Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Seers in Storytelling

Seers, psychics, oracles, mediums, prophets, diviners, astrologers, tarot readers, or even those with a smoking hot intuition, can play a powerful roles in speculative fiction. Our genre is rich with it, and has been for thousands of years.

From Homer's Pythia, priestess of Apollo, to Tolkien's Galadriel and her mirror, the Oracle in the Matrix to Whedon's River Tam in Firefly, the seer can move the story forward in tantalising ways. But writing a prognostic character has it's problems. All that foresight may just as easily ruin a plot as empower it.

If your protagonist can see into the future, the surprise is gone. 

The easy way to remedy this is to place limits, making the seer unreliable. They might be a novice, out of control, or their skill could require a ritual, tools or equipment they don't always have time for. Like the Greek sphinx, they might speak in riddles so ambiguous that no one can understand, save in hindsight

With the Oracle of Delphi, often the  urge to avoid the fate was exactly what fulfilled it. When King Laius and Queen Epicaste of Thebes had a baby boy, they asked Pythia his future. When the Priestess replied that the boy, Oedipus, would  kill his father and marry his mother, they abandoned the baby, but we know how that went...

In LOTR, Galadriel's mirror shows past, present and future events, from near or far, but is never clear on which is which. Both Sam and Frodo are invited to look, Sam seeing the destruction of the Shire and Frodo nearly touching the water with the ring (which would reveal his whereabouts to Sauron). In these cases, interpretation of what is foretold is critical to what comes next. Sam choses to stay with Frodo, even though he longs to rush back to the Shire. Frodo, on the brink of losing heart, soldiers on. Regardless of 'fate,' they make a choice, one of the key ingredients to plot propulsion.

From the Matrix, the Oracle's ability to "predict" the future is based on recognising choices before they are made. Yet telling Neo he is NOT the one is precisely what makes him begin to believe he is. In this way, the writers have created a character who can see the future but in doing so, creates a third choice that changes everything. 

In Cassandra Clare's City of Bones, if the tarot reader was on the ball, Clary's mother wouldn't have been kidnapped and the Mortal Cup never lost. Story over in chapter one. But instead, we get glimpses, hints and more mystery. Dorthea's seeing ability moves the story forward , without giving away the plot.

In Helen Lowe's The Wall of Night Series, the Derai prophecy says "If Night falls, all fall", which instead of foreshadowing future events, becomes a rally cry, or goad, to both sides, those who want Night to fall and those who don't. It's also a touchstone for Malian and Tarathan who have seer qualities of there own.

In the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption series, Jarrod's ability to extrapolate a likely outcome is based on infinite possibilities calculated outside of matter, and Kreshkali's understanding of astrology and synchronicity all play a part. But, like the Oracle of Delphi, Derai, and the Matrix, all seers perhaps, it is the free will of the characters that tips the scale. And we need it that way.

Otherwise, what would have us on the edge of the seat, wondering what will happen next? 

We'd love to hear about your favourite prophesies and diviners in books, film and TV. Drop a comment, and we'll see you there.


Kim Falconer's latest release is out now - The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel.

Learn more about Kim on Facebook and chat with her on Twitter. Check out her pen name, @a.k.wilder on Instagram, or visitAKWilder on FB and website.

Kim also runs where she teaches the law of attraction and astrology. 

Kim posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month, hosts Save the Day Writer's Community on FB and posts a daily astrology weather report on Facebook. 


Helen Lowe said...

Love the post, Kim!

The limits to prescience in the WALL series are summed up by Tarathan at the end of Book Two (The Gathering Of The Lost:

"...What I perceive is currents, the paths by which the stream of events flow, which can change at any time, just as the brook here may be dammed or switch course ... No one's path is ever graven in stone--or if it is, even stone may be eroded by weather and time."

Wouldn't a tarot reading for some of our characters be fun, hmmm?

Kim Falconer said...

Thank you, Helen. That's the perfect example.

I think a tarot reader for a character is a really fun idea! Would you like to volunteer one of yours?

Send them to me with a few sentence background and what their main questions is. LOL I love it!

billabong1502 said...

Each of those characters were unique and had their own way of truth seeing and telling and whatnot.
So it’s really a tough task to pick just one or two….

The first character to jump to mind was Taliesin Pen Beirdd – from Traci’s Ancient Future books. He’s so cocky and witty and always delivers his advice in riddles that the one on the receiving end needs to de-crypt first… lol. It’s insanely maddening at times and you want him to just be out with it already… but guessing as to the meaning is just as fun.
If we talk how was the truth-seeking done, then ‘The Tablet of Destinies’ was one such item he used (and eventually passed on to the heroine). From memory, it showed 3 possible events: One depicted the best outcome; One the worst and One the outcome if no action was taken. So in the end it was up to the wielder of the Tablet to decide which road to take.

On TV I very much enjoyed “Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander” in the series “Legend of the Seeker”… [I admit to not having read the books (Sword of Truth by T. Goodkind)– just the series].
To me he’s one of those “borderline” wizards who try to fix the wrong by whatever means necessary. It has been awhile since I last watched the series… but this is what stuck with me.
He’s got just as much vice as he has virtue. By disappearing on the Eve of the massacre of Brennidon to rescue the Seeker, he abandoned the people he swore to protect/be there for (as a Wizard of the First Order)... - so in a way he feels has loads to atone for ... so his actions on occasion appear misguided and selfish... but at the core of his heart I think he always means well. And he has a funny (less serious) side to him that he rarely shows... (and loves to speak in riddles of course ;-) )

The Wall of Night books feature so many diviners, gifted,....that it would take too long to list them all... (besides: who knows your books better than anybody? that's right: YOU! ;-) ) . Nevertheless I feel I have to mention one character that fascinated me - so it get's a special mention: Rowan Birchmoon was simply magical!

If memeory serves: didn’t Ava also sport quite the psychic ability, where so far we only got to see a tiny glimbs of? the hallucinations/dreams/visions (or however you want to call it)... perhaps compared to other "seers", Ava isn't keen on this part of her many abilities... I can see her struggling to accept that ability (besides: who needs visions when you have super-strength & stamina and can get get yourself and others out of any life-threatening situation?!), a long way to master it before it can be remotely useful to her... Though I can totally see her blocking off that gift by a means of some magic item (piece of jewellery to suppress the visions).

As for my favourite prophecy: from the hundreds of books I have read so far, if I were to pick one from many, then it's from a book series called "The Guardian Cycle".
"The birth of the Emperor's son had been prophesied many years before. The child would be the Guardian, saviour of his people. What had not been foreseen was the fact that there would be two imperial children born that night."

the gist --> one spoiled, spiteful, exploiting, mis-guided brother vs. one cast-out, disadvantaged, naive, fair-minded brother.
What makes these books also interesting (at least I found that intriguing) is that a distinctive and influential feature in those books is its four moons - the White Moon, the Red Moon, the Amber Moon, and the Dark Moon. These heavenly bodies' phases and pulls govern the lives of all people living on this planet.

*to self* Geez... babbling much?!
[this is why for the life of me I could never do an Executive].

Thank you for the post/article Kim and Helen! As usual, the wheels in my brain were set in motion.... I love it when my brain gets food for thought :D

... and I agree: a tarot reading for the characters of your books would be brill!

Best wishes,

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Christine,

Thanks for your enlightening contribution. I love the mention of Traci Harding's Taliesin Pen Beirdd and Rowan Birchmoon from the Wall of Night series. I agree. Just magical. (and cocky with the former).

In Ava's universe, memories are held in a person's blood, and seawater, so the information and (for the Shen Mar especially) entertainment, is the pull. And yes, there always has to be the Kryptonite. Necklace is a great idea!

I haven't read The Guardian Cycle but your synopsis of the premise has me. Going to check it out now.

I wonder if you have read Terry Brooks? The Shannara Chronicles? It's a tv series in the USA (on Netflixs) and they are doing a great job with it. He has a character, Bandon, an Elven boy with the gift of a seer - he can see possible futures when he touches someone. Underline 'possible'.

I'm creating a Whistle Bone Oracle for the next series. That might be the perfect deck to read for some of our fav characters. We'll see!

billabong1502 said...

I have read "Running with the Demons" by Terry Brooks.... t'was rather a long time ago though.... and I think I thought it was a stand alone - so never read the other books in the series (I googled the book just now).
and those 'Shannara Chronicles' sound interesting.... but Boy! how many books in that entire thing?

But before I can even think about giving those a go, I have to start on "The View from the Mirror" by Ian Irvine (having read 'The Well of Echoes' this year already)... however before that, Alan (Baxter) will capture my attention with Blood Codex and Primordial...
I think I have to go into retirement early to manage to read all those in my lifetime (plus any new offerings you (Kim), Helen, Traci, Alan, ... make in the years to come. And let me not forget about Steven Brust and his Vlad Taltos novels (god, I LOVE those! - especially the interaction between Vlad and his Jhereg familiar, Loiosh. Cracks me up ever single time).... and Martin F. Hengst and his Solendrea Series.

The Guardian Cycle some consider YA books...but I thought they were written beautifully and very imaginative.
author of those books is Julia Gray (a pseudonym of Mark and Julia Smith - they have also written as Jonathan Wylie [haven't read all of 'his' as they are extremely difficult to come by *sighs*; I have Servants of Ark (1-3), Shadow Maze & Dream-Weaver )...*IDEA!* off to bid on "The Unbalanced Earth (1-3) on Ebay now... lol)

Whistle Bone Oracle... hmmm... no idea what that is.... I know what a Funny Bone is.... and a Whistle Blower... but a Whitle Bone Oracle... drawing a blank ;-)
but it for sure sounds fascinating :)