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Thursday, April 13, 2017

About the Culture

An introduction to a fantasy/sci-fi book does not usually turn into a philosophical treatise about biblical truths. But this one did, and it fits as no other introduction would have. There is such a thing as a high duty, and it is beautiful to behold. But is duty the best we can strive for?

As most of you doubtless know by now, I have been working on Dreaded King: Heir Raising (the fourth volume) for what seems like an age. I wrote it, I edited it, in fact I edited it quite a bit. I was never really satisfied with it. So, I decided to scrap that version, and write an entirely different Heir Raising, and see if I like it better. The sad news is that obviously I did not finish my series last year, as I had hoped to do. The good news is that I do like this version better. Quite a bit better, actually. I have one more scene to write, and then I can say officially that the new, real version of volume four is FINALLY written, and in the editing stage!

One of the last things I do with a Dreaded King book is to write the Arthur A. Simpson parts, the translator of the texts. Today, I wrote his introduction for him. It did not turn out like the other three introductions. It seems Simpson is on a bit of a thoughtful bent in this book. It suits the work, and though it is still in its pretty rough form (having just been written) I thought I would let you get a sneak peak of some of the oddities coming up in this new and penultimate volume of Dreaded King, and allow you to peruse the whole of his rambling introduction. You might find it introduces more than just a book.


I despise writing introductions. I know most of you won’t even bother to read it. But it really must be done, so here I sit at my typewriter with my study door locked, pounding away at my old keyboard and praying none of the keys decide to stick.
This introduction isn’t like the other three (which I hope you read, as this is now the fourth volume of the Dreaded King saga). By now, you know how these remarkable documents came into my hands from another place, and how much skill and care I have taken in translating them, and even about the two different glossaries in the back of the work. I will not bother to repeat myself again. If you wish to know more of all that, go and read my first introduction, to Dreaded King: A Son Rises. (Barry, my friend who writes speeches for various government officials, is yelling through my locked door that I shouldn’t be “tooting my own horn” like that, and oughtn’t to mention any of the other books. I think perhaps I should stop talking to myself while I type.) Unlike those first three, this introduction is here to explain something about Planistah’s culture, something that you may or may not have noticed as you read through the texts, but which I am betting you missed entirely.
We in American Western Culture are not particularly familiar with duty. Oh, we do our duty alright, and we recognize that each individual person doing his part, for his own purpose, is what keeps the country and economy up and running. I think we recognize that more than most nations round the world. But, we tend to call it things such as “a hard work ethic,” or even go into technicalities such as the free market. Duty, as a virtue by itself, is not extolled or even remembered.
In Ǽselthŵeś, duty and virtue are the highest elevations a man can reach for. For over a thousand years, since Yatsig the Mighty first created his world-wide empire, and even before in the lives of the Aytenmars, duty and virtue are the two things that fill the books and songs with loudest praise, and are exalted and esteemed. Duty is drilled into a child from the day they are born, duty to God, king, and family, a deep sense that one must do what one must do, no matter what may try to hinder you. The most beloved of the old songs and stories are all about characters who had a task given to them, and how they quested to see the task accomplished, despite wars, peril, and distress of every sort. It doesn’t matter how small the duty might be. One ancient tale deals with a young knight who happens to be in the bedchamber of his king when a fly lands on his sovereign’s nose and wakes him from sleep. The king petulantly comments to the young knight, “I would have you slay that fly!” The rest of the massive work is taken up by the knight going throughout the world questing to find that particular fly and slay it. He meets up with a great many perils on the way, and when he finally does make it back, he’s missing several fingers, half a foot, and one eye. The beauty of the tale, for an Ǽselthŵeśian, is found in the unwavering and indomitable will of the young knight to do his duty by his king, no matter how difficult it might be to find one particular fly. To us in America, such a story sounds almost like a satire, something written to belittle a petulant king and show how silly you can be if you take them seriously; why, you might spend half your life searching for a fly! In Ǽselthŵeś, it is a tale of indomitable courage and beauty, and many a young boy is named after that young knight.
Really, I think I prefer the Ǽselthŵeś take on the matter. We are too cynical in this day and age. Everything must have a purpose, and if that purpose doesn’t have something to do with making something, or driving the economy forward, or exalting our own head above our fellows, than really it is silly and dull. Things such as goodness, humbleness, courage, duty for duty’s sake, honor, they are given a passing nod if they appear in our Western culture. But they are not talked about, because they are not tangibly useful, not solid. In Charlie’s culture, they are as solid as the ground people walk on. That is a healthier way to live, in my opinion. If the world really is more than we can see, if there is a God who cares how we walk from day to day, and a life that continues forever after the life we see around us now has dissipated, in the end it is duty and virtue that will matter more than any sort of price tag or fame we can place on our lives.
I should mention, to avoid confusion as I go on, virtue is esteemed right alongside duty. Indeed, the two are nigh inseparable in Ǽselthŵeś culture. You do not merely do a duty. You do your duty according to goodness, to the right founded in the Hurfin* God, the Source from which the code of honor and goodness springs. A good man, who can be absolutely trusted to do what he knows must be done, is the epitome of the hero on Ǽselthŵeś.
At least up till this time in their culture.
It is really in this book that things begin to shift. That is why I am writing this introduction, because something subtle and interesting happens as the last two books go along, and I knew you would miss it unless I pointed it out. Anyone who reads the Battle of Maldon, or Beowulf, is liable to miss the great Saxon tradition of a lordling esteeming honor and courage above even his own life, unless they know something of the culture. They drive forward screaming things like “Death and glory!” and their contemporaries laud them for it, while we of a less bloody culture blink in confusion and quietly quote, “Better to live to fight another day than to die senselessly like that. What on earth were they thinking?” I will not go into which is the better sentiment, the old Saxon or the quiet life of the Western American, I merely bring it up to help you understand why I am bothering to write this introduction. I am trying to help you understand the thinking of the average person in Ǽselthŵeś who would be reading this work, because otherwise you will simply not understand it. It would be a shame to miss the main shift of the day, and what I predict will be the best inheritance Charlie leaves to his children. In Ǽselthŵeś, duty couched in a righteous fervor has been everything good and commendable to the people. They even have a name for this lifestyle, for someone who places a virtuous duty as their daily goal, and keeps to it no matter what. When found in a hero on Ǽselthŵeś, it is called high duty. I could not have named it better myself. This is the goal of every child, to grow into that type of person, and it is certainly not a bad goal. I surmise this great love of duty and virtue is one reason why Ǽselthŵeś has lasted for over a thousand years.
But in this book, in Charlie and Arvi’s time, things begin to subtly shift. If you have read the proceeding volume, KnightDuty, you have doubtless been thinking of Arvi throughout this whole introduction, and you would have hit it on the nose (if you can pardon the expression). He is the perfect Ǽselthŵeś hero. A young man who daily places duty above his own happiness, and virtue above anything in the world. His whole focus is on doing what is right and what is required of him, and doing it well. He is very good at it. But, you may have noticed another part to Arvi’s character. Almost despite himself, he has what one might call an ulterior motive to his high duty. Later in the texts, Meagan suggests that Arvi is a new type of Aytenmar, mixed with Hartsom, due to his mother’s blood. Whatever the cause, Arvi’s driving force behind his high duty can be found (at least partially) couched in love. We see his longing to please his family, his ache to make his father proud, and the deepest well he delves into for his strength in battle is the love of his good mother. This is not normal in a story of high duty written on Ǽselthŵeś. When I came across it in the third volume, I put it down to a sort of fluke of Arvi’s character, even a admirable fluke, and one that he recorded merely to be perfectly honest with his readers. In this fourth volume, things begin to take a dramatic switch.
Arvi mentions duty less and less. Charlie never does. However, the virtue found in the main characters grows and blossoms, into self-sacrifice that is beautiful to behold, and tragic in its outcomes. But it is not couched primarily in duty. Instead we see friendships and family bonds developing and strengthening, and it is something new to the stories of Ǽselthŵeś that drives the characters on to their inevitable end. We have always seen this “something else” in Charlie, and it is part of what makes him so utterly alien to all those he meets in his culture, and also so well-liked (even adored) once he is known. He is a man who does what is right, partially for duty’s sake, certainly, that is what mostly drives him in the first book. But there is more to Charlie. We saw it when he sat sick and miserable on the high seat in the Granges, meditating on his motives while the council deliberated whether to back him or not, in volume two, and in all his dealings with the individual people he comes across. When Charlie meets a person, he wants to know their first name, not what they do for a living. Do you see the subtle shift? Here, in book four, that “something else” begins to define itself.
Love has come into play.
Now, I can almost promise some of you are wrinkling your nose and uttering noises such as “eeewwwww.” May I just point out, if you have read the previous volumes, you know very well that romantic love has little to do with it. That is there, but that is not what I mean, and you can put your annoyance back away, thank you very much. I mean Christian love, the type that looks on a random stranger in the street and sees a soul very like his own. It is the kind of love that looks upward to heaven’s throne and sees a God that loved despite all the imperfections and disasters inside, and then looks outward, and puts that grateful, burning love into action, pouring it out on the world around them. It begins in humbleness, moves into gratefulness, spills on to a desire to please the One Who loves even a sinner, which leads in turn to high virtue, and that spills into actions that play out in a tender and beautiful service to mankind. It is a deeper, more firmly rooted thing than a duty that has to be cultivated and nursed to a high point. That deep humble love is what has marked Charlie from the beginning of the volumes. In this fourth volume, it begins to creep forward, and make itself known, spreading from Charlie to the other characters, until it begins, in the fifth volume, to even overshadow bare duty.
Watch for it. Now that you know what to look for, I don’t think I really have to point out examples. I will only say, it culminates in two things: one is Charlie’s response to the kneeling baron at the end of book four, as everyone gapes at him as an unexpected but beautiful oddity; the other is Arvi’s response to Turner’s weeping plea as he kneels with Aston on the ship, near the beginning of volume five. These are alien matters to Ǽselthŵeśians. It is challenging the culture to look at their lives, examine why they do what they do, and decide if it really is the best method.
Duty is placed in sharp relief against love in these final volumes. Duty does not go away, by any means. In fact, duty is a part of every virtue. If you do not have a settled determination to do your duty, no matter what you might feel when you wake up in the morning, you’re sunk before you even roll out of bed. But it is challenged in its place of ruling over everything else. Duty is shown to be a hard master. If that is all you strive for, you are likely to end up hurting those you ought to be protecting, and your training methods may very well end in bitterness and disaster. At the end of this volume, duty crumbles. But virtue does not, and it has a new champion. I took the time to write this introduction because I knew you would miss the point if I didn’t tell you it was there. You are, after all, not a part of Ǽselthŵeś culture. A new kind of king has taken the throne, and by now everyone has recognized he is a…different sort of ruler. These last two volumes are bringing his differentness into sharp relief, and shoving them in the faces of all those who would oppose the Dreaded King of Ǽselthŵeś. Is high duty the ultimate goal and all that it is best to strive for? Is it better, the texts are subtly asking their readers, to do your duty for duty’s sake; or, is it a higher, better thing to do your duty because you hold high a burning love for your Lord and His people?
It is something each of us ought to be asking. Duty can be a bitter taskmaster. Fail but once, and it might haunt you for the rest of your life, if that is your only goal. Duty standing alone is a sapper, something that pulls enjoyment from a person’s bones. It is a hardening thing, a dull lifeless creature if found by itself. It can even quickly develop into a mere grudging will-power, where a person grumbles, but does his duty nonetheless. It can make a man virtuous. But can it really make him good? Doesn’t goodness have another facet to it, a certain softening of the edges, one might say, that comes from mercy, gentleness, and love itself? But love is a different creature. It imbues its users with energy, and a deep joy that cannot be shaken. It is unshakeable for it is founded directly in One Who cannot change. Duty is a derivative of life on this earth, of our sin nature itself. Because we are weak and fallible, we have to keep reminding ourselves to “do our duty.” Love stands alone. We delight to love. Yes, sometimes it can hurt too, as this book will show. But it is a life-giving, joyful thing to serve out of love. Love stands firm through all that life can throw. It is Love alone that lasts through all of eternity. Duty will eventually die with its owners. Love goes on forever.
If you give your life for your friend because it is your duty, that is admirable. If you give your life for your friend because you love him above yourself? Well…that is something much higher than merely admirable. That is something that points straight upward to the throne of a God Who loved those who were entirely unlovable, Who loved such worms even to the point of death.
And that is the story our lives ought to be telling.

[The text begins here]

*At its basic level, a Hurfin is the Planistah term for a Christian. But our word falls somewhat short for a direct translation. For one thing, in our Christianity there was a definite split from the old Jewish ways into the Christian ways, after Jesus came and brought the New Covenant and all that. As a result, Christian can often be seen as being from a certain time period, whereas Hurfin encompasses basically the whole of Planistah history. Also, because of that shift from Jewish to Christian, our Western culture morphed the term Christian to occasionally mean things such as “non-Jewish,” or even, “portraying a certain civilized manner.” In contrast, Hurfin is a purely religious term, meaning someone who believes the Hurfin’s book (Planistah’s Scriptures) and professes Christ.

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