Isn’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. Continue reading