In Keeping With the Theme of Birds: The Engines of a Story


I recently finished Gordon Dahlquist’s the Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, and while I felt like it took a while for things to get moving, I was struck by the fundamental sense of change overcoming the protagonists.

Dahlquist is using three main characters. They overlap, interact, and separate. By volume two’s midpoint, I realize that what’s compelling me to keep reading is that the characters are changing. This far in, they aren’t who they started as, and the story isn’t leaving them any choice in the matter.

It’s led me to ponder that change is the engine of a story. In fantasy, the change is usually portrayed as a journey, the door that opens, the answered call to a quest. Home is left behind or outright destroyed.

Baby characters get a violent kick out of the nest of their comfort zone. That’s certainly where Dahlquist’s heroine, Miss Celeste Temple, starts. Her engagement to one Roger Bascombe ends without explanation, and with a determined behavior we’d call stalking in our century, she sets off to track down his unstated reason. Where this investigation takes her is far past the point of safe, into a world of intrigue and danger, where a powerful cabal threatens to upend Victorian society.

And all through it, Celeste and her compatriots change. When traumatized by her adventures, Celeste’s reaction isn’t to linger overly long about it. She reacts. She researches. She gets back into motion to discern exactly what it is she has uncovered. What occurred left a mark on her.

It seems like such a simple thing: but in fiction, characters can change so much more readily than we can in real life. You hear people say “he’s changed,” but how often is it true? Time and life can certainly make a difference in people, and definitely alter our perception or understanding of a person; but actual change doesn’t come naturally. In fiction, it’s entirely possible that a character become someone different. The story drives them to it, forces it on them. That’s the power and effect of fiction: something is possible that isn’t easy in real life.

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