Monday, March 09, 2009

A Questing We Will Go

I've been thinking some more about that question asked during a panel at ConDFW, about whether there's room for myth and legend in a world where the things of myth and legend are real. For a while, I was wondering why you'd tell stories about things that really existed, and then I remembered that just because my entertainment mostly seems to involve magic, dragons, spaceships and killer robots (and mentally inserting killer robots into stories without them), it doesn't mean that's all there is. Things like police officers, detectives, cowboys, spies, soldiers and doctors really exist, and yet our culture tells a lot of stories about them. The story versions are generally larger than life, do things that their real-world counterparts probably never would and may even be in more danger than they would be in reality, but the reality doesn't keep us from enjoying the stories. So, I would imagine that if you lived in a world where dragons and wizards were real, you might still have stories about dragons and wizards, but the wizards in the stories might be more powerful and the dragons might be more clever. How much you expect the real ones to be like the ones in stories might depend on your exposure to the real thing or to people who know about the real thing.

On a somewhat related note (really, this was all connected in my head), I've been pondering the nature of the quest story, since The Nagging Idea includes a quest-type plot. There do seem to be some fantasy cliches/cultural expectations about quest stories. For one thing, there usually needs to be some kind of questing party, usually made up of a variety of people who each have some area of expertise, and often representing all the races in that society. There has to be the underdog hero required to go on the quest, the wizard who sends him on the quest, an elf, a dwarf, someone big and possibly giant-like, and some knight or king in disguise as just some traveling guy. I'm sure a lot of that is building on the Tolkien model, or else it comes from D&D, where you get that mixed-race party because of what the players choose to be (and that draws from Tolkien). I'm not going for that kind of questing party because this isn't an elf-and-dwarf kind of world, and I also want to avoid a scenario that sounds like the set-up for a joke (A wizard, an elf and a dwarf walk into a tavern ...).

But if you found yourself forced to go on a quest, and you'd heard enough quest stories, you'd probably feel like Step One would be to try to form a questing party to help you, and you'd be somewhat disappointed to go to a tavern and not find a mysterious stranger lurking in the corner, listening to your tale with a little too much interest. You'd also probably find yourself on the lookout for an odd assortment of characters to pop up along the road, and you'd feel a bit let down if after you showed them kindness they didn't immediately insist on joining your quest.

The challenge I'm seeing as I get ready to plunge into this book is that I don't want a questing party. Not only do I want to avoid the cliches, but this is more of a solitary ordeal kind of quest involving someone who wouldn't ask for help and who needs to have some stubbornness beat out of her from struggling to go it alone. The problem there is that there's no one to talk to, and without dialogue, a book gets boring. So, how do you convey that solitary, inward journey without pages and pages of narration? I think I have a few ideas, but I'll have to see how they work when I get there.

Back to the killer robot thing, I've just realized that I will be in New York for the two-hour series finale of Battlestar Galactica. I really hope the VCR works and there are no power outages. I don't remember if this hotel has Sci Fi. I know they had BBCAmerica the last time I stayed there, and that's even more rare for hotel TV than Sci Fi, but you never know. I don't suppose this is the kind of show where people might gather for a public viewing party, but then again, this is New York, so there's no telling. If worse comes to worst, I think they have full episodes on the web (legally, even), though I hate watching TV shows on the laptop screen.

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