I’m fascinated by the ways in which stories, behavioural patterns, beliefs and ways of being are passed down from one generation to the next. What we inherit can be totally invisible to us, and it can take years to spot that we’re playing out some other family dynamic in our own relationships, or perpetuating a family myth. Some people never know what it is that they are doing, or why. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unpick the myths of my own family, and while I can now see some of them, I have no way of explaining them, I do not know where or when they started and can only guess.
When we know what the history is and who has made the story, we have a much better shot at not repeating it. This was all very much on my mind when writing Druidry and the Ancestors, but it’s a theme I’ve taken up in my fiction work as well. The current instalment of Hopeless Maine, book 3: Sinners, started life with the longer title ‘Sins of the Fathers’. Although sins of at least one mother are also very much part of the mix.
It’s interesting how often parents do not turn up in novels and fairy stories. The dead parents are such a routine feature. The absent or unknown parents crop up a lot. The young adventurer who is obliged to set out into the world and seek their fortune, somewhere else. They go somewhere they are not known, and where they can meet their destiny free from the implications of their birth. By this means, the sons of humble woodcutters may become princes and so forth. Anyone standing in for a parent, as a mentor, guide and guardian can expect the Star Wars treatment – to be suddenly cut down so that the hero must stand alone and face their destiny.
Real life does not deliver this for most of us. We will live our lives connected to our family roots, and many of us will deal with our most immediate ancestors in ongoing ways. The stories handed down to us about who we are and how we should act stay with us too. It’s one of the things I like about Hopeless Maine* as a setting – it’s really claustrophobic. Mostly the only way to leave the island is to die, and that’s not wholly reliable. Our young heroes, Sal and Owen, are living in a tiny world shaped in part by their parent’s actions, and obliged to deal with who they are, and where they come from. Granted, their troubles are not exactly akin to anyone else’s – Sal’s mother lives under the graveyard and only goes out at night. Owen’s father may be suffering from madness, or grief, or hatred, or possession, or love betrayed, or all of the above, and has means to express that, which aren’t available to most of us.
We live with the sins of our ancestors. We live after slavery, after the enclosures act that robbed the common people of Britain of their land. We live after highland clearances and colonialism, after Auschwitz. We live with a modern Israel whose conflicts have been thousands of years in the making. We live with the absence of the dodo, the carrier pigeon and the aurochs, with the poisonous legacies of industrial revolution and nuclear power. The sins of our ancestors are many. The choices they have made in fear, in greed and in ignorance shape the world as we have it now. There is nowhere else for us to go, no bold new place we can strike out to where they won’t know about our past or judge us for where we came from. We have to stay and deal with the consequences of things done in madness, in grief, in hatred and in fear. Either we change those stories, or we pass them on and see if our children are any more capable of being heroes than we were.
*Hopeless Maine is a webcomic, you can read it for free at http://www.hopelssmaine.com, the image accompanying this blog is the cover art for book 3.