An exchange with kitsunealyc has got me thinking about one of the aspects I really love in Changeling: The Dreaming, namely, the fact that the premise incorporates reincarnation as one of its fundamental elements. The faerie souls are born into a series of mortal hosts, and sometimes they remember their past lives, which means you can have all kinds of fun with patterns and echoes and change over time.

Hell, that was the precise notion that set the ball rolling for Memento.

And it makes me wonder — who out there has written fantasies that make use of this idea? Not just reincarnation, but remembering past lives, telling a story where the fixed and mutable characteristics of a soul are a central part of the tale. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry books come to mind, and Jo Graham has started a series of history-hopping fantasies that appear to feature the same souls incarnating as central and peripheral figures in various periods (the Trojan War, Ptolemaic Egypt), but those are the only ones I can think of offhand. The Wheel of Time, I suppose, but that’s one of a billion ideas swirling around in that series, and it doesn’t get the exploration I’d like to see.

I had fun running the idea in Memento, and I had fun playing with it via Ree, my long-term LARP character. What’s it like to remember — in your early twenties — that you generally don’t live to see your twenty-fifth birthday? What does it mean for friendships and enmities when the universe hits the “reset” button on your lives? How can you take something that appears to be a fundamental part of your nature, on a metaphysical level, and work around and with it so you don’t repeat the same mistakes you always have? I have no idea what kind of story I could use to explore those notions again, but I suspect I’ll think of one eventually, because clearly my brain isn’t done with it yet.

So where can I go to feed my brain? Kerr, Graham, Jordan — who else?

0 Responses to “Reincarnation”

  1. mrissa

    I don’t know that I would precisely recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt, but it seems relevant in context.

    • Marie Brennan

      For questions like this, “recommendation” should be glossed as “titles fitting the type,” not necessarily ones you think I’d enjoy. (I have not shed all my academic habits.)

  2. la_marquise_de_

    Two rather old books by H Warner Munn (Merlin’s Godson and Merlin’s Ring) play with this idea — the hero is immortal, the heroine is sometimes a ghost, sometimes reincarnates. There are also a number of Indian films on this theme: the most famous is Neel Kamal, I think, though the one I remember best is Karan Arjun.
    I don;t play Changeling, but I do play Feng Shui, and reincarnation has been a major theme in that, too.

    • Marie Brennan

      Heh. The only Indian movie focusing on reincarnation I’ve seen in Om Shanti Om, which features a genre/mood switch halfway through that nearly gave me whiplash. One full-length romantic comedy (ending in a brutal double murder!) followed by one ghostly revenge story.

      Plus a song about the pain of disco. No, really. ^_^

      • la_marquise_de_

        That’s fairly typical plotting, alas. I love Indian cinema, but the plots are sometimes startling (to me, anyway). Though my favourite strange film song is from the Chinese film Rosa, which includes a ballad called ‘Love is a Conveyor Belt of Warmth’.

  3. thespisgeoff

    Mercedes Lackey hits on it in Valdemar, some, especially in the Vanyel trilogy.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’d forgotten that — the Tylendel/Stefan thing, and then doesn’t it eventually come out that the Companions are reincarnated Heralds?

      • thespisgeoff

        Yup. Somewhere in the… Mage Storm trilogy, I think, it’s made explicit that Heralds can choose regular-people-death, reincarnation as a Companion, or reincarnation as a Herald-designate. And then somewhere in there, we see that Companions are reincarnated as Herald-designates as well.

        Even though I haven’t read Lackey in years – she belongs to a very particular adolescent period – I still have most of her books, since (as you can imagine) Vanyel helped this little gay boy out a lot.

        • Marie Brennan

          I went off her right around the end of the Mage Storms series — the Owl* books didn’t interest me enough for me to finish the trilogy, iirc. But before we moved last year, I re-read a bunch of old books to see which ones I no longer cared about enough to keep, and I was surprised by the extent to which I still enjoyed the Talia and Vanyel books. As you say, a very particular adolescent period, but that doesn’t make them bad.

  4. occultatio

    Tezuka. Tezuka, Tezuka, Tezuka. If you like these stories, you MUST read Osamu Tezuka’s “Phoenix” series — it is one of the most magnificent and well-considered treatments of reincarnation, karma, immortality and all that stuff you are ever likely to see. For bonus points, read it in conjunction with “Buddha,” which presents something of the flipside of the tale.

    The books are getting kind of hard to find, but worth it to track down — this is one of the very few works I’ve read that actually influenced how I think about morality and the underlying structure of the universe.

    • Marie Brennan

      Thanks. I’ve added both of those to my wish list.

      • kurayami_hime

        They have them at SF public, FYI.

      • occultatio

        It has been pointed out to me offline that, in fact, Apollo’s Song is a much better introduction to Tezuka’s work with these themes, in that it’s a single volume and still widely available. Phoenix is, by far, better, but its also much denser and less approachable than AS, which is still quite excellent.

  5. coraa

    Oh, I loved that in Changeling: The Dreaming, too. In fact, I made a character entirely based around that point — she was a satyr bard and historian, and her past-life memory was so strong (and she had so many past lives that she could remember) that she had a good chance of learning useful things from it… and an excellent chance of being completely swamped by it.

  6. pathseeker42

    Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series is right up this alley, but you have to read past the part the author tells you to stop reading at in order to get the full effect.

  7. mindstalk

    It’s not deep exploration, but Steven Brust’s Dragaera books have reincarnation, and the memories can be accessed if you know how.
    Kieron, Aliera, Dolivar, sibling elves.
    Aliera reincarnated as a descendant of Kieron.
    Dolivar reincarnated as human. Still has the “look, chaos!” power.

    Exalted has reincarnation, though it’ll only really come up for Celestial Exalts or Dragon Kings. The multi-partite soul does mean you can end up with “this is the hungry ghost of Quen guarding his body, and this is the ghost of Quen with his memories, and this is the young Solar who has the same Exaltation that Quen had and thus some of his memories.” Properly reincarnating souls get a perfect memory wipe, like recycling atoms. I’ve imagined that Virtues and possibly Motivation or Intimacies could be carried on, in an attempt to make it less pointless and also vaguely inspired by Buddhism’s “rebirth of causal factors” but that’s a houserule.

    (Though the newly splatted Infernal Exalted have detailed memories of their past Solar self, and there are mechanisms for personality blending or takeover.)

    There’s Lord of Light, and Tolkien’s elves (mostly in some letters). I think those are more like transferring a full mind to a new body, though. Then again, a Changeling with Remembrance 5 would be similar to that, especially on the fae side of the personality.

    I think Gordon Dickson was working on something like this with his Dorsai/Necromancer books but I don’t know more.

  8. celestineangel

    Sara Douglass’ The Troy Game series. I’ve ranted and praised this one on my LJ.

    The characters go through three separate lifetimes, with the first book of course setting in motion the circumstances behind them being reincarnated in the next two books. In the second book, most of the characters remember their past life, except for two, who remember over the course of the book. In the third book, everyone remembers from the outset, and that’s when it really gets good because not only are the characters no longer caricatures of of people but become real people, this is also when all your expectations are turned around when one character says “You know what? I don’t think I want to do what we’ve been planning for three lifetimes now.”

    The fourth book moves from one protagonist to the other, the one the reader has been conditioned to hate since book one, and in this one you learn to love the character because they’ve actually learned something over the centuries.

    The first two books drove me bonkers, but Douglass’ writing is good enough to have kept me engaged, and book three hooked me forever.

  9. hikalyn

    Guy Gavriel Kay’s Ysabel owes a lot to the idea of reincarnation, though it doesn’t really explore it so much in the way that you’ve suggested here…

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