K. J. Parker on religion founding

6.28.13 | | 4 comments

Subterranean Press Magazine has labeled its Summer 2013 edition a “K. J. Parker Special Issue”. This is very good news for someone like me who is a major fan. If you are not aware of her work, Parker writes no/low-magic, secondary-world fantasy that takes place in a medieval-through-Renaissance-like world. Her stories are complex, dark, humorous, and often quite dry, filled with academic and bureaucratic language, which gives them a sense of realism that secondary world fantasy often lacks.

I write her, but that may not be correct — Parker is a closely-guarded pseudonym, and there is debate over his/her gender (not to mention all sorts of guesses about the person behind the pseudonym might be).

The special issue features one nonfiction essay and two stories written Parker his/herself. I read the essay first and then moved on to The Sun And I. It’s a story about a group of young men who start a religion. As I read it, I was delighted to find that in addition to it pushing all the aesthetic buttons that Parker usually does, it also brought in some slight, but fascinating (to me) Mormon resonances.

I recommend it. And if it turns you off at first–keep reading. There are some surprising turns that it takes.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the story itself is indicative of what I believe/feel about the Joseph Smith story . Or the Moses or Mohammed one, for that matter. What’s important is not the exact details, but rather the emotional states. And the inevitability of the course the religion takes.

But I’ve said too much already and don’t want to color your experience of the story further (warning: it’s quite long). Go read it. And maybe skip the comments until you do because I hope we can toss around some spoilers down there.

4 comments: “K. J. Parker on religion founding

  1. James Goldberg

    Pretty interesting.

    I like how their frame of religion as a con isn’t terribly disrupted by evidence of the miraculous any more than many people’s frame of the miraculous isn’t terribly disrupted by evidence otherwise.

    I also like the engagement with “right and wrong” vs. “good and bad”–and especially the story’s implicit acknowledgment at the end that good and bad aren’t so easy to define after all.

  2. Th.

    .

    I finished it yesterday but can’t really say much more than echo James’s comment.

    But I’ll try.

    The number of stories about gods being born of faith (Gaiman’s American Gods and Pratchett’s Hogfather are typical examples) have become legion. I suspect this is a modern phenomenon, but don’t know for sure. Anyone else know?

    I was also fond of the idea that a god can use pretty much anyone for his plans and how that tied in to the god’s preferred moral stance.

    No afterlife talk, much, though. Interesting.

  3. James Goldberg

    Th.,

    Just to throw out an idea: what if afterlife and final judgement theologies are what elevate right and wrong over good and bad for us?

    We believe, for example, that “Artabazus, who sailed from Perimadeia to the Anoge with a quarter million sacks of grain to feed the famine victims, and carried the plague with him” is better off spiritually than “Peregrinus, who discovered the north-east passage to Ceugra” while trying to make a buck–even though Artabazus’s action inadvertently kills people and Peregrinus’s inadvertently saves lives. But our belief that your internal progression in this life matters is based on our belief that mortal suffering is temporary while spiritual growth is eternal.

    In other words, “good” and “bad” consequences are temporary while “right” and “wrong” motivations have weight that is eternal. Take away the eternal part, and maybe you ought to choose good and bad over right and wrong.

    It occurs to me that the notion of free will also is significant here. If people have free will, then right and wrong are fundamental components of their identity, while good and bad consequences are somewhat removed. If we don’t have free will, then good and bad matter a great deal because they end up dictating our motivations and behaviors.

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