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Bakker LVIII HITB: A Literalist Interpretation (Spoilers for all books)


IFR
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Posted (edited)

I thought the title of the previous thread must have been a joke title, but then I looked back further and no, it really does seem that there have been 57 other threads on Bakker. I don't know how to say this, everyone, but I think you all might have a serious addiction.

Which is excellent, because I just finished the PoN trilogy and it really impressed me. The world is extremely well done, and it is being revealed in an intriguing fashion (the third book literally took this from high fantasy to a crazy scifi mix with invading aliens and genetic engineering technology - that appendix is very long but welcome).

I also really liked the characters and the nature of their interactions. A character like Kellhus (Gary Stu, if you will), normally is not interesting to me, but with the spin Bakker gave him, he becomes extremely fun to read about. With Kellhus and the Dunyain, the Nonmen, the Consult, the real existence of tyrannical gods and demons, it all gives this series a unique Lovecraftian spin, where humans are helpless playthings in a cosmic battleground of malevolent superhumans. Kellhus is not so much a character to identify with, but a force of nature, an infectious disease that warps everyone around him. And the legitimate question of whether he is indeed a Christ-like figure is very fascinating.

And that's awesome.

The other characters are good, too. I was amused by Xerius and his comic insanity, a spoiled myopic idiot who fancied himself very capable, then watched as all his plans fell to pieces because he was outplayed by superhumans and gods.

Achamian was great, too, as the world weary adventurer who has to deal with the objective fact of his own damnation, when a possible Christ figure with a way out enters his story.

Esmenet's story was fun, too. I enjoyed seeing this character who had ingrained within her this sense of victimhood and inferiority, once given supreme power become a merciless, psychopathic monster who will torture people on whom.

And Serwe was possibly one of my favorites. I loved her complete innocence and naivete, and how in this world that means nothing, and simply is subject to unlimited abuse. Harsh, but a lot of authors out there would exercise more restraint. Our world allows that on a very regular basis, so why not write a world that is equally unforgiving? And Serwe is also a good example in microcosm of the human's ultimate role in the cosmic drama that takes place.

Awesome world, awesome characters.

I do have a couple points of confusion that maybe the scholars of this board would like to answer. I would have searched reddit and other places for answers, but I worry about having the rest of the series spoiled. If anyone could answer, it would be appreciated!

1) During the Circumfix, what exactly was going on? Kellhus entered a state that may or not have been death, he thinks he communed with some entity that he believed was God, and then he pulls Serwe's heart out, then he pulls his own heart out? It's not clear at all what is occurring. It's further confused when his father later remarks that he has gone insane.

2) When Kellhus is conversing with his father, Kellhus states that Moenghus is operating on incomplete information and that if the Dunyain knew what Kellhus knew, they would join the Consult. What is the source of Kellhus' stance? Is it the fact that while Moenghus would doubtless be aware of the non-Psukhe magic stated to have a mark of damnation, he would not have the understanding of its meaning which accompanies witnessing it (the darkness that comes of an otherworldly origin)? Or is it something to do with Kellhus' revelation during the Circumfix?

I'm guessing a lot is still to be revealed in the sequel series. 

But anyway, I am very impressed by that initial trilogy.

Edited by IFR
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No spoilers but temper your expectations of the sequel series tying things up, or being ... satisfactory. 
There’s supposed to be a duology to finish up the stort, but is it/will it be written? Will a publisher touch it? Will it just give another irritating ending?

Who knows!

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I actually picked up and read some of the final book (The Unholy Consult) just yesterday, so interesting that a Bakker thread pops up now.  You are correct that there has been a lot of discussion of these books, although that discussion has mostly disappeared since book 7 came out.  People are generally not optimistic that the final duology/trilogy that Bakker has in mind will ever be written. 

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1) During the Circumfix, what exactly was going on? Kellhus entered a state that may or not have been death, he thinks he communed with some entity that he believed was God, and then he pulls Serwe's heart out, then he pulls his own heart out? It's not clear at all what is occurring. It's further confused when his father later remarks that he has gone insane.

I don't think you really want me to answer this.  Based on what you've written I think you understand well enough to keep going. 

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2) When Kellhus is conversing with his father, Kellhus states that Moenghus is operating on incomplete information and that if the Dunyain knew what Kellhus knew, they would join the Consult. What is the source of Kellhus' stance? Is it the fact that while Moenghus would doubtless be aware of the non-Psukhe magic stated to have a mark of damnation, he would not have the understanding of its meaning which accompanies witnessing it (the darkness that comes of an otherworldly origin)? Or is it something to do with Kellhus' revelation during the Circumfix?

Kellhus knows the Dunyain and the way they follow the Logos, which he can still do himself.  But he is no longer a slave to the Logos as he has undergone a transformation on the circumfix, and thus is no longer like other Dunyain.  He is following a different path, and that is, from the perspective of a Dunyain such as Moenghus, no different from going mad. 

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Speaking more generally, I really enjoyed the first trilogy as well.  It definitely had it's flaws, particularly with the women characters (why are the three women POV characters a prostitute, a different prostitute and a genetically engineered monster who uses sex for manipulation?)  But the worldbuilding is top notch, the politics are interesting and Achamian, Cnauir and Conphas are great characters.

The second series (four books) is not as strong.  The biggest flaw is just that it needed a strong editor, and it pretty clearly didn't have one.  Some plotlines kinda fizzle, some parts feel totally unnecessary and go on for dozens of pages.  The ending...is not to everyone's taste.  But the good parts are still really good, which makes it worth reading if you are a fan of the world overall. 

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5 hours ago, IFR said:

1) During the Circumfix, what exactly was going on? Kellhus entered a state that may or not have been death, he thinks he communed with some entity that he believed was God, and then he pulls Serwe's heart out, then he pulls his own heart out? It's not clear at all what is occurring. It's further confused when his father later remarks that he has gone insane.

He has gone insane. Kellhus doesn't know it, either. The insane rarely do. 

5 hours ago, IFR said:

2) When Kellhus is conversing with his father, Kellhus states that Moenghus is operating on incomplete information and that if the Dunyain knew what Kellhus knew, they would join the Consult. What is the source of Kellhus' stance? Is it the fact that while Moenghus would doubtless be aware of the non-Psukhe magic stated to have a mark of damnation, he would not have the understanding of its meaning which accompanies witnessing it (the darkness that comes of an otherworldly origin)? Or is it something to do with Kellhus' revelation during the Circumfix?\

Moenghus doesn't believe that damnation or gods are real - he thinks at best that there are some entities floating around that are largely immaterial and unpowered, and the idea of the afterlife is just fairy tales meant to control people. Kellhus knows all of these things are real. Kellhus knows with absolute correct certainty that every single Dunyain will be suffering in hell for eternity for all of their horrifying sins, and not a cool hell either. And as soon as other Dunyain discover that they are going to be going to hell and have some inkling of what that means, they will do anything and everything to stop that from happening because that is the most logical thing to do.

Because if you knew with absolute certainty that almost every human would spend literal eternity suffering over and over at the hands of cruel and uncaring gods, what would it matter what you do in the mortal life in order to stop it?

 

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5 hours ago, IFR said:

1) During the Circumfix, what exactly was going on? Kellhus entered a state that may or not have been death, he thinks he communed with some entity that he believed was God, and then he pulls Serwe's heart out, then he pulls his own heart out? It's not clear at all what is occurring. It's further confused when his father later remarks that he has gone insane.

This is confusing, I guess deliberately, although I doubt Bakker meant it to be as confusing as it is. As far as the heart goes, I concluded that he pulls out Serwe’s heart and, through prestidigitation, presents it as his own to win over the crowd. Other people think he performed some spell or whatever using his own chest as a portal to Serwe’s.

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2) When Kellhus is conversing with his father, Kellhus states that Moenghus is operating on incomplete information and that if the Dunyain knew what Kellhus knew, they would join the Consult. What is the source of Kellhus' stance? Is it the fact that while Moenghus would doubtless be aware of the non-Psukhe magic stated to have a mark of damnation, he would not have the understanding of its meaning which accompanies witnessing it (the darkness that comes of an otherworldly origin)? Or is it something to do with Kellhus’ revelation during the Circumfix?

If the Dunyain knew that magic and God and the Outside are real then they’d join the Consult in trying to wall off hell by committing atrocities. The reason Moenghus hasn’t been able to appreciate this is, yeah, because of his brand of sorcery. I forget the specifics, but it’s different from the other kinds somehow.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the answers, everyone!

@Derfel Cadarn

That's unfortunate. I had been under the impression the series was complete.

What problems are facing the publication of the duology? Has the author lost interest? Has the publisher sold too few to continue?

@Maithanet

I can understand your perspective. I can see why others, particularly these days, would not appreciate how Bakker wrote gender relationships.

I personally found it refreshing and was happy that he chose the approach he did. I thought it worked well for the setting he chose.

But it's all subjective, I suppose. We're both definitely in agreement on the quality of his world building.

@Et al

First, I'm guessing that the reason the Consult believe the way around damnation is mass genocide and torture will be answered in the sequel series?

And secondly, if Kellhus is insane then his "miracles" have all been wild coincidences. Which would call into question how he managed to do the heart removal. He didn't have the Gnosis at that point, so he couldn't have performed magic. You can't remove a heart without leaving a gaping wound in the chest. No one noticed the huge wound in Serwe's chest and no wound in Kellhus' chest? That seems remarkable. Are miracles still occurring but Kellhus' insanity deludes him of their nature?

 

Edited by IFR
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Kelhus removes Serwe’s heart while they are on the Circumfix. The scene focuses on how hard it is for witnesses to see what is happening on the Circumfix. And Serwe is wearing clothing when cut down and then the body removed by Kelhus true believers, so easy cover up. 
 

Kelhus kept her heart up his butt (HITB) and removes it with sleight of hand at the right moment to make it appear that he ripped out his own heart. 

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, Kalebear said:

Insane doesn't mean Kellhus is powerless. It just means that when he hears the voice of God, well, he's deluding himself. 

Sure, he still is a Conditioned Dunyain. However, to remove a heart he needs to create about a 9-10 square inch hole. A .32 caliber bullet generally has an entrance wound size of about half a square inch. Chest wounds from bullets bleed out pretty quickly. Removing someone's heart is of course going to produce much more blood much more quickly, however you try to finesse it. There are practical limitations to what even a Dunyain can do. Very quickly blood would soak through Serwe's clothes and be all over the floor. However fast acting Kellhus' followers are in the time it takes to observe and react to cover up this shocking event, it seems likely several people of the crowd would notice it too. 

This is an implausible scenario.

But I suppose I'll leave it at that. It seems there is not an explanation of this event forthcoming, and we are instead left to our inferences. And while I'm not wild about this, it certainly doesn't ruin the books for me.

Edit: Although I guess one can point out that she has been dead for a few days, which certainly would arrest her blood flow quite a bit. All right. I'm still dubious, but as far as I'm concerned that's good enough.

Edited by IFR
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I think one thing that will help tremendously to understand now instead of as you read on is that the gods have real, actual, material power in the world. When cnaiur is described as being the war God in the flesh, this is not an artistic flourish - this is literally what is happening. 

The gnosis and other spellcasting powers are really cool and all, but they are not the only way power manifests itself. 

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Posted (edited)

I thought it was just a straight up miracle performed by Kellhus.  Not magic (he doesn't know magic, and this doesn't feel very similar to the rules of magic in the series anyway). 

EDIT:  Fitting that the miracle Kellhus performed was not to help anyone, but to establish his dominance over the situation. 

Edited by Maithanet
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21 minutes ago, IFR said:

But I suppose I'll leave it at that. It seems there is not an explanation of this event forthcoming, and we are instead left to our inferences. And while I'm not wild about this, it certainly doesn't ruin the books for me.

I think you are going to be disappointed in any and all reification of the "event."  But that way well be the entire point, in an of itself, an Event in the Badiou sense, being a radical rupture, not something continuous with things before and after.  I wouldn't worry about "literalist" takes (which are, in themselves a joke, to me), just keep your interpretation in mind and go on to the next series if it interests you.

On 5/31/2021 at 8:14 AM, IFR said:

2) When Kellhus is conversing with his father, Kellhus states that Moenghus is operating on incomplete information and that if the Dunyain knew what Kellhus knew, they would join the Consult. What is the source of Kellhus' stance? Is it the fact that while Moenghus would doubtless be aware of the non-Psukhe magic stated to have a mark of damnation, he would not have the understanding of its meaning which accompanies witnessing it (the darkness that comes of an otherworldly origin)?

Kellhus is Dunyain too.  Debatably more so than Moe.  But, Moe states not that the Outside or the gods are not real, but that the Outside is merely a reflection of the Inside and that nothing (in his estimation) violates the Principle of Before and After.  It's not a question of existence, it's a question of meaning, that is, does the Outside matter?  Moe draws Kellhus to him through the contrivance of the Thousand-fold Thought, so he really doubts anything matters aside the practical (Principle of Before and After and so just the Inside, no Outside).

On 5/31/2021 at 8:14 AM, IFR said:

Or is it something to do with Kellhus' revelation during the Circumfix?

Yes, it does have to do with that, in my opinion, but you'd likely be "better off" reading the next series before tackling that question, again, in my opinion.

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Oh, I wish I still had my Bakker discussion bingo card from way way back. Already got a heart in the butt space. 

20 hours ago, IFR said:

 

That's unfortunate. I had been under the impression the series was complete.

What problems are facing the publication of the duology? Has the author lost interest? Has the publisher sold too few to continue?

 

That is very hard to answer without spoilers and lots of dirty laundry. Short version, due to, hmm, "miscommunication", Bakker and his publisher hate each others guts, then after the final volume came out the fan community kind of split in two who ALSO hate each others guts. The threads here go way back and I'm reading them now and well, someone needs to at the LEAST make this into some sort of audio production. Ahem. I digress. 

 

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Posted (edited)

I gave away several copies of the PoN trilogy, really enjoyed it and shared it with friends- I bought up through the great ordeal as they were being released, but I ended up selling them all during a move. I wanted to finish the series (being a completionist) , and reread the first two AE books, during quarantine, via the library - fair warning, it’s nigh impossible to find a physical copy of the last two books, and I’m not reading it on a screen - and a BIG eff no to listening to it on audio.

Rereading some of the OG threads (along a Bakker written by Goodkind parody I slapped together back when I was enjoying Bakker and  the TG threads were hot) convinced me that it’s not worth the effort to track down and finish the series.

Edited by VigoTheCarpathian
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22 hours ago, IFR said:

That's unfortunate. I had been under the impression the series was complete.

What problems are facing the publication of the duology? Has the author lost interest? Has the publisher sold too few to continue?

The series is quasi-complete. The seven books out now complete the first two story arcs, and those are the only story arcs Bakker had in mind when he created the outline for the series in around 1986 (i.e. this is where the series was originally meant to end). At some point, before he started writing the novels as published, he decided to add a further story arc, so it was sold as three series and Bakker seems to have had that in mind from 2002-2017.

Since the last book came out, he seems to have swayed back and forth on if he wants to write the third series or not. He's talked about proceeding with the third series, writing a prequel as an easier "in" into the series, a side-book about a secondary character from the second series or just saying fuck it and not bothering at all. He's said he's really not minded to self-publish, and with publisher interest in the third series low to non-existent, that seems to suggest that this might be it.

For sales, the original trilogy sold very well, the next two books (the first two of the second series) sold okay and the last two books sold poorly. Neither the US nor UK publishers were minded to do much marketing. One issue is that the series has attracted a certain reputation for being rather sexist, and Bakker has not helped that by making various odd statements in the series' defence, and he's gotten into various long-winded scrapes online with various reviewers, bloggers and commentators that have not helped him on the PR front.

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@ op - This has all been touched upon by others, but my reading is this:

1) Re: circumfixion:  while I will always have a special place in my heart's butt for the Heart in the Butt Theory, I think Kellhus perfoms a 'miracle'.  He has, in his near death state, allowed the Outside in a bit, and managed to transcend place, and is able to literally reach to his breast or rib or whatever and all of a sudden Serwe's dead burning heart is in his hand.  

2) Moe using all his Dunyainity couldn't see past the circumfixion.  Probably because it's an example of what comes before failing to determine what comes after.  

The metaphysics of Earwa don't necessarily become more apparent in TAE, but we do get a lot more information on what might have been going in both in the branches of Umiaki and at Kyudea.

 

I don't think Bakker will ever write the duology, but if he does I'll-  gladly buy it.  

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I’m just glad HITB got three mentions already!

I will reiterate that going on the journey of the second trilogy is certainly the slog of slogs!!!  However, the highs of that series are truly worth the price of admission.

To the coffers boys!!!

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Yeah, I was wondering if I should bring up HITB on my first post in this thread, but decided against it.  There are some things it's best to ease into, such as inserting someone else's heart into your own rectum. 

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2 minutes ago, Maithanet said:

Yeah, I was wondering if I should bring up HITB on my first post in this thread, but decided against it.  There are some things it's best to ease into, such as inserting someone else's heart into your own rectum. 

I bet you pull your bandaids off really slowly too.

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