Saturday, March 23, 2013

Seven Nation Army: music for an epic battle

Sometimes a writer has to send her protagonist off to fight nasty gods and monsters. In my case, the protagonist was a very average, highly unmotivated teenage boy named Charlie. Charlie had managed to get through fifteen years without much conflict by keeping his head low, but then I came along and ruined it for him. I plucked him right up out of his happy if humdrum existence and deposited him in a parallel world, ordering him to slay a few legendary beasts.  (I can't even stop myself from bedeviling imaginary kids. That's how strong the teacher force is with me.)
It wouldn't have been fair to send him off without an anthem to get him pumped up, and the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army had just the right driving rhythm and young punk fierceness to egg Charlie on to do the rash and reckless sorts of things that I wanted him to do. 
Here's a part of the scene it inspired. If you read while listening to the song, you will be in my head. Your call.
A clear wide path, as broad as an interstate highway in Charlie’s world, opened up in the field as they approached the forest.  Enkidu, who had spent so much time in the forests surrounding Uruk tracking animals, pointed out the way that the grass lay flat to the ground. 
“Humbaba,” he said.
Charlie nodded, and they stepped together onto the path.  
The cedar forest rose ahead of them, climbing the face of a colossal mountain, much taller than those Charlie had climbed the previous nights. Its towering trees cast a shadow for a mile around the base of the mountain in every direction.  It was surrounded on either side by a deep ravine that looked as if it had been ripped into the earth with talons, and when Charlie looked over the edge, he saw piles of bones – some animals, some human, all broken and scarred.  Thorny thickets grew along the edge of the forest, making it difficult to find any passage into the heart of the woods save the one left by Humbaba.
An ear-splitting roar erupted in the forest, not far from where they stood, shaking the trees and sending birds scattering into the sky.  Adrenalin raced through Charlie’s blood, and he pushed ahead, knowing what he had to do.  Knowing that, at least for now, his destiny was written in stone.  Literally. 
Another roar vaulted through the cedars, closer, ricocheting through the trees, so powerful that it shattered the base of one of them, splitting it in two so that it fell, crashing through the forest and blocking the path of Charlie and Enkidu. 
They clambered over the fallen tree, and moved towards the noise, knowing that now their path out of the forest was blocked.  Climbing back over the tree with a living Humbaba breathing down their necks would be an impossibility.  
A rumbling from deep within the forest moved towards them, gaining momentum, accelerating the closer it got, sending trees crashing down in all directions so that splinters of cedar flew through the spaces around them like daggers. 
Charlie stopped and held his hand back to stop Enkidu.  “He’s coming for…”
Before he could finish his thought the last veil of the forest was torn away, and the blood rushed from Charlie’s head.  Fear overtook him, despite adrenalin and the knowledge that it was his destiny to defeat Humbaba.  A beast twice the size of Gilgamesh and Enkidu towered over them, his head the head of a lion, mouth bloody and eyes glowing yellow.  His body was the body of a colossal man, a giant, and his hands were tipped with claws like gore-stained swords.  A tail emerged from behind him, with a life of its own, the coiling body and hooded head of a cobra with its wicked venomous teeth bared.
“Who is it that comes into the forest of cedar, the home of the gods?” the voice of the beast bellowed around them, causing Charlie’s flesh and bones to vibrate.  “You come not at the request of my master Enlil, and so you must come at the goading of Irkala, goddess of death, who would have you as her slaves.”
He lunged at the two, his claws raised, but Charlie and Enkidu dashed to either side, swinging their swords and grazing Humbaba’s sides.  Humbaba turned and righted himself.
“A cord made of three ropes cannot be cut,” Enkidu said.  “Your claws will do you no good today, Humbaba.”  He lunged at Humbaba, falling into a roll as he passed the monster’s leg, flinging his dagger so that it spun through the air and pierced Humbaba’s chest, but it was no more than a bee sting to Humbaba.
“I have ten razors, and I see only two ropes.  Where is your third?” he said, pulling the dagger from his chest and hurling it toward Enkidu.  He dodged the dagger, but too late, it passed through the flesh of his shoulder, and he could feel the poison of Humbaba’s blood burn in the wound. 

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