Monday, August 15, 2005

Destiny and Morality

I have found a further twist on the choosing one's path/accepting one's destiny dichotomy. In Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom series, Arthur Penhaligon has been chosen to be the Rightful Heir to the Keys to the Kingdom, which encompasses the House of the Architect, and all her creations, including the Secondary Realms of which Arthur's Earth is just one. Arthur is forced to defeat Mister Monday in the first book, and in doing so gains mastery of the Lower House. He is then expected to go on and defeat the remaining Morrow Days, the men and women who hold the remaining 6 Keys, but he refuses to do so. He negotiates with Dame Primus and gets her to agree that he can return to Earth for another 5 or 6 years, until he's legally an adult, and then he will return to be the Master. It is interesting that, having accepted the call to be the hero, he then refuses to maintain the role (and he doesn't think of himself as a hero, either). In Grim Tuesday, the second book of the series, he is annoyed when Dame Primus contacts him and insists that he returns to the House again, House time and Earth time being totally different, Arthur has only been home for a few hours, but 6 months have passed since the events in Mister Monday. Unfortunately Arthur has to act to prevent Grim Tuesday from destroying Arthur himself and his family, not to mention the House and possibly even the multiverse. So once again he answers the call to action, but reluctantly.

Arthur is unusual since heroes, once they are chosen, usually accept the role that has been thrust upon them, and they get on with the task they have been given to do. Arthur, however, is not only a reluctant hero at the outset, he continues to feel reluctant to accept the responsibilities of his role. In this respect he reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at various points in her career as the Slayer. She wanted to refuse her role and responsibilities, even though she knew that there was no one else to fulfil it. On the other hand, she twice died to save the world and then was brought back to life - something that no other Slayer had ever done. Which leaves me wondering how things will turn out for Arthur. It's clear that he has to defeat each of the Morrow Days in turn in order to acquire their Keys, but once he has done so, will he accept his role and its responsibilities ? Particularly since hardly any Earth time is passing between his trips to the House - although 14 months of House time pass between the events recorded in Grim Tuesday and those in Drowned Wednesday. Will he be allowed his 5 or 6 years to grow up between defeating Lord Sunday and taking up his Mastery of the House ? I note that Arthur does his best each time he is faced with gaining a Key, and he doesn't just do it for himself, but to help and/or protect others, and once he has been thrown into the task, he is never half-hearted in his attempts to acquire the Key.

With regard to defeating the Morrow Days, I note that Arthur doesn't kill any of them, despite their attempts to kill him in the course of preventing him from taking their individual Keys. He chooses to show mercy to Mister Monday and restores him to his former self (although quite what that means in the long term, we have yet to be told). Grim Tuesday is put to work - initially repainting and rehabilitating the Far Reaches - although again we have not heard of him since the events in the book named after him. Lady Wednesday is a slightly different case, however; she has become a monstrous white whale 126 miles long and 32 miles wide, with a mouth that is two miles high and ten miles wide when open. She was afflicted by sorcery and becomes this shape as a result of her actions in breaking up the Will of the Architect (which it is Arthur's task to recover in its 7 component parts and reunite into a whole). However, after about two thousand years, she realises that she can no longer control her monstrous appetite or the Border Sea of which she is the Mistress. She chooses to ask Arthur to find her part of the Will, which had been wrested from her by Superior Saturday and the other Morrow Days (except Mister Monday), so that she can be returned to her rightful form and no longer be afflicted by her uncontrollable appetite. Arthur recovers the third part of the Will and Lady Wednesday gives him the Key, but she has been poisoned by Nothing (the non-matter/anti-matter - Nix hasn't really explained the physics of it) out of which the Architect created the House and its environs, and the Secondary Realms, and she dies rather than survives. It will be interesting to discover whether any of the Morrow Days are killed, or whether Arthur is able to defeat them without killing them, since killing the bad guys is usually acceptable in the fights between Good and Evil in literature.

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