(urth) Soldier Of The Mist: first reading (mit spoilers)

sonofwitz at butcherbaker.org sonofwitz at butcherbaker.org
Thu Jan 21 10:42:54 PST 2010

I just finished Soldier in the Mist.

What a book!  I'm sure I've barely begun to make sense of it's puzzles. 
Here are my first impressions, for whatever they might be worth. (Avast,
thar be spoilers ahead!)

On a thematic level, the novel is dealing with notions of Self, Memory,
and how those are shaped by historical texts and witnesses.  Latro, an
amnesiac who has only 12 hours of short term memory, has nothing to tell
him who he is or where he came from besides a fragmented journal of what
he previously witnessed as well as the accounts of those witnesses he
finds around him.  His predicament seems to be the human condition writ
small.  For what does any human culture know about itself?  What do we
know of our culture? We know what was written down previously in
historical documents, and we know what the elders – who were witness to
some portion of history – tell us.  Beyond that is inference from what we
see around us.  Furthermore, what can we trust of any of it? While each
person usually has to assemble these things once to get there bearings in
life, Latro has to do this daily.

Another important concept is Anamnesis, literally the "loss of
forgetfulness".  Most people with any part of wisdom will concur that
life's most important lessons, upon "learning them" seem like memories. 
We often just "know" something is right, because it awakens what feels
like an ancient or eternal strand of wisdom in ourselves.  This is known
by the Greek philosophers as Anamnesis.  Latro, while forgetful, remembers
various things through the novel.  He has flashbacks of leading a battle
(seemingly the Battle of Thermopylae, seemingly as a general or commander
in the Persian army).  He remembers strategy and heroic skills of warfare,
and he senses some things are very close to home. When he gets a tall
capped foreign helmet, it seems to have been made for him. When he sees a
staff with an eagle, he is heartsick.  Through these spontaneous memories,
as well as his consultation of his diary, Latro is constantly trying to
lose his forgetfulness.  The novel's narrative style also creates this
feeling of anamnesis.  With all of the names in translation, and places
and objects being simply described, the entire book feels like a deja-vu.
Scenes have a slippery familiarity to them. You read a scene and you
think, "I must know this place from historical ruins." "I've seen this
statue he's describing in a museum." or perhaps "I know this ghost king
from a movie, he had great abs!"

It seems Latro is an early Roman.  He's in the Persian army at the
beginning and end of Soldier of Mist, and he seems at home in it, though
he is not Persian.  The eagle staff mentioned makes one think of the Roman
SPQR staff.  Perhaps that is why he is struck by the sight of it.

Why Latro is so favored by the gods is not clear to me, nor is why he can
touch the Gods and make them visible to others.  (I'm certainly not well
versed in Greek Myth, so these are my best guesses) He seems to be favored
at first by The Shining One (Apollo), but most of his interactions are
with The Maiden Kore (Persephone) and The Grain Goddes/Mother Ge
(Demeter), who seem to help him along.   One of his companions, known as
Eurykles the Necromancer, The Milesian, and Drakaina, seems at first to be
a trifling sorcerer, then a spy for The Great King (Xerxes), and an evil
Gorgon-esque snake woman. (he/she is loyal to the Triple Goddess. is this
Demeter, or another Triple Goddess? I'd guess NOT Demeter, because a wolf
kills her, and wolfs are Demeter's)  At the death of Drakaina, (at the
jaws of a werewolf) a snake leaves her body and the dying body claims to
be Eurykles again, which seems to imply that a snake goddess was 'riding'
him/her as the gods do in The Long Sun series.  Drakaina seems to help the
Spartan Regent Pausanius in his plans, which involve aligning Greece with
Persia, with Sparta as it's favored city.  According to a bit of research,
the real Pausanius was accused of doing just that.  Looking back, I can't
find any point where Eurykles was changed into the snake woman, so I'm
guessing that this is part of his/her nature from the first meeting.

The werewolf thread is strange.  Early on, the bowman Oior (in Hyperiades
entourage) confides in him about the Neurians, who turn to wolfs. He
claims they are the enemy of his people, and that one is in their
entourage.  He asks Latro to kill the suspect, and Latro does when he is
attacked by another bowman.  However, at the end of the book, the Werewolf
that kills Drakaina uses Oior's code "More than brothers, though I die"  
So Oior was actually a werewolf and Latro is connected to him by this oath
of brotherhood, as well as the implication about the tall caps of the
bowmen are like the helmet that seems tailored for Latro.  The bowmen are
also not Hellenes, like Latro.

I'm assuming all of Latro's companions are significant beyond their
surface details.  Why is "The Black Man" so loyal? Why is Io (the only
character given an actual Goddesses name, unless I'm mistaken) able to
hold her own against Drakaina's malice?

At the end of the novel, or first scroll, someone is approaching Latro,
calling him Lucius in his own tongue.  We're left with the impression that
he's finally been delivered to his friends, as promised by Demeter.

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