Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Champion: Mapping the Message

When I first decided to write my novel, I knew I would have to draw a map.  I am a terrible artist, so I did not relish the idea of struggling to draw the continents and seas of my imaginary world.  Thankfully, my friend Eric was able to transform my pathetic drawing into a beautiful image.  Thus was Lariel finally born.

This is my poor attempt.

This is Eric's beautiful illustration.

You may notice that Lariel resembles a certain country in North America.  That was not my original intent.  Long ago, I had drawn a version of Lariel with Daelihm and Thrine arranged in such a way as to make the main continent appear to be the wings of a dragon.  Daelihm has lost its dragon-body shape and has drifted South, while Thrine has shifted so far East that it no longer suggests the presence of a dragon's tail.

Lariel's current form is that of a Pangea-style supercontinent with a few neighboring landmasses of merely continental size.  And yes, I know it resembles the United States of America.  I have a few things to say about that.

First, Lariel is not some past or future version of Earth.  It is a different planet.  It may exist in this universe, or it may exist in a universe that is adjacent to our own.  Lariel's reality is indeed connected to Earth's, but I do not envision any future contact between the two planets.  At least, no contact in a physical way.

Second, as I stated before, Lariel's main landmass is a supercontinent, thousands of miles wider than North America.  The distance between Lihn City and Oasis is roughly the distance between New York City and L.A.  That said, Lariel is slightly smaller than Earth, and its year is shorter than our own.

Third, the resemblance to America is unintentional, but not undesired.  The Champion's message is in many ways an American one, and if the reader is reminded of the United States by the map of Lariel, so much the better.

I wanted to write a Fantasy story that reverses a few of the classic cliches, the foremost being that Fantasy stories are always about a seemingly powerless individual whose choices radically change the entire world.  While those stories are great and very necessary, I wanted to focus on power and responsibility.  Like America, my hero is very powerful.  He has a responsibility to use his power for the benefit of others, but, initially, he does not want to change the way he is leading his life.  He likes the status quo.  He is not a bad man; indeed, he is a very good man.  He is prepared to make any sacrifice for his family and friends.  But he is not yet willing to make sacrifices for strangers, and that is what he is called to do.  It seems to me that America is much the same.

The second cliche I wanted to avoid was the coming of age story.  My hero is not a boy becoming a man.  He his a man fulfilling his responsibilities, embracing his vocation.  He has an adventure, makes new friends, and learns wisdom, yes, but he does so as an adult.  In a similar way, I think that America has come of age, and it is time for it to embrace its true vocation.

The last cliche I wanted to avoid (as far as this post is concerned) was the story about the hero winning the heart of his beloved by the end of his adventure.  That's why my novel starts with a wedding.  The hero is not just winning a woman's heart; he is making a covenant with her.  In this way the story belongs just as much to the heroine as it does to the hero.  Indeed, it is not about one or the other, but about them together doing what they are called to do.  It seems that we have lost that sense here in America: that a wedding is not just the end of an adventure, but the beginning of a new mission.  Marriage is the work of a lifetime.  Two lifetimes, in fact.  I may be unmarried, but I understand that marriage is not merely what our culture says it is: a mutually advantageous economic arrangement that has something to do with feelings and sex and maybe kids. It is the binding of love that sets love free.  It is a wild journey through a mysterious land.  It is not the saving of a kingdom, but the founding of one.

So, if you think that The Champion is commenting on America, you are right!  My thoughts about this nation have influenced the narrative, and its message is aimed at the average American.  Is The Champion an allegory for America in some way?  Nope.  But there is a moral to it, one that I think this nation should put into practice.

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