...while epic fantasy is based on the fairy tale of the just war, that’s not one you’ll find in Grimm or Disney and most will never recognize the shape of it. I think the fantasy genre pitches its tent in the medieval campground for the very reason that we even bother to write stories about things that never happened in the first place: because it says something subtle and true about our own world, something it is difficult to say straight out, with a straight face. Something you need tools to say, you need cheat codes for the human brain--a candy princess or a sugar-coated unicorn to wash down the sour taste of how bad things can really get.See, I think our culture has a slash running through the middle of it, too. Past/Future, Conservative/Liberal, Online/Offline. Virgin/Whore. And yes: Classical/Medieval. I think we’re torn between the Classical Narrative of Self and the Medieval Narrative of Self, between the choice of Achilles and Keep Calm and Carry On.The Classical internal monologue goes like this: do anything, anything, only don’t be forgotten. Yes, this one sacrificed his daughter on a slab at Aulis, that one married his mother and tore out his eyes and oh that guy ate his kids in a pie. But you remember their names, don’t you? So it’s all good in the end. Give a Greek soul a choice between a short life full of glory and a name echoing down the halls of time and a long, gentle life full of children and a quiet sort of virtue and he’ll always go down in flames. That’s what the Iliad is all about and the Odyssey too. When you get to Hades, you gotta have a story to tell, because the rest of eternity is just forgetting and hoping some mortal shows up on a quest and lets you drink blood from a bowl so you can remember who you were for one hour.And every bit of cultural narrative in America says that we are all Odysseus, we are all Agamemnon, all Atreus, all Achilles. That we as a nation made that choice and chose glory and personal valor and woe betide any inconvenient other people who get in our way. We tell the tales around the campfire of men who came from nothing to run dotcom empires, of a million dollars made overnight, of an actress marrying a prince from Monaco, of athletes and stars and artists and cowboys and gangsters and bootleggers and talk show hosts who hitched up their bootstraps and bent the world to their will. Whose names you all know. And we say: that can be each and every one of us and if it isn’t, it’s your fault. You didn’t have the excellence for it. You didn’t work hard enough. The story wasn’t about you and the only good stories are the kind that have big, unignorable, undeniable heroes.
Catherynne M. Valente
After the battle, the Queen and her warriors entered the throne hall of the vanquished Akbanids, where they found displayed on pedestals of marble all the great treasures of that kingdom. And the Queen, having little interest in the jewels and gold, passed all these by, until she came at last to the center of the room. And there, on a sheet of silk, sat a Lamp of humble aspect, wrought in bronze and without a drop of oil inside.With great reverence, the Queen took up the Lamp and at her touch, from it rose with a glittering cloud of smoke a terrible Jinni. And all who looked upon her quailed and trembled, but the Queen stood tall and trembled not. Yet in her eyes was a look of wonder.I am the Jinni of the Lamp, pronounced the Jinni. Three wishes shall ye have. Speak them and they shall be granted, yea, even the deepest desires of thine heart. Wilt thou have treasure? It is thine.And the Queen replied, Silver and gold I have.Wilt thou have kingdoms and men to rule over? asked the Jinni. Ask and it is thine.And the Queen replied, These I have also.Wilt thou have youth everlasting, never to age, never to sicken? asked the Jinni. Ask and it is thine.Does not the poet say that hairs of gray are more precious than silver and that in youth lies folly?The Jinni bowed low before the Queen. I see you are wise, O Queen and not easily fooled. So what would you ask of me, for I am thy slave.Give me thy hand, said the Queen and let us be friends. For does not the poet say, one true-hearted friend is worth ten thousand camels laden with gold?This the Jinni pondered, before replying, The poet also says, woe to the man who befriends the jinn, for he shakes hands with death.
Jessica Khoury
We are sometimes dragged into a pit of unhappiness by someone else’s opinion that we do not look happy.
Mokokoma Mokhonoana