Of Catalysts and Sacrifices

I have finally—finally—finished the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. And now I know why I read paranormal and urban fantasy over straight fantasy. I think I'd been seduced into a false sense of security that as long as I avoided George R. R. Martin, I didn’t have to worry about harsh reality intruding in my fantasy novels. What's that joke about good old George? That he doesn't use Twitter because it would only give him 140 characters to kill off?  Well, Robin Hobb proved that an author need not kill her characters in order to break the hearts of her readers. I invested countless hours in this trilogy—it's long—and I kept reading because I was desperate to unravel the mysteries she weaves and see how the story comes together in the end. And Ms. Hobb makes good on her promises; she resolves her mysteries in a clever and original  manner, which is all well and good. But there was little satisfaction to be had at the end of the series (although I understand that there are other books with the characters of the Fitz and the Fool, but I'm taking a break from all things Hobb for a bit). I find myself unutterably sad at the way it all turned out. As one of the main characters is called, I felt like the Sacrifice--leaving my reader's sweat and tears on the altar of these books. Which makes them great, I suppose, just not what I had been looking for. Too fine for my tastes, perhaps. Too demanding to be truly entertaining. Too heartbreaking to be called escapism.

But that is not what this post is about, I'm sure you will be shocked to learn.  In these books, we are introduced to the concept of the Catalyst, a hero prophesied to come to save the world, which is, of course, a common theme in true fantasy stories. And, like most of those destined to save the world in the fantasy genre, this Catalyst is not much to behold at first glance. In the eyes of his co-conspirators, he is but a green child who knows neither his skills nor his strength and fumbles around from pillar to post, ignorant of what he does, succeeding only by accident, seemingly. It is a well-worn device, but well played in the hands of a master storyteller like Ms. Hobb.

But what of this concept of the Catalyst who comes to change all things?  I found this idea compelling, pulling me back again and again when I didn't think the books were so deeply embedded in my psyche. But they were, and I found myself wondering whether there was any such person or even event in my life, coming to change all things. I thought of my husband and my children first, of course, followed quickly by my mother, all of whom certainly changed all things for me.

I thought also of my former career in national security, and of events that served as catalysts in the truest sense of the word—events like 9/11 in recent memory, and Pearl Harbor in the more distant past. What does it mean to change all things?  I think it means to turn the world on its axis and shift the perspective of all who inhabit the area. It means that we all see through new eyes that which has always been there, but was perhaps not understood.

I thought of things that have not occurred—and hopefully won't—projecting into the wreckage of my future and worrying about that over which I have no control, like illness or injury visiting me or my family, or additional attacks, worse than those that have already happened—involving weapons of mass destruction or the crippling of our infrastructure and financial institutions through cyber warfare or EMP.  And then I realized that Ms. Hobb had put me in mind only of negative catalysts, influenced as I was by the despair of the denouement of her series (which some may have found uplifting, but in which I found only desolation).

What about vehicles of change that are positive and inspiring?  Isn't that an equally valid definition of catalyst?  In fact, isn't it true that it has been my goal and joy to be an agent of positive change in the lives of those I touch? It is true. I am very conscious of working explicitly to help my friends and colleagues, and sometimes even strangers, as I do through this blog, to think and reflect and do the hard, uncomfortable thing for the sake of forward movement in life and love and work and play. I want to be the fire under someone's ass, spurring everyone I encounter to right action, even when it is difficult or frightening.

I love the idea of being the catalyst in others' lives, coming to change all things, to help tilt the world on its axis, in a good way, and help people understand choices they didn't think they had and to discover strength they never dared hope they could poses. Change is always hard, yes, and often painful. But it's always been my objective to help others shoulder the burden of short-term discomfort to achieve the greater good. All things are possible with help, and I love offering the hand of friendship and support to those seeking to better their circumstances.

A catalyst can be cataclysmic or constructive. Both aspects are valid. And after reading about the Catalyst in the Farseer trilogy, I'll aspire to creation over catastrophe every time, although that aspiration is itself a fantasy, as nothing is ever all good or all bad. But it's time to shrug off the depression of these books—as impactful as they were—and return to the world of my exultant HEAs, so that I might rest more easily in my thoughts as I seek a respite from my life among my beloved books and the ease and comfort to be found there. Usually.