Aug. 28th, 2012

zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Am I the only one who thinks the gods are really quite impotent in Tortall? In SotL this is kind of explicit: IIRC the Goddess (or was it Faithful?) tells Alanna that there are pivotal turning points where even the gods can't see what happens and humans have to do things for themselves, but also in SotL it's strongly implied the gods need to work through chosen people anyway - like for saving Jon, or for bringing back female knights to Tortall. And the most active divinity is a constellation, who at least in PD is explicit about not being a god. Honestly? SotL's view of the gods as these powers on the fringes works for me, and it works well with the setup of the whole world.

Later canon, starting with Immortals, borks all this. Suddenly, we get some really bizarre rules about gods, like the whole thing about new ones being bound to their land for 100 years, and honestly? Letting us see the Realm of the Gods, especially all the cutesy-ass animal gods, really ruins everything. It brings them all down to just people-with-powers, really no different than powerful mages except in lifespan. The Immortals themselves bork things: suddenly we have to have all these fine distinctions between immortal non-god things and immortal gods, and it just unnecessarily overcomplicates things - especially because the dragons are portrayed as being on equal footing with the gods.

I honestly like the Graveyard Hag, and she's about the only deity in TIQ that makes sense to me; she fits with the mode of godhood we saw in SotL - she has to work through a human medium, mostly - though she, in line with her nature, pushes the envelope in a way the Goddess doesn't with Alanna. But the other gods are all problematic: Gainel has no substance, the badger is just there to be a grumpy guide for Daine, Weiryn is just kind of ... there to provide Daine with godly parentage, and Sarra becoming a god is six kinds of fucked up. IDK. Also, the whole fighting-Chaos thing is just so simplistic that it comes out in the narrative as really weird, especially when it's shoehorned in there with this also-simplistic message about how humans are part Chaos anyway. I really don't get RotG as it stands, can you tell? I can see what Pierce was trying for, but what we get is just a muddle.

PotS - we're back to SotL mode; the gods apparently cannot intervene directly, and so the Chamber assigns Kel the task of ridding the world of Blayce. But. In the previous quartet, we saw much more active gods - the Hag, again sorta - and the gods certainly interfered in RotG, to great extent - and only to save one kingdom. Tortall is not that effing special that it should get its enemies - immortal-but-killable beings or not - removed by divine intervention. But apparently intervention is selective? IDK. Kel also mentions Yamani gods, particularly Sakuyo, and her belief in those gods does manifest in her daily life in small ways; she also has a few interesting musings on the dead, which work with the whole backgrounded-supernatural idea.

DotL is what really effs things up. There we get directly interventionist deities, Kyprioth being both direct and indirect, and we also get the sparkly sky battle of DOOM, which is wrong in so many ways I can't even articulate them. But more to the point, DotL was what tipped me off about how hollow the gods are: with a single exception I can think of, they are all trappings and no substance.

Let's see:
-Kyprioth has all the surface trappings of a trickster, but he is missing the deeper sense: the amorality, the whimsy, the liminality, the appetite/primal drive, and the cunning, all of which are rather essential to a trickster. (I am starting to think Pierce has a real hard time writing cunning people, esp. given how badly she fails with Aly.)

-Mithros has the trappings of a war god, but he never acts as one, and his priests are, as Carmarthen pointed out so well, ripoffs of Buddhist monks. Which is more than a little jarring.

-The Goddess rings hollow because she apparently, despite physically existing, physically appearing to people, and actually being able to talk to mortals, cannot make her nature and desires known - yet sort of can? IDK. She's so inconsistently portrayed, and so is her cult, and more importantly, so are Tortall-world notions of women. Women can make their own decisions, except then they can't, and it all contradicts and the whole thing falls apart. IDEK

-Gainel is a ripoff of Gaiman's Dream, to the point that there's really nothing there. He ... shares the split nature that humans have, between Chaos and Order? Uh, wouldn't all the tricksters? Hell, wouldn't all the gods, esp. those we see with nature connections, like the Goddess? He gives weird and opaque messages in dreams. Honestly, I think Pierce is just bad at writing dreams; they're not always these horribly disjointed, illogical, opaque messes. But Gainel is a really flat character.

-The Black God is just sort of there. We don't get much on him outside of PD, which I don't remember well, so there's not much to say on him. In SotL, we glimpse him as a kind of gatekeeper, which is reasonable.

-Weiryn is ... weird. We never see him being godlike; again, it's all surface trappings. He's supposedly a god of the hunt, but he's also a lesser one, and Pierce seems to write lesser gods as not really being very godlike ... except, well, she writes Sarra being lesser-but-still-godlike. Sorta. IDK. Weiryn made more sense when he was mentioned earlier on as a somewhat mysterious local god the hunters left offerings for. Once we see him, he goes into grumpy-patriarch mode, and it just, it doesn't work. Trappings but no substance; he's a god, apparently, just 'cause he has antlers.

-Sarra is bizarre. She's portrayed as Daine's mother and only that, but inexplicably deified, until the narrative needs to hammer home to Daine that her mother is really a god - then we get the absentminded-Sarra scene, which makes me think all Pierce's gods are answering-machines. We're told she appears as the Green Lady over the Snowsdale well, but we never see that, and she never leaves the Divine Realms to go manifest, and while I can get behind the notion that gods can appear in multiple places at once, it's so awkward in that scene I just. It feels fake. My-godhood-is-pasted-on fake. (Also, Sarra becoming divine at all skeeves me out more than a little, but that's a separate topic.)

-Chaos is just a hot mess, largely because it's portrayed entirely as a horrible, hideous, and yet-again crazy villain - all of which skeeves me out bigtime in a moral/philosophical sense, because hello? Order =/= good and chaos =/= evil/bad; they're both, if you believe they exist as such, fundamental principles of the universe that interact with each other to give rise to life/reality, and both things that can destroy life, the universe, and everything if taken to an extreme. Lip-service is given to the notion of balance, mostly through Gainel being emo, but the narrative comes down pretty firmly on the chaos=evil thing.

-The only other god I recall really seeing (aside from the animals, who are treated like talking animals, not gods) is the Graveyard Hag, unless Chitral counts as a god. The Hag works. She's a trickster, and because EM still somewhat holds to the notion that gods need mortal vessels to do their work, we really get to see her being a trickster, pushing at the boundaries of indirect action. We see more of that trickster nature in DotL, where she outtricks the Trickster and thus comes off as far more real a trickster than Kyprioth, who really reads more as a badly-thwarted Apollo- or Zeus-type, or a childish Odin-type, than a genuine trickster. I think part of it is that the Hag is where Pierce breaks her own mold of having the gods be presented as majestic; she portrays a Hag who is associated with all sorts of not-so-nice things we wish we could sweep under the rug: rats, slaves, physical ugliness, old age, the grave, skeletons, physical deformity/mutilation, etc. She's also the only god (other than half-assed Gainel) who is portrayed as being somewhat chaotic - and this is portrayed as a good thing, and isn't harped on. And yet, despite her associations with chaos, brain-breaking, and drastic change, the Hag is also portrayed as being on the side of order, and as wanting to get Carthak back on track.

....Honestly, the only issue I have with the Hag is the issue I have with Kyprioth and the unseen Jaguar Goddess: tricksters, and gods associated with unsavory animals (rats, crows, jaguars-implied to be insatiably bloodthirsty), are gods for the dark-skinned barbarian peoples. They're not "proper." The Graveyard Hag revels in that impropriety, which gives her a sense of realism and, IDK, divinity, i guess, that the others lack.

So. The Hag, and possibly the Black God, are the only two Tortall gods that read as gods to me. XD

Also- I just realized that another reason I wonder about the impotence of Tortall's gods is Blayce. If he honest-to-god thought the Black God existed and/or could mess with him, would he really be doing what he does to dead souls? IDK. Blayce is supposed to be all crazy, but. He's crazy in an our-world way, and I'm not sure it directly translates to Tortall.

Also also - Carmarthen mentioned ... somewhere ... that the Bazhir mention that the Burning-Brightly One and Night One are gods. We know they're Alanna and Jon, which means, I guess, that we're meant to read this as an exaggeration on the part of the Bazhir legends. But. Ozorne goes and declares himself a god, basically - which again, it's something that works in an our-world setting as a shorthand for megalomania on the part of the ruler, but is frankly suicidal in a world with gods (if the gods aren't impotent). It's implied in EM that this is part of why the Hag finally slaps him down, but if you couple it with the Bazhir legend, and with Numair's offhand mention of heroes going through tests in the Divine Realms, and couple it with Sarra becoming a god for no other reason than that her one-night-stand asks for it, there is only one real conclusion to draw: mortals in Tortall can become gods. And they don't even have to be particularly exceptional mortals to do so (Sarra...).

...Which might explain a lot about the so-called Great Gods we do see.

ETA: I forgot about Yahzed! We never see him, only his cult in WWRLAM, and it is skeevy. It is so high-handed and wrong I just don't know. Pierce was clearly trying to slap down both witch-burnings and patriarchal religion, and slaps down monotheism in the process - which can work, with the polytheistic set-up of that 'verse - but it reads as such a twisted, deliberate ripoff of faux-medieval Christianity that I, pagan as I am, want to scream. And then q-canon (was it mentioned in canon? I don't recall) has it that Yahzed is a Scanran god, which makes it yet another case of all of Tortall's traditional enemies - and all the cultures specifically shown as barbaric, though at least Scanra is white - having unacceptable deities.

Also, wasn't it the Yahzed cult in the short stories that insisted on veiling, and tried to burn an unveiled woman? I don't own T&OL, so I can't check, but if so, that just underlines the issues. Are there no redeeming features to the Yahzed cult? Who the hell would follow a religion that had no positive side? And if it is the Yahzed cult in T&OL, then the implication is that it's only okay again if/when the oppressed goddess is worshipped. Which has, despite the supposedly feminist message, some skeevy gender-essentialist implications. What, no god can be positive without a goddess? I don't quite buy that - I don't think men need the restraining, gentling hand of a woman, thanks - but it does have some interesting implications for Kyprioth, whose own goddess counterpart is explicitly bound.

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Alix

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