Sunday, 18 September 2016

Public Speaking

(The Thirty Nine Steps is one of those titles that have had many editions and covers over the decades. Check images on google.)

A humorous scene in Poul Anderson's "Day of Burning" reminded me of a recurrent theme in John Buchan's novels. Buchan was involved in British politics. A character in a Buchan novel will find himself pushed forward to speak at a public meeting without any time for preparation but nevertheless will do it very well even in the most implausible of circumstances.

This happens to Adzel on Merseia. Although his audience might riot or be attacked by counter-demonstrators or by the watching authorities:

"He didn't worry about physical attack." (p. 237) -

he has the ship for backup;
he is a thousand-kilo centauroid, armor-plated in green and gold, with a ridged spine;
his ears are not soft but bone;
a bony shelf protects his eyes;
his crocodilian face has alarming fangs.

With no conceivable danger to Adzel himself, we are all set for a comic scene. He is invited to address a Star Believers' meeting - and, ironically, the trader team has indeed come to save Merseia from cosmic destruction. When he says, "'My friends...'" (ibid.), there is a sustained roar which gives him the opportunity to ask Falkayn by radio what he should tell his audience. Falkayn's advice is "'Be benevolent and noncommittal...'" (ibid.)

Adzel raises his arms for silence but on Merseia that means the opposite: shout more! When he changes position, his hooves clatter and his tail knocks over a candelabrum. He apologizes. So far, his words to the audience have been only "'My friends,'" which he now repeats.

"He tried to remember the political speeches he had heard while a student on Earth." (p. 238)

Oh no! Adzel manages a few platitudes but his audience howls for:

"'The way, the truth, the long way futureward!'" (p. 239)

He asks the cult leader, Gryf, the purpose of this - and struggles between words meaning "club" or "church." He learns that they are his:

"'...chosen instrument for the deliverance of Merseia from its ills.'" (p. 239)

- and that more than two million Merseians will flock to Ardaig now that the noble galactics have returned as promised.

Adzel shouts, "'No!'" (p. 240), then speaks more moderately of calm, patience and daily duties as galactic virtues. Fortunately, he stops short of offering "...blood, sweat, and tears." (ibid.)

Gryf asks how the virtuous poor and the few high ones among them can begin to release themselves from their oppressors and the watching troopers grip their rifles tighter. (Although the scene is comic, serious issues intrude - as happens in comedy. I remember a film - which was not a comedy - about the Holocaust. A Christian minister announced from his pulpit, "At the end of this street, a synagogue is burning. Let us pray for the children of Abraham." Some of his congregation began to walk out while a uniformed Nazi, not participating in the service, sat and listened at the back.)

Adzel reflects:

the team's business is not to start a social revolution but to save lives;
for this, they must strengthen any authorities that can work with them;
revolution will be a gradual consequence of technology;
but what can he say here and now?

Trying to soothe by boring with pedantry, he begins:

"'Among those sophonts who need a government...'" (ibid.)

So some don't? Let's hear about them!

"'...the basic requirement for a government which is to function well is that it be legitimate...'" (ibid.)

Yes! See here. Adzel is finally going somewhere with this. He develops his theme:

"'...and the basic problem for any political innovator is how to continue, or else establish anew, a sound basis for that legitimacy. Thus newcomers like mineself cannot -'" (pp. 240-241)

He is interrupted, and indeed rescued, by attacking Demonists. When his pleas for calm are interrupted by an emergency call from Falkayn, Adzel leaves, taking "...part of the wall with him." (p. 242)

And how many serious issues did Anderson pack into this essentially entertaining incident?

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Adzel's short lived career as a politician and public speaker was an amusing part of "Day of Burning." And Falkayn's advice to him about being "benevolent and non-committal" was also humorous and exactly right! (Smiles)

And the bit about two million Merseian Star Believers eagerly waiting for a chance to march on Ardaig reminded me of Christopher Buckley's HILARIOUS novel LITTLE GREEN MEN telling us how UFO believers MIGHT rise to totally unexpected prominence, including one or two millions who marched into Washington, DC to press their demands and wishes on the government.

And the Star Believers line about "The way, the truth, the long way futureward" reminded me about Our Lord's saying "I am the way, the truth," etc. (quoting from memory).

I certainly agree with Adzel on the need for patience and calmness! And Churchill's famous line about "blood, sweat, and tears" was APPROPRIATE for the time he gave it, in the darkest days of WW II. And GOOD for what the Christian minister in the film you saw did. I hope it was taken from a real incident!

And we do know from some of Anderson's Technic civilization stories of sophonts who don't need or have a government. One of them being the Yildivans of Cain (seen in "The Master Key"). But, I think we would both agree on how the Yildivans and their "culture" has some questionable, even distasteful aspects. As for other races who don't need a government, this is what Dominic Flandry said in Chapter III of THE REBEL WORLDS: "One species may be combative and anarchic by nature, another peaceful and antlike, a third peaceful and anarchic,..." But most intelligent races Technic Civilization knew of DID need governments of various kinds and types. In other words, we again see Anderson's skepticism about Utopian dreams and aspirations.

And, yes, I saw what Adzel said about LEGITIMACY and your linking to my essay "Political Legitimacy in the Thought of Poul Anderson." I certainly agree with Adzel and what he said about the problem of preserving legitimacy or putting it on a new basis, should that be necessary! (Smiles)

The Demonists were trying to ATTACK Adzel and the Star Believers, not "rescue" him. In fact, the Demonists ideas and hostility to non Merseian intelligent races might be among the "strands" leading to the ideology of racial supremacy we see in the later history of Merseia, under the Roidhunate. Which means the Star Believers, however confusedly, were among those Merseians willing to be friendly towards non Merseians.

Yes, in this brief part of "Day of Burning" we see how Anderson could be both humorous AND "packing" many serious issues into the text.