Welcome back to Serial in its normal form. I did not want my fantasy short story Prince of Exile broken up by a change of year. Beginning tomorrow, it will appear in eleven additional posts, with this post as an introduction.
I have been writing fantasy of one kind or another since the beginning. In 1972 I wrote the opening lines of Valley of the Menhir, (post 39) three years before I decided to try my hand at novels. Most of the fantasy I’ve written has been in that universe; the Land of the Menhir has become almost a second home to me.
This story stands separate and a lot further along the continuum from medieval to mythical. It takes place adjacent to a land of Kings and barmaids, and in that land at the same time – sort of. The Prince is more than a little hard to pin down.
The initial rush of emotion that told me I had a story crying to be written came when I first heard the Doors’ performance of Celebration of the Lizard on their 1970 album Absolutely Live. When I heard . . .
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest
Children of the night
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready.
. . . I knew I had to take those words, absorb them, transmute them, and bring them back again. The story that emerged did not contain the words of the poem; nevertheless, they are its genesis and essence.
(Pardon the brevity of the quotation; I am punctilious about not stealing other artist’s words.)
Two other fragments were necessary to this story; I am a fan of Michael Moorcock and of Elric, but Stormbringer always repelled me. In part 2, I decided to offer my anti-Stormbringer in rebuke.
The second fragment comes from childhood, from a book called Wild Animals I have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton, which I bought when I was about twelve. In one of his stories, all based on real events, Seton says, “Every true story ends in death.” Or so my mind constructed his meaning; I still have the book, but I have never since been able to find the passage that affected me so deeply. Most likely, I had rebuilt his actual words, “The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end,” which is a subtly but critically different observation.
Over the years, while recognizing the reality of Seton’s statement, whatever words he actually used to convey it, I have also come to realize that the opposite is equally true. No action, for good or ill, ends with the actor’s life. All the things we do have reverberations that long outlive us. In other words, “No true story ever ends.”
In Prince of Exile, I finally found the right place to use that conundrum.
You might guess from the length of this introduction that Prince of Exile is something special to me. I may be my favorite among all the things I’ve written. Although it would be hard to rank Prince above something I’ve spent years polishing, at least pound for pound it ranks first.
There is one flaw in the story, which I have no intention of fixing. If you were to read it cold, you would expect to find that the prince is the king’s son. No. The King is a king; the Prince is the prince. Not related the way you would think at all. Logically, I should change one or the other, but I can no more do that than Ursula LeGuin could change Ged’s name because someone might think she meant God. Anyway, structural flaws don’t mean so much in a story that comes from this deep. Prince of Exile begins tomorrow.