PDR: Stories and Settings

Blame this article in the February 1 issue of The New Yorker about Dresden, but I’ve been thinking about cultural memory and the ‘story’ of history, and that comes out in the story we told in this week’s cards.

Who/Protagonist – Seven of Wands
A lone, cloaked figure stands guarding a portal, holding his (or her!) lit wand defiantly into the air. This character is a loner, a protector, someone who defends whatever it is they believe in, whatever lies on the other side of that portal. Interestingly, the figure is ghostly and appears to be dematerializing…

Who/Antagonist – The Magician
The magician (an alchemist?) holds an orb and lightning between his hands. He wears an expression of rapt concentration. His hands, as a side note, are deformed, with six fingers on each. In our case, this represents a person of vast power, one who can ‘magically’ effect change (oooh, the right effect, even, and in a blog post!).

Where – Five of Cups
A distraught young woman sits in the shards of three broken glasses, clutching the remaining two perfect glasses to her chest without looking at them. We saw this as a place or a culture (I’m again thinking Germany) so ashamed of or traumatized by its past that it cannot move forward, instead focusing on that trauma and failing to see the positive in its present.

What/Why – Two of Wands
Two wands frame two similar locked boxes; one key floats between them. It is unclear which box the key will open, and a choice must be made.

Story Possibilities
I’ll give you two possible stories to fit this scenario.

  1. In story number one, we have a culture like Germany (please forgive me Germans for abusing your cultural past), which has difficulty accepting a horror in its past. Out of shame, it cannot accept its past and has trouble moving forward. Our main character has spent her life defending her culture and getting them to accept the bad with the good in order to move forward. Just when she feels she’s making progress, a ‘magician,’ individual or group, enters the picture, offering a quick-fix and the ability to erase the nation’s cultural memory. He offers an artificially blank slate for the future: forget your horror and move on! Become a new country! So the nation must choose between the easy but false whitewash and the honest but difficult struggle to acceptance. The main character faces her own choice: continue to fight, or accept a whitewash of her own and wash her hands of the whole thing.
  2. Story number two lends itself to the popular postcolonial literature frequently found on college campuses and in Oprah’s book club. Also on the Nobel lists… Okay, it’s popular for a reason; it’s important. And this story touches on themes that are fundamental to this genre. In this scenario, our main character is trying to help a nation recover from a history of colonization, trying to integrate a native culture with the new hybrid culture. The magician appears, saying ‘Return to your roots! Pretend it didn’t happen!’ or ‘Start fresh! Make your culture anew!’ etc. The choices are similar to above.

My point, finally, is that stories with archetypal or deep-seated cultural themes transcend their setting. These can be contemporary stories, or historical, or sci-fi, or whatever suits you, because these are issues that humanity has faced since the dawn of time and that the cockroaches will probably face when we’re all gone. The tarot is a tool to help you access those themes, just another of the tools every writer should have, like grammar, metaphors, and a word processor, and lots of vodka… Okay, kidding on that last one.

Happy storytelling.

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