Peter Hentges (jbru) wrote,
Peter Hentges

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Flames and emotion

A recent discussion over in pegkerr's journal got me thinking. Peg said, at some point, that she thinks all of her writing has been centered around a metaphor: the heart of flesh vs. the heart of stone.

The discussion reminded me of some writing I did for the RPG Ars Magica. The setting of the game posits a version of medieval Europe in which various kinds of magic are real. Dragons live in the mountains, faeries dance in the woods. Of import to the players most directly: wizards live in enclaves hidden from most of the world.

The background further describes a Europe-wide organization of wizards. Within this organization, wizards trace their lineage to one of the founding members of the organization through the path of master to apprentice. One of the quirks of this is that, either by masters selecting apprentices similar to themselves or by mystical transference, those who trace their lineage back to the same original wizard tend to have similar styles of magic. Further, since the magic is a deeply integral part of them, they tend to have similar dispositions. All such wizards who trace their lineage back to one of the founders of the organization are called a "house."

One of my writing projects had me filling in the biography of one of these founding wizards and, thereby, more deeply defining what the current members of the were like. The wizards in question were called "House Flambeau," and were, as you might expect, centered around the use of fire magics.

I came to have a great affinity for these wizards. Many see them as ignorantly destructive, emotionally volatile and, in general, more trouble (to the overall group of wizards) than they are worth. I see them a charged with the energy of the fire that they control.

They live their lives on grand scales. Their anger flares hot and bright, but so does their love. They are passionate, fierce people.

One of my favorite scenes involving them I've used in several games: A gathering of these wizards is in progress. Wizards wander around an encampment marked by several large bonfires. A game among them is to play with these bonfires. They idly toss the fire from one set of logs to another, combining and splitting them in a mixture of fireworks and dancing fountain. Among the wizards, I see a small group of younger members. They are dressed in breeches but much of their flesh is exposed. Their muscular bodies gleam from the sweat the heat of this display draws out of them. They drink goblets of wine poured from a skin one of them carries. They laugh loudly and often.

Through the gathering, smaller games and amusements appear. In one place, macho members test themselves against the flames, a pair standing in a circle of flame that closes in on them until one (the loser of the contest) raises magical protection. In another, flames are magically transformed into the characters for a kind of shadow play that plays the history of the house to the cheers of the appreciative audience.

From this, I gather from myself, an understanding of liking people of a certain kind of volatility. I think that moving frequently as a child, my father being in the Navy, left me more quiet and shy than I might otherwise be. The emotions of these imagined characters still boiled inside me, but I didn't have a good outlet for them. I've come to admire those who express their emotions to their greatest heights and depths.

Part of what draws me to drama, be it written, on stage or on film, is the crucible of emotion. Within the tight walls of plot, the characters are drawn through emotional gauntlets and, as reader and audience, we get to vicariously experience those highs and lows.

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