Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The House Of Sorrows

I am rereading Poul Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" (All One Universe, New York, 1997), originally published in What Might Have Been, vol 1.

In some earlier posts, I drew attention to this conceptual sequence in a few of Anderson's stories:

"The House of Sorrows," an alternative history;
"Eutopia," travel between alternative histories;
"House Rule" and "Losers' Night," an inter-cosmic inn visited by travelers from various alternative histories.

I have suggested, and still think, that these four stories should be collected as The Old Phoenix And Other Universes, to be published in uniform editions with the four novels about inter-cosmic travel, one of which also features the Old Phoenix.

The two stories about Cappen Varra and a third that refers to Varra are also set in a parallel universe and one of the Varra stories even involves travel between universes. However, these works differ in tone, merely showing a universe where magic works but not specifying precisely how or when that world's history diverged from ours. So I think that these three stories should be collected elsewhere.

In our history, Mithraism lost out to Christianity because the Mystery of Mithras was open to men only. Thus, Mithraists' wives converted to Christianity and had all their children, both male and female, baptized. I have thought that Mithraists could have counteracted this by linking with a women only Goddess Mystery and this has happened in "The House of Sorrows," where a Mithraeum and a Shrine of the Mother are side by side.

The narrator is a Mithraist like the Andersons' King of Ys and is guided through a strange city by an urchin, called Herod (!), similar in this respect to the character called Pum who guides Manse Everard of the Time Patrol through ancient Tyre. We see alternative forms of religion like a Mithraeum where "...Odin and Thor flank the altars of the Tauroctony..." (p. 76). Mithras recognizes lesser gods so the Aesir could have been incorporated in an alternative history.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Yes, but I think you are missing one of the points Anderson was making in "The House of Sorrows." That is, what kind might we see if Judaism diappeared (and hence Christianity did not come into existence). In many ways, the world we see in "The House of Sorrows" is poorer and more primitive as a result of Judaism disappearing.

To name just one example, besides a more primitive and inadequate religion/s, there is no true SCIENCE in "The House of Sorrows." The technology and knowledge we see in that story reminds me of the situation we see in the Carthaginian timeline we see in "Delenda Est." And for the same reason, the disappearance of Judaism and thus Christianity also not coming into being.

Here's a relevant bit from Section 4 of "Delenda est," after Manse Everard's companion expressed puzzlement over how intellectually backward their captors were despite having combustion engines: "No. It's quite understandable. That's why I asked about their religion. It's always been purely pagan; even Judaism seems to have disappeared, and Buddhism hasn't been very influential. As Whitehead pointed out, the medieval idea of one almighty God was important to the growth of science, by inculcating the notion of lawfulness in nature. And Lewis Mumford added that the early monasteries were probably responsible for the mechanical clock--a very basic invention--because of having regular hours for prayer."

I agree with Anderson, altho I approach it from the direction of my belief that Judaism and Christianity were both literally divinely founded or instituted. Not merely fortunate accidents.