Thursday, January 25, 2024

Deities in Fantasy Worlds

Recently T. Kingfisher published the fourth book in her "Saint of Steel" series, PALADIN'S FAITH. (The others are PALADIN'S GRACE, PALADIN'S STRENGTH, and PALADIN'S HOPE.) Also in the same setting: The Clocktaur War duology (CLOCKWORK BOYS and THE WONDER ENGINE) and the stand-alone novel SWORDHEART. These works may be broadly described as sword-and-sorcery romances in a late medieval or an early steampunk milieu.

The premise of "Saint of Steel" is that the deity in the series title died, from a cause so far unknown. His paladins felt his violent death. The few who survived the cataclysmic trauma struggle to carry on with their lives despite a void where the bond with their god should be. Two gifts of their divine patron remain, the "voice" that empowers them to persuade anyone of almost anything (provided the paladin sincerely means what he or she says) and a battle frenzy called the "black tide," which grants them superhuman strength and speed but leaves scars on their souls. The surviving paladins have been taken under the protection of the temple of the White Rat.

The stories in this fictional universe feature three principal deities, although others are mentioned: The Saint of Steel, whose warriors fight evil and protect its victims; the pragmatic White Rat, whose temples are noted for exercising charity and correcting injustices, many of whose devotees are lawyers or investigative accountants; and the Dreaming God, whose servants specialize in exorcizing demons. As illustrated by a scene at the climax of PALADIN'S FAITH when the Saint of Steel speaks to a large crowd through the mouth of a character, everyone knows and takes for granted the existence of the gods. In the face of incontrovertible evidence, nobody disbelieves in supernatural beings. If there are any "flat-earth atheists" in this world, we don't meet them:

Flat-Earth Atheist

The background of the Dungeons and Dragons games is similar, but even more so. Everybody knows that multiple gods exist and that clerics acquire their magic spells by praying to their patron deities.

What would it be like to live in a world where the existence of deities is a routinely accepted truth? Faith in the sense of intellectual belief would be unnecessary and nonexistent. You don't have that type of "faith" in something definitely known. No matter how powerful, divine entities would be as mundane a fact as the sun and the moon. Faith in the sense of trust, of course, would be an entirely different matter. Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett's Discworld doesn't approve of believing in gods; it only encourages them.

The rare person who experiences an epiphany like the characters in the aforementioned scene would presumably react with awe. Most ordinary people, lacking either a personal divine encounter or Granny Weatherwax's strength of character, would probably regard the gods as powers to be approached with caution, placating them but not getting too deeply involved. Rather like living next to a forest infested by semi-tame tigers, maybe.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

No comments:

Post a Comment