In “Rise of the Paladin” a young woman named Celia Merrick plays a very large part in the story. Celia was a character created not by me but my sister, credited MJ Marzo in “God, Robot”. She was originally introduced as something of a combination Mcguffin/potential love interest. As I thought more and more about the character and her potential, though, she quickly became a favorite of mine (this tends to happen with all of my characters; characters created for the shallowest and most superficial reasons often turn out to be interesting once you actually get to know them – the key is doing that necessary bit of work).
This is the non-spoiler version of Celia’s background: Celia is, basically, a sorceress. Her powers tend to bubble up out of her in times of anger and intense frustration, manifesting as fire and, in more controlled cases, as telekinesis. The metaphor here is obvious, but effective: Celia is repressed.
I think that small detail – her powers are driven by anger – is really the key to her character. Celia is in many ways the exact opposite of Paladin. Paladin had it all: The love of the people, looks, fighting prowess, an exalted place as the greatest knight of King Arthur’s court, and even the occasional ability to perform miracles – but he threw it all away. The key to Lancelot is that it was his fault. He screwed up. The problems in his life are his responsibility, and his alone. Were it not for him, Camelot would not have collapsed, at least not in such a catastrophic and calamitous way.
So Lancelot is someone basically born to privilege who made a series of massive mistakes and now spends the rest of his extremely long life trying to make up for them.
Celia is different. For one thing, none of her problems are her fault. Her father is a paralyzed cop being denied his pension (I actually have a good deal of backstory about him and the city of Shipton generally and why it’s such a horrific warzone), her mother disappeared when she was a child and is presumed dead, and she lives in the poorest, most dangerous city in the country, unable to leave because of her obligations to her father.
Her life, in a word, sucks. Her future prospects are equally bleak. So, Celia compartmentalizes, and one thing you can say about Celia she is a brilliant compartmentalizer. She refuses to think ahead to the future because of how dire her future looks to be, and refuses to step back and look at the big picture of her life, because she knows the big picture is terrible. So it’s a series of small steps for her, always: “I need to take care of my father. So I need a job. I need to keep this job. I need to make sure I’m not killed on the way to or from work”. If she were to think any other way, she’d go insane.
The key to Celia’s character arc is letting go of her fear and anger. Her time as Blood Money’s slave is vital here, because it breaks her down completely; her story arc is essentially a subplot version of “Born Again”. Once she hits rock bottom, and accepts it, and realizes that the way out is doing what she can to aid Paladin and fight for good even with the limited means available to her…that’s when things turn around.
Celia is perfect for one of my favorite tropes, the “World of Cardboard” speech, taken from the amazing speech given by Superman in the finale of the Justice League animated series: Essentially, it’s the reveal to the villain that up until this point, something has been holding the hero back. For Celia, of course, part of this is mind control…but it’s also fear and anger. And with her powers driven no longer by anger, but by renewed focus and self control, and even that supernatural quality known as “Joy”, well…
The question, then, is this: How is Celia to be kept feminine? I think the answer is through her relationship with Paladin. Big tough warrior chick Gamora from “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a wonderful line at the end of the film where she says “We’ll follow your lead, Star Lord”. It’s the same thing with Celia: For all of her power, Paladin is the leader. She’s the love interest, if a powerful one.
Celia will be an interesting character to write. I look forward to it.