starlady: (the wizard's oath)
[personal profile] starlady
Today is my mother's birthday: she would have been 58 years old. I reread her obituary before I left the house this morning, and while I was driving to the post office I found myself thinking about the impermanence of perfect things in our imperfect universe. I was actually thinking about this in the context of Star Trek, because I am nothing if not capable of displacing consideration of my own circumstances into fictional universes. But where it really merits discussion is in relation to Diane Duane's Young Wizards books, specifically the seventh, Wizard's Holiday. I was inspired to think through some of these things thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija's review of this book on her journal. It's an old review, but the great thing about Rachel M is that just about every entry in her journal is awesome in a fashion that does not admit to the passage of time. I highly recommend clicking on any of the cracktastic-sounding tags on her reviews and reading a few entries; I cracked up repeatedly, anyway.

I suppose I should admit that I'm not entirely rational when it comes to these books. I read the first three as a kid, but came back to the series in college, and when my mother was diagnosed with cancer I pulled the fifth book, The Wizard's Dilemma, off my shelf and reread it in one sitting (that book and the next, A Wizard Alone, ring completely true to my own experience). I honestly think that the books probably have more to offer to people in high school and older than to younger readers (shallow example: how many middle schoolers can spot the Dr. Who jokes?), but I do think younger readers should read them. I also wrote several papers about Duane's ethics for my philosophical theology class in college--and since I was mostly bringing atheistic arguments into the classroom, while Duane herself is an unambiguous, if fairly subtle, theist (actually I think this is more obvious in her Star Trek books than in the Wizards books, but I might be projecting), I think that speaks to the nature of her ethics eloquently: it's the same sort of this-world ethical activism that I think Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials can be read as advocating (certainly my theist friends who love Pullman read him in this manner, and I think it's a completely valid interpretation).

So. [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija has a couple of problems with Wizard's Holiday as stated in her review. I tend to regard Dairine making a big deal about Roshaun's unlikability as more a reflection on Dairine's ideas about wizardry and wizards than about wizardry and wizards per se (I like Dairine, but she's much more likable in the later books, particularly Wizards at War, when her ego has been taken down several notches--I should also admit that part of my affection for Dairine is that she reminds me painfully of my middle-school self), but what I'm really more taken with is Rachel M's contention that Duane is reluctant to let her characters actually die. In the specific case of Roshaun, I'd argue that his near-death in Holiday is actually foreshadowing for his actual death in Wizards at War (which, admittedly, is strongly foreshadowed to be only temporary in ways that I'm still not sure I grasp completely), but I think it's problematic to say that when wizards die, they go to Heaven. Yes, they do go to Timeheart, just as everyone does, but the cardinal difference between Timeheart as Duane writes it and Heaven as the major world religions conceive it is that people--specifically, wizards--can and do bodily go to or at least see Timeheart while they are still alive and corporeal. It is very difficult even for wizards--it's strongly implied that even most wizards can only find the time/grace to experience it during their lives once or twice at most--but it's possible. I don't personally agree that death is less meaningful because Timeheart has an absolute reality (indeed, it is the absolute reality); I think theists, atheists, and wizards can all agree that dead is dead; the dead are dead in and to this world no matter whether they're in Heaven, Timeheart, reincarnated, or nowhere. And no matter what you think happens after, death is unequivocally part of life.

I think that my views on this point are part of why I've never thought, "Gee, Duane hates letting characters die!" though I don't disagree with that view--particularly in The Wounded Sky, which strikes me as a distillation of Wizardry ethics main-lined into the Star Trek jugular, K't'lk's views on death prime me to regard it as part of the process of life, a part of the process which in that book, and in other Duane books, can occasionally be reversed or gotten around--or maybe "through" is the better word. In The Wounded Sky Duane is clearly following in steps that canon Trek had already trod (cough! Star Trek III! cough!), but of course no matter how many times Spock or Roshaun are found (note that they're both referred to, implicitly or explicitly, as "lost") they aren't brought back to immortality, but to life, which ends in this world in death. And in other respects Duane is quite ruthless--Fred, Ed, Machu Pichu, Bridget, Nita and Dairine's mother, Roshaun. In fact most of her Wizardry books do feature a (supporting) character death; The Book of Night with Moon has one of the main cat wizards dying, too, if I recall correctly. I don't think these deaths are played for the same sort of emotional stakes that character deaths in Harry Potter engender, but I think this is partly a function of the length of Harry Potter books compared to the Wizards books, and I'd never say that Duane begs the consequences of these deaths for those who survive them. Duane also in some respects endorses a this-worldly afterlife--I'm thinking here of K't'lk, whose afterlife is in a sense another life in this world as K's't'lk, and of what Lia Burke's friends among the alter-dimensional beings tell her when they communicate during the operation of the inversion drive, that after she passes through her corporeal existence they will be able to speak face-to-face at last. To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. I believe that, despite, or because of, my mother.

This is actually one of my favorite Wizards books because of what it does with the Lone Power, and of how it puts Nita and Kit in the uncomfortable position of allying with It in order to accomplish Life's aims, as they are sworn to do. I disagree with Rachel M's view that the long-delayed transcendence Quelt's people, the Alaalids, experience at the end of the book is to be viewed as some sort of Republic of Heaven--I think the implication is that the Alaalids have lived in a Republic of Heaven, or at least of Elysium, for far too long, and conversely I don't think that a Republic of Heaven is worth anything close to what it actually will be worth when it's built here if it's built out of a world that, like the Alaalids', has never known strife or any of the divisive, glorious, terrible passions that are part of sentient beings' nature-in-entropy. The Alaalids live safe little lives in the suburbs of Life when the action they're meant to be a part of is taking place in a city nearby, to use a stereotypical geographical metaphor: the end of Life is change, and the means by which Life changes is evolution, and when the Alaalids deny that they are denying what it means to be alive, in my view. Life is incredibly painful, but it's also incredibly exciting; the best game in town, and meant to be played through. I agree with Rachel M that the Alaalids seem pretty happy, but she's right when she describes them as "Lotus Eaters;" they're happy because they don't know about the painful parts of life, not in spite of them, which seems a false, anaesthetized sort of happiness to me. I'd rather have the new, dangerous bodiless existence than keep the old, existentially boring corporeal one. The dinosaurs were dislodged from their place at the top of the food chain and became birds, letting us mammals have our chance, just as the sand-creatures are given their chance after the Alaalids' departure for greener (or better, starry) pastures. Hang on tightly, let go lightly.

There have been hints throughout the books, but particularly since The Wizard's Dilemma, that Nita has some sort of affinity for the Lone Power, not in a sense of being overshadowed, but of being capable of empathizing with It in some ways, ways that will eventually bring her to a crossroad. Certainly the portrayal of the Lone Power is consistently one of my favorite aspects of the Wizards books (I think I used the Lone Power as an example of "evil beauty" in my philosophical theology class, actually), and I hope, because it would be interesting, that Duane stops hinting and eventually gets around to revealing what she has in mind--from the description, I wonder if something on that front might actually happen in A Wizard of Mars. I also wonder if the Lone Power will eventually be proved correct in Its threats and implications that Nita will eventually betray Kit to his death--I'm inclined to suspect yes, since the Lone One is of course everywhere and allwhens, which may put Nita in a position rather like Lyra's. When even the Lone Power can and does evolve, I think the Alaalids being benched for eternity is unfair to them at the very least.

Right, back to reading about transvestism.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-24 08:21 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skywaterblue.livejournal.com
An interesting post. I tend to agree, and more over suspect that Pullman never intended his Republic of Heaven to be the Elysium that Nita and Kit visit in Wizard's Holiday.

"We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we've got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds, and then we'll build..."

So his Republic of Heaven is a description of a place you might never actually reach, but the striving for it - the very hard work of it, is the real value. The Alaalids' at least, no longer work for it.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-24 12:50 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] talonkarrde88.livejournal.com
Fascinating post - I would recommend throwing it on the forums at youngwizards.com and seeing what the other more senior members have to say about it.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-25 05:11 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] araine.livejournal.com
I honestly think that the books probably have more to offer to people in high school and older than to younger readers but I do think younger readers should read them.

I`m agreeing with this one. I remember reading and absolutely hating A Wizard`s Dilemma at thirteen, and consequently disliking A Wizard Alone. I stopped reading the series not long after that. I came back to read the series in high school, and thought that those two books were some of the most powerful and the best. It was likely a maturity level thing - at thirteen, I was unable to deal with Nita`s mother`s death.

Certainly, it`s a very interensting post.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-04 16:38 (UTC)
sharpest_asp: Lady Vader (Leia) with saber (Default)
From: [personal profile] sharpest_asp
Between reviews like this, and living with [personal profile] ilyena_sylph and [personal profile] katarik, I may have to break down and read the Wizard books. I've read her Star Trek stuff, ages ago, and only knew her as a Trek author until moving here, sadly.

That said.

I like your breakdown of how it relates in your head here. I've listened to my housemates enough to understand and follow you.

I also wish to extend a cup of remembrance your way, for I'm commemorating a birthday today as well. So, please, drink your favorite tea or other in toast to the memories you keep, as I am doing this day as well.

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