The Big Picture, Part 4: The World of Tomorrow

Foreword:

This post is part of an ongoing series laying out essential elements for understanding both the complex plot of my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, and the byzantine plans of its protagonist, the wizard Damon Roth.

Here are links to earlier posts in this series.

The World of Today

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I see Gods Among Men as being set on earth in the very distant future.  At some point where Arthur C. Clarke’s adage, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” has finally come true.  

In my last post, I explained how in my mythology the faerie world exists, but broke off most contact with humans in our early pre-history.

Adopting this mythology lets me both claim that supernatural entities—and hence supernatural or magical powers—exist, and explain why mankind at our current moment in history would be largely unaware of that fact.

It also, however, begs the following question: From this point, meaning our present, how does our modern society twist and turn to become my fantasy world of the future?  A world that draws heavily on Medieval and Renaissance imagery with Gothic overtones.  A place where Greek mythology and Shakespearean tragedies are plot elements in a battle of wills between the protagonist, Damon Roth, and the antagonist Demiurge.  The kind of world where spacecraft coexist with spellcraft.

Where Do We Go From Here

It is my belief that certain trends in mankind’s past will continue into the future.  First and foremost, there will be scientific and technological progress.  Mankind will learn more about biology, genetics, physics, and a host of other subjects.  Computer technology will advance, as will space travel, engineering, and the like.

Take these assumptions forward an indefinite period of time; a thousand years or more, tens of thousands if need be.  What might be possible at the furthest reaches of these broad trends?

In my mythology, in the far future there will be practical space travel within the solar system.  There will be many colonies on asteroids, moons, and planets that are functionally self-sustaining. 

Nanotechnology is perfected and able to operate down at the atomic and possibly sub-atomic level. 

Genetic engineering has reached the point where building custom life forms from scratch is possible if one has the right tools. 

The differences between quantum mechanics and relativity theory have been resolved, and we have discovered how to draw vast amounts of energy from the universe itself.  (Or from alternate universes or parallel dimensions or the space between universes or some other techno-babble explanation.  The details here are not important. What matters is that there is nearly unlimited energy that can be tapped and converted to a myriad of uses.)

The Daemons in these Details

But I do not have a utopian view of the future.  There are now, and will continue to be, those who oppose progress of the nature I describe.  We have terrorist and dictators now who seek to disrupt the stability and peace of our world.  Who, if given a chance, would cast us into a dark age. 

I doubt the current batch of thugs have much chance of success, but suppose that desire continues to burn in one form or another for generation after generation.  Suppose evil itself has a form, perhaps intangible, that will return over and over, searching for a way to break the foundations of civilization. 

In my mythology, at the very height of our technological prowess, those who would do great harm found a way to do so.  A way beyond their imaginations or ability to control.  These evil men and women destroyed themselves, and unleashed forces that sent earth spiraling into a new dark age. One which isolates people on earth from their brethren in the space colonies. 

In the process, the destroyers of civilization unleashed Daemons on the world of tomorrow.

Daemons are hybrid humans whose descendants will be called Wizards because of the powers they command which appear to be magical.  Powers rooted in the merger of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, computer science, nanotechnology, biology, and genetic engineering.

I shall go into further details about daemons in a later post.  One point worth noting is that my antagonist, Demiurge, is the last and most powerful of the original daemons.  At the height of his power his name became synonymous with the honorific people hailed him by: God Among Men.

What Is Important To Damon Roth?

The events leading up to the fall of the scientific and technological civilization give rise to the magic that permeates my story.  In a later post I will detail the scientific nature of magic in my mythology, and how its creation resulted in the new dark age.  The key point right now is that Damon Roth and Demiurge are the only characters who have knowledge about the true nature of magic.  This knowledge allows both of them to control people and events in ways impossible for anyone else.

Damon also has detailed information about how the societies on earth and in the space colonies developed.  He knows the strengths and weaknesses in both, understands their history and goals, and is prepared to bend both to his will.

Damon’s plan to confront the future threat he knows of requires those on earth and those in space to unite with elves and other races.  Both humans on earth and those in space must agree to abandon their existing governments and social structures and adopt new ones of his creation.  Damon gives each side the chance to do so willingly, knowing their leaders will refuse.  After their refusal, Damon violently destroys those who oppose him, saving those who are more amendable to his plans.

The details of what happened to those on earth and those in space are important, and beyond the scope of this post.  Later posts in this series will explain what happened to each and how their respective experiences are needed for the survival of humanity and the rest of life on earth.

And On Another Note…

I am approaching the complex hub of my mythology.  The events that foreshadow the tale I am trying to tell in Gods Among Men. Many times in this article I have had to use a phrase like, “In a later post I will explain…”  This is because there is much information that I developed in fits and starts over many long years.  Details which I have never formally expressed in spoken or written words. 

I hope I am clear in my explanations, and the world I describe understandable.  I believe this exercise helps me order my thoughts and answers my own questions about my own work. 

It does take a long time to write these posts, however.  Much longer than it took to write most of my earlier posts.  The amount of time I spend actually writing and editing on Gods Among Men has decreased dramatically in recent weeks. 

I may need to intersperse some smaller, less complicated topics amidst this exploration of my mythology.  But I don’t want to stop writing on this subject out of fear that the clarity I have been blessed with recently will fade if I do.  I am uncertain how to resolve this quandary, so I will have to wait and see where inspiration leads me next.

Until next time, have fun.

Hero, Part 1: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis

This post is a continuation of my earlier posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus upon Morel Rihtwis, a man whose very name translates as moral, right, and wise.

Morel is an archetypal hero. Some of the characteristics that identify archetypal heroes are:

  1. Unusual circumstances of his birth
  2. Leaves family and lives with others.
  3. Traumatic event leads to quest.
  4. Special Weapon
  5. Supernatural help.
  6. Proves self on quest
  7. A journey that leads to an unhealable wound
  8. Atonement with father
  9. Spiritual apotheosis

Unusual circumstances of his birth
Morel is born into royalty, into one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. He begins life in the highest reaches of society with all of its advantages and disadvantages.

Leaves family and lives with others.
Morel’s mother died before he was ten years old. His father was king of Zephyr and gone for most of Morel’s childhood. Morel had a brother, Carloman, who was almost a decade his senior. Morel’s earliest clear memory of Carloman is him leaving to join the military. Morel spent most of his childhood surrounded by tutors, trainers, and staff. When he was in his teens he joined the military as a prerequisite for one day inheriting Zephyr.

Traumatic event leads to quest.
Before Gods Among Men begins, Carloman, Morel’s brother, dies in a senseless accident. Carloman was the heir apparent to the kingdom of Zephyr and the Rihtwis fortune. With his death, Morel becomes the heir apparent. Also, Morel arrives in the city of Guildtown, capital of the empire that Zephyr belongs to, shortly after the city has been attacked and its military defeated. These twin events, along with the responsibilities Morel feels as heir to a kingdom, forces him to follow Damon Roth. This sets Morel on a path to save his daughter, the kingdom of Zephyr, and the world as a whole.

Special Weapon
Morel wears armor forged from the hide of a dragon. This armor grants him superhuman strength and renders him almost impervious to magic. He also carries a sword forged by Damon Roth and Morel’s distant ancestor, Gideon Rihtwis. This sword is unbreakable, never requires care or sharpening, and is capable of cleaving a person in two. Later, Morel will come into possession of a lance specially made to kill dragons.

Supernatural help.
Both the wizard Damon Roth and the False God referred to as the Lady aid Morel. In addition he will receive help from Elves. Damon saves Morels life and gives him the magical satchel that Morel will need as the story progresses. The Lady advises and protects his daughter, Tara, when he cannot. I have not yet decided how the Elves will aid him.

Proves self on quest
Remember when I mentioned that Morel will come into a possession of a lance specially made to kill dragons? He doesn’t use it against a Komodo dragon. He fights a very large, very deadly, dragon in the prime of its life. In addition, Morel must also show his commitment to honor and duty despite personal costs. He risks his life on many occasions and dies, twice.

A journey that leads to an unhealable wound
Speaking of dying, Morel dies in the first book of the series. Fortunately, this is an epic fantasy in which death is not a career-ending injury. Damon restores Morel to life, but the wound Morel receives gives him problems for the rest of his life. Later, he battles Artemis Arrowsmith, is struck in the same place, and dies again.

Atonement with father
Morel is not close with his father, though he isn’t estranged from him either. His father was absent for most of Morel’s life, so the two really know each other through what they have heard from other people. Unknown to Morel, his father was involved in a dark deed that gave rise to the villain, Maelgar Tregadie. At some point this fact will be revealed to Morel, and there will be a reckoning.

Spiritual apotheosis
During his life Morel reaches a mythic stature that makes him almost universally admired. Even his foes hate him primarily for his virtues. He becomes the example others aspire to emulate, including his daughter, Tara. After Morel’s death he is revered and mourned and cited as the person who embodied the best qualities of mankind.

Most of these qualities are shared by Damon Roth. What Damon is missing is what I believe is key to labeling someone as a hero: the moral center that guides and limits them. The limits placed upon a hero by themselves are, to me, a crucial element in their heroism. It is that moment when when the hero thinks, “I need to kill/hurt/steal/etc…, but I won’t because its wrong.”

This is the crucial distinction between Damon and Morel. Damon will do anything he believes is required to accomplish his goal. Morel will not. Morel is willing to accept failure as a consequence of doing what is moral and right, which makes him wise.

This subject is too big for a single post. I will continue with Morel for at least one more post, detailing some of the inspirations for his character. Later I will delve into his daughter, Tara, and explore other types of heroes and how they are represented in Gods Among Men.

The Nature of the Hero

Over the last few months I have come to realize that my story, Gods Among Men, has a subtext I did not originally intend. Implicit in the characters and their interactions is the question of what it means to be a hero or a villain. Given the parts of the story I have focused upon so far, I have written mostly about the characters I think of as heroes in one way or another.

I have always thought that some of my characters where “more pure” in their heroism than others. I am familiar with various mythic traditions and did weave ideas that appealed to me into various characters. Before now, however, I never tried to formally define the various types of heroism and how they applied to specific characters.

The formal concept of the hero can be traced to Greek mythology. The word hero originally meant the person was a demigod; the offspring of a mortal and a deity. At this point the word does not imply any moral virtue, merely parentage.

Looking back, I realize now that this idea influenced the development of my protagonist, Damon Roth, and his relationship to my antagonist, Demiurge.

An important step in Damon’s true quest is to become the God Among Men. To achieve this goal, Damon must form a bond with Demiurge, a god-like being. The relationship Damon seeks with Demiurge is not dissimilar to that of a grown child with an aged, ailing, parent. Symbolically, Damon becomes Demiurge’s child and in so doing become a demigod and hence a hero; at least by the criteria of classic Greek mythology. By becoming a hero, Damon steps closer to his true goal: redemption for his past sins and the salvation of his soul.

In later mythology, the concept of the hero became associated with other characteristics. Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the willingness the face danger and almost certain death, and various moral qualities. The moral qualities become especially important. A hero in later works is often defined by the lines they will not cross, the acts they will not commit, even when everyone else says the acts are necessary or even required. A hero in later mythology is the person who risks all, including the safety of those closest to them, because their moral center demands it of them.

By this standard for heroism, Damon fails to become a modern hero. Yes, he has courage and will face danger and certain death. But he is also the ultimate pragmatist. If the surest way for him to achieve a goal is a dark deed, then he will cross that line with little hesitation. And, while he will ultimately sacrifice himself, it is not so much for the greater good but to complete his redemption. Mankind as a whole will benefit, but Damon’s reason is a selfish one designed to benefit himself. To be a modern hero the end result is not sufficient; the means you use and the reasons behind your actions matter.

Damon wants to be a hero, but never can be. He can become a demigod, he can be a protagonist that provides the story with a direction and a plot, but his own moral failings keep him from being more.

In Gods Among Men the role of classical hero falls upon Morel Rihtwis, a man willing to sacrifice the world rather than let innocents suffer. A man of destiny who wants power solely so he can help others. He actively pursues greatness and seizes his destiny. He regrets the personal sacrifices he must make, but never seriously considers not making those sacrifices.

A more modern version of the hero is embodied by his daughter, Tara. She wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, until she sees the cost she must bear to do so. At this point she would turn aside, except she comes to realize how many would suffer if she did so. She accepts her personal sacrifices for the betterment of all. Greatness is thrust upon her, her destiny is set by forces out of her control.

I will revisit this exploration of the concepts surrounding heroes and heroism in later posts. I plan on focusing more upon Morel and Tara and delving deeper into my motivations for how I have developed their characters. After that I will look also at other variants of heroes including Byronic heroes and antiheroes. After that I will turn my attention to the villains and antivillains in Gods Among Men and the mythic roots behind their characters.

Blogging on Blogging

I have noticed a strange, positive, effect blogging has had upon me. When I began I wondered what I could write about once or twice a week. I decided to focus upon my epic, Gods Among Men, and the issues I deal with in trying to write, edit, and eventually publish it.

I discovered there was only so much I could say about editing before I began repeating myself. And since I haven’t tried to publish Gods Among Men yet there is nothing to say on that subject.

This left writing itself for me to blog about. Yes, I did post tidbits about the group meetings and such, but most of my posts became about my story. My ideas, goals, characters, plot, how Gods Among Men fits into literary genres and so forth.

Writing the blog forced me to put concrete words to amorphous ideas. To take ill-formed concepts and express them in a clear, concise fashion. At least, as clear and concise as my talent and verbose tendencies will allow.

As one of many possible examples, consider my protagonist and antagonist. I knew in my head, more or less, what I wanted from them as characters, but I had never clearly expressed those ideas aloud even to myself. In my story I had to write about them in an indirect, literary, fashion. When I wrote about them in the blog, however, I was required to state directly who they are, what they want, how they fit into the plot, and so forth.

As I blogged about these important characters I would write a sentence, reread it, and say, “No that’s not right.” So I would re-write it and say, “closer, but still not right.” And so on until I discovered the phrase that captured, for me, what I was doing and why. In this process the general, often non-specific, thoughts in my head gelled into strong central themes.

These themes were always in my work, but in an ad hoc, sometimes unintentional, fashion. Now I see them with better eyes and can craft the scenes to support and enhance those themes in a more rigorous way. Blogging about my writing made me a better writer.

I plan to continue this trend in future posts. To lay out more details about the characters, culture, and world in my story. It could be considered a huge writing exercise of sorts. The result may well be of interest to me alone, but since I am doing this primarily for my own benefit I can live with that. In any event, for those interested in improving their own writing I can recommend blogging about your writing. It certainly has helped me.

Antagonist: A Closer Look At Demiurge

A while back I wrote abut the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in my story, Gods Among Men. Today I will delve deeper into the role of antagonist and how my character, Demiurge, fills that role.

The antagonist is fundamentally a reactive character. It is the protagonist that initiates the action and drives the plot. The antagonist reacts to what the protagonist does. It is common for the antagonist to either be the hero or villain of the story, but Demiurge is neither.

Once, a very long time ago, Demiurge was a great hero. That was before he was killed in his war with The False Gods. In the final battle he was utterly destroyed, yet continued to exist. He is now a grotesque aberration, neither dead nor alive. He has no choice in this. The one thing he fundamentally cannot change is himself.

Demiurge’s current relationship to most people is similar to our relationship with insects. If an insect annoys us we either make it go away or kill it. If an insect is doing something interesting we might watch it for awhile, but likely not interfere. Otherwise, we ignore insects. Few insects occupy our thoughts for more than a moment and all are soon forgotten.

It is this attitude that keep Demiurge from being hero or villain, antihero or antivillain. The mundane world means too little for him to either save or destroy it. He has no interest in causing harm, and makes no effort to stop tragedy.

Damon Roth, my protagonist, is another matter. Damon Roth at one point has something Demiurge does care about, and proceeds to play a shell game with it so Demiurge can’t find it. What is it that Damon has that Demiurge wants? My MacGuffin, the satchel I wrote about in a previous post.

Damon Roth puts Demiurge in a unique position. Demiurge wants the satchel more than anything else in the whole of creation. He cannot ignore Damon like he does others. Nor can Demiurge kill him. Damon has arranged that if he dies Demiurge will never find the satchel. This allows Damon Roth to lure Demiurge into a battle of wits and wills, subtle manipulations and opaque strategies. A game of chess with everyone else as pawns to be used or discarded as the situation demands. A contest both know can only end in the destruction of one of them.

What does Damon Roth want from Demiurge? Demiurge is the God Among Men, and that is what Damon Roth needs to become if he is to save all life on the planet. The only way Damon can do this is to destroy Demiurge and steal his immense power, knowledge, and memories.

What Damon needs to accomplish this goal is in the satchel. He must have the satchel and be near a distracted Demiurge in order to succeed. He dare not let Demiurge near the satchel until he can guarantee these conditions.

The other character’s in the story revolve around these two figures and their cosmic conflict. They follow one or the other for a variety of reasons. Their individual fates depend on which one is ultimately triumphant.