Recently a number of people have asked me what my first novel, The Story of the Four is about. Honestly, that is a tough question, for it is really about a lot—it is one of those so-called “big concept” books. Usually I respond it is an epic fantasy rooted in history and grounded in myth planned for three volumes. A multi-character work like Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, The Story of the Four tells the story of four young protagonists from various parts of an alternative world where gods and angels, demons and other dark things are as real as the sky is blue.
Though an “alternative universe,” the geography is based strictly on our own—only the names of places have changed, and those names are significant as they were chosen for their meaning and their meanings relate to what takes place in those locales. In other words, the names are symbolic.
Temporally, it takes place in the late 11th century, just before the Crusades and while historical, The Story of the Four is an alternate history. Plainly, theirs is a world that is dying. Government ineptitude plagues the land where the sun rises, Civil War ravages the heart of the world, and a tyrannical king bent on control rules the west with an iron grip. This king, King Lenirath, king of the Citadel, is the central antagonist.
In Volume I each of the protagonists (whose names are also symbolic) embarks on his own journey through this world. There is Erosoi, the self-styled golden boy, who wants to change the world and will stop at nothing to return his country to its long forgotten Golden Age and raise its people to their former glories. There is Darrath who, having endured abuse and ridicule his entire life, will have to face the ghosts of his past and brave a long, prolonged dark night of the soul if he is to comprehend the mysteries he so desperately wants to understand. Of unsurpassed intellect, Jen, who desires nothing other than to stand behind the Emperor himself, will trade in his humanity for wealth, power, and fame and must free himself from the demons with whom he dances if he is to know who he truly is and achieve his goal. Then there is Rahim, the orphan raised in a strict monastic compound, who, pulled between the heights of ecstasy and the depths of despair, will have to endure the unending pain and countless sufferings the world throws at him as he crosses blistering deserts and barren mountains in his undying search for Layla, his long lost beloved.
Individually they will face countless trials and tribulations as they move toward their goals; individually they will toe the line between light and dark, life and death. And slowly, over time, the cosmos itself will weave these four supposedly “separate” lives together and they will realize their stories, their histories, their very lives are and always have been interconnected. And they will learn their fates are inextricably bound to that of Lenirath and his kingdom. They will learn, in other words, the very fate of the world–whether it lives or dies–depends on them and has always depended on them. The challenges they faced alone will pale in comparison to the tests they will endure as a group. The central question: Can they use their differences in order to heal the world, or will they prove too great and divide them, forever sealing a horrid fate?
So that is what the story is “about.”
But there is more, much much more.
The primary narrative is only the beginning of the matter as darn near just about everything—from what bird is in the air, to what tree is pointing to the sky are not chosen at random, to the names of secondary and peripheral characters—are all symbolic. Plain and simple, The Story of the Four is metaphorically conceived.
What does this mean?
In describing the famed epic Beowulf, professor emeritus Alvin A. Lee writes to be “metaphorically conceived is to invite “us in passage after passage to inhabit a world of metaphor and in that world to feel, imagine, and make important connections and to think…about serious matters.” And like Beowulf, The Story of the Four “employs a poetic language as distinguished from the descriptive or representational language” employed in most modern literature. Further discussion of Beowulf relates to The Story of the Four as well:
“All metaphor,” writes Lee, “is revolt against totalitarian claims. It is a kind of thinking that destabilizes doctrines and ideologies” whereby creating the space to “tell several stories at once…inevitable” and stirs the readers’ imaginations by directly involving them in a series of interconnected stories whose meanings grow as the story unfolds and the reader finds him/herself in a curiously inwrought fabric threaded with philosophical, moral, political, and religious criticism and commentary.
I liken The Story of the Four to a silver-backed onion. On the surface, it is an action adventure story. Pull back a layer and it is a socio-political allegory and takes to task a number of current issues afflicting our modern world. One of the things I discovered about the late 11th century over the course of my research is that many of the pressing issues, whether one is talking about China, the Middle East, or Europe reflect (hence the silver-backed) modernity. Pull back yet another and my work, drawing upon and reshaping various spiritual and mythological traditions, including, but not limited to Sufism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity (and their mystical traditions) speaks to the longings of those who seek deeper connections with themselves and others as well as a more a profound meaning in life than what our modern society currently provides.
Of course, in just posting disjointed excerpts, one does not get the movement of the text, for much as George R.R. Martin weaves one character’s story into the next, into the next, the flow of The Story of the Four, which is not duplicated here on my blog, is also important to its meaning.
So read, read the excerpts I have posted, please (see Erosoi’s page, Darrath’s page, etc). Send me your feedback if so inclined. Share on social media, if so inclined. Give me a like, a rating if so-inclined.
Breaking the young adult (and adult) fantasy mold and tossing it to the wind, there is nothing out there quite like The Story of the Four.
The Story of the Four is not “fantasy.”
It is myth.