Steven Erikson’s 10,000+ page saga “Malazan Book of the Fallen” taught me lessons that defined my identity
Whenever someone asks me what’s the best book I’ve ever read, I always say — without hesitation — that it’s the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson.
There are 10 massive books in the series, each 1000+ pages long. I could never bring myself to write a review for the awesomeness of the world Erikson has created.
A part of the reason is that the series is so huge and all-encompassing, that one review will never be able to do it justice. However, aside from pulling me out of some truly dark moments, these books have taught me a lot of valuable life lessons no self-help book could ever have.
In this post, I will try to share some of the most impactful lessons with you. Without spoiling anything, here’s how the Malazan Book of the Fallen series has helped me over the years:
Sadness is Not A Weakness
No matter how much the people on the internet talk about mental health, it is still a taboo in today’s world. So many people fear being called “weak” if they admit to being sad.
And let’s face it, happiness is not the only state of mind that is healthy. With so many social media posts asking us to be happy all the time, it can get toxic. It can make you feel as if there’s something wrong with you for not being cheerful all the time.
This toxic positivity can lead you to brush your sadness away without addressing the core cause. In the long run, this can cause more harm than good as all the unresolved issues will keep piling up.
In moments such as these, Erikson took my hand and told me it’s okay to feel the way I was feeling. That I am not “sick” or in need of medications.
All I need to do is embrace my sadness the same way I would embrace happiness, and let the emotion run its course.
“Sadness was not something that could be cured. It was not, in fact, a failing, not a flaw, not an illness of spirit. Sadness was never without reason, and to assert that it marked some kind of dysfunction did little more than prove ignorance or, worse, cowardly evasiveness in the one making the assertion.
As if happiness was the only legitimate way of being.
As if those failing at it needed to be locked away, made soporific with medications; as if the causes of sadness were merely traps and pitfalls in the proper climb to blissful contentment, things to be edged round or bridged, or leapt across on wings of false elation.”
Compassion Doesn’t Need to be Guarded
The materialistic world has taught us to try and find a way to capitalise on each and everything, even compassion.
We are taught to turn a blind eye to other people’s suffering as if caring for ourselves is the only thing we need to do. That if someone had never helped us, there is no reason we should go out of our way to help them in return.
In truth, compassion is one of the most basic human emotion — one we don’t need to put a price on. Erikson taught me that there is no currency to trade kindness for. It is one of the defining traits that make us who we are.
“We humans do not understand compassion. In each moment of our lives, we betray it. Aye, we know of its worth, yet in knowing we then attach to it a value, we guard the giving of it, believing it must be earned.
Compassion is priceless in the truest sense of the wold. It must be given freely. In abundance.”
Regrets are Meaningless if We Don’t Turn Them Into Lessons
Humans are the only creatures on the planet born with the ability to punish themselves over and over again for the same mistake.
Because we are raised with the mindset that good deeds deserve rewards and mistakes need to be punished, we have trained our brain to keep reminding ourselves of our failures, giving ourselves pain and anguish for something we no longer have the power to change.
Of all the weapons we chose to turn upon ourselves, guilt is the sharpest. It can carve one’s own past into unrecognizable shapes, false memories leading to beliefs that sow all kinds of obsessions.”
Erikson taught me that instead of focusing on how badly we screwed up, it’s more important to look ahead and do what we can to make sure something like that never happens again.
It is of no value to carry regrets around our necks like heavy millstones. If we don’t turn them into lessons and learn from them, there’s no way we can move forward in life.
“One day, perhaps, you will see for yourself that regrets are as nothing. The value lies in how they are answered.”
The Need to Look for Reward Outside Oneself
I am not a religious person, but I was raised in a family where it’s important to say your daily prayers and stick to some strict rules (no eating meat on Tuesdays, going to a place of worship every alternate Saturday, lighting an earthen lamp every evening, etc.).
As I grew older and started questioning these age-old traditions, my elders tried to quash my doubts, saying I was but a young girl and that these sacred rituals held power.
Erikson’s take on religion is fascinating. An archaeologist by education, the author must have seen his fair share of rituals and traditions of fallen worlds long faded from memory. He has incorporated this in a stunning manner in his books.
Several branches of religions with their own unique beliefs are shown. Tying them all together — is the thread of our innate need to seek external rewards.
Humans have internalised the need for religions in the belief that if we sacrifice enough pleasures, we will be rewarded. But what if we got it all wrong? What if the divine doesn’t really care what we do, how much we restrict ourselves?
What if our biggest sin is ignoring the very gifts the Gods had so generously bestowed upon us?
“And perhaps that is the final, most devastating truth. The gods care nothing for ascetic impositions on mortal behaviour. Care nothing for rules of conduct, for the twisted morals of temple priests and monks.
Perhaps indeed they laugh at the chains we wrap around ourselves — our endless, insatiable need to find flaws within the demands of life.
Or perhaps they do not laugh, but rage at us. Perhaps our denial of life’s celebration is our greatest insult to those whom we worship and serve.”
This is not essentially a life lesson, but it imparted in me a sense of validation of all the questions I’d asked my mother when I was young. It also taught me to question everything that was told to me and to not blindly believe anything just because it’s been written in the religious scriptures.
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