by KJ Taylor
I don’t like fate or prophecy in stories. I don’t think I ever particularly have. As a teenager I read the whole Harry Potter series and loved it – but when the prophecy about Harry surfaced I groaned and said “Really? Why is this necessary? We already know he’s the one to fight Voldemort; I really don’t think he needs a prophecy to give him a push in the right direction”. Although, admittedly, without the prophecy he would probably only have confronted Voldemort because the plot said so. Or perhaps because he decided to do it of his own free will, which he more or less did. Either way, the prophecy felt like a totally unnecessary cliché.
I think the main problem I have with fate and prophecies is that it removes (or at least undermines) the importance of free will. I don’t want to see a hero save the day because the ancient prophecy or the random seer said he should. I want him to do it because he chooses to do it, even if he’s not the best man for the job. It’s more or less a given that the hero is going to save the day in one way or another – involving a prophecy is basically just telegraphing the upcoming plot. “Guess what? The hero is going to fight evil! Surprise!
Of course, as with all plot devices, it all depends on how it’s used. For example, George R R Martin includes multiple prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire, most of which are either too vague for anyone to be certain if they came true or not, or turn out to be just plain wrong. They are cultural prophecies, like those in the Bible, rather than anything magical (or at least that’s my interpretation). When I was younger I read a comment someone made during an Internet discussion, in which they said they wished there were more prophecies in books which didn’t actually come true. As I often do when reading this kind of discussion, I thought “Okay, I’ll get right on that”. Which I did.
Accordingly, during my Fallen Moon trilogy (Warning, Spoilers), a young warrior who grew up on a farm is told he has to fight the villain with a magic sword. He immediately decides he’s the Chosen One and sets out on his quest – only to fail miserably and die after the much more intelligent villain stabs him in the back. He essentially threw his life away because he believed he was the subject of a sacred prophecy. After that I avoided using any futher predictions of the future in that series – I’d had my fun and wanted to move on to different things. Nevertheless, refusing to follow the path given to you is a recurring theme in the rest of the books. The protagonists constantly defy their destinies, even when handed down to them by the gods themselves. And they frequently succeed.
Much later, having been given some extremely bad news, I became very, very angry and proceeded to do what I always do when majorly pissed off: I sat down and wrote a satire. It was one of only two satirical novels I’ve ever done, and I wrote the other one while angry as well. I don’t know why being angry makes me want to write humour, but there you go.
This latest satire is Broken Prophecy, and has just been published by Impulse. The protagonist, Ambit, is the Chosen One. He has everything: a special mark on his hand, a magical spear, a home and family destroyed by the “bad guys”, and of course there is a prophecy about how he will slay the nine Demon Lords and save the world. He even has a wisecracking sidekick.
There’s only one problem with all this: Ambit doesn’t want to be the Chosen One, and he doesn’t want to save the world or fight demons. Having discovered that his family was killed purely because of what he is, he decided he wanted nothing to do with any of that prophecy junk, and set out to go his own way. The entire book is about him actively working to not fulfil the prophecy. And even though he’s a pretty irresponsible person, it may just turn out that he’s right.
Another project of mine coming out this year has a more serious take on the idea of fate and prophecy. The four-book Drachengott series stars a dragon named Syn, who is outcast by the supreme dragon, known as the Drachengott. Shortly after this she has a prophetic dream, in which she sees four humans with four special weapons, who have come together and are preparing to face down and destroy the Drachengott forever. Thirsting for revenge, Syn sets out to make this dream become reality.
As she recruits the four heroes, it at first appears that her cause is a noble one. But at its base, it may not be so at all. Syn is so obsessed with what she has seen that she is prepared to repeatedly lie – even to the one she loves – maniuplate others, and even commit murder for her own ends. When she is finally confronted about her actions, she insists that they were justified. Nothing matters but making her vision come true. When she is asked to reveal her true identity, her only excuse is that her vision showed that she had not done so – and if that part changes, then maybe none of it will ever happen. The other characters point out that this is nonsensical, but Syn will not be moved. Ultimately, she alienates those she cares about, and must confront what she has become.
I think fate and prophecy are another trope to be played around with or discarded. By this point it would take an extremely skilled writer (or one who can make it fun) to play it completely straight and get away with it. I for one prefer to try a different take, or simply avoid it altogether.
(Oh, and the “I am your father!” “So what?” scene in The Griffin’s War was meant to be a joke. Not everyone seems to have realised that. I threw it in because I thought it would be funny if there was an “I am your father!” reveal, and the response from everybody involved was “oh, okay. That’s interesting I guess”).
Wind – KJ Taylor
Available on Amazon
Wendland is a land of dragons, and of magic. The mysterious Drachengott grants magic to his worshippers – but is he truly a god? Rutger von Gothendorf is only a simple furrier, but he has become his village’s local eccentric, thanks to his obsession with the murder of his brother by the Drachengott’s servants. He holds onto the vague hope that he will one day have the chance to fight back against them – until one day a mysterious and beautiful woman named Swanhild comes into his life. Rutger is instantly smitten – but Swanhild knows more than she says, and a web of lies and deceit threatens to sour the love beginning to grow between them.
And all the while, the Drachengott waits …
K.J.Taylor was born in Australia in 1986 and plans to stay alive for as long as possible. She went to Radford College and achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications at the University of Canberra, where she is currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Information Studies.
She published her first work, The Land of Bad Fantasy through Scholastic when she was just 18, and went on to publish The Dark Griffin in Australia and New Zealand five years later. The Griffin’s Flight and The Griffin’s War followed in the same year, and were released in America and Canada in 2011. At the moment, she is working on the third set of books in the series, while publishing the second.
K.J.Taylor’s real first name is Katie, but not many people know what the J stands for. She collects movie soundtracks and keeps pet rats, and isn’t quite as angst-ridden as her books might suggest.
KJ will be awarding an eCopy of Wind to 3 randomly drawn winners! Click below to participate: