Monday, 10 August 2015

As If

In "Star Of The Sea":

"Now and then an owl hooted, low, as if asking a question of an oracle." (Time Patrol, p. 539)

To the pure empiricism of an earlier age, appearance was reality. The sun went round the Earth. There would have been no perceived difference between an owl hooting as if asking a question and an owl asking a question. Thunder certainly sounds like Thor's chariot.

Alan Moore showed this well in the opening chapter of his novel, Voice Of The Fire. Where we would say that something on a hill that looked like a man turned out to be a tree, a retarded prehistoric youth says instead that the man on the hill turned into a tree.

By observing that an owl sounded as if it were consulting an oracle, Anderson reminds his readers that that was how people in the first century perceived reality. He remarks that "...even the most sophisticated Roman believed in omens, if nothing else." (p. 505) Heidhin tells Veleda, who speaks for the goddess, that, if she does not make peace with the sky gods, "'...they will withdraw victory from us.'" (p. 531) How does he know this? By every possible means:

"'I have read this in the stars, the weather, the flight of ravens, the bones I cast.'" (ibid.)

Well, that sounds convincing. But, just in case it does not convince, Heidhin also deploys a more practical argument based on empirical psychology:

"'And what if I am mistaken? The fear itself is real in men's hearts. They will begin to hang back in battle, and the foe will break them.'" (ibid.)

Thus, successful leaders did not rely only on oracles after all.

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