(urth) Honor

transentient transentient at gmail.com
Wed Nov 23 08:06:57 PST 2005

Hi! Just some thoughts...

> Ah, but that flies in the face of the very basis of the concept of  
> "trial by
> combat" in all its variations. From Lancelot's defense of Guinevere  
> to all
> those childish, petulant, indefensible defenses against all comers  
> of that
> mountain pass by Able in TWK, the underlying assumption is that  
> might does,
> in fact, make right.

I felt like the upbraiding of the stablehands was a "Severian moment."

In general, I think Wolfe's idea of a True Hero as expressed by Able  
is of one who does, in fact, use might to make right.

> Look at the second paragraph of that Tolkien essay again. Like  
> Wolfe, I grew
> up in Texas in a time when the code of conduct espoused there was  
> nothing
> exceptional; it was the norm. It's part of the reason I detest Able.
> Substitute stables and brown-eyed horses with lavatories and dirty  
> toilet
> bowls and the issue of moral accountability falls away. Sure,  
> horses need
> food and water to survive, but no one has a *right* to force  
> another to do
> it. Someone thought the pyramids of Egypt should be built, but the  
> slaves
> who did the work acquiesced only because they had no choice. I  
> prefer a
> clean toilet, too, but I don't have the *right* to force my wife to  
> clean it
> just because I'm bigger than she is. In fact, it is precisely  
> *because* I am
> bigger and stronger than she that I *may not* force her to do it. I  
> suspect
> that Wolfe would feel the same way, and I can't imagine Silk  
> treating other
> people, particularly those less able than he, the way that Able  
> consistently
> treated those whose social position ranked below a knight's.

I will need to track down this essay and read it. But in general, I  
think there is a big difference between the horses and toilets; in  
this case the horses are living creatures which need to be defended.  
In truth, they are also symbols of nobility/gentility and the class  
of people who would always be above the blind slaves. By firmly  
reprimanding the stablehands Able is defending both the hapless  
beasts and the extended feudal society he is a part of.

I definately agree that TWK contains a defence of, or apology for,  
european feudalism. The idea is certainly that might is the only  
thing that can make right...while there is no guarantee, as Arnthor  
demonstrates, of a benevolent leadership under such a system. In TWK,  
participation in the feudal society is the only avenue towards really  
being a human that is available - the other routes we have been shown  
are the clearly stated inhumanness of the Ousterlings or the life in  
darkness of the slaves of the giants.

The job of stablehand was forced on the slaves in Utgard, but had  
they lived down south, and had that been their station, it would have  
been a good job to have. I have a hard time seeing Able as being  
cruel for lambasting the slaves for their poor performance of their  
duties; it was like a "get ahold of yourselves, you are still men,"  
kind of slap to the face - a firm reminder that they were sliding  
away from their humanity by their own choice. He is a redeemer of  
sorts in this respect: he gives the slaves an opportunity to regain  
their humanity by doing a human job to the requirements of a human lord.

Having said all of that, you are certainly entitled to detest Able,  
though I think he is a sight nicer than Severian and more of a man of  
action, as required by his time and place, than Silk. I think that  
Able is a really good depiction of the kind of man who brought  
western civilization from the fall of Rome to the Rennaisance. I  
don't think it a good or easy fight, and if we'd had a lot more men  
like Able maybe we'd be having this dicussion via email in the 1400's  
or so.


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