Thursday, November 10, 2011

Of Sin and Tolerance

A few years ago, I wrote a novel titled Malarkey and Belinda.  Is the tale of a woman and her gryphon. Specifically, it is the tale of a slave charged with raising a gryphon that was magically and genetically-engineered as a resurrection-project for an extinct species (gryphons) in order to be used as a weapon in their kingdom's army. The woman eventually decides that even though her attempts at escape from slavery never went well that she'd try once more with the gryphon to keep him from life as a forced-weapon.  They flee to a land where they can be free, only to return to try to stop a great war between their world's native animals and the humans of their former kingdom.

Weird, I know.  Anyway, I've been going over chapters of it again to do (yet another) self-editing job before sending it in for another round of querying literary agents and adding to my Rejection Collection.  A portion I was going over caught my eye this evening.  This passage takes place soon after the gryphon, dubbed "Malarkey" as a cruel joke,  hatches and is in his child-stage, being cared for by his human "mother."


Belinda sat in the East Courtyard of Stone Manor, on the edge of a planting bed, with Nikolai.  Malarkey played at her feet, a collar around his neck, with a long leash that she held in her right hand.

            Nikolai, the castle’s head priest of the Xieon faith, was a young man with shaggy brown hair and a pale, clean-shaven face. It was most unusual for a man as young as he was to be in such an important position as he was in.  He had a gentle manner about him and he almost constantly smoked a long pipe.  He grew the herbs that he smoked, and claimed that they were good for his health.  Belinda did not understand how the smoke was supposed to “clear the lungs and boost immunity,” but the scent of the herbs burning in the end of Nikolai’s pipe was not unpleasant. 

            Malarkey capered at her feet on the cobblestones of the courtyard.  He stretched his developing muscles.  He flapped his tiny wings, which had new feathers growing on them.  The little gryphon was growing feathers all over his head and chest, too.  They were bright and smooth.  He had shed nearly all his down by now.  Little Malarkey did not yet know how to fly and would not have gotten far, anyway, tethered to the ground by his leash, Belinda as his anchor. 

            “He’s adorable,” Nikolai said, exhaling smoke as he took the pipe from his lips. 

            “Some would say that he is a sin,” Belinda replied, “What do you think, Nikolai?  He’s essentially a human creation.  Do we have the right to create life like that?  To resurrect the dead?”

            Nikolai tipped his pipe and tapped out the ashes into the planting bed.  “We have to be careful,” he said, “not to condemn ourselves too much.  When we become too concerned with sin, we become unable to do anything.  Almost anything can be a sin if done with the wrong intent.  When we become too concerned over sin, we become too afraid to move, and, many of us will come to a point where we stand in judgment of others, and that is sin.”

            The priest sighed.  He fished in the pocket of his pants.  “Out of herbs,” he said.  “Sin, though… it’s not to say that sin doesn’t exist.  That is not right, either.  When we, in the name of tolerance, become accepting of everything that, too, is not right.  Not everything is sin and not everything is not sin.  When we become too accommodating, we will begin to allow anything, even that which causes harm.  Society needs to strike a balance between sin and tolerance.  If we lean too far one way or another, we either become stagnant, or we allow cruelty and injustice to flourish.” 

            “Is Malarkey an injustice?” Belinda asked. 

            “No… he is a victim,” Nikolai replied.  “He is a creature not natural-born.  That will cause him much confusion in life.  There are none of his own kind living anymore.  He will be alone.  The dead should be left to lie, and be remembered.  As for Malarkey, he has done nothing wrong.  He did not ask to be created.  He simply is.  Even if what Lord Cirrit did was wrong, the little gryphon had no voice in it.  We have a duty to him – to try to give him a good life.”

            “Hmmm….” Belinda said, swinging her pant-clothed legs. 

            “Have faith, Belinda,” Nikolai said, smiling.  You’ll be a fine caretaker to him.  Now is your chance to teach him.  From the histories, gryphons were intelligent – they had souls like men.  You can teach him what is good and what is bad.  You are a compassionate and strong person, and he will learn that from you.”

            “Does a manmade creature even have a soul?”

            “Human beings,” Nikolai responded, “for all our knowledge and skills at manipulating nature, for all our disregard – cannot create a soul.  That is God’s domain.  Who are we to say, however, what manner of creature God can or cannot infuse with a soul?  To say that a being doesn’t have a soul simply because it was born from human use of the Arcanum is even more arrogant than the use of the Arcanum in the first place.”

            Malarkey looked up at him and chirped.  Nikolai reached a hand down to him, two fingers extended, to scratch the feathers beneath his beak. 

            The gryphon chick knew that this person and his mother-of-another-kind were talking about him.  He did not yet understand what they were saying.  They could hear his voice, but apparently could not understand the things he tried to tell them. 


*Nikolai - The character is a kind-mannered and genuinely saintly / good priest.  I named him after the Antichrist character in the Left Behind novels as a joke. I read about half of that series - to my shame.

**The stuff in his pipe is not "weed."  It's some fictional plant that is neither that nor tobacco, but I never elaborated on what it was, probably because I thought it would be funny to let people jump to conclusions.  Still, in my mind, it was always a fictional plant that was more like a table herb or a mint than anything else.

***I like this passage because of the take on the balance between the ideas of "sin" and "social order." I wrote this at least five years ago and while some of my ideas on what "sin" is have changed, the sentiment I have toward the basic theme of the passage has not changed a bit.  (In other words this is one of those things I wrote quite a while ago that still surprises me).

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful, Shadsie.

    My favorite line: "Not everything is sin and not everything is not sin."

    We've been studying sin and suffering in class for a couple of weeks, and there's a lot that's incredibly problematic about traditional understandings of sin and suffering. I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head here.