Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Selfless Love Stories

I wasn't too keen on love stories when I was a child. I thought them terribly overused. You couldn't take a step for tripping over a "boy meets girl, has adventures, gets girl" story. I didn't object to the plot, but did every story have to go that way? Besides, all this concentration on your future co-parent was inherently selfish. When all was said and done, the protagonists seemed more interested in their long-term comfort and genetic succession than anything else.

I disliked doomed love stories even more. I wanted to slap Romeo and Juliet silly. If you were going to invest that much effort into lining up a future co-parent, a little more common sense would have paid off bigtime. If she's worth fighting your way back from the ends of the earth for, isn't she worth using a few brain cells to keep from getting into that much trouble in the first place?

I've grown a lot more tolerant of such tales as I've come to see just how much work even the best relationship needs. I've also discovered something I like better than both, the selfless love story, where one person loves the other enough to help them get something that won't benefit the giver at all. It's not something you see well done very much. Most writers can't pull it off. I'm delighted to find two examples of it in the past week.

The first example is over at Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius. The (drastically shortened) plot goes like this: boy meets girl, boy proposes to girl, girl's parents strenuously object, girl's parents are brutally attacked and left for dead, girl runs away and is apparently killed. Boy then devotes himself to saving the lives of the girl's parents and nursing them back to health, even though he has nothing to gain and a considerable amount to lose from this action.

Putting it like that, it sounds like a soap opera, but I was reminded of my former gifted-ed teacher. His daughter went on a first date with a young man when their car was hit by a drunk driver at a stop light. She was parallelism from the waist down and for six weeks they weren't even sure she would live. But every day that young man showed up at the hospital and stayed by her side until the staff made him leave. As soon as she could sit up they were married, even though it was months still before she could leave the hospital. Such people do exist, and the world would be a better place if they got more attention.

The second example is Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man. Death is laid off for starting to feel compassion for the souls he takes, and has a bittersweet romance with an elderly spinster who was left at the altar 60 years before. Pratchett is an amazing writer, able to mix wit, profound observations and slapstick humor better than any writer alive and most writers dead. Reaper Man is the most romantic of his stories that I've read, and I've read almost all of them. It made me cry even more than his Small Gods, and I thought nothing could top the aftermath of the hurricane scene in that book.

Oh yeah, both of these stories are fantasies. They have to be, don't they? Everyone knows selfless love only happens in fairy tales. Or maybe the people who read fairy tales are the only ones who notice it happening around them.


Rowan Falar said...

Funny how one person's perception can change a book that you've read over 10 times.

You are absolutely right. Reaper Man is a tender love story as well as an exploration of mortality and how much humanity depends on it.

Lioness said...

Love is the finest way humanity deals with its mortality.