*I am not actually late with this post. Okay, I am, but the reason is that, being rather sick, by nighttime I'm stumbling around in a fog, which means that I posted this not on MGC but on an OLD abandonned blog of mine on blogspot. ARGH*
Lately, partly because I’ve been trying to kick off whatever bug has got me since November – it keeps coming back – and because when I’m tired or sick I can’t read fiction, I’ve been reading books on the proto- Indo-European culture.
Now, you go back long enough and it’s like reading tea leaves. Oh, okay, not tea leaves. Horse’s teeth and grave sculptures. However, through all this, it is possible to get a picture – vague and confusing though it is – of our most distant ancestors.
I’m not going to play psychologist, but themes emerge from what we can salvage of the very oldest tales: sacrifice and loss, love – often not eros, but agape or family love – blood and death.
Pratchett in a lot of his books says if you go back far enough you find that almost all the old stories are about the blood. I’ll add to that. The oldest stories are about blood, death and rebirth.
I think this is part of the reason that vampires are so popular, but that’s a side line I cannot pursue right now.
One of the things that surprised me is how the themes that echoed through the oldest fragments of legends we can find are the same themes we find again and again in science fiction and fantasy: twins; quests; bringing something magical/healing back; finding who you are.
Part of this, I think, is that humans are not like other animals creatures that live in a certain way because of instinct. Humans are domesticated creatures, as much as our dogs or our cats, but we domesticate ourselves. We are at the same time Fluffy who wants to pee on the sofa and the human who stands over her and tells her no. Only the human is often embodied in a myth.
Of course a lot of us believers get a lot of our morality from religion. But that’s an overt morality. It declares itself. It says “this you shall do” and “this you shall not do” and “here you shall go” and “here you shall not.”
Useful, of course, but it’s rather like the choke chain or the owner literally standing over you to prevent you from going on the sofa. The other part is more important – you don’t go on the sofa because you know you shouldn’t. You know you shouldn’t, because you’ve internalized the experience.
I was thinking about this and it all got tied up with different generations of science fiction and fantasy. Our myths are very much part of what we think the world should be. And what we think the world should be is both fed by and feeds the myth in our head that keeps us acting the way we think humans should act.
As I said, you find a lot of the themes of our oldest myths in fantastic literature... Until, that is fantastic literature decided its more important part was not dreaming of the future – or fantastic lands – but the last part of its name “literature”. It decided its most important function was to astonish the world. In doing so, it lost track of that “what humanity should be” and of reaching back into the sense of what humanity – or our branch of it – was and has been since we’ve had words and long before we had writing.
And so the self sacrifice was lost, and the discovery, and the sense of wonder. Instead we got either purposeless rambles, or people telling us life was brutish and nasty and then you die.
This is I think, an attempt to “count coup”, i.e. to claim to be superior to the vast uncounted multitude of our ancestors who first clawed their way to civilization and to an idea that there might be something better hereafter. And I think in that attempt we – as writers and as a civilization – only make ourselves mental and moral midgets.
Do you ever get to the end of a short story – or worse, a novel – and go “and your point was?” Worse, do you ever get to the end of a short story – or worse a novel – and go “Uh... I followed these characters around for this long for you to either twist them beyond recognition and/or kill them? Do you ever get the impression the author veered away from the ending that could and should have been to go in search of a glitter in the weeds of disappointment and bitterness?
No, I’m not saying that happy endings or happy-go-lucky stories are the only ones worth telling. Why in heck would I? If you’ve read me, you know well that’s not my attitude. But even in the nastiest of settings it is possible to be caring, to be a hero, to fight on. Even in difficult – particularly in difficult situations – it is important to remind others of what it means to be human.
Why would a bad ending be considered more mature or deeper than a happy one, or one where the character acted honorably?