Did we as a society f*ck up real bad?
My grandfather died when I was four. But I have fond memories of him.
I remember how he looked like, how his face lit up with a smile when he bounced me on his knee, how he insisted on holding me first whenever I visited him.
I also know stories about incidents that happened before I was born. It’s a world I’ve seen through my father’s eyes and his childhood memories. My grandfather grew up in the pre-independence times, when India was still a British colony. I’ve heard stories of his courage, resilience, and incessant willpower to carve out a good life for himself and his family.
These are all stories my father told me, and even though I might have forgotten most, I still have a picture of my grandfather in my head.
Stories about my grandfather are still intact, but what about his father?
All that I know about my great-grandfather is his name and the fact that he died really young. I’ve only seen one photograph of him, my great-grandfather sitting in a wooden chair wearing loose-fitting pants and shirt, the afternoon sun playing with shadows on his prematurely lined face.
A man who lived and occupied space in the universe less than a hundred years ago, now only lives through an old photograph and the memory of his name.
His blood lives on in me, but not the story of his life.
I know his name, but not what his favorite food was, or what challenges he overcame in his short life.
I know when he died, but now what his biggest wish was, or how he might have contributed to making this world a better place.
We forget where we came from.
Is this the biggest mistake humans as a race made?
Our lifespan limits our memory
I had this thought while I was reading Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan. The lead character, Nolyn is a half-human, half-elf, and the son of Nyphron, the emperor who freed humans from elvish tyranny and set up an empire where both races have equal rights.
Six books in this series form the Legends of the First Empire series, which follow Nyphron’s adventures as he fights epic battles, offers unbearable sacrifices, and does the unthinkable: lead a group of humans to defeat the strongest clan of elves in the world.
Nolyn follows the story 800 years later, where the world has fallen back into a new rhythm after the disruption Nyphron’s actions caused. Nyphron’s son, Nolyn, is disconnected from his father. Since elves have an average life span of 3000 years, they barely make any lasting connection with other elves. Nolyn is no exception, and barely talks with his father.
As a result, he knows little about the epic battle that shaped the world as it is in his time. He undermines the stories of valor about his father, and considers most of the legends as myths.
But Nolyn is 800-years old, and still has the option to talk to his father if he needs to clear some doubts about how the world came to be.
But what about humans with their tiny life spans of 60 years or lesser?
The humans Nolyn meets on a daily basis are blissfully ignorant of everything that happened in the Age of Myth (Nyphron’s time and the stories that happened during the Great War).
Humans can barely remember what happened in the last 100 years. How will they accurately know all the events that took place 800 years ago?
The books that brought about this realization
The entire 20-book series written by Michael J. Sullivan follows this template.
- A person or a group of people gain too much power and turn into tyrants.
- An unexpected group of people muster unforeseen levels of strength and determination.
- The unexpected heroes go through insurmountable challenges and overthrow the tyrants from power.
- The world settles back into a new rhythm, and in the era of peace that follows, all details about how this world was shaped are forgotten.
It sounds simple when I break it down into these points, but come to think of it, every epic fantasy tale follows the same pattern. The magic is in the intricacies, the character detailing, the writing, banter, and dialogues — all of which Sullivan is a master at. I loved the first book I read so much (The Crown Conspiracy; The Riyriya Revelations Book One), that I spent the next three months reading all 20 books to quench my thirst for this magical universe Sullivan has created.
If you’re curious about the books, there are three primary series that make up this 3000-year-old epic saga of bravery and heroism.
- The Legends of the First Empire series that follows Nyphron and his bunch of humans who fight the elves to bring peace into the world.
- The Rise and Fall series that span the first 2000 years of the empire and encompasses the story of how the empire grew to great wealth and prosperity, before crumbling in on itself.
- The Riyriya Revelations series that mark the culmination of this 3000-year-old tale, with another great war on the horizon and the prospect of humanity losing its existence with all the knowledge it’s lost.
What if we lived for much, much longer?
I’ve read books (always fantasy) with immortal characters, but never have I come across a story that made me reflect so deeply on the implications of living longer lives.
In Sullivan’s universe, elves often comment on how short human lives are, and how treaties and boundaries are forgotten in a mere handful of centuries.
But elves only live for 3000 years.
There are gods are other immortals who have been around in the universe for close to 12000 years. These characters have seen reality shift with every imbalance, and how life fights back to restore balance and bring back what was lost.
The older the characters get, the more cynical their observations become, and the clearer it shows how fragile the human memory is.
As an Indian, I’ve grown up hearing stories of the Mughals who conquered India and how the British came and destroyed everything they built. I’ve read about the heroes of the Indian freedom struggle who gave their lives to free the country from a foreign tyrant power just 75 years ago.
Witnessing the urbanization around me, it blows my mind to think that just 75 years ago, people my age were forbidden basic rights in their own place of birth. And how, 400 or so years ago, everyone lived in fear of a Muslim overlord famous for carrying out genocides in areas that followed a different faith.
All these incidents are real. They happened a mere few centuries ago, but what do I know about them apart from what was written in my school’s history books? Nothing!
And it’s not just me. Every person I know is so wrapped up in their own life, we barely have time to think about our roots or ponder upon where we came from. In the multiple translations, writings, and re-writings of the history books, how much of what we should remember has been lost? How much of what could help us deal with our present struggles has been forgotten, never to be retrieved again?
Conclusion? I wish there was one.
Not every story has a every ending, and I don’t see how this can lead to one. I’ve been thinking a lot about how everything I know might be based on a lie. How the world as we know it might be built upon the sacrifices of some long-forgotten heroes, whose wisdom and knowledge might have saved us from all the needless turmoil we put ourselves through.
As humans, we have limited brainpower and bandwidth to think beyond our daily struggles and achievements. But sometimes, it might help to zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture.
To ask ourselves what someone who lived a hundred years ago in a similar circumstance might have done.
To project the learnings from history books into what we see around us and let it shift our perspective.
You and I can’t always take the learnings from history and apply them in our lives, especially when we aren’t even sure how the history we know has been manipulated to suit a particular community’s needs. But we can think, and we can break free of the limited possibilities of what we know, and venture into the realms of imagination where anything can happen.
“History is written by victors.” — Winston Churchill
If you’ve had a similar thought, or this article inspired you to think of something you’ve never considered before, please share your insights in the comments. I’d love to know I’m not the only one having a sort of “My life is a lie” moment.
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