Turtledove
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"Character (F&SF Story)"  
Character F&SF.jpg
Author Harry Turtledove
First Appearance Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2021
Publication date March 2, 2021

"Character" is a short work by Harry Turtledove, published in the March/April 2021 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's a metatextual piece, in which the central character, Steve, a denizen of 1980s California, is aware that he is in fact a fictional character under the control of an unknown/unseen author. Steve picks up a copy of The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle, knowing full well he is doing so because the unseen author wants him to. Soon, he is sent to the past, much like the characters of the novel, inhabiting the body of the famous Japanese warrior Benkei just as he joins Minamoto Yoshitsune. The two have their adventures, becoming soldiers of fortune after fleeing the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo, Yoshitsune's half-brother. All along Steve/Benkei warily observes the trajectory of his story, amused by clichés, lack of research, and rewrites as the unseen author continues working.

Ultimately, both Benkei and Yoshitsune meet their end at the Battle of Koromo River. Once Benkei's body dies, Steve becomes an omniscient observer, noting that Yoshitsune's body is missing, and reflecting on the legend that Yoshitsune became Temujin, Genghis Khan. However, the story ends before Steve can know for sure.

Literary Comment[]

In the real history, Minamoto no Yoshitsune[1] was killed in 1189 CE, though there are ambiguities in the record, and legends have filled in the gaps (such as the idea that Yoshitsune became Genghis Khan). While Minamoto no Yoritomo had tremendous power when his half-brother was killed, he did not become shogun until 1192 CE.

Given Turtledove's emphasis on the writing process (including research and revision) and on the legendary aspects of Benkei, Yoshitsune, and their time, the story's inconsistency with the historical record is almost certainly intentional.

Reference[]

  1. Turtledove does not use "no" in the name of either Minamoto.
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