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Literature / An Elegy for the Still-living

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Fog cluttered the air like autumn leaves on a forest floor, or the many pages of an unfinished book. The sun had already begun to set, and evening chased her tail. Shadows loomed, large and small, concealing creatures of dreams that hid within the fog.

Like the demented cross between Alice in Wonderland and the works of Stephen King that it is, An Elegy for the Still-living can't quite settle between dream and nightmare.

We open on an unnamed country store shrouded in fog. A man emerges. He walks with a limp and reveals nothing of his nature. He is Francis Church, and to call him the hero of this story would be missing the point. Soon a storm falls, and it destroys everything but him. Left alone in a wasteland of blank canvas, he begins to wander.

It quickly becomes clear that Francis may not be entirely sane, and the world he travels through may exist only in his head. Characters appear from nowhere and carelessly move between philosophical debate and pun-making. For a while the story begins to fall into normal fantasy conventions, albeit twisting them into odd shapes. Then a man calling himself Robin Goodfellow tells a couple of jokes and pushes Francis off a cliff.

Simultaneously an existential dialogue and a wacky fantasy adventure story, Elegy manages to deconstruct the hero's journey, perform a multilayered metafictional sleight of hand, and cut straight into the darkness at the heart of man.

Tropes featured in An Elegy for the Still-living include:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal
    A slim shoddy stalk shaded as silver steel shot shyly slantwise, and sundered the soil.
  • Alien Geometries:
    After the man had fallen through every place and every time that ever he had even imagined, he began to fall through the places that his mind could not conceive. He passed into structures that did not follow geometry, saw shapes that had no edges or sides, that extended into themselves and into all directions. He saw triangles with one hundred eighty one degrees. He saw minds that had no reason or morality. He saw colors indescribable to others. He saw the true shapes of his dreams, and the ten dimensions of the earth and sky. He saw what no one saw, felt what no one felt. He heard sounds with his finger tips, and tasted with his ears. He had secrets whispered to him in a language that can't be translated.
  • All Just a Dream: This may be the case, depending on your interpretation of the plot.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Robin implies that he is the physical embodiment of the Trickster Archetype. Masoch could be taken as an anthropomorphic personification of death.
  • Anyone Can Die: Not that it stops them from showing up three pages later.
  • Arc Words: "Our Situation" and the variants thereof.
  • Author Avatar: Jeremy Reinertson appears about halfway through the book to retrieve Francis's umbrella and tell him a story.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: After Francis wears the fisher king's crown, the world around him begins to transform, and pulse with vibrant life.
  • Ax-Crazy: Francis
  • Black Comedy: Every time Robin tells a joke.
  • Blatant Lies: Francis's conversation with the prisoner.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall
  • Chekhov's Gun: The key to Francis's apartment is a minor example. The umbrella probably qualifies.
  • City with No Name: Done deliberately, with dreamlike effect.
  • Comedic Sociopath: Robin acts sociopathic whenever he thinks it will be funny.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Robin loves these.
  • The Cynic: Francis tends to take this role in conversations, though he's actually somehing of a romantic. He switches off with Robin sometimes.
  • Death Seeker: Francis
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Nemo invokes this trope and starts a fight with Francis when they first meet. Sure enough, the two quickly become inseparable.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Francis fits the bill, although he is a much more developed character than most examples and arguably not a sociopath.
  • Dream Land: Begins halfway through the first chapter and stays until the end. Enviroments change in ways tied only the logic of emotions. Characters appear out of nowhere. Buildings talk, giraffes dance and no one bats an eye.
  • Dream People: The entire cast, arguably even including Francis.
  • Dying Dream: The last chapter.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The dragon.
    Wind raced as breath or darkness formed a figure. Something large and unfathomable. As deep as the the ocean and more vast. A drum as slow as time and as fast as now. Steady, like a pulse, but greater than any pulse or all. Two wings rose and fell. They rose, he saw the past. The fell, he saw his future. And he saw that the shape before him was endless and that its wings made a great circle in heaven. He saw his own death in those wings, and knew that it had already happened, and that it was still to come.
  • Eldritch Location: See Alien Geometries and Dream Land above.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The city, the first time through, anyway.
    I saw crowds of humans and talking spiders and bipedal frogs. Half the cars could fly, the other half had wheels made of cakes. People rode in fighter jets, and on pogo-sticks, and steamboats and camels. I crossed paths with myself, twice. I stepped over a hole in the ground so deep that the other end was in the clouds, far above. A man had fallen in, and he was still falling, falling forever without rest. I waited for many hours at an intersection where eight hundred and twenty roads met.
  • The Ferryman: Acheron himself the name of an ocean. The ocean then proceeds to follow this trope.
  • Fisher King: The fisher king of Arthurian legend appears, though he is strangely warped and resembles a mirror image of Francis. Because he has gone mad, the land is rotting away.
  • Fisher Kingdom: The entire story takes place in one of these, though it is most obvious in the second chapter. Francis creates a world from his own beliefs, and it in turn changes what he believes.
  • Flashback: Chapter 4 is centered around a whole bunch of these, basically telling Francis's life story.
  • Foil: You guesses it, Robin to Francis. Also, Galahad to Francis.
  • Forceful Kiss: Robin and Francis.
  • Freudian Excuse: Francis's dad locked him in the Attic. Later, his father may have killed himself and his mother lost her mind.
  • From Beyond the Fourth Wall: Constantly, during chapter 3.
    As I've said, I was not about to let Francis die quite yet.
  • Genre-Busting: Is it a fantasy novel? A psychological thriller? A philosophical dialogue? A murder mystery? A post modern fairytale? What?
  • Gorn: The scene where a naked man and women meld bodies and then begin devouring each other.
  • The Hero's Journey: Deconstructed. Despite going through all the major steps, Francis remains essentially unchanged. He is constantly motivated by his own fears and selfish desires and never truly redeems himself even with a Symbolic Hero Rebirth.
  • Honor Before Reason: Invoked by name by the prisoner, referring to Galahad. Debatable whether or not it actually applies.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Discussed with Galahad. He appears to be one at first, but proves to be a bit of a coward.
  • Love Triangle: Francis, Robin and Maria.
  • Masquerade Ball: When Francis goes to one of these, a character compliments him on his mask. Francis isn't wearing a mask.
  • Mind Screw: Big time.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Francis, arguably.
  • No Fourth Wall: Borderline case.
  • Old Friend: Robin technically fits the trope, but he's less "wacky buddy" and more "insane lunatic clown."
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Our dragons our physical embodiments of time, death, darkness and entropy.
  • The Philosopher: Half the cast falls into this at times. Francis seems especially prone to turning a normal chat into a philosophical debate.
  • Philosophical Novel: See above.
  • The Plan: Francis plays one on the prisoner during the game of truths.
  • Platonic Cave: Suzie tells a story about woman trapped in sunlight who is suddenly thrust into a dark cave.
  • Plot Armor: The narrator states that he will not let Francis die until the end.
  • Precision F-Strike: A few instances.
    Piss and fuck. Wade in muck. Death.
  • Postmodernism: Most notably, the author appears about halfway through, starts messing with all the characters, creates cities and destroys obstacles with the snap of his finger, and explains that he is a figment of Francis's imagination. Later, Francis finds the text of the novel and completely freaks out. He tries to behave differently from what the book says, but finds that he cannot.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Francis gives one of these to himself near the end. He doesn't recover.
  • Reincarnation: Robin claims that he and Francis are reincarnations of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and that they have died and been reborn countless times throughout the ages, possibly as other fictional characters who fall under some of the same archetypes.
  • Reincarnation Romance: Francis thinks he and Maria have one of these. Robin thinks he and Francis do.
  • The Reveal: Francis murdered his own family.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Tends toward this, when not following Rule of Funny or Rule of Drama.
  • Sanity Slippage: Francis goes from a quiet loner to a raving lunatic trying to stab himself with an umbrella, most likely while hallucinating in the course of three chapters.
  • Shapeshifter: Robin. His shadow even literally changes shape.