You know how it is when friends and fellow professionals get together over a few glasses of wine and start discussing our work. Not the everyday toil of keeping patrons happy and ensuring that you’ve always got some casually extemporised verse ready prepared; but the deeper matters of what is written and how genres merge together and drift apart again.
One area that provoked discussion is the way that it’s now considered progressive, dynamic or even modernistic to subvert a genre by darkening the story. So should you be writing a tale of adventure, rather than having the heroes survive terrible trials through heroism and blind chance, the writer will casually kill them all off and start again with a new cast.
The same can happen with romance. Your classic romance has the young lovers separated by fate and they have to battle pirates, storms, invading armies, and other miscellaneous misfortunes, until at the end of the tale the author can triumphantly reunite them to live happily ever after.
There are other rules for the genre. The hero can be repeatedly battered by fate, but the heroine must emerge at the end of the story as chaste as she started it, having been repeatedly rescued from ‘a fate worse than death’ by the unlikely chivalry of passing bandit chieftains, or the personal intervention of minor deities.
The final rule for the romance is that the happy couple must live ‘happily ever after.’ This is the one rule that the writer doesn’t break. You can hint at impropriety elsewhere, or can suggest that the hero’s enthusiasm has flagged, albeit temporarily, but once you come to the final scene, then the reader can put down the book happy that the couple will now live happily and the reader no longer needs to worry about them.
When I say this rule should not be broken I merely have to point to the sad fate of Blart Volingdale. In his prime, Blart was perhaps one of the most successful writers in Port Naain. Whilst he wrote romance and made considerable amounts of money, none of us felt able to sneer because he was a truly excellent wordsmith. Not only that but however much we might want to sneer; we all devoured his stories with guilty enthusiasm.
Blart’s stories were not merely popular with the reading public. He had a strong following amongst the totally illiterate as well. This latter wasn’t really his doing, it was more a case of others spotting the opportunity and seizing it. Thus a young maiden called Jillet took to reading his stories in the Sattir’s Drop. Because the stories were long and involved, Blart often released them one chapter at a time. Jillet would make her way to the Sattir’s Drop on the day after the chapter had been released and at the appointed hour she would read it aloud.
Now it wasn’t the sort of place a decent young woman would enter unaccompanied. Indeed I’d venture to suggest that ideally it wasn’t the sort of place a respectable poet would enter without an armed escort either. But still, with Frina, the barmaid, to keep order, Jillet was well looked after. She would walk in and one of the regulars would fetch her a chair. She would sit down, lean her crutches against the bar, and Frina would bring her a glass of fruit juice to sip as she read.
Now it has always struck me that as well as being vicious, brutal and greedy, the regulars at the Sattir’s Drop could also be maudlin and sentimental. For them to have a lame young woman sitting amongst them totally unprotected seemed to provoke them to good behaviour. As she read they would listen in rapt silence and when Frina passed a mug round for donations they all gave generously.
Don’t think this was some brief flirtation with good behaviour. This happy scene had been repeated every week for over a year. Jillet had read to them ‘The Monster’s revenge,’ ‘The girl I worshipped from afar,’ and ‘Broken hearts and diadems,’ all of which had been lapped up enthusiastically by her audience. She then started them on ‘Dangerous Journeys’. Personally I feel that this was perhaps Blart’s strongest story yet. The hero was human enough to lift him above caricature, the twists and turns of the story were well plotted. But in his heroine, Blart had created a masterpiece. She was not merely beautiful, she was competent. In the course of her desperate journey to try and find the hero, (who was of course on his own desperate journey to find her and failing utterly) she slew, unaided, a feroce, two bandits and a dastardly tax assessor. All this whilst remaining modest, unassuming, and charmingly witty. Had this paragon of womanhood ever ventured into the Sattir’s Drop, she would have been overwhelmed with respectful, if somewhat incoherent, protestations of undying devotion.
Now Jillet was not the only person reading Blart’s stories to an audience. At the Port Naain Ladies’ sewing circle it was traditional to have somebody read whilst the ladies sewed. Blart himself would regularly read his works there. His excuse was that he needed to keep in touch with those who loved his work, but personally I suspect he liked a little female admiration as much as the next man.
It so happened that for the final episode of ‘Dangerous Journeys’ Blart, and Wain Drobbet his publisher, had timed the printing of the story carefully so that nobody could hear the end of the tale before he read the final chapter to the Ladies’ sewing circle. Jillet managed to grab a copy on her way to the Sattir’s Drop so had the disadvantage of reading to her audience something she’d not had chance to read herself. So in two separate venues perhaps five minutes walk apart, Blart and Frina started their readings almost simultaneously.
There’s no need for me to describe the way the story ends. Blart excelled himself. In the sewing circle, nobody sewed. In the Sattir’s Drop, the glasses remained forgotten on the tables as the entire bar sat in total silence listening to Jillet’s sweet voice.
Remember that Jillet had never read the story. She was as gripped as everybody else, and when she came to the final page, where the hero finally meets up with the heroine, only to have her die in his arms as she takes an arrow meant for him, Jillet was sobbing. The bar sat in utter silence before suddenly it exploded.
Across at the sewing circle, Blart fled, pursued by three or four score of angry ladies. He might have outrun them had he not met the grief stricken regulars of the Sattir’s Drop coming the other way. He fled down a side street heading for the river with both parties in hot pursuit. Cornered on a wharf he was never seen again, and the battered corpse washed up two days later was always assumed to be his.
Jillet gave the matter some thought, and the following week, at the appointed time she entered carrying a manuscript. The bar was absolutely silent as she started to read. Now you don’t need me to tell you the rest of the tale. How a passing sage managed to suspend the heroine in time and space whilst the hero spends ten more chapters gathering obscure and mystic ingredients and eventually saves the heroine’s life. They then live happily ever after.
Word of Jillet’s additions circulated through literary circles. Wain Drobbet called to see her in the Sattir’s Drop, read her manuscripts and made an offer. Nowadays all editions of ‘Dangerous Journeys’ are in Jillet’s name, and all but the rare and little sought-after first edition contain her additions.
Whilst everybody assumes that Blart Volingdale died, between ourselves I have to confess that I suspect he got away. Somebody mentioned to me that they’d seen a somewhat seedy character matching Blart’s description lurking outside an Avitas junkshop, pimping books for immoral purposes.
Should you be sitting quietly in a bar somewhere in need of a story and the management haven’t seen fit to provide you with a story teller, then hasten and purchase this
One reviewer stated, “An assortment of Tallis Steelyard tales to make the reader chuckle, laugh, wipe away a sad tear, and all emotions in between.
Every story is a stand-alone gem.”