The Big Idea: R.R. Virdi
Posted on August 18, 2022 Posted by Athena Scalzi 5 Comments
All legends have an origin. Author R.R. Virdi tells us a bit about how stories change, shift, and adapt over time in the Big Idea for his newest novel, The First Binding.
Something I wanted to tackle with The First Binding is the nature of stories: how they’re created, how they travel, change their shape, and evolve. Along with this, how words and names in stories change as well. Ari, the protagonist, is the main vehicle for this. We’re shown his life, past and present, and how his legendary (or villainy) reputation has come to be. Some by luck, bits by truths, and some through lies. But his stories and rumors have never held their shape.
How can any story do so over a thousand miles, told over time, and by countless tongues?
A real life example that inspired the word, Satan. We all know it as another name for the Christian Devil. But did you know the word originally comes from Arabic and Hindi, and it is said as, Shaitaan in the latter, Shaitan in the former. The most notable example of this in modern SFF is The Wheel of Time where it is used as another name for the primary antagonist of the series, The Dark One. Over time and travel, and no amount of western tongues probably being unable to pronounce it right, the word became Satan—soon synonymous with Lucifer.
This theme is something that will play out in Tales of Tremaine (the series) as names are traded, misremembered, mispronounced, and twisted over time and distance. Something that happens to Ari over the course of his life, and something he has seen happened to others. It’s part of how stories change and reputations are created. And it’s a very real thing that has happened time and time again throughout our own worldly history.
So I went in very aware of this and wanted to use this as part of the world building in how stories change shape and so do names and facts over time. So keen-eyed readers (and re-readers) will find many more secrets and things hidden the more attention they give to the story, and the stories within stories.
At first, this only applied to Ari as I figured he would be the best lens and focal point to show this with, but as the world grew, and as did my research, I realized they couldn’t be separate.
People are informed and shaped by the stories they’re exposed to, and no story begins or shapes itself in a vacuum. They all borrow, life, and mirror many others. Some steal and twist to serve new cultures or environments better, or with more familiar and relatable characters.
One example of this that I found in my Indo-European research is the analogs between Indra vs. Vritra (from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata,) and another god from another pantheon with a similar story.
You tell me.
Indra is a storm god who fights Vritra, the three-headed serpent or dragon (his mantles and attributions change in retellings, also an important theme I tackle). Vritra is responsible for holding back waters (rivers) and keeping them from flowing, but functionally he serves more as an obstacle for the hero to have someone to defeat.
The storm god uses his club, a proto-hammer, imbued with all the powers of a thunderbolt (sound familiar?) to slay the monster. Vritra has historically been related often to Jormungandr of Norse mythology. And if this myth predates that, well, who’s Indra’s later counterpart?
Not so hard to figure it’s another storm god with a club-like weapon famous for having thunderbolt attributions, albeit his most magical gift might be his lustrous blonde locks, at least as far as the silver screen’s concerned. The original Thor had red hair, for anyone who cares. But, hey, another way stories evolve, character’s change and take on new features and manners, right?
Tales of Tremaine was created to also showcase how real world stories, and those in this world, have all gone through this process, and how one person’s story can be scaled up to legendary, and how any legend can be brought back down to the personal.
How they grow, and how they can go wrong. And through it all, the idea that one person’s story can be an epic—IS an epic, and that they are also susceptible to rumors. Those things that can get out of control, and maybe sometimes add cool bits to legend and lore, but all the while, are affecting a real life living person.
I’m sure everyone’s had a rumor spread about them or shared in close circles. They can hurt, they can get out of control, and they can grow very malicious and untrue—usually both of those things and faster than people can realize.
Ari is no stranger to those, and neither are any of us. It’s a part of our history as a species. All stories borrow, lift, steal, twist and reshape things as we wish to see them (for good or bad), or have frame of mind to understand them.
So, this is the story of stories, and how they’re never all we think they are. They are always more. And separate fact from fiction in them is difficult, but it can be fun.
Ari learns this over the course of his life as he tries to understand the stories of others, those he and his own—his place in the world, and the ones he’s crafted, whether out of hubris or a young man’s games, or to protect himself from dangers he has little other defenses for.
Hard living has taught him this, and will keep teaching him, that one of the greatest disservices anyone can do to another is not learning their whole and truest story. To judge them only by what we’ve heard or wish to see, not what the truth is. And it’s happened to him.
And I daresay it’s probably happened to many of us.
The First Binding: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s
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A word-nerd’s quibble: the term Satan comes from the Hebrew satan, meaning adversary, from there it made it into the Koran, and also into Greek and Latin, and so the ‘time and travel’ is coming from that direction into Arabic and Hindi and the Western world in parallel, it seems.
Very interesting, thank you for posting. I shall add this novel to my TBR mountain! Not least because I very much enjoyed your story “A Little Bit of Kali” (written with Y. Wijeratne) as published on Escape Pod (Ep.792/3).
“and how his legendary (or villainy) reputation has come to be.”
This is horribly awkward: “villainous” is the word that should be used.
“Thumbs up emoji”
For a moment there I thought they were going to pull a switcheroo and bring in Marduk and Tiamat (seriously, the storm god vs the big dragon is an old story that shows up a lot of places).