“This is how it is…you ignore the pain but it doesn’t go away.”
It took awhile for me to understand where Swan Hill’s melancholy was attempting to take me. It is at once a story about magic (or something greater than that, what is here known as philosophy), about jealousy, responsibility, and keeping up appearances. But it struck me as going deeper than that, past its fantasy roots and royalty to tap into a very human need to feel valued.
You are a brilliant philosopher, able to create fire with the snap of your fingers and impress the ignorant country folk with your novelty and otherworldly abilities. Your brother is a far less extraordinary duke, first born son of your father and as such heir to his estate and fortune. He’s no philosopher, and yet you envy his more ordinary life surrounded by a loving family and people who care about him. Your abilities far exceed his but by acquiring them you’ve only become a roadside attraction and a tool to be used and then discarded.
Swan Hill reminds me of the envy I used to feel for my own brothers and sisters. Yes they’d tell me I was brilliant, more level headed and forward thinking, able to help with technological difficulties when something broke. But I was also a social recluse. My only contributions to the world were helping those who didn’t spend their entire days cooped up with computers, and then left alone again to my own devices. I know my family cares about me more than this now, but when I was young and knew nothing of the world beyond what was before me and comprehensible, it felt like I was only there because someone needed my assistance. It’s a very lonely, distressing way to live.
Swan Hill doesn’t revel in an existential crisis however. It’s intention is not one of self pity and doubt, but of reflection and perspective. That brother you so wish to be? His whole life has been spent attempting to live up to your genius. He’s now a broken, disoriented man, shamed by his father and embarrassed at being lesser than his own younger brother. You each desire what the other has, yet both have brought nothing but pain and a wedge between you.
I don’t know that Swan Hill has a point or an actual ending, but I also don’t know that it needed one. The characters at play were as much a part of my own experiences as theirs, as if the narrative had been written as a catalyst for my own introspection so I could come to terms with my tumultuous feelings of adolescents which I’ve yet to completely leave behind. It makes me wonder what others may will see in this. Will they see themselves, someone they know, or will it be but fiction of a life they’ve never known and hopefully never will.