Rhobin Courtright’s topic for March is:
Secondary characters have many functions in stories. Have you ever had a secondary character surprise you in some way? How? How about in other author’s books that you’ve read? Do you have a favorite secondary character in either your own work or in books you have read?
My favourite secondary character is Moustaf the Areg trader. You haven’t met him? He is one of the major villains in The Stories of the Ehvelen, the historical series that launched me into fiction writing.
For many years, I had a concept. A group of teenage hunter-gatherers is qualifying for adulthood by doing a Hunt. A patrol of warlike nomads surprises them, killing the boys and abducting the girls.
You see, this is the essential difference between two major human cultural types. Although now almost extinct, for much of human prehistory, the dominant culture was sustainable: living in dynamic balance with its environment, being caretakers of nature through revering the Mother. They reached decisions through consensus, were peaceful and cooperative. A person’s identity was as part of a group, and separation was as good as a death sentence. The concept of the ego was incomprehensible to them.
The second type is the cancer that is killing all life on our planet. Ego, me as an isolated, self-sufficient entity, is considered natural, and all-important. Power, status, wealth are the measures of a person’s value. Greed, aggression, control are natural consequences, and nature is looked on as a resource, as separate from people, there to be exploited.
In the March issue of my newsletter, Bobbing Around, you can read my review of Gaiad by William Burcher. I found it excellent, but one of my complaints was prehistoric people thinking in concepts like “galaxy” and “infrastructure.” To show how I dealt with the problem, I sent Will a copy of The Start of Magic, the first volume of the Ehvelen series. Oh, the Ehvelen were the REAL little people, the basis of all the many myths.
I had a problem in this book. There was Heather, the 15 year old Ehvelen girl enslaved by the terrible Doshi, the nomadic, aggressive plains people. I wanted to explain the contrast between the two cultures, just as I’ve done here, but without lecturing. So, I invented a third culture: the Areg, who were traders, middlemen in goods and ideas. The pursuit of wealth and power was elevated to a religion. This pinnacle of civilization was achieved without TV or an advertising industry!
So, Moustaf the Areg trader befriended Heather, because she was the key to a new market, and because he thought she’d make a wonderful gift for his Shah. I could then insert conversations between the two of them, interweaved with exciting action and other plot developments.
However, Moustaf was too sneaky, intelligent and inventive to stay in this minor and temporary role. He grew to be a major person through the entire series, responsible for a great deal of suffering and strife.
I reread The Start of Magic before sending it to Will, making enough changes to consider it a new revision. This got me enthusiastic about the Ehvelen again. If I wasn’t so caught up in the Doom Healer series, I’d be tempted to write the fifth Ehvelen book.
In part, that’s Moustaf’s fault.