Monday, July 11, 2022

Stories told by Monsters - Part 1: Introduction

The following is the first entry in a 13-part article series. Click here for an overview and a table of contents with links to the various parts.


This series of articles discusses three works of Black Library fiction through the lens of Narrative Therapy, a post-modern concept of psychological therapeutic practice. The discussed works of fiction have all been written by Josh Reynolds and are set in the dystopian science fiction-universe of Warhammer 40.000.

An overview of Narrative Therapy as described by Michael Payne in his Introduction for Counsellors is provided, as well as an introduction to the fictional universe of Warhammer 40.000. All three novels are discovered to provide literary examples for processes, concepts and practices of narrative therapy.

The titular hero of the novel Lukas the Trickster is discussed as a literary example for a narrative therapist and an advocate for a post-modern way of knowing. The novels Primogenitor and Clonelord, both centred on the mad scientist Fabius Bile, are explored in the light of characters striving against and struggling with limiting and harmful narratives, discussed aspects among others being the feminist struggle against patriarchal, oppressive structures as well as the dangers of wilful ignorance towards running sub-plots of a persons’ life.


Psychology is one of the most far-reaching and complex fields of research that humans have ever explored, and probably one of the most fascinating. Over the many years of describing, examining and analysing human nature, many different schools of thought regarding the human condition and human psyche have developed, many of which have informed the practice of psychological therapists.

One of these ways of practising psychological therapy is narrative therapy, which draws upon ideas of post-modernism, post-structuralism and social constructionism and understands humans as narrative beings, beings that define themselves and the world they inhabit in narrative terms. A comprehensive overview of narrative therapy can be found in Martin Payne’s book Narrative Therapy – An Introduction for Counsellors, which saw the release of its second edition in 2006 and will serve as the theoretical basis for narrative therapy as it is discussed in the work at hand. Martin Payne draws heavily on the writings of Michael White and David Epston, who developed the basis of what is now known as narrative therapy from ideas of family therapy and whose most influential work was Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends(1990).

The following work examines three works of science fantasy before the background of ideas and practices of narrative therapy, exploring how the actions and thoughts of the characters in the novels can be understood in terms of narrative therapy and how, in turn, these fictional works can provide examples and illustrative material for the understanding of narrative psychology.

The three novels that are to be explored in this way are Primogenitor (2016), Clonelord(2017) and Lukas the Trickster (2018) by Josh Reynolds. All three novels are set in the fictional world of Warhammer 40.000, a dystopian future set around the 41st millennium in which humanity is united in a fascist intergalactic empire, threatened on all sides by aliens and daemons.

Warhammer 40.000 was originally created in the 1980s by the game company Games Workshop as the background for one of their tabletop games and has evolved into a complex fictional universe with thousands of pages of lore and more than a hundred novels written about it. The fandom of Warhammer 40.000 has, with the success of the tabletop game and various adaptations into novels, comics and video games, grown from a niche group to a large community of fans from numerous backgrounds. The literary works created for Warhammer 40.000 have evolved in quantity, quality and diversity over the years as well, with works of a diverse range of genres nowadays being available from Black Library, Games Workshop’s publisher for the works of fiction set in the worlds of Warhammer 40.000 and its fantasy cousins Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Age of Sigmar.

Reddit-user LichJesus provided a fitting summary of the appeal of Warhammer 40.000-fiction in his comprehensive introduction for newcomers:

Perhaps nowhere else in fiction can you find so much written on both the conquest of entire planetary systems and on the question of what exactly it means to be human within the same literary context. (LichJesus, 2017)

As this quote illustrates, Warhammer 40.000 can and has served as a basis for exploration of a wide range of themes, from religious and political totalitarianism, truth and propaganda, post-humanism, cybernetic evolution of humanity, the decay of knowledge, man’s relationship with history and the dangers of ignorance, to the possibility and value of hope in a hopeless world, the hells of war and the prices paid for peace, to name just a few. Most authors writing for Black Library bring their own spin to the material of Warhammer 40.000 and focus on themes and aspects of their choosing, as well as bringing their own style of writing to bear. Josh Reynolds has distinguished himself amongst the Black Library authors with an often darkly humorous style of writing, an eye for the horror, beauty and weirdness of the universe and a focus on characters that are oftentimes critical and irreverent of established facets of the world they inhabit.

Both Lukas, the titular protagonist of Lukas the Trickster, and Fabius Bile, the protagonist of both Primogenitor and its sequel Clonelord, are characters at odds with their surroundings, inhabiting unique, paradoxical positions of isolation and co-dependence with their peers.

At the same time, all three novels show a keen interest in the concept of stories: how and why people tell stories and how stories in turn shape and influence the people that tell them. As such, they can serve as fertile ground for an analysis through the lens of narrative therapy, a concept of psychology that has the nature of man as a story-telling being at its very heart. What can the Clonelord and the Jackalwolf teach about narrative therapy? And what can we learn by listening to the stories told by these self-proclaimed monsters?

What will the articles be about?

The articles following up on this Introduction will provide an overview of the concepts, ideas and practices of narrative theory. This second section of the article series (consisting of parts 2.1 & 2.2) should provide readers naive to narrative therapy with a solid background to understand the following discussion and analysis of the three novels. Further concepts and aspects of narrative therapy will be expanded upon in the later articles that discuss the books themselves.

The third section (3.1 & 3.2), follows with a summary of Warhammer 40.000's real-world background as well as an introduction to the universes’ fictional rules and history. This should provide readers not familiar with Warhammer 40.000 with the needed background to make sense of the plots and characters of Lukas the Trickster, Primogenitor and Clonelord. If you're already familiar with Warhammer 40.000, feel free to skip the introductory part of this.

The fourth section (4.1 & 4.2), will analyze Lukas the Trickster, focusing on the character of Lukas as a sort-of narrative therapist to the brotherhood of warriors that he is part of, as well as the post-modern way of knowing that he advocates.

The fifth and final (and longest) section (5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 & 5.5), explores the two novels about Fabius Bile, Primogenitor and Clonelord, examining their plots and characters in relation to narrative concepts such as dominant narratives and ignorance towards running “sub-plots” of a persons’ life.

The article series is concluded in 6. with proposals for various other, possible hooks for analysis of Warhammer 40.000-fiction.

To allow for better orientation for the reader, publications by Black Library and Games Workshop Ltd. will be cited in the following text with (publication title, year of publication) instead of referring to the author as per APA-standard. Other citations will be made along the usual APA standards with references to the author. The Reference-section is consequently split between references to Black Library-/Games Workshop-publications and references to other cited works.

Quotes and page numbers provided for Primogenitor refer to the English Limited Edition Hardcover published by Black Library in 2016 (which has an additional short-story printed in front of the novel, because of which Primogenitor's first chapter starts on page 51 in the Limited Edition), while those for Clonelord and Lukas the Trickster refer to the English Hardcover versions published by Black Library in 2017 and 2018. Full citations of quoted literature and websites can be found in the references

Continue with 2.1 What is Narrative Therapy?

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