by Grant Smuts
“No one is accountable for existing at all, or for being constituted as he is, or for living in the circumstances and surroundings in which he lives. The fatality of his nature cannot be disentangled from the fatality of all that which has been and will be. He is not the result of a special design, a will, a purpose; he is not the subject of an attempt to attain an ‘ideal of man’ or an ‘ideal of happiness’ or an ‘ideal of morality’—it is absurd to want to hand over his nature to some purpose or other. We invented the concept ‘purpose’: in reality purpose is lacking.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
What I dreamed of, all those years ago, what eventually became ‘Where the Gods Lie Dreaming,’ was so very different. But then, so was I. As I’m in the middle of penning a new story set in Amarith, I reflect on a name I’ve carried with me for years:
He was originally going to be the main protagonist in my first book… but because my vision of him changed as I had changed, he no longer fit the mould of the wide-eyed idealist I needed my first hero to be. So I kept him from the story, giving him what might essentially amount to a glorified cameo. Of course, the significance of his appearance means very little to anyone who isn’t me. But the new story – my new pet project – will feature him, and he is now everything I need him to be. A cunning, remorseless bastard with enough charm to rally followers, but more than a little self-loathing to make his actions reckless.
He is, in the end, a tragic figure, lost in the world. Ironically, not all that different from the hero I chose to go with in my first book.
My first attempt at a story was very childish – borderline nonsensical, in fact. I was in love with the idea of being a writer without much of a clue of creating a story or a world that remained internally coherent. It was a very shallow thing. I had taken no creative writing classes, received no instruction. I tried to avoid the conventions and cliches of creating a fantasy story… some of them anyway. I steered right into other conventions and tried to make them my own. But it was very clumsy at first. I just thought I knew what a good story might be, and what I’d like to read. The trouble was actually converting that to an original plot of my own. This is the difference between a critic and a creator. And for a long time, I was a critic, trying and failing to be a creator. It took years to get it right.
To be honest, when I sold my first few copies of Where the Gods Lie Dreaming, I was afraid that that’s all I still was.
Then I heard the feedback. It was a good story. I was a good writer. I heaved a sigh of relief and continued to write.
I faced some criticism when I eventually attended creative writing classes, for setting my story in what might be a proto-medieval European setting. But as I revealed the more subtle Eastern flavours and philosophies that I had acquainted myself with over the years, I realized that I might have stumbled onto something special.
The ideals flowing through the Order of Saint Audren are very rooted in ideas of Buddhism and Taoism, though on the surface they resemble a very Catholic institution. There was a conflict between seeking one’s place, and the awareness that all is as it should be, and it comes up in the protagonist’s yearning for meaning, even as the world spirals out of control around him. He was the stand-in for Landred this story – the innocent that Landred could no longer be. Grayden might just become the greatest hero in Amarith for it.
‘A Life of Purpose’ is the driving theme behind this trilogy – and whether such things can in fact be accomplished in a world where man is inherently aware of forces more powerful than himself. See, in this world, we can delude ourselves into thinking we’re the masters of our destinies – we have encountered nothing more intelligent and capable than us. But I think that if the existence of gods, devils, dragons and magic surrounded us on all sides, we would be made supremely aware of our place in the universe, as tiny, insignificant creatures with fates no greater than our own lifespans.
With that said, those who are remembered become larger than their own lives. The word ‘hero’ means something so much more than the modern interpretation of it – the idea is of being larger than we are, larger than life. Fantasy allows me to explore this idea of heroism, and yes, of villainy as well. As the willing suspension of disbelief fades away into an age of a lack of imagination, I wonder if we’re swiftly approaching the end of the age of heroes. People want someone they can relate to, rather than someone they can aspire to be. Someone they can identify with, rather than someone that can inspire them.
(On that note, I have rather specific opinions about Batman and Superman, but that’s a conversation for another time.)
Is this the end of the age of heroes?
If so, then perhaps it has saved the best for last.