I’m doing a meme again and this time, it’s Fantasy Review Barns’s Tough Travels, where we discuss fantasy tropes. Sadly, the site is shutting down but I decided to still do it because it’s pretty fun and new to me.
Today’s topic is TRADITION, a word I usually associate with holidays and superstitions. The Philippines is rich of diverse cultures with religion as a strong driving force for traditions to live on. We have all sorts of festivals for saints and nature. We celebrate the Holy Week, Ramadan, All Souls Day and Chinese New Year all together, bonded by fixed holidays for each occasion.
Today, the sort of Tradition we are going to talk about are events with capital letters in each word; occasions usually celebrated by a community. Here are a couple of Traditions in novels I’ve read.
The Reaptide Festival (The Dark Tower series)
You aren’t reading a Stephen King novel if there isn’t a mob jumping into madness. The Reaptide Festival began long ago, during a time of death and famine that led the people to sacrifice their own kin to the death gods for growth and fertility in their lands. They would build a bonfire from Ghostwood and burn one of their own and the Char-char blessed their lands in return.
After the king’s wife died boring a spider baby, the violence of the Reaptide Festival stopped. Today, the Reaptide Festival is just like any festival but instead of throwing people in flames, stuffy guys are used. It is a time for harvest and fun and games.
Here’s an excerpt from the novel, a day before the festival:
Now the Huntress “filled her belly,” as the old-timers said—even at noon she could be glimpsed in the sky, a pallid vampire woman caught in bright autumn sunlight. In front of businesses such as the Travellers’ Rest and on the porches of such large ranch houses as Lengyll’s Rocking B and Renfrew’s Lazy Susan, stuffy-guys with heads full of straw above their old overalls began to appear. Each wore his sombrero; each held a basket of produce cradled in his arms; each looked out at the emptying world with stitched white-cross eyes.
Wagons filled with squashes clogged the roads; bright orange drifts of pumpkins and bright magenta drifts of sharproot lay against the sides of barns. In the fields, the potato-carts rolled and the pickers followed behind. In front of the Hambry Mercantile, reap-charms appeared like magic, hanging from the carved Guardians like wind-chimes.
All over Mejis, girls sewed their Reaping Night costumes (and sometimes wept over them, if the work went badly) as they dreamed of the boys they would dance with in the Green Heart pavillion. Their little brothers began to have trouble sleeping as they thought of the rides and the games and the prizes they might win at the carnival. Even their elders sometimes lay awake in spite of their sore hands and aching backs, thinking about the pleasures of the Reap.
Summer had slipped away with a final flirt of her greengown; harvest-time had arrived.
The Reaptide Festival is a tradition that is celebrated with glee but ironically started as a human sacrifice. It served as the climax of Stephen King’s novel, Wizard and Glass wherein the people of Mejis gradually fell into madness under the crazed witch Rhea, who easily persuaded them into the old tradition of burning a sacrifice after the violent events that transpired in the town. Stephen King illustrated a tradition that is always at the brink of chaos.
The Hunger Games
I’m kinda breaking the rules over here but one of the first things that pop in my mind when talking about tradition is The Hunger Games.
We all know The Hunger Games. One boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are selected by lottery to compete in the televised battle royale. The games serve as entertainment for the Capitol and also signifies their power over the districts. The games initially served as punishment for the districts’s rebellion, also called the Dark Days, wherein all the districts were defeated and with District 13 ‘permanently’ destroyed.
While The Hunger Games isn’t exactly a celebration, it is for the Capitol. It’s like the Olympics or the World Series where friends and families sit together and watch people best each other. Suzanne Collins created a tradition that mirrors everyday life.
The last tradition on the list is Discworld’s Hogswatch, which is quite like your christmas celebration but with pigs. It is celebrated on the 13th of December, which is New Year for the Disc. Hogswatch’s mascot is the Hogfather, who wears tusks and has a sleigh drawn by boars, making a scarier version of Santa Claus. Like our Christmas, there is caroling, presents, banquets, department stores and alcohol.
The real story behind the Hogfather has a grimmer tone. As the Discworld Wiki says (since I can’t explain it better).
He is the recent version of an ancient winter god associated with pig-killing and recalls prehistoric pagan kingmaking rituals when smart little bald men would palm a hard bean into the dish of the man they believed would make a good leader for a time (and when winter isn’t defeated and the little old bald men sharpen the knives for a sacrificial victim – who better than the new king who isn’t helping?).
Similar to real life, Tradition gives spirit and flesh to the world of fantasy. May it be a solemn, lively or violent event, it brings people closer and reflects our own culture and humanity as well. Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather illustrated the importance of fairytales and traditions despite their bloody beginnings, especially to children.