When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I was convinced that it was the great, epic love story of Legolas and Gimli. This was when I was about seven, before I knew that queerness was a thing–before I really understood what sex was, and definitely before I’d come across archives like Axe and Bow. In my childhood, when the world of epic fantasy was still shiny and new, I couldn’t have cared less whether they were friends or comrades or lovers. I only knew that I took an unaccountable and unadulterated delight in learning that those two eventually sailed off into the West together.
This isn’t really a story about my childhood, though. I’m old enough to read critical queer theory and to pay attention to my own queer identity, and I’m old enough to love the stories featured on blogs like Amara’s Place. (I’m definitely old enough to have worked my way through a solid quarter of Axe and Bow.) I’m old enough that I’ve started writing my own fantasy novels, and of course I’m drawn to the tropes that I fell in love with all those years ago: The consciousness that lives on when the body dies. The temptation of immense power, to heal and to destroy. The love that arises between devoted companions.
Speaking very broadly, Erekos is a novel about those things. Shabane, the dead woman walking; Achane, her sister, who has a chance to raise her nation’s casualties; Erlen and Jeiger, outlanders and allies in the country that they want to defend … and lovers. That, too.
Like many young people raised in a culture of shame, I went through a phase where I believed that turning a Platonic relationship into a sexual relationship somehow “debased” it. As though sex made everything cheap; as though sex wasn’t noble enough for comrades. (For male comrades, of course. Women and men were expected to sleep together. Women were often introduced into a narrative solely so that men could have appropriate objects for their sexual desires.) Of course Achilles and Patrocles couldn’t have had a sexual relationship. Of course Orestes and Pylades couldn’t have–or Hamlet and Horatio, or Holmes and Watson. They were friends, weren’t they? Friendship was an honorable, beautiful, eminently respectable relation. It was the sort of thing to which Bacon and Montaigne and Tennyson could write paeans. It had a heritage.
It eventually struck me as odd that male friendships had to be so carefully policed to preserve them from the “debasement” of desire. As though male friendship, this unshakable and laudable bond, was a fragile thing that could shatter at once into frenzied coupling the very moment we turned our backs.
It eventually struck me as odd that this apparently omnipresent and hazardous desire didn’t have a heritage of its own–so I worked my way with care and diligence through Plato, Wilde, and Marlowe in search of its trace.
It won’t surprise any of you to learn that, in the territory of desire, I found more and more heartbreaking friendships than I’d ever dreamed. I found loves to rewrite history, loves to conquer states–loves to which desperate men called out in the profoundest depths of betrayal. I could say that it doesn’t matter that these friendships were love-relationships, but that would be a damned lie.
Where were the queer loves in fantasy and science fiction? I asked myself. Where was that incredible confluence of desire and friendship? I cast about in the classics, but my first search turned up only friendly companions. Anne McCaffrey had firmly shut down speculation on the green riders. Dune‘s Baron Harkonnen was a parody of the effete gay predator (and an insult to Finns). I rejoiced when I first read Fiona Patton’s Painter Knight or Clive Barker’s Sacrament, in part because I’d almost given up on finding books like them.
I write gay characters because I want to combat the traditions that shape my genre, even as I want to honor the tropes that brought me here. I want space in F/SF for lovers; I want to claim the space that’s been colonized by the predatory Harkonnens and the purity-campaigners. I want to see stories about gay people where their love is ancillary to the plot, rather than central to it; I want for it to be all right for close companions to desire each other, just as much as it’s all right for them to be sexless. I want to see relationships like mine in the novels I read–and I want other people to see them, too. I want other people to see that those relationships are all right.
When I began to write Erlen and Jeiger, I knew that they would be the classic duo: Inseparable companions, fighting for the freedom of their land against forces beyond their understanding or control. They would be friends who had learned, despite their initial misgivings, to trust and to rely upon each other … and although Erekos wasn’t their love story, they would be lovers nonetheless. Their friendship would be bound up with their love, and to read the two relationships as separate would be to misread them entirely.
While Return of the King concludes facing west, Erekos faces east. It looks not across the waters, into the distant and numinous land beyond the sea, but toward our own sunrise and a new beginning. One thread of the story is about death, but the thread that continues on is about the new life that close companions can make together–in this world, and not the next; in love with each other’s physical, fallible, mortal forms, and not with the Platonic forms that they can never attain.