Discovering Mercedes Lackey

The autumn after I graduated from college, a coworker at the bank I temped for introduced me to the works of Mercedes Lackey. I actually began with "The Last Herald Mage" series. That series (and many of Lackey's other books, for similar reason) was particularly touching to me because the main character, Vanyel is a gay man. The first book in the series, Magic's Pawn, opens upon Van's life as a teenager. He originally lives with his parents, and hasn't yet realized his sexual orientation. He only knows that he's not like most boys and certainly not the kind of boy his father, a gruff horse breeder, wanted for a son. Eventually, due to conflicts that end in violence, Van goes to live with his aunt, a Herald Mage who lives in the capital city of the land of Valdemar. There, Vanyel meets his aunt's most prized student, Tylendel, who is a couple years older than Van and also gay.

Vanyel discovers he has feelings for this older boy and eventually gets romantically involved with him, only to lose him after a few months when Tylendel goes mad from grief caused by the murder of his brother and eventually commits suicide. The rest of the first book covers the next year or so of Van's life as he continues to come to terms with his sexuality, grieves the loss of his first lover, and deal with the magical powers and other abilities that he developed due to the circumstances around Tylendel's death.

This book was a priceless gem to me at the time. Here was a book about a character with whom I could identify on so many levels. Indeed, the idea that anyone - even a fictional character - could be going through many of the same emotional difficulties I was facing was something that gave me great comfort, and I clinged to the idea, tearing through this book, the other three in the series, and any other book the author had written. (Curiously, most of Lackey's book had at least one gay or bisexual character in them.) To me, this was another form of support, and one that reached an emotional level I wasn't prepared to share with my friends.

Vanyel's relationships - first with Tylendel and then with the bard, Stephen, in the third book - also served as a source of hope for me. Lackey described relationships between two men that were intimate, caring, and deeply loving. These were all things that I desperately wanted. Truth be told, everything I had heard about gay men (and much I had even witnessed firsthand) suggested that relationships between men tended to lack these things and were primarily and even solely sexual in nature. This was not the kind of relationship I wanted, and I was afraid that I'd still be denied the kind of love my heart so desperately desired. So seeing another person portray such a relationship as something that involves more than raw sex was exhilarating to me.

As good as Lackey's books were, however, I'm not sure that my fondness for them was always entirely healthy. In many ways, reading her books offered me an escape into fantasy. By delving into the world and lives of the characters she described deeply, I found a way to ignore my own life. This allowed me to put off working through my own emotional issues for a time. While that may have been necessary at the time for various reasons, there would come a point where I would need to face reality, pull myself out of the world of fiction, and deal with my own real life. I wonder if I didn't prolong that inevitability too much.