In preparation for my own novel, I’ve been reading quite a lot of fantasy novels to get me in the right headspace. As such, I’ve been exposed to the normal trappings of fantasy lit i.e, magical creatures as racial allegories, repurposing of traditional folk-lore stories and, of course, the concept of “destiny.”
Destiny gets a pretty bad rap these days and it’s not hard to see why. It’s frigging everywhere and not just in fantasy either.
In fact, it’s used so much it’s veering dangerously close to cliché territory.
What’s worse is it’s often used as a cheap plot devise when a character’s motivations don’t align with what the plot requires, and as a way of saying “oh, this happens this way because some mumbo jumbo magic thingey!”
In spite of all this, it isn’t the concept of destiny that has become so grating over time. It’s the flagrant overuse and abuse of the word in general that gets under my skin.
You can call me a semantics snob if you want, but it always irks me whenever a character says they will “create their own destiny” or when a side-character tells an MC they can “make their own destiny.”
Every time I hear this phrase, or some variation of it, it makes me want to pull my hair out.
Destiny––as defined by Webster’s dictionary––is a “predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency.”
The key word in this definition being “predetermined.”
Following this train of logic to its natural conclusion, you cannot change your destiny.
The whole point of destiny is that certain events will transpire with or without the subject’s willingness to participate.
It’s like when people in movies/books/TV shows say —
Luck is “success or failure brought by chance rather than one’s own actions.”
By the literal definition of the word, you cannot make your own luck.
Why are people so determined to make words mean things they don’t?
I know language evolves over time, but by making “destiny” a stand-in for “future,” you take so much away from destiny’s philosophical implications.
Take the story of Oedipus for example. It’s such a tragic tale because the hero had no chance of escaping his fate. In spite of his and other’s best efforts, things transpired exactly as they were prophesied.
The concept of destiny broaches many intriguing questions: Are we actually in control of our own lives, or are there forces at work that govern our futures, giving us a false sense of agency? Are we, ourselves, to blame for how events unfold?
Oftentimes it’s portrayed as a good thing, but it could just as easily mean the inevitability of death and despair as in Oedipus’ case. It could mean the loss of our autonomy and our significance as a people. After all, how important are we really when we are just being used as chess pieces on the board game of destiny?
It’s such a cool idea to debate and discuss over copious amounts of alcohol, but we’ve made it lame with our constant misuse.
And in my mind, that is unforgivable.
You can make things stupid, you can make things aggravating, but you should never make them boring.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.