Time heals all wounds August 29, 2009Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fangirl, reviews.
Tags: anne rice, books, dark fantasy, fangirl, fantasy novels, jennifer fallon, reviews, sara douglass, tide lords, troy game, vampire chronicles
An appropriate sub-heading to this might be ‘Time heals all wounds, Tide causes them’. This is a post that has been at the back of my mind since about February, when I finally read The Chaos Crystal, the fourth and final book of Jennifer Fallon’s Tide Lords series. But the ideas have been with me since 2006, when I read two series that I found extraordinarily influential: Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (yes, point and laugh now) and Sara Douglass’s Troy Game series. It’s probably fair to point out here that this post will be liberally sprinkled with spoilers for all three series.
What these books have in common is an emphasis on the theme of immortality, and its moral and ethical implications. In Anne Rice’s series, this immortality is the result of vampirism, and is an imperfect immortality – her undead can die, although, as the series goes on, you might be forgiven for thinking that all vampires are undead, but some are more undead than others. In Douglass’s series, the main characters are immortal through reincarnation. They all become bound up in the ‘Troy Game’, a labyrinthine weaving pattern that is linked to the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, the fall of Troy, and, eventually, the history of London. The characters screw up so epically in their first lives that they keep getting reincarnated (picking up various divine and semi-divine qualities along the way) in order to fix things up in their next lives. But Douglass’s immortals can – and do – die, provided enough supernatural firepower is thrown at them.
Fallon’s immortals are different. They really, really, really cannot die. Some of them have lived for millions of years. One of them, Cayal, has lived for several thousand, and is starting to get anxious. He becomes suicidal because he’s worried that one day he’ll get bored. (Fallon originally wanted to name the first book of the series ‘The Suicidal Immortal’, which gives you some idea of what she thought the focus would be.)
But whether the immortals of these books get their everlasting life from an exchange of blood, a malevolent, city-destroying Game or by walking through a fire (as in the Tide Lords), they share a concern with the way immortality affects people (and I use the term loosely, as you shall see below). Immortality does two things, not quite simultaneously.
It gives people freedom – that is, it releases them completely from the morality and constraints of society. On one level this means that immortals are free to be outrageous (the vampire Lestat becomes a rock star, swaps bodies with a human being to re-experience human frailty and mortality and goes on a Dante-esque journey through heaven and hell all within a few years; one of Douglass’s immortals is reincarnated as Charles II, surely the very definition of outrageous excess). On another, it means they’re free to outrage (Asterion/Weyland, the reincarnated Minotaur, plants an imp in the womb of Cornelia/Caela/Noah/Eaving which causes her constant pain and eventually rips its way out – and, being Douglass, this is the start of a beautiful relationship. That I also end up viewing this relationship as beautiful is either testament to Douglass’s talents as a writer, or a marker of my own insanity). Fallon’s immortals tend to be more of the second type – mad, bad and dangerous to know. The common thread is that all of them behave like the gods of Greek mythology: not omnipotent, not omnipresent, and certainly not omniscient, more interested in their own amusement and gratification, no matter how many human veins they have to drain, cities they have to flatten, or, in the case of the Tide Lords, worlds they have to destroy, to achieve it. This kind of immortality is at once intensely human – childishly destructive – and utterly inhuman – id incarnate. They see the world as their playground, even if the playground is built out of bones. When they notice human beings at all, they might as well be looking at an alien species, they are so divorced from what it means to be human. You see, human morality is utterly bound up in human mortality, the threat of death. Take that away, and the morality has to change.
(Oddly enough, to segue briefly away, this is how I’ve always viewed Cathy and Heathcliff. They’re so utterly, completely bound up in themselves that they cease to resemble human beings at all.)
This has other implications for the morality of immortality. You’d think the by removing the threat of death, immortals would be more compassionate to their fellow ever-living living ones, but no. Think of your Greek myths. Immortals love to hurt one another, but without death to restrain them, their torment eventually takes on the characteristics of a game. Oh, sure, the hatred might be vitriolic and caused by real grievances, but eventually it falls away due to the sheer weight of accumulated time. Life is too long to hold grudges. Just as siblings tend to be more forgiving of one anothers’ faults out of a kind of respect at having grown up in the same circumstances, immortals in this type of literature will eventually forgive and even love their deadly enemies out of a kind of respect for their shared existence.
Time heals all wounds, you see, and time stretches on awfully long if you don’t have an Asterion with whom to share it.