Jump to content

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter: Why We Remember

Recommended Posts

"Why do we tell stories?"

You are all readers, so you've all undoubtedly read countless books in your lifetime. Books that you enjoyed, books that you loved, and... books that you've forgotten. I wish those groups never overlapped, but when I was looking back on my reading history the other day I ran into tons of books that I remember enjoying, but are doomed to forever be forgotten. And yet every once in a while a story comes along that changes you. A story that means so much, something so incredibly personal, that it just won't let you go. Those are the stories we remember. 

Five days ago, I finished reading the ebook files for Yumi and the Nightmare Painter. I've never forgotten a book in five days, so it may not mean that much when I tell you that Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is a story I remember, so I'll say this instead: Yumi and the Nightmare Painter was one of the most satisfying journeys Brandon Sanderson has ever taken me on. It's not just a book I liked reading, it's a book I want to think about. It's beautiful. Every part of that story had me hanging on the interactions between those two main characters, Yumi and Painter. Every quiet moment, every conversation, had me loving these two characters. But though this book was a masterpiece of character development, and a study on how to write a romance that feels believable, there was something more to the book, something that made me want to remember it forever. To figure out what it is, I think we should start with the ending. (So if you haven't read it I honestly don't know what you're doing here...)

I know there are people on the Shard and otherwise on the internet who will say that the ending of Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is unrealistic, and would have wanted it to end with Yumi's death. I know your type, those people who hate happiness and just want an ending that proves that stories are sometimes sad, and an ending that goes against the normal "happy ending" cliche. (I'm talking to you, Wit. And obviously Dan Wells, but that goes without saying.) There will be others among you that dislike the ending because it's too much of a fake out, making some people (but definitely not me, because I never feel emotions, so don't be ridiculous) burst into tears, just to burst into tears again when it turns out that Yumi is actually alive. (Again, not me.) So my question is: What's the point? Why did Brandon decide on this fake-out ending? Was it a simple "Gotcha, you thought she was dead, but turns out you're wrong!" Or was there more to it? 

I've always thought that the last line of a book should be twice as significant as the first. The first line, for all intents and purposes, is just clickbait. Make people intrigued, make them want to know more, etc. But the last line is what readers remember. The final tone. That last line, be it dialogue or narration, decides if the ending is happy or sad. I think it's no coincidence that the last thing Yumi says in the book is a plea to Painter. "Remember me."

Those two words killed me. They broke my heart, right along with Painter's. And then I wanted to throw the book across the room when the next chapter was an epilogue. And the only question I could ask myself is: "What was the point?" My thoughts aligned perfectly with Wit's question in the epilogue. The same question I began this essay with.

"Why do we tell stories?"

I have finished five complete stories and started many others, but recently I've been feeling more burned out then I ever have before. I just finished writing my greatest book yet, and before revising it I decided to dive into the sequel. I've never had to write a sequel before, and suffice it to say it's the hardest book I've ever written. I wonder daily: "Will I ever finish this book? Or will it all go to waste. Am I supposed to be a writer? Because a writer could write a sequel..." And it goes on and on. The pressure feels incredible, because now for the first time in my life there are people counting on me. And so I keep asking myself the same question. What is the point? Why am I wasting hours upon hours writing stories, when I don't know if I'm a good enough writer for those stories to ever be seen? Why do these stories mean so much to me? I'm not writing for the money, and I hope I'm not writing in pursuit of fame, so why do I tell stories? Why do I spend hours writing essays that are probably only ever going to mean something to me? 

It wasn't until I read Yumi and the Nightmare Painter that I discovered the answer to this question. I write stories to remember, and just as importantly I write stories to be remembered. That may be equally selfish as writing for the purpose of becoming famous, but I want to be clear, it's not the same. I don't write stories to be known, I write stories to be remembered. It's not about having a crowd of admirers, it's a plea as simple and intimate as Yumi's plea to Painter. Remember me. 

And so perhaps Wit's question in the epilogue of the book could be restated, as "Why do we remember?" And that's a question which is much more complex, and much more interesting to me as a reader, and a writer. That's the question that I feel like the book is asking. What is the point of memories? 

"There's an old joke that mentions lost items always being in the last place you look for them. It doesn't say anything about memories though. Those, once lost, are the sort of things you don't even know to look for."

As a society I fear we are often told to forget. Some people discourage the teaching of parts of history, because of the terrible things people did in the past. Governments cover past sins, because they don't want people to remember their mistakes. The same is true for the lies families tell about their ancestors. And perhaps the biggest and most crushing lie that I've heard people tell is the concept of "moving on." To many people all you have to do to move on is forget the past. Whether it be tragedy or bliss, no good comes from "dwelling on it" now. And... this is a lie that is so easy to believe that for years I told it to myself. I lost someone I loved, and for the longest time the easiest path was to pretend I'd never loved her in the first place. I couldn't remember her because it was too painful, so I told myself that I'd "moved on." In reality, I had forgotten. 

Why do we remember, when all memory brings, is pain? Maybe we all fondly remember brighter days, days when we were happy. And now we only wish our life could compare. What is the point? I suspect that Brandon Sanderson knew exactly what he was doing with the ending of Yumi and the Nightmare painter, because it's right where the story is at its most heartbreaking that he asks the most important question. And this entire beautiful book is the answer.

It's not about the plot. Stories were never about events, they're about people. That's what separates a story I'll remember from one I'll never think about again. People are worth remembering. It was the characters that made Brandon Sanderson's third secret project memorable. It was Yumi, and her plea to remember. It was Painter, not giving up on her. But for him, it's more than remembering her. When bringing her back he tells her "I know you." 

I don't think a lot of people realize what "moving on" really is. It's not about forgetting the past, it's about remembering it. Knowing it. Not in the way you remember a painful event, but in the way you remember a great story. Once again in the words of our narrator wit, “Memory is often our only connection to who we used to be. Memories are fossils, the bones left by dead versions of ourselves. [...] Enjoy memories, yes, but don’t be a slave to who you wish you once had been. Those memories aren’t alive. You are.”

Yumi thought she wanted to be remembered, but in reality she wanted to be known. That's what brought her back, not someone who remembered her but someone who knew her. Memories are snapshots, fossils, images of people we'll never really know. But stories? Those are something so much greater. They're somehow alive, even if the people inside them never will be. We all have our own story to tell. Every human on earth has a story. This essay is my last plea to you, remember. It's not about remembering me, who is nothing more than a profile picture to most of you, it's about remembering your own story. 

And that my friends is the answer to Wit's question. That's why we tell stories. Because every story is about a person who deserves to be known. And when I remember a masterpiece like Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, perhaps I'm really remembering my own story. And that's why it means so much to me. We don't tell stories for the endings, happy or sad, we don't tell stories for the plot, we tell them because that's how we remember, in a way that can actually change us. Even when the story was at its most heartbreaking, Yumi's story was worth telling. And even when it's at its weakest, your story is too. 

Thank you all, for taking the time to read the ramblings of a tired author, if you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them. I know it's unusual for people to post topics like this, but I've always been fascinated by themes, and it's rare that that aspect of a book is discussed. I love you guys, I hope you all have a great life.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...