*******THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT FINISHED PATHS OF ALIR******
My first blog post (in 2014) on the topic of Isabel and Pelas in Paths of Alir generally concerned a miscommunication made in the original text which has now long been corrected. That post doesn’t really address the context of these two characters’ interaction.
For me, this is an old topic that (to be honest) I’m a little tired of discussing. Yet for many readers just working their way through the series, the conflict is fresh in their hearts. So to those of you who are coming to my blog because you’re newly upset about Isabel, Pelas and Ean, this post is for you.
While the majority of the communications I receive daily are from readers who adore my series and generally understand Isabel’s choice within the context of the game, I do occasionally receive emails or comments from readers who feel betrayed, not just by Isabel but by me as the author. How could I ruin their favorite characters? How dare I do such a thing!
If you’re one of those readers/Audible listeners, let me say in earnest that I am very sorry these scenes upset you. I suggest putting down the book and getting a little space from the story.
Some of us have a deep-seated turmoil surrounding the topic of betrayal, while others are completely indifferent to the idea of it. It is impossible to know what readers will be able to easily get through the scenes with Isabel and Pelas and which readers will have an unpredictably heated emotional response to them. If you are one of the latter, again, I am very sorry those scenes upset you.
Obviously, I cannot tell a good story if I’m perpetually afraid of creating a bad effect on some readers. As the possibility is so vast, I wouldn’t be able to write anything at all.
As an author writing allegorical fantasy, I have to boldly go wherever the story takes me. Sometimes I don’t even like where it’s heading, but there is an integrity to this work that I can’t compromise. That means that when the story seems to be heading towards an uncomfortable truth or a difficult interaction, it is my duty to see it through, even if it personally makes me cry; even if it means making some readers mad at me.
I’m going to address several of the comments I’ve gotten over the years here. My intention with this post is to try to help you understand why I made the choices I made with these characters. I’m not really trying to open a debate about it. The book is written. It’s not going to change. I made my choices and I would do it again.
With this post, I’m only hoping to help you understand why I chose to take those characters in this direction, as sometimes at least understanding it can help ease the sting. I would also hope to invite you to see a different point of view—after all, seeing different points of view is the entire purpose of my series.
But I have to warn you that if you’re coming to my blog with a fixed-in-stone viewpoint of how wrong I am to have written those scenes, and you have no interest in understanding these characters’ choices, in discussing the ethical/moral conflict, in viewing the bigger picture, then I fear there is nothing I can say to help you, sadly, except, thank you for reading thus far. I bid you adieu and wish you well.
If you’re of the mindset that the series is ruined for you by these two characters’ actions and you don’t want to read anymore, I truly understand. Thank you for purchasing three books from me. I appreciate you taking the time to read them. I hope we’ve had a nice time together and I wish you the best in your future reading endeavors.
For those of you interested in learning the viewpoint from which I wrote those scenes, I humbly invite you to read on.
Point #1: Please remember this is fiction, people.
I get that you’re invested in these characters. I wouldn’t be doing my job if you weren’t. I was invested in Michael Curry when Lasher drowned him in a pool in Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. I was so upset that it took me days to stop thinking about it, and it was years before the next book came out to see if he survived. I was so traumatized that for the next book of hers I read (in a different series) I was on pins and needles the entire time, expecting her to kill off someone else important to me. I could barely get through it.
But I did—eventually. Ultimately, I reminded myself this was just fiction. Michael wasn’t really drowned in a pool. Michael didn’t really exist. I read the rest of the series, and I forgave her.
I get that I’ve made these characters real. That’s my job as the artist. Your emotional investment is your contribution to my art form. But don’t forget the primary understood agreement between us: this is fiction.
Point #2: It upsets me on a personal level to hear a reader say, “Pelas has claimed Isabel as his own now.”
Really? He’s claimed her? Is she a piece of property? A farm animal? Did he purchase her at auction with the papers of providence to prove his ownership?
No woman can be a man’s property. No man can be a woman’s property. People do not own other people. We are together in marital contracts or other troths through mutual agreement. Even the law cannot keep two people together once each party has decided to no longer hold that agreement in place.
Betrayal as a concept first requires agreement. Most of us are thinking of Isabel and Ean’s partnership in the context of a traditional marriage. But theirs was far from a traditional marriage. As Ean discovers as he learns more of Arion in book four, so also does he discover that his ‘marital’ agreement with Isabel was that the game always came first.
This is not in any way saying the end justifies the means. I’m not trying to justify Isabel’s choices at all, in fact. The whole point of the scene was to present an ethical right that was also obviously a moral wrong. I wanted my readers to look at that paradox, to dissect it for themselves, to think of how it applies to life, to debate and discuss and argue both sides.
Objectively, Isabel made the ethical choice to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, even if it was also an immoral choice by our own established societal and religious codes of conduct.
Point #3: Are we beings or are we bodies?
This one is a kicker. If your own spiritual philosophy begins and ends with the idea that man came from mud, that all we are is a conglomeration of organisms working in concert, carbon-oxygen engines running a meat body…if this is all you think we are, you will hit up against fundamental disagreements in reading my series.
Because I don’t think we are just hunks of meat. I don’t believe our decisions are made by brain tissue or that our memories are stored in cells. I don’t think we are our bodies any more than we are the cars we drive. And these beliefs are echoed in my story.
Perhaps we all put too much importance on the bodies we occupy. The HOLY SANCTITY of the female vagina! We’re going to judge a being based on someone putting a body part into a portion of their reproductive anatomy, and we’re going to say a man owns a woman because of having access to that portion of her body?
In fundamentalist Islamic states, women are stoned for being raped.
If we think we are the bodies we occupy, something terrible happening to that body is a true violation. But if we believe that the body is just one of many shells to be had—which is how Isabel views it—then something terrible happening to that body is less consequential. Because there is always another shell. Because in that case, it didn’t happen to us any more than denting our car happened to us.
If we are spiritual beings, the essence of us is sacred and inviolable, no matter what is done to the shell containing that spirit. This is not in any way to imply that someone who has undergone some kind of violation should somehow just get over it. Their trauma is undoubtedly real. I’m only attempting here to present a philosophical viewpoint with which we can look at the situation with Isabel, and possibly towards situations in our own lives in which this idea might helpfully apply.
I know this is not every reader’s world view, but it is a valuable one to at least take a look at. I wanted to explore this idea of are we beings or are we bodies? in more depth in book four, so it was important to set up reasons to pose the question in book three.
Point #4. Seeing the bigger picture.
There is another reason I wrote the scenes as I did. It’s the same question that is echoed in Björn’s choices to let people think of him as a traitor when in fact he’s most devoted to saving the realm.
When we can’t see the bigger picture, when we can’t get past the idea of ‘one life, one lifetime,’ our choices can be ethically shortsighted. The optimum solution would be ‘the greatest good for the greatest number,’ but to really be considered ethical, a choice has to embrace a long, rational view far into the future in order to determine its cumulative effect.
I knew my readers would look at Isabel’s decision and think it was immoral—it was!—but I also wanted them to see that there was a bigger game in play and hopefully be able to at least see why she made the choice she made, even if they don’t agree with those choices. Sometimes we are faced with choices that are ethically right and morally wrong in small or large ways. Those can be difficult morasses to make our way through.
In life, we have a tendency to get mired in a single moment. We just can’t get past something that happened. We can’t forgive. We can’t forget. Some terrible wrong has been perpetrated against us!
Granted. It was terrible.
Sometimes this kind of thing ruins us for decades. We become true victims.
This event with Isabel and its effect on both her and Ean is meant to address this kind of conflict that we face in real life.
Things happen, and we have every right to be angry about them. But if we can’t get past them, if we insist on holding that past moment in the present forever as a declaration of some horrid wrong that was done to us, if we can’t move on, then our lives are ruined.
We can make a lot of labels and banners to justify our righteous fury, and that’s all fine. But know also that in many cases there is a bigger picture that could be seen, and in taking the longer view, the wider view, we can get past the wrongs that were done to us. We become the bigger person, not the lesser one—made less by holding up perpetually the banners of all of the bad things that have happened to us.
This is another message of Isabel and Ean’s conflict, and in my view, it is an important message. We can overcome the conflict and grow to be better people instead of carrying the banners of our injury and indignation forevermore.
Point #5: Apparently, with these scenes, I have irreparably emasculated Ean.
Picking up the thread from point #4, we can either be victims of things that happen to us in our lives, or we can choose to view life from a place of causation and responsibility. Shouting our own victimization simply perpetuates it. Finding a place of responsibility enables further causative action.
In the words of Rene Descartes, “Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.”
Emasculation as it applies here (that is, metaphorically) is an idea. It isn’t a state of being. It doesn’t follow a scientific cause and effect like the laws of inertia. It is a feeling. We are making a decision to feel some way. Ultimately “being emasculated” requires a man’s own agreement. No matter what others think, or even what they say, no one can emasculate another man short of actually slicing off his genitals.
If we feel emasculated by an action, we have to realize it is our choice to feel that way. We don’t suddenly enter into this immutable state of being because someone else did something to us. We are choosing to let others make us feel less than we are. Perhaps circumstances or others cause us to feel that way initially, but we’re still choosing to feel that way. We create our own emotions. No one is programming us. We have to decide to feel something.
Which means, ultimately, in the context of emasculation, that we’re agreeing with the efforts of others to lessen us. Or we’re lessening ourselves through our own critical and invalidating thoughts. Our insecurity is what is emasculating us, not someone else’s actions.
The American philosopher L. Ron Hubbard wisely wrote, “Nobody can do anything to you but you.”
Ean is understandably hurt and feels betrayed by Isabel’s choices. He has the choice of agreeing to be a victim of her actions, in which he can carry that banner around perpetually (which he does for a bit through the beginning of book four), or he can choose to rise above the things done to him, decide to find his own responsibility for what occurred and move past it. Which he also does do.
So who is emasculating Ean here? I’m sorry to be so blunt, but the true answer is: you are.
Well…now you know where I stand on these scenes. Hopefully this answers the question of “How could I have done this to these characters? There was no reason for it!” and the occasional accusation of, “It wasn’t even necessary, as Pelas was already committed to Tanis!”
Actually, there was great reason for these characters to face this conflict. Because I’m writing allegorical fantasy—philosophical fantasy, if you will—not just fluff fiction. Not that there is anything wrong with fluff fiction. I adore reading it, but it’s not what I write. And the opportunity to raise these questions and bring to light these kind of conflicts so they can be better inspected is critically important on a philosophical level.
Feel free to share your thoughts with me below, but please understand that I am not going to debate my decisions with you. I’ve made my choices and moved on through two more books. So have Ean and Isabel.
Please know also that I do read your responses. You’re not communicating into a vacuum as may be the case on other authors’ sites. Whatever you write to me, you’re saying to my face, about my life’s work. I’ve developed a tough shell, but for manners’ sake, please keep this in mind.
It’s my hope you’ll continue the series to better see how these characters come to terms with what happened, but if you decide to move on altogether, I understand.
Thank you again for reading this far.