ISBN: 978-1-61976-014-1 (13 digit)
Publication Date: 8/1/2012
(paperback) 96 pages
Story available online
Q: In “Guardian of the Egg” we have a witness to wonder--not the person to whom the magic occurs, but the brother. Probably, like Watson to Sherlock Holmes, the brother helps us experience the mystery as an outsider. And yet we are outside the wonder, which is rarely where a speculative reader wants to be. What are the pitfalls of such a narrative, and how do writers avoid them?
Barzak: Yes, a lot of spec-fic readers want the wonder to be something experienced firsthand by the protagonist of the story. But I'm a fan of "peripheral narrators" like Nick in The Great Gatsby, someone who is telling a story about what they're witnessing. My narrator in "The Guardian of the Egg" isn't a key player, even though he wants to be. It's his sister's story, and in some ways I think he's jealous of what she's experiencing. She's kind of a girl goddess. Her story of transformation is something he wants for himself in a way, but she's the one experiencing this event and part of his own transformation is learning that, you know what, it's not always about you. Sometimes it's someone else's story, and you're in the periphery, and if you are observant enough, you might learn something from watching. I think one of the things about a lot of fantasy or science fiction narrative that kind of irks me is how there is a lot of weight put on narrators who are always these "chosen ones". Only I can save the world. Only I was born with this incredibly unique power and no one understands me because of it, but that's okay, I'm going to do what I have to do, because I'm the hero. There are all kinds of people on the periphery of those stories, just like in life, and I think it's useful to write from outside of the "chosen one" mentality because, honestly, most of us aren't the chosen one. Most of us are schlepping to work and paying bills and trying to have a good relationship with partners and friends and family, etc., and while it would be totally awesome if we were the chosen one, sometimes we're just us, and that's okay too.
I'm not sure how to avoid the pitfalls of that kind of narrative, other than to make sure that even if your narrator or protagonist, however peripheral to the really awesome wondrous magical stuff, is still able to experience in some way. I think that means actively engaging with whatever strangeness is occurring, rather than just simply slouching in a corner.