Surprise is good, but that isn’t the only way to tell a good story. As the pleasure we take in myths and fairy tales shows, immersing ourselves in the familiar, in a story whose end we see coming, can be satisfying if it’s done in the right way. Reading Deborah Teramis Christian‘s The Transformation of Gerick Bare-Skin acted as a reminder of this for me.
The transformation of how I read
The Transformation is the first lone short story I’ve bought on the Kindle. I’d been taking part in a Google+ community about world-building run by the author, and that made me curious about what she had written. With e-books it’s easy to follow up on that curiosity. It’s also possible for authors to cheaply sell individual short stories so that readers can try their work. It was a perfectly timed coming together of modern ways of reading and modern ways of getting to know people.
Speaking the theme
The Transformation is a coming of age story set in a fantasy world. Gerick has reached the age when warriors in his tribe develop the ability to transform into bears, giving them the strength and ferocity to defeat their enemies. But something is holding him back.
The were-bear transformation provides an obvious and pleasing parallel with the transformation of growing up, and the changes war can make on its participants. But Gerick also undergoes another change, as he is forced to take responsibility for himself and his people, and eventually discovers an unexpected truth about his identity.
None of what happens in the story is very surprising. The choice of titles makes clear where this is going, and in so doing makes clear that surprise isn’t the point. The point is to see that age-old journey into adulthood enacted.
This is a short as a campfire story, the familiar with new trappings, one more variation that shines a different light on truths we have heard before – about the transformations of war and of age.
Reading against the market
My enjoyment of this story went against all the expectations that the fantasy story market has laid out for me. I never would have stuck with a novel-length story so completely immersed in familiar fantasy tropes, even though those books dominate the shelves of Waterstones and the pages of Amazon. Short story magazines, with their focus on novel concepts condensed into short spaces, seldom give me something so familiar. But for me this was just the right amount of what it was. Like a competently produced police drama, it let me relax for half an hour, feel things I wanted to fell, enjoy a brief moment of transformation and adventure, and emerge rejuvenated.
Stories can and should surprise us. But they should comfort and relax us too, give us the full range of human experience. And the The Transformation of Gerick Bare-Skin definitely has a place in that range.
Plus were-bears, right? What could be more badass than a were-bear? (Feel free to answer that one in the comments!)