Heralds in Fantasy Literature

Heralds, in their original and simplest form, were messengers. In fantasy literature, a herald often brings the message or in some other way triggers the events, sets the events in motion.

In The Hobbit, for example, Gandalf is the herald, or the trigger, that sends Bilbo Baggins off on his grand adventure.

In my Waterspell trilogy, Carin is the herald. Her showing up on the property of the wizard named Verek sets the story action into motion. In effect, she will send Verek off on a quest—and she will participate fully with him on the quest, similar to how Gandalf sets Bilbo into motion and also plays his great role in the events of that story.

But behind Carin, there’s yet another herald—another character who is the one that set Carin into motion. So the events actually begin with the original herald, who is described in my Books 1 and 2 as “the wisewoman.” Readers won’t know the wisewoman’s whole story until they get to Waterspell Book 3.

But back to the beginning. When we first meet Carin in Book 1 Chapter 1, she’s not acting entirely of her own free will. The wisewoman has sent her to the wizard Verek.

One thing that complicated the writing of Chapter 1 is that I needed to at least hint that Carin isn’t really sure what her goal is, why she’s come north, or what she’s supposed to do when gets there. She only knows—or she feels, deep in her gut—that she has to be there.

In effect, she’s under a spell—a spell of compulsion. She thinks she’s acting of her own free will, but if she were pressed to explain her motives, she would be hard put to do it. This becomes clearer in Chapter 3, when Verek presses her about her reasons for trespassing on his property. Her explanations don’t satisfy him, and they will—I hope—deepen the sense of mystery that surrounds Carin.

My challenge with Chapter 1  is that many “mainstream” readers expect the main character’s goals and motivations to be clearly laid out right at the start. That’s what they have been taught to expect.

Experienced readers of fantasy, however, will understand that motives and circumstances are often quite murky as the story opens. In Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, for instance, the main character, Lyra, has no problem whatsoever as the story opens. She’s having fun. She’s exploring a forbidden part of the college where she lives, and she’s enjoying herself. The big problem that she will face does not become clear for a very long time, as the trilogy unfolds.

So what I’ve tried to accomplish with Chapter 1 of my fantasy is to present Carin as a strong, active, decisive character, but I’ve also had to hint that she’s been set on this course, this particular path, by forces beyond her control, by circumstances that she didn’t create. She’s being used, quite frankly, but she’s not a pawn.

In a sense, she’s like King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. He used the sword—only Arthur as the rightful king could wield it—but Excalibur had magical powers of its own. It allowed itself to be used only by the rightful king.

My girl, Carin, very definitely has a say in how she’s being used by the original herald, the wisewoman in the south, and by the wizard Verek once she follows the wisewoman’s instructions and finds him, up in the north.

The Book 1 Prologue  helps to clarify what’s driving Carin, what her goal is, what problem she must overcome. Here’s an excerpt:


The Path Ahead

The wisewoman never asked directly, never demanded of Carin: “Where do you come from, you strange, surprising child? Who are you?” But she breathed her questions in an undertone when she thought Carin couldn’t hear.

Time passed, and the woman watched with shrewd regard, ever wondering. What’s going on, girl, behind those cool green eyes that view the world with such detachment? You’ve borne up patiently these five years, with your gaze cast groundward to hide your thoughts from those who think you have none. Oh, you’re a self-contained little wight, as guarded in your speech as in your glances. You pretend to be indifferent to your past and resigned to your present. But I have seen you puzzling beside the millpond, gazing into its waters, wondering: ‘What brought me here? Where did this journey start, and where do I go now?’

The seasons turned, and at last the wisewoman drew Carin aside. “I have considered carefully. Indeed, child, I have thought of little else. Still I cannot fathom where your journey began. But I clearly see the path that lies before you now.”

The woman did not point. She would not risk drawing anyone’s eye to the pair standing apart. She merely tipped her head, keeping her hand hidden in the folds of her shawls, tightly gripping the amulet she had fashioned against this moment.

“Go north, girl,” she ordered, her gaze locked with Carin’s. “Run from here. You have no home in this village. Granger is much too hidebound and suspicious for the likes of you. Your place is in the North. If you belong anywhere, child, you belong there.”

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