When I took European History in high school, I’d say my favorite book from the ones we read that year was Candide by Voltaire. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it begins when the naive main character is sent away from home for getting a little too friendly with his lord’s daughter and then has to make his way in a hostile world. He gets drafted into an army, meets a syphilitic priest, survives an earthquake, goes to a Brazilian plantation, gets gold from El Dorado, and eventually loses everything he’d managed to scrape together during his time on the run from fate.
What made this story so important wasn’t the picaresque narrative structure, which was a popular Renaissance and Enlightenment trope, but the satirical tone which Voltaire used to address questions of faith, optimism, tragedy, nationalism, and free will.
The Default King actually began as a fantasy homage to works like Candide and Gulliver’s Travels. While I always intended for the writing to sound similar to that style, the tone of the story gradually shifted from more overtly satirical to serious and grounded. Unlikely things happen to Matthieu and the other characters, but nothing that’s only supposed to look cool without having deeper implications for their development.
Originally, when Matthieu escaped the destruction of Heilicon, he was supposed to go into the forest and stumble on a sort of proto-communistic commune, where questions of morality were understood on a basis of want rather than right and wrong. While something like this wouldn’t have been out of place in 18th century allegorical literature, it wouldn’t have much of a place now and so I dropped it. The same happened with the two nations at war over the respective size of their noses and the pirates that used to be in the first chapter of Volume 2.
Details changed quite a bit from when I first had this idea but I think the trajectory of the story is still the same, in that many of the same questions Voltaire asked in Candide are central to Matthieu’s own growth, from his privileged birth to his kingly end and all the travelling in between.