It’s perfect for darkcasters. Brightcasters can’t use it and that’s fine; it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with either the caster or the stone. We all have our tastes and alignments, that’s all. Remedy is my own handful of natural amethyst — amethyst that a New York editor once told me would never be a diamond, so I should rewrite it. No, thanks. I happen to like quartz formations.

It’s great to write a classic-styled epic fantasy, or wear a diamond. But as with all things, the world needs variety. I tell myself this every time I read or write a story. There’s plenty of room in the fantasy genre for jasper and amber, and even room for an old piece of petrified wood if it manages to shine.


How to construct happiness

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be happy. Y’know, other than the obvious.

Nom nom nom nom.

This isn’t a new quandary for me. I’m part of the millennial generation, an age group that’s getting a lot of mixed messages about what to do with our lives. And as a fantasy writer trying to make meaningful statements, I’ve always questioned what life and its components really are. But in the past year, I’ve been thinking particularly about what happiness is —partly because I’ve been managing anxiety in that past year, too.

I mean, it was nothing serious. Difficulty sleeping and some general unease, fixed with a tiny daily dose of antidepressants and some life changes. Pretty easy fix, as far as medical conditions go. My family history of nervous dispositions — we’re like horses, you see: strong but sometimes finicky — wasn’t as big an issue as the fact that I needed to examine my life. Get a different job. Adjust my writing career focus. Throw out some junk, both literal and figurative.

trashwoman

It’s a lot like what Peregrine does in my first book, Remedy. His doubts and fears need to be addressed, and a job change and a plague relief effort help him break out of his little rut of worries. I didn’t take as long to straighten out my issues as Peregrine did, thankfully (partly because I’m not a dragon and I don’t have 80 years to spend on a midlife crisis).

And as the Tinder Stricken draft opens up to me, I find more and more that Esha isn’t simply chasing the thief phoenix to get her stolen heirloom knife back. She’s also chasing that phoenix as a desperate attempt to put her life in order and, ultimately, be happy. The story isn’t about a petty theft so much as Esha and the phoenix reacting to their crummy lots in life, and trying to change those lots. That’s how I write. I don’t typically like stories that focus on hatred, or revenge, or a lust for power — because there’s too much of that in our real modern Earth. I’d rather spend time with characters who seek happiness and comfort in the middle of a turbulent world.

Last time I saw my nurse practitioner, she said she’s glad to hear that I’ve made some positive changes.
“I had all the pieces,” I told her. “I just had to move them around.”
“Yeah,” she said, smiling kindly, “but some people don’t move their pieces around.”

I think that’s an important way to view life. We all have pieces. Maybe they’re not the pieces we want — but we have pieces. Maybe we can construct happiness if we just try moving them.


The mythical sirens, and how I reworked them for the DISTORTED anthology

With my love of variety in fantasy literature, I try to experiment with lesser-used mythological creatures. I’ve talked before about the phoenix, that metaphor everyone knows — but few fantasy writers use to full potential. And I’ve dabbled with black dog interpretations ever since I first found out about that interesting little clump of British Isles lore.

Today, I’m here to discuss sirens. You know, those mythical aquatic women who aren’t mermaids?

A Roman mosaic of Odysseus and the sirens

A Roman mosaic of Odysseus and the sirens

Originating in Greek mythology and later adopted by the Romans, sirens are supernatural women who sing in enchanting voices. They tempt or hypnotize men, most notably sailors on long, lonely journeys. Sometimes the sirens distract the sailors into crashing their ships; sometimes the lovely singing just lulls the sailors to sleep so the sirens can easily kill them. Either way, it’s a bad outcome for any man enchanted. The first Greek examples of sirens were associated with meadows and earth, but later siren lore had a water connotation — including dangerous, rocky seashores for befuddled sailors to crash their ships onto.

That ocean context sometimes causes sirens to get mixed up with mermaid lore. Nowadays, particularly sexy mermaid artwork is sometimes tagged as a siren. But Greek texts originally described “winged maidens” with bird legs. The siren was sort of like a harpy‘s more attractive sister. Her bird traits represented her beautiful singing voice. An early Christian text also points out that love is a sharp-clawed bird: it “flies and wounds”.

 

SirenEimi

There are also historical artworks of sirens as fish chimeras who look slightly like mermaids. And some artworks where sirens looked like ordinary human women, lounging on rocky seashores. Like most mythological beings, sirens are open to interpretation.

 

As for me, I grew up hearing a bit about Greek/Roman mythology and its singing sirens. My more memorable siren encounters came in video games. Final Fantasy games and their summoned spirits represent a wide variety of Earth folklore, after all.

Siren, as seen in Final Fantasy VIII. Her attack, Silent Voice, damages the target and inflicts Silence status  (which prevents casting magic).

Siren, as seen in Final Fantasy VIII. Her attack, Silent Voice, damages the target and inflicts Silence (a status condition that prevents use of magic).

 

But in the modern fantasy genre, siren encounters are fleeting compared to elves, dragons, vampires or werewolves. The siren doesn’t seem to be a mythical creature that gets much thought or reinterpretation. So when I saw the submission call for the Distorted anthology — asking for modern, realistic, or fantastic interpretations of mythology — I thought sirens would be a great subject. Their flexible lore would let me worldbuild. Their built-in themes of love, temptation and punishment would help me make a great story.

 

I wrote a piece called To Sing Which Tune. It’s about a version of modern Earth where sirens (feather-covered humanoids with gills) have always been friends to humans. They call boats away from danger, and they perform their lovely songs on TV for our entertainment. At least, that’s how it used to be.

 

Nowadays, the siren population is showing more and more cases of violent dementia, attacking humans unprovoked and with little warning. Marine ornithologist Helen thinks it’s because of toxic chemical buildup in their bodies, a side effect of human pollution. Helen is driven to help all sirens — most of all her lifelong friend, Odyssia. But she might be too late.

To Sing Which Tune is darker than my usual stories, but it was an interesting project and I’m delighted to be included in the anthology! And I’m glad I jumped at this chance to write about beautiful, deadly sirens on a modern seashore.

 

Distorted is available now through Amazon, Smashwords or Createspace.

official-distorted-cover


Spaceships are a human metaphor

So, here’s something I just thought of. English sci-fi usually refers to its interstellar spacecraft as “space ships”, or “starships”, or something else with “ship” in the name. It’s a commonplace term.

Art from the Disney movie Treasure Planet.

Art from the Disney movie Treasure Planet.

Because it makes sense for humans to root our space travel in the nomenclature of sailing. The Age of Sail was a major formative period in Western history, so modern English still uses sailing idioms like “batten down the hatches”, “know the ropes” and “close quarters”, even though sailing is now a tiny niche of world travel. The vast majority of human cultures use boats in some way, and can relate to the imagery of travelling by wind and water. Sailing has a nostalgic sense of exploration and bold human endeavor. But if we dig a little deeper, sailing also touches on the less pleasant lessons history has to teach us — issues like the soul-sucking conditions of long-haul travel, and the human rights atrocities committed in the Age of Sail. The glamour and the grimness of the Age of Sail make a good blueprint for a space opera.

I was thinking about this while listening to The Picard Song, a Star Trek fanwork that starts with Captain Picard’s stately declaration of, “Here’s to the finest crew in Starfleet.”

Huh, I thought. Starfleet. Like a fleet of ships, in keeping with the nautical theme and the military implications. I wonder if alien races have metaphors like that for their space programs — different metaphors than ours.

And it suddenly occurred to me that I can’t think of any non-human versions of the term “spaceship”. Much as I appreciate Star Trek’s efforts to show non-humans in a dignified light, its alien races always seem to accept the “ship” and “fleet” terminology that humans use. Now, granted, universal translation technology is partly to blame. Of course it’s going to use our most commonly understood nomenclature. But still, I don’t recall any sci-fi media where an alien says, “Oh, you call it a space-[water-going vessel]? My species calls it a space-[something else].”

Why doesn’t that happen? Why don’t we hear other colourful names for spacecraft? Why aren’t there more telling glimpses into alien cultures?

I don’t ask that question directly at Star Trek, of course. That franchise had enough of a struggle on its hands, making its vision palatable to mainstream TV audiences of the 20th century. No, I think this is a question to ask of science fiction in general — and maybe fantasy, too, with its “airships” sailing the skies. Sci-fi made me think of this question, but I firmly believe that a magical non-human can do as much thought-provoking as a hard sci-fi alien.

I mean, what about a race that glorifies farming and plant husbandry? They might call their vessels “space seeds”, since they’re tough little packets of life meant to colonize new lands. Or aliens who see spacecraft as a mimickry of stars and planets, a mortal being’s attempt to fit in with the celestial bodies? Maybe their vessels would be called “hardstars”.

Art by James Paick, found here.

Art by James Paick, found here.

 

Now, I don’t claim to be aware of every book, TV show and movie ever made — actually, I get through novels pretty slowly for someone who writes them. So I hope there are examples of space not-ships that I’m simply not aware of. This concept just has so much creative potential, I hope it’s being used to add colour to fictional societies.

Do you know of a sci-fi/fantasy series with an interesting name for its spaceships/airships? Share in the comments!


Some Aligare sketches

I have lots of final prep to do before Serpents of Sky launches next week! So I don’t have much in the way of bloggish thoughts today, but I did do a few rough sketches. Just some random Aligare folk.aemetfeb14sketch korvifeb14sketch ferrinfeb14sketch

 

I think it’s about time I update the diagram of the Aligare peoplekinds — the one that appears at the beginning of every Story of Aligare book. In the original image, I was trying for a clean, simplified look. But I’m thinking a more detailed, dynamic art style like these sketches might make it easier for readers to visualize the Aligare races in the story to come. Thoughts?


Why do we have “the usual” fantasy stories?

If you read online reviews of fantasy books, you tend to see a lot of comments about “typical fantasy”. Reviewers have mixed opinions about some of mainstream fantasy’s most well-known fixtures — such as elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs, and the combination thereof.

Something like this! (Image cobbled together from OpenClipArt.org images.)

Something like this! (Image cobbled together from OpenClipArt.org images. I won’t lie: the cutting and pasting was fun.)

Fantasy has existed since humans first started telling stories. Legends, monsters and epic adventure stories were around long before paperbacks were ever printed. But J. R. R. Tolkien’s works came along and codified the Western fantasy genre. The Lord of the Rings set a precident in the entertainment market and made the general public aware of fantasy as something other than assorted fairy tales. Naturally, other people were inspired by Tolkien’s vision of elves, dwarves and noble quests (or they were at least interested in ripping them off to make money). When movies and video games came along, those media were also happy to adopt the ideas of humanoid races waging wars to save the world.

Over the last 70-ish years, we’ve seen many slight variations on Tolkien’s worldbuilding. A lot of people are unaware that fantasy is anything but some sword-wielding medieval guys battling to save the world. Maybe those people read a few poorly-crafted Tolkien knockoffs with cardboard characters, and decided that all fantasy stories are the same. But fantasy is a form of speculative fiction. Shouldn’t it speculate? Shouldn’t it grow, and break new ground, and explore new ideas?

Sure, it should. And new niches can and do emerge. Just look at how urban fantasy and paranormal romance are their own recognized, defined categories now. And how China Miéville is strongly associated with the New Weird concept of fantasy, which has similarities to urban sci-fi.

But fantasy literature naturally has its roots in the past. Fantasy embodies legends, mythology and traditional ways. Fantasy takes us back to simpler times when the world couldn’t be fully understood: that’s generally what distinguishes fantasy from science fiction. So the settings, struggles and creatures of fantasy are often things we recognize and know off by heart — even though they’re not even real. Maybe the reuse of elves and dwarves is just a kind of nostalgia. Like visiting old friends, or rereading Shakespeare’s classics.

A reprinted version of Beowulf, one of the most prominent stories in Anglo-Saxon history and one of Tolkien's sources of inspirations.

A reprinted version of Beowulf, one of the most prominent stories in Anglo-Saxon history and one of Tolkien’s sources of inspiration.

Sometimes people compliment my Stories of Aligare by saying that they’re not like “the usual” fantasy stories — as though it’s still rare to find a fantasy book that doesn’t crib all its ideas and furnishings from Mr. Tolkien. I mean, I do appreciate the thought that my magical secondary world is pleasingly different. Scraping out a new niche is exactly what I’m trying to do. But it always makes me sad that fantasy literature has this well-worn cliché haunting its image.

It’s one thing if modern writers choose to tell classically styled stories of men, elves and dwarves. I think we should be innovating more than that, but that’s just my opinion and I’m sure plenty of readers disagree. Maybe the problem is the very fact that fantasy is getting so many subgenres? If a story doesn’t have a clearly demarkated category like “romance involving a supernatural being”, it often falls into the catch-all category called Fantasy: General. And what do we think of when we imagine a general fantasy story? Yep, probably something like Middle Earth. (And we probably don’t remember all of Tolkien’s hard work and craftsmanship, which is a whole other bucket of unfortunateness.)

I wonder what the next few decades will bring. What’s going to happen when werewolves, vampires and Harry Potter are considered old archetypes? Will Lord of the Rings fade from influence, or only become more tightly tied into our ideas of mystical worlds? Personally, I’m just going to keep looking for new twists. It’s great to have roots, and fine to be inspired by classics, but fantasy still has a lot of space to grow into.

There’s more reading materal coming out every day, from independents and dark horses of all varieties. And fantasy can touch on any subject we can imagine. In my lifetime, I hope to see the idea of a “usual fantasy story” cease to mean anything.

Related articles:

Origin of the term “adventurer” (heidicvlach.com)

What do dragons represent to us? (heidicvlach.com)

Writing gods I don’t believe in: how atheism gets along with fantasy (heidicvlach.com)


What do dragons represent to us?

Lately, my mind is mostly on my upcoming collection of dragon short stories. Not the NaNoWriMo murder mystery I’m supposed to be hammering out, haha, oops. I’ve just always found dragons fascinating. All of human culture has, it seems, because there are so many dragon-like things scattered across our folklore.

Saint George Killing The Dragon, by Bernat Martorell

Saint George Killing The Dragon, by Bernat Martorell

Dragons are pretty much always amazing creatures in their mythologies. Most can fly, whether they have wings or not, and there are few things humans envy more than a naturally flighted creature. But dragons aren’t the delicate little birds and bugs we’re used to seeing in the air. They’re beings of great size, power, longevity and/or wisdom. Sometimes they have fire breath, poisonous blood or other dangerous skills. Sometimes they are wise, benevolent creatures, guarding water sources or teaching speech to humans. Whether humans are supposed to slay them or worship them, dragons just seem to demand human attention. They represent a thick stew of our primal fears and desires.

In the last 50 years or so, mainstream English fantasy books have added some new ideas to the mix. Dragon-riding is probably the most notable. Dragons were mostly evil monsters in Western culture, even in Tolkien’s highly influential works. But this idea suddenly caught on that dragons could be loyal companions who help protect humanity. Maybe that was influenced by the kind-hearted Eastern dragons? Maybe people just realized that dragons would be even cooler if we didn’t need to go out and murder them? Who knows.

dragon-rider-1-1680x1050

So we’re all confident we know what a dragon is, and yet there are so many angles to approach the idea from. Dragons kidnapping princesses because that’s just what dragons do. Dragons guarding something valuable — golden treasure or golden knowledge — that humans want to take because that’s just what humans do. Flight and companionship and bravery, being shared one way or another between humans and dragons. There are so many ways to spin the concept. That’s why I’m trying to hit as many of those angles as possible in my short story collection.

In the Stories of Aligare, I already took the companion dragon concept in a different direction. In the development of the Aligare world, I wanted to take the idea of ally dragons and make the dragons more mundane. More typical to see walking around in a town. So korvi folk are like weird little friendly birds compared to most Earth dragons — but by Aligare standards they’re large, strong and courageous in combat. They have the gift of flight and all the freedom that comes with it. So korvi are dragons and yet they’re regular, relatable people in their society. It would be hard to do that in a world with humans.

But the short story collection is letting me play with more human-centric concepts of dragons. I’ve got two standout favourite stories so far:

1) A wise queen tries to befriend and negotiate with the dragon who kidnapped her all the time when she was a princess.

2) Small, magical dragons are the dominant race and they use humans to power their magicpunk flying machines. Y’know, so the dragons are riding the humans.

These subversions seem obvious to me, but I haven’t seen them around nearly enough.

So to answer the question “what do dragons represent to us?”, I’d say they’re the embodiment of the fantasy genre itself. Dragons can be very familiar and predictable, like the comfort food of speculative fiction. Or they can be radically different from everything else out there — yet still recognizable. I think we can all agree that that’s pretty neat.

UPDATE: My dragon short story collection, Serpents of Sky, is now available! Check the Books section of this blog for all the buying options, or just click this cover image to go to Amazon:

Serpents of Sky: Nine stories of dragons

Related articles:

◦  Anthropomorphic stories: what are they and who are they for? (heidicvlach.com)

Flying characters in fantasy and sci-fi (heidicvlach.com)

◦  Chimera creatures in mythology: why are they so familiar? (heidicvlach.com)


Working personal issues into my writing

Fiction writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve never been asked that  — not in that exact phrasing, anyway. But I do read about the creative processes of others. Sometimes, authors are inspired by some great tragedy in their lives, or an experience that shook them and changed their outlook, or a decision they regret. Fiction becomes a means of exploring and resolving their own life experience.

It’s a perfectly legitimate place to begin a story.  Life is senseless sometimes; a well-structured story can bring closure. A writer already controls what the characters do and how they feel about their deeds, so why not have those characters act out a scenario the author would like a second chance at? Emotional connection can make for a powerful piece of fiction, indeed.

puppeteer

And it makes me wonder if I’ve ever done that. Are the Stories of Aligare rife with my own pain and insecurity?

I’m confident they’re not. When I write my original fiction, I’m specifically trying to build something outside myself. I’m imagining a world where people can have fur or feathers or antennae, and where they don’t even know what war is.  I want my characters to have their own reactions to events, not some pre-determined outcome I impose on them. And I’ve never thought of a bad experience I had and decided to dress it up in fictional characters. (Or, well, I’ve considered it and decided that the resulting story would probably suck.)

A big part of my creative drive is my wish to change the adult fantasy genre, to raise awareness that anthropomorphic characters are not just cutesy talking puppets, or humans with animal parts tacked on. For a purpose like that, I don’t think it’d make sense for my own experience to be the primary drive of the story. I’m a human, you see. I might not like it much, when I watch the news and see the atrocities humans commit on a regular basis, but I’m still a Homo sapiens in my DNA and in my socially conditioned mind. I wouldn’t feel right taking things that happened to me and other humans and just pushing them onto aemets, korvi or ferrin. I’d rather figure out what their issues are, and explore those past hurts and tragedies.

Sometimes the personal issues of Aligare folk are very similar to human issues: I imagine that sentient beings’ problems often run parallel to each other. But being parallel doesn’t mean they’re the same.

 

Related articles:

    ◦ Aligare’s lucky numbers and their basis in lore (heidicvlach.com)

    ◦ Flashback post: What maturity means(heidicvlach.com)

    ◦ Aligare’s Mandragora, the Legend Creature of stories (heidicvlach.com)


Moodiness: a part of real life, not fiction

businesswoman_-_angry

Clipart from Clipartheaven.com

 

The other day at my waitressing day job, I approached two customers to take their order. The man smiled and answered my greeting questions, but the woman snapped that they had been waiting 20 minutes for me to serve them. This was untrue — since I knew for a fact their table had been empty 10 minutes ago — but a waitress is wise not to argue this sort of thing. I shut my mouth and hurried to bring bread and salad.

 

I figured there were two likely diagnoses for the woman’s behaviour:

1) She was one of those people who thinks serving staff are inferior human beings.

2) She was just cranky because she was hungry.

It turned out to be the second option, fortunately for me. By the time the woman was halfway finished her chicken pasta entreé, she was chatty and smiling just like her dinner companion. She even apologized to me for her earlier unpleasantness.

 

And I forgave her, both outwardly and inwardly. Because, I mean, I’ve been there. Feeling inordinately witchy because it’s been an hour too many since I ate anything and my instincts are telling me to kill something for dinner. Part of being a person is that we’re complex creatures and we sometimes struggle to handle the smallest of problems.

 

But it doesn’t work that way for fictional characters, does it?

 

Fictional people are just as complex as we are — that’s the case for well-written fictional people, anyway. But fiction carries a burden of meaning. Stories are supposed to have patterns and significance. If a character in a novel snaps at her undeserving waitress/assistant/servant, it’s far more likely that the author is showing us what a nasty person the character is (or how crummy the servant life is). If the character apologizes to the servant, it’ll probably be to demonstrate how she’s grown as a person. Sure, she could just have a low blood sugar moment and snap with no real consequence. But if it’s not foreshadowing some greater loss of control, well, what’s the point of that scene? It’s not contributing to the story’s greater message (unless that message is “life is senseless and often cruel”).

 

I guess it’s part of the way reality is stranger than fiction. We want our fictional characters to be real, but not as real as we are. Because we get plenty of real life every day we live, thanks — and too much aimless reality would clutter up a fantastic tale.