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This post is brought to you by a sudden descent of indignation at midnight, so I beg everybody's pardon if it is completely crazy. (Ahem. If it is any more completely crazy than usual.)

I would first like to make one thing clear. I really love Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree, Patricia McKillip's Ombria in Shadow and Libba Bray's The Sweet Far Thing. Long passages of descriptive writing have been known to bore me, but I can read McKillip's description of an orange for five pages because it is bee-yoo-tiful. I love the way women are the movers and shakers in Libba Bray's Victorian boarding school plus magical land books, and in particular I have a fearful girl-crush on arrogant blonde Felicity Worthington. Susan Cooper is just a flat-out genius and I only wish I'd read her Dark Is Rising series as a child and grown up with that fantastic world a familiar place in my brain.

That said: there is one thing that all three books have in common which I find extremely unsettling.

Imagine if the Lord of the Rings had contained a scene like this...

PIPPIN: Hey Frodo. I'm so glad that you decided to get over all that Ring business.
FRODO: Ring? What ring? Have you lost one, Pippin old chap?
PIPPIN: ...
FRODO: Have you looked under the sofa cushions?
PIPPIN: Well - not in Mount Doom. Er, Frodo, my man, how did you lose that finger?
FRODO: Well now, I don't think I quite recall - uh, no - Was Sam involved somehow?
PIPPIN: Yes! Yes, you've got it!
FRODO: I don't blame him at all. Poor fellow. Those gardening shears can be awfully tricky.



... You may not recall this exchange from The Lord of the Rings. Probably because it isn't in there.

Now on one hand, a Frodo who didn't remember everything that happened to him in The Lord of the Rings would be a significantly better-adjusted chap. He'd be able to stay in the home he loves and the neighbours would be really relieved he'd stopped with the eye-twitching and he wouldn't have to go into death/exile/the Grey Lands.

But if he didn't remember what had happened to him, the heroism and the villainy he was capable of, the friends he'd made and the evil he fought, well then - what would be the point of The Lord of the Rings? Frodo couldn't have learned anything. And what would we be meant to take from books in which the events of the books were better wiped from the characters' minds?

In Ombria in Shadow reality is changed so a different series of events happen after a prince's death than the series of events we have watched unfold around the prince's heir, the prince's mistress, a mysterious artist and a girl who may or may not be made out of wax. These characters we have watched learn lessons about humanity and hardship no longer know these lessons. They have a victory, but they don't know they achieved the victory. They don't even remember the war.

In Silver on the Tree the Side of Light remove all memory of the story of Arthurian magic and epic struggle from the minds of the five ordinary (...ish) humans who have been growing up and making incredibly difficult choices over five books. Two of those five people have made the most important decisions of their lives, made choices that involved enormous sacrifice and changed themselves, their view of themselves and their view of the world, utterly. That's all just gone.

The Sweet Far Thing is better: all the main characters remember everything that happens to them and learn from them and change their lives according to what they've learned. But at one point nightmarish creatures from a fairytale land gone wrong break out into the Victorian boarding school, and later the headmistress asks the heroine, Gemma, to wipe this memory from the minds of the boarding school ladies-in-training so their, you know, lady in training lives can go on smoothly as planned.

And then Gemma says 'Why should I?' and I punched the air and went 'Yes! Gemma, I love you! You can kiss The Beautiful Miss Worthington even, if you like! THAT is how much I love you!'

Then Gemma did wipe their minds, and saw it as a form of healing, though she does leave a seed of doubt about the world in their minds just in case. Which is more than we get in the other books.

But - but - why does this keep happening? Really, I do not get it, will someone please 'splain to me why?

I get that bad things can traumatise the hell out of you. And people in the real world, they suppress memories! But that's generally seen as - you know - a bad thing. They go to therapy to have the memories all unsuppressed.

It's also an interesting thing, because this issue can only arise in this genre. Specific memory wipe can only happen in fantasy or sci-fi. We alone have the technology! (Or the magic. Whichever floats your spaceship/flies your carpet.)

I mean, picture anyone trying to selectively wipe someone's memory in Jane Eyre.

ROCHESTER: *hits Jane over the head with a chair* Do you still remember I have a mad wife in the attic?
JANE: Yes! And also, OW, you bigamous chair-wielding jackass!
ROCHESTER: *bops Jane again* Do you still remember I have a mad wife in the attic?
JANE: Stop asking me that AND QUIT HITTING ME!
ROCHESTER: *bops Jane a third time* Do you still remember I have a mad wife in the attic?
JANE: Oh my God, what, you have a mad wife? And you keep her in the attic?
ROCHESTER: ... oh damn.

Yeah, so it wouldn't work. But if it did work - I mean, certainly it would be nicer and less upsetting for Jane to not know about Rochester's crazy wife. But it would also be terrible, because then she would be living a lie and not making her big terrible choices.

I am not so into the hair shirts. I don't think suffering is necessary for redemption. But if suffering has happened, I would want to remember it.

I will now quote from awesome Terry Pratchett's awesome book A Hat Full of Sky which has his heroine Tiffany listing qualities that make her who she is, finishing with the words "I'm made up of everyone I've ever met who's changed the way I think. So who is 'me'?"

And who are you if those people you've met, you no longer remember meeting? Who are you, indeed? A piece of you has been stolen.

I mean, I've had pretty bad things happen to me. Nothing too terrible, I suppose: I was always unhappy that they'd happened, but sort of glad that I'd learned more about the world, more about who to trust and who not to trust, and who I was from the way I responded to them. If I learned someone had taken any bad memories from me I would feel furious and violated on too many levels to count. I can't help recoiling from the idea of such a thing with horror. I don't think it should happen to anyone, not ever. Every moment that I've ever lived is mine, and is me.

Certainly, I've never found out I was married to Ultimate Evil. (There was this one boyfriend at college, he belonged to a drama group, I... oh no, surely not.) Maybe there are some memories so terrible they should be erased. I don't think so - and I am not asking anyone to share their traumas on the world wide web - but if you do think so, I'd love to hear about it.

I think I would feel less strongly about this if I didn't really like these books, but I do. I think they're all really great stories and I was with them until this happened and until it was portrayed as a positive thing.

So it happens in three great stories. There must be a reason. I can't see it - but I would love to hear thoughts on why it keeps happening, and why it should.

In summary - I think you should all read these books, and I am against magically induced amnesia! Are you?

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
malinbe
Jun. 2nd, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
I am against magically induced amnesia too! Seriously, the important thing is the journey- what good is it to take your characters on a journey and then not having them remember about it? It's like going on a wonderful world tour trip and then having an awful accident where you loose your memory, all the stuff you bought and you camera. Wouldn't you feel awfully cheated?
(Anonymous)
Jun. 19th, 2009 04:12 am (UTC)
Completely agree! I re-read Silver On The Tree quite recently and was so disappointed at the mind-wipes. Also at the end of the Donna Noble series in Doctor Who - she was an adult, she'd learned so much about herself - I was OUTRAGED that was taken from her.

I think in the fantasy series, where characters are being returned to 'real life' the authors are trying to make it more believable - we can't believe in people living happy/normal lives alongside us with these secrets. But...apart from the crappy symbolism, this is a fantasy - make a spell that lets this knowledge sit in the background and not be something you dwell on every day, but not something you've forgotten - wouldn't that work?
richyisrichy
Jun. 8th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
Just a comment on the Donna Noble thing, it wasn't as though the memory wipe was portrayed as a positive thing: the guilt of it tortures the doctor to his regeneration and beyond (in the more recent "Let's Kill Hitler" the TARDIS offered Donna as an interface and he exclaimed "The most guilt! Is there anyone who I haven't messed up?")

SRB's point is that it's not a good thing in literature and it's wrong to portray it positively. This was not the case with Donna: for her, it was a tragedy.
sadams119
Aug. 19th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
while i didn't like that bit from "silver on the tree," i saw it a bit differently--when i first read it, i cried. a lot. and not because bran had left, or that will would go on alone, but because of the others' loss. it was such a tragedy that their memories had been taken--and it was also creepy and gave me a different view of the Light: they had their own agenda and it was not always what we would want; their agenda was their own and we could not fight them. it put a diffent perspective on the whole series for me. so that was interesting. anyway!
ayamizuno
Aug. 25th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
Ok, I am mentally incorporating that bit into the end of Jane Eyre next time I read it.

Also, this whole question makes me think of Dollhouse, Joss Whedon's latest piece of awesomeness, because it deals with the question of can you ever voluntarily forfeit your memories (and, in fact, your free will)?

So my input for the post is you should watch Dollhouse! And, if you already do, then congratulations on your taste in television :)
imagined_away
Jan. 28th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
Thank God! someone else was annoyed to all heck by that! (I mean the Susan Cooper example.)

And while you'll probably never go back through and see this as it's ages old now. I have had a terrible experience happen in my life. Like PTSD inducing terrible. And I, naturally and because I was four, repressed it.
And years later when I remembered it was awful, because what happened had been awful, but (and this is really important to me personally) it explained all sorts of things about myself that I had never understood before. It made me understand why I am who I am and the way I am.
Actually, *big breath* fuck being coy. I was sexually assaulted by my best friend's father as a kid and it left me with a fear of people's fathers as well as a bunch of other issues. I'm not the one who should be ashamed here.
And I won't lie. I've wished once or twice that I had never remembered, because it's brought a lot of pain. But, if someone ever actually give me the chance to permanently forget what happened to me, I wouldn't. Because good or bad it happened and it's a part of me. And I like who I am today. And if I had to go through a ton of shit to get here that's okay. because I like 8here* just fine.
ilyena-sylph.dreamwidth.org
Jan. 21st, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
Susan Cooper wrote an essay about why she'd done it once.

I can't find it right now but it does exist somewhere.

It did not incline me any more charitably towards her.

Another one that does that is 'Hounds of the Morrigan'. To my great annoyance.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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