Friday, 15 June 2007

On epic battles

Let me tell you a secret about the plot of The Infinite Day. It's this: there is a big battle at the end.

I can't imagine too many of my readers being surprised by that. But it’s worth considering why this is such an unsurprising statement and why I am not guilty of that greatest of sins, spoiling the plot. You see, I have come to realise that it is totally expected – indeed, it is a given – that the final part of the final book of an epic trilogy will have a big battle, in which good beats the living daylights out of evil. I carried out a mental experiment the other day trying to think of what would happen if, in my novel, all the gathering forces simply vanished quietly, without coming together in a great and violent confrontation. I realised I couldn't find a way of doing it that would not lead to a profound sense of anti-climax, and possibly even cries of ‘we want our money back’. The great and final crescendo of violence seems to be more than a cliché; it seems to be something that has to be there.

But where does this demand for a no-holds-barred, final battle in which good triumphs come from? Is it perhaps built into the genre? I suppose you could have epic fantasy without a big battle at the end, but would it still be epic? It’s a little bit like imagining a long and involving account of climbing a mountain that didn't actually have the climbers reaching the summit. That would most definitely be an anti-climax. Does this battle fulfill the same role as that famous and much abused scene at the end of detective novels where the great detective reveals the killer to some assembled group?

You could even argue that it is because in our hearts we know that one day, evil will, in reality, be confronted and overturned. Is it more than coincidence that the book of books, the Bible itself, ends with a climactic battle?

Frankly, I don't know the answer. And actually, my most pressing issue at the moment is not theorising on the origins of such battles or their significance, it is actually describing them in a way that is credible and believable.

But it would be nice to know why everybody expects that, in the penultimate chapter, swords will be drawn, guns will be fired, blood will be shed and good will win.