Who can resist a love story? Not me, but I like the odds to be high. My favorite situation (in fiction, not real life) is one in which the lovers are separated by enemy forces so huge you can’t imagine how they can be overcome. And sometimes they’re not.
The enemies I love are none of your piddling little Lord Voldemorts or Saurons. I’m talking elemental forces: Time. Space. Death. Think Lyra and Will at the end of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — they come from alternate worlds, and can’t lead full lives together in the same universe. So they separate to live their lives on opposite sides of a metaphysical barrier, and Lyra makes this great speech about how they’re going to reunite as molecules in the Great Beyond after death.
It does not get more satisfying than that, does it?
Unless it’s television’s Doctor Who (David Tennant variety) and Rose Tyler, also cut off from each other in alternate universes. Many episodes later, somehow or other a duplicate Doctor gets created and gets to spend eternity with Rose. Sad for the real Doctor, but Rose at least gets some satisfaction.
Or, going way, way back, how about the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice? She dies, he goes to get her in the Underworld and plays his lyre so beautifully no one can deny him anything. When he’s leading her home in triumph, though, he breaks the rules and looks back at her. And Death conquers.
I’m sobbing here.
My love for this plot line has emerged in my own TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD—I can’t say how because the book’s not out yet and that would be telling. But it’s led me to wonder why it’s so attractive to so many of us. A friend has suggested that we simply love misery. But most of us don’t insist on an unhappy ending—in fact, we’re delighted when things work out.
In my case, I blame a New England Puritan/lapsed Irish Catholic upbringing, which teaches one at an early age to react to any emergency by yelling “It’s not my fault!” This, I contend, is why I’m happiest when Love’s path is roughed up not by the lovers’ own unfaithfulness or doubt, but by forces beyond their control.
On a more positive note, perhaps we just like knowing that Love will survive even the most powerful challenges. You may be parted in this life, Lyra and Will, but someday your molecules will dance.
So, are you with me in my lust for the massive and implacable foe? If not, what’s your favorite barrier to love?