As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. The Road to Hel I am very excited andthe author of
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A Hero’s Guide to Prophecies
by Eric Tanafon
So you’re a character in a fantasy novel, and you think you might be a hero. What you need is assurance of your heroic destiny, especially if your track record isn’t very impressive so far. It helps a lot if someone made a prophecy about you. But even after you have that prediction in hand, there are no guarantees.
For one thing, a prophecy can never be too explicit. It would kill all the suspense, either in a story or real life, for a seer to say ”Olaf Thorstein–not the one that lives in Norway, his grandson from Horse Bay in Iceland–will free the enchanted hoard (to be found forty paces south of the slightly chipped standing stone on Groa Hill) by killing its guardian dragon with exactly three spear thrusts at dawn next Midsummer’s Day.”
So even when there’s a prophecy in play, you’ll find that you need to puzzle out exactly what it means. Sure, you might luck out, as Aragorn did in The Lord of the Rings, with a fairly straightforward prediction. A seer hundreds of years before foretold that in dark times, with evil overshadowing the land, the heir of Isildur would go on the Paths of the Dead to rally a bunch of oathbreaking ghosts to his banner. Since Aragorn knew that he was Isildur’s heir, and the days just then were about as bright as midwinter at the North Pole, interpreting the prophecy was a no-brainer.
That’s about as good as it ever gets with prophecies. Most are more like the famous prediction that Croesus received from the oracle of Delphi, when he went to war with the Persians–‘you will destroy a great empire’. Croesus, of course, wound up destroying his own empire–presumably, not exactly what he had in mind.
The heroes in the Percy Jackson books weren’t so badly off, since they actually had an in-house oracle who delivered prophecies on a mission-by-mission basis. These tended to be ambiguous, granted, but at least you knew they had something to do with one of the heroes at Camp Half-Blood who went on said mission. Still, Percy also had to deal with an “arc” type prophecy about some hero (maybe him, or maybe not) who at age sixteen would be able to save the world and the gods (or maybe make sure that they got destroyed instead).
But sometimes prophecies are no help at all. Harry Potter is a case in point. Sybil Trelawney’s prophecy in that series is a masterful example of ambiguity and bet-hedging. Not only do both Harry or Neville Longbottom fit the description of the ‘one’ who can ultimately defeat Lord Voldemort, the prophecy doesn’t even say if that’s what will happen. It only predicts ‘either must die at the hand of the other’. Now, how would that ever be wrong, short of Voldemort deciding to retire early and take up snake charming?
You can see that as a hero, you need to be able to thrive on uncertainty.
Take Sean, my own hero-in-training. In The Road to Hel he goes looking for a prophecy about him. You’d think it would be easy since his school, Runnymede, has libraries full of them. But he and his friends still need the help of Alviss, the know-it-all dwarf, to find a likely one. And even before they can figure out what the prophecy means, they need to figure out what the words are saying:
Alviss cleared his throat and read,
“The dark willow tree,
One of the dwarves’ number,
To the foot of Ygg’s horse
“Wow,” said Fiona. “Sean, that one has to be about you, because it makes no sense at all.”
I gave her an I’ll-get-you-later look. “It’s one of those riddle poems. People back in Viking times liked them because nobody had invented crossword puzzles yet. But I don’t have any idea what it means.”
This prophecy uses kennings, a kind of poetic code developed in old Norse literature, just to make things more interesting. It translates to something like “The dark-skinned girl, one of four heroes, goes fearless to Hel.” Just take my word for it. So it turns out this prophecy is about Sean’s sister’s best friend, and not him at all.
Things like this happen, and as a hero, you’ve got to be prepared. Expect the unexpected.
There’s one last rule about prophecies, and it’s the most important one. They always come true. This is as hard and fast a rule in Homer’s Odyssey as it is in modern fantasy novels. So…where does that leave you when your prophecy foretells the end of the world? The destruction of 99.999 percent of everything? The doom of the gods themselves?
Well, you just do the best you can and fight to postpone the inevitable, buying time for your author to think of a way out. Sean finds himself in that situation too. His teachers at Runnymede know that Ragnarok is coming very soon, they’re just not sure of the exact timing:
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “Why is the world always about to end? It’s like those people who predicted the earth would be destroyed on, what was it, the first of September? I mean, it’s—”
“What? September? I haven’t heard that. What prophecy is this? Who have you been talking to?” Miss Brown hissed, dropping the tiller and grabbing my arm. She had a grip like a grizzly bear.
“It was—ow!—a bunch of crazy…I mean, misguided…people who thought they found it in the Bible,” I managed. “They were in the news. Um, could you let go now?”
Miss Brown let me go, but she was still frowning. “You will find, Sean, that we take our prophecies seriously at Runnymede.”
And that’s the final advice I’d pass on to would-be fantasy heroes. Take your prophecies seriously… and may the Gods be with you, because you’ll need all the help you can get.
You can find The Road to Hel, Sean’s Saga Book 1 here.
And more about Eric Tanafon:
Eric Tanafon writes software by day and fantasy fiction by night. He lives in New Hampshire with his lovely wife in an old house, which unfortunately isn’t haunted. But it’s just as well, because with five children and two cats in residence, there really wouldn’t be room.
I’m Sean. When wolf-riding trolls attack our house, my sister Fiona and I find out the hard way that we’re destined to be heroes. That goes for our friends Arturo and Parvati, too. Next thing we know, we’re all enrolled in the last hero school on Midgard (that’s hero speak for ‘Earth’). In fact, we’re the entire final freshman class.
It’s not all bad. We get to go to school on an enchanted island. The girls get to ride flying horses, Arturo gets to go berserk, and I get to learn more about swordfighting than I ever wanted to know. We also get our own personal bard who sings our praises in deathless…well, verse that you wish would die, but it won’t.
You’d think we’d also get to save the world. But as it turns out, there are about a million prophecies guaranteeing that Ragnarok is right around the corner and the world is literally toast, so all we get to do is die (heroically, of course).
In the meantime, our mom winds up in Hel while trying to rescue our dad from, believe it or not, an even worse place. And for some reason even Odin won’t explain, we’re the only ones who can bring them back.
Well, that takes care of summer vacation. I can’t wait for the school year to start!