On Love, Fanfiction And Narrative Perspectives: the Case of The Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman
WARNING: THIS ESSAYS HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY ME ALMOST TEN YEARS AGO.
IT DEFINITELY NEEDS SOME SERIOUS REWORKING.
No one would deny that characters and the interactions between them are one of C. S. Friedman’s strongest points, especially as far as the ‘Coldfire’ trilogy is concerned. Rarely can one find in SF/ Fantasy literature a relationship as complex and as fascinating as that between Damien and Tarrant… and, one may add, as thought- provoking and begging for continuation. Ms. Friedman declares she would not write a sequel :-(. That, of course, does not mean other people don’t write them; sometimes they do, even though myself I was able to find only few Coldfire fanfics on the Web, apart from some funny crossovers.. In majority of those, however, one motif would occur, namely falling in love. And despite strong evidence in the entire storyline for both Damien’s and Gerald’s interest in women, it’s usually the former falling for the latter. Not to mention that similar ideas appear frequently in various discussions groups or websites on the ‘Coldfire’.
Wait a minute, you can say. Wasn’t Tarrant perchance MARRIED? Didn’t he have CHILDREN (OK, OK, I know it doesn’t prove much… but still)? Didn’t he choose beautiful girls as his victims? And don’t we meet Damien’s love interests, first Ciani, then Rasya, both very feminine and very attractive? And, if that wasn’t enough, doesn’t Karill explain to Damien his assuming of the feminine appearance during their trip to Hell, saying, Given your orientation, it had to be female? Isn’t that enough for you people to stop seeing ANY HINT OF SEXUAL FASCINATION BETWEEN THEM?
I. Sources: fanfiction As you’ve probably know, (since you’re here), there are very few existing Coldfire fanfics. Most of them come from an excellent www.hanashika.com; their authors are whitecat and sharky; BTW whitecat’s probably the best fanfic writer I’ve ever come across, with great understanding of the characters she’s using in her stories.
There are 3 ‘Coldfire’ fanfics to be found on www.hanashika.com, The Meaning of Miracles, Little Deaths and You Could Be Me and only the last one does not contain the motif in question. In Little Deaths, Damien (literally) dies for Gerald’s kiss. In The Meaning of Miracles he’s simply fascinated and although no words of love are spoken, there is an overwhelming feeling of attraction and the author herself reveals in her comments that this actually was the idea.
We meet the Coldfire’s main characters also for a moment in whitecat’s/ tomo’s Infinity, fanfiction crossover between Trigun and Lost Universe… as a couple, most certainly, although it’s rather suggested than openly stated.
There are also two nice stories at www.fanfiction.net , by Karasu and Kagedtiger, and, surprisingly, both are on… well, guess what. Karasu continues writing Coldfire fics and most of them concern the same motif, over and over, although applied to various contents and plots. Quite recently (second half of 2004) some new authors emerged on fanfiction.net… and guess what? Apart from one prequel, dealing with the love story of Gerald and Almea (rather feeble a prequel, one must say, and, alas, written with complete lack of understanding of the protagonints’ characters), all of them are love stories, namely Gerald and Damien love stories.
The last Coldfire fic I’ve managed to find remains anonymous for me, and I do not place a link to the site where it can be found, for one simple reason: it is never stated anywhere that it contains material suitable for adults – most certainly non-homophobic adults, one may add ;). OK, maybe it is, on the main site, but I do believe there should be some disclaimer or perhaps at least rating info (R, I’d say) on the very site BEFORE the story starts. There is none… so imagine my surprise while reading :-). The fic itself is actually intriguing. Although it seems close to being a no-plot story, it proves at least one thing: whoever wrote it, has read the original books very diligently and really thought his/her ideas for the story over. It takes place immediately after the end of Crown of Shadows, when Damien decides to follow the mysterious young man… from what was stated above, one may guess the results of their meeting 🙂 (described in some details). So what’s intriguing in that? First of all, its narrative and style. The story looks as if constructed with C. S. Friedman’s own phrases (couldn’t she write a sentence like “it took no effort at all to bridge the gap between them”?). Secondly, the person who had written the story was aware of all the problems that such an idea of pairing could pose. In the story, ‘giving up an old identity’ means also ‘giving up women’; however silly it would sound, it’s quite convincingly explained – how could somebody used to torturing and murdering young girls build a relationship with a woman without remembering that past? Especially having taken into account the eroticism always present in Gerald’s dealing with his female victims (remember Sarah in ‘TNF’?)? So, no more girls for him, sorry. As for Damien… He simply realizes that after meeting Gerald, after the bond they shared, after the trust he put in the Hunter he simply wouldn’t be able to bind himself like that to anyone else. What they had shared was unique, so unique that things as trivial as gender or sexual orientation do not matter anymore ;-).
Now I think that’s really an important point and that’s what I’ll try to argue. As an author of the gallery of antiheroes and villains at www.flowerstorm.net.disa , stated,
Moreover, as in a “buddy” detective story, he and warrior-priest Damien Vryce, initially reluctant partners, grow so close through their adventures that they finally can barely exist without each other. There is no actual physical relationship, but the sacrifice and emotional longing on both ends surpasses that of many literary hetero couples.
And that, IMHO, is the clue: the relationship between characters is so complex and so elaborate, so much is left unsaid, so many themes and emotions are suggested or simply hinted at, that it leaves a lot to the readers’ imagination. (Who’s to blame for the Damien x Tarrant fics then? Ms. Friedman and no one else, as she had written the characters just too adeptly 😉
And as much as I would be extremely reluctant to admit any kind of sexual feelings existing between the characters, I would have no doubts at all about the fact that there is deep mutual affection – even love – that they share. Not from the beginning, of course,and not necessarily that kind of love that would make them live happily together ever after :-). But… yes, in this case I do believe in (a kind of?) love.
II. How does it start (and where will it end)?
Now what I’d like to do is to look at the way Damien and Gerald react to each other and how this relationship is changing while they grow to know each other better and better.
One important introductory remark: C. S. Friedman’s narrative method prevents us from knowing Gerald’s reactions and emotion as only scarcely is the story narrated from his point of view. It’s mostly when he’s alone (like for example when he’s Working the knife he’s about to give to Damien in the Undying Prince’s realm) that we are able to witness his internal monologues or see the actions from his perspective. It is usually Damien’s perspective, on the other hand, that the author uses, which is why his feelings and emotions seem easiest to identify and describe.
And now, “the love story” :-). It starts, obviously, with dislike, mistrust and irritation.
1. In the beginning
Damien dislikes Gerald immediately when they first see each other; even before he’s able to realize who are they dealing with, he feels insecure in the adept’s presence, mostly due to the fact that Ciani pays a lot of attention to the newcomer. Damien’s impression deepens after Gerald kills the unconscious boy… and keeps growing since then.
What is it that irritates Damien so much about the adept? From his musings and from what he says to Zen, we may hint at the other’s handsome appearance, his aristocratic manners and his apparent self-confidence. This… and the fact that Vryce doesn’t know anything about the man’s whereabouts, dealings and aims, apart from the fact that they are in some strange way intertwined with his own. His initial dislike turns into disgust when Damien gets convinced that their companion is the servant of the Hunter… and into open hostility after the Morgot episode and the abduction of Ciani. And, of course, there comes the day we’ve all been waiting for – the moment Damien realizes WHO their companion really was (which we readers have probably guessed long ago:-)). Obviously the fact that Tarrant isn’t merely a servant of the monster of the Forest, but the Hunter himself (and that Damien himself didn’t even suspect it…;-)) must have been difficult to bear… not to mention the Hunter’s real name and identity. This is the moment when Damien hates Tarrant… hates him not so much for being a murderer, a demon, a monster, as for having once been the Prophet of his religion and the founder of his church
Yet, as Tarrant himself says, Damien has no choice but to accept this dark company. The fact that Ciani trusts Tarrant and is obviously fascinated with the sorcerer does NOT help.
When Damien confronts Gerald in Jahanna about Healing Zen, he sees in the sorcerer’s eyes pure hatred… and this is one of the few indications showing Gerald’s feelings. What we know is that he’s polite, courteous… and dangerous. Little can we say about his initial opinion on his involuntary companions… especially Damien. Ciani would later tell Damien that the Hunter finds him dangerous as well. And as much as Damien’s relationship with Gerald is determined mostly by the latter’s being the Prophet of his Church, Gerald’s feelings for Damien – his sarcastic attitude, his irony, his general behaviour – seem to have a lot to do with the fact that Damien is a priest. It’s sometimes hatred, maybe… but more commonly it’s simply irritation or impatience.
And so, one filled with disgust and hatred for the demon, the other with annoyance and lack of patience with a mere human, Damien and Gerald must travel together to the rakhland.
But actually, even at that stage, the feelings they have for each other aren’t simply hatred and annoyance. Gerald admits freely that he didn’t expect Damien to follow him and Ciani to the Forest and that the priest’s courage impresses him. Damien, on the other hand, more than once sees something human in the sorcerer… his fear, his pain… and what he feels in such moments gets really close to pity or compassion. There are just moments, just impressions… for now.
2. The Rakhland
It is in the rakhland, when confronted with a non-human species and with a threat of an all-too-human Master of Lema and her demonic ally that Gerald and Damien first form a kind of reluctant truce. Neither of them wants it, that’s for sure… neither of them has any choice, either. Damien knows beyond doubt that they need the Hunter’s strength and his ability to control the fae. All his strength and all his magical abilities. There are, as far as they know, no humans around… while the Hunter still needs human blood, fear and human suffering to live. And Damien’s the leader of the group… Damien loves Ciani… Damien’s responsible for Zen… so Damien has no choice but to offer himself to his companion/enemy. He feeds Tarrant his blood and he lets him place nightmares in his mind to let him use his fear as a source of nourishment. Since then there is a bond between them, one that only death can undo… or, as Gerald says, maybe not even death itself
BTW, I’d say that what was suggested by Tarrant is exactly what happens. Remember the moment Gerald dies on Mount Shaitan and Damien feels the channel between them gone, severed by the instant of his death as cleanly as flesh might be severed by the knife (COS p. 331). The link is broken; the Hunter is dead. Yet when Damien meets a mysterious dark-haired youth and engages in bizarre conversation concerning Gerald’s “real” death, he remembers he had seen him die. He had felt him die, as the channel between Vryce and the Hunter was severed by Andrys Tarrant’s bloody sword. (COS, p.420). What channel, one may ask? Where did it come from? The only answer that doesn’t imply the author’s mistake is that just like Tarrant said it would be the two of them are bound forever… until both, not one of them, die. And as for the possibility of the author’s mistake… why should we make things that easy for ourselves? I’d rather look for a more satisfying answer than “oops, she has forgotten that this had been gone long ago!” 😉
III. Evidence and explanations, or what makes people believe in impossible love stories
OK, let’s pretend for the moment that I’m a fanfiction writer. Let’s say that I’ve written a fic similar to the one described above in some details and that I got a whole bunch of acerbic comments from my readers, telling me that my idea of a passionate romance between Ms Friedman’s main characters is far-fetched at best and downright stupid in general. How could I try and defend myself against such attacks? Well, that’s simple: I’ll do what the fanfiction writers do oh-so-often: I’ll collect evidence from the novels themselves, suggesting that it is me who is right and that the idea of the love affair in question exists in the original plot, only hidden! All right, let’s do it and let’s start from the end.
EVIDENCE: (sometimes misleading)
1. Gerald risks everything – i.e. his newly acquired mortal life – to go and tell Damien that he is alive. This puts him in terrible jeopardy, as he was supposed to let go his past once and forever. To quote his own words he had once used to describe Karill, he’s too practiced a survivor for that… yet that’s exactly what he does: he finds Vryce and tells him almost openly “Look, it’s me”… while even uttering his old name would prove fatal. Now why is he doing it?
2. Damien – the same energetic man of action whom we’d grown to know – is spending idle time in Black Ridge Pass… more that one week, at least… too long to be an ambassador to the Iezu (COS, p. 419)… putting off certain decisions that he would rather not make, shooting demonlings, drinking heavily and wandering aimlessly around, with only one theme reverberating in his head: I can’t believe he’s dead. The very same words, one may add, that he uses to describe his loss after Ciani’s supposed death. Urging himself to just let it go does not help, as everything reminds him of his loss. The burning Forest. The loss of his Vision. The fear… the fear how would the world look like now that two new self-offerings, Tarrant’s and the Patriarch’s, replaced the old pattern once shaped by Ian Casca. And in the middle of all that emotional turmoil is – always – one question: how would you be dealing with all this, Gerald? And he knows that this is what keeps him from getting on with his own life again: the fact that he cannot come to terms with the Hunter’s death – no, with Gerald Tarrant’s death, which was a different thing entirely (COS, p. 418). Is that how you mourn for just a companion… even a friend :-)?
3. Let’s stay for a moment longer with Damien and the emotions that he shows in his conversation with a certain arrogant young tourist. We find out that Damien had hidden his true identity precisely to avoid this kind of interrogation, an interrogation on the Hunter’s death. Why? Because it hurts too much? Damn, did he have to go through all this again, as if he had never done so the first time? The Hunter was dead. He had seen him die. He had felt him die, as the channel between Vryce and the Hunter was severed by Andrys Tarrant’s bloody sword. Wasn’t that enough? (COS, p. 420)
The memory of Andrys carrying Gerald’s severed head has been burned into his brain and he couldn’t shut it out.
4. Damien’s ready to die for Gerald, just to heal him. He does it for his own reasons: being as stubborn as Tarrant himself (and that’s exactly how stubborn he is!), he does believe he can save Tarrant’s soul; which is exactly what he does, by the way. And, he would rather risk his own death than deprive Tarrant of his chance to earn God’s forgiveness. Why? Probably to prove himself that he was right about Tarrant, that there was still something of a human left in the monster. Why, again? Perhaps to prove that his own opinion on Tarrant, the friendship that he has for him, may somehow be justified?
5. Anytime (and it’s quite a few times in the course of the three books) Damien believes Gerald dead, he’s torn between fear and loss. He prays for Tarrant’s soul, even as early as in the rakhlands. Whenever he has the chance, he does everything he can to save him…. and we do remember him weeping after Tarrant’s self-sacrifice, don’t we?
6. What exactly is that something stronger, and subtler, that passes between them after Damien completes the bond?
7. When they meet Almea’s shadow, Damien’s first move is to take a step forward, as if to what, protect the man?
8. You could shapeshift. Fly out of here, Damien says when they’re in danger and there’s practically no means to escape. The answer’s Yes, but you couldn’t.
9. The proud Gerald Tarrant actually asks Damien to go with him to the place where he’s about to die… no matter that he does it by saying “you don’t have to go”:). Damien is well aware that he probably isn’t going to get out of this mess alive. What does he say? Gerald. Don’t be a fool, of course I’m going.
10. Damien defies the rules of his Church, converses with demons and devils and descends to Hell… all of this to save his once enemy.
11. One may have an impression that somehow, from some point, saving Tarrant’s soul and helping him to reclaim his humanity becomes as important an issue for Damien as their main task of defeating Calesta…
12. After his conflict with Gerald about Jenseny, followed by what might be called “God’s intervention”, Damien should be at least angry with the Adept. Yet what he feels is rather compassion and an urge to help.
13. … and why is it that anytime something bothers Gerald, Damien’s urged to follow him, find out what happened and do something about it? Remember another quarell about Jenseny and children in general?
14. … not to mention Damien feeding Tarrant his blood, protecting him, taking care of him…
15. … and Tarrant becoming more and more supportive, compassionate and understanding – like in Damien’s conflict with the Patriarch? This is my ally. My support – that’s how Damien sees Tarrant these days. Even more so, the idea of Gerald leaving for the Forest does not please him at all… even the physical contact with the undead, the touch of his cold hand, does not seem unpleasant anymore…
Enough. Let’s give up the false identity of the slash fanfiction writer. Yes, we could go on like this for some more pages, but what does it prove? It proves, I think, both everything and nothing. But one thing is certain:
That’s friendship by any standards I know, to quote from Damien Vryce. Friendship or more, perhaps. And whereas it does not prove any kind of… let’s say, mutual attraction, it does prove what I dare and call love. Love for a friend. Love for someone you admire and someone who had saved your life more than once. Love, one could perhaps say, in its (kind of) Christian/ancient meaning.
OK, I know that (ab)using this category might be misleading here… yet I can’t help but try to apply it to this particular case. Sorry for the Greek/Latin terms; I am a classicist and (kind of) theologian by profession. In short: both in the Greek and Roman tradition there is a different word for “love”, when it means “desire, lust, need, wanting” and a different for “caring, affection”. The former is actually nothing too good – it’s a kind of madness, something rather dangerous… and passing by; it’s a disease of the young and you simply outgrow it! It has more to do with lust than with any kind of feelings. This is what is called “eros” in Greek and “amor”in Latin. Even though these two words may have more general meaning, they’re often used in this context. There is, on the other hand, another kind of love: the one you’re suposed to have for those you really care for. It’s not exacly what we may call “brotherly love”: it does not necessarily include sexual desire, but does not have to be deprived of it (although it is, in its Christian undestanding)! This is what is called “philia” (Christian “agape”) or “caritas” (or sometimes in Latin simply “amicitia”, friendship). The latter terms have been adopted by Christianity to define relations between the members of the Christian society, altough originally the differentiation between “agape”/”caritas” and “eros”/”amor” is much older! In case anyone wanted (?? :)) to find out more about the difference between these two in classical antiquity, I recommend some readings of Plato (The Symposion, especially the Diotima narrative), Plautus’ comedies (“amor” as a disease of the young), Roman elegists (Tibull, Ovid, Propertius) and, most of all, Rome’s greatest poet, Catull :))
IV. The trickiest part 😉
So far, we have gathered the evidence proving that yes, there is trust and undestanding and friendship… maybe even more than friendship… between the two characters in question. How about the aforementioned “mutual attraction”, noticed by so many readers ans fanfic authors? The main reason for the attitude is, IMHO, something as innocent as a narrative technique used by the author; in other words, the fact that we see Gerald almost exclusively through Damien’s eyes.
(I know that there are moments when he’s seen by the eyes of other characters, most notably Narilka, Andrys, the Patriarch or (in the prologue) Almea, but these are shorter and probably of lesser importance)
And see him in his aesthetic perfection, his ethereal beauty… we see his lean body, his slender hands resting on the wheel, so elegant, so confident …golden hair, framing his perfect features… paleness and fragility, when he lays unconscious after being rescued from the Unnamed… his voice, quiet as a breeze, his thin pale lips… and those eyes, pale, cold, sharp, color-changing… often venomous and filled with menace… yet so deep that you can drown in them. The description of Tarrant’s physical appearance is very detailed and thus inevitably sensuous and as we see him through the eyes of another character it is easy to assume that it is his opinion, not the independent narrator’s.
Another factor adding to that impression is the carefulness with which details of Gerald’s looks and behavior are noted by Damien. He seems virtually not to take his eyes off from the Hunter! He notices his arms getting tense, weariness showing in his posture, all the details of emotions flickering in Gerald’s eyes, the way sunlight glistened on the fine beads of sweat that were gathering on his forehead and how the skin beneath them was flushed with a hint of red, just like a living man’s should be. Gerald’s graceful movements, the way he walks, the way his silken clothing flutters around his slender figure… all that is presented to the reader from Damien’s point of view – it is him who notices these things, who pays attention. Add to this another kind of detailed descriptions – those of Gerald not in his beauty, but in his suffering, when he’s almost human: crucified in Hell, so wracked by pain that his features are almost unrecognizable, caught in the everlasting fire by the Master of Lema… or realizing at last, finally, that he had been rejected by God after his confrontation with Damien over Jenseny. Again, we see -and experience – it all from Damien’s point of view; in Hell he flinched inside each time he heard one of the serpent- things move, guessing at the pain they caused. Is it just compassion for another human being that is suffering?
Why such a perspective? To give the reader a full and exact description of the books’ most prominent character. What impression does it make? See the fanfiction! Personally I find that method of description most interesting and perfectly suitable for the author’s purposes. It gives so much more credibility to the character, being described from the perspective of another character taking part in events. It was a brilliant idea to use the subjective point of view – and Gerald is seen from the perspective of someone who does not approve of much that he represents!
The narrative techniques are one of the reasons. There is, IMHO, one more, this time not in the formal (or constructional) part of the book, but in the plot itself. And this was actually where all this “evidence list” started… from my own fanfic idea.
Let us for a moment take into account facts how they look for Damien Vryce… let’s say a day before that annoying rich kid crosses his way. Damien’s in Black Ridge Pass, looking for anything that would give sense to his life. The women he loved are gone: Rasya’s dead, Ciani’s unreachable. And even if she was… they took away the meaning of her life. Ciani was an Adept, a sorceress… yet, thanks to Damien and Tarrant (and the Patriarch) there was no more sorcery. No more Working. No more supporting one’s youth with magic. And Ciani couldn’t even find solace in the Church’s victory, she was a pagan, she didn’t care. Then there’s the Church, triumphant, victorious… the Church Damien no longer could serve. He had cast himself out. He didn’t belong anymore. So no more priesthood, either… and how many times have we heard from him that he wouldn’t see any worth in himself without the Church?
Thirty five, with no home. No Vision (and it hurts, that loss, it does). Damien was a priest and a sorcerer, now he’s neither. No return to the West – what for? No love. No meaning in life. And in addition to that, this new world, where everything – everything!! – will change.
And as I find Damien Vryce a profoundly intelligent man, I believe there were more things he must have taken into account. Rejection – for those who knew about his adventures he was the Hunter’s – the Hell’s darkest prince’s – companion; and those who didn’t would never understand. Loss, as his world fell apart. And that bitter, grievous failure.
There was once a brave man named Damien Vryce, who would set for himself ambitious tasks. First, that he will get rid of the evil Hunter. Later on, that unlike his fellow Church- followers, he will not judge and will not condemn…that instead he will find the way to redeem that monster that once had been the holy prophet of his faith, to make him regain his humanity again. And so he did. Gerald Tarrant saved Erna with his sacrifice. Damien Vryce saved Gerald Tarrant’s soul by his friendship, loyalty and love.
Or at least tried to save. God, he would have come back to You, Damien says in despair. He would have, if not for one man’s personal revenge… a revenge that served Calesta’s purposes all too well. So Gerald got his second chance, only to die by the hand and sword of his last living descendant… deprived of a possibility to purify his soul and to reclaim his humanity, a savior of Erna doomed to eternal suffering in Hell. A savior of Erna and Damien’s only friend.
And so Damien wasn’t brave nor energetic anymore… because, in addition to all these things he also knew that what was between him and Gerald was unique. Not to be replaced, not to be forgotten. A trust you put in someone who rejected immortality to serve mankind… a friendship that binds you to a man for whom you ventured to Hell and beyond… an understanding possible to achieve only with somebody whose blood is still coursing in your veins, with whose eyes you were able to see… how can you repeat something like that with a mere human? And how do you feel never having expressed all these feelings, all these farewells and gratitudes and hopes for the future?
copyright by ninedin, 2004