This started out as a reply to Anaea Lay’s deconstruction of Comes The Huntsman (by Rachael Acks). It got too long to be a comment, so I turned it into a blog post. As the old adage says – “If you have more than a couple of lines to say, don’t clog up someone else’s comments section. Get your own blog and post it there, where it can be ignored properly.” :)
I think the direct-metaphor approach is too literal for a story like this. It didn’t occur to me until Anaea mentioned it that this could be read as two intertwined narratives. I read it much like I read Vellum – something happened, but the enormity of the event can never be put into words. So instead the event is repeated and re-examined, over and over, from countless different angles. Every story is a separate story, not a continuing narrative, with separate characters. But every story is the same story, and the characters are always the same – in essence if not in flesh. And if the story, the event, could be put into words, it would be a simple two-word story: people die.
The apples are, if one had to assign them a meaning, deep personal connections with other people. The heart, along with the drawing hand, is the willingness to feel and be vulnerable. The Huntsman is people you care about. But… never directly. Only in a vague “gesturing at the emotions underlying the concepts” way, so they’re fluid. Sometimes they’re literal.
i. “it was that same urge we all feel for the split second we look out over the railing of a bridge and wonder what it would be like to jump and fly away. I was never brave or mad enough to fly from a bridge. I should never have been mad enough to eat that apple.” – taking a chance on somone is scary. Connecting with someone, caring about them, makes you able to be hurt by them.
ii. see, told ya so
iii. you can be hurt simply by accident. No malice intended. And there was no way this could have been prevented – the hurt comes about by the very nature of who you are, and who the other person is. The only way this could have been avoided would be to never have formed a connection at all.
iv. you can be hurt beyond all reason by someone else acting to stop their own pain. How could this have been prevented? Too many knots, too many reasons, one cannot untangle the messes these humans make of their lives. But it happened right after the protagonist of iv lashed out and intentionally(?) hurt her friend, and it feels like an in-kind retributive strike. But one completely out of proportion to the crime, unimaginable in severity. The truth of fact may be different, but the truth of feeling says she’s to blame, and she cuts off her hand in penance. And she cuts off her vulnerability to others in defense.
v. A safe life. Prevent the hurt.
vi. A safe life also hurts. But not as much as the pain you’re defending against. It could never hurt as much as that pain did.
vii. A safe life. Is it living at all?
viii. Maybe the dull pain of a safe life isn’t worth it. Step outside, try again… Wait. No. Pain. Ow. God. Pain.
ix. So much pain. But different from the dull safe pain. Better. It is shared. This makes it tolerable.
x. The truth of feeling is altered. Time passed, the hurt heals. The defenses are now worse that what was being defended against, and the defender leaves her stronghold/prison. Normally this section would make up 98% of an Oprah bookclub book, and it would be boring and tedious and we’d all roll our eyes. That’s the difference between literary fiction and really good speculative fiction. A good SF writer makes it beautiful, and poetic, and cuts right inside you with words that say exactly what is needed and never a single letter beyond that. But never leaving out a single word that’s needed to get there. The end.
xi. And it was good. Or… better, at least.
God this is a good story. I’m again struck by it in the re-reading.
And I take it back, I guess there is a bit of a narrative. But it is, as Anaea said, emotional, not chronological. I think my only quibble with Anaea’s take on the story is that I feel it was being analyzed too literally. The friend/lover/Hunstman distinction shouldn’t be there… they all blend together into “person that I care about/can hurt me”. I don’t feel there is a breakthrough, only a passing of time. The sadness is always there, but it grows distant – and that is both awful and beautiful. Because people die, even though they shouldn’t.
Of course Rachael probably is shaking her head at how badly we misread everything she was trying to say. But that’s ok, that’s why we have death of the author. So everyone can get exactly what they most need from a piece of art, regardless of intentions. :)