486. Adam’s Story: The Themes

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Every story means something. Patterns of meaning are called themes, and give stories greater depth and significance. The meaning of a story can be obvious, ambiguous, or deviously difficult to pin down. Heck, some people devote their entire lives to figuring out what stories mean; their profession is known as literary criticism, and it’s often a strange one.

Themes have a way of creeping into stories, insidious and ninja-like, sometimes without the author noticing. As I worked on previous versions of the Lance Eliot saga, I began to see motifs and patterns that I hadn’t planned. I was able to develop only a couple of them. It was too late to explore the rest.

I’m planning to rewrite the Lance Eliot saga from the beginning, which will allow me to explore its ideas more deliberately.

Here are four themes I plan to develop as I rewrite The Trials of Lance Eliot, the first part of my story.

Purpose

Lance Eliot’s journey to the fantastical kingdom of Guardia is apparently a pointless mix-up. He was summoned instead of Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot, due to a careless mistake. Now he’s stranded in Guardia, torn between amazement and annoyance, and convinced his journey is meaningless.

Is it?

I preceded an earlier version of the Lance Eliot story with these words from Geoffrey Chaucer: “Alas, why is it common to complain of God or Fortune, who so often deign, hiding their foresight under many a guise, to give us better than we could devise?”

Is there a greater purpose behind Lance’s adventure, or is he struggling against the aimless workings of a blind universe?

Anything out there?

I believe every story means something, but Lance isn’t so sure.

Before his journey to Guardia, Lance studies literary criticism for one of his college courses. He doesn’t take it seriously. Literary criticism appears to invent meaning where there is none. Like the dishonest tailors in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it points out things that aren’t really there.

Is anything there? Is there any meaning or purpose in the universe? Lance doesn’t know, and his unexpected adventure sure isn’t helping.

Overcoming self-destructive tendencies

At first, Lance Eliot is not brave, selfless, or virtuous. As a matter of fact, he is cowardly, selfish, and pessimistic. He also has a drinking problem. Lance is a far cry from Lancelot, the pure-hearted hero.

Lance Eliot, our… hero?

Tsurugi is broken. Once a legendary soldier, he is now a war criminal, working for a rogue general as an alternative to execution. Tsurugi seems to have given up on everything: his nation, his future, and his soul.

Paz gave up a quiet life to wander the kingdom as a professional gambler. Her miraculous luck has brought her a lot of money, but luxuries as friends and family are more than she can afford. Paz travels alone, homeless, always on the defensive… and her luck is bound to run out someday.

In their own ways, these unlikely traveling companions have given up on their lives, and given in to self-destructive tendencies. Guardia faces annihilation. If our heroes want to prevent the kingdom’s destruction, they’ll have to start by preventing their own.

Peace

Guardia is a kingdom of glass. It exists in a delicate balance, suspended between two warlike empires, keeping a fragile peace. Its strong navy and military, along with its defensible borders, are all that prevent Guardia from becoming a battleground for its powerful neighbors: a kingdom reduced to blood and ashes.

Paz was named for this peace. She has spent years traveling across Guardia, and doesn’t want to see it trampled by armies. Peace can’t last forever. What will happen when it fails?

Yeah, probably.

Three of the story’s main characters, mentioned above, are searching for a different kind of peace. Lance wants to find meaning or purpose in life. Tsurugi lives in a haze of grief. Paz is restless and unfulfilled. Other characters, whom I won’t mention yet, look for peace in darker places.

If I finish the Lance Eliot saga, perhaps I’ll find a little peace of my own. Here’s hoping.

The Divine Comedy

Around the time I began working on the Lance Eliot saga in earnest, I read Dante’s Divine Comedy for the first time. I couldn’t help but notice some similarities, and decided to make them deliberate.

The first part of my story, The Trials of Lance Eliot, shall roughly parallel Inferno, which chronicles Dante’s journey through hell.

Y’know, Dante doesn’t look very heroic, either.

I hope to hit a lot of the same beats: the dark wood, Beatrice’s early influence, Virgil’s guidance, the final encounter with the Devil, and the escape to safety beneath starry skies. As its title suggests, The Trials of Lance Eliot will put its hapless protagonist through hell.

National Novel Writing Month just started, and while I’m not participating this year, it reminds me of a painful truth: The Lance Eliot saga is going to take a lot of work. Lance won’t be the only one struggling! As long as I’m on the subjects of hell and writing, I’ll conclude with a quote I’ve seen floating around the Internet:

writing-is-like-riding-a-bike

Pretty much.

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