The Favored Son: Part Nine

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

Tharol nodded solemnly, then turned and streaked down the hall. He heard the clatter of swords behind him, but he didn’t turn to see whether Master Zhaol would be able to hold the other two back or not. All that mattered now was getting to any of the other students who were still alive.

He raced out of the main abbey doors and across the grounds. There were no more stone columns to launch himself off of, but he pounded his feet into the hard earth and was lifted into the air by a force that far exceeded the amount he had thrust down. He sailed through the night, rose up higher and higher, then he peaked, and as he came down he expanded his Shraying Staff as a net of fine tendrils to slow his descent into something that wouldn’t shatter his legs!

He repeated this process, bounding in great leaps over the tall, silver-green grass, until he came to the entrance of the stone hedge maze. In the dark shadows he could just make out a scuffle taking place at the central archway.

Instead of leaping upwards, this time he propelled himself forward, streaking ahead like a loosed arrow. The dark figures raced up to him and he formed his Shraying Staff into a single-edged sword. He drew it back and swung it forward, trusting his reflexes to guide him, still not sure of his target. One of the bodies turned towards him and started to raise its arm in defense. For a brief moment Tharol saw its outline quaver, like the elders when they were shifting into and out of one another. Without hesitation he angled his already-swinging sword and let it cleave through that body.

The elder fell to the ground, dead.

Tharol’s feet hit the earth and he skidded to a halt in the midst of everyone else. Now he could make everyone out in the soft moonlight. His allies were huddled back-to-back, trying to hold off the remaining elders around them. They were Marvi, Bovik, Meelta, and Yaihs, the only other survivors of the night.

“Hold firm!” Tharol instructed. “I’ll try to throw back their first attack, and then the rest of you–“

“They’re doing it again!” Yaihs shrieked, and he pointed to one of the elders, who also started to quaver around her outline. She lost her features for a moment, and became an obscure mass. Then two figures separated and stepped apart from that mass: the same woman as before and Strawl. No one else emerged, though. Apparently Zhaol had taken Oni down with himself.

“Five of us and four with us,” the five elders counted in unison.

“Yeah, fall back,” Tharol panted, then lurched forward at the elders, swinging his sword wide. They easily sidestepped his blade, and the two elders nearest the stone hedge used the opportunity to reposition themselves in front of the entrance and cut off the youth’s retreat.

“It’s over!” Yaihs cried. His hands clutched the side of his head, panic set in, and then he began to quaver violently.

“He’s being taken!” Bovik yelled.

Tharol looked around frantically. What was he to do? He had pushed himself to places he didn’t even know he was capable of tonight, but even so the situation had slipped more and more out of his control. Now it was lurching out of his grasp entirely!

He roared in desperation and flung himself through the air at the elders blocking the youth’s retreat. The elders there were waiting for him, and no sooner did he touch ground than two swords pierced him, one in the leg and the other in his already-wounded shoulder.

“Just go!” he panted to the others, then thrust his Shraying Staff out as vines, momentarily restraining the elders there. He would hold them down for as long as he could, and after that he could only hope that the youth would find a way to save themselves.

Marvi, Bovik, and Meelta youth dashed past him. Three of the elders followed close behind. Yaihs–who was nearly fully taken over–and the two ensnared elders stayed with Tharol. Tharol regarded those two for a moment. It was Master Strawl in front of him, and Master Umir behind. Each was just about free from Tharol bonds.

Tharol looked down to the ground and panted heavily. There was no catching his breath, though, for his exhaustion went far beyond a shortage of air. His own life was flowing out of his wounds, leaving him closer and closer to darkness with every passing moment. Part of him wanted to just succumb to his wounds…but that would not help his friends.

With a shout Tharol drew back his vines, reforged his Shraying Staff into a sword, and thrust it at Strawl. Strawl blocked the blow, so Tharol immediately flung his sword backwards, extending it as a pole with the hope of catch Umir. A dull thud told him he had succeeded, but Tharol hadn’t hit him so hard as to take him out of action.

Back and forth Tharol flailed. His head snapped from one foe to another, watching for their own strokes and madly thrusting his weapon to parry them. His Shraying Staff changed form a dozen times. Now it was a shield to catch a thrust he couldn’t see properly, now it was a pole to punch through a small gap between Strawl’s arms, now it was a hooked blade to try and snag Umir’s weapon.

Tharol stopped thinking through the transitions anymore. He simply felt the flow of battle, turning and reacting by pure reflex. He moved as if in a dance. And when Yaihs was completely taken over and joined the fray, Tharol merely let his rhythms flow in that new quarry’s direction as well. He called on his limbs for strength and speed, and they responded.

That surprised Tharol. He should be bleeding out right now. He should be growing weaker and fainter, not stronger and surer. So confident did his body feel, that Tharol even drew out his standard blade with his other hand, and wielded it as if there was no hole through his shoulder.

Tharol was too preoccupied with the battle to examine himself closely, too distracted to see how the sections of his Shraying Staff were unfolding from their place on the weapon, and reassembling themselves over his wounds, forming as artificial muscle, tissue, and bone, all just as responsive to his commands as his natural flesh.

What he eventually did notice, though, was that the weapon in his hand was growing smaller and smaller. Eventually so much of the Shraying Staff had dissipated through his body that his weaponized arm had reverted back to its regular flesh and blood, holding nothing more than a small dagger in its palm.

Tharol frowned in confusion, but that moment’s hesitation was more than he could afford. Yais pinned Tharol’s natural sword against a rock. In exactly the same moment Strawl and Umir thrust their blades forward, each driving straight for Tharol’s heart.

But once again Tharol felt his way through. Instinct, more than memory, told him that Strawl and Umir had already cut him with those blades, stained their weapons with his blood, and thus surrendered control of them to him.

He opened his palms, and felt Strawl’s and Umir’s weapons forming in his hands. They were left defenseless. The flung themselves backward, out of reach. Tharol considered which of them to lunge after first, but before he could all three of his foes quavered and dissipated, no doubt merging back with the other elders pursuing Marvi, Bovik, and Meelta.

And so now Tharol must chase as well! He turned to the stone hedge entrance and rushed onward. Down the first pathway, on to the next, and to the next and the next. He beat on through the maze, faster than he had ever moved through it before.

As always, the walls began spinning in reaction to his every move. And at speeds like these, there was very little time to react to their erratic pivots. So once again, Tharol relied on instinct, dodging the extruded walls without a single thought, leaping over the stone risers by reflex, ducking under the popping-out ceilings on whim.

He thrust out one of his newly acquired Shraying Staff limbs as a claw, gripped the top of the stone hedge, and flung himself high into the air. The stone tapestry whirled up with him, continuing to surround and spring obstacles on every hand. He converted his other Shraying Staff into a claw as well, and used both to grip the tumbling stone and dodge and weave his way through.

Then he reached the height of his ascent and angled back downwards. The stone continued to warp around him, and now he formed his Shraying Staff arms into thin tendrils, scraping the edges of the stone as he slid down their chute. Every now and again a sudden barrier sprung at his feet, and he used those tendrils to seize on the rock and jerk himself to the left or right as needed.

Every now and then a stray block caught him. Every now and then he took each blow and tumbled into the dirt. But he simply rolled back onto his feet and continued on as if nothing had happened. It didn’t matter how hard it hurt, he had to keep moving forward.

A shout in the distance rang out, and he heaved himself forward, willing his body to find every small crevice and crack to slip through at only a moment’s notice. One wall spun out of his way, and beyond it he saw Meelta, collapsing with a sword through her heart. Bovik and Marvi were just beyond, and the elders were pressing in from every direction.

With a shout Tharol flung himself forward again, threw his Shraying Staff arms out as a protective web. They formed two half-circles that encompassed him and his companions, closing them all together in a thick-wired ball. The elders hacked at his netted barrier, but Tharol wasn’t sticking around to fight with them. With another cry he flung himself forward again, carrying all three of them forward through the maze.

Blades and walls and broken tendrils filled the air around them. It seemed a blow hit them from every direction at once, and it was only by sheer grit that they forced their way onward.

“We have to be near to the centrifuge now!” Bovik cried.

“It doesn’t matter,” Marvi wailed. “We won’t be able to figure out how to get in with them right on us.”

It was true. There wasn’t time to wait and puzzle out the right way in. They would be caught just outside of their sanctuary and have to take a last stand against the elders and Yaihs.

Or…not.

For right then each of the elders raised their hands forward, sent out a beam of light, and the walls directly ahead exploded into pieces, exposing the centrifuge beyond.

“They can do that?!” Bovik said in shock as the three bounded into the central clearing.

Tharol drew back his protective cage, and formed his arms back into blades. “They’re proving to us that there’s no sense in running anymore, and they’re right. We stand and fight here. Maybe we all die, or maybe one of us gets out alive. Either way we–“

A strange clicking noise from behind distracted Tharol in the middle of his sentence. Slowly he turned, and saw there the artificial creature that had been forming over the past weeks, the one he had spoken about to Reis before all this nightmare had begun.

It was moving now, and its head was complete. It stood nearly as tall as Tharol did on long, spindly legs. It had a horizontal body, angular features, and a head that was long, flat, and alert. It was pointing that head towards the elders.

“Um,” Tharol started to say, but then the artificial creature burst forward like a shot. It crossed ten yards with each bound, closing the distance to the elders in no time at all. The elders threw their Shraying Staffs up as shields, but the creature cleaved through them instantaneously. Its next strokes slew each foe instantaneously.

Just like that…the massacre was over. The artificial creature looked back at the youth, then turned and bounded deeper into the maze, lost to the sprawling pathways beyond. A deep sigh seemed to emanate from those dark chambers, the unclenching of a prolonged strain.

Tharol, Bovik, and Marvi stood there in silence for a long, long while. At first they stared blankly at the blasted hole in the centrifuge wall and at the corpses of their former masters and fellow student, Yaihs. Then they let their eyes silently roam over the broken columns and moss-covered boulders that were scattered all around. Everything was quiet and very, very still. There wasn’t even the sound of crickets or wind.

It was Bovik who finally spoke.

“What do we do now?”

With the spell of silence broken the other two youth came back to the present moment.

“There’s nothing,” Marvi shook her head. “Everyone’s gone.”

“We’re not,” Tharol countered. “We’re still here.”

“We’re three people! We were supposed to be an Order, we were supposed to carry the torch on. But–but–“

“But that flame’s gone out,” Bovik finished and Marvi nodded.

“That’s true,” Tharol nodded. “It’s gone now, and it isn’t coming back. Not for a long, long time at least…and maybe not ever.”

They all stood another moment in silence.

“So let’s go do something else,” Tharol said with conviction.

“What?” Bovik asked.

“Something. I don’t know. But let’s go out there. First we’ll just worry about surviving, and later, when we know more, we’ll build something new.”

“Of course you would say that,” Marvi frowned in contempt. “Leave this all behind and start something new, because you never did like the Order!”

“That’s not true. I loved the Order. It confounded me, but I loved it. Now, though, I think it was an imperfect structure built on a perfect idea. And for right now I want to get to know that underlying idea better. I can’t do anything more until I understand that. There’s so much we don’t know.”

Marvi pursed her lips and thought for a while before responding. “What about the traitor?”

“The what?”

“The traitor that Reis was telling us about. He believed it was you.”

Tharol shook his head. “I’m sorry to say this, but Reis was a fool.”

Marvi whimpered.

“It’s true. And the fact is, I think he was the traitor that his let medallion was warning of. Not knowingly so, but his fear-mongering and personal insecurities opened the door wide for tonight’s disaster. There’s no reason why twelve of us should have been killed tonight!”

“Marvi, it’s true–” Bovik started, but she held up her hand to stop him.

“Can you just–let me be? I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

Tharol and Bovik made eye contact and nodded. She clearly needed some time and space to mourn.

“Well…so what do we do now?” Bovik returned to his initial question.

Tharol turned from the hole in the wall, and looked over the top of the stone hedge maze to the sprawling valley outside of the abbey walls.

“I need to get away from tonight. I think we all do. My next step is out there…. Beyond that, I’ll figure it out as I go.”

“I’ll come with you,” Bovik agreed.

Marvi didn’t say anything, but nodded.

“Do you think the Invasion is happening out there, too?” Bovik asked.

“I expect so. But–at least we’re still together. Maybe we can find some more survivors, too.”

And then the three of them walked out into the night.

Well, there we are, all finished with The Favored Son. It’s been quite the journey, and quite the sprint to the finish! To be perfectly honest, I was starting to hate this story in the middle, because I had no idea where I was going with it. But here at the end I feel I finally settled into an understanding, things came together nicely, and I am quite pleased to add it to my collection.

Speaking of my collection, The Favored Son represents a special milestone for my short stories, and I’m going to do a little something to commemorate that. Come back on Monday where I’ll explain what I mean, and until then have a wonderful weekend!

Rebirth

It’s always interesting to meet an old friend after years apart. Sometimes the person has changed entirely, and it feels like you’re new acquaintances all over again, meeting for the very first time. You’re trying to figure out who this person has transformed into, and perhaps a bit sad that the old friend is gone forever. One of the most common fears we have is the fear of change after all.

But at the same time, the worst fate I could think of is to have a life of never changing or evolving. I wouldn’t want a friend, someone that I care about, to be trapped in some sort of Peter Pan situation of never progressing. I would rather want for each of us to be moving forward to bigger and better things, improving ourselves  and making accomplishments that we can be proud of. It’s been said that the day you stop learning is the day you start dying after all.

I remember the first time my family moved. I was about fifteen and I felt deeply divided between excitement for the new possibilities, and sorrow at the loss of all I had known. Having conflicting feelings for the same situation is inherently interesting, and naturally invites creative exploration. No wonder then that the idea of “change” has always been so central to literature.

Stories have long dedicated themselves to examining the phenomenon of change from every possible angle. There are stories where the change is quiet and subtle. Consider the novel Mrs. Dalloway, where Richard decides that he wants to tell his wife that he loves her, though it has been years since he has done so. And then, of course, there are times when the change is quite sudden and dramatic, such as from the very same novel when Septimus decides he will die rather than surrender his private soul.

Most stories are a combination of both subtle and dramatic changes, but obviously the latter grab our attention more. Dramatic changes can be recognized as the momentous occasions which serve as inflection points to the entire narrative, the bends in the river that shape the way it flows.

But we can limit our scope even further. There is a subcategory of changes in literature where one character ceases to be the person that they were, and thus becomes someone else. This sort of total transformation can be found in even the most ancient of fairy tales and religious texts, across all different cultures, and in a great number of stories of today.

It is interesting to note that these sorts of rebirths are very often composed with the exact same symbols and forms as one another. It seems that deep in our psyche we all believe that transformations such as these tend to come with specific trappings. There are four of them in all: an element of a loss, a calling, a mask, and a return.

The Loss)

Loss is inherent in transformation. Subtle changes might allow for a character to remain essentially the same, but transformation demands that something is let go. For every butterfly that emerges from a chrysalis there must come first the loss of a caterpillar. The loss is always something very significant too, something that is often taken against the main character’s wishes

Think of Luke Skywalker, Simba, and Bruce Wayne. Each lose their parent figures at the beginning of their tales. Edmond Dantes loses his freedom after being wrongfully accused. Paul, the Apostle, loses his sight on the road to Damascus.

Growth through pain seems to be one of the universal truths of our world, so it makes sense that it would accompany the transformations we write into our stories. For a character to have space for their new identity, then something about their current identity has to be taken out first. Now there is a hole inside of them, and what follows depends on how that hole is handled.

If the hole remains vacant then the character becomes a hollow shell of who they once were, an old husk that never recovers from their wounds. If it is filled with bitterness then they become a villain, broken and shaped by a cruel world. If it is filled with something noble, then they become the hero. It will only be filled with something noble, though, if that something noble calls out to them.

The Calling)

It is always right when our character hits bottom that something comes along to call them to something higher. This is one of the few times in a story where perfect timing will not be accused of being a coincidence. This isn’t dumb luck, you see, this is fate. The loss only happened because the calling was coming, or else the calling only came because the loss summoned it. Either way readers naturally accept that there is a cause-and-effect relationship here, and so they do not question the convenience of it.

And so Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke to learn the ways of the Force, the ghost of Simba’s Father reminds him of who he once was, Bruce Wayne commits himself to fighting injustice, Edmond is given both an education and a secret by Faria, and Paul hears the voice of the Lord.

The presence of callings in our lives means that our loss is not merely suffering for suffering’s sake. It suggests that our pain might be happening for a reason, that there is a purpose to it all. It takes the pessimism out of the pain and gives us hope for a healing.

As I mentioned above, the character that does not find their calling grows cold and cynical, they come to see the world as a place of random chance and inherent injustice. However there is also the possibility that the calling did come, but it was ignored. The calling will never be to do something easy, it has to require an entirely new way of life after all.

To the character willing to answer the call things will never be the same again. The calling shrouds that sufferer in some new, and now the transformation truly begins.

The Mask)

In real life it is commonly observed that after one has gone through an experience of personal transformation they somehow now “look different.” Exactly what has changed might be hard to pin down: a light in the eyes perhaps, a glow in the face, a subtle altering of the complexion. Some sort of ethereal mask seems to have lowered over their face, a change that is sensed more than seen.

In stories these changes are usually made far more explicit. Luke dons the robes and weapon of a Jedi Knight, Simba grows into an adult with a full mane, Bruce Wayne crafts a cape and cowl, Edmond assumes the title of a Count, and Saul begins to call himself Paul. They all now have a new identity, an image, or a name. It is something that makes their change tangible and quantifiable. Other characters and the audience can see the difference in them and know they are dealing with someone new.

We humans are remarkably capable of perceiving things that are invisible, imaginary, and internal. Even so, we usually seek for ways to bring physical representation to them all. We have our crucifixes, our sobriety chips, our gold medals, our college diplomas, and our wedding rings. None of these add directly to our faith, our strength, our intelligence, or our commitment, but they can be useful as reminders of them. Sometimes people fail to use their greater strength simply because they forget that they even have it. Similarly a hero in story often uses their mask to remind themselves of their new identity, and to steel their fortitude whenever the validity of their calling is challenged.

The Return)

Finally, the full effect of a transformation can only be fully appreciated after the character is compared to what they were before. This might be as simple as having them come home to their humble beginnings for all their old friends to gape in awe at them, or else it might be to revisit an old temptation that they previously succumbed to. Either way the change is made evident in how the familiar situation now has an unfamiliar outcome.

Luke saves the friends that initially thought so little of him, Simba goes home to face the uncle that drove him away, Bruce brings justice to the man who unjustly killed his parents, Edmond exacts both revenge and mercy upon those who misused him, Paul joins the disciples and suffers the same way he once made them suffer.

It is the return that proves to us that the change is real. Until we are put back into the same scenario we might believe that it is only our surroundings which have been altered, and not our core natures. Returning to the same state, then, is the control which proves the transformation has been internal and not external. We truly are something new.

Thus far in Power Suit Racing I have incorporated the first phases of transformation in Taki’s tale. It began with him losing the love of his life, and with it his entire sense of purpose and identity. He wandered with a hole, unsure of his identity when he heard a voice calling out with an invitation. That invitation was to pursue a new venture, one that non-coincidentally involved donning a suit which altered his appearance.

But as we’ll see in my next post, sometimes when one puts on the garb of the future they find it doesn’t quite fit yet. Thursday’s entry will show the process by which he is able to fill the measure of this new person that he is becoming. And then, a week later, we will see the return where he will be compared to the person he used to be. I’ll see you then.

Go on an Adventure

Last week I wrote a post about how some of the most popular stories are ones that introduce the reader to a familiar and relatable character, and with them then journey into increasingly fantastic and strange corners of the world. I presented the notion that part of this structure’s success is due to the way it has a gratifying pace and aesthetic inherent in its design. Beyond this, though, it is also effective because it happens to be a subset of one of the most powerful genres of stories, one that is designed to resonate with the very soul of a reader. And that genre is adventure stories.

The scope of this genre is immediately apparent: adventure. To adventure is to experience something new, especially something exciting, often entailing some risk along the way. Adventure stories that fall under this definition have been around for a long, long time, dating back at least as far as the Epic of Gilgamesh, estimated to have been written around 2100 BC.  Within this broad genre are several sub-genres. There is the epic, the hero’s journey, the treasure hunt, the heist, the superhero romp, the space exploration, and more. There is magic and tech, good guys and bad guys, danger and fun. Adventure stories dominate the box office in the film industry, the bestseller lists in the book industry, and game of the year awards in the video game industry. A single popular adventure story in any of these media types can make billions of dollars in revenue, and dozens of popular new adventure stories are released each year.

So what is so captivating about the adventure story? There’s a pessimistic answer, I suppose. It could be argued that this phenomenon can be chalked up to nothing more than unhealthy escapism. Humans are unwilling to face the realities of life and so they numb out their emotions and escape their responsibilities with mindless pulp. Do I believe that this happens? Of course. There are plenty of shallow adventure stories, and they definitely get used for self-medicating. Often these sorts of films, books, or games will be huge when they first come out, only to be forgotten a year later when the next iteration releases. But I do not feel this describes the reality of every adventure story, once-in-a-while there comes along a true adventure, and those are timeless.

True adventures are meaningful. They garner an ongoing passion, which cannot be achieved just by being stylish or trendy or even “fun.” This sort of deep connection to the audience can only come as a result of positive, healthy stimuli, the sort that makes us want to be better people for having taken part in the journey. These stories speak to a particular facet of our human condition, the part that, not surprisingly, craves adventure in our real lives.

The fact is each one of us has, at times, looked at who we are and found it wanting. We feel that gap in our souls and it perpetually gnaws at us. We all seem to know a few who are really “living the dream,” but the majority of us feel that we aren’t charting the courses we were meant to blaze. The true adventure story speaks to that inner yearning, and specifically to three major desires that every person has.

1)

No one wants their story to be that they stayed the same for the rest of their lives. Granted, stagnation is comfortable, it doesn’t require the pain of overcoming barriers, it undoubtedly carries the least risk, and for all these reasons it is the most efficient way to live. It also destroys us. If all our lives we are going to remain the same person that we are right now, then we’ve already reached the end of our story with scores of blank pages left over. Deep down we know that’s unacceptable.

One adventure story that has always resonated with me is It’s a Wonderful Life, where our main character George Bailey faces this exact dilemma. He doesn’t want to be stagnant in life but he feels that he is. He knows he has unsung songs and unsought adventures and it is making him bitter and regretful. When fate does shake up his monotonous life, though, he shrinks and cowers from it. It’s not until he has an escapade with his guardian angel that he realizes this predicament is also an invitation to finally live with passion. He doesn’t end up with a life that looks very different from the outside, but it is clear he has changed internally and the family and friends that he previously took for granted are now the very adventure he always craved.

Another tale I love is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In it we find two slaves, Tom and Eliza, who both live under a beneficial master and are very comfortable with that arrangement. Neither of them seeks to upset the order of things, though clearly there is so much more life they could be living if their situation were changed. Once again fate intervenes, and Tom is passed through a variety of different masters, ending on a cruel Simon Legree with whom he engages in a great moral battle, one in which he ultimately triumphs. Meanwhile, Eliza saves her son by fleeing with him to Canada and freedom, hunted by slave-catchers the entire way. Each character evolves through the course of their respective adventures. Tom was good, but by the end he is a literal savior of souls, redeeming the downtrodden from the clutches of evil. Eliza was intelligent and kind, but through her journey she becomes a lioness, accomplishing incredible feats and facing down danger to escape her would-be captors.

There is a lot of resistance to committing to an adventure, because by definition a true adventure needs to be something hard. I once was told that the problem with so many of us is that we don’t try anything until we’re 90% sure of success. Do we really want our story to be that we spent our lives accomplishing the things that were obvious and likely? There’s nothing interesting in that.

2)

No one wants their story to be that they were beaten by their demons or weaknesses. Another of the gaps we feel in our lives is that we aren’t as good or nice or honest of a person we feel we should be. We might have vices that we are ashamed of or weaknesses that we feel cripple our success, and we are afraid of being consumed by these shortcomings. There is another genre of story, opposite to the adventure, one that speaks to this fear. The Greek Tragedy was designed to follow a very specific format, one that captures the demise of a hero. This hero was always highly relatable to the audience, a generally good but imperfect being, and one that has great potential. Over the course of the story, however, their success is snatched away as a direct result of their common human failing, culminating in a tragic downfall. This pattern was designed to provide a cautionary tale for all those who share this same flaw and do not correct it. Achilles is baptized in purifying water, but not entirely. There remains a single part of him that is holding back and you can be sure his enemies find that weakness and destroy him by it.

But what if things went the other way? What if we identified our failings and we corrected them? Any true adventure story will feature a main character that changes and improves over the course of the tale, providing hope to each of us that there is a better life available if we can do the same, and thus avoid our tragedy.

We see this in Groundhog Day and A Christmas Carol. Each introduces us to mean and bitter men, but men that we see strokes of ourselves within. We’ve all had times of being rude to others and prioritizing worldly wealths over human connection. We do not doubt that each of these flawed humans is on the way to their miserable destruction, but then, once again, fate intervenes and they are taken away on an adventure. Phil Connors learns to care for others and so does Ebenezer Scrooge. Once again, it is not an easy journey for them, if it had been the audience would reject it because real life obstacles we face are not trivial. If they were we would already have overcome them. And so the audience doesn’t want to be told that going on their self-improving adventure is easy, just that it is possible and worth it.

3)

No one wants their story to be forgotten. Just as how a good book stays with us for years, people want to be remembered. And how are they are to be remembered if not by some sort of story? “Here is your Great-Aunt Agnes, let me tell you about this one time when she…” Our heritage is only going to last if we went somewhere, did something, or became someone. Went, did, became: a journey, a quest, a calling. We all feel that there is a hero inside of us, someone who is made of greatness. And that hero was meant to do something. Not just any old thing, either, we each want it to be something that “only I could do.” We want to have our story validate that we had a purpose in life, a reason for being here.

There’s a game I always come back to called To the Moon. In it, a man named Johnny has reached the end of his life and is filled with great melancholy. He has an overwhelming sense that he has not measured up or been true to his potential, and now there is little time to change that. On his deathbed he is granted a final opportunity to go on one more adventure, and in the course of it he is able to find a promise he had forgotten, and with it a core part of himself that had long lain dormant. He maintains his promise, and for a moment becomes the hero he was meant to be, in the process leaving a legacy to be remembered by.

The Princess Bride is another wonderful example of timeless remembrance. Buttercup and Wesley are introduced as thoroughly ordinary people, ones that are of little import to the world. They develop a love for each other, though, and it is the beginning of a romance that is anything but ordinary. Like with all of these examples, fate once again intervenes, this time to separate the two. Though divided by miles and years, neither forgets the other or the love they share. To return to each other requires them to become more than what they were, and it is their burning desire which forges them into the heroes they were born to be, fighting the world for the right to be together again and leaving legends in their wake.

As you might have guessed the stories I mentioned are some of the true adventures which have meant the most to me. To the Moon, A Christmas Carol, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Princess Bride, and Groundhog Day have each made me feel a better person for having experienced them, and each has urged me in a different way to seize my own life adventure. All of us would likely have a different list for what stories should be included in that personally-meaningful true adventure category. I would encourage you to see which ones have stayed with you over the years and ask what they are trying to tell you about your own life. If you’re comfortable sharing your findings I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I think a common trend we’d find is that the stories that stick with us are not just ones where we are living out our adventures vicariously through the characters, but where our hearts were stirred and we were pushed closer to taking that fateful step ourselves, thus the tales become a real force for good in our lives.

Over these last several weeks I have been trying to craft short adventure stories of my own. Both To the Great Infinite and Imposed Will have featured characters who venture into the unknown to try and secure a better world for themselves, and grow personally as a part of that endeavor. On Thursday I will wrap up Imposed Will and bring a close to this adventure series. I look forward to journeying with you to a new series next week.