Monday, 17 May 2010

"A Hero Is Not Enough"

The hero Roger rescues Angelica from the orc; she contemplates whether this is an improvement.  Roger délivrant Angélique, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1819) - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland moves forward another notch, another chapter. This has been Luke's first experience of Fairfields. It's plenty long enough, and I've learned a lot I didn't know about him, and it's all going to have to be re-written before I can finish this arc.

Luke was conceived in The Deed of Katy Elflocks as a kind of hollow man - a heroic and somewhat innocent Third Prince, but also a great blockhead who takes the justifying mythology of his world's royalty so seriously, he's a serious danger to the state, and needs to be sent off on a wild-goose quest before his romantic arch-conservatism leads him to do something really bad. What comes of that is the story - suffice it to say that he, and his provincial soulmate the Golden Margravine, don't exactly cover themselves with honour. They both get somewhat adventitious 'happy endings', and Killer-Kate takes up the tale thirty years later, at the nadir of their lives as we last saw them at the zenith.

One of the things I learned in the course of Katy was that Luke isn't much more mentally challenged than his wise brother or his clever sister. He's got brains, he just... doesn't tend to use them very productively. He's a lonely, passionate, insecure boy's vision of the Prince on the White Horse who rides in to defend the good old ways, destroy the evildoers, and set things right. Did you ever, when you were very small, yearn to be that kind of hero? It was mostly Marvel comics with me, but I most surely did. Imagine how horrible a thing it would have been for all concerned, if any of us had mistaken such a chimaera for truth, and then successfully applied our lives to becoming one.

The younger Luke was so supernally good at being a hero out of bad chivalric romance, it got to be hard to know whether to laugh or cry when I was writing him.

In Killer-Kate, he's pushing fifty. In between the two tales, he's been a tyrant, a vagabond, a mysterious knight-errant, an infamous mercenary, a common caravan-guard... and he's come home, under the cloak of his widely noised death, to the land he once tried to rule, only to find that the 'villains' have proved both stronger and kinder rulers than he. He doesn't understand anything anymore (and knowing this is one of the ways he's grown wiser and more human). So he sets off on a last quest into the Elvish East, where the world is simpler and fairer and more savage, and heroes are more likely to be right than grocer's daughters. He hopes, frankly, to know wonder again, and die. Before that, there is still one person in the world he cares about - she who was Golden Kate, once a hero of sorts herself, now old and outcast and fallen on days much eviller than his own. He thinks, with reason, that she might want to join him. And so this tale began.

But but but. For about ten years of the thirty, up to his own disaster, I know in some detail what he did and why - I spent long enough trying to make a novel of it, before I discovered that this winter's tale was to be told first. Luke's downfall is clear to me: his 'happy ending' encouraged him to become what he'd been before, only more so. The results were predictably unfortunate.

It's the twenty years after, which I don't intend to tell at all, where I'm sparser. Here's my problem: Luke is always a bit of a cliché, because he worked so long and hard at turning into one, but there's always an undertow that gives him interest as a protag. Yet he's a man of action not introspection, even now. Neither he nor I can easily see very deep into the waters.

I still read him, in many ways, as a hollow and an isolated man. He is something coarser and more cynical than before, but also kinder and more sensible. The worst of the old hollow is grown in with things from that long exile. It took this chapter to put a name to what filled it, and the change in the fire that drives him. It all came together out of a couple of slightly self-indulgent background details, thrown in to stop his backstory being all vacuum.

...It was riding in the South with El Alegroso of the Dry Wells, the Knight of the Joyful Trump, the Kateverse's own Don Quixote. El Alegroso really was pretty much everything Quixote thought he was, as famous for winning impossible battles as for ending up on the losing side of every damn' war he touched. Magnificent loon as he was, he did have a way of attracting the very best to him, as well as the most desperate. Treacherously abandoned by the other Dons of the Castellanates in the hour of apparent victory against the vile slaver-nest of Tanash, he and almost all who stood faithful to him died beneath its walls. Luke, who survived to comfort the old hero's dying moments and close his eyes at the last, believed him the best man in the world, and left all his love and faith for 'chivalry' behind him with the bones on Dazaama Beach.

It only gets a few tangential allusions in this story as such, but that turns out to be a very interesting key to my man's character. In some ways, he's been walking this road from chivalry and heroism to comradeship and valour for much longer, and much more intentionally, than I'd realized. And here he is joined up with a bunch of rebellious peasants and refugees and oddlings, and - it turns out that much of what I needed to win him over to, he's been three-quarters of the way before me. That ought to add a fair old edge to the full redraft, when I get to it.

The next, and possibly last, of the exploratory chapters is Golden Kate's. For several practical reasons, it would be nice to finish it just about exactly in time for the end of the month. Over to you, Ma'am!

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