The themes of Wayward Son

Well, everyone, it’s finally over. After over nine years and one million words, Wayward Son is finally completed.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3133712/83/Wayward-Son

Lord, is it a relief. All that work finally come to fruition. I’ve already said a lot on other places–my Livejournal (now abandoned), the Writer’s Guild, places like that. I don’t need to repeat it here. Instead, I’d like to talk briefly about the things I tried to convey with my story.

The first, of course, would be death, and how to deal with it. Death permeates Wayward Son. From the second chapter, when we learn of how Renault’s father died, and from there on out it’s death all the way. Renault kills many in his career as a mercenary, watches his friends die, continues killing as a servant of Nergal, and finally, even after he redeems himself, watches people he knows die, including his beloved mentor Varek.

But death itself–the mere depiction of it–isn’t the main thrust of its place in Wayward Son. I tried to make two points.

A: Death comes for us all, but the important thing is how you face it, in more ways than one.

Many people die in Wayward Son, most painfully. But while most rage against their fate, some die with dignity and honor. Braddock, most notably. In chapter 40, even though as he’s dying he wishes he could have lived longer, he doesn’t face his death with abject misery. Instead, he acknowledges that for all the chaos and violence he’s experienced, there had been some bright spots too, like meeting his sweetheart Rosamia and best friend Renault. He was thus able to die with a smile on his face. A sad smile, of course, but at least he was able to appreciate the good things in his life as it ended.

B: Death isn’t the end. Braddock, Varek, and everyone else Renault loved–they stayed with him for a long time after they passed from this world. It was Braddock’s last words, brought to light by Bramimond’s magic, centuries after he had died, that let Renault understand that he’d been on the wrong path and enable him to get on the right one. And even after Varek died, his teachings would always inform Renault’s quest to stay on that path of virtue.

My own feelings on the matter suffuse all of Wayward Son. One friend of mine I know for sure died while I was writing this–Shadow’s Nocturne. I deeply wish I could have completed the story before he passed, but no point lamenting it now. The important thing is that, as I said in the fic, his spirit lives on in me and the words I put to the page. I managed to complete Wayward Son, and carry out his will. I don’t know how many of my other friends are no longer with us…that’s the sad thing about the Internet. Lose contact with someone, even if you just drift apart rather than break apart, and you never know if they’re still alive out there somewhere, or have gone permanently into the next stage of our journey. But I guess death is a type of loss–and in that case, Wayward Son is about dealing with loss as well. After Renault matured, as demonstrated in the last chapter, he didn’t get angry or sad over all the people he’d lost over the years, from Braddock and his other companions in the Autonomous Company, to Varek and Wallace and Hassar. Instead, he reminisced about them as his own time came, and felt gratitude for having met them.

That is, as I wrote in my LJ, how I feel now. I miss all my old friends from FESS, and even my adversaries, too. But more than that, I feel overwhelmingly grateful–grateful that I had the chance to meet them in the first place. Little bits of them will persist, for me at least–both in the fic and in the mature man I am now, or will be, as I continue to grow, for they set the foundations for that growth. It is bittersweet, admittedly, but bittersweet is better than only bitter. The knowledge that I was able to meet them at all makes parting from all of them less painful.

On that note, the second theme of Wayward Son would be the advancement from childhood to maturity–and that one can still be a man, even a powerful man, and still be a child. One thing I emphasized constantly was Renault’s childishness in his early life. He was very petulant and cranky with his mother, and even when he became a mercenary, he still had a bad mouth, like a kid, and seemed too obstinate to grasp what the society around him expected of him, like an angry adolescent. He nursed his anger instead of working through it, and obsessively looked for people to blame even when circumstances were more complex, like a child would. And after Braddock died, despite Renault’s personal power (being a strong Mercenary Lord), he refused to accept his friend’s death in a mature fashion, instead embarking on a hopeless quest that brought him nothing but shame and sin.

Bramimond explicitly calls him out on this childishness as well, and after that point, he learns what maturity is with Varek. He stops being so petulant and instead becomes truly willing to not just learn but examine himself and his own beliefs. He no longer trusts anyone blindly (like he did with Nergal), but evaluates what the people around him say and uses his own judgement to discern what Braddock would have truly wanted. He finally understands that carrying out Braddock’s will is more important than bringing Braddock back, literally. So he renounces violence, just as Braddock wished, and in doing so brings peace to his friend’s soul.

That would be the third major theme: the effects of violence both on individuals and the world around them. We can see this throughout the story–Renault lampshades this at first when he states his first kill didn’t really have much of an effect on him, but Braddock warns him that the more you kill, the easier it gets, and this is proven true. The deaths of his friends drive Renault closer and closer to not only despair but insanity, and Braddock’s death pushes him just close to the edge. He doesn’t go crazy, but he becomes so desperate to bring Braddock back that he becomes a fool. And as a result of all the killing he’s done up to that point, he finds that he doesn’t mind killing at all, and ends up killing many more people before redeeming himself centuries later. Thus, violence is portrayed as having a progressively more corrosive effect on the soul of a man, even if it’s not immediately evident.

Fortunately, that spiritual corrosion is not necessarily irrevocable. Wayward Son also portrays how one can wean himself off of violence and hate, and bring peace to even a tortured, twisted soul. Varek, through a combination of patience, kindness, good humor, and above all actual wisdom, manages to put out the flames in Renault’s heart and make the former warrior not only lay down his weapons but outrightly repudiate the sword entirely. After he meets Varek, Renault never kills another human again–though he does injure a few in self-defense.

Finally–and I said this in the ending notes of the story itself–more than anything else, Wayward Son is about love. Love–which I define to encompass community, friendship, and compassion– and its salvific power.

Renault’s mother tells him the difference between love and obsession in an early chapter. Braddock shows his love to Rosamia when he leaves her. And, of course, Renault’s misguided love for Braddock is the seed of his damnation–and then when he figured out what true love for his friend entailed, and when he was shown that love by his mentor Varek, he at long last finally earned his salvation. The love Renault felt for Kelitha and Keith, and for Wallace and Hassar later, the love Priscilla’s parents have for their daughter, the love the common people Renault meet have for their families and their countries (and their faith, when applicable)–that is what saves Renault, and that is what defines and justifies the lives of all the good people he meets. And at the end of his journey, and his life, he himself can die with a smile on his face, because even though none of his friends are by his side–he has outlived all of them, except for Guinevere, and he warped her away so she could escape while he held off an overwhelming enemy–he knows they loved him, and that love comforted him as he passed away.

It’s a sentiment I hold myself–though I’m obviously not going anywhere XD The embrace of love, though, is the important thing, the one I’m holding on to IRL.

I’ve said this so many times, indeed earlier in this very essay, but it bears repeating: there’s a bit of all my friends in this fic. Your love for me is why. The support and kindness you’ve shown me–that is what has suffused Wayward Son, for all its darkness, and that is what eventually led Renault to the light of salvation. While I tried to keep the story from becoming a self-insert, for a variety of reasons, little pieces of real people made their way in there here and there. Renault’s slow growth from misguided anger to religious virtue mirrored my own in some ways, though I’m no longer as religious as I used to be. Braddock and Varek, the mentors who led him to maturity, are a bit–just a tiny bit–based on the mentors who helped me mature–Trail Snake, my friends at the Castlevania Dungeon, and my IRL friend Kryzystof. And, of course, the many people who supported me and taught me in the Fire Emblem fandom.

The vast majority of those folks will not read Wayward Son, of course. Most are long gone. In fact, from the FE fandom, I’m pretty much the only one from the “Old FESS” era of the early 2000s, and now that I’m passing from the scene, there are few if any other people left. And for the folks who are still around, I obviously couldn’t impose on them to read a 1 million word fic XD But, even so…whether or not they read my work, they still impacted its writing in a very positive way. And for that reason, Wayward Son belongs to them as much as it does me.

One more reason for cheer before I leave you today, brothers and sisters. As you may have gathered from this and previous entries, my time in the FE fandom hasn’t been without struggle. There was a period of a few years when I was an angry Internet troll, though fortunately I wised up after three years or so. Even so, I did do some negative stuff previously–but that’s why I’ve worked hard on Wayward Son, as well as leaving folks positive, encouraging reviews, for the past few years. Much like Renault, I’d say I’ve made up for my previous transgressions, and judging by the reaction to my departure, I’d say at least a few folks agree. Check out these great fics written by my friends as going-away presents for me:

 

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11622499/1/The-Road-Long-Traveled by Cormag Ravenstaff

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11622987/1/A-Second-Chance by Cookiecheeseman

If I was able to inspire fics like these during my time in the FE fandom, then every moment of it was worth it. 😀

One more present for you guys–this is just sort of a nifty extra, but the excellent Databunny (databunny.tumblr.com) drew me a series of pictures of scenes of my story, and I set them to music and added credits for all of the folks I mentioned here, so it’s like an anime ED! Check it out:

Well, that about does it for this entry. I may write more about Wayward Son in the future, especially its author’s notes and stuff. However, I really gotta get down to business on my dissertation. So, next Friday, expect a bit on how that’s going! ;D

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3 comments

  1. Despite my not knowing who you are or where you came across me I found that post quite emotional, which could have been a problem with me sitting at work. I wish I was a quicker reader (dyslexic and despite lots of help at school with it I’m still not even quite of average speed yet) and if fantasy writing was my thing then I would promise to read it. An 11th anniversary of my daughters death is tomorrow so I think that might be part of my reaction. I am very impressed by the scope of such novels and when I have read good ones there is nothing else quite like it.

    Your honesty in breaking free from trolling is impressive and I am glad that there was a way to make amends as life sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s going too.

    Good luck with this. Right now the only thing I think I can do is pop it on my Facebook and tag in a friend who I know writes in a similar genre, and she works for our local paper so maybe that will help.

    Cheers
    https://comfortism.wordpress.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/ashleycomfortism

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you like my writing, even more glad my story was able to emotionally resonate with you, and I greatly appreciate the shoutout!

  2. cormagravenstaff · · Reply

    It was my pleasure to be inspired by you. You’ve left a legacy in the FE fanfiction fandom. Some people won’t see it, but there are those (Like me, Cookie and Hammer) who do

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