Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fantasy hero = orphan?

It seems as though every hero from fantasy fiction is an orphan, or a bastard, or was otherwise abandoned by his parents. It's as common a trope as the ageing guru, or the precious MacGuffin. Harry Potter, Garion from the Belgariad, Fitz from the Farseer trilogy... I could go on and on, naming stable boys and goat herders, who all have their own unique set of fantasy tropes, but the one thing they all have in common is a lack of parental love. 

These unfortunate boys start out their lives alone and afraid. They are brought up by their long-suffering aunts or reluctant foster parents, and spend much of their childhood doing thankless chores and getting in the way. The story of their abandonment is hidden from them, which lends their life story an element of mystery. Just like the mysterious stranger who arrives in a new town in a Western movie, and, having beaten the bad guys, rides off into the sunset - to who knows where. 

As an enthusiastic fantasy reader and writer, I don't poo-poo a cliche. Every genre has its conventions, some of which need to be adhered to, to qualify as belonging to that genre. However, in the case of my own protagonist, I felt this was one cliche I wouldn't be using. Literary fiction and TV soaps show us that family always complicates things. Where other fantasy writers might seek to simplify their characters' lives, I would prefer to complicate them, to make them seem more like a real person.

So, the protagonist of my work-in-progress has a fixed family home, which is threatened but never actually destroyed in the story. And although some of his family members are absent and there are secrets for him to discover about them, he has a mother, who is a constant friend to him through the trials of his life - a guiding beacon who brings him comfort in even his darkest moments. Amidst the chaos of civil war and a tumultuous personal life, there are a few gentle moments where Tam goes home to visit his mum! I haven't decided on her name, but I've drafted a few of her scenes, and as you can see from this brief excerpt, she has the beginnings of a personality:

(Apologies for any mistakes, this is unedited first draft material after all! Ellipses show where I had to cut out spoilers.)

Tam's mother was already up and dressed, in a typically strange outfit, of a woollen dress tie-dyed in all shades of purple, and a white apron covered in stains of every colour of the rainbow. Her once raven-black hair, now dark grey, was in a long thick plait down her back... her sleeves were rolled up, and already at this hour she was hard at work in the kitchen, standing over a huge vat full of red dye and wool roving, poking it vigorously with a wooden handle. 'Morning Thomas!' She called out, without turning round. 'How do you do that?' Tam said, dripping on the threshold. 'How did you know it was me?' She looked over her shoulder at him. 'Well, I heard an adult-sized splash and I thought, who do I know that's an adult but who's still daft enough to jump into the river in November? So of course, I knew it must be my son!' She looked him up and down and raised an eyebrow with bemusement.... ... He returned to the heat of the kitchen and his mum reached up to plant a kiss on his cheek. 'Oh you're like a fish! Go and sit by the stove!' ... ... Tam was soon steaming nicely... ... He waited patiently for his mother to suspect something. It was only a matter of time before she noticed the sword, notched from fighting, that he had left leaning against the wall by the back door. This feeling of being home, and not having told her his bad news yet, was too comfortable. He hoped his silence would prolong the feeling, just for a few blissful moments longer. But the moment could not last... She stood with her arms crossed, looking at him carefully. Her eyes - just like his - blue and pin-sharp. 'Are you in trouble?'

Click here to read all the Excerpts.

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