Thursday, November 23, 2006

Steve Stirling's Wiccans

For reading on last week's train trip to Washington, D.C., I brought Steve Stirling’s The Protector’s War; it is the second of a post-apocalyptic trilogy, following Dies the Fire.

In the first book, set in the 1990s, some mysterious Change occurs and suddenly electricity does not flow, internal combustion engines do not combust, gunpowder will not explode, and even steam engines do not function well enough to be useful. One of the characters tries to explain it as a change in the laws governing the behavior of gases. That last is a bit of a stretch, since other sorts of machines, including pumps, do work, and wood-fueled fires do burn. But Stirling clearly wanted to write a Neo-Medieval tale, and so he bypasses any revival of the Age of Steam.

Within months of the Change, the end of civilization as we know it, the survivors have reverted to idealistic feudalism (the good guys) or despotic feudalism (the bad guys) or outright banditry (the enemies of both). Having a background in special operations (Green Berets, SAS) or the Society for Creative Anachronism seems to be helpful for survival as either good guy or bad guy, since large amounts of the books involved small-group tactics, covert operations, and combat with edged weapons. Having read all of Tolkien’s work twenty times can be a plus too. (The SCA must luv this series.)

Probably the main reason that review copies of parts two and three arrived in my mailbox is Sterling’s pride in creating the character of Juniper MacKenzie, folksinger and Wiccan high priestess, whose coven becomes the nucleus of “Clan Mackenzie,” a burgeoning tribe of small farmers and craftspeople who take their archery practice very seriously. The clan makes the “Old Religion” the dominate faith tradition of Oregon’s middle Willamette Valley—except for the monks at Mount Angel and a few other hold-outs.

Having Wiccan characters in a novel of alternative history is not exactly mainstreaming them—-and I could just as easily see a charismatic Protestant pastor organizing the Lord’s Army of kick-ass archers and pikemen—-but it does allow the books’ characters to bring a Pagan sensibility to this tale of war and survival.

In this second book of the series, which takes place nine after the Change, the older characters are looking at the older teens, who were little kids when civilization died, and then wondering about the next generation, who will never have known anything else, and how their worldview will be significantly different from that of the people who were adults during the Change.

I wonder if Stirling would have related that to one of the live issues within Pagan studies—-and the movement in general—-about how the religion(s) will change as more and more cradle Pagans and then their children come into them.


Blogger K2.0 said...

I love those books -- so blood-and-thunder, and I love seeing Wiccan characters take center stage. But I do think that if Wicca ever became a mass, congregational religion, it would lose a lot of itself -- or less critically, it would morphinto something completely different than what it started out as.

10:52 AM  

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