In re-reading Stephen King’s novels, I often find pearls of wisdom in the Introductions, such as with the quote below.
The following excerpt is from “An Introductory Note”:
“”But it isn’t about the money, no matter what the glossy tabloids may say, and it’s not about selling out, as the more arrogant critics really seem to believe. The fundamental things still apply as time goes by, and for me the object hasn’t changed–the job is still getting to you, Constant Reader, getting you by the short hairs and, hopefully, scaring you so badly you won’t be able to go to sleep without leaving the bathroom light on.” – from the Introduction to the book”
While I may not ever write a horror novel, or even a short story, my goal is the same as Mr. King: to get to you. After all, “getting to you” is simply a matter of making an emotional connection. I may write fantasy stories, but I still want to have you make some connection to one or more of the characters, even if it’s the bad guy, that keeps you turning the pages, that makes you yearn to know their deepest desires and fears, that makes you talk to your bookish friends about the characters as if they are your friends, to get to you.
The last paragraph in The Thief of Always is an apt summary of the lessons the protagonist, Harvey, learns over the course of the story:
“Time would be precious from now on. It would tick by, of course, as it always had, but Harvey was determined he wouldn’t waste it with sighs and complaints. He’d fill every moment with the seasons he’d found in his heart: hopes like birds on a spring branch; happiness like a warm summer sun; magic like the rising mists of autumn. And best of all, love; love enough for a thousand Christmases.”
Time is, indeed, precious. Most of us don’t realize just how precious until we’re staring death in the eye or watching a loved one or friend in that staring match. It would be wonderful if we were all fabulously wealthy and didn’t need to work to pay bills so we could follow the “live like you were dying” and “live each day as if it were your last” types of advice. What we can do, though, is take Harvey’s final thought to heart and love…ourselves, our friends, our families. Our mortal time is fleeting. Let them know you think about them and that you love them, for we rarely know which words will be the last they hear from us and which deed will be the last the remember of us.
Published in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is the story of post-apocalyptic society being reborn by the research and dedication of The Church. In the third “act”, man has again built nuclear weapons…and used them. The scene that spawned this quote is a conversation between the Abbot of a remote Abbey and a doctor who is asking to treat patients in the Abbey’s courtyard.
“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”
Food for thought.
Are we eternal souls who inhabit mortal husks briefly or are we , as more people think, humans who have souls? It’s a bit of the chicken and egg conundrum, isn’t it? The answer can really only be known by someone who recalls a past life or is omniscient enough to know how it all works. If we are eternal souls, how are the bodies we inhabit chosen and why don’t we, as a rule, recall previous lives. Maybe our souls are eternal and we only inhabit a body once or every now and then. Maybe it’s not an endless cycle of death and rebirth.
Or, maybe there isn’t really a soul at all. Maybe we’re just here until our meat suit expires.
Published in 1959, A Canticle for Leibowitz is the story of post-apocalyptic society being reborn by the research and dedication of The Church. In the third “act”, man has again built nuclear weapons and is on the brink of another apocalypse when the following passage takes place.
“Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix, in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empire of Charlemagne and the Turk. Ground to dust and plowed with it. Spain, France, Britain, America-burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again.”
Are we helpless to stop repeating history? I don’t think so. We may be apathetic enough to let history repeat itself, but we’re not helpless. Certainly, when one looks at our society’s moral decline, our vanity and false pride, the sense of entitlement our youth now have, and the growing dependency on our government that’s run by disingenuous, hypocritical career politicians, it’s really more of a question of how long until America is “burned into the oblivion of the centuries.” As an American, though, I have to have hope that we’ll somehow pull our collective head out of our ass and fix things.
In the Afterword of The Lost Gate, Orson Scott Card goes into quite a bit of detail as to how the story came about, including how he finally decided on where to start the story of Danny, the young protagonist. He’d initially thought to start with Danny a bit younger and have the reader learn about Danny’s family, their history, and magic at the same time as Danny. He ultimately decided against it.
The following excerpt is from the Afterword:
“I was really following my own advice–I tell students in my writing classes that suspense comes, not from knowing almost nothing, but from knowing almost everything and caring very much about the small part still unknown.”
This does make complete sense to me. When I watch movies or read books and I’m plunked down in the middle of a strange world or a dark place, suspense isn’t created just by things being unknown. I’m curious to see how things are in the world, how they are similar or different to this world, or what’s hiding/hidden in the dark, but suspense requires more information. It needs some sort of action or sense of impending action that will generate conflict. The action doesn’t even need to take place, internal conflict can be generated by the character as a reaction to the suspense…but, if the character or reader knows nothing, there can be no suspense. They don’t know anything is about to happen. There’s nothing to be scared of, unless a fear of the dark/unknown is established, which if not done beforehand, can seem very coincidental and overly convenient for the author.
The following quote is taken from the comments/annotation R.A. Salvatore wrote as the introduction to his short story Iruladoon for the book The Legend of Drizzt Anthology: The Collected Stories, edited by Philip Athans.
“Why am I a writer? Because writing is the process I use to make sense of the world, of existence, of life and of death. My writing is my internal dialogue–I wonder, had I realized this before, would I ever have let you all in?”
I haven’t written a novel. I have written a few short stories and a number of flash fiction pieces. When I look back at my writings, I can see my outlook and/or philosophy on life in some of them, while others are simply stories. Someone in an English class somewhere could be given an assignment to analyze them and figure out what my “real” message was, but the truth is that some of them are just stories.
Having read quite a number of Mr. Salvatore’s works, though, I didn’t need to read the quote above to understand that his writing is a way for him to examine aspects of life and death, especially through his most famous character, Drizzt Do’Urden. Salvatore uses Drizzt’s internal dialogue as his own, examining issues from different angles. Looking at the obvious, as well as the obscure…questioning why “we” think certain ways.
Maybe, someday, I’ll use characters to voice my internal dialogue, but right now, I’ll stick with the occasional display of my view on things.
Too many sisters forgot the small courtesies to those beneath them. Small courtesies were the lubricant of daily life.
In The Wheel of Time, Aes Sedai are taught to believe they are better than everyone else. As such, it easy to see why they would think of others as beneath them and thus forget the small courtesies.
Unfortunately, there are far too many people in this world…the real world…who also forget the small courtesies for others. Whether they have a chip on their shoulder because of their education or job or where they live or how much money they inherited or any other reason, they look down on others…they feel almost everyone is beneath them. Then, there are folks who don’t normally have big egos, but feel that there are certain others who are beneath them because their jobs are “lower skilled” or “dirty”. Naturally, when dealing with these people who are beneath them, people don’t feel it necessary to remember small courtesies, such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, preferring to talk down to them or ignore them altogether.
Small courtesies. A “hello” in passing, a “good morning” to the security guard at your building, a “thank-you” for someone holding a door rather than expecting it, a “please” at the beginning or end of an order at the fast food joint. They’re not much, they don’t require “going out of your way” or “putting yourself out there”, and that’s why they’re small courtesies and it’s the gross lack of use of these that points to a growing lack of respect and congeniality we humans have for each other.
On a day of fire and blood, a tattered banner waved above Dumai’s Wells, bearing the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai.
On a day of fire and blood and the One Power, as prophecy had suggested, the unstained tower, broken, bent knee to the forgotten sign.
The first nine Aes Sedai swore fealty to the Dragon Reborn, and the world was changed forever.
Aside from the very short epilogue, these are the last three sentences of Lord of Chaos. The sixth book in The Wheel of Time series ends with the violent overthrow of the way things have been for hundreds of years which leads to the last line, in which Aes Sedai kneel and promise to follow and obey Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn.
It’s interesting as I read along in the series, as the characters grow and change, events occur that seem to be huge at the time, but as the story moves on from those points, it becomes clear that those were really only smaller, less significant events. Here at the end of book six, though, is a major change: Aes Sedai not just bending the knee to swear fealty, but to the Dragon Reborn…a man who can channel the One Power.
I have just started re-reading The Eye of the World, the first book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series…for about the fourth time. The reason for this re-read, aside from being an incredible story, is that the final book in the series, A Memory of Light is slated for release in January of 2013. Including the prequel, the series span fifteen books, once A Memory of Light is published. I’m not re-reading “New Spring” (the prequel) this time, so I’m estimating that I should be able to finish the thirteen books leading up to A Memory of Light just before it is released roughly nine months from now.
As I begin the re-read, I’m once again faced with the two sentences that start every opening paragraph* of the books in The Wheel of Time series. Why open every book with these two lines? Simple. In just those two lines, the overall theme of the series is laid out.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades into myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
The paragraph continues as follows:
In one Age, called the Third Age by some, and Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
A brief following of the wind then leads you to one of the stories main characters as he and his father journey along a road, the wind whipping at their cloaks. I love the reinforcement of the all things have been before and shall come to pass again concept with the phrases “The wind was not the beginning” and “it was a beginning.” Fantastic!
It’s much like my reading of this series: This is not the beginning, but it is a beginning.
*Every Chapter 1, not the prologues
Superstition is a stain on faith
While chatting with the protagonist in What the Night Knows, a priest imparts the following:
“We’ve come a long way in the past hundred years, and further with every passing decade. But the full flowering of the faith in our time is delayed by medieval ideas that make the Church seem hopelessly credulous. Faith isn’t superstition, John. Superstition is a stain on faith, a perversion of the religious impulse and possibly a fatal corruption of it.”
I always wonder when I read statements like this in fiction, delivered by the protagonist, antagonist, or supplemental characters, if they are what the author believes or if it simply fits the situation.