For our final post on Strange (check out the other two here and here), we’re diving into what I thought made this story unique and so different from the majority of stories out there. Disclaimer alert: I am going to be bringing up events in the second book, Muse of Nightmares, in this post. So if you haven’t read the book yet: firstly, READ IT ALREADY IT’S AMAZING OKAY, and secondly, the spoilers in this post might ruin things for you.
Here’s a wild idea: there are at least two sides to every story, and often there are several more. This may be something you tell yourself that you are conscious of, yet when you read about something or somebody that you consider truly evil, it’s hard to imagine that perhaps their point of view is just as understandable and valid as their victim’s. My theory behind this is that our brains desperately want to make sense of the world. Our subconscious is constantly on autopilot attempting to reduce the chaos around us and create order. We enjoy our morning routines, our daily commute to and from work, our weekly meetings and monthly events. We are soothed by the thought that traffic lights are telling us when to stop and go, the law is telling us what to do and what not to do, even that physics and chemistry are controlling the natural flow of our existence. An implication of this is that when we encounter something that affronts and threatens this order, our immediate response can come across as rather cruel and desperate. The woman who jumped the red light is a ‘maniac’. The scientist who discovers an unexplained phenomenon is ‘deranged’. The man who killed his neighbour is a ‘psychopath’.
In Strange, when we are confronted with the seeming madness of Minya, it’s easy to fall into the same trap and immediately start to assign her a series of terrible titles. Taylor is aware of this human propensity and weaves a story-line into Strange and Muse that slowly and gently speaks against such thoughts. You start to understand the pure weight of all the souls clinging to Minya and how any normal person would simply break under such pressure (as Nova comes to experience). You begin to get a grip on the pure extent of trauma that this little child had to go through and the severity of the ordeal that she survived. I can’t even begin to imagine what barely escaping with my life through an attempted genocide would do to my psyche. Witnessing murder at any age is traumatic enough to scar even the strongest of personalities. Taylor gives us a glimpse of what not only witnessing but also committing murder can do to your mind: the demons that can manifest and the danger of these repressed memories as they influence your heart, mind and soul. It becomes rather difficult to limit her role in the story as purely villainous. No one person in any story should be confined to playing the role of simply victim or purely villain.
There’s a duality that Taylor starts to unfold as the distaste that Minya leaves in your mouth in Strange starts to turn into more of a sympathetic response to her situation as more of her history is revealed from her perspective. We’re shown how, through all the wreckage, she manages to muster enough strength – more than anybody in the story could begin to realise – to raise four children and keep them safe for years on end by embodying the two Ellens. Once we understand this multi-factoral layering of Minya’s psyche, we start to see how important perspective is to any tale. There is great value in understanding all sides of the story and not immediately feeling antagonistic towards the chaos that Minya presents at first in Strange, rather allowing the telling of Muse to open up our minds to the idea that just perhaps there’s more to her than simply being a ‘maniac’ or ‘psychopath’.
And perhaps there is more to every antagonist. I don’t believe any story is complete if you solely get to experience it from the perspective of the protagonist. There is such revelation in learning about the childhood of Voldemort in understanding why he felt such an overwhelming desire to conquer Muggles and live forever. There is such value in discovering what kind of mindset the White Witch of Narnia must have had. Imagine the massive amount of worth that would be added in viewing and understanding the world through the perspectives of the Joker, Moriarty, or even Count Olaf.
A story on perspective that both Hannah and I would love to dive into would be the background of Skathis. We have spoken quite a bit about it and we have come to design a theory that Skathis uses rape to regain a sense of power that he feels he needs or has lacked at some time in his life. Perhaps he was the victim of some form of abuse and assault as a child – whether this was sexual or not, we can only wonder. Our theory supposes that whatever form the abuse took, it was something that left him feeling powerless and without control. Hence he has spent his life trying to regain a sense of control and establish order to what may be his form of chaos in his life, through the only way he knows how, and perhaps the same way that order, control and security was taken from him as a child: through rape and fear. This is, of course, just our theory. So Laini, if you’re reading this: we would love to hear the story from the perspective of Skathis. Does he also deserve his own redemption story? We want to hear your opinion!
The ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes seems to be something that is desperately lacking in society as we tend to be so entirely wrapped up in our own lives, problems and stories. Sometimes it’s refreshing to put yourself in the backseat and take a drive from another person’s perspective. This is the most important lesson and take-away I received from journeying through Laini Taylor’s incredible duology and I can honestly say it’s changed my thought patterns when it comes to the stories I hear in daily life. I hope in some way that this post changes your perspective of stories in the same way that this story changed mine.