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Twice Read Tales posted 15 Apr 2009, 04:04 by Truth Shines, Candidate

This thread probably should appear in the subforum for one of the three PON books, but considering those forums are less lively than a skin-spy baby shower, I'll put it here in hope of getting it read by someone other than myself. :) Prior to reading The Judging Eye, I went back and re-read The Prince of Nothing trilogy. My intention was only to refresh my memory. But once I read it, I must say it really, really opened my eyes. To put it simply: after my first reading a couple of years ago, I believed this to be one of the greatest fantasy books I've ever read. After this second reading, I believe this is one of the greatest works of literature, of any genre, that I have ever read. The Prince of Nothing does not belong in the company of Martin or Erikson (yuck!), not even Tolkien. No. I'm putting this among the company of Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pynchon, you name it (eh, you can probably tell I'm an American :D ) Why do I believe this work transcend mere high fantasy? Ideas. It explores deep and grand and profound ideas, using the setting of high fantasy, with a dazzlingly lyrical style. I'll use just one example: Kellhus's sermon, in The Warrior Prophet, on putting one's face into the fire. This is when he is trying to attract support from the soldiers of the Holy War. He gives a marvelous sermon on the frailty of men, on the need to be honest with ourselves, on the meaning and significance of devotion, and on the holy and profound importance of the Holy War, by evoking a story from the Tusk where a prophet was commanded by a god to kneel and lower his face into the fire. He points out that men are frail precisely because we refuse to admit to ourselves that we are frail, and to remedy that we need to, paradoxically, expose ourselves to that frailty if we are to have any hope of overcoming it. And the Holy War is that fire where we lower our face into what we fear the most, to face the truth about ourselves, to test our devotion, to overcome our frailty. Many things can be said about that sermon. Before anything else, one must admire this as an exquisite piece of writerly craft. Bakker invents an awe-inspiring yet appropriately mystifying religious story -- putting one's face into the fire to kneel before a god? What can this mean? Merely a cruel, barbaric way of showing the power of the gods and the weakness of men? Surely there is more, we (along with the people of Earwa) must have wondered. He then lets Kellhus analyze and explore this story in order to seize the heart of the Holy War. Yet there is so much more for we the readers to appreciate. First, with a few appropriate modifications (like getting rid of the reference to Husyelt, the Dark Stalker), I believe this would not be at all out of place in a church on any given Sunday. It contains deep and painful truths that we would rather not see. Second, is there a more beautiful and heartbreaking dedication to the the men of the Holy War, in fact, to the First Crusade? Historical researches show that many, if not most, noblemen who undertook the First Crusade to liberate Jerusalem went deep into debt by mortgaging their estates and castles -- they had no realistic hope of financial or political gain. They marched through central Anatolia while being ravaged by thirst, convinced that they were being test by God like the Jews who wondered in the desert for 40 years. They faced plague in the Middle East. They defeated more numerous enemies. Finally making it to the Holy City, they slaughtered every man, woman, and child they could get their hands on. "God Wills It!" They cried. Make no mistake, these men (both fictional and historical) murdered, raped and pillaged in the name of God. They were monsters. Yet they were also frail, and afraid, and astoundingly brave. They threw their faces into the fire. The book, in the voice of Kellhus, explores a frightening truth: the line between the blissfully devoted and the violently fanatic is not at all clear. The world of the truly religious can be terrible and beautiful AT THE SAME TIME, and it is so beautiful not IN SPITE of its horror, but precisely BECAUSE of it horrors. Third, what of the function and nature of truth? We the readers know this sermon is part of Kellhus's scheme to take over the Holy War. Yet does he not speak the truth? Are men not supposed to be ennobled by truth? Have not the listeners of this sermon [i:1yuh0sdo]in fact[/i:1yuh0sdo] been ennobled? Have we not been told that truth shall set you free? This book explores how the truth can ENSLAVE. Fourth, this sermon reminds me of something Cnaiur once said to Kellhus, something like "you Dunyains need only to speak a word in order to make it a lie." As improbable as it sounds, we the readers nevertheless instinctively understand and sympathize with him. But if the holy devotion of thousands come from lies, is it still holy? In The Thousandfold Thought, the remaining soldiers reflected how even if the Holy War at the beginning was not at all holy but a collection of squabbling princes full of political ambition, it had certainly become holy at the end after walking on the bones of those hundred of thousands who had given their lives. And who can tell them that they are wrong? Yet if they are right, what of the Dunyain's principle of causality -- what comes before determines what comes after? Has not what comes after (the ordeals of the Holy War, the putting one's face into fire, the real world counterpart to the symbolic "Whelming" ceremony) determined what comes before (the holy nature of the Holy War)? Keep in mind that causality is not at all some esoteric, strange, hypothetical idea invented by the author! This line of questions goes straight to the heart of OUR world. The genius of Bakker, like that of other great authors, is not to offer some cookie-cutter ready made answer to these profound questions. He lets these ideas, or rather their earthly incarnations (people, religions, events), merge and transform and battle. It's a disputation. As Cnauir would say, it's war. As Conphas would say, it's intellect. It's up to us readers to read the battlefield. There are many other such points where one can take off and write whole essays about (what is the self-moving soul? what is the nature of crime?). The point I hope to illustrate is that the deep, dense and complex web of profound ideas that undergird The Prince of Nothing. This is something that frankly I have not come across in any high fantasy novels before. Tolkien touches on the tendency of power to corrupt... and well, that's pretty much it. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire? I'm not sure if it has any deep ideas. My experience of reading these books remind me of Akka's lame joke to Esmi. Remember what he said after he escaped the clutches of the Scarlet Spires (everyone thought he was dead) and reunited with her, only to find the former lowly prostitute had become the consort to the newly annointed Warrior Prophet? "What would happen if I die a second time?" Later he would find out: Esmi became the Empress. I wonder what would happen if I read The Prince of Nothing again. Perhaps I'll start wandering the world and preaching the Bakkerian faith. Truth Shines! :shock: :D view post

Re: Twice Read Tales posted 15 Apr 2009, 06:04 by Curethan, Didact

Here here. Well said. Perhaps those things that make these books so special, so ttranscendant are the same things that limit it's appeal. Demanding of the reader, yet so rewarding to those who think deep upon what they have read. Don't forget the worthy promotion of the importance of critical thought. And I can't believe that Scott's prose continues to wax more lyrical and apropos to the story as it continues. view post

Re: Twice Read Tales posted 15 Apr 2009, 06:04 by Athjeari, Peralogue

I agree with so much of what you have said. I have even debated about conducting a content analysis of PON for a research project in Graduate School. These books apply real world religion, philosophy, and logic. What you state in the first post of this topic is what I often tell individuals when they ask about the series. Oddly enough this turns people away at times. They don't feel that a fantasy novel can speak to the real world, but Bakker writes his fantasy from a real world perspective. Bakker uses his knowledge of the real world and applies it within his fantasy. This is exactly why I think some people are turned away from Bakker. The books can be insightful, but you have to be willing to put forth effort for the insight to come; this requires thought. view post

Re: Twice Read Tales posted 16 Apr 2009, 04:04 by Truth Shines, Candidate

Good point. It seems like people are so unfamiliar with a high fantasy book that's actually about more than high fantasy that they in fact come to dislike it precisely because of this. On people actually write reviews saying it's pretentious. One reviewer apparently even holds a grudge against The Darkness That Comes Before because of the quote from Nietzsche at the beginning ("a thought comes when [i:1qvuyu21]it[/i:1qvuyu21] wants, not when [i:1qvuyu21]I[/i:1qvuyu21] want"). I mean I can see their point. Shallow authors try to make their works appear more profound by dabbling in philosophy and religion and use them as ornaments to their high fantasy story. But The Prince of Nothing is nothing like that. If anything, it's actually the reverse: at heart it's a book about profound questions of philosophy and religion that chooses to present itself in the guise of high fantasy. These ideas are not ornaments. They are the very bones of the story. The quote from Nietzsche? It introduces the whole idea of "the darkness that comes before," which lays at the very foundation of the Dunyain. The very first line of the actual book is a quote from everybody's favorite philosopher Ajencis, defining the soul as "that which precedes everything" -- well this is not a throwaway line! This begins the exploration of the idea of the self-moving soul. And just the first 3 pages of the book? It introduces two different and profound views on the nature of crime ("as long as men live, there are crimes" and "there are crimes only as long as men are deceived"). Again, this is no mere philosophical window-dressing incidental to the actual story! The Inchoroi in fact represents the first view when pushed to its logical extreme ("when no man live, there is no crime"), while the Dunyain is the incarnation of the second view ("when one is not deceived, nothing one does is a crime"). I can understand why some people are not comfortable with this. They expect fantasy books to be a vehicle for escapism. They do not expect, or perhaps even want high fantasy to be about real world ideas. Yet this is exactly what The Prince of Nothing at heart is. Another way to see this is to look at the way it treats religion. Here religion, and its attendant concepts of soul, salvation, and damnation, are treated with deadly seriousness. I don't mean to keep picking on Tolkien or Martin, but it's useful to do a comparison (and because I'm familiar with their works): in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, religion (at least as we would normally understand it) is almost non-existent. In Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, religion is ostensibly much more prevalent, but in fact seems like the caricature of a religion as envisioned by a secular intellectual: all pomp and circumstance and power struggle, but no real substance. I can certainly imagine no one giving a speech about "putting one's face into the fire" in the world of Westeros. But did not men and women of the Middle Ages (which just about all high fantasy books are based upon) struggle precisely with questions about the soul, salvation, and damnation? Was not the Middle Ages in fact a highly religious age? Without a flesh and blood and soul [i:1qvuyu21]real[/i:1qvuyu21] religion, how could one even begin to explain something as mad as the Crusade? This is why I say this work transcends mere high fantasy. The Prince of Nothing's serious treatment of religiosity also has the added benefit, it seems to me, of making its characters seem deeper, fuller, more three-dimensional, and more life-like. view post

Re: Twice Read Tales posted 13 May 2009, 07:05 by coobek, Candidate

I strongly and fully agree. And to think that I have bought the first book for its cover :) view post


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