Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Story arc

Last month I suggested looking into legend, myth and history when creating scenarios in wargaming, roleplaying and writing. Here's an example, a great story arc that almost comes full circle. It looks fantasy but is just as easily sci-fi, or horror. Do you recognise it?

In a war-wracked land an illiterate shepherdess is brought up in a deeply religious home. She has visions at the age of 12; saints tell her she will lead the armies of the occupied nation, drive the invader from the realm and bring the rightful king to coronation. She is shown how to achieve this and takes a vow of chastity.

At the age of 16 the time has come. A relative drives her to a friendly garrison where she asks to be taken before the heir. She is turned away. Almost a year later she returns, to prophesy an imminent military defeat. News comes that the battle is lost; the shepherdess is escorted on the long journey to the royal candidate.

She arrives at last and is brought before the court of the would-be king. She tells her story. In fear at being taken for a fool or tricked by magics, he has a commission of the wise look into the matter. They err on the side of the girl. But a test is set - raise the siege of a vital city.

Our teenaged heroine takes the equipment of war, and she leads a force of men into battle. The city is freed from the noose. In the campaign that follows she fires the spirits of the commanders, by persuasion and example, and with elan. Objective after objective is achieved.

In the final battle she is wounded by a bolt, but returns to the fray to take the crucial field. The war is won, the tide of history turned. The girl now escorts the king to his coronation in the city of the rite. The road is difficult, and blood, health and life are lost to many. In the chaos of one encounter the girl is struck by a mighty round, felled.

She survives, as if by a miracle. And then strongpoints along the way surrender with her arrival. The survivors do reach their destination. The candidate for the throne is crowned king, just as the visions presaged.

For the final triumphant push to the capital, the new king resumes command, but hesitation creeps in. The attack is delayed and the girl sees her fate. She is captured, no ransom given, and sold to the occupier.

Declared a heretic now, she stands trial. She is given no legal support and agreed standards are not observed where she is held. The king abandons her. Perhaps he sees her as a rival, another pole of power? Perhaps more powerful advisors persuade? But she has no power that she would use, and no power here and now.

She is killed. At age 19 she is burnt alive.

And 25 years later she is cleared of wrongdoing, with her mother present to hear. The young girl who saw visions, led an army and won a realm becomes a matyr. Later still she is made a saint.

What a story that is. It actually happened of course - more or less - in our own world, and not so long ago. Time has added to it all of course, and so has the endless rewriting. If this is just our history, think how history might run in more fantastical or alien locations, and how the story would be told later.


Cronickain said...

Joan of Arc

The Angry Lurker said...

Very good, story arc leads to Joan of Arc.

Unknown said...

I love history. So many outrageous characters you wouldn't dare to make up, great intrigues and tragedies.
One of the reasons I like 7th Sea so much is that they have helped themselves to some choice bits of history, blended them with myth and legend and made a familiar, yet alien world for us to play in.

Lydia Kang said...

I wonder why Joan of Arc hasn't been reimagined in sci fi or other genre...probably it has and I don't know about it yet!
Thanks for follow on my blog, nice to meet you and yours!

Porky said...

@ ArmChairGeneral - If there'd been a prize, you'd have won it. Sadly it's Porky's Expanse, not Porky's Expense; so far, so impoverished.

@ The Angry Lurker - Thanks very much, but I'll never say I've mastered subtlety..!

@ Jebediah - That looks to be a fun setting, and the game seems very well supported for the time it was in print. I like the fact it's being kept alive by fans. You might also enjoy Harald's The Book of Worlds - the mood of the setting strikes me as similar. It's good to see you here too.

@ Lydia K - Using the whole arc might be tough, but I'd agree: elements must have been nabbed and reworked. It's too good a tale. And how could I not like the blog? While we all have plenty to say about stories, what the General can tell us about Victorian sci-fi, and Angry about pulp, Jebediah can tell us about animals and you about medicine. Love of fiction brings us together.

Cronickain said...

My favorite quote "It was a sword in a field. You could have imagined any number of possibilities. (he goes through a lot including someone tossing the sword aside) but you had to imagine this (the Heavens open and the sword descends with lots of fanfare).

Bartender said...

How about a twist like in the Sixth Sense or the Usual Suspects?

thekelvingreen said...

You make a good point here, Porky: history often turns out stories just as interesting as fiction, and we should pilfer from actual events as much as we do from films, books and TV.

Porky said...

@ ArmChairGeneral - I know that particular film isn't regarded too well, but I got a lot from the watching. The intensity is admirable and there's a magic between the frames, which I'd hesitate to say is Anglo-French only because of the international influence. The element you quote from is a cold wake-up call. The trailer is here for anyone who wants the story summarised visually.

@ Bartender - There's no satisfying some people! You'll be asking why only France next, and not a little jetsetting, the exotic locations worthy of Sven. Wait... Joan Bond - now there's a mash-up. On a mission from G with a permis de tuer...

@ kelvingreen - There really is a lot happening in the real world. Growing up in all these fictional universes, it's could be odd and exciting to realise one day that beyond the pages or screen there's even more of interest. Pilfering from the history books directly could also be cutting out extra middlemen and purifying thought, in the sense that this world is all we really know, ideas are recycled, and perhaps our imaginations are more limited by larger media than we think.

Paul´s Bods said...

If I had of written it I would have added a burning sword and rays of light coming through the clouds....(and some blokes clapping coconuts together:-D )
No, seriously, even some minor events in peoples lives when retold often sound like they are made up so the bigger the unlikely event the more unbelievable and fantasy like it becomes.
I often wonder( not all the time obviously) wether if in 1000´s of years time after a big disaster and assuming that we ,the humans are still about, that if someone was to find an old copy of Lord of the rings, wether that would become the new bible....!!! Heresy!!!..Burn him at the stake!!!

Papa JJ said...

A few years ago I was working on a 15mm Hundred Years War army after having read Mark Twain's biographical account of Joan of Arc. I found it a very moving and powerful story. That's a great idea to adapt these well known histories and legends for use as gaming background even for more fanciful setting. Presto, instant drama! Hmm, there's much to consider... thanks, Porky!

Bartender said...

Very good!

netherwerks said...

An excellent post and quite the character as well. Gilles de Rais was also a bit...interesting...and went on to a rather bizarre end after his time with Joan...

Porky said...

@ Paul's Bods - Well, there are far worse books it could be... Funnily enough we already argue about the nature of Tom Bombadil and the truth of this account or that. Think how it would look if our lives depended on it. We almost can't be trusted with ideas so big. Osgiliath divided again. The Gondor People's Front vs. the People's Front of Gondor.

@ Papa JJ - One thing we can be almost sure about is that someone somewhere has had any given idea first, and in this case there's no doubt! Rare is the true original. You're right though - the advantage is instant drama, immediate context. Thanks to you too, for reminding me of Twain and the omnipresence of the smaller scales.

@ Bartender - Or as Ms Bond would say, tres bien!

@ NetherWerks - Thanks! I'd no idea the post would get such a strong response. As for Gilles de Rais, bizarre is understatement, but the example reinforces the point kelvingreen made, that history can certainly look after itself.