I’m thrilled to announce that my (tad longer than) flash story “Local Hero” is now live in Dream of Shadows Issue 2! The big Epic Fantasy war against the Dark Lord is over, and in the Black Land, the Orcs are living under occupation by their conquerors. But even a beaten people have their heroes and legends.
“Anthropologists will tell you that oral cultures understand the past differently; for them, their histories don’t need to be accurate so much as they need to validate the community’s understanding of itself.”
— Ted Chiang, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”
When I was re-reading The Lord of the Rings with my daughter, I noticed an unexpectedly poignant scene in The Two Towers between two Orcs, Gorbag and Shagrat, sharing their dreams for once the war is over.
“I’d like to try somewhere where there’s none of ’em [Nazgûl, Shelob]. But the war’s on now, and when that’s over things may be easier. … But anyway, if it does go well, there should be a lot more room What d’you say? — if we get a chance, you and me’ll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there’s good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.”
“Ah!” said Shagrat. “Like old times.”
… “But don’t forget: the enemies don’t love us any more than they love Him, and if they get topsides on Him, we’re done too.”
Orcs with hopes and dreams? Imagine that! And I did.
The victors aren’t the only ones to write history. When the defeated survive, so do their stories, and where pride of identity is strong, those stories combine to form a counter-history, heretical to the dominant culture, cherished by the subordinated one.
“Local Hero” is about the myths that a defeated people tell about themselves, to themselves, to justify their own existence in the new world order. It’s about coping with one’s identity, when that identity has been vilified by history. It’s about the legend of the Orcish Captain America, and how even a mythological figure can inspire real action.
For better or worse.
EDIT: I wrote this story as I was reading news about monuments and symbols of the American Confederacy–about efforts of some to pull them down, and the efforts of others to preserve them. I have no sympathies with the desire to revise and romanticize the rebellion to preserve slavery. But I am struck by a culture’s impulse to rewrite its history to be a source of pride instead of shame. Then, this story was published right as the U.S. rose up to protest systemic racism after a policeman killed George Floyd. That put a different contextual focus: police brutality and righteous uprising. “Local Hero” is emphatically not meant as a metaphor for either situation. It imagines the future of Gorbag and Shagrat’s people after the War of the Ring is lost (from their perspective), and echoes of our history and current events are the vibrations of the real world that influence how we look at all stories.