|The Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David|
But if you're living in a legend, it's all but required that you ignore it.
Cassandra wailed of doom for Troy for ten years, to no avail. Moses pulled off an astounding number of miracles while Pharaoh just scoffed. Merlin, taking it perhaps farther than any other prophet, foresaw the exact manner of his own death and still fell into Nimue's trap. Once, okay, you ignore portents of ruin and hope for the best. But when they come true, it would make sense to listen next time.
|Moses and Aaron Before Pharaoh, Robert Leinweber|
Ignoring the prophet creates not only a crushing loss in-story, but a particularly frustrating read. While characters blunder on down the plot road, the readers are left scowling and upset with their heroes, who just can't seem to clean the wax out of their ears long enough to hear the crucial tidbit. "Why didn't you just not marry Guinevere?" I've wanted to yell. "Why can't they just give Helen back? Why don't you let his freaking people go?" Like the prophets, we see it coming a mile away. Watching doom draw closer and closer is agonizing, especially when it's coming for people we've grown to care about.
|King Arthur and Merlin at the Lake, W. Otway Cannell|
No one listens to the prophet because he's not in the story for the characters. He's there for us. The prophet exists to make us nervous, to remind us that happiness is transitory, to let us know what to watch out for. A prophet can't teach his or her fellow characters anything; it's too late for them, their story's already set in stone. The people who can learn from a prophet are the readers for whom he or she is the surrogate within the story, the more detached observer who can tell how things will play out.