|Starving Polar Bear |
Kerstin Langenberger Photography
The best introduction to this universally acclaimed Mythmaker drama is contained in the following extract from The Termite Queen, v.1. Griffen Gwidian is an entomologist and chief of the expedition to the termite planet; Kaitrin Oliva is the linguistic anthropologist charged with learning how to communicate with the termite extraterrestrials. The two of them are falling in love, and during this time they attend several stage productions, including one of The White Bear.
The Valley of the White Bear was an intense allegorical fantasy of the responsibilities that human beings bear toward one another and toward the world that gives them life. It was the most beloved of all the literature in the Mythmaker canon, and the most widely studied. The present rendition was a holotheater production; the settings and fantastic characters were holoimages while the human parts were performed by live actors.
Kaitrin and Gwidian emerged from the performance discussing the technical merits of the show, including the effectiveness of the hologram of the god/goddess Hasta. Gwidian found it to be static and lacking in warmth, while Kaitrin felt that the size and austerity ensured the correct overpowering effect.
“I’m never comfortable when gods intrude into Mythmaker lit,” Gwidian said. “The agenda of those writers was to persuade humanity to take ethical responsibility for its own actions rather than to blame its transgressions on infractions of arbitrary rules laid down by some religious or political entity. A principle of behavior that our kind tended to ignore in ages past, to Earth’s detriment.”
“I don’t know that one ought to apply the word ‘agenda’ to the Mythmakers,” said Kaitrin. “There were so many of them, living over such a long period in so many different parts of the Earth, that it’s doubtful many of them even knew of the others’ existence, let alone exchanged ideas. They didn’t compose the Precepts, after all – those were a later formulation extracted from a study of the whole Mythmaker canon by a bunch of social philosophers. The writers with the loftiest imaginations, like No. 96, produced works that stand beautifully on their own without a lot of sententious reinterpretation. And the god-figures are all symbolic. As I recall, when Hasta first appears, the stage directions say only something like ‘Ingreaf sees on the top of the mountain a shape with a light in it, which speaks to him.’ That’s why so many different interpretations of it are possible – why producing it on the stage never gets old. But basically it embodies the overarching Principle of Life.
“And then the White Bear itself is the form the soul of nature takes so that human beings can interact with it. It’s generally acknowledged that The White Bear was the foundation for Precept No. 20 – Everything in the universe shares in the principle of life, hence we have a moral obligation not to destroy life in our infinitesimal portion of the universe. I’ve always found the end of the play to be so moving – that juxtaposition of destruction and regeneration!”
“You explicate the play very well! But if it’s all symbolic, why call Hasta something as concrete as god/goddess?”
“Well, isn’t the Principle of Life sort of what a deity is supposed to be? Something larger than ourselves – larger and more powerful than anything we can know even with the most advanced science. The Mythmakers weren’t hidebound atheists, you know. None of them ever rejected deity categorically; they simply averred that neither its existence nor its non-existence can be proved. That’s why this trend toward deifying the Mythmakers seems misguided to me. I’m quite sure they didn’t see themselves as beings whose existence could be neither proved nor disproved! Although they did succeed spectacularly well in remaining anonymous!”
There is more to this extract, but I’ll save it for a later post. As an aside, let me just quote the following from MWFB:
Robbin Nikalishin’s Professor of moral philosophy Alise Doone (whose hobby is acting) says in MWFB, Part One: “I’ve done the voice of Hasta in The White Bear three times for the Consortium. Apparently our director prefers to interpret the esteemed god/goddess as a sexless hag with a quirky Scotts burr, although once I played it as a moon figure with a quirky Scotts burr.”
It’s my plan to actually write The White Bear someday, although I’m not sure I’m up to writing something that’s considered equivalent to Shakespeare! But I also intend to write the story of the author of The White Bear, which will be my only dystopian tale. I’m not sure I’ll ever get that written either, but I’m still not going to tell you anything about that sad story because I don’t want to spoil it in case I do write it. I’ll only say that The White Bear’s author became fascinated by the story of how Earth’s polar bear was destroyed when climate change eliminated its habitat and he turns this into a whole set of symbolic circumstances.
The play exists in only two slightly variant manuscripts, discovered within five years of each other in Archivists’ caches. The first was found in what is called in the 21st century New Mexico, and the other came to light much further south in Mexico. Given that the setting is the far northern reaches of the North American continent, it’s assumed that the author lived somewhere in the middle of that continent and that Archivists carried his/her works south during a migration.
While I won't tell you any more about the author, I am going to summarize the plot of the drama itself. I have quite a few notes on that subject.
This plot line came to me on 11/24/04, with some additions at 2/7/06.
Ingreaf (the names of the characters all have symbolic significance) is a technical scientist working in the domain of the Great Northern Techno-Warlord; his name is Stranja (pronounced “strange-uh” because his kind should be considered alien to the Earth) and he rules all of Noonavik and parts of Midammerik. He holds a competition to develop an invincible robotic warrior, so Ingreaf concocts a mechanical bear that he covers with fake white fur because he has always been fascinated with the tales of a time before the Sun-Scorch when magnificent white bears roamed the now-vanished ice sheets of the North. He names it Luco, from the ancient root meaning “light,” a name people ridicule – a robotic warrior should be dark and menacing.
He doesn’t give this robot the power of speech (note Precept No. 18, specifying what it means to be human: Humans speak, form symbols, share emotions), but he does give it the power to understand and obey voice commands. But as he lives with this monstrosity, he begins to get fascinated with it and it begins to become more human to him. They form a sort of reluctant bond. Ingreaf is a lonely man and he keeps Luco in his bedroom and talks to it, coming to wonder why it doesn’t respond.
Finally the day comes for the robotic-warrior competition, where the Warlord requires that the robots kill a man. Luco does this so easily that it wins the competition, but as Ingreaf watches, he realizes he’s made a terrible mistake – he should never have created a killer.
He takes Luco and flees into the wilderness, ending up in a valley at the foot of a peak called Hasta’s Mountain, named for a mythical god/goddess. (Hasta in Spanish means “until,” emphasizing the fact that Life is a process, not a static given.) The valley is inhabited by the ghost of a real extinct white bear, a cadaverous apparition which obviously met its death by starvation.
As Ingreaf and Luco wander, they keep catching glimpses of something in the forest, haunting them, shadowing them. They catch glimpses of something glimmering pale among the trees, and they hear noises, growls, whimpers. One night it’s particularly bad and there is a scrambling in the bushes and Luco runs off in protective mode and leaves his master alone. At that point, Luco is representing the survival instinct, the desire of Life to survive at whatever cost. While he’s gone, Ingreaf sits by their fire terrified, and then there is this long silence (Ingreaf may speak part of his on-going soliloquy at that point). When Luco returns, he no longer has just red lights for eyes, he has acquired actual bear eyes.
This is the beginning of the metamorphosis – the merging of humanity with the natural. And it’s after this that they first hear Hasta speaking to them. Gradually Luco acquires more and more characteristics of the ghost as the metamorphosis continues. And then finally Ingreaf develops to where he can actually see the Bear – the emaciated, dying bear as it was before it became only a spirit. Luco has merged with the actual Bear, staring at its Creator and pleading for understanding. Finally, Luco attacks Ingreaf, who by now had come to accept his role as sacrificial victim. He saves the humanity of the world by allowing Luco as White Bear (nature incarnate) to eat him and become strong again, affirming the renewal process of nature.
When Ingreaf decides to save the Bear by feeding him with his own body, he stretches out his hand and cuts the wrist with his knife and the Luco/Bear laps the blood, then approaches and seizes the hand in his mouth. The stage goes black, except for a glow where Hasta lives, and there is absolutely silence. Finally the lights are gradually brought up again and the Bear stands there triumphantly at full living strength on its hind legs while a naked, emaciated, and semi-transparent Ingreaf sits on a rock, a ghost himself now. Between them is a collection of bones and bits of clothing. They stare at each other and then the White Bear swells larger and vanishes into the forest, symbolizing the impossibility of destruction of the natural. Ingreaf cries out, “Luco, come back to me! I have given you my all – will you abandon me?” But a compassionate Hasta says, Ingreaf, come to the top of the mountain and let the Bear pass on its way. The cock is about to crow. The sound of a crowing cock is heard, symbolizing a return to reality, and Ingreaf rises slowly and commences to trudge up toward the light. Final curtain.
Another parenthetical note to close: I use the crowing cock symbolism in MWFB, in a later section that isn’t even remotely ready to be published.
In the next post, I'll present the Precepts and begin an analysis.
In the next post, I'll present the Precepts and begin an analysis.
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