Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Mask of Tamrel: Dark Fantasy and Beyond

As reader responses to the Mask of Tamrel have been trickling in (thanks all who have read it and provided their insights and interpretations) one thing seems quite clear: it's readily classifiable as dark fantasy. Some people have been disturbed by aspects of the work, which is incredibly gratifying; the author is in many ways a humble beast, and any emotion or vision I can stir is a vast compliment. I can say this: Thevin in a bleak world, teetering on the verge of transformation or demise. Its people are controlled like petty chattel. Currents of destruction are gathering, disruptions in the spiraling order. This will be explored more in The House of Madame Heretia, the second book in the series; betrayals and alliances are made, and the darkness gathers. Kelrob's world continues to crumble so that it may be rebuilt. I will say no more.

I find the interplay between darkness and divinity to be a very generative inspiration. My reading veers towards horror to fantasy to science-fiction to magical realism and back around the bend; what we assimilate gets ground up inside of us, gets recombined and reinterpreted and retransmitted. The concepts for the Magistricide came to me in segments over years - the worldbuilding caught up with the conceptualizations, which themselves evolved as the framework of Thevin solidified. Kelrob and Jacobson, characters that I'd first developed at 13, suddenly had a long, arduous adventure ahead of them, in which much was broken down and either lost or remade. It got me to thinking about narratives of degeneration and regeneration, of which Tolkien was exceedingly fond; I remember reading the final lines of The Silmarillion for the first time and having to digest them (don't worry, no major spoilers):

"Here ends the SILMARILLION. If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwë and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos."

The decline and stagnation of cultures, the loss of craft, the decent into degeneracy of a fair race are all classic fantastical tropes, and intrigue the human imagination.  We feel ourselves to come from fairer times and finer ages, aspire to reattain the wisdom lost in the Library of Alexandria and mourn the fate of the crumbling papyrus scrolls sealed in the ash of Vesuvius. We are bound on an evolution that encompasses the deepest and most 'primitive' of mystical wisdoms, and so we seek in the past what he strive to manifest in the future. This is where fantasy and science-fiction come into play: the fantasist wields symbols and speaks in riddles, constantly beckoning the reader forward into an unending mutation of possibility. Things are extrapolated, things are warped, things are bent out of all discernible shape and recombined into images simultaneously familiar and foreign. In the process, reality (if we may so favorably term waking consciousness) is also changed; the power of visions to impact everyday life is reflected in every object crafted, in every flight of fancy that transports us away from the harsh practicalities of life. We long for escape from the cage of the NOW, of the HERE, long to shed our flesh wholesale and inhabit other worlds and other people. And always, it seems, something lost must be regained, or defeated, or revered, or banished from the world forever. Decay and darkness allow light and hope, but always the promise of evolution implies eventual devolution - without monstrous gods and black magicians and spirits thirsting for human blood we would have no work for our heroes, who are certainly often hard put by. Overcoming Entropy is another recurring theme of fantasy, though constant Order is also often the villain. Good can become evil and evil good in a flash.

What does all this mean? It means a good book is a reality-transformer. It means we yearn for times lost and times to come. It means we are fascinated by the stirrings in the dark as well as the all-consuming wholesomeness of the light. The Mask of Tamrel is a dark book; I made it that way. It is also, I hope, shot through with light. Things are going to get bumpy in the next book, and bumpier still beyond that, but I'm delighted that I get to share the teeth-jarring ride with all those who are reading along. Kelrob and Jacobson have much more to do, as do I. Please join us on the journey.

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