(urth) Honor

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Wed Nov 23 11:48:06 PST 2005

> >I disagree.  Able's might doesn't make him right or wrong.  It gives
> >him the power to enforce what he thinks is right, but if he's wrong,
> >then he's wrong no matter how strong he is.  And in this case, I think
> >he is right, at least in his judgment, if not in the severity of his
> >actions.
>Ah, but that flies in the face of the very basis of the concept of "trial 
>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 would also add that this does not seem to be an unconditional rule, there 
seem to be explicit and deliberate conditions based on social status. This 
is another aspect of the general observation that has already been made 
about the oddness of the behavior of certain characters that seems to be 
related to their expected social role (see: Idnn, etc.)

In Able's case, this seems to dictate that when people present him with an 
opposing attitude, some (those of high birth or station) are to be reasoned 
with and others are to be met with force. If I'm reading it correctly, this 
isn't quite the simple "might makes right" of the schoolyard bully (though 
it may well be related). There are times when it might be easier to cajole a 
churl into compliance rather than forcing them (and thereby gaining their 
enmity); but to do so would mean not being regarded as a knight, because 
knights are by definition above this and *demand* loyalty and obedience 
without question. Able's treatment of those in a lower station is, I think, 
meant to be problematic: Able could be a better *person* by being a worse 

I say this not because it makes Able any more appealing of a character, but 
because I think it makes deeper sense of Able's modes of interaction with 
various characters.

> >It's sad that the stable hands are slaves and blind, but does that
> >mean they are no longer moral agents, no longer capable of being right
> >or wrong?  Were they not wrong to neglect the animals?

They were certainly wrong to neglect the animals. The fact that they were 
mistreated - and that they were *forced* against their own will into a 
situation where the animals were helplessly dependent on them - does not 
negate the fact that those animals *did* need caring for and they *could* 
have done so if they had chosen to. This isn't that uncommon of a vice: 
people who are treated badly have a tendency to treat others badly in turn. 
This is a chain of abuse that eats away at the character of each person on 
down the line. (Now this is starting to sound like an essay on my place of 

Able wanted the animals to be treated better, which is good. Able may have 
even wanted the stable hands to be better people, people who aren't so 
desensitized that they don't care about the suffering of those under their 
care - and this too would be good. But Able's adherence to his social role 
is locked in; he certainly isn't going to come in and beg the stablehands, 
or bribe them, or give them a moral speech, as we might be inclined to. His 
way of dealing with the situation is what we consider to be bad.

What gives one pause for thought is that his way of dealing with the 
situation may in fact have been effective in a situation in which a more 
modern way of doing things would not. It seems unlikely that the stablehands 
would have responded to fine words and sentiments.

>Look at the second paragraph of that Tolkien essay again. Like Wolfe, I 
>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.

Moral accountability is precisely what you shouldn't remove here; Able did 
not come in and upbraid the floor-sweeping or toilet-cleaning slaves. The 
stablehands did not merely fail to clean toilet bowls, and the treatment of 
the horses was not at that point a hypothetical question. The animals *were* 
mistreated, and in bad shape.

>Sure, horses need food and water to survive, but no one has a *right* to 
>force another to do

I'm not entirely sure how to interpret this. I agree that they shouldn't 
have been placed in that situation. On the other hand choosing to let the 
animals suffer rather than taking care of them is inhumane, and I think that 
even a modern society would judge and/or punish them for that.

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