Will Once
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What is a permission shop?
 
Two constant themes in fantasy/ heroic literature are destiny and a charmed sword, ring or other object. Often these two themes are combined. King Arthur's sword Excalibur is both his destiny and a charmed weapon. The ring of Lord of the Rings is a magical item with powers, but it can also only be carried by a Ring bearer. Aragorn has both a magical sword and is descended from an ancient line of kings.
 
This can be taken to ridiculous extremes by computer games where you can find that your character has the Sword of Fire +1, the Shield of Fortitude +2, the Armour of Doowop and so on, down to the Underpants of Doom.
Sometimes it feels like fantasy stories can be boiled down to a few standard ingredients:
  • back story to set up the history of the fabled whatnot of <insert made up name>
  • explain the main character's destiny
  • the main character gets the fabled whatnot
  • action, adventure using the fabled whatnot
  • character fulfils his destiny.
That's all well and good, up to a point. It is the structure that has given us everything from the Arthurian stories to Lord of the Rings and its many clones. Even Star Wars follows this pattern. 
 
But it seems to me that there is a massive unexplained con in the middle of all of this. All these stories are playing the same trick on the reader. They are giving the main character and the reader permission to be brave.
 
When we read a novel we need to put ourselves into the main character's shoes. We need to imagine what it would be like to be him or her. Feel his emotions. Ask what I would do in that same situation? Empathise. This then gives us a transference of emotions. We feel fear in the scary bits, despair in the setbacks and elation in the triumphal moments. When Luke blows up the death star we whoop along with him as if we had pulled the trigger after turning off our targeting scanner and trusting to the Force.
 
But we can't empathise if the main character does something so incredibly brave and difficult that we simply cannot imagine doing it ourselves. Most of us are not as brave as the characters we read about. So we need something to allow us to imagine being that brave.
 
Arthur becomes King of England because he pulls the sword of the stone and because his father was Uther Pendragon. It was his destiny to become King of England. This then gives him permission to be brave and do adventurous things. And it gives us, the reader, the permission to be brave too. We secretly tell ourselves that we could have been King of England, or Luke Skywalker, or Aragorn if only we had Excalibur or the Force or the fabled sword Anduril. Or if our Daddy/descendants were Uther, Anakin Skywalker or the kings of Gondor.
 
But real life isn't like that. Real people do extraordinary and brave things without the safety net of destiny or a magical knick-knack. They take risks and put their lives on the line without having the assurance that they can't possibly lose. In many ways, that is more exciting than the formulaic "sword of destiny" trick.
 
That is why the main quest in Love, Death and Tea initially seems to be to find Pod's Permission shop. But in the end the only permission that was needed was for the main character to decide what to do, and to be brave enough to do it. Our hero had to discover that the courage came from himself, not from some fabled whatnot or destiny.
 
 
What is courage?
 
The concept of a permission calls into question the meaning of courage. If a hero has a destiny then it is a fairly safe bet that he will survive to fulfil that destiny. He is not really being brave because we know he can't be killed, at least until the end of the story.
 
Because of this, many heroic destinies have uncertain outcomes. In the Matrix, Neo's destiny is to end the war between machines and humans but it may cost him his life. Arthur becomes King of England, but only for a while. Darth Vader has to die to bring balance to the Force.
 
So are you being truly brave if you can't die until the final chapter and, even then, your death is pre-destined so you haven't got much choice? Characters become boring and safe if they can't lose. Superman needs his kryptonite. Otherwise he would be too good to be true, and too safe to be exciting.
 
Story tellers get around this by sprinkling in some minor characters to bump off along the way. They are saying "See! It really is dangerous! A red shirt just died." And naturally this adds to the hero's anger and the baddy's badness, and helps to speed us along to the final resolution at the end of the book/film/computer game. The minor characters take the risks so that the main hero does not have to. Taking one for the team.
 
I wanted to explore a slightly different definition of courage. Our main character has to have the courage to take a decision not knowing whether it is right or not. He has to be brave enough to put one foot in front of the other and weather all kinds of adversity. And he has to have the courage to walk away from his family and friends when they need him most. I wanted to give him uncomfortable bravery: messy, uncertain and fallible.
 
 
Will there be a sequel to Love, Death and Tea?
 
If there is enough interest I'd like to take the story on. The intention was that the landscape would keep on changing as the modern world morphs into a more fantasy world.