All of us have demons. No matter what we call ‘em, none of us is immune to the Seven Deadly Sins. Most of us strive to do and be our best. We valiantly struggle against our inner demons. Though sometimes, as I’ve written about previously, we snuggle with the devils we know. This theme of our inner beasts and the internal conflicts they trigger is explored in depth by many paranormal fantasy books. After all, what better way to examine our animalistic natures than to write and read about weres or warriors possessed by sins, or superhuman men who can transform into feral beasts? Controlling or overcoming the beast within is a significant trope of the genre.
Karen Marie Moning is among the masters of her craft, and the theme of learning to live with our inner demons is central to all the books in the Fever world. Each of their main characters wrestles with various versions of inner conflict made manifest: Mac has the evil Book that is part of her "essential self;" the Nine, including Barrons and Ryordan, are magical beasts in their altered forms; and Dani has her colder, more sociopathic alter, Jada, with whom to contend. Each of these characters has pieces of themselves that kill without qualms and survive at all costs – damn the collateral damage. And the manner in which each of them confronts and assimilates their own inner demons is that which makes each character so real and so memorable.
Mac starts off as Barbie, a southern belle without an inkling about the psychotic book that lies dormant in her depths. She flits through life, thin, dumb and happy, thinking her greatest flaws are superficiality and a touch of selfishness. When her demon is revealed in all its glory, Barbie – now Mac --- is thrown. But she bounces back demonstrating a level of resilience that her past did not suggest, but which stands her in good stead as she learns to confront her inner psycho. In Feverborn, the penultimate book of the series, Mac spends her time beginning to explore her inner landscape trying to determine exactly what is actually there. She starts to overcome her paralytic fear of what's going on inside her own head and determine what it means to access all the parts of herself. She wants her demon to play nicely with the rest of her.
But maybe demons don’t play nicely. Maybe it is the nature of demons to be feral and unpleasant and—well, demonic. Regardless of their likability, we must learn to love our demons. And not in the way of cozying up to them and enjoying the destruction and chaos they leave in their wake, but in the sense that we must acknowledge and embrace the totality of ourselves if we are to succeed. Integration is the goal. Just as Jung.
The ultimate example of an integrated entity is Jericho Barrons. Barrons loves his beast. In fact, he loves it so much it's hard for him to transform back to being a man after he shifts into his animal form. And no one is more successful than Barrons. Therefore, Ms. Moning seems to be arguing that by embracing the entirety of his being, Barrons is fully at peace and not fighting himself. He neither struggles nor snuggles. He simply accepts all aspects of himself and is unimaginably powerful as a result. He knows who he is and what he wants. His clarity of vision is what gives him the what it takes to achieve his goals. All of them. He is power distilled to its essence, and this power is a direct result of his ultimate integration—despite his two distinct forms.
The Dani/Jada character hasn't quite accomplished authentic integration. She is still fighting the parts of herself she perceives to be weak or undesirable for one reason or another. And while she may or may not be a true split personality, her rejection of parts of her essential self are the underlying cause of any actual weaknesses she may posess. I've been down this path as well, seeking to eradicate the parts of myself that weren't working for me. The eradication project didn't work for me either.
The message of Feverborn is clear: acceptance and integration of our demons is the path to power. It is the path to self-control, of the healthy, effective variety, rather than the locked down, stressed out kind that we see so much of in our world. Maybe it's not a matter of fighting our demons, but rather making room for them within us.
There is a story I hear often in my various yoga classes. A grandfather tells his grandson about epic battle being fought within each of us between a ‘good wolf’ and an ‘evil one’ who compete with each other for mastery of our spirits. When the grandson asks, "Which wolf wins?" the grandfather replies, "The one we feed." I embraced this tale until I started to think about the wisdom found in Feverborn. I no longer I like the idea of an ongoing war inside me for mastery of my soul. It is distracting and enervating to continually referee the constant internal fight.
Instead of making one wolf gorge and the other starve, perhaps I could suggest a more equitable arrangement? Thanks to Ms. Moning I’m now thinking that we should allow our inner wolves to share our food and spirits, as they are both a part of what makes us who we are. Maybe they don't have to fight. For now, I'm going to try to feed everyone in my crowded head and make sure no more demons are hiding under the stairs or anywhere else inside me. Acceptance and integrations will be my watchwords as I stop to consider, “What Would Barrons Do?”