Big Government Tyranny in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar


Valdemar1Isn’t it sad that our favorite books don’t grow and change as we do? When I started reading Mercedes Lackey’s excellent Valdemar series, it was exactly what I was looking for. I was in the midst of a somewhat delayed teen rebellion and had rejected the Christian faith of my childhood and college years for Neopaganism, and I had also rejected the conservative, anti-Soviet political orientation I’d always thought was more sensible for a walk on the liberal side, more than once flirting with actual Marxism.

And so the books I had once loved— the works of C. S. Lewis most particularly— were now an ideological problem, and I sought replacement.

I’d heard through the Wiccan grapevine that authors Marion Zimmer Bradley and Katherine Kurtz were allegedly Wiccans and so tried both authors. Kurtz I didn’t care for, but I fell in love with Marion Zimmer Bradley and her Darkover series. And in one of MZB’s many anthologies I found a story by Mercedes Lackey and began to collect her books as well at the local used bookstores.

I loved the series especially some of her heroes— Talia, the girl plagued by an upbringing among an evil sect that seemed to combine Amish traits with a dark portrait of LDS polygamy, and Vanyel, the troubled, rejected noble youth who grows up to be a happy homosexual Herald (and then died tragically to save his kingdom).

But I’m all grown up now— at my age, I’d better be. My politics have slowly reverted to something more based in common sense than in the desire to rebel, and several years ago I had an experience which led to my joining the Catholic Church. And as I continued to re-read my favorite Valdemar books I began to see some cracks which made me somewhat disappointed in a once-favorite author. Rather than a pure happy-fantasy kingdom, Valdemar began to look more and more like a land plagued by a modern big-government philosophy— and one with a blatant hostility to certain religious groups as well.

1. The big-government thing shows most clearly in the high degree of centralization of political power in the Valdemaran crown. Now, in a medieval/Renaissance era kingdom a king had a lot of power— he could put his wife and his best friend to death for minor reasons as King Henry VIII did in the killings of Anne Boleyn and Thomas More. But the king’s power didn’t reach into the daily lives of his subjects except when he was willing and able to send his military forces to enforce.

In Valdemar, people act more as if they were in a modern state with hordes of policemen, judges and social workers ready to jump down on both feet on anyone who disobeys the slightest directive. Valdemar clearly doesn’t have these modern accessories to state power— no medievalish state could— they could barely afford to pay their non-standing armies much of the time, which was why standing armies came along much later.

2. The Heralds of Valdemar, who live on the grounds of the Palace in Haven when they are at home, ride circuit through the kingdom, and act as judges in local cases, overriding local authority. The reason given is that only Heralds can perform Truthspell, a kind of lie-detector spell which is certainly most useful.

But Heralds could be performing this spell from town to town and still allow local judges and other authorities to fulfill the role of judges.

The attitude of the Valdemaran crown seems similar to that of modern day big-government proponents who can’t seem to trust the ‘rubes’ in local governments to do the right thing, and want to constantly override their judgment to allow all the big decisions to be made in Washington by people who neither know nor care about local attitudes or conditions.

3. Companion’s choice is a big part of most Valdemar stories— the horse-shaped spirit-beings called the Companions go out to choose certain teens to become Heralds of Valdemar. But look at Companion’s choice from the rural Valdemaran point of view— some magic horse comes and carries off your teen daughter or son without so much as a by-your-leave, and you can do nothing about it— even if the missing child was the one you’d selected to carry on your family farm or trade. Even in the modern world that would be a little too much ‘big-government owns your children’ for most people— we’ve done away with the military draft in the US after all. In a medievalish society where family and the authority of the family head are far more important for survival, it would be rather an outrage.

4. The money thing: in a medievalish kingdom like Valdemar, taxes would be low for the reason that a large part of the economy didn’t run on money. Remember back to your school lessons (if any) on how feudalism worked— the serf worked for his lord on the lord’s land on certain days, and in exchange got the use of a plot of land he could work to feed himself and his family. Or a minor lord sent his troops into the service of a more exalted lord. These exchanges were money-free and therefore could not be taxed. It is not until you get to a more modern society like ours that everything is expected to be money-based and, therefore, taxable. (And the many big-government elements of Valdemar would need to be funded by the high taxes only possible in a modern money-based economy.)

5. The religion thing: one could write a whole blog post just on this. But today I’ll just mention this point: Valdemar is said to be like America, a nation of refugees from other, less freedom loving lands (a good reason to love Valdemar). These refugees were allowed to retain their religions. But the Valdemaran king often imposes on the religions— appointing the leader of one religious sect as spokesman for all religions of Valdemar, or imposing the Neopagan slogan ‘there is no such thing as the ‘One True Way’ on all the faiths of Valdemar (since the Valdemaran religions have not yet fused into one, we may be pardoned for assuming that most Valdemaran religious believers thing their religion is true after all, whether the king is willing to hear that or not.).

Now, I still love the Valdemar books in spite of my criticisms. And I still love Mercedes Lackey as an author, even though I suspect she might not love a person like me. As a Christian I’m required to do that ‘love your neighbor, love your enemy’ thing, and as a mature person I don’t tend to think of people as an enemy just because they don’t share my opinions.

Valdemar novels in Italian (I think).

Valdemar novels in Italian (I think).

How about you— do you have any favorite books from years ago that haven’t ‘grown up’ when you did? Do you still like or read any books you first picked out because they expressed ideas which you, as a more mature person, now no longer believe? [Note: polite, friendly comments are welcome even you disagree with me, angry, ranting, name-calling comments tend to get eaten by zombies.]

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4 thoughts on “Big Government Tyranny in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar

  1. Very interesting and thought-provoking post. Yes, some much-loved books don’t follow along with us. I fell hard for LOTR during my teen years. I still adore it, but can see the underlying philosophies held by the writer and they intrude on my reading experience. I also loved 1984 back then, and that hasn’t changed – I guess I owe that book a lot, because as a 16 year old, it changed my world view. To a great extent, that book affected my ability to lay down my loyalties in any one direction. I see propaganda where it suits ideologies. I haven’t read the Valdemar books. I think I need five years free where I have nothing to do but read, so I can do some heavy catching up!

  2. I read the usual children’s stories when I was a child. There was one that I wish I could remember the title because I’d read it again. It left longing for the protagonist’s life. She was a neighbourhood detective, finding stolen items, making herself a hero to everyone. I loved that all the kids thought she was the kewlist. Thanks for visiting my blog, Annakindt. Much appreciated.

  3. Better half and I loved the first five novels of the Deryni world, which seemed an honest exploration of the question: given a subset of people with genuine preternatural talents, how could and would the Church deal with it? Kurtz avoided the temptation to paint a simplistic picture of sympathetic Deryni vs. bad everyone else, and the love for the Latin liturgy in those books was something remarkable in the 1970s. Better half even gave them partial credit for drawing her into the Church. We started seeing cracks in the later volumes, and I suspect that if I reread the first ones today, cracks would be visible already in them.

    I came to dislike Darkover early, but I might find myself more capable of taking it on its own terms today.

    I rather suspect that part of what I like in Tolkien is exactly what Anya doesn’t. The flaws I see there are more matters of mechanics than anything else: e.g., his misunderstandings about moonrise and moonset, and the apparent absence of kidneys and colons in the good guys, where the presence of which would make it much easier for tracker orcs to catch them. “It is dangerous to ask too many questions, lest the gate be shut and the key be lost,” and maybe I have.

    We used to enjoy Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels; I dropped out sooner than better half did, in part the result of realizing what it would mean to become a green-dragon rider. Better half does not at all care for the latest extensions of the series by her son Todd; I haven’t pressed for details.

  4. Wow, I’m utterly thrilled that 3 brave souls made it through my over-long blog post! Jerome, I’m going to have to try that Deryni series. I quit on the Pern series too, mainly because some of the events in one book were covered again in other books in a way that didn’t appeal much to me. But I’m not too quick to reject books I think I’ve outgrown— I thought I was ‘done forever’ with Orson Scott Card books, and a few years later was frantically searching my book boxes for OSC works and haunting the used book store to buy a copy of the ones I’d given to St. Vinnie’s thrift shop.

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