Thursday, September 8, 2011

Question #15

And here we are at question fifteen which is from Christinathemum:

Who/What does "Life and Death" and "Lady Life and Death" symbolize?

Excellent question! I'm so glad someone asked this one.

For those of you who need a refresher, the Dragon King of my world has several other names. He is also called the Death of Dreams, and the Death-in-Life. By contrast, his "sister," is called the Lady Life-in-Death or the Lady of Dreams Realized. They are two sides of the same coin, however. Together, they create the sum-total of Death.

The initial inspiration for these two-in-one characters came from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, an epic allegorical poem. I have written a little about that connection HERE, for those of you who have not read that article. At the risk of repeating myself, let me say quickly that the most dominant image in that poem to me is the one where the hero, the Ancient Mariner, witnesses a ghostly ship approach his. As it draws near, he sees those on deck. Here he describes the ship and its occupants:

Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
Is that a DEATH and are there two?
Is DEATH that Woman's mate?

Her lips are red, her looks are free,
Her locks are yellow as gold:
Her skin was white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
"The game is done! I've won! I've won!"
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

When I first read this poem, I was struck by the duality of Death portrayed here. We have ingrained in our heads from western mythology the notion of gods playing games with men's lives. And we have seen Death portrayed in many forms, most classically the Grim Reaper. But I had never seen in fiction this other side of Death so clearly portrayed; this living death.

I suspect (though I have no proof of this) that Coleridge himself was inspired by lines written in St. Augustine's Confessions.

"For what do I wish to say, O Lord my God, but that I know not whence I came hither into this life-in-death. Or should I call it death-in-life? I do not know. And yet the consolations of thy mercy have sustained me from the very beginning . . ."

Clearly this concept of a dual nature in death has been around for a long time. But usually, we fear (and write about) Death in only broadest sense. And yes, Death is a fearful thing. But to me, it seemed much more dreadful to write about Death in a smaller, more intimate fashion. Like Coleridge, I wanted to split it into different aspects.

Death-in-Life as witnessed in the form of the Dragon is despair in the form of destruction. The Dragon burns and destroys, breaking the soul in fire and fury. He is overt and dreadful. His victims are made fiery and dreadful like him.

Life-in-Death, by contrast, is more subtle. She works through a man's desires, giving him what he wants. Unlike the Dragon who strips away dreams, she fulfills them. And in their fulfillment, in this seeming fruition of life, she brings death. She says to her victims, "Let thy will be done," and sees to it that they have their way.

They are the same Death in the end. In her offered life, there is dreadful death. In his offered death, there is burning life. In the end, as the Dragon says, they all come to him. They all become creatures of fire and darkness. Look at the path down which Lionheart treads? Is it any worse than the fiery fate to which Una succumbs?

The physical descriptions of the Dragon and the Lady are loosely based off of Coleridge. I also took the notion of them playing dice for souls directly from the Ancient Mariner as a nod to Coleridge's genius.

I hope that explains this fairly complicated theme for you! If it still seems unclear, do please ask more questions. I will do all I can to clarify.


Abigail Hartman said...

I think you did an excellent job with both Death-in-Life and Life-in-Death. I liked their relationship, the way one "likes" any villain; they give more depth to the plot than can be found in most story villains, perhaps because they represent what we continue to struggle against while in these "bodies of death." While it makes them more chilling, I think it also makes the allegory of Tales more worthwhile.

Miah said...

I am just now reading your first book (it was given to me). I am liking it quite a bit and will be sure to pick up the second one!

Christinanthemum said...

Wonderful! 'Cause my hubby and I were talking about what they symbolized throughout the first and second book.
Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

The scene(s) with the dice reminded me of Terry Pratchett's "Thunder rolled. He rolled a six."