Saturday, 22 February 2014

Brave To Be A King

I usually try to paraphrase but this passage needs to be quoted in full:

"'...let's check up. Doesn't the King lead a procession at the winter solstice festival?'
"'Yeah. Let's go. Quickly.'
"And the sunlight burned around them, high above Pasargadae. They left their machine hidden and walked down on foot, two travelers among many streaming in to celebrate the Birthday of Mithras. On the way, they inquired what had happened, explaining that they had been long abroad. The answers satisfied them, even in small details which Denison's memories recorded but the chronicles hadn't mentioned.
"At last they stood under a frosty-blue sky, among thousands of people, and salaamed when Cyrus the Great King rode past with his chief courtiers Kobad, Croesus, and Harpagus, and the pride and pomp and priesthood of Persia followed.
"'He's younger than I was,' whispered Denison. 'He would be, I guess. And a little smaller...different face entirely, isn't it?...but he'll do.'
"'Want to stay for the fun?'asked Everard.
Denison drew his cloak around him. The air was bitter. 'No,' he said. 'Let's go back. It's been a long time. Even if it never happened.'
'Uh-huh.' Everard seemed more grim than a victorious rescuer should be. 'It never happened.'"
- Poul Anderson, The Guardians of Time (New York, 1981), pp. 122-123.

"It" - Denison's sixteen years as Cyrus - "...never happened..." in the current timeline but I think that it makes more sense to say that it did happen in an earlier timeline along a second temporal dimension than simply that it didn't happen period. But I have argued this point before.

It is as if Denison has played a dramatic role and is now reviewing another actor taking that same part in the play. But, in this case, that other actor is the real Cyrus. In the previous timeline, Cyrus was killed at birth and Denison was later forced to play the role of a Cyrus who had not really been killed and had returned in adulthood. In the current timeline, Cyrus was not killed and therefore did not have to return in adulthood. Denison and Everard had contemplated creating a timeline in which someone else again had played the role.

Sandra Miesel, in "Of Time And The Rover" (pp. 245-254), rightly praises several aspects of this passage.

(i) Irony and allusion: two men accustomed to effortless space-time travel must walk to "...an archaic ritual and prostrate themselves to verify their triumph." (p. 250) There is an appropriate natural contrast between cold sky and burning sun.

(ii) Contrast between, on the one hand, ancient Persian celebration of the sun's return and, on the other hand, the end both of Denison's glory and of Everard's hope. (If Keith had had to remain Cyrus, then maybe Everard and Cynthia Denison...)

(iii) Mithras' Birthday became Christ's. Cyrus and his three courtiers suggest Christ and the Three Wise Men, supposedly Persian Magi. (I had not thought of that but they do.) (The account in Matthew mentions wise men and lists three gifts.)

(iv) Epiphany and Christmas associations evoke Kingship and its cost which are the themes of this Time Patrol story.

I would also draw attention to the alliteration in "...the pride and pomp and priesthood of Persia..." (p. 123).

In general, an excellent passage that encapsulates basic themes of the Time Patrol series.

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