The tragedy. The cautionary tale. The prescriptive tale. They’re all synonyms to me. They describe the importance of bad things happening in fiction. Sometimes to good people. Sometimes to bad people. Sometimes karmically due. Sometimes unfortunately raw and undeserved.
So it is with everything that happens in Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I loved this book for all its tragedy and terror. And for the wonderful world building and spectacular weaving she did with the story! (But that’s praise to be lauded again another day.)
We human developed such tales early on for a variety of reasons. As many, perhaps, as there are people. Schadenfreude? Warning? Education? Remembrance? Memorial?
I think, in our modern world, more than teaching moral lessons and reinforcing the pillars of civilization, tragedies give us much needed perspective.
The importance of a grateful nature is often discussed in spiritual circles and metaphysical terms. However, I propose that stories of misfortune cultivate in us something more practical: contentment. They remind us that our lot in life could be worse.
I believe this is one of the eternal draws to dark fiction: it reminds us we are still alive. While we yet live, there is hope.