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The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Afterword

 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 3:36 am    Post subject: The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Afterword Reply with quote

Stephen R. Donaldson opens his Afterword to The Real Story by saying most writers don't like to tell where they get their ideas. He explains the reason why is because the answers often sound mundane and tend to remove the magical aura around the creative process.

Quote:
However, once the magic of the imagination has been accepted as a given, any specific answer to the question often becomes almost violently anti-creative: for instance, "Well, I got that particular idea off a can of Lysol disinfectant in the men's room at Circle K." (I'm not making this up. One of the strongest scenes in The Power That Preserves was triggered in my head by a can of Lysol disinfectant in a men's room.) Such an answer may be perfectly accurate, but who wants to say it out loud? In these cases, the concrete source of the idea seems to demean its underlying imaginative magic. Hence the apparently arrogant or dismissive answers which writers have been giving ever since readers began asking the question.


[For any who don't know, a Circle K is a store that is part of a commercial chain of convenience stores, many of which have cramped bathrooms for customers which tend to be poorly ventilated, though some have exhaust fans installed. In situations where a store customer must use such a bathroom after a previous customer has just been there, leaving the Lysol disinfectant can there is truly a thoughtful move on the part of a store manager.]

This passage of the Afterword has some personal interest for me, as I was looking for a question to personally ask Stephen R. Donaldson while attending Elohimfest 2014 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I sure was enjoying meeting my fellow Kevin's Watch members, a great many of whom were a delight to know, and from them I learned that SRD would be attending a dinner with us and was willing to take questions from us. I remember discussing the options of questions to ask of SRD with KW members wayfriend, usussimiel, and duke while we enjoyed some draft beers in a downtown Albuquerque bar.

It was a lot of fun discussing SRD-related topics with them, and I recall saying that I might like to ask Mr. Donaldson why the phases of the moon are portrayed so strangely in the Covenant books. I will explain what I mean by that in this paragraph. In the real world, the phases of the moon as seen from Earth occur as a result of where the moon is in its revolution around the Earth, as a result of how light reflects from the sun to the moon's surface to the Earth. [Here, I wish to provide an outline as to how the moon's phases work in our world, and respectfully suggest to those already familiar with how it works to skip this outline, as they will likely find it to be, uh, un-illuminating: During the new moon phase, the moon rises and sets with the sun, and its side facing the Earth is invisible from Earth because it appears completely unlit, blending in with the color of the surrounding sky. Then the moon comes up shortly after the sun, in the waxing crescent phase, visible at first low in the western sky after sunset. Continuing in its waxing crescent phase, the moon comes up and goes down later and later after the sun as more of its surface is lit up as seen from our Earth. Then, about one week after the new moon, the moon goes to the first quarter phase (its eastern half dark, its western half lit) when it rises at noon and sets at midnight. Then the moon becomes more than half-lit as it rises in the afternoon and sets after midnight but before dawn (the waxing gibbous phase). When it reaches the full moon phase, the moon rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise. Then the moon's disc that faces the Earth starts darkening on the western side, as it rises in early evening and sets in the daylight morning time. When the moon is again half-lit in its last quarter, darkened on its western side and lit on its eastern side, it rises at midnight and sets at noon. Then in its waning crescent period, the moon rises after midnight and sets in the afternoon. When it gets back into its new moon phase, it rises at sunrise and sets at sunset, once again invisible.] Yet in the Chronicles, SRD writes that the moon rises in the east, soon after sunset, regardless of what phase it's in. So, the question I thought of asking Donaldson was why didn't the timing of the moon's rising and setting conform with how it does on our world.

Once I had formulated that question for SRD in my mind, I had doubts about asking it, and shared those doubts with wayfriend, ussusimiel, and duke while continuing to sip those beers and avoiding the outside summer heat. The doubts I had were that I'd be annoying SRD to no purpose, and that the moon's phases in the Land didn't have to follow the scientific rules of light reflection, being that the world of the Land was a magical place rather than a scientific world. In other words, I felt I was wasting an opportunity to ask Stephen R Donaldson a good question. So, I explained to wayfriend, ussusimiel, and duke, it might be better to ask SRD the other question that I had in mind. And after hearing that other question, they agreed that it was a better choice of question to ask Stephen R Donaldson, and I'm grateful to this very day for their good advice!

That other question, the one I actually asked SRD at Elohimfest '14: "In the Afterword to The Real Story, you wrote that a scene in The Power That Preserves was inspired by seeing a can of Lysol in a Circle K restroom. What scene was that?"

His first reaction was, "I said THAT?!? I don't remember..."

And I said, "Oh, you did, it's right there in print." He seemed puzzled for a moment, and the following silence that lasted about two seconds seemed awkward, so I tried to help jog his memory by saying something like, "Could it be the scene where Foamfollower is seen after being immersed in Hotash Slay, so that he is disinfected from all his self-doubts?" (I recall the room of Watchers erupting in laughter at this far-fetched guess of mine.) Perhaps making this wild guess was a good idea, though, because SRD then proceeded to correct me by telling me which scene in TPTP WAS actually inspired by seeing that can of Lysol disinfectant spray.

He replied [I'm just working from memory on this, so while the quote is unlikely to be verbatim, it's close enough for relative accuracy, being the gist of his answer to me], "No, I remember looking at the can of Lysol, reading the ingredients for moment, and thinking of the word, putrescence, while I was reading. And that inspired the scene between Covenant, Lena, and Pietten where Pietten is confronted by Covenant as the one who betrayed all the injured Ranyhyn, for Covenant is realizing that Pietten's love for the Ranyhyn has been made to putrefy by what the ur-viles had done to him after the battle of Soaring Woodhelven. Covenant's order for the Ranyhyn to stay in the Land so they can rescue him at need also putrefied into a death sentence for the Ranyhyn, as they couldn't flee Lord Foul's marauders for the safety of the mountains because they needed to stay around for Covenant."

In Chapter 10 of The Power That Preserves, entitled "Pariah", was wrote:
"Ringthane," Pietten shot back with sudden vehemence, "this night I will complete the whole sense of my life!"

The next instant he had returned to scorn. "I desire them to find us, yes! I desire them to see this blaze and come. Land friends--horse servants--pah! They torment the Ranyhyn in the name of faith. I will teach them faith." Covenant felt Lena jump to her feet behind him; he could sense the way she focused herself on Pietten. In the warmth of the fire, he finally noticed what had caught her attention. It was the smell of blood. "I desire the Giant my benefactor and Banner the Bloodguard to stand upon this hillside and witness my faith."

"You said that they are dead!" Lena hissed. "You said that we would not see them again."

At the same time, Covenant croaked, "It was you!" His apprehensions burst into clarity. "You did it.'' In the lurid light of the fire, he caught his first sure glimpse of his plight. "You're the one who betrayed all those coverts!"

Lena's movement triggered him into movement. He was one step ahead of her as she threw herself at Pietten.

But Pietten was too swift for them. He aimed his spear and braced himself to impale the first attack.

Covenant leaped to a stop. Grappling frantically, he caught Lena, held her from hurling herself onto Pietten's weapon. She struggled for one mute, furious moment, then became still in his grasp. Her bedraggled white hair hung across her face like a fringe of madness. Grimly, he set her behind him.

He was trembling, but he forced himself to face Pietten. "You want them to watch while you kill us."

Pietten laughed sourly. "Do they not deserve it?" His eyes flashed as if a lightning of murder played in back of them. "If I could have my wish, I would place the entire Ramen nation around this hollow so that they might behold my contempt for them. Ranyhyn servants! Pah! They are vermin.''

"Render!" Lena spat hoarsely.

With his left hand, Covenant held her behind him. "You betrayed those coverts--you betrayed them all. You're the only one who could have done it. You killed the sentries and showed those marauders how to get in. No wonder you stink of blood."

"It pleases me."

"You betrayed the Ranyhyn!" Covenant raged. "Injured Ranyhyn got slaughtered!"

At this, Pietten jerked forward, brandished his spear viciously. "Hold your tongue, Ringthane!" he snapped. "Do not question my faith. I have fought--I would slay any living creature that raised its hands against the Ranyhyn."

"Do you call that faith? There were injured Ranyhyn in that covert, and they were butchered!"

"They were murdered by Ramen!" Pietten retorted redly. "Vermin! They pretend service to the Ranyhyn, but they do not take the Ranyhyn to the safety of the south. I hold no fealty for them." Lena tried to leap at Pietten again, but Covenant restrained her. "They are like you--and that Giant--and the Bloodguard! Pah! You feast on Ranyhyn-flesh like jackals."

With an effort, Covenant made Lena look at him. "Go!" he whispered rapidly. "Run. Get out of here. Get back across the river--try to find Bannor or Foamfollower. He doesn't care about you. He won't chase you. He wants me."

Pietten cocked his spear. "If you take one step to flee,'' he grated, "I will kill the Ringthane where he stands and hunt you down like a wolf."

The threat carried conviction. "All right," Covenant groaned to Lena. "All right." Glowering thunderously, he swung back toward Pietten. "Do you remember ur-viles, Pietten? Soaring Woodhelven? Fire and ur-viles? They captured you. Do you remember?"

Pietten stared back like lightning.

"They captured you. They did things to you. Just as they did to Llaura. Do you remember her? They hurt her inside so that she had to help trap the Lords. The harder she tried to break free, the worse the trap got. Do you remember? It's just like that with you. They hurt you so that you would-destroy the Ranyhyn. Listen to me! Foul knew when he started this war that he wouldn't be able to crush the Ranyhyn unless he found some way to betray the Ramen. So he hurt you. He made you do what he wants. He's using you to butcher the Ranyhyn! And he's probably given you special orders about me. What did he tell you to do with my ring?" He hurled the words at Pietten with all his strength. "How many bloody times have you been to Foul's Creche since this winter started?"

For a moment, Pietten's eyes lost their focus. Dimly, he murmured, "I must take it to him. He will use it to save the Ranyhyn." But the next instant, white fury flared in him again. '' You lie! I love the Ranyhyn! You are the butchers, you and those vermin!"

"That isn't true. You know it isn't true."

"Is it not?" Pietten laughed desperately. "Do you think I am blind, Ringthane? I have learned much in--in my journeys. Do you think the Ramen hold the Ranyhyn here out of love?"

"They can't help it," Covenant replied. "The Ranyhyn refuse to go."

Pietten did not hear him. "Do you think the Bloodguard are here out of love? You are a fool! Banner is here because he has caused the deaths of so many Ranyhyn that he has become a betrayer. He needs to betray, as he did the Lords. Oh, he fights--he has always fought. He hungers to see every Ranyhyn slain in spite of his fighting so that his need will be fed. Pah!"

Covenant tried to interrupt, protest, but Pietten rushed on: "Do you think the Giant is here out of love? You are anile--sick with trust. Foamfollower is here because he has betrayed his people. Every last Giant, every man, woman, and child of his kindred, lies dead and moldered in Seareach because he abandoned them! He fled rather than defend them. His very bones are made of treachery, and he is here because he can find no one else to betray. All his other companions are dead."

Foamfollower! Covenant cried in stricken silence. All dead? Foamfollower!

"And you, Ringthane--you are the worst of all. You surpass my contempt. You ask what I remember." His spear point waved patterns of outrage at Covenant's chest. "I remember that the Ranyhyn reared to you. I remember that I strove to stop you. But you had already chosen to betray them. You bound them with promises--promises which you knew they could not break. Therefore the Ranyhyn cannot seek the safety of the mountains. They are shackled by commitments which you forced from them, you! You are the true butcher, Ringthane. I have lived my life for the chance to slay you."

"No," Covenant gasped. "I didn't know." But he heard the truth in Pietten's accusation. Waves of crime seemed to spread from him in all directions. "I didn't know."

Bannor? he moaned. Foamfollower? A livid orange mist filled his sight like the radiance of brimstone. How could he have done so much harm? He had only wanted to survive--had only wanted to extract survival from the raw stuff of suicide and madness. The Giants!-lost like Elena. And now the Ranyhyn were being driven down the same bloody road. Foamfollower? Did I do this to you? He knew that he was defenseless, that he could have done nothing to ward off a spear thrust. But he was staring into the abyss of his own actions and could not look away.

"We're the same,'' he breathed without knowing what he was saying. "Foul and I are the same."

Then he became aware that hands were pulling at him. Lena had gripped his jacket and was shaking him as hard as she could. "Is it true?" she shouted at him. "Are they dying because you made them promise to visit me each year?"

He met her eyes. They were full of firelight; they compelled him to recognize still another of his crimes. In spite of his peril, he could not refuse her the truth.

"No." His throat was clogged with grief and horror. "That's only part-- Even if they went to the mountains, they could still reach you. I-I"--his voice ached thickly--"I made them promise to save me-if I ever called them. I did it for myself."

Pietten laughed.


It seemed to me that there was a risk in asking this question, that SRD might not want to give me an answer, because it could make his imaginative work possibly seem a bit more mundane, given the inspirational source of a spray can for a potent confrontational scene. But the opportunity to personally ask Stephen R. Donaldson a question was rare, and I really did want to know the answer. I was mesmerized that Stephen Donaldson was actually answering a question of mine in a room full of fellow fans, so I stood there while he was answering, when it really would have been more seemly for me to sit down after asking the question, like all of the other Watchers did. I hope he really didn't mind, because if I'd never gotten the nerve to ask him the question, I'd still be kicking myself now for failing to do so.

I would like to comment on more of SRD's Afterword to The Real Story in future posts, but that's enough words for this opening post. Perhaps I'll be able to add more to this thread in the next few days.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing that. You told that well.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Indeed. Yours was one of the more memorable question-and-answer exchanges at this 2014 event.

Since there was video rolling of the Elohimfest post-dinner festivities, I look forward to the release of that footage so we can all relive that evening.

Not sure whether a Carly Simon or Frank N. Furter reference is more appropriate to express five years of "anticipation..."
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Has it really been five years? Sad
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayfriend wrote:
Thanks for sharing that. You told that well.


Savor Dam wrote:
Indeed. Yours was one of the more memorable question-and-answer exchanges at this 2014 event.

Since there was video rolling of the Elohimfest post-dinner festivities, I look forward to the release of that footage so we can all relive that evening.

Not sure whether a Carly Simon or Frank N. Furter reference is more appropriate to express five years of "anticipation..."


Thanks to you both for the compliments. I agree with Savor Dam that it would be neat to see the video of the Q&A session with SRD, and be able to get all his replies word-by-word (though I will probably feel renewed embarrassment at my failure to sit down after asking my question). I'm starting to have doubts that the video has turned out to be watchable, considering the time that has passed since then. I like the Carly Simon song "Anticipation", but am unfamiliar with the Frank N. Furter song of that name, so based on familiarity alone I would pick the Simon song to represent our hope that the video will be made public.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayfriend wrote:
Has it really been five years? Sad


It's hard to believe, I know! Confused Shocked Question
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:09 pm    Post subject: The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Afterword Reply with quote

While he begins his Afterword by noting that fiction writers generally do not want to reveal how/where they get their ideas, Stephen R. Donaldson asserts that his sources of inspiration for the Gap are something that he DOES want to talk about, in detail. And for the rest of the Afterword, that is exactly what he does.

SRD notes that his most fertile ideas come rushing forth, with the force of gushing oil from the ground, when he has two ideas combine to make the basis of his story.

Quote:
I've heard Brian Aldiss talk about the same phenomenon. For him, a novel often requires two ideas. He describes them as a combination of "the familiar" and "the exotic." He begins with the familiar--usually something germane to his personal life, either thematically or experientially--but he can't write about it until "the familiar" is impacted by "the exotic." In his case, "the exotic" is usually a science fictional setting in which "the familiar" can play itself out; "the exotic" provides him with a stage on which he can dramatize "the familiar." Rather like a binary poison--or a magic potion--two inert elements combine to produce something of frightening potency.

The same dynamic works in reverse for me. I start with "the exotic" (remember that these are Aldiss' terms, not mine), but that idea declines to turn into a story until it is catalyzed by "the familiar."


Donaldson then describes how ideas for The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (TCOTCTU) were founded upon an idea that was "exotic" (the concept of a man entering a fantasy land for which he has unbelief) with a key plot detail that is "familiar" (leprosy afflicts this unbelieving man, and is the prime motivation for his unbelief) because Donaldson witnessed his physician father dealing with leprous patients. SRD found he was able to really fire up his writing for TCOTCTU once the inspirations of "unbelief" and "leprosy" got combined.

He states that crossing his "familiar" idea of writing The Real Story with an earlier, more "exotic", idea of writing novels inspired by Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle characters, produced the gushing oil well of inspiration from which he could write the four sequel novels to TRS. While I find this concept of two ideas combining to create an imaginative wellspring to be fascinating, I confess that I have no interest in knowing which idea is considered "exotic" and which idea is considered "familiar".

He relates that when he first heard the name "Angus Thermopyle" in his head while driving, he had to chant it aloud repeatedly. Later, his mind supplied the name, "Morn Hyland" to chant along with it after a few weeks. Still later, the name "Nick Succorso" joined these first two names in his mind and as part of the resulting chant. Then Stephen R. Donaldson was convinced that he needed to write a story around those three names.

Quote:
My original intentions were explicitly archetypal. What I had in mind was an aesthetically perfect variation on the basic three-sided story: the story in which a Victim (Morn), a Villain (Angus), and a Rescuer (Nick) all change roles. (This, incidentally, is the essential difference between melodrama and drama. Melodrama presents a Victim, a Villain, and a Rescuer. Drama offers the same characters and then studies the process by which they change roles.) Victimized by Angus, Morn is rescued by Nick--but that, of course, is not the real story. The real story has to do with the way in which Nick becomes Angus' victimizer and Morn becomes Angus' rescuer.


But writing the Angus-Morn-Nick drama was a very disappointing experience for SRD in the early drafts, for three reasons. The first reason was that he kept failing to achieve his original intention of giving equal attention to all three characters.

Quote:
Put simply, the problem was that Angus had taken over the story. Vital and malign, he dominated the narrative, reducing Morn to a shadow--and Nick to a cipher. In some ways this made sense: as long as the action was viewed from Angus' point of view, Morn's motivations were unknowable, and Nick's were unimportant. But the result was that I'd written an intensive study of Angus' movement from Villain to Victim; but I'd only sketched in Morn's shift from Victim to Rescuer; and I hadn't paid any attention at all to Nick's change from Rescuer to Villain.


So, Stephen R. Donaldson was unhappy with the first telling of The Real Story, and in hindsight realizes he should have more quickly understood from his unhappiness what the story was lacking.

Quote:
Yet I was also aware of another reason for my distress. Unlike any other character I'd ever created, Angus made me feel exposed. It was as if in imagining him I'd tapped directly into the dark side of my own nature; as if I'd found him inside myself instead of inventing him. (In Aldiss' terms, he was "the familiar".) And that in turn shamed me. I felt irrationally sure that anyone who read The Real Story would see the "real" me, recognize the truth, and be disgusted.


That disgusted feeling I can understand, because that is largely my reaction when reading The Real Story, especially considering that it's told with the murderer/rapist character in every scene, and through his viewpoint (albeit still in a third-person narrative style). I know now that the Gap story gets better (a lot better) as the books go along, but I was hating reading TRS that first time, back in 2014. (I owe a debt of gratitude to Savor Dam, StevieG, Avatar, and rdhopeca for their encouragement to me to keep reading-- a great big THANK YOU to them!)

I remember thinking on my first time going through TRS that I'd feel very uncomfortable recommending it, let along having my name attached to it, so I can understand Donaldson's initial decision not to publish it. To me, there is some substance to his worry that people would see his dark side that he drew upon to write about Angus. Nevertheless, I think I can see what he means when he states that his personal shame is less important than the concern over whether he's given the work his best effort. According to what SRD has recounted in this Afterword, it certainly sounds like he tried hard to make the work as good as he could, re-writing it at least six times to enhance the roles of Morn and Nick. But he was ready to give up on the story when he felt he couldn't ever give them equal time, or "balance", with Angus.

Quote:
Fortunately, I was saved from the belief that The Real Story was doomed to artistic failure by what Dr. Who refers to as "lateral thinking." If you have an unscalable cliff in front of you and an unbeatable monster behind you, go sideways. Obedient to that dictum, I began to ask myself, not, "How did I go wrong within the novella?" but, "Where did I go wrong in my original intentions?"

Where, indeed? Well, where else? The Real Story is based on only one idea--and a fair number of my best stories arise, not from one idea, but from two. My problems with the book resulted from the need for a second idea.

However, I've told this story backward. The Real Story was actually the second idea, not the first. When I combined it with another idea which had already been in my head--alive, exciting, and totally static--for twenty years, I had a gusher.


SRD points out that the ending to The Real Story doesn't even hint at the tale going on for four more books, as all it states is that Angus was complacent about his fate except for the destruction of his ship Bright Beauty. But Donaldson conceived of combining characters and events based on Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Niblungen four-part opera with his attempt to further the character sketches of Morn, Nick, and Angus. He had purchased the four recordings of the Ring Cycle in themed-1960's, and had long wanted to use it as inspiration for a series of novels.

Quote:
My intentions were conceptual rather than literal. I wasn't interested in simply retelling the story of Wotan's doomed struggle to preserve the power of the gods in the face of pressure from giants, dwarves, and humankind. Rather I wanted to create an analogue which would allow me to explore the same themes and exigencies on my own terms. Most particularly, I was fascinated by Wotan himself, who finds that an understanding of his own power leads to the destruction of that power, as well as of himself and everything he represents; even more, that an understanding of his power leads him to will his own destruction.

But the idea remained utterly and entirely static--until 1987, when I realized that the world of Angus, Morn, and Nick offered me the perfect setting for the story I had in mind.


Mr. Donaldson also understood that stretching the concept of The Real Story into a five-book series by combining it with Wagner's Ring cycle also allowed him to more fully develop Morn and Nick's stories and give them more "balance" with Angus.

I think I can comprehend why the intersection of The Real Story with the Wagner opera tales didn't occur to SRD for many years, because those two stories don't seem to naturally belong together, in my mind.

Quote:
Put simply, Wagner's opera cycle tells the story of how the gods were brought down by two things: a bitter curse; and an act of unselfish heroism.


And how the opera cycle is combined in much altered fashion with The Real Story make all the difference for me in entertainment value, the difference being for the better. I loathe TRS, but I love the Gap Cycle as a whole--which I consider one of the greatest works of fiction that I have ever read!
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 16, 2019 6:43 am    Post subject: The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Afterword Reply with quote

In his TRS Afterword, Stephen R. Donaldson does a fairly efficient job in summarizing the plots of the four Richard Wagner Ring Cycle operas, in my opinion. Here, I will attempt to summarize these opera plots even more briefly than does SRD, but hopefully without sacrificing clarity in understanding these plots. And I will try to give my reactions to these opera plots in the most constructive way that I can, though I can't fool myself into thinking that my reactions are sophisticated enough to be considered "analysis". But, I'll give it my best shot to try to articulate how reading about the Ring opera stories makes me feel. And, perhaps, if I'm lucky enough, I'll even be able to articulate why I feel the way I do, and may readers find it entertaining. Cross Fingers Here, then, are my summaries and reactions to Stephen R. Donaldson's summaries of the plots to the Wagner Ring Cycle operas The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and The Twilight Of The Gods.

THE RHINE GOLD
In the world of these opera stories, the gods, chief among them Wotan, rule over the giants, the dwarves, the weak humans, the dragons, and also over very powerful beings that predate the gods' own existence. The giants and the dwarves plot to rule over the gods, and Wotan carves a staff with bargains and treaties inscribed upon it to increase his control over the world. Also for the purpose of increasing his and the rest of the gods' power, Wotan contracts with the giants to build Valhalla as a fortress, because he wants to fill Valhalla with fighting heroes who can resist challenges from giants or dwarves. (Why Wotan can't use his god powers to build Valhalla himself is not known to me. What good is it being a god if you can't create your own place of security?)

Meanwhile, a dwarf named Alberich obtains the powerful Rhine Gold from the water-associated females, the Rhine Maidens, that guard it with magic power. Alberich forges the Rhine Gold into a ring that gives him power over others. Soon Alberich gains a huge treasure, and power enough over the other dwarves for him to consider attacking Valhalla.

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The problem Wotan could have avoided, if he were wiser--i.e., less hungry for power--is that for the sake of getting Valhalla built "on the cheap" he has made a bargain with the giants which has no intention of keeping: He has offered them Freia (source of the gods' immortality) in exchange for the fortress. This is manifestly misguided, since his supremacy depends on bargains and agreements; but he is young, strong, and arrogant--and he believes that once Valhalla is built he'll be able to persuade the giants to accept other payment.

No such luck. The giants want Freia, or to hell with Valhalla and the gods.
They realize, of course, that without her the gods can't endure; so their insistence on correct payment is inspired by a desire to bring Wotan down.

This is a terrible moment for Wotan--he's doomed if he breaks his bargain and doomed if he keeps it--but he isn't yet wise enough to realize the full implications. Instead of facing up to the consequences of his own actions, he hits upon a solution of convenience. Maybe the giants will accept Alberich's treasure (and ring) as payment in Freia's place. The giants agree: they've heard about the ring.

At this point, Alberich's only weakness is that he isn't yet accustomed to the sheer size of his new power. He doesn't really understand that he stands on the brink of godhood himself: He's too busy enjoying his treasure--and his ability to torture his own people with impunity. In consequence, he's vulnerable, not to force, but to trickery. Helped by the cunning of fellow god Loge, Wotan obtains the ring by subterfuge and immediately uses it to master both Alberich and the treasure.


Wotan sounds short-sighted and somewhat contemptible to me, and I'm not inclined to feel much sympathy for him and the messes that he gets himself into. The dwarf Alberich curses the ring, so that its owner will be miserable and draw dangers of death and enslavement from wearing it. (If Alberich can curse the ring, why can't Wotan counter the curse by blessing the ring?) Wotan must give the giants this ring, regardless of consequences, because he can neither give them Freia (which would cost the gods their immortality), nor can he war against the giants in violation of the bargains carved on his staff (which would cost Wotan his power). Consulting with Erda, the Earth Mother, Wotan gets further encouragement to surrender the ring to the giants. He does, and they slaughter each other until one remains. This remaining giant transforms into a dragon determined to single-mindedly guard the ring.

THE VALKYRIE
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Wotan is now obsessed with understanding his dilemma. After some intensive study with Erda (study which just happens to produce eight daughters, the Valkyries), he learns that the only cure for the evil of the ring is to return the Gold to the Maidens. Unfortunately, he can't do that: He can't get the ring away from the dragon without breaking his bargain with the giants. However, in due course he hits upon the only apparent solution to the problem: He decides to use an agent to obtain the ring for him.

First, on a human woman he gets himself a son, Siegmund (and, not coincidentally, a daughter as well, Sieglinde, Siegmund's twin). Then he trains his son to be strong, brave, and desperate enough to tackle a dragon. Sadly this training involves separating Siegmund and Sieglinde and abandoning them both to loves of extreme loneliness, abuse, and danger. Neither of them has any idea that their father loves them--and needs them. All they know of life is bitter survival against cruel odds.


It's a shame that Sieglinde and Siegmund have to go through all that, for it's likely for naught. Wotan is warned by his goddess wife Fricka that an agent of his taking the ring breaks Wotan's bargain as surely as if Wotan himself took the ring. Feeling pain about the decision, Wotan dispatches his favorite Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, to make sure the Fricka-condemned incestuous sin of Sieglinde and Siegmund is punished by their deaths at the hand of Sieglinde's rapist/husband Hunding.

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It is Brünnhilde's act of unselfish heroism which changes the nature of the drama.


The Valkyrie is moved by Wotan's pain and Siegmund's loyalty to Sieglinde, however, and fights for Siegmund against Hunding. Wotan angrily kills Siegmund and Hunding, while Brunnhilde escapes with a pregnant Sieglinde, who she turns loose in the forest where the dragon guards the ring. Brunnhilde faces Wotan, who puts an enchanted sleep on her as he surrounds her with a fire which prevents all but the most fearless men from approaching her.

SIEGFRIED
Sieglinde makes her way into the forest until she finds a cave occupied by Mime, Alberich's brother. Mime keeps her alive until she dies giving birth to Siegfried. Mime raises Siegfried to be fearless enough to battle the dragon and obtain the ring for him. But Mime overdoes his instillation of courage into Siegfried, to the point where Siegfried disrespects Mime for being naturally craven and won't honor his wishes. So Mime tells Siegfried he'll learn the wonder of fear if he goes to face and defeat the dragon. A laughing Siegfried then kills the dragon, recovering the ring and also gaining a talisman that confers shape-shifting abilities.

Then some bird that really has it in for Mime tells Siegfried that Mime is about to poison him. So Siegfried kills Mime. This same bird then tells Siegfried about Brunnhilde, so that he wants to rescue her. (The bird wields a surprising amount of influence in this story for being a mere bird, not a godlike creature.) Siegfried is warned by Wotan not to approach the fire around Brunnhilde, but Siegfried breaks Wotan's spear and continues his efforts to rescue her.

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(Without his spear, of course, Wotan is finished. In fact, he had reason to believe that his spear wouldn't stop the boy. His decision to challenge Siegfried regardless is complex. On the one hand, he knows that if his spear can't stop Siegfried the gods are doomed anyway: They'll never be able to control whatever use is made of the ring. On the other, he understands that unless his spear--his rule--is shattered, the world will never be free of the destructive effects of his bargains. He challenges Siegfried in an attempt to simultaneously save and destroy himself.)


THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
Brunnhilde falls in love with her rescuer Siegfried, and gives him a protective spell to guard him as he goes out for more adventures to impress her. (I'm chuckling at SRD's mention of Siegfried not being very bright at this point in the Afterword.)

Siegfried soon arrives in the land of the Gibichungs, a human tribe. The Gibichungs are lead by Gunther, his sister Gutrune, and his half brother Hagan (son and agent of Alberich). All three Gibichung leaders elect to give Siegfried a potion that erases his memory of Brunnhilde. Then they send him on an adventure to retrieve Brunnhilde, using the shape-shifting talisman (called "the tarnhelm") to make him appear to be Gunther so that Gunther can claim Brunnhilde as his lover while Siegfried is rewarded with Gutrune. When Brunnhilde is brought to the land of the Gibichungs and is given to Gunther, she denounces Siegfried for his deception.

Hagan quickly gives Siegfried a potion to remember Brunnhilde, and Siegfried confesses that he previously knew but forgot Brunnhilde. Hagan considers that confession reason enough to execute Siegfried, and does so. But even dying, Siegfried is too strong to lose control of the ring, and in his dying Brunnhilde becomes convinced of his innocence. So she creates a funeral pyre around him in his honor and joins him in it. Her fire melts the ring, which allows the Rhine Maidens to reclaim the gold. Valhalla burns to the ground, the gods are brought to an end, and humankind gets to forge its own path in the world without interference from gods, giants, or dwarves (lucky us!).

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(The logic here is profound, yet difficult to explain. Once Wotan's spear was broken, the gods were, in effect, kept alive by the force of Alberich's curse. They couldn't die: The holder of the ring could be murdered, but everyone else who fell under the curse was compelled to yearn and suffer helplessly, as long as the ring--and therefore the curse--endured.)


So I guess the rule of the gods had to end in order for it to be a more just world. It makes me come to admire and root for the Wotan character striving to end his power, in that story context.


To connect his ideas about expanding the world of The Real Story with a story based upon Wagner's Ring Cycle, Stephen R. Donaldson decided to ask himself questions about this world. Where would an ore pirate like Angus sell his ill-gotten gains? The answer is, at an illegal processing station in space controlled by aliens intent on undermining humanity through use of genetics.

Who would be the gods in this new story? The United Mining Companies Police become like gods in their control over information and in their righteous mission to stop the ore pirates from selling out humankind. Who would stand in for Sieglinde and Siegmund? SRD saw Morn and Angus as Sieglinde and Siegmund, respectively, and then ideas for the Gap Cycle started flowing from his mind with the intensity of oil gushing from the ground.

What I like about Donaldson's use of the Ring stories as template for the Gap Cycle is that he allows Gap characters and events to shape up in ways that are independent of how their Wagnerian counterparts were written. To his credit, I think, he rejects the sexism of Wagner's work and rejects the assertion of Wagner's that innocence is power. (Which reminds me of that scene early in The Wounded Land when Dr. Julius Berenford tells Dr. Linden Avery that Thomas Covenant has written a book arguing that innocence is impotent and that "guilt is power".)

Having a science fiction background to a story partly inspired by Wagner's gods leads to the story being more influenced by human beings and their political motivations, SRD argues. I guess that's true, unless you want to write a lot of chapters from the points of view of alien characters, with their possibly unfathomable motivations.

Having a science fiction setting for his Wagner-influenced story lead SRD to not include any direct analogies to Wotan's staff or Alberich's ring. Donaldson moved away from Wagner's plots in a number of ways, in order to tell his story in a way that better fits his beliefs and interests. And I found the results very enjoyable.

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Yet The Ring is present in each of the four novels which follows The Real Story. When characters like Warden Dios, Min Donner, Godsen Frik, and Hashi Lebwohl take the stage, they come, as one might say, "trailing clouds of glory"--the ether of their Wagnerian avatars. And who better to represent the dwarves than the Amnion, who desire nothing less than the destruction of the natural existence of humanity?


So from here on out, an engaging journey awaits the Gap Cycle reader, in learning how the lead characters preserve their humanity in a setting created from both The Real Story and Der Ring des Nibelungen. The result, as I've stated at least once before in this thread, is one of the best fictional works that I have ever read, and I encourage first-time Gap readers to persevere in their efforts!
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