I am a reader who was raised by readers, but my father has long disdained my love of books filled with faeries and unicorns and dragons. He wholeheartedly agreed with my defense of Westerns, a genre he taught me to love, but he just doesn’t get fantasies. Some are silly stories and often their covers do nothing to dispel this perception; however, many fantasies are epic Stories offering deep meaningful messages that can be plumbed over and over again. Don’t make me hit you with some Tolkien. But I won’t start with many of the more obvious arguments to defend fantasies. Instead, I would like to begin with a trilogy I recently reread, the Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. Both authors are giants in the field, but are not as well known outside it. In addition to wondering how different my life might have turned out if I had a unicorn as my guardian when I was a teenager, I concluded there are three important lessons we can learn from fantasies – and the Obsidian Trilogy in specific.
There is always a price
We learn this lesson over and over again in fantasy stories, but it is explicitly laid out in the Obsidian Trilogy. One of the primary magic wielders in the books are the Wildmages who can perform amazing feats of healing and other magic, but the key to any Wild Magic spell is that it must be paid for. There is always a price. Wild Magic is about balance and in order for there to be a gain there must also be a loss. Sometimes it is a simple task involving physical labor and sometimes it is an emotional task requiring forgiveness of an enemy and sometimes it is the ultimate sacrifice. What is interesting is that the cost can be shared by agreement, sometimes deferred, but it is usually inconvenient and difficult – challenging even. Even when the price is simple it is never easy. This means that magic never provides an easy solution to every problem and is rarely wielded without thought by Wildmages. This is something that another group of mages in the book, the High Mages, have forgotten because they have found a way to steal magic without paying for it. Ultimately, the High Mages find that there is a price to pay for their theft and it almost costs them everything. I cannot help but make a comparison to our modern luxuries as well as political power. If we really had to pay the true price of all our modern conveniences would we be more frugal and sparing with them? What would happen to our politicians if they had to pay the price for the power they have stolen from us? What is the true cost of convenience and expedience?
Others Are People Too
At the beginning of the story told by the Obsidian Trilogy, many groups have separated to such an extent that they either don’t believe in the existence of the other groups or have instead embraced a set of prejudicial beliefs and myths about those groups as truth. Part of the character arc for the hero is learning that looks can be deceiving, long-held beliefs are not the same as facts, and people are just people with both strengths and weaknesses in different combinations. Clearly these are lessons we could all learn and benefit from. Throughout his journey he learns that “others” can be wonderful and terrible, generous and cruel, and loyal and selfish – and no one “race” owns a monopoly on any of these qualities. Through his relationship with these “others” who are so unlike himself he learns more about himself and his humanity. I found these books an useful reminder that the more we learn about others the more we can learn about ourselves – lessons that can only benefit all humanity. One of the “others” the hero relied on throughout his journey was his particular unicorn friend and I only wished that I had a unicorn to guide me through my journey to adulthood. I can only imagine what a different place our world would be with more unicorns to love and fight for us while requiring us to be more chaste and pure in both mind and deed. The books are filled with examples of characters discovering the simple fact that “others” might not look the same or share our beliefs, but they are real people with feelings and lives that matter – and sometimes they are better people than we are because they did not need the lesson — we are all people of equal value and importance and we forget that to our own peril.
We are all connected
Living in a country where intolerance for those with different skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, identity, or beliefs, is increasingly painful for me, so it was refreshing to escape to a world where intolerance and judgment were rewarded by karma in so many delightful ways. The Obsidian trilogy reminds us, again and again, that prejudice is taught and that our ways are not the norm or better just because “others” live their lives with different customs and beliefs. We have reached a point in our country when it seems impossible to have a reasoned honest discussion about race or religion and all the myriad of ways these two differences play out in our daily lives and the laws and policies of our country. Yet in these books we see race, as represented by different beings from elves to centaurs to unicorns to dragons, and religion (wild vs. high magic) dividing the forces of good until, in the nick of time, it becomes clear that in order to survive they must overcome their differences and work together. Throughout the books we see time and again that despite their apparent differences they have much in common and depend on each other to survive and thrive. Again it is all about balance and harmony. Something our world needs. Something we need as individuals as well. We are inhabitants of Earth and we need each other to survive — we are all connected.
These three lessons can be learned from fantasy books in general as well as the Obsidian Trilogy in specific. Sometimes it is easier to have difficult conversations, such as those about race and religion, in a make-believe world. Sometimes it is easier to empathize and open our minds when we are being entertained. Sometimes it is easier to challenge our beliefs when we are comfortable and safe.
Artwork – Thanks to Brad Takei for sharing this wonderful graphic which we believe sums up the essence of this postTags: #Books, #Stories, #Storytelling