Monday, November 19, 2012

At the Heart of Every Story

My favorite stories are usually intergenerational, like Andre Norton's Witch World series and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. Then there's Anne McCaffrey's dragons of Pern and, my latest favorite, George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, which is all about family drama.

I don't think there is a more far reaching and intricately connected intergenerational science fiction series than Frank Herbert's Dune series, and his torch is now being carried by his son Brian. Even J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and the stories set in Middle Earth had at the heart families, the short lived families of Hobbits, like Bilbo and Frodo with cousins, Merry and Pippin, and the ever faithful retainer Samwise Gamgee. The horse lords of the Riddermark and the immortal elves and their families and intertwined relationships made what was supposed to be a world changing adventure story so much more.

Science fiction and fantasy have always been my first loves because they take family to new heights and to the farthest reaches of the universe and the mind and remain always stories about families and family drama. Feuds and romance, war and faith, they are all in there. Without the smaller canvas (even when it spreads out in all directions) of family, adventure stories would just be stories of the moment. Add family, like the triplets born of a Witch who turned her back against the might of the ruling witches to fall in love with and marry a mortal man and still retain her power though she lost her jewel, and invest those triplets with powers and strengths (and weaknesses) of their own and a simple story turns into so much more, and so much less than just magic and mayhem. People are at the heart, the very core of fiction.

Where there are people there are families. None of can truly claim to have popped into existence without familial ties, even though those ties often bind, gag, and even strangle. Those ties can weave a platform that can boost us to the stars and the farthest reaches of imagination.

I doubt I can choose one writer or one intergenerational story that is the best or the closest to my heart, not with Marissa Meyer turning Cinderella into a story with so much breadth and family, both in stepmother and stepsisters and in a family on the moon struggling for power and ultimately control. Where would Cinderella be, and indeed Cinder, without stepmother and stepsisters? It's about family, the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

One of my first books, a gift from an aunt, was Heidi, and that was about family. Grandfather still angry at his son and regretting their fight before his son and daughter-in-law died before the beginning of the book when the aunt drags Heidi, a 5-year-old child, up into the alp to dump her on Heidi's grandfather's doorstep. And there is Peter and his mother and grandmother and Clara and her father, Herr Sesseman, and even the butler Sebastian, who was more family than Fraulein Rottenmeier, the governess who governed Clara and Heidi's lives. It was through Heidi's love and longing for her grandfather and the extended family of Peter, his mother, and grandmother that drives the story and gives the story such power and heart, so much power and heart I remember it nearly 50 years later with joy.

Sweeping tales of of stars and earth-bound adventurers are really just interesting stories without family and the complex and often puzzling power of relationships that makes good books great and give them the star quality that makes them last for a lifetime.

Where would Herbert's Dune series be without the vendettas and power struggles of the family houses: Atreides, Corrino, Harkonnen? The interconnected families of the Fremen and their cache of water to make Dune a planet of green and rain? How about Frank L. Baum's Oz series? Dorothy wanted to get back to her family and created a family of choice in Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion? And let us not forget Martin's sweeping saga of familial relationships with Stark against Lannister against Baratheon against the Dragons of the once great ruling family that culminates in Daenaerys Storm Born and her extended family of khalasar and slaves -- and dragons reborn into the world.

These are stories of war and strife and adventure, but they are also stories of families. How could they have touched so many lives and hearts without family at the center of all?

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