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.

PDR: Storytelling

One of my very favorite tarot activities is story-telling: I draw four or five cards as “Who – Protagonist,” “Who – Antagonist,” “Where,” and “Why/What”. Generally “why/what” is a theme or a goal.  I do this as a creative exercise for me and as a fun way to draw my boyfriend into my hobby — without having to resort to strip tarocchi.

I’ll give a brief description and some thoughts we had of each card drawn tonight, and then try to outline our thinking process  and the story we came up with.

Who/Protagonist — Knight of Wands
The Knights in the Legacy of the Divine deck are portrayed as masks, the uniform of the enforcer, to draw on Ciro Marchetti’s metaphor from the book accompanying the deck. We named a few qualities (i.e. brash, passionate, adventurous), coming up with a dragon-slaying, knight-errant king.

Who/Antagonist — The Sun
This deck features a non-traditional sun, and the card depicts a priest standing in front of a large, mechanical mobile of the solar system. Keywords included enlightenment and revitalization — we thought of the new burning away the old facades.

Where — Justice
Tricky for a setting, but it gave us a mood. The card refers balance and the blind rule of law. In combination with the other cards, our story, then, takes place at a time when we’re trying to find balance between the old and the new, between passions and enlightenment.

What/Why — Eight of Cups
The key word mention here was “evolution.” The card features an octopus-man in the water, turning away from the cups (and his way of life) towad the moon. He is half of the water, half of the sky, not fully part of either world. (I’m trying to resist the Little Mermaid comparison here… oops, I failed.) In our story, we have a king caught between two worlds: his young, brash self and his older, wiser self; an old government and a new, etc.

The story
After some initial discussion, we thought we had a choice between two archetypal stories: the coming of age story bildungsroman, and the Fisher King or ‘wounded king’ Celtic myth. While that seems pretty standard and dull, we realized that our story in synthesizes those two fables into one. Here we have an aged king who began his rule in the brash, knight-errant style, now ruling at the time when his kingdom is being shifted from a feudal rule to a republican rule. His country is being ‘enlightened’ toward wanting a republican, the slow-acting, balanced government, the opposite of this king’s style. The king must allow the Sun to burn away his mask and let himself evolve into the monarch that his people will need. In this story, the eight of cups evolution is changing both the kingdom and the king. The old king must become the new king, but he also must face his trials and come of age as a grown man. It’s coming of age because the king must grown past his former self, but it’s a king replacement because he must slay his old self and begin a new rule.

Interesting, yes? Not material for a best-selling novel by any means, but definitely short story potential. If you enjoyed reading this, drop me a note and I’ll make it a weekly posting.