Human Anxieties in Zajai and the Butterfly (essay)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Human Anxieties in Zajal and the Butterfly

Author: Lord Silvean Rashere

Zajai and the Butterfly provides insight into a human character beset with pronounced anxiety. Indeed, the trait is so universally recognized among their kind that it seems inborn. I envision a great atavistic well and each time an infant of the race is forged, this is the fetid water that tames the fire.

The story begins in a settlement on the edge of a forest, "Like the other girls, Zajai never stepped far into the forest. She knew that it was full of fierce creatures and harmful spirits, and that it was easy to get lost in there." The primordial chaos of the surrounding forest is a sharp contrast to the village. Since the men of the village are allowed to enter the forest, we can read this scenario as a reflection on gender norms. I might say, "Zajai, as a woman, is relegated to chores in the village and surrounding fields and cannot bear such fetters." I might continue, "This is another instance of the human talent for oppressing their own that I expound upon in my essay on the Koarite religion." But I think we should give this story a deeper look still and consider how it might be that humans seek out oppression, how they hunger for it.

As you might expect, Zajai ends up scurrying into the forest after chasing a butterfly. She says to the insect, "You are the most magical creature in the world... I wish I could be like you." Because of the remarkable transformation during the growth process of the butterfly, they shine forth as great symbols of change. The butterfly drawing Zajai into the forest represents the endless possibilities for a "magical" life outside of the village. But these possibilities quickly lose their luster as Zajai comes to see them as terrifying burden. Plaintively she cries out, "I just want to go home."

After a bewildering and ultimately menacing encounter with some forest denizens, Zajai meets her butterfly again. She complains, "Nothing here is what it seems. Everything changes into something else!" The butterfly replies, "Among your own people, things change slowly and are mostly what they seem. But your human world is a small one. All around it lies a much larger world, and you can't expect it to behave the same." And here we have the heart of things. The anxiety expressed in this story is a human response to the mystery and chaos of the surrounding world. As a race, the humans have lost a sense of order and purpose with the collapse of their thralldom under the Elven Empire. Distressed by the horrors of the forest, humans long for a time when they could look up from their fields and see gods made flesh among the Faendryl. After thousands of years of meaningful service, this hunger for the safe and well-ordered life among the Elves is a fundamental part of the human character. And by the very bowels of Marlu, let me assure you that their bloated barons and prancing princes prey upon this instinct. Human leaders distort this desire for order and bend it toward their own oppressive interests.

And so when the butterfly arranges for Zajai to return home at the end of the story, I am disgusted. "You belong with your people, who love you and care for you," says the insect. But what do her people know of love? In a forest there is a village merely biding its time until the ever-changing wilderness comes charging in. Zajai will be the first to sound the alarm since she now knows more than most. But there will be no protection and no salvation for a single human that day because they live amidst a mere illusion of order. Humans knows this. Late at night, when they tell stories around the fire, this underlying anxiety shows forth.