(urth) Honor

thalassocrat at nym.hush.com thalassocrat at nym.hush.com
Thu Nov 24 19:24:55 PST 2005

On Thu, 24 Nov 2005 14:33:58 -0800 Michael Straight 
<mfstraight at gmail.com> wrote:
>That doesn't excuse the way he started making unreasonable 
>But again, I think at this point he's trying to get people to 
>him as a knight by acting like one -- except at this point his 
>idea of a knight is a big strong guy who lords it over peasants.   

>I think things escalated out of Able's control, to the point where 

>thought he had to kill the Captain or be killed.    I think he was
>wrong, that he should have found a different way to resolve the
>situation.  But I thought the characterization made sense and made 

>interesting reading.

I think it has to be remembered that Art's absolute goal is to get 
Disiri. To do that, he (thinks he) needs to get honor & 
recognition. Becoming a knight is the only way he can see of doing 
this, and the only way of becoming a knight is to actually be one. 

In this society, the knightly virtues are entirely military. We are 
not in a 14th century chanson; we are in the world of Roland or, of 
course, Norse epic - or really, any of the societies throughout 
history where military virtues have dominated. It could be ancient 
Greece or Rome, where the doctrine that "the strong take from the 
weak" was generally seen as right and just. It could be the real 
medieval Europe.

In such a society, place depends on strength, and to gain or retain 
place, you must retaliate immediately against slight by those 
beneath you. 

A slight includes failure to pay deference. Those beneath you 
include anybody who isn't either a noble or a warrior. A merchant 
captain is on the same base level as a peasant. If these people do 
not pay deference to you, you're not a knight. Art's treatment of 
Toug's family, the ship captain, the others are all absolutely 
consistent with the society and Art's aspirations within it.

I think Wolfe does this exceptionally well. Of course, he intends a 
critique of these kinds of society. They promote courage and a 
certain kind of loyalty, which are good things, but not enough. 

One missing component is the downwards-obligation, the miles as 
protector of the weak, rather than persecutor. Theoretically, this 
was the modification to the warrior-ethic introduced by churchmen 
in medieval times - the idealized conception of "knighthood", which 
of course bore little resemblance to reality. 

By the end of the story, Art has indeed introduced such a notion: 
witness his pathetic programmed plea to Arnthor from the Aelf. The 
rulers of the kingdom stand accused of not attending to their 
downwards obligations, to both the Aelf and their own "base" 

By implication, the accusation extends upwards, to the Overcyn. In 
the end, Art is an Overcyn, and he goes against the apparent wishes 
of the Valfather to actually use his powers for the benefit of 
humans. Nowhere else (I think) is there any suggestion that the 
Overcyn have done this in the past. 

I am sure we are supposed to see Art's action as signalling a new 
order of things in which the downwards obligations are recognized, 
blessed by the true God.

And as always with Wolfe, the *really* important thing is Love. 
Combined with even crude Courage, even crude Love will transcend 
its base roots. What saves Art from being *just* an overgrown lout 
is his love for Disiri. The great mystery of Wolfe's universes is 
this love of the higher for the lower - SilkHorn's love for shabby 
Oreb, Art's for stick-figure Disiri, by implication God's for us. 

The downwards-obligation necessary for a just social order is just 
one aspect of this. Without it, with Courage alone, we are in the 
world of the Wizard Knight.

As to whether Wolfe himself thinks that this warrior-ethic-plus-
obligations is an ideal political & social ethos: IMO, probably. He 
sure isn't a fan of democratic capitalism, for example. Personally, 
I think it sucks, to the extent I can take it seriously. But so 
what? I think Wolfe does extraordinarily well in telling the story, 
and his warrior-ethos world is for me exquisitely real, in the 
important things. 

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