Remembering What Never Happened

sartorias discusses kids’ early language and how it represents creative thought. It provoked an interesting discussion, but my own reaction wasn’t really on her topic, so I put it here.

My youngest brother, when he was still a preschooler, used to get tired of hearing about things that happened before he was born. He would make up things that never happened and then, when questioned, would say sharply, “It was a long time ago; you don’t remember.” At the time I thought this was hilarious. Now it makes me a little queasy: he was obviously mirroring dismissive attitudes he perceived in his mob of older siblings, including me. He was at war with us and imagination was his primary weapon; he was making up his own history to compete with ours.

The more I think about this the more it seems to be a primary impulse in the writing of fantasy fiction, maybe fiction generally: to create an imaginary history to defend one’s own identity. In its cruder forms, this produces the log of the USS Mary Sue. In subtler forms you might get something like Joyce’s quasi-autobiographical fiction. But maybe even stuff where the authors disappear behind their creation (like Vance’s fantasy or LeGuin’s or, on a more elevated plane, the work of Shakespeare or Homer) serves the same function.

So maybe the archetypal fantasy story doesn’t really begin with a polite Once upon a time… but with a surly subvocal mutter, It was a long time ago; you don’t remember.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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2 Responses to Remembering What Never Happened

  1. sartorias says:

    Insightful post. But there is also the survivor escape. In my world, they can’t do those things to me, because I have powers. This can be particularly true for we older sibs, who bore the brunt of the crap.

    • JE says:

      Thanks, and I know what you mean. I think of this as the Slan effect, because A.E. Van Vogt, even thought he wasn’t such a great writer, really knew how to conjure up these “I am a superpowered mutant in disguise!” sort of fantasies.

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