“Darkness is a subjective word,” said a very wise woman named Taylor Momsen, rock star lead singer of The Pretty Reckless, “it depends what your viewpoint is and how you live your life.” I did not expect to be quoting the girl who played Gossip Girl’s Jenny Humphrey for this piece, but this is nonetheless a very profound nugget of wisdom.
We tend to gravitate toward people with the same opinions and beliefs that we do. This is how we find common interests and this is how we find friends. It’s also the reason why the world is such a trainwreck at the moment. We welcome similar vices and subconsciously build an echo chamber where very few issues and points can be challenged, and sometimes that is a shame. Because it is when two different and very opposing viewpoints are given the chance to mingle that the real change happens; like science versus religion, or blue versus red, or when we listen to the experiences of people who don’t look like us the way we listen to the experiences of those who do. When we build a community filled with nothing but circlejerks the “us versus them” mentality only becomes more pronounced. Nothing gets solved, only prejudices enforced.
When I first wrote The Bone Witch, I knew quite well that Tea was going to be the villain in the eyes of almost everyone else living in that same world. She’d been exiled from the “good” asha for some unnamed unspeakable act, and she talks with a bitterness that suggests some upcoming and very major retaliation might be in order. But the reality is that Tea is not quite completely a villain, but not quite completely a heroine, either – a rather good description of most of the human race, too.
I needed a second opinion. While I wanted to give Tea a chance to tell her story, I also wanted someone else to supply some needed checks and balances to prevent readers from sympathizing too much with her, to remind us that there is very good reason to fear her and what she might do. Tea is my protagonist, but that doesn’t exempt her from bullcrap. She’s done horrible things, and she will do horrible things, and I wanted someone there to tell us that for all the sympathy she deserves to be given, that doesn’t mean she’s always going to be doing the right thing.
Enter the bard. The bard is nameless for a reason. The bard represents everyone else living within the eight kingdoms, the ones who’ve been hearing rumors about some renegade asha who’d nearly broken the lands in half the first time and is now quite willing to do it again, and this time with ten times the strength and imbued with the Dark magic that they’ve always been told is the “evil” magic. The bard is the status quo. Tea rejects the status quo. And only when they clash and argue and listen to each other’s points of view, do we finally get at the real truth of the story. The bard is very interchangeable for this reason – he represents the opinions of the majority, opinions shared by some of Tea’s estranged friends. Perhaps somewhere down the road, more familiar faces might show up to serve as additional foils.
Now, if only real life could be laid out as perfectly as plot points in fiction.