Human nature’s a funny thing. One minute, Blondie and the boys can be sharing Legos, talking up a whole world of transforming mystery cars and ships racing across the arctic to find the polar express and rescue Santa buried under a mountain of presents. The next:
“Bash, I want that piece!”
“You can’t have it, Biff, it’s mine!”
“Mooooom, Blondie’s got a piece I neeeeeeeeeeeeed!”
Suddenly, they don’t want to give. Suddenly, there is something so wanted by one child’s nature that they would rather sacrifice the peace, the fun, and the television privileges in order to punch one another into submission.
That’s usually not the kind of sacrifice we as readers or writers like to celebrate. Such a turn against the greater good for one’s own gain is often seen as the Betrayal, the mark of a hero turned villain. There’s a fair few of those in literature and film alike: Winston in 1984, Casca in Julius Caesar, Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Some, like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, do come round and redeem themselves. Others, like Mr. Wickhamin Pride and Prejudice, do not, even under duress. Yes, these sacrifices are crucial to the narrative arc: they are, after all, a chance for characters to show their true colors, incite incidents, climax, etc.
But as today is Thanksgiving, I’d like to focus on the kinds of sacrifices people both real and imagined will make for the sake of…well, for the sake of a Good.
Lots of little sacrifices are made every day. Or night, if you prefer.
Take Biff here.
After I kiss him and Bash goodnight and turn off their room light, this boy flicks on his mining hat from the museum to read. Every night he stays up to dig deep into pages of Calvin and Hobbes, monster trucks, outer space, Snoopy, fairies, biology, droids, and everything between. I take care to check in on when I go to bed, for Biff often falls asleep on top of the book with the light dimly flickering across the tip of his nose.
For this son of mine, the sacrifice of sleep is worth the chance for one more journey into a good book. I doubt few of us would disagree with that. 🙂
Time is often sacrificed in this life, sometimes by choice, and sometimes not. I’ve written about the difficulty in giving up writing time. This month I was determined to dedicate at least one evening to my daughter, and take her away from all school, writing, and brotherly obligations to revel in one of her passions.
The Zoozort event at school gave kids a chance to learn and touch some amazing animals, from an endangered fennec fox to an albino Burmese python. (Yes, Blondie actually pet a python. Not pictured: the tortoise that peed everywhere. Also not pictured: the hilarity that ensued.)
Doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, a mere two hours. But for a daughter who’s so often had to occupy herself when the boys act up, who has to catch us running up and down the hall in the midst of cooking/dinner/cleaning/dishes/ laundry/teaching/writing/ choir/on and on and on just to show us her picture, her story, her A+…Two hours of a parent sitting still next to her, focusing on her, and reveling in her excitement is no “mere” anything.
Now don’t let this moment get you thinking I’m such a kind, sweet mother. When Bash woke up sick, my first thought wasn’t, “Poor thing, how can I make him better?”
No. It was, “Dammit, there goes my writing time.”
Oh, I wasn’t going to give it up easily. I threw on his favorite Transformers up on the tv, found his favorite music, whatever. Gave him books, encouraged him to sleep.
But in the end, all he wanted was Mommy. He and Hoppy even came to the table, set up a toy computer.
“Look, Mommy, I can work with you!”
Fine, just let Mommy work.
Five minutes later: “Can I sit on your lap?”
Three minutes later: “Can I pleeeease sit by you?” Hoppy squeaks and nods towards the big chair by the fireplace.
My NaNoWriMo word count shames me. I owe another writer interview answers. I’m supposed to reach out to a few other writers about co-promotion. I need to market. I need to plan. I need to write.
Yet there’s a tiny, sick little boy at my side, asking for Mommy’s comfort. How long will those tiny hands and tinier voice reach out to me, a source of love in his world?
Oh Bash. You are the source of love today.
I left writing behind that day to nestle with Bash and Hoppy to read Care Bears, talk about school, Christmas, and any thing his little six-year-old mind could think. At one point he looked outside and saw the half-moon, pale and shy in the blue sky. “Look, Mommy, a Dream Moon!”
What kind of dreams does the Dream Moon give?
“Dreams of looooove,” he says with that sly grin of his, eyes all squinty. Then his forehead furrows. “Or nightmares. That’s why you have to go to the Apple Castle and talk to Prince Hoppy.” And so the story went, filled with candy races and carrot swords.
Most stories we read contain sacrifices a bit more grandiose than lost writing time.
The website Ranker came up with an interesting list of fictional characters who sacrifice themselves to save the day. I’m sure some of the choices wouldn’t surprise you: Snape’s on there, and Gandalf. Both Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Spock. That guy at the end of Tale of Two Cities (Yes, I know he has a name. Yes, I had to look it up. It’s Sydney Carton, if you’re curious.) Heck, my own heroine Charlotte gives up her own life and all her dreams for a future in music in order to save her sister Anna from the curse of River Vine.
Would Star Trek: the Wrath of Kahn be so memorable of Spock just gave more time to the warp core and repaired it? Would we still be quoting Sydney Carton if he said, “It is a far, far better thing to give up one’s weekend in the law library in order to discover the legal precedent that negates the Habeus Memphis Randu and blah blah blah”?
Probably not. We just don’t associate “high stakes” with giving up an evening. We expect to see life on the line, be it one, a hundred, a million, more.
And a quote I came across on Goodreads strikes upon why:
“Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.”
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
Stories of power are born out of sacrifice. They come from the conflict in us to relinquish that which we hold dear in order for another to fulfill her dream, for another life to go on. We cannot help but admire the selflessness, and cheer them on for saving the Good and vanquishing the Evil.
But as writers, it is our responsibility to remember that sacrifice doesn’t have mean having yet another Sydney Carton iteration in our story. Sacrifices can be just as harrowing without death to create engaging narrative that inspires characters and readers alike: giving up custody of a child to the one who can truly parent and support. Turning over power of attorney to one’s children. Leaving vices behind for the sake of the family. Handing over a night of hard-earned tips to the homeless family outside the mall. Giving children a chance to experience the toys and books we’ve kept locked in boxes for years in the name of nostalgia.
Giving up a night of work to sit with a little girl and watch a tortoise pee on other kids’ shoes.
Sacrifices do not have to require death. They have only to require love.
Eight years of love went into this novel. One of the most important themes I got to explore in those eight years was that of family. Families are not always connected by bloodlines. So, so often, families are made with stronger stuff: love, respect, kindness, compassion, and…well, sacrifice. On this day of family and gratitude, I’d like you to have Fallen Princeborn: Stolenfor free.
Yup. Totally free.
All I ask in return is that you leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Every review, and I mean EVERY review, helps a writer’s visibility in the virtual market.
A collection of book reviews by Patricia Skalka — A Chicago native, life-long reader and author of "Death Stalks Door County," "Death at Gills Rock," "Death in Cold Water," and "Death on a Ferry," the first four volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series.