I enjoyed that both Niff and Seamus tried to rationalize the fantastic of Arthur’s Seat, but from different viewpoints (optimist and cynic). Was that a conscious choice from the beginning, or did it develop over the execution of the story?
It grew out of their characters. Niff desperately wants to leave and Seamus is determined to stay, so their different interpretations arise from that.
I enjoyed the duplicitous nature of authority in Seamus, a sheen that hid his own weirdness and subterfuge on gaining Niff’s trust. I’ve read about those attempts in works on predators of various kinds. Do you think there is a clear link between authority and the need to build trust through lies?
I think there’s a clear link between deceit and the need to build trust through lies. Seamus isn’t acting in an official capacity here; he’s just pretending to. He’s doing this on his own time. His desire to protect Niff is real, but his motivations are personal and might draw scrutiny from his superiors. Certainly anything like objectivity is compromised. I see Seamus as a very private person, someone who usually plays things close to the chest. I doubt he’s opened up to anyone else the way he has to Niff, and I’m not sure he’d have talked to her so freely if he didn’t already know, on a gut level, that she’d be gone soon. He’s having the conversation he wasn’t able to have with his daughter.
It may be worth mentioning here that the idea from the story came from a real incident. After the 1988 World Fantasy Convention in London, I took the train up to Edinburgh, which is one of my favorite cities, and stayed there for a week. One day I was hiking by myself on Arthur’s Seat and heard someone ask, “Are you all right?” When I turned, I found a cop next to me. He and his partner patrolled the base of the park, and when they saw a woman alone, he left the patrol car to climb up and assess the situation. He stayed with me, chatting pleasantly, until we met another hiking party. I don’t know if there’d just been an assault on Arthur’s Seat or if this was standard procedure, but he clearly didn’t like my being up there by myself.
Niff seems a stand-in for many who wish for a fantastic thing in life because they find the real world mundane, and yet there’s a tremor through the story that she’s delusional or sad. I’m curious if this was a commentary on escapism (which has benefits, no doubt, especially for people in hard times, but also has costs).
Certainly she’s sad; she’s suffered tremendous losses. I don’t think she’s delusional. She sees the world differently than other people do, and she hasn’t been lucky enough to find a real-world community where she feels accepted. Everyone needs that. Fandom fills that need for a lot of us. We’re social animals, and she’s been very isolated. Anyone would want to escape from the pain she feels. The issue is whether what she’s escaping to will ultimately be any better. Tolkien, in his essay on fairy stories, said famously that the only people who disapprove of escape are jailers. People who work with runaway kids know that they don’t leave home without very good reasons, often involving abuse or neglect.
The major theme here is the danger in running from problems under the guise of adventure or a better life, and of reaching for a Shangri La that may or may not exist (but can only be found with a one-way ticket). Yet there was an amazing lack of harsh judgement, which I found refreshing, when such stories often end up a cynical polemic. What was it like writing such an ending (in terms of tone and the story’s theme)?
Given what we learn about Seamus at the end of the story, obviously he isn’t going to judge her. His attempts to convince her to stay are efforts to convince himself, too. I knew all along that Niff would leave, but I didn’t know until I wrote the ending that Seamus also heard the music. He understands why she leaves, but he thinks our world will stay richer if she remains in it. His walking back down the hill is effectively a statement that he believes the world benefits from his presence, too. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if at some later point he starts finding it much more difficult to stay. In his own way, he’s as isolated as Niff is.
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