How many fantasy books start with a Prophecy? I capitalized prophecy, because it is always the prophecy. It’s something about the future that has been divined and set in motion, and will happen. Sure others have been made, but there’s one that is central to the fate of the world. That seems to be the kind we are most familiar with at any rate, unless you played something like D&D or in my case the many D&D based games such as Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale, etc… In those games, divination allows us to see some aspect of the near future, or some sort of method to locate things and people based on some connection. These great prophets are usually killed or maybe they survived, but no one took them seriously, or whatever. So what’s my point?
To be honest, I suppose I just wanted to talk about divination to some extent. It’s an interesting plot device to be sure, but in what ways can it be used?
I guess I’ll start by pointing out the Alex Verus novels. (Book 4 is coming out in August and I can’t wait!) In the series, the main character is a magic user, but his only power is over divination. He can see into the future indefinitely, but the problem is that there is no guaranteed future. Thus he has to work everything out based on probability, and which are the more likely futures, and even those can be wrong. Has it been done before? Maybe. I couldn’t say for certain, but I can say that it is a refreshing look at Divination.
Divination – late 14c., from Old French divination (13c.), from Latin divinationem (nominative divinatio) “the power of foreseeing, prediction,” noun of action from past participle stem of divinare, literally “to be inspired by a god” – The Online Etymology Dictonary
In the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, and I would assume the sister series Novels of the Malazan Empire (by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont respectively), there is an interesting form of Tarot in the Dragon Decks. It’s a set of cards, and there’s a specific way to reading the cards. Only a few people are gifted enough to actually read them, and in the first book there are a couple of characters who can. When the Dragon Decks come out, it effectively predicts a chunk of the upcoming story, but it’s always vague, and you have to guess which characters correspond to which cards to figure it all out. Even if you have some idea, it doesn’t mean it’ll go the way you think. Card reading has always been a skill of interpretation after all, as I’ve learned first hand with actual Tarot decks.
The funny thing about divination and especially Tarot decks is how much you have to interpret, especially if you don’t know the person(s) you are reading very well. See, someone close to me is into the witchy crowd (not an I can throw fire at you kind, but a pagan, choose your gods and worship them kind) and has been doing Tarot and getting readings for some time. I’m not a part of that crowd. I used to do Tarot for fun with regular playing cards as a kid, and they convinced me to get a real deck once. Now, as a warning, I’m only as insane as a fantasy writer should be. Personal feelings aside, whatever I type after this, take it as you will.
As a personal experience, it’s interesting when you get into these witchcraft shops. Not because of the odd things for sale, but because there is a different energy there. I ended up sitting there for more than 20 minutes after deciding to buy a deck. You’re supposed to look at them, and choose one that’s right for you, based on the feeling you get from it. It turns out the deck I chose says something about me, because I ended up with a deck that brings a positive outlook to even the worst situations, much like myself. My second deck came as a purchase after three trips back to this store with friends, and picking it up each time before putting it down. I was encouraged to consider the deck, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It wasn’t a replacement to the first one, because it had a different feel, as odd as it sounds. Turns out this deck reflects a different part of me. Unlike a traditional deck which has meanings with the cards, and the image often says much, this one was much more the opposite. The meanings behind each card are small phrases, and I’ve found the deck to be a bit of a wise-ass on the occasions I have used it, going so far as having it talk back to me in the cards I pull. Another interesting fact is that neither deck had a reverse meaning, so there’s only one vague light to look at the cards in.
Why would I bring this up? Well, because it’s a step in a good direction. Yeah sure, there are any number of stories with talking implements, or skulls and swords with personalities, however, how many people can say the universe actually has a good sense of humor with inanimate objects? I suppose there isn’t a lesson in here as much as an inspirational takeaway: The universe is weird.