“You can do whatever you want to do, as long as you believe in yourself.”
When I was a kid, mum and dad said that to me a lot – a good, strong, positive idea to spur me on to greater things. Motivational advice designed to keep me going, to keep me confident, to keep me working hard, and to make sure I make something of myself. It worked and, perhaps because it was so drummed into me or perhaps because it’s true, I still adhere to this guiding principle – work hard and believe in yourself and you’ll achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. It’s pretty powerful for one little sentence.
Even as a child, though, I could see the flaw in this proposition – not so much in real terms, but in abstract terms. No matter how hard I work or how much I believe in myself, I’ll never be able to fly to the sun (the story of Icarus, which I was also told as a child, is proof enough of that). No matter how hard I work or how much I believe in myself, I can’t just point at a frog and turn him into a prince – not that I’d need to, I’ve already found my prince (altogether now…d’aaawww – or blurgh – equally acceptable reactions). So the proposition, no matter how motivational or powerful or functional, is simply not true. But what if it was?
What if I could wave my hand and create a tasty meal out of thin air? What if you could transport yourself to another place through belief alone? What if someone could rule the world simply because they believed they held more power than everyone else? Someone like Queenie, for example? What would happen then? That’s one of the things I wanted to explore when I wrote John Sharpe, and it’s something that I’ve continued to explore as I write the second (as yet unnamed) book in the series.
Rules of Engagement
It would be a battle of wills, that’s for sure. The belief of one bristling up against that of another, a fight of self-determination and of arrogance. There would need to be rules though, wouldn’t there? Rules to make this world work. I don’t mean legal regulations but laws of physics. Natural laws. Surely, self-belief can’t be all that makes the world go around or it would be a contradictory mish-mash of bizarre craziness, of people enforcing their will on others. Nothing would work.
Take, for example, emotion. Could we influence the emotions of others through self-belief? Surely not – otherwise we’d make everyone fall in love with us! Real, true, strong emotion is not as susceptible to change as the physical world. It takes a lot to alter a deep, true, and genuine feeling. So we couldn’t control others’ emotions and we couldn’t control their actions either – other than through your normal, run of the mill, manipulation and persuasion. The only way someone such as Queenie could rule through self-belief then, would be because she believes in herself enough to persuade rather than coerce her people through magic – by persuading (and knowing Queenie, by manipulating) them into believing that she has the power, she gains that very power.
What about property too? Could we alter the property of others? Of course! All features of the physical world need to be the same in order for the world to be consistent and if you can alter your own property, there is no reason that you couldn’t alter the property of other people too. Except, of course, if they had put their own spell on it, a ward of protection if you will. A spell derived from their own self-belief, a belief that others can’t harm their property – a belief that needs to be stronger than the belief of the person doing the harming!
The Rule of the Arrogant and Suppression of the Shy
Does this all mean that the most arrogant of us would be the ones in power, whilst those with self-confidence issues would sink to the bottom of the pile? Is it a form of discrimination against those who can’t quite muster enough self-belief to overcome that arrogant arsehole we all love to hate? I don’t think so.
We all know that arrogant so-so who proclaims they are better than everyone else, who exudes an air of pompous self-belief and superiority but is a true and genuine self-belief? I’m not so sure. Arrogance is, in many cases, a cover, a way of hiding their real feelings of inferiority. They create a wall of condescension to prevent the world from seeing just how insecure they really are.
The same applies to the opposite. Shyness is a horrible affliction, certainly, but sometimes – just sometimes – it hides something more confident. To assume that everyone is that interested in you to care what you are doing, what you look like, how you feel etc. is in itself a form of arrogance. Most people have problems of their own, they have enough thoughts and feelings and things to do to not give a single damn about what you’re doing. It’s not true in every case of course – and definitely not when medical issues such as anxiety and depression come into the picture – but it’s true of some cases.
Of course, it’s not that black-and-white. Some arrogant people are genuinely arrogant and many shy people genuinely lack self-belief but it’s also not as black-and-white as the reverse. So if the arrogant aren’t always arrogant and the shy aren’t always so shy, the structure and hierarchy of a world built on self-belief isn’t quite as self-evident as it first seems. Self-belief isn’t always that easy to come by either. It’s not simply a matter of thinking it. For self-belief to become a power, it has to be a true self-belief and that is something that can be rather difficult to come by.
In a world that uses belief as a real and magical power, knowledge and imagination are something to consider too. It would be too easy to simply be able to magic things out of thin air. Trade would collapse, relations would fail, communities would crumble as we no longer needed each other. Those with a lot of self-belief could magic whatever they wished whilst those lacking the esteem required would languish in misery and not be able to do anything about it. It would be a vicious spiral too – a lack of self-belief creating de-motivating situations that in turn, push more of your self-belief away.
So for my world to work, one in which magic is based on belief, there would need to be some sort of restriction, something that would lead the inhabitants of this world to need each other, to trade with one another, to communicate. So there has to be knowledge and imagination. Take Underworld’s most famous carrot farmer, for example. He uses his carrots to trade with others in his community but first, he needs to make those carrots. He doesn’t have knowledge enough to make them out of thin air – what is a carrot made of, after all? He does know, though, that he can plant seeds to make the carrots grow in the ground, so that’s what he does. When he was a child, however, his father – also a carrot farmer – told him a story about the carrorabbits, the creatures who come out at night to pull the carrots out of the ground, preventing the farmer himself from having to do any real manual labour. They have orange bodies and long green ears (the carrorabbits, not the farmers), and they hop along pulling the carrots out of the ground ready for the farmer to collect the next day. They are happy little creatures, content to live their lives fulfilling their destiny as carrot-pullers.
Of course, this was a story a father told his child at night time, a mere fairy tale to entertain the boy, but the boy had heard his father tell it so many times that he came to believe it and as he grew to become a farmer himself, he took this belief to be the real way in which carrots were farmed. Hence the existence of carrorabbits today.
As people in the world have different knowledge, different imagination, different beliefs, they would be able to create different things and so, trade is born. Perhaps, then, those with the strongest imaginations mixed with the strongest belief hold the true power in this world of mine…quite perfect for a writer and story-teller, don’t you think?