Thursday, June 29, 2017

Prophecy (The Lightning Thief and Other June Reads)

Persuasion by Martina Boone
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
Mad Richard by Lesley Krueger (digital ARE) Click here for full review
‘Round Midnight by Laura McBride (ARE) Click here for full review
Just After Sunset by Stephen King (reread)
Illusion by Martina Boone
Fairest by Marissa Meyer
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (reread)
The Land of Darkness by C.S. Lakin
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audiobook, reread)

So, I wanna talk about prophecies. This is partly coming from my reread of The Lightning Thief, and partly from other life stuff. You’re about to get a mish-mash of the two.

Prophecies are a common trope in fiction. They sit on the edge of the land of cliche, tempting writers to use them as a tool in their plots. This can be an easy way to send your hero on an adventure (hey, the prophecy says you have to), or a complication tossed into an already happening adventure (ha, ha, you only think you’re making your own choices). Whenever they appear, we tend to say, oh, fantasy, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Prophecies aren’t real, and we maybe shouldn’t use them for the sake of making our fiction more believable.

I would like to argue that prophecies happen every day. Maybe not like we see them in Harry Potter, or the Percy Jackson series. Smaller. Sneakier. But no less powerful. No less able to change the course of our stories.

Prophecy is the teacher who says “I know you can do this,” or “You’re going to fail, so why even try?” Prophecy is the parent who says “You can be whatever you want,” or “You’ll never amount to anything.” Prophecy is the doctor who says “You’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re twenty.”

Any of these prophecies can have a huge impact on the course of your life. The student/child either lives up to what is expected of them (or isn’t), or sees the comment as a challenge, something to prove wrong.

In medicine, prophecy is called prognosis. You get a diagnosis, the what of your condition. And then a prognosis, a prediction of the outcome of your condition. You makes choices for your future based on your projected lifespan and level of function. The option to fight, to prove the prognosis wrong, is a lot trickier. How much control do you really have over the progression of a condition? Sometimes none.

Sometimes prophecies do not play out the way anyone expected.

When I was thirteen, I had a year of suckitude. I had intense pain in my left ankle and leg. A slew of doctors had no idea what the problem was. I ended up in a cast for eight weeks. (Super fun during rainy springtime in Florida) Finally, the right doctor ordered the right blood work. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The cast was removed, and massive anti-inflammatories were consumed.

The wrong doctor (seen for something else) informed me that with my diagnosis, I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was twenty and dead by thirty.

As a thirteen-year-old, I had no idea what to do with that. I held it tightly to me, though. I carried it through every moment of my life.

I was lucky. Within a year of starting medication, I was in remission.

On my twentieth birthday, I went for my daily morning run up a mountain in New Mexico and yelled from the top “F— you, Dr. _______!”

But prophecies are tricksy. As my thirtieth birthday approached, the prophecy reared its head, reminding me that it still lurked. A few months before my birthday, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had my thyroid removed, and had the fun of dealing with a string of complications. I was convinced that the prophecy was partly true. Right expiration date, wrong cause.

Again, I was lucky. My birthday passed, and I was still alive. A year past diagnosis, no sign of the cancer. (Still no sign to date, FYI)

The prophecy was squashed again.

And now I am less than a month from forty. Another decade. Those seem to be key moments in my personal prophecy. Again, the prophecy is being tricksy.

Last week, I spent a day in a wheelchair. I could not stand on or move my right hip. An ultrasound showed fluid in my hip joint. Inflammation markers are elevated in my blood work. I have been off and on crutches since. My immediate thought: this is the return of the arthritis that brought the initial prophecy. Perhaps the cause was right, but the expiration date was wrong.

We will see how this pans out. We will see what new turns the prophecy takes.

But my point: the idea of prophecies in fiction is not far-fetched. I do not cringe when I see them in stories. The challenge is to find the twists and turns, the ways the prophecy can be true and not true at the same time, the ways the prophecy changes the course of events just by existing. And of course, how your hero deals with the words in the first place.

Personally, I like to see the prophecy that seems crystal clear on the surface. It isn’t a riddle or a mystery. Everyone knows what it means, they just aren’t sure how to deal with it, or change it. Then a turn of events forces everyone to change their perspective, makes everyone reconsider the meaning of the prophecy.

This, to me, is what life is. Taking what you are given (including prophecies) and building meaning around it.

Have you used prophecy in your writing? How did you make it twist and turn?

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