Saturday, 3 October 2015

Fiction, History And Evil

The previous two posts (here and here) and their comments demonstrate that fantastic fiction, in this case by Poul Anderson and SM Stirling, is able to facilitate reflection on real history.

The works discussed also highlight a point of comparison between Anderson and Stirling:

"Compared to [the Draka] the Nazis were nothing, cheap reproductions from a cut-rate plant, a child's flattery, a slave's imitation."
-SM Stirling, Under The Yoke (New York, 1989), p. 233.

Contemplating the Draka while remembering the cannibal Satanists of Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers, Anderson fans have to acknowledge that Stirling is way ahead of Anderson in creating truly evil villains! But Stirling also shows the Draka as credible human beings, loving their children, enjoying friendship and companionship, appreciating art and beauty - and raping or torturing "serfs," defined as any human beings that are not Draka.

Count Ignatieff, the Satanist high priest, believes that, after death, he will enter Hell, not as one of the damned but as one of their torturers, forever eating his enemy's livers and drinking their blood. I think that Ignatieff and the Draka have to be morally the worst characters anywhere in fiction?


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I have to agree, S.M. Stirling's villains in THE PESHAWAR LANCERS and his four Draka books are far worse bad guys than anyone created by Poul Anderson. Altho the Merseians might have been almost as nasty. No, in fact, they were as bad--Poul Anderson simply never developed or extrapolated the hints, indications, pieces of evidence, etc., I had collected (well, unlike the Satanists of PESHAWAR, Merseians did not eat their enemies).

Anderson's preference was to show how the conflicts in his books were most often between opponents neither of whom were wholly evil. But that did not mean he did not believe one side was better or at least that it was more desirable for it to win. And another thing to note about the "worse" side in many of Anderson's books was how the defeated showed a tragic nobility in their downfall.

I suggest, however, that Count Ignatieff WANTED to be damned, that to him damnation was salvation. One of the most alarming parts of THE PESHAWAR LANCERS was when Yasmin matter of factly described the count as a man of great faith and piety. Terrifying, to think of how a person who might have been a very GOOD man as a Christian went so badly wrong.

And S.M. Stirling admired and respected not only the works of Poul Anderson but also those of J.R.R. Tolkien. The quote you gave of how the Nazis were mere cut rate reproductions, a child's flattery, a slave's imitation, etc., of the Draka reminded me of a similar description to be found in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. This is what I found in Book Three, Chapter 8, from Tolkien's description of Isengard: " that what he made [of Isengard] was naught, only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower,.."


David Birr said...

I'm dubious about the notion that Ignatieff was a potentially good man corrupted by his vile religion. It seems to me more likely that he was a naturally evil man who had the luck to be born into a faith that ENCOURAGED his wickedness -- and thus he was faithful and pious because it was, for HIM, no sacrifice to be faithful to a church of abomination.

I guess it's the old "nature vs. nurture" argument.

Incidentally, Mike Resnick, in *Walpurgis III*, created a villain named Conrad Bland who could give Ignatieff and even the Draka a run for their money. He literally declared that he was evil simply for the sake of being evil, and that he'd never make a pact with Satan, because he didn't need Satan AS HIS UNDERLING.

As the prologue states:
"He killed eleven million men in the death camps of Pilor IX during the brief reign of the mad Emperor Justacious.
"He killed seventeen million men on Boriga II in a manner that made the gas ovens of ancient Earth and its Third Reich seem compassionate.
"He killed five million women and children on New Rhodesia.
"He killed three thousand seventeen men on Cambria III, each in a different way.
"He invented torture devices that even Spica VI, which was in revolt against the Republic, would not use."

Evidently, in addition to being evil, he was very charismatic, to get lots of people to serve him and carry out all this vileness in his name.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

Respectfully, I don't wholly agree. As a Catholic I believe all human beings belong to a fallen race tempted by and prone to sin and error. So, yes, Count Ignatieff was potentially a monster, as we all are, and was actually a monster. But I still believe could have been potentially a very good man--the intelligence, ability, determination he showed in the service of Satan might as equally have been used in the service of God and the welfare of mankind--if the circumstances of his life had been different.

I'm reminded of this bit from the Foreword of John Toland's biography of Adolf Hitler: ' "The greatest saints," observed one of Graham Greene's characters, "have been more with more than a normal capacity for evil, and the most vicious men have sometimes narrowly evaded sanctity." '

And, I agree, Mike Resnick's character Conrad Bland was truly a monster! However, I have my even the Draka would have shed blood so capriciously. Because it would have been so WASTEFUL, a needless and pointless destruction of potentially useful labor. Killing merely for the sake of killing simply wasn't the Draka's preferred method.