The Enigmatists of Fable are deep-minded scholars who study the Perilous Realm and try to understand its many mysteries. In our world we used to call such men and women natural philosophers. Now we call them scientists.

Enigmatists, like knights of the Errantry, roam far and wide through the lands of Story, but unlike knights-errant (or most readers of stories, for that matter), they aren’t content to simply wander through a story and let it unfold as it will. Enigmatists will study a story, keep voluminous notes, gather specimens, make conjectures about what, how, and why the story is the way it is and what secrets it might hold.

There are enigmatists who specialize in the study of only one particular element of Story. For example the pratchetologists, who are experts in all things relating to tiny little people (there are many, many races of tiny little people in the Realm. You probably have some living in your walls. Most are harmless).  Or the monocerologists, the Realm’s experts on unicorns.

But this kind of specialization doesn’t stop there. Even within these narrower fields of study there are subdivisions upon subdivisions. Within the field of monocerology itself there are enigmatists who restrict their research to the dietary habits of unicorns, which they study by collecting and examining the creature’s droppings. And within that field there are those who study only the droppings of black unicorns. And then there are those who study only the droppings of one particular black unicorn named Trevor, who lives in Medicine Hat. As you can imagine, Trevor doesn’t enjoy being followed around by packs of enigmatists eager to get a sample of his droppings, and he tends to be quite cranky and dangerous to approach. But enigmatists live for this kind of bracing adventure.

Then there are what are sometimes called the “true” Enigmatists, the ones who investigate and ponder Story itself: its ultimate nature and purpose. Why are there stories at all? What are stories really made of? (The most recent research seems to suggest that stories are made out of invisible, energy-bearing particles called narratons, that have strange properties, such as their tendency to collapse when one tries to measure their speed or direction) Is there any end to stories or do they go on forever? What was the very first story? The quandary that all such enigmatists face is that any answer to such questions will ultimately take the form of a story, and thus the answer will become its own question, like a snake biting its tale. (Pardon the pun. Enigmatists are also very fond of these).

 And so it would seem there is no place one can stand “outside” the Realm and say what a story is without telling another one.

To Destroy is to De-Story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.

– Maya Angelou

The Bad Guy in The Shadow of Malabron is Malabron himself, the Night King. He calls himself the Lord of Story, and believes he is the right and true ruler of the entire Realm. Malabron’s goal is to “eat” every story, so that only one story will remain: his own story, a nightmare of absolute power. If he succeeds in this he will obliterate the past, so that no one will even remember there were stories other than his. And he will destroy the future, so that no one will be able to imagine other possible stories that could be told, or lived.

While I was writing Shadow of Malabron, the word “destroy” often came up in scenes where the characters talk about Malabron’s threat to the Realm. I am a fast typer but not always accurate, and I often found myself typing the word “destroy” as “destory.” This annoyed me until I realized that this is exactly what tyrants do (in the real world as well as fantasy novels). When they set out to destroy opposition, or freedom, or independent thought, one of the things they go after is story. Take away someone’s story, or their ability to tell their story, and you take away much of who they are and their freedom to imagine that things could be different. This is truly to de-story someone.

A real-world example: the absolute control that North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-il holds over the media – newspapers, television, radio and the internet. The people of this country are prevented from reading or hearing stories other than the official ones that the government puts forth. On television they are fed a steady diet of reports about their wonderful leader and all of the wonderful things he has been doing for their country. Dissent is punished, so no one dares tell their own alternate story of how things really are in that country.

The people of North Korea are being systematically “de-storyed.”

Every government rules to some extent in similar ways, as do the giant corporations that want us all to buy the same products, that is, live the same story, a story that they impose on us rather than one we tell for ourselves. (Yes, there still are big bad giants in the world.)

Any kind of deliberate human destruction is also a destorying, in one way or another. When a forest is cleared, countless life “stories” of the creatures that live there may be lost. When a child soldier dies in war, his or her story is over before it has barely begun. 

De-storying imposes an absolute “The End” on stories that still might have grown in unexpected ways. Human beings are creatures that tell stories. We live and breathe stories. Truly we need them to survive. To be prevented from telling your story is, as Maya Angelou points out, a great agony. A killing silence.

So now when I type the word “destroy” and it comes out “destory,” I still correct it, but the mistake serves to remind me of the deep connection between destruction and the loss of story.