As evidenced even by comments in the last few months on this blog, it looks like some people were upset that Joraiem died at the end of Beyond the Summerland.
All right, so that’s a little tongue-in-cheek. The outrage over Joraiem’s death (or “Jory” as a friend of mine likes to refer to him when seeking to irritate me) was strong and pretty much immediate when the book came out in 2004. So, I thought I might take a minute, now that the series is so close to being completed, to reflect once again on this event that is still, in some ways, the defining moment of The Binding of the Blade to date.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the vehement reactions to Joraiem’s death suprised me a bit. At least at first, they did. After a while, I got used to them. As I reflected in those early months on just how strong the reactions were, and as I’ve reflected since, I’ve had several reactions.
One reaction, though not necessarily the first one, was that I was pleased. Not because I like irritating people, but because for people to react that strongly to a fictional character, they had to like him. So, even as some readers were expressing their anger at me, which at times was expressed pretty strongly, it was a kind of odd compliment. They cared enough about this person I’d created to take the time to chew me out when he died. For those who actually read on, beyond Beyond, I’m sure it became apparent that Joraiem’s death was pretty important to the story. So, caring about his death, was also pretty important for the reader to buy into the story that followed. So, all the feelings that were expressed so vividly and continue to be expressed about that event are in their own way, encouraging. They suggest that I succeeded in getting readers attached to the characters and to the world.
Another reaction, was a desire to figure out just why the reader reaction was so strong. I’ve gotten into stories I’ve read, but sending “hate” mail to the author hasn’t been a normative practice when the story took a turn I didn’t like. (To be fair, true “hate mail” has been relatively rare, but many have made it very clear they were none to pleased…) So why such a strong response? As I reflected on it, I saw two main reasons why readers responded so strongly and why I had not foreseen it, though perhaps I should have.
The first reason was that readers at the conclusion of Beyond the Summerland had no feel for how the story and world could go forward without Joraiem. I knew the whole story. I knew the trajectory of the next 4 books. I knew Joraiem was never intended to be a continuing character. I could reconcile myself to the fact that he was not the hero of the whole series. I knew all this, but my readers didn’t. For them, Beyond the Summerland was all they knew of Kirthanin. Thus putting the loss of Joraiem in perspective was not easy for them.
The second reason readers attached so strongly to Joraiem & that attachment suprised me, was that the decision to tell almost the whole story of Beyond the Summerland from Joraiem’s perspective came relatively late in the planning stages. For those who’ve read the other books, you know that the perspective frequently shifts among the main characters. Rulalin, Aljeron, Benjiah, Wylla, etc., all take turns being the focal point of the narrative. Originally, that was the plan for Beyond as well. Relatively late in the game, though, I thought to myself, ‘Self, in a way, this is really Joraiem’s story, so maybe I should use him as the exclusive narrator for all scenes in which he is a part.’ So I did, and instead of having Joraiem be one of many central characters, he became the central character. Obviously, this heightened the attachment of the reader to Joraiem, and I should have foreseen that this would have an impact on reader responses to the end of the book.
So, at that point, I felt like I understood a bit about why the strong reactions had surprised me. I could see what others couldn’t about how the story went forward, and I had underestimated the affect of telling the story almost exclusively from Joraiem’s perspective. However, I still didn’t really understand why people were that upset. After all, Joraiem wasn’t real. BOTB is just a story.
Well, this leads me to a third reaction I’ve had over the years, as I continue to hear from readers, some of whom have just come to the story and experienced Joraiem’s death for the first time, some of whom read the book years ago but are still clinging four books later to the thin hope that Joraiem will show up again. This reaction isn’t that I’ve been reminded how powerful stories can be in the lives of readers, though that is certainly true. This reaction is that I’ve found the strong, visceral response of readers to Joraiem’s death to reaffirm the validity of my central theme. The Binding of the Blade is about the longing we have for the world to be made right, to be made new, for war to be abolished and peace to be established. It’s about the deep hunger, which I believe our creator built into us, to long for the brokenness of the world to be healed. Thus, even in stories, when we encounter evil, we respond with outrage. Even in stories, when we encounter grief and loss, we desire comfort and reunion.
All My Holy Mountain is my attempt to offer a fictional vision of what that restoration might be like. I hope my readers find in it, at least some of the resolution and restoration for which they long.