Thursday, November 15, 2012

the storytellers

So myths used to be the fabric of people's lives. Not just the big ones, like, arguably religion or patriotism or trickle down economics (okay. That really isn't arguable anymore). You could argue that today many scientific theories are our belief system. The big ones, I could offend anyone by keep on talking. I probably already have. I'm talking the every day myths. The folktales. The stories blood to the bone were told around fires when it got too dark to work. The folktales and myths that happened before the Grimm brothers called them children's work. If you look close enough at Joseph Campbell, we're still enraptured by these stories. Even Hollywood sometimes lives them out. We have a hero. The hero defeats great challenge. He gets his just rewards. Simplistic, I know. What Hollywood and other mass media often miss out on is the essential moment I left out above. That great challenge in someway changes our hero. It happens more often in fiction. But what better place to look than in fantasy? Or what I call a mish mash of fantasy, anyway? These are the stories, the good ones, that would have been told around those fires. Our magic and mayhem can't quite hide those metaphors and myths. Those Jungian archetypes--where these figures and moments in our lives are so bred in, they are bred in. It's subconscious each one of us share. The times when the delight of the story is how perfectly executed the new tale has distilled the old. And where the perfect delight is the slight twist--that end moment that turns the story into something it was never meant to be, but might start to be after this. Our stories are in the marrow of humanity. The fad in Literature (with that snide capital letter) is to more examine a philosophical turn or a lit crit method of writing. Fantasy bleeds. You see our meat from times past. You see us pay homage to those stories again as we tell them over and over with our slight twists, changes, and rearranges. How many times have we read Tam Lin? Patricia Dean (part of Teri Winding's Fairy Tale Series) Tam Lin. Peter S. Beagle's masterful Tamsin. Hell, Diana Wynne Jones felt it necessary to write it twice in Fire and Hemlock and Dog's Body. Mine's quite a set of twists, but at the end, all Weaver's Web is, is Tam Lin. Have we read Beauty and the Beast a lot? Have we read it so often we don't even realize it is a Beauty and the Beast retelling unless the back cover mentions it? Did Robin McKinley, always prone to fairy tales, have to write both Beauty and then much later Rose Daughter? Our unconscious brings us back to these places over and over again. Every time there is a little change because every time a new writer writes, and has a different point of view. Stories changed all the time and were born in dozens of ways around those fires. It's the printed word that has us thinking a story is one thing. Every time a reader reads, or listens, they interpret a different thing today. These are the grist of our lives, so it is no surprise that new material, material yet to be trapped. Yet to be accepted--the new grist--we are the ones who set it to paper, read it, and don't finch. Because we are not in the "real" world, we are allowed to explore concepts most genres lag behind on for years. Feminism and feministic worlds appeared in general fantasy when they still would have been stuck in women's literature if we didn't examine feminism through that particular class of sorcerous priesthood. These days, no one ever blinks when the first three paragraphs introduce you to the fact you will be in a matriarchal society. Sheri S. Tepper's fusion fantasy of fantasy and science fiction taught us around fifty years ago. Her books went on into feminism and from there to general fiction and from there to college classes. But we took her on first. She's ours. Margaret Atwood turned gender so tightly on it's head that general literature co-opted her and then put her in college courses. But we published her. Those feminists and college professors "found" her by hanging with us. If you write a book with gay characters and no magic, you still go in that special section for gay writers. Since I started reading fantasy, and I started in the single digits, if you wrote a book with gay characters and magic you were merely alphabetized with the rest of the fantasy. Mercedes Lackey has made a career of gender bending her characters any which way she can think of. And her career has been good. Because we aren't "real" we get to play with concepts that the "real" world scorns. Yet we are real. We're as real as it gets. We can shift and play and examine more concepts and include more of the "real" world that the "real" world can take because we are the storytellers. Our mythos of heros (those are female in fantasy, too. No heroines these days) face moments when the world challenges and changes them just as their readers meet challenges that change them.

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