I am reviewing an old sketchbook of mine that I found at my mom’s house. It dates from before my senior year of high school through my freshman year of college.
At that time had been thinking about writing a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel. I enjoyed fantasy novels from about 5th to 9th grades. By the time I was 17 I had already outgrown the genera but still thought it would be fun to try and write one for myself and I used the sketchbook to develop ideas.
Of course, if you are going to write a fantasy novel you have to start by ripping off one of Tolkien’s maps:
Ummm…. yeah. There was actually a pretty complicated political scene which included a massive city-state exercising ever greater control over trade throughout the lowlands (etc.), while the more simple (etc.) tribes in the foothills and mountains resisted. Etc.
Anyway, this was my good guy, whose name I forget, basically just Generic-Guy-With-Sword.
The good guy would wander about killing monsters and educating people in the magic rituals employed to ward off said monsters. The idea was that as the lowlands modernized under the commercial pressures from the city-state they forgot the ancestral customs which kept the monsters at bay. For example, a couple of generations of forgetting the proper burial rites meant that ghouls (pictured above) would eventually appear and start eating the dead – as well as anyone else who happened to disturb their meal. My hero would get the villagers to band together, kill the monsters, and then teach them how to ward them off for good.
You can notice from my emphasis on tradition and ritual that I was a reactionary even in 1997.
Here is another shot of my Generic Swordsman looking… generic. The monster however looks OK.
The monsters are, for the most part, former humans who underwent a ritual that (they believed) would make them immortal. It doesn’t. In fact the ritual – strictly speaking – kills them: it separates their soul from their bodies, but it also gives their soul the power to manipulate matter the way a puppeteer manipulates a marionette. Body and soul no longer make a single unit. The body can be cut to pieces, but the soul remains able to manipulate those pieces. The monster can even stitch those pieces back together, or stitch new pieces to himself, and control those with his puppet-master ability.
The human who has made such a deal does not at first understand what has happened to him, and probably will not for many months. He will slowly realize he does not need to eat or sleep, and eventually will realize he does not even need to breathe. His body will however decompose without constant attention.
He’ll start engage in compulsive and degrading behavior: perhaps at first gorging and evacuating or experimenting in sexual deviancy – even though he has no real sex drive and cannot reproduce. The behaviors become more compulsive and profane – necrophagy being a typical manifestation – as he increasingly both misses and despises ordinary biological life. Over the years his body grows more grotesque from decay, makeshift repairs to injury, and self-mutilation.
(Basically, I was trying to imagine what it would be like if we were really a Cartesian ghost in a machine. There is some influence of Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book. Maybe I was anticipating transhumanism?)
Most of these monsters are centuries old, but a new cult has arisen among the leaders of the great city inducing them into the illusion of eternal life. Can our hero defeat them? YES HE CAN! Because he has – get this – A MAGIC SWORD!
Magic sword. OK, not the most original idea.
Where there is a hero of course there is also a heroine:
This young lady, scarce more than a child, has come from the tribal North, etc. on a special mission that must bring her to the great city, etc.
“What is her mission?” you might ask.
“Uh, not sure.” I answer.
Q: OK, she can figure that out later. What incites this young thing to begin a journey that will lead her so far from home?
A: I… didn’t get quite that far.
Q: Why is she so sad in the picture?
A: Everything in my sketchbook is sad.
Q: Well, how does she meet up with the hero?
A: Hmmm. Good question.
Q: What happens when they meet up? True love?
A: Nah, he’s like twice her age.
Q: Then what?
Q: So she just wanders around, winds up in the city and… nothing?
A: She dies. I’m pretty sure they all die.
I never wrote any of this down, it just came back to me looking at the drawings. The theory behind the monsters is pretty good but there is otherwise no plot, just geopolitics and world building. It is very much the work of a kid, a bookish kid with a depressive personality, to be exact.