Clockworks and triads
thesenseinnonsense said: Hey, Cassie! I just have a quick question about tid. Why did you never decide to make will, jem, and Tessa a triad relationship? I feel like they all loved each other equally a lot, so maybe it would’ve made sense? I still love your books though :)
The way the plot of Clockwork is constructed does not make it possible for it to have turned out to be a polyamorous triad — Jem never finds out Will likes Tessa too until Tessa is gone and Jem himself is literally on his deathbed, midway through book three. Will never finds out Tessa likes Will until Jem is Silent-Brothered and presumed dead, almost at the end of book three. Only Tessa and Jem know they like each other, and only Tessa knows she likes Will too–which information she considers pretty likely to be upsetting to Jem, and which she doesn’t even share with Will. Tessa doesn’t know Will likes her until the end of the second book. There is no time for anyone to come up with or arrange or suggest a polyamorous triad, and as a Silent Brother, Jem wouldn’t be able to take part in one anyway.
Certainly, I arranged the plot and could have arranged it another way, but I would have had to decide before I ever began writing the books that “polyamorous triad” was where I was going and that the message of the books was going to be a different one than the one I was going for. Jem is always dying, so there is always a ticking clock over his relationships (and if he wasn’t dying, he’d be a very different person living in China). Will believes he is under a curse and cannot be loved for the majority of the trilogy (and if he didn’t, he’d be a very different person and a farmer in Wales). Tessa is, throughout the trilogy, an immortal warlock (and if she wasn’t, she’d be in the poorhouse in New York). None of them would ever have met. Their natures and their circumstances have to be considered: they help make up the story I wanted to tell.
I set out to tell the story of the Infernal Devices because I wanted to write about the intersection of the idea of eternal love and the happily ever after and the reality of human death. The books are about Tessa, primarily: she is their beating heart, and I wanted to tell a story of a love triangle that for me, would be unique because it is not from the point of view of a mortal who falls in love with an immortal, but from the point of view of the immortal who has to face the reality of loving those who will die. The fulcrum rests on the bittersweet yet alluring fantasy premise of living forever. I’ve read and encountered many stories about an immortal in love with a mortal — from Apollo and Hyacinth to Buffy and Angel to Bella and Edward and rarely if ever have I seen it play out simply with one of them aging and dying and the other one not. There are books where a love triangle decides to go in the triad direction. There are not any other books I am aware of which have the immortal heroine fall in love with two men, both mortal, both destined to be lost to her–and gain one as a companion in one age, and then past all hope the other as a companion in another. That was what fascinated me: the idea of love unto and after death, the unique solution. Not an idea of perfect happiness, or the solving of the love triangle puzzle via polyamory, even though I think that’s a valid solve for another story, and indeed, one I have seen before and enjoyed. (Though ending a love triangle in polyamory does not make it not a love triangle. It just makes it a love triangle that ends with polyamory. :)
Nor is there anything wrong with love triangles. I’ve seen a lot of grumping about them lately, and I have zero patience for the idea that love triangles, or any classic narrative tool, are a problem if done well. They have been a piece of narrative structure for as long as the written word; suggesting people stop writing love triangles, or situations in which a love story is complicated or triangulated by someone outside the dyad of the relationship, is as absurd as suggesting that the people should stop writing mysteries where a murder is committed and someone investigates it and then finds out who did it. A popular book about something does not mean no one can ever write about that something again, especially if they think they have something to add to the conversation (all books are in conversation, as Sarah Rees Brennan pointed out yesterday in a lovely post) whether that thing be magic school, dystopia, or love triangles.
The poly answer is a very happy answer; it leaves space for a “happily ever after” in a way that the actual ending of Clockwork doesn’t. But it also doesn’t exactly address the issues of time, mortality, loss, and the resilience of love that were the reason I wrote the series in the first place — it addresses other, important issues, but different ones.
Jem and Will did not have time, the time of their lifespans, to be with each other as parabatai, which is what they would have wanted. Tessa had to be parted from one of them and then the other: Jem is mortal now: someday she will have lost both of them, and still face the future. That’s the bittersweetness of immortality: that’s the story I was telling.