Friday, November 13, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 10 - Arbitrary Skepticism

Our chapter opens with Jonnie suddenly noticing a "sharp and rectangular" skyline, which startles him so much he pulls up on Windsplitter with a hard enough yank to make the horse rear, in a similar manner to how a character in a modern setting would slam on a car's brakes in surprise.

We get this great bit of narration.

But as to the "Great Village," he was coming to believe as the afternoon wore on that somebody had probably seen that god house back there and multiplied it in his imagination.

And then suddenly there it was!

But was it?

That's what the book says! Or does it?

Poking around, Jonnie uncovers a "gray white" surface, like a toppled-over wall, similar to the paved path in front of the courthouse in the Village of the Idiots. He also remembers how one family who used to own a little firewood cart said that there used to be more carts, including one pulled by a mare.

The good news is that this suggests that Jonnie's village was slightly less stupid in the past. The bad news is that even while knowing that things like horsecarts are possible, the current generation either lacks the knowledge or gumption to build their own.

Since it's close to sundown, Jonnie decides to hold off on exploring the "Great Village" until tomorrow.

The prospect of entering that place in the dark was definitely not cheering. Who knew what it might be full of? Ghosts? Gods? People?

Monsters? Ah, no. Not monsters. They were just the stuff mamas frightened their kids to sleep with.

That's... stupid. Really, really stupid. Why are ghosts more plausible than monsters? Why is the idea of stumbling upon a friggin' god in some ruins more likely than the monsters the tribe's legends say attacked humanity? And the "great village" was a legend that turned out to be real. Wouldn't a rational person with a functioning brain start to wonder if maybe the legendary "monsters" might be real, too?

The bigger question is why L. Ron wrote Jonnie this way. Is he trying to make the hero into an idiot? I think this is more of an attempt to make Jonnie brave and rational, different from the unenlightened savages around him... while at the same time remaining a superstitious barbarian hero who can rise above his upbringing and become a legend. Unfortunately, the two backgrounds are kind of mutually exclusive. If your culture believes the gods bury people they like in a great big mountain, believing in monsters of some kind takes a lot less faith.

Jonnie cooks supper, marveling at the cutting power of a shard of thousand-year-old glass, and notices some wolves sitting at the edge of the firelight, looking at him hungrily.

I'm pretty sure wild animals stay away from fire, and that wolves don't usually stalk humans. Especially this badly. The animals are literally sitting there and staring at him. Jonnie has finally found something dumber than he is.

Jonnie warns the wolves to run away, forgetting in his idiocy that wolves do not understand English. Predictably, the wolves just sit there, in defiance of eons of hunting instinct and an inherent aversion of fire. So Jonnie throws them a frickin' bone. "One slunk forward, belly low, snarling to reach the pork bone." When it's distracted, Jonnie throws a fist-sized rock and hits it in the head, killing it instantly. With superhuman speed and dexterity, Jonnie repeats the attack before the second wolf can react.

I hate you, Jonnie.

I could complain about how he's able to strike unerringly and faster than the wolves can dodge, or how he just missed a chance to prove what a cunning survivalist he is by trying to domesticate the wolves with his animal empathy skills. But mostly I'm annoyed by how he killed them with rocks instead of his patented "kill-club." Not only is Jonnie an idiot, but he's an inconsistent idiot.

Jonnie drags the poor dead wolves to the fire, finds their pelts too tick-infested to be worth collecting, and goes to sleep.

Let's review. Jonnie found a village, but didn't actually explore it yet. We learned that Jonnie's belief system lacks logic and internal consistency. And Jonnie killed some out-of-character wolves in a rather Stuish manner.

In other words, nothing happened that couldn't have been covered by a better author in a paragraph-long flashback or summation of the previous day's activities. This chapter could have opened with Jonnie entering the ruins, reflecting on how startled he was when he discovered them the afternoon previous. But no. We get to read about it as it happens, and are treated to a pointless and disappointing encounter with wolves.

At least this wasn't as much a waste of time as the "pig battle." We end just above the bottom of page 36. Next chapter, some actual plot happens.

Back to Chapter Nine

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