1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Of heroes and evil minions

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Steerpike, Aug 5, 2015.

    I came across this section in Steven Erikson's "Reaper's Gale," and got a bit of a chuckle of out it, particularly because it put me in the mind of old fantasy stories. Erikson's characters are often reflective on the genre, art, criticism, authorship, and so on.

    Anyway, if anyone wants to discuss Erikson specifically, that will work. Or we can just discuss this passage. Either way, 'Book Discussion' seems like the best subforum. Erikson criticizes both one-dimensional fantasy worlds and characters here, neither problem being something he suffers from. I have to admit, though, that at times I don't mind reading some old-fashioned adventure fantasy of precisely the sort Erikson is making fun of. How do you feel about those sorts of adventure stories, be they fantasy or otherwise? Can you read them anymore these days, or are they best consigned to a bygone era of literature?

    And now, the snippet I'm referring to, where we find reluctant traveling companions passing the time in conversation:


    "The wizards and Silchas are probably arguing the manner of your execution, Fear Sengar," Udinaas said. "You are their most hated enemy, after all. Child of the Betrayer, spawn of lies and all that. It suits your grand quest, for the moment at least, doesn't it? Into the viper's den - every hero needs to do that, right? And moments before your doom arrives, out hisses your enchanted sword and evil minions die by the score. Ever wondered what the aftermath of such slaughter must be? Dread depopulation, shattered families, wailing babes - and should that crucial threshold be crossed, then inevitable extinction is assured, hovering before them like a grisly spectre. Oh yes, I heard my share when I was a child, of epic tales and poems and all the rest. But I always started worrying...about those evil minions, the victims of those bright heroes and their intractable righteousness. I mean, someone invades your hide-out, your cherished home, and of course you try to kill and eat them. Who wouldn't? There they were, nominally ugly and shift-looking, busy with their own little lives, plaiting nooses or some such thing. Then shock! The alarms are raised! The intruders have somehow slipped their chains and death is a whirlwind in every corridor!"

    Seren Pendac sheathed the sword. "I think I would like to hear your version of such stories, Udinaas. How you would like them to turn out. At the very least, it will pass the time."

    "I'd rather not singe Kettle's innocent ears-"

    "She's asleep. Something she does a lot these days."

    "Perhaps she's ill."

    "Perhaps she knows how to wait things out," the Acquitor responded. "Go on, Udinaas, how does the heroic epic of yours, your revised version, turn out?"

    "Well, first the hidden lair of the evil ones. There's a crisis brewing. Their priorities got all mixed up - some past evil ruler with no management skills or something. So, they've got dungeons and ingenious but ultimately ineffective torture devices. They have steaming chambers with huge cauldrons, awaiting human flesh to sweeten the pot - but alas, nobody's been by of late. After all, the lair is reputedly cursed, a place whence no adventurer ever returns - all dubious propaganda, of course. In fact, the lair's a good market for the local woodcutters and pitch-sloppers - huge hearths and torches and murky oil lamps - that's the problem with underground lairs - they're dark. Worse than that, everyone's been sharing a cold for the past eight hundred years. Anyway, even an evil lair needs the necessities of reasonable existence. Vegetables, bushels of berries, spices and medicines, cloth and pottery, hides and well-gnawed leather, evil-looking hats. Of course I've not even mentioned all the weapons and intimidating uniforms."

    "You have stumbled from your narrative trail, Udinaas," Seren Pendac observed.

    "So I have, and that too is an essential point. Life is like that. We stumble astray. Just like those evil minions. A crisis - no new prisoners, no fresh meat. Children are starving. It's an unmitigated disaster."

    "What's the solution?"

    "Why, they invent a story. A magical item in their possession, something to lure fools into the lair. It's reasonable, if you consider it. Every hook needs a wriggling worm. And then they choose one among them to play the role of the Insane Master, the one seeking to unlock the dire powers of that magical item and so bring about a utopia of animated corpses stumbling through a realm of ash and rejected tailings. Now, if this doesn't bring the heroes in by the drove, nothing will."

    "Do they succeed?"

    "For a time, but recall those ill-conceived torture implements. Invariably, some enterprising and lucky fool gets free, then crushes the skull of a dozing guard or three, and mayhem is let loose. Endless slaughter - hundreds, then thousands of untrained evil warriors who forgot to sharpen their swords and never mind the birch-bark shields that woodcutter with the hump sold them."

    Even Fear Sengar grunted a laugh at that. "All right, Udinaas, you win. I think I prefer your version after all."

    Udinaas, surprised into silence, stared across at Seren Pendac, who smiled and said, "You have revealed your true talent, Udinaas. So the hero wins free. Then what?"

    "The hero does nothing of the sort. Instead, the hero catches a chill down in those dank tunnels. Makes it out alive, however, and retreats to a nearby city, where the plague he carries spreads and kills everyone. And for thousands of years thereafter, that hero's name is a curse to both people living above ground and those below."

    After a moment, Fear spoke. "Ah, even your version has an implicit warning, slave. And this is what you would have me heed, but that leads me to wonder - what do you care for my fate? You call me your enemy, your lifelong foe, for all the injustices my people have delivered upon you. Do you truly wish me to take note of your message?"

    "As you like, Edur," Udinaas replied, "but my faith runs deeper than you imagine, and on an entirely different course from what you clearly think. I said the hero wins clear, at least momentarily, but I mentioned nothing of his hapless followers, his brave companions."

    "All of whom died in the lair."

    "Not at all. In the aftermath there was a dire need for new blood. They were one and all adopted by the evil ones, who were only evil in a relative sense, being sickly and miserable and hungry and not too bright. In any case, there was a great renaissance in the lair's culture, producing the finest art and treasures the world had ever seen.

    "And what happened then?" Seren asked.

    "It lasted until a new hero arrived, but that's a tale for another time. I have talked myself hoarse."
     
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