In the gap between sending off the revisions and hearing reactions to them, I thought I’d discuss a few more things about Paksworld and the series you’ve been reading. Still no spoilers for Crown of Renewal, though, I hope.
As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, the series shifted from my original plan for a long story about Kieri Phelan to a consideration of how forced change affects people in midlife. I began it after we’d had one, and as friends had lost or were losing their jobs (again!, and several years after they’d just begun a recovery from the previous downturn, at a lower level) in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. So I had a lot of direct knowledge of how forced change–even good forced change (because that happens to some)–plays out in real peoples’ lives. But at the same time, the invented universe I now call “Paksworld” has its own set of rules and logic–and stories do too.
So this wasn’t going to be a modern real-world literary story about a computer engineer, a rural health care cooperative, a small-scale beef producer, a financial planner, and a self-employed craftsman with a niche market, each with his/her own set of dependents with various medical problems, etc, etc. and discussed in terms of actual financial, political, and gender/class goings-on in our society. I could have gone that way, shown the same interconnections that the better economists write about now, a sort of Allen Drury series (for those who remember Allen Drury the political novelist of the 1960s) but not in Paksworld. And I’m not Allen Drury, though as a teenager I read some of his books avidly.
That real-world experience and knowledge simply highlighted the fact that however “good” it might seem to discover that you’re born to a throne and not a bastard after all…that instead of a disputed position as an upstart noble in one realm you have a whole realm of your own…it’s a wrench. And inheriting the former duke’s property, when you’d been quite content to be his right-hand man…was also a wrench. And inheriting your wicked parents’ role–when you still felt guilty about being related to them, and lots of people hated them and distrusted you because of them…instead of being the carefully-not-seen subordinate to the one who had now moved on to be king somewhere else…also a wrench.
On the Paksworld side itself, those psychological issues added depth, but did not control what was going on–major plot-drivers came from somewhere else. Some were still interior, characteristics (of individuals and groups, including broad groups such as “elves” or “gnomes” or “Kostandanyans”) both innate and acquired. Some were still external, such as the re-emergence of magery in humans, the escape of iynisin from the western mountains to reappear in the eastern lands as a serious threat, and the rediscovery of the regalia that had been sequestered by the Verrakaien. Sometimes even the writer found it hard to classify plot-drivers–things overlap. Would Arcolin, for instance, ever have confessed his past if the foolish chancellor had not approached him? Had he not done so, would that lack of forthrightness eventually caused him (and thus those he served and those he commanded) grief?
Stories and story-worlds have their own geologies, their own areas of subsidence where feelings and ideas and truths are buried, only to rise again in new formations, outcrop in unexpected places. They have fault lines, where it takes much less force to produce a break, a sudden change in a person, a place, a class, a society. If Arvid had finished his work in Brewersbridge before Paks arrived–if he had never met her–would that fissure have opened in his imagination and let in the voice of Gird? Surely he would have left Vérella to avoid knowing about what was going on in the cellars of the Thieves’ Guild…and thus not rescued Paks, been shocked to his core, and able to hear Gird when the time came. If, back down the years, the early Marshals of Gird had been less complacent about Gird’s defeat of evil, the stresses that erupted with the re-emergence of magery might not have caused such an earthquake of hatred.
Sharon Lee, co-author of the Liaden universe books, had a discussion of heroes on her blogsite because some readers had criticized one of the protagonists on the grounds that he wasn’t a real hero. (If you haven’t read the Liaden books, her discussion contains some spoilers…so consider whether you want to read a really great space-based adventure series with some very interesting cultural and cross-cultural stuff set into it, alien races like the Clutch Turtles, a sense of humor, a sense of pathos, a sense of destiny…etc. If so, you might want to catch up with the books first, and read the essay after you’ve made your own decisions about Daav yos Phelium, who is for a time Delm of Korval. I’m just a wee tiny bit prejudiced in favor of the Liaden books. And Daav, for that matter.) But her comments on Daav, and my comment (down near the bottom of comments the last time I looked) , combine to give some insight into how I (and she) see heroism.
Which is that heroes don’t have to be perfect–in fact, are better heroes if they aren’t perfect, if they are Real People (= characters who share characteristics of real people, such as not being perfect.) Good people/characters screw up sometimes. They misunderstand a situation. They make a bad choice for what seemed at the time good reasons, or they make the better choice but later come to think of it as the worse one and then blame themselves and fall or almost fall into a really bad one, like Aliam Halveric in not telling anyone he was pretty sure Kieri was the missing prince back when he had Kieri as a squire. They have moments of overwhelming grief, or anger, or fear, just like everyone else, and in those moments, they may go wrong…and then have to deal with the consequences of that wrong.
What defines heroes, to me, is that they do, on the whole, face and deal with those consequences, as well as acting rightly in crises when others don’t, can’t, won’t.
The non-hero won’t admit he/she was wrong, won’t change his/her mind, will stick to the wrong and make excuses, refusing blame. The glass of milk fell off the table by itself, the dog ate the (undone) homework, the other kids lured him/her into taking drugs or getting drunk or shoplifting, “everybody does it” (whatever it is, including taking bribes, backstabbing associates, embezzling, cheating on a spouse) or it was the fault of the person victimized.
The hero doesn’t like owning up (who does?) but admits her elbow hit the glass and knocked it off, and cleans up the mess without whining. The hero admits he didn’t do his math homework, and takes the bad grade without whining. The hero shrugs off invitations–even pressure–to do wrong, and if he/she does wrong, doesn’t try to shift the blame to someone else. Sometimes the hero screws up, of course, including in being a pain in the patoot by lecturing others on their behavior, but the hero is willing to deal with the consequences of his/her behavior personally.
And in at least one crisis in his/her life, the hero takes definitive action that does someone else good, overriding whatever fears and character faults stand in the way. There are “limited heroes” who only manage that once–which doesn’t make that heroism less. But the more obvious heroes, the ones who become protagonists (for instance), do it more often. Just not always.
So in Paksworld, every one of the heroes (people I see as heroes) has faults, weaknesses, and past failures to contend with when faced with new challenges. And in Paksworld, those challenges keep coming, offering new opportunities to fail as well as to succeed, and new opportunities to learn about themselves and understand why they acted as they did. Paksworld has its own momentum, as I said yesterday, and on any given journey it drags the writer along past many an interesting byway. (“Wait! Whoa! I want to see more of that!” “LATER! Another time!”) I still haven’t had the chance to write more about Kolya…or a Kuakgan’s “rooting”…or what the witwards of Pliuni really were and did before Siniava hung them upside down from the gate…or any of the other gnome princedoms, or the dwarf halls (different from the gnome halls) and their society, or for that matter the people beyond Kolobia, on that other trade route, or just how many continents there are and who lives there, if anyone, and if not, why not. And with an eye on the ticking clock of life…and my inability to write any faster than I am now…I suspect there will be open questions in my own mind (and readers’ minds) when I write the last word I have time to write.
Which is fine. One of the great joys of my life is that although I’m intensely curious about so many things, and a data hog, I can never come to the end of my ignorance….my ignorance is huge and allows me plenty of space to learn in. So also Paksworld. I wander in and out, exploring this little bit and that little bit, but there’s always more where that came from.