Our previous post, which you can check out here, spoke a little bit into the ideology behind not only having a dream but having a calling. I want to use this post to speak to you about how I found Laini Taylor used some of the characters in Strange to convey a sense of belonging: to this dream, to a place, a person, and to a sense of your core spirit.
Taylor decided in her creation of the character of Lazlo that in order to truly convey the majesty of the journey of going from not belonging to any place, anybody, nor anything, to somebody who really found a sense of belonging in more ways than one, that she would start his story in one of the most misfitting situations a young boy can find himself – as an orphan. Not only did he lack a position of affiliation due to a complete absence of family but he didn’t even have the luxury of a friend, or anybody who even liked him in particular, besides Master Hyrrokkin. Not only was he isolated from a life of normality, but his reality was abnormally cruel. I loved the transition that you get to experience as Lazlo starts as a misfit and throughout the book ascends in degrees of belonging. This all starts with the only possible thing a person can belong to when they have nothing else: a dream.
In the previous post, we discussed the importance of having a dream that you can cling to and chase as it calls out to you. This becomes even more important when you have nothing else in life. When you can assimilate this dream into part of your identity, it becomes not just a focal point, but a pivot point – something that you move through to make the important decisions in your life. Lazlo moves through his dream of Weep when he risks shouting out and angering the academics, Thyon Nero and his father, his colleagues and the few that know him. The decision to take such a risk needs to be put through a series of mental filters. The decision to leave the monastery in exchange for the library, to help Nero despite his character, to answer in retort to the delegates, and to work with Eril-Fane to get up to the Citadel: many monumental life decisions that determine the fate of your existence can’t be made lightly. They can’t be made without initially having some foundation of belonging. What an interesting idea to ponder on: that even when you have nothing emotional nor material to cling to, your foundation can still come from something as abstract as a dream, provided that dream is worthy and strong enough to carry you.
The monastery in which Lazlo grew up served as a house but not a home. The library in which he worked served as a residence but was still not a home. You start to get a sense of change as he joins the delegates of Weep on their migration through the expanse of the desert. Somewhere in the vastness, in the middle of nothing, he finds his tribe and his place. The power of a place lies in the people that occupy it. The Citadel is nothing more than a large, scary, floating reminder. Its power lies not in its physical structure (not counting the time it nearly crushed the city) but in the gods who occupied it. The same can be said about the desert: there is nothing particularly special about the sand nor the tents they put up in the sand. The power instead lies in the people of Weep. The solution to Lazlo’s loneliness was being in the presence of a a people who represented a place in which his spirit could peacefully reside (both metaphysical spirit and physical blood-like spirit, in this case). Weep became more than a holiday destination he had dreamed of visiting as a child. It became a place to which he could belong. Taylor demonstrates through Lazlo that you’ll know that you have found a place to which you truly belong by the way it will affect your character, and the way it will develop your heart. The growth in Lazlo’s sense of self is one of the more exciting yet subtle subplots of the story that makes this adventure so wonderful.
We again see the importance of belonging by the growth that both Sarai and Lazlo go through when they find each other. The lost, wanderous path that they were walking along is suddenly redirected after that first dream encounter. Finding each other is like finding their true north: a direction in which to point their compass. A sailor puts his trust in a star and chooses to follow it home, even without ever having seen it up close or meeting it (because who doesn’t want to meet a giant, burning ball in space?). This is the same approach Sarai and Lazlo choose. Sarai disobeys Zombie-Girl Minya by stopping the nightmares and warning the approaching crew of Minya’s plans. Lazlo chooses Sarai above the people who openly welcomed him into Weep and gave him more hospitality than he could have hoped for.
Love, Taylor shows us, trumps all kindness (as long as you don’t build a wall), all sense of security and often all sense of loyalty (make Weep great again). It’s the changing of your magnetic poles. The world becomes South and Lazlo becomes Sarai’s North. Gravity stops pulling Lazlo to the ground and shifts its pull up towards Sarai. Two people from two different worlds, of different backgrounds and seemingly different races, are overcome by the realisation that they could never belong to a dream, a community or a place as much as they could belong to each other. I believe this is the underlying power that Taylor brings to the story: the inevitability of Lazlo and Sarai’s unsuspecting yet soul-fulfilling journey to find their belonging in each other.
Yet an even deeper sense of belonging comes out in Strange. What happens when you find out you are not the person you thought you were? What happens when the world finds out that you are not the person they believed you to be? How do you manage the expectations of others as well as of yourself when your reality is different from the image you had in your head – different from the story you told yourself?
It’s not always enough to stick to who you think of yourself to be, or even who you want to be. Lazlo thought of himself as a librarian, subject to the academics. He thought of himself as of a lower class and societal status than those around him. He wished to be a secretary to Eril-Fane, as if this honour was something that might otherwise be out of his grasp. But none of these things rang true to the core of his spirit. His true essence consisted of something much richer than the wildest life he could imagine. Deep in each of us, there’s something magnificent. For Lazlo, it was the extreme of being one of the most magical beings in the multi-verse. For Sarai, it was being the goddess of dreams rather than the muse of nightmares. And even for somebody such as Nero, it was not being an arrogant and pompous prick, but rather a companion, friend, and perhaps even a lover (as we find out in Muse of Nightmares, Strange‘s sequel).
The character development in Strange and Muse is so much more than just growth and maturation. What I love about Taylor’s writing is that she craftily draws out the true spirit of each character in the book to the point that you have a connection and understanding of even somebody like Minya; that the clear line separating evil from good starts to blur and the boundaries start to overlap. As she starts to dig into the heart of each character, you form an individual and unique connection with them as you discover that so much of this story (and probably every story ever told) is all about perspective. Once each character in the story starts to discover the truth in their being and the role of the heart calling, they find that belonging to that essential truth helps them to make all their decisions going forward and plays a pivotal part in them settling into a role in this story that gives them more than a way to survive, but helps them to operate from a place of identity and belonging. Examples of this are when fire-girl Ruby discovers that a part of her true core isn’t heat, or rage, or intensity, but rather passion, and Sarai discovers that not only can she control dreams but she can use this control to help people deal with their subconscious nightmares and the residues of trauma.
Discovering your true sense of self and finding belonging and ownership in that is probably one of the most valuable take-aways one can get from the book.