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Old Mar 23 2016, 03:30 PM   #12

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For those who are interested . . .

The Role of Religion in The Deed of Paksenarrion.

Analysis of the role of religion in The Deed of Paksenarrion falls into two strands: its role in Paksenarrion’s world as a whole, and its progressive role in the life of the eponymous heroine. In this essay I shall be looking at both strands and trying to show how they interact on eachother.

Elizabeth Moon, who started writing this story in 1982 and got it published in 1988, has almost as interesting a biography as her heroine. For commercial reasons, the original opus was divided into three volumes of around 500 pages each, which were followed up a year or two later by a pair of prequels. Twenty years later still, after creating another couple of series of stories, Elizabeth returned to this corpus and added another quintet of stories, revolving around other major and minor characters in the original tales, and also, more recently still, a collection of short stories, many of them chapters that had been omitted from the various books. In the Paksenarrion series Elizabeth draws extensively on the same Germanic/Scandinavian corpus of myth and legend as did Tolkien, but what she does with it is very different.

Moon has created a world where religion is central to the existence of all the differing races, but not on the lines of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy series, full of Christian allegory, with its appropriately named hero, Ransom, who, in Perelandra, realises he has to offer himself Christ-like to save that particular world (Lewis, 1943, pp132-133). Neither has she created a world on the lines of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider series where Anne deliberately created a planet without any religion or myth. When various fans opined that it was not feasible for a population to exist in this state; she declared that it was her world and that she could do what she liked with it (McCaffrey, 1994, p8). Anne admitted that she deliberately did this in reaction to her Irish Catholic upbringing in Boston, Massachusetts (private communication 2007). Also, as she pointed out to a member of A Meeting of Minds, one of her fans’ bulletin boards; at the time of her creating the dragon rider planet, Pern, there were four religious wars taking place and she saw no reason to add the possibility of another (Jeff, 2006).

Baijens, reviewing The Deed of Paksenarrion for Amazon, wrote:
“. . . Paks makes for a credible, rich and engaging main character. The other characters all have their own personalities, strengths and flaws. And through the realistic depictions of strategy, battles and armies on (the) march, Elizabeth Moon lets her background in the military and as a historian shine through. The same goes for the individual sword fights and the descriptions of weapon play. All the combat has a gritty sense of realism to it without being overly gory,” (Baijens, 2010).

Paksenarrion’s World:
Paksenarrion’s world is inhabited by a variety of races: currently Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes (Moon, 2014c). The Elves maintain that there also used to be a race of tiny beings (fairies?) but they had disappeared (Moon, 2010, p842). Each race has its own sphere; the dwarves and gnomes inhabiting and creating various under-ground spaces, and the humans and elves living mainly on the surface: though the elvish kingdoms are, in part, outside the world (Moon, 2010, p848). The former two races maintain a racial purity with no interbreeding, but the elves are biologically compatible with humans and half-breeds are fairly common, especially in Lyonya where the two races share the kingdom (Moon, 2010, p989).

The humans in the world of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter, have a hierarchical feudal society with self-governing trade guilds. The various kingdoms all have standing armies of various sizes and efficiencies, usually supplied by the nobility as part of their ‘duty’ to their ruler, and supplemented in times of need by local militia. Some of the nobles maintain forces larger than they need just to guard their estates. These troops are usually somewhat better trained and equipped than the norm, and are hired out as mercenaries to fight in trade wars, or for guarding caravans of traders. The military development is pre-gunpowder; with swordsmen, pikes-men, cavalry and various types of archer. Over time, the more reputable mercenary companies have developed their own ‘Mercenary Code’ covering the treatment and care of prisoners of war, and the companies’ relationships with the civilians through whose properties they pass, or who get caught up in their activities (Moon, 2010, p316).

To the north of the central east-to-west mountains their continent has eight kingdoms. To the south of the mountains things are more fluid and unsettled and this is where most of the mercenary activity takes place, although most of the companies of fighters come from the North. There is one treaty town, Valdaire, just south of the one good pass through the mountains, where all the mercenary companies can winter without regard to who was on which side the previous fighting season (Moon, 2010, pp98-99).

The Pantheons:
The religious setup is as complicated as one would expect in such a complex society. Each of the races is polytheistic with a hierarchy of gods. There is a degree of overlap and equivalence between the pantheons, but each race has its own preferences, rituals and myths (Moon, 2014c).

Thus, for the Elves, the list is headed by the “Adyan” who created the world by naming everything, and “Singer” who created everything through song. They name themselves the “Isinyi” – the lesser singers. (Humans tend to conflated them and refer to the Singer as Adyan). The Elves’ other gods include “First Tree”, “Father of Dragons” and “Mother of Unicorns”.

For the Dwarves, although they admit to the existence of a high god, the main subject of their worship is “Sertig the Maker” who hammered out the world on the anvil of time (Moon, 2010, p482). They also have “Tir” the god of war, whose worship has spread to the other races, and gods for different crafts: “Hruviar” (silversmiths), “Drossviar” (masons), and “Krethakviar” (carpenters). Their evil gods include “Falsetongue” and “Drossnedross” the spoiler of stone.

The Gnomes are so reclusive that nobody is sure of the ordering of their particular pantheon but it is headed by their version of the High Lord.

For the Humans, the chief god is the High Lord, a mixture of the Gnomish High Lord and “Esea”, Sun God of Old Aare, for whom everything exists because he wills it so. The chief goddess is Alyanya the goddess of health, fertility and peace. There is also “Simyits” who started out as the God of Justice, who could be either condemnatory or merciful, and therefore was depicted as Janus-faced. Under the insistence of the legalistic Gnomes that justice is never two-faced, Simyits has been demoted to the God of Luck. Hovering on the edge of the saga are tribes of horse nomads inhabiting the northern wastes. Their theology involves the Windsteed, whose foals they believe they will ride for eternity in the Afterfields, and the Mare of Plenty, who appears to conflate with Alyana (Moon, 2014d).

Some of Moon’s gods come as pairs of good and evil. Thus Adyan the Namer, also worshipped by harpers, is paired with Nayda the un-namer, to be feared as he causes one’s name to be forgotten after death. Due to the complication that Adyan is also regarded as the Singer, he is paired with A-isynisi, literally the Un-singer, who causes chaos. And Dwarvish Sertig the Maker is opposed by Gitres the Unmaker to be feared as he destroys all memory your achievements after your death (Moon, 2014d).

The peoples of Paks’ world have many heroes and myths. In his summary of Campbell’s Occidental Mythology, Young explains Campbell’s four functions of mythic tales. Firstly, to awaken a sense of awe for the mystery of being; secondly, to explain the order of the cosmos and one’s relationship in it. The third affirms the validity of the society from which it arises; and the fourth helps people understand life and guides them to achieve a more fulfilling one (Campbell 1964).

We are told of only one Dwarvish hero to whom is granted legendary status, Battlehammer, a patron-hero, who, from the little told about him, is mythical rather than historical. The Humans also have a number of saints and heroes, the chief of whom are saints Gird, Falk and Camwyn. To these the horse nomads have contributed Torre, although her story has become known across the eight kingdoms. Of the stories about these four humans; the first three are legendary in that they existed in their world’s history, even if the tales of their trials and triumphs have grown over the centuries, and fictitious stories added to the true ones. Gird, for instance, has come to be regarded by many of the population as having become a god to be worshipped and supplicated, rather than a saint to be revered; which the more educated recognise him as. But, the orders of knights, et cetera, that have been founded in their three names, still exist and fulfil essential roles in their societies. The last, Torre, however, is purely mythical and consists of a tale of a beautiful, but large nosed, princess who rode off on a magical horse to perform a series of tasks to save her father the king and then rode off into the sky; her twelve tasks being symbolised by the appearance of a constellation of twelve stars (Moon, 2014a pp32-36).

The multiplicity of legends and myths on Paksenarrion’s world is further evidence of the primacy of religion in Elizabeth’s creation; and are, in themselves, a remarkably cohesive aspect to that creation.

The Pervasion of Religious Practice:
As Radcliffe-Brown pointed out in the 1945 Henry Myers Lecture; the segregation of religion and state, and the separation religion and everyday life, was unknown, and unconceivable to the developing medieval civilisations; and Elizabeth has carried this across.

“. . . any religion is an important or even essential part of the social machinery, as are morality and law, part of the complex system by which human beings are enabled to live together in an orderly arrangement of social relations . . . a religion is independent of its truth or falsity, . . . and that without these "false" religions social evolution and the development of modern civilization would have been impossible” (Radcliffe-Brown, 1945, p33).

Although many of the inhabitants of Paksenarrion’s world pay little day-to-day attention to any formal religion, Elizabeth Moon’s humans follow a rotation of rituals. Since the world is mainly agrarian; blooding the plough-share before the first ploughing, and the spade before the first digging; the offering of the first fruits and crops of harvest; and the dressing of the wells each spring are a natural part of the year’s religious observances (Moon, 2010, p117). And all, to greater or lesser extent, celebrate the four astronomical markers: the Eveners (Equinoxes) and the Solstices which, because of family reunions on those days, have legal importance; courts are held by rulers, and the announcement of legal contracts such as engagements, marriages take place then. The chief of these four is the Winter Solstice, when everybody, whether rural or urban dwelling, spend the night in fireless and lightless vigil, and greet the new dawn/year with stories, chants and feasting.

Elizabeth Moon has created an amazing and believable world, peopled by a wide variety of beings, some good, some evil, and the majority a mixture of both. They inhabit a world dominated by pantheistic religions and ruled by dynasties who are immersed in those religions, though with one possible exception, none of the human ones at least could be classed as a theocracy. The exception is Fintha which is home to the Order of Gird who rule it from their base in Fin Panir. The Elder Races, Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes, are so immersed in their religions that the separation of their states and religions is impossible to contemplate, and any such separation would utterly change both spheres.

Paksenarrion’ Pilgrimage:
The Deed of Paksenarrion follows her development over approximately four years. This includes her spiritual development from token acceptance of her patronal religion to its centrality to her adult life: and from an innocent teenager to the epitome of a powerful paladin dressed in shining armour, armed with magical weapons, riding a horse gifted her by the gods, full of powers and blessed by a variety of those gods (Moon, 2010, pp375-378).

Inspired by her cousin, Jornoth’s, tales of being a mercenary (Moon, 2010, pp4-5); the Autumn she’s eighteen Paksenarrion runs away from home, on the edge of the Northern Wastes, to avoid an arranged marriage to a pig farmer. She is determined to make her own way rather than accept her father’s plans. Like many youngsters, deep in her heart she holds a dream of magic swords and flying steeds (Moon, 2010, p371). Her home has been a remote sheep farm and, although she can read and write after a fashion, she’s ignorant of the larger world. In terms of religion, she follows to a moderate extent, the beliefs and Gods of her local group: Adyan the High Lord, Alyanya, Lady of Peace, and Dort, god of shepherds and clothiers.

While serving her term in the mercenaries, Paks comes to learn more about Saint Gird and his history, perceives that there are other, better, ways of fighting than just for money and realises that this is what she has wanted all along. But like many people, real or fictitious, she has to wrestle with how much of what she is told is truthful:
‘Paks considered herself a follower of Gird . . . but who was Gird, really? Was the Gird of legend -- the farmer-hero who freed people from vicious overlords -- a real person? How much of the legend on which an entire religion was based could be true?’ (Moon, 2014b)

In attaining her paladin status, Paksenarrion has to go through a number of trials. In one she is captured by the Iynisin, a race of evil Elves who, for various reasons turned their back on Adyan and the orderly balanced rule loved by most Elves, and love spreading pain and destruction (Moon, 2010, pp707-723). The damage they cause her takes a long time to heal and the final stage is accomplished from an unexpected source. But her experience of the depths of pain, despair and physical weakness equips her to realise, as many of the other paladins do not, just what the “common” human has to face. It also enables her to realise that to fulfil the potential of her particular “Calling” she has to be independent of all the various orders of knights and paladins. In achieving her potential and destiny, her deeds both small and great have the power to cause change the future history of entire kingdoms. As Arianya, the Marshall-General of the Order of Gird with which she originally started training, put it “she is the pebble that starts the avalanche.”

Some of Paks’ tasks have more than one outcome. When the priests of Liart the Tormenter seize Phelan, the lost but rightful king of Lyonya and his four squires just before they are due to travel to his waiting kingdom for proclamation and coronation, she offers herself in their place to suffer five days and nights of torture, one day and night for each, to enable him to fulfil his true destiny. At the end of her fairly public torture the gods grant a partial healing: her broken hands are mended, the burns are swept away with new growth, and Liart’s brand on her forehead is transformed into the High Lord’s stigmata. The witnesses of this transformation come to realise that the good gods are more powerful than the evil ones, which causes major changes in organisations like the Thieves’ Guild which relied on fear and torture to control their members and associates (Moon, 2010, pp1131-1155).

Although Pakenarrion’s career follows much of Campbell’s Hero Cycle; whether because of her gender, or that of her author, or because her author has never heard of Campbell, her story diverges from the cycle. For instance; she never has to steal the “elixir” or “boon”, nobody falsely claims her deeds as their own, and the happy-ever-after marriage never happens for her (Campbell, 1949). In the same way, only nine of Propp’s “31 Narratemes” apply to Paksenarrion’s tale, and they are all in the centre two spheres (Changing Works, 2016).

Though Elizabeth originally created this opus in response to overhearing some role-game players talking about playing at paladins, and getting it very wrong (Moon, 2007a) this has allowed her to explore the role that religion could play in the political, social, economic and legal spheres in an entire world. In choosing to set the story in a fictitious equivalent to late Mediaeval Europe, the period in which she specialised in the first of her degrees, she has recreated much of the mind set of those times, although extended and amended to include the Elder Races.

Baijens, K., (2010), Review of The Deed of Paksenarrion. Available at, accessed 17 March 2016.

Campbell, J., (1949), ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’; quoted in Anon (n.d.), The Hero’s Journey. Available at, accessed 21 March 2016.

Campbell, J., (1964), ‘Occidental Mythology’, quoted in Young, J., (n.d.), The Centre for Story and Symbol: Joseph Campbell – a Scholar’s Life. Available at, accessed 14 March 2016.

Changing Works, (2016), Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale. Available at accessed 14 March 2016.

‘Jeff’ (2006),, (post #16) accessed 9 February 2016.

Lewis, C., (1938), Out of the Silent Planet. London.

Lewis, C., (1943), Perelandra. London, (2nd Ed, 1960).

Lewis, C., (1945), That Hideous Strength. London.

McCaffrey, A., (1994), ‘So You’re Anne McCaffrey’ in The Girl who Heard Dragons. New York.

McCaffrey, T., (1999), Dragonholder. New York.

Moon, E., (1988a), Sheepfarmer’s Daughter. London.

Moon, E., (1988b), Divided Allegiance. London.

Moon, E., (1998c), Oath of Gold. London.

Moon, E., (2004), Why I Write Military Science Fiction. Available at, accessed 7 February 2016.

Moon, E., (2007a), Difference between revisions. Author’s post on Wikipedia available at, accessed 17 March 2016.

Moon, E., (2007b), Interview on Plaza of the Mind. Available at, accessed 13 March 2016.

Moon, E., (2010), The Deed of Paksenarrion. London.

Moon, E., (2014a), Deeds of Honor. New York.
Moon, E., (2014b), “Home”. Available at, accessed 23 March 2016.

Moon, E., (2014c), Peoples. Available at, accessed 7 February 2016.

Moon, E., (2014d), Religion in Paksworld. Available at, accessed 7 February 2016.

Radcliffe-Brown, A., (1945), ‘Religion and Society.’ Henry Meyers Lecture. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 75, No. 1/2 (1945), pp. 33-43. Available at, accessed 16 March 2016.

Roberts, R., (2007), Anne McCaffrey, a Life with Dragons. Jackson.

Website also consulted:
"Truth is stranger than fiction: fiction has to make sense." Leo Rosten.

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
C. S. Lewis

"I find television very educational. Whenever somebody switches it on I go in the other room and read a book." (attributed to Groucho Marx)

The Pedants are revolting! (against bad grammar)

Last edited by P'ter; Mar 27 2016 at 06:31 PM.
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