Thursday, January 29, 2009

Commentary: The Horus Heresy


‘I was there,’ he would say afterwards, until afterwards became a time quite devoid of laughter. ‘I was there, the day Horus slew the Emperor.’ It was a delicious conceit, and his comrades would chuckle at the sheer treason of it. (the opening lines of Horus Rising)

“I was there.” Such a powerful statement, that I love reading it, in its many incarnations. It implies that that something so significant has happened, that the writer feels needs to attach his own personal reputation to this event. To be able to tell a story, and start it with the phrase, “I was there,” gives special meaning to an otherwise tale normal tale, and promotes it to an epic status. A short and simple way to say that the story teller was fortunate enough to have witnessed such a special event and the story about to be told is true, as it was witnessed first hand. This statement harkens back to an earlier age where minstrels would tell such stories around a fire to pass glories tales of courage and heroism to a younger generation. Ahh..to be able to tell such a tale and say, “I was there.”

I probably should back up a bit. I have just finished reading the 9th installment of the Black Library’s premier Horus Heresy line. After reading the first book, I have been hooked every since. The first book is by Dan Abnett, who is one of my favorites of the shared world authors. Dan is just a machine when it comes to cranking our novels, and he turns them out at a frenzied pace (maybe he really is part machine..but that’s another story). When it comes to shared world authors and subject matter is based on a game, it truly is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the results produced. I have read some good books, and I have read books that I would describe as bubble gum, and I have read books that are “cover your eyes bad.” In this case, I think that Dan has set a high standard that the other authors are trying to achieve.

Anyone who has been in the gaming hobby is probably familiar with the Warhammer 40K game and the mythos that surrounds the game, even if it is just at a surface level. I have to applaud Games Workshop for creating not just a war game with miniatures, but rather a living breathing universe that gives the games context, and adds an extra element of enjoyment to the hobby. In each iteration of the game, they have further refined and improved upon the background fluff, and there is a consistency of theme that runs through it. I can appreciate the effort that Games Workshop has put into maintaining the consistency and the spirit of the story background, and I wish that WotC was as careful and mindful a steward of the D&D story. But I digress.

The story of Horus is an age old tale of the son rebelling against his father. In this particular tale, there is a strong tie back to the biblical rebellion of angels, and I can not but help think that this is deliberate. The Emperor of mankind is described god that has led mankind to a glorious new age. As part of his plan, he has created the primarchs to assist him. At this point in the myth cycle, it gets very fuzzy as to why the primarchs became separated from the Emperor, and it is not entirely clear as to whether this was by design or by criminal action. After the primarchs have been reunited with their father, he appoints Horus to be the Warmaster for his armies. Over the course of the first three books, there are a number of times that Horus refers to the Emperor as his father, and it further establishes the theme of a rebellion of angels against their god like father. The primarchs are continuously throughout the novels describes as angelic beings blessed with superior talents as compared to the rest of the mankind, including the superhuman Astartes.

While the prose of the novels is not as symbolic as Milton or Dante, nor as heroic as Tolkien or even as colorful as Howard, it is sufficient to breathe life into this story. Where I applaud the authors is how they inject a human element into the stoic space marines, and how they capture the tragedy that is unfolding. When reading the first one, I was caught up in the image of Horus as a heroic figure, embodied of all that is good in a leader. As the first trilogy progressed, one could see the seeds of destruction being sown, building to the scene in the temple of healing where the final tragic step is taken, and the train wreck is assured. This is a dark trilogy that has no good ending. It is truly a shame, as there was much promise in Horus, and that is what makes the first trilogy so good. There is something about a literary tragedy that holds a special place in epic story telling, as it resonates well with our circumstances in our own life. It is this empathy for the characters that leads us back to the tragedies, as it is the only reason that we would continue to read Shakespeare’s tragedies long after his death.

To date, there are nine books in the series, and I like to think of the series as three different trilogies. I will leave it at that for the moment, as I will touch on the different trilogies in future blogs and comment more on the subject matter covered in them. Suffice to say that I do consider the Horus Heresy to be one of the better series based on game material that I have read, and it is worthy of reading at least the first three books.

1 comment:

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