Monday, March 10, 2008

Guest Post–Alma Alexander

Today we've got a guest post from Alma Alexander, whose book Spellspam launches tomorrow.

COURAGE

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to tell the difference”.

It’s been everywhere, that particular prayer. It’s been seen on posters, on cards, on bookmarks, on fridge magents, scribbled on the flyleaf of journals and diaries, uttered through clenched teeth when faced with circumstances completely beyond a person’s control. It’s a mantra. It’s something that keeps you sane in a world that often seems rather less so than you might wish.

And it contains a single word, a single idea, that is something that’s embedded in every single one of the books I’ve written, at the core of every protagonist who carried the stories of those books.

Courage.

Let me put it this way – I’ve often said that I would not wish to meet any of my characters in a dark alley somewhere, alone, because they DO have a genuine beef with me – I put them through six different kinds of Hell before I allow them a respite. And yet, none of them has ever surrendered, or given up. Sure, they have their vulnerabilities. If they did not, they would be far less interesting as characters – creatures who are invulnerable or all-powerful (or think they are) are either gods or fools, and it is less interesting than you might think to read about all-powerful gods (what’s their story? Why would we be interested? I mean, nothing can HURT them…) and it’s both frustrating and annoying to read about fools. There are entire books driven by so-called idiot plots where everything could have been resolved four hundred pages ago if the characters had only TALKED to each other.

My lot all carry courage.

• Anghara, the young heroine of the “Changer of Days” books, is initially swept away by the power of her half-grother Sif who takes her throne, her land, her birthright. But she is only nine when all of this happens. She is a child. She has no power or knowledge or wisdom of her own. She is inevitably at the mercy of a lot of influences.

It would have been easy for her to simply fold her hands and let others rule her fate. But after an initial period – which she doesn’t spend wailing and whining and gnashing her teeth but LEARNING, learning all she can – she takes her courage with both hands and leaves the land of her birth, goes to a strange place of which she knows very little (and most of THAT is hearsay) and learns how to control the gifts that were her heritage. And then she comes back to claim what is hers.

Sure, she has a lot of help. She has friends. She is not alone. But her road is often solitary, and she takes it with her head held high. She knows she is the Queen. She knows that courage is necessary. She struggles through loss and pain, through betrayal, and finally through an unexpected redemption which she can offer her worst enemy. She struggles to learn, wrestles with her knowledge and her failings and her fears, and it is the courage which is the heart of her that sees her through it all.


• In “The Secrets of Jin Shei”, I have more than one young protagonist who survives by courage. Nhia’s is the courage of the crippled child of low birth who struggles every day to retain her place in the world; Khailin’s is the courage to break rules if they are stupid rules and to reach for knowledge which should not be forbidden to her simply because of who she is. Tammary’s is the courage of the wild thing who does what she must to survive; Antian’s is the courage of someone who knows she has a responsibility and in her last moments thinks only of how the legacy of that responsibility can be passed on to someone who can carry it on; Yuet’s is the courage of the healer, who knows she faces death eveyr day and squares off with it in battle, daring it to take a life in the face of her attemppts to preserve it; Qiaan’s is the quiet courage of faith; Xaforn’s is the great gleaming shining courage of honour and the sword; Liudam takes on her entire world – possibly for all the wrong reasons, but she does it anyway, standing up to all the establishment and the hidebound old men and changing a world single-handed; and Tai… Tai has the strongest courage of them all, rooted in her quiet strength, she is there for ALL of them when their worlds come tumbling down, she is the courage that is the rock of sanctuary amidst a heaving ocean of troubles and she carries the weight of Empire on her small shoulders.

• In “Embers of Heaven” Amais sets out to restore something that was grace and power and beauty, now vanished, buried beneath the detritus of centuries. She faces down social change, a love for a man who can never be wholly hers and who sometimes seems to work directly against her own goals, persecution, pursuit, and not least a divided soul, being born of two different worlds. It is courage that helps her endure, and courage that brings her home, and courage that makes her swear allegiance to something that is huge, much vaster than herself, something that humbles her and yet makes her stand with her head held high in pride. The courage to stand at the head of a nation, unnoticed, and lead the land into a future that is once more rooted firmly into the necessary knowledge of the past.

• And, finally, the Worldweavers books. In all the other books we might have started with protagonists as children, but they kind of get the chance to grow up and face down their trials in the fullness of time – perhaps before they were ready for them, some things you are never ready for, but still, they had the time to gather up their strength. But in the Worldweavers books, Thea Winthrop remains young. She is a child when we meet her – in the first book she is fourteen – and she remains a kid in the other two books, not quite sixteen when the third book comes to a conclusion. Her trials could perhaps be dismissed as juvenile, at least in the beginning – what child hasn’t brought home a bad school report, seen a parent’s eyes cloud over with disappointment, felt a stab of guilt and shame and resentment and defiance and all those other things that a teenager carries around with them while they are deciding who they want to be when they grow up? Thea is no different to any of those teens, except that her failures lie in an area which the kids of our world don’t have much to do with – her magic. The seventh child of two seventh children, Thea is the most magical of all magical beings – or should be, if only she showed any glimmer of a magical talent at all. But in the first book alone she is picked up by the scruff of her neck and tossed into an entirely different world which works by whollly different rules, in a desperate hope that it might waken whatever it is that is sleeping within her.

And it does, but not in the way anyone expected.

She finds out that she had courage she didn’t even know that she had – that she had blocked her own gifts by pure and sure instinct, waiting for the battle that would need the “unmage” that she is, a battle against a monster which feeds on magic. With the first stirrings of her own magic awakening within her, she might have been afraid that whatever she had would have been enough to devour her whole, too, and yet she puts herself squarely in the path of the monster and defies it to take her on. In the second book, “Spellspam”, she has to find the courage to deal with the only other being who is remotely like her in the world, and take on the guilt for it. In the third book, she has to find the courage to look at her new-found and treasured gifts and to weight their value against their potential to do something much greater than herself.

In that thing I quoted at the beginning of this essay, in a sense, EVERYTHING prayed for is an aspect of courage. The serenity to accept the things one cannot change is simply the courage to endure what must be endured. The courage to change the things one can is the active courage of taking one’s life into one’s own hands and shaping it to one’s own desires. The wisdom to know the difference is the courage to know when to let something go.

It is courage that makes these protagonists learn, and grow – they accept all that is thrown at them, and although sometimes they might stagger under the weight of it, they do not fall under that weight, they learn to shoulder it, they learn how to go on and how everything that they have learned can be used to make them better, stronger.

It is a courage that I hope will pass from the pages of my stories and the hearts of my heroines and enter into my readers, and the message is simply this:

IT IS NOT OVER. EVERYTHING REMAINS POSSIBLE IF YOU HAVE COURAGE.


About my books (with purchase links):
http://fantasyliterature.net/AlexanderAlma.html

This is an essay in three parts. Read them all:

http://www.wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/ :Courage

http://jpsorrow.livejournal.com/ :Choices

http://tltrent.livejournal.com/ : Change

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