Monday, 3 January 2011
Lucifer: A Dalliance With The Damned
"...Attrition amongst my enemies tends to be high. And the few I've got left are beneath consideration."
One of the bravest decisions Mike Carey made when writing Lucifer involves how much of it isn't actually directly about the eponymous fallen angel. This is quite frequently a risky strategy - people, after all, tend to like knowing what they're going to get - but I would think it's especially fraught with peril when your ostensible protagonist is as powerful and all-pervading as the Devil Himself.
In truth, there is less evidence of this in the first two novels, either because Carey was still deciding how to tell his story, or because he wanted to set up the ground rules first. Frankly, I can easily believe the latter. Between them, Devil in the Gateway and Children and Monsters established the cast of characters, the desires and attitude of Lucifer, and the price he would exact from those that crossed him. In addition, they set up the board quite nicely as well, ending with the birth of Lucifer's Creation.
Triptych was our first clue that the Devil was not goimg to be our exclusive focus, concerning itself as it did with the potential paths of Mazikeen, Elaine Belloc, and the new Creation itself. A Dalliance With The Damned is similar in at least one important respect: it's focus is not on Lucifer, but on those people whose lives intersect with his.
We already know from several encounters how remorselessly and thoroughly Lucifer crushes those who stand against him. This, of course, is hardly surprising. We are talking about the Morningstar, after all. Terrible vengeance can be taken as a given. The specific methods of retribution might be (and are) of interest, but the motivations behind them are not particularly difficult to grasp.
What we learn from Dalliance... is the punishment Lucifer is prepared to inflict on those who believe they are trying to help.
This being Lucifer, of course, there is far more going on that just that. Indeed, Lucifer himself is absent for almost two-thirds of the story. Whilst we wait for his arrival, Carey spends his time asking a question: what exactly are the Damned, anyway? Satan once said it was "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven", at least according to Milton. Our Lucifer has clearly changed his mind, however, if indeed he ever felt that way that all. Which kind of makes you wonder about the rest of his administrative staff, doesn't it?
Much has been said regarding the "mundanity of evil": the idea that grotesquely despicable acts can be all the more horrifying when those that commit them do so with the distracted air of disinterested bureaucrats. There's another level beyond even that, though; the "crushing monotony of evil". At this extreme, we move from having no investment in evil acts to actually finding them wearyingly dull. "Do I have to go work in the concentration camp today? "Can't I stay in bed?"
The residents of Effrul and its neighbouring realms must surely have reached that point some time ago. Why else do they obsess over the details of their "clumsy copy" of c1700 London? Rut like beasts and fight like animals. Wheel around each other in exhaustively complex political machinations. It's all just a release from the crippling mundanity of endlessly torturing the souls of the dead.
This is probably why Seviram is so set on seizing power in Effrul to hand it to Lucifer. It might well be that he has thoroughly misunderstood what caused the war in Heaven in the first place. He knows Lucifer chafed at his bridle, but perhaps he has conflated the desire to do whatever one wants with the need to have no other being telling you what you can't do.
It's an understandable mistake, to be sure. But it's a critical one, as we've known since the first arc. Lucifer has very little in the way of desires to fulfil. His only need is to lack constraints. What he would do without those constraints is almost irrelevant. That's why he is so angry when he discovers Seviram's plan. Lucifer has no need of Effrul. Worse, taking control of it would be one more unasked for responsibility. One less direction in which Lucifer would be able to fly unencumbered. He says himself he dislikes alliances. Alliances imply concessions, and concessions are things that Lucifer cannot abide.
Such is the fate of those who decide for themselves what their chosen champion truly desires. That, of course, is a lesson any number of people could stand to learn. Some forces are not to be taken lightly, or bent to one's own impulses and opinions. Seviram at least has an excuse for such solipsism, he lacks a soul. All those who rule the damned do. And without a soul, there is no empathy - which is why Christopher Rudd has to poison Lys with unprocessed pain to get her to feel anything, and why doing that destroys her existence so utterly. It's also why Lucifer furnishes Seviram with a soul. Without that, suffering is only physical.
Rudd's great revelation is not that mental anguish is worse than physical pain. At least, I hope it isn't, since I'm not sure that's a call any writer can make absent prolonged exposure to torture and imprisonment. What he does realise though is that the application of physical pain is insufficient on its own. The true suffering comes from being forced through the mill of Hell whilst being able to remember exactly what you did to deserve being there. To remember the exact moment you acted as though you didn't have a soul. When Christopher's anger over his wife's infidelity led him to kill his employer's child, he was acting like Lys, or Seviram, or Lord Arux
This is the other side of the coin to Effrul's endless masquerade ball. The aristocracy of Hell spend their time aping humanity because of what we have and they lack, whereas humanity is only to happy to ignore what we have the instant it becomes a burden to us. These two breeds of madness and denial meet in the middle, on either side of a wall so thin it can be broken by a whim of Lucifer or by a cloud of pain.
In the end, then, the lesson is clear. Our empathy makes us human, and any given punishment is made the worse by being forced to be reminded of why we deserve it. Why else do we spend so much time trying to distract ourselves from it, with games and sports and sex and causes? It's because we're all far closer to being damned than we'd like to think.
And, as we've now learned, we will get no further deluding ourselves that we're keeping the Devil happy than we would do with God.