Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Woeful Errands and Mighty Dooms.

The Esgodarrans of the peripheral hill and highland regions of the Ersuunian Basin are a people who have witnessed their fare share of hardship. I have written with no shortage of attitude on this subject in the past. But there is one facet of Esgodarran culture which I believe needs no opinionated foreign input in order to get the gravity of its meaning and history across. It simply need speak for itself.

I write of the cycle of myths surrounding their dozens, if not hundreds of folk-heroes and legendary ancestors. Each geographic enclave of Esgodarran clans is fairly well separated from the others in this day and age, though their legendary cycles maintain similarities and traditions well into the semi-modern generations. For that reason, the myths are treated as being different variations of a single unifying system of beliefs and epics, rather than being genuinely separate siblings descended from the same parent-culture.

In particular, this cycle is somewhat unique for the way in which these important cultural icons are treated. Generally speaking, heroes embody or come to embody a culture's highest ideals (or flirt with their most decried iniquities), while struggling against some great threat. They then tend to succeed against their greatest foe or monster, and return home to wealth, or with wealth. At the very least, they meet a just and appropriate fate which instills in the audience an appreciation of the virtues of which the hero was lacking. Esgodarran heroes, meanwhile, do not always meet such tidy bookends.

Esgodarran heroes stumble.

Esgodarran heroes die.

Esgodarran heroes lose.

Two concepts are central to the Esgodarran heroic myth; the Woeful Errand, and the Mighty Doom.

The Woeful Errand is the challenge, foe, or catastrophe which has demanded that the hero rise to the occasion. Widespread famine, earthquakes, evil magic, and other invading tribes are common causes of conflict for the people and their hero, but there are many. The hero can come from a diverse set of backgrounds, not all of them particularly well to do, and the lack of spoken grammatical gender or particularly gendered names in many Esgodarran dialects means that self-reflection on, or personalization of, a hero's identity is common among audience members of a traditional oratory performance. When the hero becomes distinguished for some reason or another, they take on the Woeful Errand of saving the land or community from danger. Completion of the errand would be success in the quest, and is what each hero strives for.

The Mighty Doom is what they end up receiving, however. It is their ultimate fate, normally at least one step removed from success, and often involving the death of the hero. The hero, recognizing their looming destruction as well as the futility of their attempts to avert it, proceed to meet as glorious an end as possible. I want to emphasis that point- they recognize the ultimate futility of their deeds. Warriors throw themselves upon an army until their bodies are like pincushions of spears and arrows, chieftains and other leaders commit ritual suicide or endure total disgrace after failing to protect their tribes from treachery, and great hunters are torn to pieces by mythical beasts who will continue to stalk human meals in the absence of their traps.

Supposedly none of it matters in the end. But they continue to act, regardless.

Like the Pem-Pah of the far southwest, these stories tell of a grim world in which loss is to be expected. But unlike the guardians of Anqoh, the loss and failure are not random events in a chaotic world governed by uncaring chance. The dignified tragedies of Esgodarran folk-heroes are treated as inevitable in the extreme, and in some cases even preordained by seers or their gods.

I say that their deeds supposedly do not matter, because that is the exact language typically used in an epic's delivery. However, the fact that they are one and all remembered and venerated despite and because of their failures is emblematic of the great importance of fatalistic struggle in modern Esgodarran narratives. Family lines have even been known to have long-running disputes over whose ancestor was greater in their defeat, based off of the qualified fierceness of the thing which finally killed them. These doomed heroes play an integral role in the way Esgodarrans regard themselves and their place in the world.

A world which they recognize their own setbacks in, but which they will not back down from.

And judging from the number of heroes whose Mighty Doom involves them being crushed beneath the hooves of a thousand horses driven by a giant with golden skin, the historical interactions between Esgodarrans and Ersuunians have not gone without comment or consideration on the part of the highland folk.

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