Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A Happy Ending

Poul Anderson's The Devil's Game (New York, 1980) ends with two contestants dead and one mad. However, the remaining two men and two women, at least temporarily forming two couples, experience positive outcomes, to our surprise and to that of Haverner who had expected to watch them disintegrate.

It is tragic that the good though misguided Cruz was killed but fitting that his low life murderer suffered the same fate. It is poetically just that the Christian Nordberg enters Hell: psychosis following the final challenge, a "bad trip" on LSD. "...poetically just..." does not mean that I would have wished this on him. What Nordberg (like many in the real world?) needs is a realization, however painful, of the significance of his attitudes and actions. I did not exhaust his faults or failings in a previous post. Of two other contestants, he thinks:

"I wouldn't put murder past them." (p. 195)

But he had ordered Cruz's murder! However, that is different, so he thinks, because the Lord knows that he is "...a merciful man who doesn't like it..." (p. 198). Here, Anderson rivals CS Lewis' ability to imagine and verbalize the innermost thoughts of a character who is fundamentally dishonest with himself.

Nordberg, wondering whether to "... have [Flagler] get rid of Gayle Thurner?", because she may threaten Nordberg's interests, reflects that she "...richly deserves death for her sins..." (ibid.) (The death penalty for unmarried sex?) However, apart from Nordberg being, as we have seen, a merciful man, it may be unnecessary to murder Thayer because she is so "timid" that he is "...reasonably sure that she can be frightened into silence." (ibid.) And this amoral pragmatism is all part of Nordberg's perpetual inner prayer to the Lord.

Thayer, the weakest link, quickly and easily eliminated from the contest, is abused and abused by two of the men. Allied to Flagler, then persuaded by Rance to spy on Flagler, then confessing this to Flagler when it is beaten out of her, is more than once reduced to weeping defenselessness. Yet, despite Nordberg's judgment that she "...richly deserves death...", Samael thinks that she and the other three sane survivors might be approaching "...salvation." (p. 255) Haverner judges that she shows "...a measure of psychological independence." (p. 253)

When the wealthy surviving man proposes to her, she replies:

"'...don't you understand, Byron? After these horrors...I'm through chasing money. I am...I will not use you...We'll try for a year or two...No promises...No legal claims...I've got to become something I can respect. I've got to make sure I'm worth - not your money, but your time, your life - before I can take a promise from you.'" (p. 252)

A remarkable, almost miraculous, turnaround. And much the same happens with the, till now, scheming Julia Petrie. Winning the million dollars, she insists on "'...a seven-way split.'" (p. 250) - the last thing that Haverner had expected. Petrie keeps the seventh that would have gone to the dead murderer, Flagler, but, apart from that:

"'[Nordberg's] people can use his share if he is incapacitated. And if [Cruz] hasn't left any kin that can be traced, whatever village he came from can have his portion. I'm sure they need it.'" (ibid.)

So some of the money that Cruz would have invested in revolution will be used to alleviate the poverty in which he grew up. And Rance's yacht will be used not only to cruise the world but also to research oceanic pollution. The survivors approach their salvation, which may be what Samael had intended.

The structure of the narrative requires that each of the characters narrates a chapter but that Petrie narrates the one in which Nordberg goes psychotic. Thus, we do not see his madness from the inside. I cannot stop analyzing Nordberg. He approves of a passage from Zephaniah in which the Lord expresses his "indignation", "fierce anger" and "jealousy" (p. 191). Nordberg would interpret such terms with anthropomorphic literalness, thus inferring a deity that is morally inferior to the best of mankind. Other Biblical theists need to elucidate such passages as expressing a higher, not a lower, morality.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Just a test, trying to figure out how to upload comments. The procedure seems to have changed.

Just to say something Poul Anderson related, I got a copy of the 1981 Tor Books edition of THE GUARDIANS OF TIME. Mostly because of the Sandra Miesel essay included with it.


Paul Shackley said...

Yes, I got that one at the time for the new story, "Gibraltar Falls".