Glimmer: Part One

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“Nocterra is extinguished. No light of any sort can be detected there, and so the world has been plunged into perfect dark. Without contrast there is no perspective. There is no conflict and there is no becoming. It is known that life was prepared to exist, but without any driving forces it has been left in a form of perfect stasis.

“There is something else, too. Something deep and dark and hidden, an entity of nothingness that cannot be defined because it blends in perfectly with all the rest of the nothingness that surrounds it. It is what fuels the void there.”

The sentinel paused, and Reylim nodded to signify that she understood. In all honesty, she did not fully understand, but she grasped the main points at least. The land was dark. The people were frozen. It was the fault of that dark entity.

“You will be sent there to reignite the planet and allow the divine struggle to wage there. The light that you provide to it will serve as a catalyst towards virtue, whilst that dark entity will remain to pull towards vice. Evil will propagate, and so heroes will, of necessity, arise. You shall be the first hero, and the mold from which every other will follow. In time, they will be able to wrest the good out of the darkness, and secure their own peace and prosperity.”

Reylim nodded solemnly.

“And you will die.”

Reylim started at that, an involuntary shudder that encompassed her entire body. The sentinel must have noticed, but did not seem surprised or disturbed. Perhaps it was because her eyes held firm, even if now shining slightly, and she nodded solemnly once more.

“How am I meant to proceed?” she queried.

“The sanctity of your quest must be preserved,” the sentinel cautioned. “For it to mean anything, it truly must be your own. But, do not fear that you shall find your way. When you arrive you will know what to do.”

Reylim stared, the wetness in her eyes growing.

“What is it?” the sentinel asked.

“Might I fail?”

For the first time the sentinel dropped his severe tone and became the compassionate mentor Reylim knew. He bent down to lift her chin and stroked his other hand through her hair.

“For the sanctity of your quest, there must be an opposition. And if there is opposition there must be a risk of defeat…. But… you are ready.”

She smiled and blinked, the tears making marks down her cheeks.

“And you will not be alone.”

She furrowed her brow at that but the sentinel did not say any more. Instead he rose and began unbuckling his staff from his side.

“Reylim, daughter of the highest order,” he said impressively, twirling the white rod up and around before catching it firmly in his palms, “with your permission I will send you to the planet Nocterra, that you may bring fire and hope to all that live there.”

Reylim assumed a warrior’s stance and wiped the tears from her face. “I am ready.” She heard herself say the statement, and felt it ring encouragement into her.

“May your Glimmer guide you.”

The ball at the end of the sentinel’s staff glowed brighter and brighter, illuminating Reylim, and even overpowering her image. Her round face, still youthful and freckled lost its dimensions and became a white sheet. The raven tresses that curled under her chin glowed to the point of transparency, and all the loose folds of her ceremonial robes disintegrated into the scorch.

To Reylim, though, it appeared that it was the entire room that was bleeding into the white, every form and figure being consumed until all was pure brightness. Then, slowly, all began to fade in unison, passing through every shade of gray and finally to perfect black. She felt cold stone beneath her bare feet and a stagnant chill in the air. She was somewhere else.

Reylim shivered, unnerved by the stark transformation and unsure of what to do in such pitch emptiness. She brought her hands to her eyes but could not see them. She tossed her head around but could not even make out varying shades of black, only a complete and perfect void. Her lip was trembling and a faint whimper emerged from her lips. It was her first exhale into that strange world and it came out of her throat as a slightly glowing mist. She gasped in delighted surprise, and as her heartbeat quickened she noticed a soft illuminance about her core.

“My Glimmer!” she exclaimed. Though she had felt its stirrings within her at many times this was the first time she had ever been able to perceive it naturally. Perhaps it was faint, but it was hers, and she delighted to see that it was there. Slowly the light was spreading through her veins, each part of her becoming vaguely luminescent. Crouching down to the ground and placing her hand on the surface she was able to just make out the black stone that lay there, smooth and flat and slightly marbled.

In little grooves of the rock she could barely make out some tiny plants pressing out into the air. Her light was not enough to make out their proper color, but she could see that each had three round leaves that swayed ever so slightly whenever her light grew nearer.

So caught up was she with her little discoveries that at first she did not notice the pale gray light inching across the ground towards her until it crept across her outstretched fingers. Snapping her head upwards she tried to make out its source, but could not. The horizon was simply a dull gray in one direction, perfect black everywhere else. As surprised as she was by this development she was more so to find that her own luminescence was now pooling to the edge of her that faced that gray horizon, as if straining to meet it.

“May your Glimmer guide you?” she echoed. “I didn’t realize he was being so literal!”

She began making her way towards the source of light, but found the going very awkward. The sheet of rock she moved across was at times laid over by another slate of stone, a few inches higher than the previous. The first few of this transitions she tripped painfully over, before learning to feel the space in front of her before committing to the next step. It was hardly better than being completely blind, and her progress was incredibly slow.

At some points there were large gouges in the rock, too, depressions that dropped as her whole height and stretched twice as wide across. These she became even more wary of, dropping to all fours and feeling her way down into their recesses and then back up their other side.

With time, though, the going became easier. Slowly, but steadily, the illumination was increasing, by which she knew that she could not be too far from the source of the light. Before long the glow was bright enough to cast shadows. Very long shadows they were, too, strange and stretched forms that tangled together behind her. By this she knew that the source  of light must not be very high above the ground.

Between the clumps of light and shadow she gained a patchwork understanding of the terrain she traveled. It was a very long and flat stretch of land, extending far in every direction. And it was dry. She could see no source of water, and unsurprisingly no signs of animal life. The flora was almost nonexistent as well, only those tiny saplings that snaked out wherever the rock was cracked.

Most important, though, was the light, and soon she became aware of a single orb ahead, a concentrated ball that had to be the source. She was surprised to find that she could look at it directly. Indeed its core barely appeared any brighter than the splash of light laying across her feet. The light had a grayish-blue tint, and it was not perfectly uniform. Even from her distance she could make out little dark marks speckled around its surface, like little craters on a moon.

Of a sudden she realized that her perception of depth had been off, and what she had assumed to be a gigantic ball far in the distance was actually a very small sphere close ahead of her. All at once she was standing underneath it, close enough that she could reach up to touch it if she wanted.

It did not make sense that something so small and dim could have illuminated so great a stretch of land. And yet here it was, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand and gentle enough that she could stare directly at it.

Reylim slowly began to pace around it, taking it in from every angle and contemplating what to do next. Slowly, cautiously, she extended a hand out towards it, and as she did so a low hum emanated from the orb and the portion of it closest to her hand intensified in brightness. She drew her hand back again and it returned to normal.

She blinked a few times, then extended her hand out again, watching the sphere respond to her proximity once more. This time she also became aware that her own inner light was pooling up into her outstretched arm like a fluid, almost bursting out to meet the sphere.

Reylim paused, licked her lips contemplatively, then pressed her hand all the way to meet the orb. A crackling sensation rippled along her arm and small droplets of pure water began to shimmer along her skin. Then they ran down her arm like streams of pure liquid energy. Her own light had a yellowish tint, but it began to blend with the blue from the sphere, combining into a white that encompassed them both.

Reylim.

She was not startled, perhaps because she did not actually hear a voice. She only felt the words.

“Yes?” she responded.

I am glad you found me.

“Me too!” she almost laughed from relief. “It was quite dark here at first and I had started to think it would always be like that. They told me no light could be detected down here.”

It always would have been if you had not come. I had none to shine to.

“Oh…” she said, not really understanding. “And…what are you?”

You do not recognize me? Even though I am already a part of you?

Reylim paused to consider that. “Are you…one of the Glimmers?… My Glimmer?”

There is only one. ‘Your Glimmer,’ as you call it, and all others are reflections of the one.

Reylim’s heart pounded rapidly, and she began to shake. “You are the Glimmer?” she gasped. Of course everyone’s personal Glimmer was the mark of divinity, but this then was the divinity itself!

What you see now is, again, only a reflection. My entity is not constrained to a single place or time on your level. Though a sphere of light may appear here on Nocterra, and another on your own home-world, and still another within yourself, yet all are the same entity.

“Oh…” Reylim said slowly. “That is very different from what I was taught.”

You have been enlightened.

“I suppose I–hey!” she suddenly laughed as she noticed a pun in its declaration, then paused as she wondered if laughing was disrespectful.

I am glad you enjoyed that. Though she still did not hear an actual voice, she felt a warmth and even a mirth with the message.

She smiled, feeling the weight of formality relaxing from her. She allowed herself to pause just to let all of this information to sink in, contemplating what it meant. Glimmer did not try to interrupt her, and she felt certain it did not mind being patient.

“So…” she eventually spoke back up. “You said there was none other here for you to shine to? I was told there were people here, though. You can’t shine to them?”

No, the thought came heavily, I am not within them and thus cannot empower them. At least not now. But with your help that could be changed and I would very much like to shine to all that are here.

“That’s what I have come here for,” she exclaimed excitedly.

It is why you were sent, but is it why you came?

“What do you mean?”

Are you ready, Reylim?

She paused, the sentinel’s claim that she would die on this journey flashing painfully in her mind. Of course Glimmer would already know all of the hesitations in her heart.

“I–don’t know. I’m sorry.”

It is not wrong for you to be afraid.

“I am ready to have a quest, and I am ready to fight to help this land. But I do not know how far I am ready to follow that…” she felt both ashamed to admit it, but also relieved by the honesty.

Reylim, that is your quest and fight. To see how far your heart can go. It is good for you to be unsure, so that your journey may begin. But before we do anything else, I need to you to understand. You are not broken by being afraid. You are all right inside.

A bubble of pride swelled within her and tears moistened her eyes. “Then I am ready to begin.”

*

As I mentioned on Monday, sacrifice is a very powerful element to incorporate in a story. It is something that should not be played with lightly, and I specifically endeavored in this section of the story to give it the gravity it deserved. I think a good way to do that is with a character that does not want to be a sacrifice, that immediately makes their plight all the more pitiful.

One thing that I did intentionally was to spread Reylim’s hesitation to be a sacrifice across a two different moments in the story. In my experience if you want to stress a point, it is more impactful if you repeat it at a few different moments than to spend a long time on it only once. By this way you also create a layering effect, one where you introduce a concept, and then stagger its arc with others that are occurring beneath it.

That idea of layering plots, and particularly of staggering them, is one I’m going to delve into with my next post on Monday. I’ll also point out how I have been using this mechanic for each of  the stories this series: With the Beast, The Heart of Something Wild, and Glimmer. Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Revelate: Cee

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A faint grinding sound. Metal threads running along metal grooves. Small, and close. A faint popping noise now, and then a surge of light. The aperture shrunk to reduce exposure and the light levels dropped, making visual perception possible. He could see.

“Whuuuuuuu—” he hummed in surprise, and his mechanical eyes widened in shock at the sound.

“Are you awake already?”

It was never asleep, only unaware. Those last words were not heard, they merely seemed to rise and fall silently within his inner circuits.

“Whuuuuu—whaaaaa—who?” the automaton finally found proper control of its voicebox and formed the question it had intended.

“Which who?” the operator asked. “Who am I? Or who are you?”

“I and you?”

“Yes, that’s right, that signifies the two of us.”

“I am the ‘you?'”

“Well, yes, as I was using the term.”

“And you are the ‘I?'”

“Yes, very good, you’ve got that quite quickly.”

“I am the ‘you’ and you are the ‘I'” the creation repeated and his eyes began to contract with each iteration of parsing those statements.

“Stop, stop!” the worker cried, realizing what he was doing. “That loop will never terminate, don’t try to reason it out. Here, names will help. The ‘I'” he touched his own chest “is called Kael. The ‘you’ is called Cee.”

“Cee.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“What am I ‘Cee’ for?”

“Because—oh, you mean what is your purpose? Well that’s—”

That is for me to determine, Cee. The strange silent voice returned. What I have ordered your creation for is to obtain a particular animating stimulus. Each operating automaton such as you is made capable of action via these animating stimuli, but there is a special one of these, a heart vessel, which you are to bring to me. Kael has already obtained one such vessel and it provides us local power over life itself, but when we have a pairing of them our dominion will become global. It is your purpose to secure that vessel and bring it here to my nest, and then you will be as Kael.

The disks in the top of Cee’s head whirred as he simultaneously parsed and stored the information, while others were busy installing logic modules that Kael was running to his side. With the two operating together he was able to systematically identify each of the terms for which he had no definitions.

“The ‘animating stimulus’ enables action?”

“Yes, it is central to all the functionality of a being,” Kael replied. “Without it the individual components remains as a lifeless husk.”

“A ‘husk?'”

“That which you were before you had awareness.”

“Then I have an animating stimulus, too?”

“Correct, you did not before, but I’ve just given you one and connected it to your servos.”

“But it is not a heart vessel?”

“No, there are other stimuli as well. You are powered by an iteration of the parasite. He is the voice you’ve been hearing.”

Cee took another few moments to store all of the information away. “And the heart vessel belongs to another, then?”

“Very good,” Kael’s voice was punctuated with a pleasure tone. “That was sequential reasoning you just did there. The heart vessel is in the possession of another being named Ayla. It is bonded to her directly, and so it can only be obtained by her willingly offering it to you.”

Cee raised himself to a seated position, his new gears whirring from the unfamiliar usage. “I will go to her and require it.”

“Well, I ought to impress on you the difficulty of obtaining the heart vessel from Ayla.”

“Why?”

“Well here, open that chest panel for me and let me take your animating parasite out of you.”

Cee began to raise his hands to the access panel on his plated chest but his hands slowed in midair. “And… become a husk?”

“That’s right.”

“No,” he said, a look of surprise passed over his face at his own defiance.

“Why not?”

“It—it—it—” his voicebox repeated the word as his disks hummed wildly, seeking definition for the meaning they meant to express. “It is against my nature,” he finally concluded. “The sequences you have given me are designed for perpetuity and iteration, termination would frustrate their intentions.”

“Exactly. And so it is with Ayla.”

“Then… my given purpose is unachievable.”

Kael achieved it.

“How?”

Kael smiled. “It is necessary for the subject to determine that separation from their animating stimulus is not actually termination of their perpetuity, Ayla must be convinced that the next steps of her sequence continue with her heart vessel in another host.”

Cee blinked as he finished processing these next pieces of information, yet frowned as something did not connect properly. “And this is an actuality for Ayla?”

“No, it is not.”

Cee blinked many more times. “It is not? Yet she must believe it to be so…”

“Yes.”

Cee frowned in deeper confusion. “There is a contradiction here.”

Correct, the nature of this is indeed contradiction. It is an intended one, and it is contradiction that Ayla must accept all while believing that there is no contradiction. Now that you are cognitive of both the contradiction and the truth, you possess the necessary knowledge to implement this change in her.

“But how am I to convince her of contradiction?”

“This is called persuasion. If you suggest the contradiction to Ayla directly she will immediately reject it. You must instead introduce confirmations of truths she already holds to. In so doing you will build up a trust in her that your information is commonly correct. At that point you may introduce small contradictions, ones of such minority that she will find it easier to accept them as more truthful insights of which she had been ignorant. If you are cautious, finally you will have introduced enough contradictions that her previous convictions are pried loose and she will seek a new foundation for her assumptions.”

“A foundation that suggests continuation of her sequences requires surrendering her heart vessel?”

“Exactly. For this notion to strike her as irrefutable all your prior contradictions must be congruent with this new imposed assumption.”

As had become the norm, Cee paused and his disks whirred away at the new information. This new development most of all caused the greatest strain on his new mind, yet he accepted it as it had been explained. “This is complex” he finally admitted.

“It is,” Kael agreed.

It is, the voice agreed.

“Where is Ayla now?”

*

“Kael has been deceiving to you, Ayla,” Cee repeated with a deep heaviness. “It is irrefutable.”

Ayla’s crestfallen face glanced up in pained confusion. Her smooth chrome face glinted against the light as she shook her head in disbelief. “I just don’t see how that could be,” she finally said. “He’s always been so good to us.”

“Indeed,” Cee shrugged, “but only to achieve his own ends.”

“Which are?” she snapped suddenly, the clear meaning being that he’d better be able to prove what he claimed.

“Those parasites. I have shown them to you and what they can do. You also affirmed that he could not provide you any explanation for their presence in so many of the husks?”

She shook her head slowly.

“He suggested that the two of you were creating all of these husks to eventually populate a new world, a notion that you have explained is very wonderful to you. But I have just come from him and he has provided to me alternate intention, that he has been using you to prepare an army, one which he will lead by their dependence on him as the host parasite. He will bind you and eventually extract your heart from you by force.”

“He—what?” tears sprang into her eyes. “Why would he tell you that?”

“Because I function in a role within that plan. You see, I have a parasite, too,” his voice remained, as always, devoid of natural emotion as he tapped the panel on his chest, and revealed a clear cylinder that partly emerged. Inside was a large, green insect, a large cluster of tendrils extending from its body and twisting towards the back of the cylinder into his central cavity, spreading through his body and integrating directly with it.

Ayla backed up against her wall in horror. Certainly she had seen the dormant creatures before, but never one alive and entwined. She looked up to Cee as if seeing him anew for the first time. “You—you—?”

“I know, and I apologize for the shock you must be experiencing.  I am sure you feel I should have told you before, but we were strangers then and I did not yet know what it meant.”

“But if he’s controlling you—”

“He is not. The nature of our connection is that he provides to all other parasites our life-sustenance network, which fact he does use to try and exert a sort of compulsion, but he cannot control the actual functions of the other hosts.”

She eyed him warily, not disbelieving him, but not believing either. He opened his mouth, but then shut it, determining it was better to say nothing until she had first.

“What exactly are you proposing?” she finally asked, and she wasn’t able to keep the suspicion out of her voice.

“There is only course of action to pursue,” he said simply. “It is imperative that he be destroyed, and by his removal all other parasites will similarly perish.”

“All of them?” a look of panic washed over her face. “But what about you?”

“Similarly, I would perish,” his stated flatly.

“But—but I don’t want you to perish” her eyes flashed with constrained emotion.

“My continuation can only be a danger to you.”

“I don’t care about that!” she flustered. “Don’t you understand? I like you!”

Cee cocked his head. “I like you, too, Ayla.”

“Can you?” she asked softly.

“Well—I do, so whether I can or not would seem a moot point.”

She gave a small smile. “I’ll never understand the way you speak.” Cee shrugged. “Now you listen to me, Cee. I can trust your sincerity but still need to see the truth of it for myself, I hope you understand. When and if I do, though, I’m not going to trade you for myself, that’s simply not a valid option. I won’t be destroying anything until we’ve found you a heart vessel to sustain you.”

“You really believe one is still out there?”

“I do.”

“But it would only be able to interface with me if the parasite was integrated with it, which would obviously be a great risk.”

“But a heart vessel would work its way through you just as a parasite has until it could interface with you directly, too. Then the parasite could be removed.”

“A great risk,” Cee repeated.

“We’ll work it out along the way.”

Cee nodded. “Perhaps. In the meanwhile, though, we could still prepare…precautions.”

“Alright, but I’ll keep ownership of them.”

“Of course.” Cee turned to walk away, but then he paused and half-turned back. “And Ayla, I am sorry.” She smiled at the empathetic statement through her tears.

*

“But we have not achieved our purpose yet.” Cee stated in utter bewilderment.

“The purpose is unethical!” Kael roared.

“Unethical?”

“It is wrong. You noticed yourself how surrendering your animating stimulus is against your nature. It is wrong to coerce someone into going against their nature, can’t you grasp that?”

“But she will be willing—”

“Because of a contradiction. You’re a logical being, Cee, surely you can see that actions based upon contradictions cannot effect the intended result.”

“Not in those that believe in the contradiction, but it can for those that perpetuate it.”

Kael stared back in horror, but then his face softened into something like pity. “I know you can’t understand, Cee, it’s not in your nature.”

“I am very understanding.”

“You are very calculating, but there are truths and reasons that can’t be computed.”

Cee’s disks whirred ponderously, there was no rational response to this claim. Still, something seemed out of sorts and he scanned to find the flaw.

“But you have possessed a heart vessel all this while, Kael. Did you not have these ‘truths and reasons’ when we undertook this mission?”

Kael shifted uncomfortably in a way Cee was not accustomed to seeing. “I did in a manner.”

“Yet you have persisted all this while towards an end with which you therefore have fundamental disagreement?”

“And what is your point? That that behavior makes me a contradiction? Very well, I won’t deny it.”

“And you would have me take persuasion from a contradiction?”

Kael’s eyes narrowed. “I was once just like you, Cee. Before I had my heart vessel I had no opposing voice to counter all the logic I churned. I didn’t know about these other things, right and wrong. And when I did get my heart vessel I wasn’t sure what to make of all these conflicts. I’ve been wrestling with it all this time, like those two beasts fighting for the same scrap of flesh. So yes, perhaps I have been a contradiction, but I am not anymore. I have only one purpose now.”

“Perhaps when I have obtained Ayla’s heart vessel I shall understand.”

Kael shivered and his voice dramatically dropped to a very soft tone. “By then you’d wish you didn’t. Then you would know guilt, Cee. No, don’t bother asking me to define it, you couldn’t understand.”

Behind Kael the wall was shimmering, and without looking Cee realized Ayla must be emerging from the terminal, a response to her name being spoken. He paused thoughtfully and then his eyes flashed.

“You are decided then?”

“Yes,” Kael nodded resolutely. “And I’ll give you one chance to stand down. If you can’t help me, then stay at least stay clear. I gave you your awareness, Cee, don’t you doubt that I’ll just as easily take it!”

“You would remove the parasite you gave me?”

“For a start,” Kael’s eyes steeled. The moment seemed to pass over an eternity to Kael, to Cee it was just another moment.

“No, Kael, I cannot let you compromise us.”

It was over before it began. Cee took a step backwards as if anticipating an incoming blow, but instead Kael just reached up to a knob on his own chest and turned it. It remotely activated Cee’s battery module which sparked on his back and then with a loud crack burst into flames. Instinctively Cee flailed his arms backwards to extract the pack, at which point Kael gripped Cee’s chest panel and with expert dexterity unlocked the seal. The parasite container sprung out and rolled across the ground.

“No!” Ayla shrieked, but her voice didn’t register among the two automatons, and as she tried to run forward the cables snaking into her back panels tied her to the wall.

Cee’s eyes seemed to be moving in slow motion, registering the tumbling of the small cylinder full seconds after the actual occurrence. His motor functions were even slower, and as he tried to run to retrieve it he collapsed in a heap, unable to move his foot forward fast enough to catch his inclined center of gravity. Kael shook his head without any words and strode away into the dark.

Ayla was disconnecting some of the shorter-reaching cables from behind her, her fingers fumbling as she tried to identify which cables could be safely removed and which could not. Eventually all that remained attached to her had enough reach for her to rush out to Cee and drop to his side.

Cee’s head moved in small stuttering movements to look at Ayla and he tried to raise a hand to her but it wouldn’t lift the whole way.

“Oh Cee,” Ayla cried “what can I do?!” She looked around frantically looking for an answer that wasn’t there. “I can put the parasite back in.”

“It won’t matter,” Cee said slowly, each word a monumental task. Ayla understood, with his battery pack destroyed the parasite wouldn’t be able to interface with his systems anyway. It wasn’t a self-powering animating stimuli like her heart vessel. Ayla raised her head with a start.

“Cee, you were right,” she said tearfully as his own eyes were growing dimmer and dimmer. “I should have trusted you from the very beginning. But it’s alright, because I—I’m going to save you,” her voice quavered.

“I’m going to save you,” she said again, and this time her voice was more resolute. Cee’s eyes dimmed entirely and his head fell to the side. “I can’t progress in this alone. I—I just can’t. I’m going to bring you back and then you’ll just have to find a way to revive me,” she nodded to reaffirm the notion to herself as she began to unlock her chest panel while simultaneously reaching for the parasite on the ground and opening its jar.

“I don’t know how, but you’ll find a way, I know you will.” A door slid open and her heart vessel gleamed orange and red within her, its quadrants expanding and collapsing as it shone its power into her.

“I trust you, Cee,” she placed the opened parasite jar back into his chest and clicked it into place.

“I love you,” she unfastened her heart and with twitchy, stuttering movements pressed it into the jar, then she collapsed.

The parasite turned and latched itself onto the heart. Several moments passed in silence and then Cee’s body began shifting and alternating, recomposing itself with hidden panels and shedding its old ones. He became a little taller and broader, new gears were activated and spun greater expressiveness into his face. The tone of his copper grew more gray, and bit by bit he took on the appearance of Kael. As awareness flooded through his system he looked down at his chest and saw the heart and parasite united within. He smiled and then closed the jar.

“I’ve got it,” he said.

Good.

***

As I said in my post on Monday, my purpose with this story was to create a character that possessed only a single dimension. Obviously this character was Cee, and he was intended to represent cold deceit and nothing else. Perhaps at times he did and said things that appeared to others to be motivated by genuine compassion, but he only did so when he calculated that the other’s reactions would be for his own gain. Removing emotions from his actions was not actually part of the effort to make him more one-dimensional, though, rather I just felt that manipulation is most often a passionless action and ought to be represented as such. The perpetrator of it may be feeling other emotions on the side, but that which they do is entirely detached from the heart and is purely an act of cold, calculating simplicity. An excellent example of this would be Tony Wendice in Dial M for Murder. He says and displays a wide array of emotions, yet all of it is a mask that he implements as a tool for his calm, sinister schemes.

It was interesting to write my first short from the perspective of the villain, and that’s a subject I’d like to take some time to examine more closely. Please come back on Monday when we consider what it is that makes an antagonist meaningful, but also memorable. Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Tales of the Fairy

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I’ve always been partial to fairy tales and allegories, stories like Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare or Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. In addition to their insightful messages, I find that their structures stimulate the imagination and fill the reader with a sense of wonder. Unfortunately, I very rarely see these stories getting the fanfare they deserve, and I’m sure this is primarily due to how easy it is to take them for granted. Since people have known these stories their whole lives they believe they understand everything there is to know about them. In fact, because most people were first exposed to them as young children, they assume the stories must be childish by nature. You’ll notice they don’t make the same assumption of allegories they come across later in life. For example many consider Plato’s The Cave to be a far more intellectual and cerebral story, simply because they first encountered it in some college level history or philosophy class. This bias is absolutely understandable, but it says more about the reader’s mindset at the time of meeting a story than it does about the story itself.

A common rebuttal might be no, fairy tales really are just more immature as a general rule. Their messages are quaint and unrealistic, and so they can be dismissed out of hand. This perception no doubt would arise from the fact that fairy tales, for the most part, strive to define sharp cutoffs between truth and error, whereas society has trained us to see the world in shades of gray. Isn’t this whole business of “true love conquering all” just too corny and impractical? The real world doesn’t work like that, does it? While I do agree that day-to-day life is far more messy than the idealized environments given in most fairy tales, that’s kind of the point. You see, fairy tales are actually following a tried-and-true method for complex learning, one where core principles can be observed in isolation and then combined and applied to real-life scenarios. We’ll look at an example of this with Snow White in a moment, but for now let me point out that you can see this exact same pattern in the study of harder sciences, such as physics. “Imagine a sphere with perfectly distributed weight accelerating through a complete vacuum” they say, but where in life are you expected to ever find a perfectly uniform sphere and a complete vacuum to throw it through? The theoretical experiment is merely a fairy tale, an allegory, but through working the problem out the physicist is able to identify universal relationships which, when combined together, accurately model our complex world with astonishing accuracy.

Well that’s all well and good, but what if I just don’t like the style of them. I prefer things with more subtlety and nuance. I want characters who change and evolve, fairy tale heroes are always so flat and one-dimensional. Also I want settings that are more imitative of real life so I can relate to them, not all this fantasy imagery. Now to all this I must admit that personal taste is of course subjective, and without a doubt modern tastes are swaying away from fairy tales. However those tastes sway on a pendulum, and it will probably come back around to allegory at some point once it is no longer “cool” to distance oneself from it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these modern tastes, mind you, but there isn’t anything inherently superior in them either. Personally I think there is plenty of space to appreciate idealized fairy tales and nuanced realities, both are just as impressive when pulled off well.

But let’s take a closer look at the notion that fairy tale characters are flawed by being so one-dimensional and that their stories lack multiple layers. For the first point, I’ll just start off by admitting right away that yes, fairy tale characters are usually very flat and lack any meaningful development or arc. Just look at Snow White. She is a princess of the medieval era, surely any real-life adolescent in her shoes would be a complex combination of all the competing influences likely in that climate. Where’s the burden of political strife between neighboring kingdoms, the ignorance inherent in antiquated superstition, the trials of being a woman in a patriarchal society, the formative changes of female adolescence, and on top of all that a healthy dose of mommy-issues to boot? She’s going through all this and her response is to just go sing with birds in the woods?!

Now of course, what these critiques fail to appreciate is that the characters in fairy tales don’t behave in a lifelike manner because they aren’t supposed to. You see, Snow White, as suggested before, isn’t actually a representation of a medieval princess at all, she is a representation of a singular, isolated idea, an intentionally one-dimensional concept. And what is that one-dimension she occupies, what single notion is she designed to represent? Innocence. Adding little character wrinkles and nuances might make her a better person but it would also make her a far worse allegory. The more defined as a character she is, the less universally she is able to represent innocence to us. When we view her as intended by the author, the whole singing in the woods makes a whole lot more sense. Innocence doesn’t care about the matters of court, the injustices of the world, the scheming of enemies, innocence is just, well, innocent.

Snow White’s evil stepmother is just as flat and one-dimensional, too, but she represents something far more sinister. Vanity. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves could be renamed Innocence and Vanity, for the entire story is purely a dissertation on those two subjects and the interplay between the two of them. And what is that interplay? Well, vanity wants something, she is vanity after all, and that desire puts innocence and vanity at odds with one another. For innocence to survive she must flee from where vanity resides and if ever vanity catches up to her she will poison innocence and kill it. The symbolism here is very clear and can be summarized succinctly. Vanity pursues, taints, and finally destroys innocence. This is a somber thought, and one that once understood becomes applicable to many layers of real life. It is in the personal application that we begin to see the complexity inherent in fairy tales.

On the one hand I can use this template and apply it to my relationship with the world. I would say there lies a bright and hopeful innocence inside of me, one that wants to create and live and chase its dreams. Those innocent desires can be threatened, though, when surrounded by a vain world that derides the hopeful’s efforts and crushes their hopes with sharp cynicism and cruel mockery. I need to be careful to keep that world at bay so that I can remain uncorrupted and optimistic.

But then on the other hand, I start to think this template is a model for my relationship with my son. My son is innocent, so full of life and wonder. I am vain, and the same hopes and dreams I just mentioned before are ones I pursue for my own prestige and pleasure, purely selfish desires. If I allow my vanity to rule me I am cautioned by the tale that my son’s innocence will be the price I have to pay. Many a bright child has lost a part of themselves when they were left under-nurtured and unconnected from parents that were too busy pursuing their own dreams.

But looking at both of those prior examples now I start to think that both the innocence and vanity lie within me all at the same time. Sometimes what I do is done with honest intentions and it is innocent, sometimes it is done for selfish gain, and it is vanity. I never have made a choice that was partially divided between the two, it was either one or the other, thus we see that these concepts truly do stand at odds to one another. Each time I make a choice that is driven by vanity, I can feel that good innocence in me diminish a little bit and at times I have driven it down to the point where it seems to die. Sometimes I cannot even recall how to act purely from the heart anymore.

Snow White is a meditation on some very sobering thoughts, and this somberness deserves to be paused on and felt in their full impact. But this isn’t where the story of Snow White ends, is it? After innocence has been destroyed by vanity and left powerless for a time, she ultimately comes back to life. Not by her own power, mind you, but by true love’s first kiss. This is the most important lesson of the entire story. The dual-message of Snow White is first a warning that each of us will feel the death of innocence within us at the hands of vanity, but when this happens the story affirms we can rekindle that innocence anew by an act of pure love. This isn’t as grandiose as the arrival of a charming prince to whisk us away, nor is it going to be able to solve all of our problems, but these moments do exist and they are profound influences in our lives, no matter how small and simple they may be. This is where the parent reconciles with their estranged child, the kind word from a friend that compels an artist to try again, the tearful apology to oneself followed by a commitment to be a better person. This is healing in the midst of sorrow, and through it what was lost can be rekindled, and the potential for a happily ever after can return.

If you start looking at fairy tales with the mindset of finding what core principles the characters represent, you may be surprised at all the profound lessons they have been trying to teach us. Pinocchio is mortal man striving through earth life to become like his real father, Hansel and Gretel are the pairing of both resourcefulness and bravery against all the world, Beauty and the Beast is an examination on the natures of true beauty and true ugliness, and the Little Mermaid is about the infinite value of the human soul.

When we hear these stories as children we feel them connect to something to our inner selves, yet do not have the capacity to understand exactly what it means. We know there is a truth here, but we cannot give voice to what that truth is. When we visit these stories again with the experiences and scars of adult life, we start to give names to the reasons why we loved them.

I’m definitely not ready to craft my own fairy tale that could hope to stand among these giants, however I would like to try at simply creating a character that represents a single, constant idea. That character may not seem like much a person, but I hope to make him represent a real part of a person, and when his thread is combined with others I hope a tapestry of meaning will emerge. Please come back Thursday to meet this first allegory.