Wednesday, 30 April 2014
The Night Face: Conclusion
In Poul Anderson's The Night Face, we sympathize with Miguel Tolteca, the Nuevamerican mercantile democrat, against Raven, the Lochlanna military aristocrat, but it is Raven that gets it right. Tolteca accuses Raven of not respecting the Gwydiona culture but it is Raven who, by his persistent questioning, solves the mystery of that culture. The bewildered Tolteca gets people killed by trying to reason with (temporary) madmen whereas Raven understands enough to address them with myths, then knows how to fight when this does not work. He does not expect to survive but enables the incompetent Tolteca and the rest of the spaceship crew to escape.
Anderson skillfully makes his readers sympathize with Tolteca, then see that he is wrong.
What the Gwydiona call "God" is not a religious or mystical experience but annual collective insanity. They have learned to protect themselves and each other as far as possible and to channel their homicidal urges through myth, dance, chanting and ritual - although Tolteca's uncomprehending interference upsets the apple cart.
This ending is brilliant but some readers (at least one) would have liked to read about a genuine mystical experience. In Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall," the people of the planet Lagash all go mad together when the nearby giant stars of an entire cluster appear in their sky once every two thousand years. Could some of them not instead have experienced mystical oneness with the cosmos and emerged saner afterwards?