“Writing Reflections” is a new series of posts, in which I plan to discuss various aspects of–you guessed it–writing. I by no means consider myself an authority on the subject. There is still much I have to learn. Rather, I prefer to view it as an opportunity to share my experiences and discoveries along the way. Sometimes the subject will deal with writing in a more general sense. Other times, I will talk about specific moments or themes from my own journey. Today’s topic will fall into the latter category.
My current work-in-progress, The Armor of Edir Chronicles, is a fantasy series. As such, it has its fair share of magical and mythical creatures. And those creatures, particularly Elves and Dwarves, frequently appear alongside us–the mundane, boring humans.
As I was thus considering all of these characters and their relation to one another, a question arose in my mind: What is the strength of Man?
In other words, what is the purpose/function of humans in my story? What do they contribute to the resistance against evil? I was searching for the unique qualities of the human race, and how they differ from those of the Elves and Dwarves.
I felt sure that each race must have its own individual “strengths”–that is, specific characteristics that set them apart, give them depth, and enable them to fight against evil–which ultimately contribute to the overall theme of the story: spiritual warfare and sanctification. I had a pretty good idea of what those strengths were for the Elves and Dwarves, but the answer for my own race continued to elude me.
Undeterred, I decided to take a trip to my fictional world, Indoria, in order to find out what some of my characters’ thoughts were on the subject (yes, I talk to my characters, and yes, I would consider that a perfectly normal activity).
Ironically, none of the humans could tell me what their strength is. Most admitted they had never even considered it before.
The closest resemblance to an answer I received came from Barnard, son of Orthin–a slightly grumpy, accident-prone Loremaster (a.k.a. “storyteller”) from the city of Gilafar. Despite his harsh exterior, Barnard has proven himself to be a most valuable source of knowledge. Plus, he has traveled extensively and experienced many other cultures firsthand. So he was the most obvious person to ask. This was his reply:
“What is man’s strength? Ha! That is easy. Our strength is a propensity for stubbornness. Why, we alone are hardheaded enough to plunge on into the most dire of circumstances, when all others would exhibit the common sense to stay out of it.”
That’s Barnard for you. The funny thing is, while I suspect his reply was steeped heavily in sarcasm, he in fact came closer to the truth than he probably realized.
But my quest was not over. So, I turned next to the Dwarves. When asked what they thought the strength of Man to be, the general response was:
“Humans, eh? Well, they are certainly more trustworthy than Elves. I would trust a human any day over an Elf!”
Go figure. The Dwarves tend to hold grudges for…forever. I personally think they are just as prone to stubbornness as humans, if not more so (but then, I suppose I’m biased). In the end, the Dwarves were of little help to me in this matter.
With a significant drop in expectation, I turned at last to an Elf. It was no accident that I put this race off until the end. I assumed, because they differ the most from humans (physical appearances aside), they were the least likely to hold the answer. Alas, I was wrong. I now realize it is precisely the contrast in their characters that makes Man’s stand out clearer. This is what the lady Finora taught me. In order to give the full picture of my revelation, I decided to record my conversation with her.
While fairly young for an Elf (she is a mere 120 years old), Finora is not lacking in wisdom. She is also more accepting of humans in general than most Elves, which I expect is due largely to her strong sense of empathy. Finora possesses an innate (and occasionally unsettling) ability to read people, and is thus well-equipped to not only see things from their point of view, but also to genuinely understand others–even those she has known but a short time.
Due to the laws of the Elves, I cannot enter their realm uninvited. So Finora agrees most kindly to meet me at a spot along the Hannitha River, which serves as their northern border. I enter the forest of Ilfórien, and after a short hike, I hear the rushing of water. Finora is already waiting for me, seated gracefully upon the grassy bank of the river and weaving a necklace of freshly picked flowers. As I approach, she glances up at me with her emerald green eyes–her most notable feature by far. Immediately, I am struck by the vividness of their color and the intensity of their gaze. I sit across from her, trying (unsuccessfully) to appear graceful as well.
Thanks again for meeting me. I realize it is rare for an Elf to be in company with a human.
(Finora laughs softly, a sound that mingles with the rustling of leaves above us as if it is but a part of the breeze, and brushes back her long brown curls).
I suppose it is rare. But perhaps it should not be so. It seems to me that ignorance is just as dangerous, if not more so, than knowledge. It is my sincerest hope that the day will soon come when my people will no longer shut themselves away from the rest of the world.
I couldn’t agree more.
Why thank you. (A slight grin curls her lips, then she studies me with her piercing gaze). I have a feeling we are going to get along well.
Me too! Shall we jump right into it, then?
But of course. Jump whenever you like.
(Finora turns her attention back to her necklace of flowers, weaving continually while we speak).
Alright. What would you consider to be the strength of Men, as opposed to that of the Elves or Dwarves?
Oh my! That is a difficult question.
I know. I haven’t had much luck so far finding a satisfactory answer.
(Finora gazes up into the roof of branches for a moment, as if the answer is hiding somewhere among the leaves).
I suppose the most appropriate place to begin would be the end.
I beg your pardon?
Think of it in this way: What is the most obvious difference between humans and Elves?
(I wasn’t prepared to be put on the spot in return, so I thought carefully before answering, not wishing to make a fool of myself).
Correct! Elves are immortal, which means we never experience death, except by the sword. Even the Dwarves, while they are not immortal, enjoy lifespans that greatly exceed those of Men. Because Man’s life is so fleeting and frail, this is often viewed as a weakness, especially to my people. However, the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the doom of Man bears with it a secret gift, something which gives them strength despite their weakness.
Wait, are you saying death is the strength of Man?
Oh, no! But it is in part a means to their strength.
(Finora lowers her fingertips into the river and lets the water rush past).
I think it would help to first consider the other races, for the sake of comparison. For example, the Elves alone have been blessed with the Ilandra–that is, the Gift of Light.
Yes, of course. That’s what gives you your powers, right?
Indeed. Hence, we possess a greater knowledge and mastery of the natural world than others. As for the Dwarves, they are granted physical strength, loyalty and courage, which is what makes them so suited for life in the harsh mountains (along with their keen eyesight in darkness). One could say their gift yields a knowledge of relationships–along with all of their intricacies. They understand best the relation between people, as well as ideas. They see every connection, and its effect on all the rest.
Interesting. I’ve never considered each race’s gift from the viewpoint of knowledge before. That’s a neat way of looking at it.
And now, we need only take that common element and apply it to Man. Then we will see that, in a way, his gift comes from the knowledge of death.
That sounds rather morbid. I think I’d rather understand nature or relationships, personally.
(Finora laughs again).
Do not be fooled by appearances, my friend. Men understand death in a way the Elves never will, which gives them a strength we have not. Death is a great mystery to my people, and one which is quite often feared. Yet Men have no choice but to face it eventually. While that might seem harsh and unfair at first, it is in the face of death that Man’s strength can be seen the clearest. The source of their strength does not originate within them, any more than the Elves’ originates within us. As I’ve already said, it is a gift–one which is more powerful than many realize.
Okay. You’ve intrigued me. So what strength exactly does death give to Man?
As I mentioned earlier, Man’s life is incredibly fleeting and frail. This yields a unique result. Being forced to face death means that Men must of necessity take up one of two views: Either all is in vain and nothing matters in the end–which is a bleak view, indeed–or else there is something beyond this world, something on which their expectations can rest, no matter the evils that befall them in life. And when a human takes up this last view, that is what gives him his strength.
I see! So Man is able, if given the grace, to face the evils of this world with perseverance because his expectation lies beyond the physical.
Precisely! When all others would give up the fight, Men alone have the understanding required to stand firm.
(I cannot help but chuckle to myself at how similar this sounds to Barnard’s snide response from earlier).
Ah, it is finished! (Finora holds up her necklace of flowers and offers it to me). Please accept this gift, as a symbol of our budding friendship. I have placed a spell on the flowers, so they will not wilt right away. They should stay fresh for at least a few days.
Thank you very much! But, I never saw you perform a spell of any kind…
(Finora raises one eyebrow).
If you had, then I wouldn’t be very good, would I?
Okay, you got me there.
(I place the flowers around my neck and stand to leave. Finora raises a hand in farewell).
Maya elu. Peace to you.
(I start to leave, but stop and turn back to Finora again).
Is there something else?
Yes, just one last question. If you had to summarize Man’s strength in one word, what word would you choose?
(Finora looks again to the treetops and contemplates the question in silence. Then, a smile spreads across her radiant face).