One of the privileges novelists enjoy is creating characters who kill off those of the historians. The reason is that historians call up mere ghosts while novelists create people in flesh and blood.
, I wrote about The Ruby Throne and coming back to Elric of Melniboné 🔍 some two decades later. , I read Elric: Stormbringer (a 2014 graphic novel). And found myself nodding to Alan Moore’s first two paragraphs. Though I don’t have grandchildren.
The 1960s ‘Spatterphysician’ John Latham regarding books as embodying a different idea of time than our conventional approach to matters temporal, and this would seem to be the case. The fictional continuums experiences in books are self-contained eternities, with all the characters embedded in those narratives sharing those same eternal qualities. The only time existing in a book is that we bring to it as readers, with our eyes and minds progressing over the unchanging words much as the beam of a projector passes over the unchanging static frames comprising motion cinema. Time and its passage are in our perceptions only, and the characters in literature know nothing of it. We change, and they don’t.
Ans so it is that after years, which in their movement have contained grandchildren born and dear friends dead and gone, I find myself once more in company of the forever young pale man with his black sword. He is, of course, unaltered; only I show evidence of that entropic process, the respective colours of our hair now in far greater harmony than previously. And yet, in my eye, he seems different, though I know that transformation only to be in the different eye observing him. We change, they don’t… except for what they mean to us, which is of course the whole of them. A being that was only ever conjured at the point where my evolving apprehensions met the brandied, flaming words of Michael Moorcock, I discover Elric to have grown as I’ve grown, in his fashion.
Elric of Melniboné means something different to me than he did those years past. I now see a philospher and prophet bound and seeking to bind to an unwavering cruel reality. He seeks oblivion and chooses alienation to prevent the demise of the one thing he believes he holds dear.
Will there be a space in my future for another revisitation? Perhaps.
Fictional characters within their medium are complete; More so than any historical or living figure. These fictional characters, within their pages, are a “fixed point.” Whereas, flowing through my life, I may approach and revisit these points. Yet never from the same vantage point. I have changed. And they have not.
In a way, they are more true, as in steadfast, than me.
Gathering with my friends and recounting our old gaming moments tap into that steadfastness. Yes, those stories have changed a bit, and we don’t really tell them all that much. But we can use them as shorthand for our communications.
So when we assert that it is true that Anna Karenina committed suicide or that Holmes lived in Baker Street, we make statements not on a given score (that is, what a given author wrote) but on a fluctuating creature, whose ontological status appears fairly bizarre, because it should not exist and yet somehow it moves among us and can occupy our thoughts.
These truths penetrate into my being, if I am open to receive them. I cannot read a work of fiction—or participate in a Role Playing Game (RPG) campaign 🔍—and not change. And this goes beyond fiction. There are many stories that folks are telling now about their lived experience.
The stories that I tell and read, the truths I once shared and received, bring about my change. I can think back to that memorable game moment, where an exacerbated paladin to be said:
Why do you listen to them? Everytime I mention tactics, you spit in my face! Immediately following on that statement, the receiving player made a spitting noise.
The receiving character was a priest of trickery and chaos, so this was spot on perfect.
I remember the laughter at the table. The tales we’ve since told. But reshape and reframe. That aspiring paladin, looking to follow the paths dictated by their religion, met adversity and derision. And struggled to pass the tests to join the order to which they aspired.
The words and story remain the same, it’s now I look from another angle.
What I also find fascinating is the further discussion in Eco’s The Invisible essay; namely that Holmes lived in Baker Street is more certain than James Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln. As we learn more, and surface more information, our understanding of a “factual” past may change. But forever shall Holmes live in Baker Street.
Learning that left me stunned as I think about the implications of Orwell’s 1984 observation regarding shaping the past. The greatest lies being told are the continual rewriting of the past, and crafting a fiction about them. Therein to create an absolute.