I’ve been fascinated by prophets and prophecies since I was a child — and not just the ones in the scriptures, Church history, and General Conference.  I remember reading the Greek myths, and the ones that tended to interest me the most were those in which people who tried to avoid a prophesied fate ended up bringing it upon themselves.

Probably because of that fascination, I tend to enjoy fantasy novels in which prophecies play an important role.  The Wheel of Time series, the Belgariad, and others have made an archetype (which is the nice word for cliché) out of the farm-boy who is the prophesied one who can overthrow some great evil.  (For my own twist on the trope, see my short story “A Great Destiny.”)

I’ve been thinking about prophecies and fantasy recently because (WARNING: Shameless plug!) I’m part of a Kickstarter anthology called What Fates Impose: Tales of Divination.  The tagline from the publisher is: “Life is uncertain, and the chance to get a peek into the future is tempting… but is it a good idea to look?”

Based on the Greek myths I remember, it generally was not a good idea.  Prophecies tended to make things worse.  I mean really, who thought it was a good idea to tell Oedipus’s parents that he would kill his father and marry his mother?  How was that supposed to make the world a better place?  A few years ago I even wrote (but never published) a retelling of the Oedipus story, in which the characters do not try to avoid their prophesied fates.  The prophecies were still fulfilled, but much grief was avoided.

While being fascinated by the logical conundrum presented by stories in which attempts to avoid the prophecy result in its being fulfilled, I tend to prefer outcomes in which prophecies are a benefit to the world — which is why I tend to like fantasy novels that incorporate prophecies of good triumphing over evil.  This preference probably stems from being part of a religion that believes in living prophets.

And now, to close this post, I will prophesy that someone will make a comment on what I have written. I hope that this is a true prophecy.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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3 Responses to Prophecy

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    You make an interesting point. In classical literature, prophecies appear to have existed largely for purposes of dramatic tension and/or irony — so as to underscore the point that no matter how one attempts to evade prophecy, it will inevitably come true.

    As Latter-day Saints, we are among those who actually believe in prophecy. But prophecy in our religious experience doesn’t operate the way it does in Greek myth. Indeed, I think we’d generally agree that the point of prophecy in a religious context is to enhance possibilities of choice, rather than make it seem futile.

    In a believing LDS context, it seems to me that prophecy functions in (at least) the following three ways:
    - To give hope and encouragement
    - To provide guidance and underscore the consequences of choice
    - To provide “hints” calling our attention to specifics we might otherwise miss that help us make better and more informed choices. This, for instance, is how many of the details in patriarchal blessings work.

    It seems to me that prophecy doesn’t generally work in these ways when it is incorporated into literature. Rather, prophecies generally either add irony of some kind, as in the case of the Greek myths or the prophecy about the end of the witch-king in Lord of the Rings, or they act as a kind of riddle to be decoded a la the Harry Potter books.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      And with the preceding comment, I prove Eric a true prophet!

    • One way in which I think prophecies in the LDS context and prophecies in fantasy can work similarly is that the prophecy itself can lead to its fulfillment. For example:

      And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. (Mosiah 15:28)

      As a result of that prophecy, Church leaders seek out ways to gain access for missionaries to every nation.

      Similarly, the very existence of a prophecy in a fantasy novel often causes people to act to fulfill the prophecy. If there weren’t a prophesied Chosen One who will triumph over the Evil Overlord, there would be fewer people willing to help the farm-boy on his quest.

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