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Friday, June 27, 2014

Vengeance v. Justice



I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately in the context of A Song of Ice and Fire. If you’ve read this blog or the book, it will hardly surprise you to learn that my favorite character from that series is Arya Stark. She gets lots of criticism from other fans, and I wanted to set out my thinking about two issues in particular: when, if ever, vengeance might be justified; and what weapons and/or tactics are “proper” for Arya to use. I’ll talk about both using BtVS as a comparison, and I’ll assume readers are familiar with both series. Major spoilers for BtVS S1-5 and the first 5 books (not the series) of ASOIAF follow.

The issue of vengeance comes up many times in BtVS. The most obvious is in Innocence, where Uncle Enyos tells Jenny, “It is not justice we serve. It is vengeance.” In context, that pretty much establishes Joss’ attitude towards vengeance for the series. BtVS never justifies vengeance, even in pretty sympathetic circumstances: the gypsies cursing Angelus after he killed the gypsy girl; Giles attacking Angelus after Jenny’s murder; Hus seeking to avenge his tribe; Willow attacking Glory. The gypsy curse backfires spectacularly, harming innocents, when Buffy has sex with Angel. Giles nearly gets himself killed, surviving only because Buffy rescues him. Those who wronged Hus are long dead and he ends up trying to kill relative innocents. Willow’s attack on Glory might easily be described as suicidal; again Buffy comes to the rescue, but in consequence Glory discovers that Dawn is the Key. I won’t even mention Anyanka or some other examples from S6-7.

As I’ve pointed out in my episode essays, vengeance can’t be justified, not merely within the confines of the show, but in a civilized society in general. Here’s the way I phrased it in the post on Lies My Parents Told Me (no spoilers for S7):

“Probably the most fundamental principle of our legal system is expressed in an old maxim: ‘No man may be a judge in his own case.’ This maxim not only establishes the most basic principle of due process, it also serves as the foundation for the Lockean political philosophy which supports the entire American system. Here’s James Madison explaining the point in Federalist 10: ‘No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.’

There are both historical and psychological reasons why we adopt this principle. Historically, primitive legal systems operated under a vengeance principle. This was widely seen as a failure, leading to cycles of blood. It was precisely to get away from vengeance cycles that the legal system adopted the maxim I quoted. The avenger takes it upon himself to judge his own case and enforce that judgment. This undercuts the foundation of justice as we recognize it.

I personally doubt that vengeance is ever justified. I can see reasons for punishment. I can't justify vengeance – it’s an endless cycle of hatred and violence. That’s the point of the quote from Melville which heads this chapter [‘for when in anybody was revenge in its exactions ought but an inordinate usurer.’].

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it myself in some case. I might well react like Giles in Passion or Willow in Tough Love, given the right circumstances:

SPIKE: You - so you're saying that a ... powerful and mightily pissed-off witch ... was plannin' on going and spillin' herself a few pints of god blood until you, what, "explained"?
BUFFY: You think she'd ... no. I told Willow it would be like suicide.
SPIKE: I'd do it.
SPIKE: (looks down at the ground) Right person. Person I loved. (looks at Buffy) I'd do it.

So I fully understand the motivation. What I’m saying is that from a societal point of view, vengeance is unacceptable. That’s also been the view of the show since at least Innocence: ‘It is not justice we serve, it is vengeance.’ That’s the contrast, all right.”

While this remains true for most societies today, it’s my view that Westeros should be treated as one of those pre-modern societies in which vengeance is common. In that particular setting, my view is that Arya is justified in her vengeance quest and that she’s also justified in the way she’s going about it. Given the strong way I phrased the contrary view in the post on Lies My Parents Told Me, that leaves me with a lot of explaining to do, so I’d better get to it.

I’ll start with the assumption that Arya has cause to seek justice. I seriously doubt that anyone who’s read ASOIAF would disagree; indeed, I suspect most would agree that she has better cause than anyone else in that series, though it’s possible that her sister, Sansa, has an equal claim. The first hurdle, then, is to show that she has no avenue by which to obtain justice (at least not that we know of in the series to date).

The world of Westeros is not our modern world. At the best of times, just as in Europe in the Middle Ages, justice would be difficult to obtain and Westeros residents recognize private vengeance as both common and accepted. It’s even considered “honorable” in certain circumstances such as duels, a point I’ll discuss more below. This makes Westeros a less-than-ideal society, but I’m discussing it within the rules of that mythos.

But Arya’s in a much worse situation than even the “usual” wronged person in Westeros. One of the “small folk” might appeal to his or her lord for justice. A lord might appeal to the King. A lord might even rebel against the King, as Robert Baratheon did when he felt Rhaegar Targaryen had taken his bride-to-be. That lord could be joined by others, such as Ned Stark, whose father and brother were unjustly killed by the mad King Aerys. All of these are forms of justice, but Arya can avail herself of none.

Arya’s fundamental problem is that the Kingdom is controlled by those guilty of committing, directly or by command, the very wrongs she wants to redress: the execution of her father; the murder, in outrageous circumstances, of her brother Robb and her mother; the murder (everyone believes) of her two other brothers; the destruction of her family home and the elimination of the Stark lordship. She also has more direct grievances from her personal journey which stem from the same basic sources: the murder of at least three friends (Mycah, Syrio, Lommy); the brutal torture of others; her own mistreatment as a pawn for other players; her own brush with death at the Red Wedding.

To put it starkly (sorry), she lives in a society which permits, and sometimes encourages private vengeance, and she’s suffered shocking harms for which she has no lawful recourse. It’s this situation, and maybe this situation alone, which can justify vengeance.

Now let me consider Arya’s options. She suffers from 2 “disabilities”. One is that she’s female and the other is that she’s small and relatively weak. Taking the latter first, she can’t become Brienne or Asha Greyjoy, who nearly alone of all the women in Westeros can reasonably engage in duels or other combat with men. That rules out one “honorable” solution.

That’s not to say she can’t kill people, even men, in quasi-combat situations. She’s done that: the stable boy in King’s Landing; the guard at Harrenhall; the Tickler and the squire at the Inn. It’s just that those required some degree of trickery or surprise, and she wouldn’t last long with that as her only tactic.

It’s possible that she could rally the North to her side, another solution deemed “honorable” within Westeros society. However, because she’s female and younger than her sister, she wouldn’t be recognized as the Lady of Winterfell. Moreover, the Stark lordship is now held by the Boltons, winter is coming (I’ve heard that somewhere), and she can’t get to the North in any case. While I can’t rule out a Joan of Arc role for her, that seems implausible given what we now know.

What she’s doing instead, is training to be an assassin. It’s clear she intends to use that training for her own purposes, not under the command of the House of Black and White. So now the issue is whether becoming an assassin is an “honorable” means to achieve her goals.

Within the books, that’s not clear. Everybody understands that assassination is a weapon; Robert was willing to assassinate Dany, although Ned argued strongly against it on the ground that it was dishonorable. It probably was in her case, but it might not be in every case; that would depend. Poisoning Joffrey may not have been honorable, but I doubt anyone failed to cheer when he died. Questions of “honor” tend to be inseparable from our sense of the justice of the situation.

Let’s suppose Arya were to assassinate Walder Frey. I suspect most readers would cheer that result; if anyone deserves to be assassinated by Arya in particular, Walder Frey does. Thus, I don’t think we can rule out assassination per se, even if it seems dubious in some cases. Remember, too, that Arya has adopted it because it’s her only recourse. Thus, within the customs of Westeros, and given the lack of other options, I conclude that Arya has the right to seek vengeance and that assassination is a proper method for her to use. That says a lot about Westeros as a society, but it’s not a reflection on Arya within the rules of that society.

Then there’s the question of her specific kills to date, not counting any she may have killed in combat (it’s unclear whether she did or not, but no deaths in combat would be deemed dishonorable in Westeros) or as mercy killings. From the Wiki, we have (1) the stable boy in King’s Landing; (2) the two names she gave Jaqen (Chiswyck and Weese); (3) the guard at Harrenhall; (4) the Tickler and the “squire” at the Inn; (5) Daeron, the Night’s Watch deserter; and (6) the insurance cheat to whom she gave the poisoned gold coin.

Morally speaking, I see no problem with 1, 3, or 4. These were situations in which her own life was in danger and possibly the lives of others. That leaves categories 2, 5, and 6.

Categories 2 and 5 both involve people who, both by the laws of Westeros and/or considerations of basic morality, “deserved” to die. That doesn’t mean that Arya herself had any right to kill them, of course. I think that all 3 deaths are questionable, though the truth is that Westeros was certainly a better place without Chiswyck and Weese. If Arya hadn’t caused their deaths, they were precisely the kind of wrongdoers who were most likely to escape justice for multiple crimes committed against others.

Daeron became an outlaw when he abandoned the Night’s Watch. The term “outlaw” originally meant “outside the protection of the law”, thus, someone who could be killed by anyone. We probably need to treat Daeron as Medieval English law would have – it’s not our morality, but it’s consistent with the law of the realm.

That leaves the insurance cheat (I’m assuming that he was; we don’t actually know this). Arya killed him as part of her training. That can’t justify her actions, at least not as far as I’m concerned. It’s pragmatically necessary for her to do that in order to accomplish her ultimate end, but that doesn’t make it moral.

What makes her action more interesting is to compare it against the actions of others which all of Westeros would consider “honorable”. Let’s take her brother Robb as an example. He did what lords do: he raised his banners and attacked those who killed his father. I guarantee that more people, including more innocent people, died as a result of his war than Arya could ever personally kill. It’s as Tywin Lannister said (paraphrasing): why is it more moral to kill a thousand men in a battle than a dozen at a dinner?

While that’s cute, I don’t want to be on Tywin Lannister’s side. I have no problem if Arya uses the weapons and tactics available to those who lack societally-approved forms of power – an excuse Tywin notably lacks – but we still need to consider the choice of victims and the circumstances in which she uses those weapons. That makes the Red Wedding impossible to justify in Tywin’s case and, without knowing a great deal more about the case of the insurance cheat, presumably so in Arya’s too.

One last point about Arya, namely her most notable refusal to kill someone. In both the book and the series, she left the Hound badly wounded despite his plea for her to kill him as an act of mercy. Was that cold-blooded or was it something else?

As I see it, we can interpret her action 2 ways:

1. She's being cold-hearted, wanting the Hound to suffer death in a painful way.

2. She can't bring herself to do it. At the same time, she can't bring herself to tell him that because (a) he did, when all is said and done, kill her friend; and (b) she's suffered so much she very likely can't say that to anyone at this point (except maybe Jon).

The biggest reason I see it as #2 is that he's on her list. She's told him more than once that she's going to kill him. Yet here she had the perfect chance -- presumably the last chance she'll ever have -- and she didn't do it.

I can't explain that in any way other than to say that she couldn't bring herself to do it. We know she has the ability to kill; she's done it several times now. She killed the guard at Harrenhall in a very cold-blooded way, so that wasn't it. I think she just felt too conflicted; she couldn’t meet her own test of justice even if it gained her a measure of vengeance.



20 comments:

  1. I really should at this moment be writing about Melville, but…

    And I’m not sure that this will make any sense, as I am in a massive writing knot right now, and sense is slow in coming…

    And I should add that I have not read the books—

    (Being on the path, one hopes, to tenure as a literature professor means, of course, that one has no time to read literature for pleasure… )

    But I cannot say that the news that Arya is now training to be an assassin is too much of a spoiler for me, as I sort of assumed, once she decided to go to Bravos, that that was what she would end up doing there—
    (Indeed, this eventuality was telegraphed fairly clearly at the beginning of season 3… )
    (That said, although I was accidentally spoiled about one other crucial event in this volume of the book, a certain resurrection, I would appreciate knowing nothing else about what did not happen in the series but did in the books… )

    But enough of the small talk—

    Arya is my favorite character, too, very much so, followed by Dany and Tyrion—
    And I pretty much agree with all that you say here, but I would add some further observations and a wrinkle or two—

    • Yes, Arya lives in a vengeance society: her world is not Buffy’s. But it is not simply a vengeance society—or, rather, it is for her, but its story is written not for her but for us… That is, it is a saga about a vengeance society written for a justice society—and for a justice society into which the language of vengeance can still erupt, in which the two can still become conflated, as tends to happen in discussions of capital punishment or in times of national catastrophe, such as 9.11. The show thus has a certain double consciousness, so to speak, when it comes to vengeance, simultaneously normalizing and problematizing the vengeance/justice dynamic. The saga does not seek to thematize the dynamic in the manner of, say, the Icelandic Njal’s Saga (late 13th c), which explicitly narrates the transition from a vengeance to a justice society—indeed, I am not sure that the series (of books, ultimately, although I can only discuss the show) has a particular point to make about vengeance/justice in contemporary society as much as it seeks to give us the dynamic to think, seeks to give us to think, perhaps more, the difficulty of justice, its emotional complexity. And I think this dynamic may work itself out most fully—and I could be very wrong about this—in Arya herself, in her journey. How much of this will happen for her, in her, and how much only for us, well… we shall see…

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    1. • As I said above, I do agree with your reading, particularly your last point about why she did not kill the Hound, and I would like to dilate upon it: as you said, Arya felt “conflicted,” too conflicted to kill him, and this seems to me to be crucial. For since her father’s murder, her life has been simple in a way, very clean—there are the people she whom she loves (her family, her makeshift family—Gendry, etc.), the people whom she hates (the Lannisters, the others on her list), and the people to whom she is indifferent. All has been very clear. But the Hound has introduced a new emotion into her life: ambivalence. On the one hand, she hates him, for he killed her friend, among other things. Yet since the dissolution of her makeshift family and her escape from the Brotherhood, the Hound has been the only human bond she has formed. And he has taken care of her, largely for selfish reasons, of course, but also in ways that he did not have to; for example, he stirred things up so that she could revenge herself on Polliver—remember that ghost of a smile that passed over her face when she realized what he was doing at the inn… And she stitched his wound from the Biter, when she could have killed him or let him sicken… I would not say that she loves him, but… And Maisie Williams plays that last scene so brilliantly: her expression does not change, yet the ghost of a feeling flits across it, a kind of recognition that I read to be ambivalence—a recognition of something she did not recognize, a gray area alien to the life of loss and trauma and life or death, friend or enemy, of simple choices, on one level, that she has been living. And she can’t kill him because killing him no longer makes sense: it no longer fits into the categories she knows…

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    2. • The question to me then becomes whether or not this ambivalence will resonate, will grow: will she be able to maintain the black/white world in which she has been living—a world, I would note, that she did not choose, that was forced upon her with tremendous violence—or will the gray area, the complexity, the ambivalence, begin to grow? And will she recognize it, or will it happen on an unconscious level? Not that she’ll have a crisis of conscience so much as she’ll find herself affected when/if she returns to her family, to Jon and Sansa, to those whom she does love. For up to this point, one of the amazing things about Arya is that although she has suffered so, so much, she has still remained alive—hardened, but alive: she can feel pleasure and pain, is not numb. Whether that changes when/if she returns to her loved ones, whether she has to pay, in a sense, in terms of her ability to relate to them, may be the level on which this plays itself out. (Although I am hoping, on some level, that this doesn’t happen… )

      But enough—I’ve said far more than I intended, and Herman is calling…

      Oh—I do have one last question: as I said above, Tyrion is one of my other favorite characters, and I was wondering how you view his murder of his father within this frame? (I see his murder of Shae as a crime of passion provoked by her “My Lion,” something he immediately regrets.) I’d say more, but I really do have to get back to work.

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    3. Hey, 100 years from now, do think they'll still be reading Melville? Nah, it'll be Joss Whedon and GRRM. :)

      Seriously, it's good to see you.

      I'm going to try to phrase this response so that I don't spoil you any more than I already have. SPOILERS FOR HBO SERIES S4.

      I'll start with the show, since you're up to date on that. The show scene with Arya leaving the Hound differs quite a bit from the book scene. While the show plays her somewhat darker than the book, there's one aspect of the final scene which supports the view that she was conflicted.

      He tells her 3 times to "do it". She gives him a long look, then stands up, puts her hand on her sword, walks over to him, and crouches down next to him. She then reaches over to take his bag of silver coins. He tries to grab the coins back. She then stands up, gives him a look, and walks away.

      As I see it, his attempt to grab the coins proved to her that he wasn't really ready to go. He's the one who told her that dead men don't need silver. She understood then that she shouldn't -- and probably couldn't -- do as he asked. And yes, Maisie Williams is incredible in how she portrays Arya.

      Now let me add some points to your excellent ones about Arya's situation generally. Without adding to spoilers from the books, I can say that a couple of facts convince me that she remains Arya. That means she's going to carry out justice as she understands it, not kill for hire (though she might do that too if necessary to achieve her primary goal).

      I can't actually tell if GRRM is using Arya to comment on a vengeance society, or if the rejection of vengeance is so ingrained in us all that we can't help but be uncomfortable with it. Probably some of both. I am sure that he's using Arya to comment on the emotional impact of a vengeance quest, which I'm inclined to see played out in metaphor via another character whom I won't mention at your request. To paraphrase Anya, the vengeance may not be as fulfilling as Arya expects now. I'm not sure when, or if, she'll recognize that.

      As for Tyrion, I can offer my reading based on the show, since to discuss it re the books would require significant background which the show hasn't given us and an important change in the relevant aspect of the plot.

      I'm inclined to see Tywin's words in the privy as the straw which broke the camel's back. Tyrion wants little more than to be loved: by Shae, by his family. Shae's betrayal (a complicated issue, I think, but I'll write this from Tyrion's perspective) destroyed one hope. He wanted to believe Tywin at first, but the fact that Tywin so little understood him that he could refer to Shae as a whore, proved that he never could. That's what makes Tyrion willing to bring down the house (literally and figuratively).

      When you do get to the books, don't make the mistake I did and treat them as light fiction. I have criticisms of Martin's writing, but he does make use of metaphor, irony, unreliable narrators, and mysteries which require careful thought to parse. I missed a great deal on first read; so do most people -- there's a 100 page thread at the Westeros site which details what people missed, including the central mystery of the series.

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    4. S4 BTVS. Pangs
      Giles: Hus won't stop. Vengeance is never sated, Buffy. Hatred is cycle. All he will do is kill.

      Aryan leaves the Hound to his death, she may not have killed him but her lack of giving him a merciful death prices that vengeance fuels everything she does.

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    5. That's certainly a reasonable way to read it, and I know plenty of people who do. I see it a bit differently: I see Arya as too conflicted to kill him, which she would do if vengeance were her goal. Her book POV expressly talks about her conflicted feelings. I see her as implicitly saying to him, "your journey isn't over yet; you still have things to do". I think the Hound himself takes it that way. But we may have to wait for more definitive evidence in future books, and I might very well be wrong about this.

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  2. Wow, I can't believe it took me so long to find this post, I just happened to link this to a new Buffy watcher(her last name is Field too) and decided to drop by! You should have told me you had new content up!

    I can't believe you ignored the Mormonts and the Sand Snakes in your mentions of women who fight in Westeros! Of course, they were both raised in traditions that ALLOW for women warriors.

    I do disagree with you about Arya's mercy towards Sandor. The key issue, is that at that point, he WANTED to die. Death is only a punishment if you don't want to die. So instead, Arya punishes him with life.

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    1. Hi, I just got here and started reading the blog an hour ago, thanks to your heads-up on the Read of Ice and Fire at Tor.com. My nick over there is Annara Snow.

      I disagree about Arya's reasons to leave Sandor. I always thought the book made it very ambiguous. The idea that she wanted him to suffer seems mostly to come from her line "You don't deserve the gift of mercy", but taking everything the characters say at face value, without comparing it to what they do and what they think/feel, is generally not the best way to judge the characters in this series (BTW, Sandor himself is a very good example of a character whose manner of speaking is often at odds with his actions, which makes for some drastically different character interpretations between readers who judge him based on the way he talks and those who are trying to read between the lines or compare it to his actions). For one thing, Arya follows it with "You shouldn't have hit me with an axe" (he shouldn't have saved her life?!) and "You should have saved my mother", the last thing she tells him - which is obvious nonsense, and it's hard to believe that Arya doesn't really understand that. Secondly, if she had wanted him to suffer, she wouldn't have dressed his wounds and tried to help him. In addition to this, there are lots of hints that she was conflicted about him - the night before in her internal thoughts she took him off her list, then wondered why she had done that, and repeated the list with him on it. She also refers to him in her thoughts more and more often as "Sandor" instead of "The Hound", the nickname which for her always had very negative connotations as the Lannister henchman who killed her friend Mycah. The instances of the times when she calls him "the Hound" and the times when she calls him "Sandor" are a pretty good reflection of how she feels about him at a given moment. (By contrast, Sansa usually thinks of him as "the Hound", but with positive connotations of protection and honesty. Sansa, however, has a similar naming convention regarding Petyr Baelish in her internal thoughts, where, for instance, she starts thinking of him more often as "Petyr" in AFFC, when not as "father" while trying to be a method actress, but she immediately switches to the negative "Littlefinger" the moment he asks her for a kiss.) During the conversation at the inn, she thinks for a moment "He is just like them" while he's talking to Polliver and Tickler and starts getting drunk (since she's missing the subtext of the conversation and *why* he's getting drunk), but she doesn't subsequently act hateful to him - as I mentioned, she dresses his wounds. And finally, there is no explicit anger or hatred in Arya's internal thoughts in the chapter while he is asking for death, and while he's giving his "dying confession", or subsequently - as she leaves. No, instead GRRM leaves us in the dark, with practiclly no info on Arya's internal thoughts or feelings about Sandor. It's as if she's avoiding thinking about it - and she never thinks about the reasons for leaving him while she's in Braavos, either.

      (cont. in the next post for length)

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    2. (continued)

      What I think was going on here is this: Arya has been using her kill list and desire for justice/revenge as a crutch, defense mechanism, something to live for in the trauma she's been living through, which has left her with "a hollow place, an emptiness where her heart had been, where her brothers had lived, and her parents" (the way she felt after the Red Wedding, echoed later in Braavos: " I have a hole where my heart should be"; which. incidentally, echoes Catelyn's feelings after the news of Bran and Rickon's 'deaths': "There is an empty place within me where my heart was once.") She has a very strong idea of who the good and bad guys are, and the bad guys must die. She has to have a strong black-and-white view of the world, it's the only sure thing to cling to. But with Sandor, she starts with the absolute certainty that he is an evil man who must die for his crimes, which she finds hard to let go of, but nevertheless grows more and more conflicted and unsure. He's too grey to categorize, and in the end she can't bring herself to kill him for revenge and has no real hatred for him, but she doesn't feel great mercy, either - she just walks away so it wouldn't be her responsibility, for once (usually she assumes the judge, jury and executioner role on herself), leaving him to the fate/gods/actual wolves in the woods who may finish him off, and trying to put in behind her and not think about him anymore.

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    3. Welcome, and I'm glad to see you comment here. I really enjoy your comments on ASOIAF over at Tor.

      I agree with your analysis of Arya here. You added some important details which I left out and a very nice exploration of Arya's internal defense mechanism. Thanks.

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  3. Heh. Thanks for the referral. I'm sure your friend will love the show.

    Good point about the Mormonts (especially) and Dorne generally and the Sand Snakes particularly. I should definitely include them.

    As for whether Sandor truly wants to die right then, I'm not entirely sure. I think he did, but in a kind of short term "I'm giving up" sense. Part of Arya's motivation IMO is that she's telling him "you're journey isn't done yet" -- that's how I interpret her "you don't deserve it" line. One way to read that, and the way I read it, is that she's saying "you haven't atoned enough yet". Of course, it's ambiguous enough that I could be wrong about this, but in combination with the other factors I mentioned, that's how I'm inclined to read it.

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  4. Perhaps. The show does make it more ambiguous.

    But I don't know if I can accept that Arya cares about atonement. It certainly has never been high on her list of priorities before or after. Perhaps the fact that she had seen that Sandor was capable of atonement made her consider it.

    The Faceless Men are fascinating to me. I mean, they offer euthanasia to any who so choose it. And they offer justice to those wronged by those who can afford to purchase injustice. We don't know for sure if the insurance guy was corrupt, but the idea that this place exists as a final recourse for those who cannot achieve justice is an interesting one.

    I have an idea for a story of a sisterhood of assassins, that only takes cases from women to kill their husbands. They don't research to find out if the husband NEEDS to die, they completely accept that some cases may just be greedy women looking for inheritance and life insurance payouts. But they consider the fact that they may be helping abused women escape a noble calling and worth the compromise.

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    1. I'm not sure Arya cares about atonement either. She's pretty young for that to be important. Still, I think it's an unspoken part of her realization that she can't bring herself to kill Sandor.

      Questions of justice in a pre-modern society can be pretty complex. Since there's little formal, transparent recourse, you get some weird power dynamics, especially when you have an organization like the FM. Martin doesn't explore (or hasn't yet) how or why the PTB allow such an organization to continue, but I have to think it can't be entirely objective -- if it were, the powerful would suffer too often.

      Cool story idea. Will EC have a starring role? :)

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    2. I feel like an idiot, but EC?

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    3. Sorry, Emma Caulfield. As in Anya.

      Failed joke.

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    4. She'd be good, but no ED* is in it.

      As well as SMG(she's the evil one this time)

      *Eliza Dushku

      It starts as the story of two women in British run Hong Kong. One woman is a British woman married to an abusive British gentleman. She becomes close friends with a Chinese servant, and during one of his rages, the servant saves her life by killing him. They hide the body, escape Hong Kong with his assets, and return to the servant's rural village. Where they eventually start this sisterhood of assassins.

      Fast forward a hundred years, where they are headquartered in Europe. It's run by Helen Mirren(ED's mother), who adopts young girls and trains and educates them, offering them the chance to join, and helping them start new lives if they don't.

      But there is a nefarious businessman who's learned of their existence, and has been slowly killing them all. He meets them, and dates them, then when he gets close enough that he can "learn" about their skills, he proposes what's considered a noble job, helping a dear family friend, but it's actually a trap. He's being fed inside information by SMG, who was a part of the organization for years, but was booted out because she was taking missions from men.

      He decides to up his "game" by pitting two assassins against one another, setting one up on a courier mission and the other on a "get the package from the courier" mission. But he can't get close to one of his targets, because she's a lesbian, so he sends in SMG to lure her in, while he dates the other one.

      With them finally facing off, they eventually learn they both work for the same organization, and they turn to ED to help bring the guy down.

      They steal all HIS money, electronically, and blow up his office building, and then use the money to open a fortified school in Pakistan.

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    5. I'm totally watching this movie (or reading the book).

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  5. There are times when a man must act as judge, jury, and executioner. These are not common occurances. For the most part, vengeance is refuted as a means of action based on how it has been misapplied. This does not mean it should not exist. Nor is it fair that a man should have to exact vengeance. This is an awful position to be in.
    Say a man and wife lived in the woods far from others, and another man came and committed crimes of rape and murder against the wife. The husband knows that if does nothing the man might go free, so he is compelled to capture the perpetrator for reasons personal and to not let the crime be repeated. For the sake of argument let's say authorities are so remote that bringing the perpetrator to justice is a trip that could claim the life of both.
    After capturing the man, he could seek ways to exact the proper punishment or at the least understand that the crime wouldn't be repeated. He need not resort to vengeance. There are ways to punish. Let's say that these are refused by the perpetrator. Further the perpetrator refuses to work to support his sustenance. And he refuses to admit what he clearly has done. Perhaps he is a sociopath or just evil. He intends to escape and bring this pain to another couple. Odds of his surviving are greatly enhanced if he can kill the husband and use their work to survive. This is pretty far fetched but entirely conceivable.
    Vengeance while distasteful is the proper course of action. One would never feel good about exterminating even the evil life. It doesn't make up for the harm done. It won't bring the man's wife back. Letting the perpetrator go would mean a fight to the death. If this could be avoided, there would still be the pain regarding backing away from the justice deserved by the wife's legacy. And knowledge most likely others would befall such an experience. At this point, I think two actions would be just:
    Let the perpetrator starve himself/deny himself water since he refuses to work to sustain hisself in the situation.
    End the perpetrator's life with direct action.
    I choose the second action becuase it seems right that the perpetrator should know the fear and violence (a mere taste) that he exacted on another. Vengeance requires where possible swift, just action. It is not about getting even. This is completely impossible. Vengeance is without revelry or pleasure, rather it is perfunctory only. It is the last resort. This is exactly how the State applies vengeance. Not discussing here how justice has been thwarted and cast upon the innocent. It is *applied* without fanfare. Victims are part of the process if they wish.
    The notion that vengeance is somehow an outdated concept is creating more victims in our society. For sure we see less of the damage done by it's misapplication, but what of the pain suffered by all those that are denied justice? Suffering silently, broken? In the example above the husband's life has ended as well. He would most likely have to leave and return to others. As I said this trip could in itself be lethal. Someone has made this decision for him and at the same time terminated someone else's life. It seems that this evil must be answered at the minimum extinguished. Those that refuse to fight evil condemn us all. Life is certainly not fair, nor is vengeance.

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    1. As I hope I made clear, I'd agree that victims have no option except vengeance in certain circumstances. But I don't think we can ignore the fact that vengeance has some pretty serious defects too. For one thing, it involves judging your own case, a pretty fundamental lack of fairness. For another, vengeance can lead to a cycle of retribution: "Vengeance is never sated, Buffy. Hatred is a cycle." (Pangs)

      For these reasons and others, the circumstances in which I'd approve personal vengeance are pretty limited. Social vengeance (as a justification for why the state doles out punishment) is a different issue than what I raised in this post, so I'll leave it aside.

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