"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Epic Love

The first time I read Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, I was around the age of 12 or 13 -- the same age, as our ninth grade English teacher told us, that Juliet was when this immortal tale of fatal love began. (As an aside, at the time it didn't seem all that remarkable to me that Juliet was only 13 when she met her Romeo; it wasn't until years later that '12 or 13' became unbelievably young to fall in love with that kind of intensity.) I would be hard pressed to count how many times I have seen the play -- or some interpretation of it -- since then. But whenever I've sat down in the theater, or in front of the TV, or in the movies, to watch these lovers once again, I do so hoping against hope that this time, it will end differently. 

This time...Romeo will not kill Juliet's cousin.
This time...the priest's messenger will reach the exiled lover before he hears of her "death".
This time...Juliet will wake up before Romeo commits suicide.
This time...It'll all work out, one way or another.

Thus the hopeless romantic in me refuses to be silenced.  But let's face it:  If the story ended in any other way, we would no longer have an immortal Shakespearean play. And I would not go back to see it again.

What is it about doomed love, and -- more generally -- about love that manifests itself against impossible odds, that so captures our imagination?  An easy love is also, so often, a boring love.  An easy love can't be real love; not like the Great Loves, the Timeless Romances that persist in our mythology and literature, almost all of which are either forbidden or at the very least, born of (and doomed by) impossible circumstances. Love, by definition, must violate the rules; challenge the entire structure of our existence and society. It must strive to break down unbreakable barriers, and to bridge impassible chasms. Otherwise, it's not quite love at all.  Not epic love, at any rate.  Not the sort of love that will keep us coming back for more, wanting to hear the same story again and again.

When Akmael and Eolyn first meet in the South Woods, they are children unaware the Gods have chosen them for an epic love. Akmael knows Eolyn is learning a tradition of magic forbidden to women by his father, the Mage King Kedehen.  He tries to talk her out of this path, understanding it will lead if not to death on the pyre, then most certainly to direct confrontation with him and the realm he will inherit.  Eolyn, intent upon her dream of learning the ways of the magas, does not listen to her friend.  Nor does she know the full truth of Akmael's identity.  Years later, when they are on opposite sides of an armed conflict, the memory of their friendship and love will become their one hope for redemption. 

Will it be enough? 

Something never mentioned explicitly in the novel, but that forms an important subtext of the plot, is the meaning of love in the context of the line of Vortingen, the dynasty of kings to which Akmael is born.  At one point in the book, Mage Corey tells Eolyn,

"No King of this land has ever or will ever love a woman. The capacity for love was bred out of Vortingen’s line long ago. The royals fear love and the treachery they believe it can bring to their games of power."

A couple generations ago, Corey's statement might have been true.  But the decision of Akmael's father Kedehen to learn the ways of magic (thereby breaking an age-old prohibition that kept royals from becoming mages) has changed all that.  By inviting magic into his life, Kedehen unwittingly allowed love to return to the house of Vortingen, for one cannot have magic without assuming the blessings and the burdens of love. 

Kedehen was never able to manage the force of his passion for Queen Briana, and as the novel progress we learn bits and pieces of the terrible conflicts that marred their relationship, which ended with the imprisonment of the Queen.  A generation later, Kedehen's son Akmael will also be tempted to overpower his love for Eolyn by overpowering her.  Will he exhibit the same failings as his father?  And even if he does not, will that be enough to guarantee him the love he so desires?

If you understand the dynamics of epic love, you can probably guess the answers to some of these questions.  But what you will really want to do is read the novel to find out...

Today's image is a painting by John William Waterhouse of another famous pair of doomed lovers, Tristan and Isolde.