Chapter six (No Spoliers. Sorry!)
In this chapter, we first get to see some of the scars that Hrathen is hiding. Part of what makes him such a compelling character, I think, is the fact that he considers, questions, and seriously examines his own motivations. The things he did in Duladel are a serious source of guilt to him, and his determination to do what is right–even if what is ‘right’ to him isn’t necessarily what we would consider right–gives him a strength of character and personality that is hard to resist.
He combines with this sincerity an actual force of logic. He’s correct in his examination of Arelon. It has serious problems. It has weak leadership, weak military forces, and a weak economy. Hrathen’s logical explanations in this chapter of why he feels justified in trying to overthrow the government should sound fairly convincing.
On the other hand, we have his whole ‘Tyranny in three easy steps’ discussion with Dilaf. It’s this sense of twisted goodness that rounds out his personality as a villain. He’s not just earnest, he’s not just logical–he also has an edge of ruthlessness. That’s a very dangerous combination in a character.
Speaking of the “I will show you the way to destroy a nation line,” this concept–that line, actually–was one of the first things I came up with in my mind while imagining Hrathen. The way that he logically approaches something that would seem daunting–even impossible–to an outsider is a strong part of what defines who he is. I also really enjoy finding opportunities to show how Hrathen sees the world. Whenever I place him on the Elantris city wall and let him inspect the defensibility of the city, I give a clue as to how he was trained, and how he thinks. I don’t believe that Sarene ever pauses to consider just how weakly fortified the city of Kae is–but Hrathen thinks about it on at least three separate occasions.
I worry, just a bit, that people will read this book and think that I’m anti-religion. Those of you who know me will realize how opposite this is of the truth–I’m actually rather devout in my own beliefs. However, because of this devotion, that I understand religion and the power it can have over people. I think that something so potentially good also provides great potential for evil. And, as a firm believer in religion–and religious freedom–I can think of few things quite as frightening or as evil as a religion gone bad.
I am not anti-religion. In fact, I’m not even really anti Shu-Dereth. I tried to construct a religion in Shu-Dereth that had some very interesting, and valid, teachings. However, like some very good religions in our own world, an evil–or even misguided–leadership can transform good teachings into a force for destruction and evil.
My own religion teaches that contrast is a good thing. Because of pain, we can appreciate joy. Because we understand evil (though we don’t necessarily have to partake in it) we can understand and appreciate good. Because we have choices, we have the opportunity to take responsibility for our actions. In this way, I believe that a religion should have no qualms about teaching that it has the truth–and like the fact that we have many options in religions in our own world. When we get into trouble, however, is when we begin to enforce our religious opinions with sword or legislation.
I guess this belief is the main basis for my painting of Hrathen as an antagonist in this book. Yes, his logic is good–Arelon probably IS going to fall. However, that doesn’t give him the right to speed that collapse, or even manipulate it to his own good. It doesn’t give him the right to overthrow or suppress the beliefs of others. Resisting him as he tries to destroy the belief system of an entire people is a good far greater, in my mind, than the good of self-preservation.
(Man. That last bit seems a little melodramatic, now that I look back at it. Forgive me a bit of that on occasion, if you please. Occupational hazard.)