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Reincarnation in the Numinous World

A couple of people have asked how reincarnation works in the Numinous World. How can Gull be Lydias be Charmian be Elza? How can she remember? How can she forget? What stays constant? Why?

Ok, think back to when you were fifteen. That person was you. But that person was probably very different from you now (unless you're currently sixteen). They were into different things, had different interests, different friends, different goals and worries. Maybe when you were fifteen you were majorly into Star Trek, and now you still like it but your life doesn't revolve around Star Trek. Maybe the most important thing in the world was your high school sports team, or a boyfriend or girlfriend or someone you wished was your boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you loved a certain band and now you just kind of hear them with a warm nostalgic feeling and say to yourself, "There was some good music then." Or maybe there are things that have stayed. Maybe when you were fifteen you knew you wanted to be a veterinarian and now you've been a vet for twenty years, helping countless people keep their pets healthy. Maybe your best friend forever really is your best friend forever and you saw her last weekend. Or maybe you've gone through a crisis and rejected the religion you practiced then, or devoutly found a faith you scoffed at then. Whatever your journey, that person you were at fifteen is still you. And so are you now. There's no "which one are you really." You're both equally. Just at different times.

That's Gull/Lydias/Charmian/Elza's experience. Elza was Gull, just as you were that person at fifteen. She was Lydias, just as you were who you were at seventeen. She was Charmian, just as you were who you were at twenty.

Imagine every year as a different life. Ones that are closer together are more alike. How much difference is there between you at fifteen and at seventeen? Gull and Lydias are very alike. They're both quiet, devoted, certain in their loves. They both yearn for grace. They both see beyond the edges of the world. But they have different experiences and they make different choices. And that changes Lydias, just as the experiences between Gull and Lydias have altered him. Lydias is more open to the world and less sure that everything in it is good, though his response to this is to become fiercely protective, a guardian. And yet you, the reader, can see Gull in Lydias.

Likewise, looking at Lydias and Elza is like looking at seventeen and forty. An enormous amount has happened in between, and some of it has been awful. Elza has had some very hard times and not just in her own life. (See Georg in the Ravens of Falkenau!) And yet Lydias is there. That person she was at seventeen is still part of her. It saves her life in The General's Mistress. Remember the scene where they're attacked by bandits on the way back from Italy? In that moment of life and death crisis, Elza is still Lydias at the core. She could run. She has her horse, and the bandits couldn't pursue on foot. But that would mean leaving Isabella and the rest of the company to them. And that's Lydias at Gaugamela, isn't it? Unarmed and on horseback, with the baggage train to defend.

She doesn't run. She stands by her friends. She risks her life not to run, to play them on horseback, to play for time. Those two scenes were actually written in parallel, the Gaugamela scene written after the Elza scene. If you look at them side by side, you can see that this is the same person with exactly the same reactions. And that's the moment Lydias bleeds through into Elza, the first time in the book. That's what opens the door.

Imagine that every year you forgot the one before. You didn't forget what you'd learned, but you forgot the details of the actual experiences. You knew that this was a wonderful person, but you didn't remember that he was your husband and when you married him. You just knew that you really felt strongly about him and that he was great. But maybe he was your daughter instead? Or your best friend? The feelings remained, but not the memory of actual details of life. You knew you loved animals but you didn't remember you were a vet.

Except that maybe, in a crisis, you knew exactly how to help that choking puppy and save its life. Where did that come from? From the deep part of yourself that knew exactly what was wrong and what to do? From the veterinarian of forty years experience inside? That's what Elza has. All of Gull and Lydias and Charmian and Georg are there inside. In The Emperor's Agent she decides to accept this and to actually try to reach them, to try to draw on this experience rather than hiding from it.

If you couldn't remember what happened to you last year or the year before, wouldn't you make the same mistakes over and over? If they're based on your personality -- for example on being impulsive -- and you couldn't remember what happened the last three times you did that, wouldn't you do it over and over? But if you could remember, if you could say, "I tried that and everything went really wrong," maybe you could make a different choice.

And that's where Michel is in The Emperor's Agent. He's been Agrippa. He's been Hephaistion. He's been Leicester. He remembers the mistakes he made at least in part and he's trying not to make them again. When he says, "I never listen to you," he's right. That was Agrippa's mistake. He didn't listen to Charmian. He didn't ask her what she wanted. He just assumed. He decided for them both and then was blindsided when she didn't want the life he had planned for them. And so now, knowing that, he's trying to make a different decision. He's trying to not have this story be Hand of Isis. He's trying to not have this end with "Was this well done of your lady?" That's his nightmare -- watching her die again. That's his nightmare -- being the destroyer, the one who kills it all. We we see that in the last scene of Hand of Isis with Lucia. She tells him, "Don't do it again." And he promises he won't. In a way, all of the Elza books are the story of how Michel doesn't. And why.

In the Numinous World books everyone is struggling with their imperfect memories, with the gap between their mortal life experience and the soul. Except one character -- Mik-el, Michael. He is not human, and he remembers everything. In a sense, he's the viewpoint character for the reader because the reader knows what he knows. When Michael talks to Elza in her near-death delirium in The General's Mistress, we know what he sees. When she imagines herself a bird in his hand and wonders if she's a dove, we know what he sees when he says no, a gull to try the winds far out to sea and come at last, storm-tossed, to shore if she is lucky. She is Gull. That's her true name, the essence of her true self. He knows her, Gull and Lydias and Charmian and Georg and his favorite, Jauffre who posed for a statue of him in a church in Antioch -- his avatar as Gull was the Lady of the Dead's -- St. Michael in a Templar's chainmail and cross.

In the third Elza book, The Marshal's Lover, we'll see what Elza does with the acceptance of her past and her abilities that she found in The Emperor's Agent. She's come to this place of healing, of acceptance. Now what will she do?

And it is awesome!

Your thoughts, my friends?


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
Now that is the best analogy for reincarnation I've ever come across :D
Sep. 15th, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that makes sense! :)
Feb. 14th, 2014 07:37 pm (UTC)
Thus I have named it the Jo Graham Numinous World Theory of Reincarnation.

Edited at 2014-02-14 07:37 pm (UTC)
Feb. 21st, 2014 09:09 am (UTC)
Wonderful and wonderful!
Yes, I agree with Lesley. Beautiful analogy. I've actually thought of that way myself, thinking how my childhood, teenage years and now feel like different lifetimes. I notice each serious relationship is like a different lifetime. My first love, my second, my third and then my husband. Each a different life within a life.

I wish all of the Numinous World books had those same glorious illustrations that the first three had. I'm glad I found this post, so now I can look up Ravens of Falkenau. Perhaps you could get the wikipedia page about you updated with some of this? That is where I usually go to find booklists and chronological order of a book series.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )