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Kallor as a human Why he's sad and real

#1 User is offline   McTaco 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 03:21 PM

Hello all,


I've had the wonderful luxury of getting my father into the MBotF; a retired English professor who's a Tolkien-Evangelist. One of the main things that both he and I have discussed is how pathetically (in the vulnerable, not terrible sense) human Kallor is. Here's what we've arrived upon.

  • Ambition: One of mankind's saving graces as a species is our unassailable ambition. It's never a question of "can" or "cannot" with us. Hell, it's not even a matter of "should" or "should not". With humans, it's always "when" and "how". Monolithic structures, vast cities, incredible technology, advances in science. Give us enough time and there's nothing we can't accomplish. More so than any other character, Kallor is an engine of ambition. His want is so strong that he'll decimate his own people, his soul, his humanity to accomplish it. It seems monstrous in the books, but it's no different than any other tyrant in history who regarded human life as a commodity to be spent and used to one's own goals. He even forms short term alliances that benefit him, despite how much he dislikes the person he's allied with.

  • Tenacity: Though we haven't been on the planet as long as other species (dinosaurs, etc), we are one of the most prolific creatures to have ever existed. There isn't a single country, continent or landmass that doesn't (or hasn't) have people living on it. We're from pole to pole, and the whole way around. We've lived through ice ages, droughts, storms, blazes, plagues, and wars on a scale never before seen on Earth. Kallor? He's wandered the planet of Wu and despite every attempt to quash him in one way or another, he persists. He's the physical embodiment of human stubbornness and tenaciousness, whether he's defying the gods or simply arguing with someone.

  • Pride: I don't need to go too much into this one, it's pretty self-evident. If Kallor were real, and in the year 2017 he'd be a Steve Bannon/Rush Limbaugh/Alex Jones type. And let's be honest, they're all pretty horrible too. He'd have a few million Facebook and Instagram followers who follow him only to tell him how awful he is. He wouldn't care, he'd continue to troll them just to get more followers.

  • Swearing: This one may take a bit more explaining, but stay with me. Erikson is not above making his characters swear. I believe he subscribes to the George Carlin thinking that sometimes a good "f*&%" is the best way to emphasis a point. That being said, Erikson is fond of using "MBotF"-isms, like "Hood's Balls", etc. Kallor is the only character who consistently swears and curses in a very modern, "Earth" way. I don't think this was accidental. Take a walk down a busy city street and pay attention to the words people chose when talking on their phones, or with friends. Expletives get woven seamlessly into everyday conversation, in the same way we used to leave pauses for emphasis. It's no longer, "my boss is a jerk", it's "my boss is a f*&king jerk". It's not "what is this?" it's "what is this s*&t?". Kallor's the same way. He curses more casually and less provoked than other members of the cast. He's been alive longer (allegedly) than any other human in MBotF, yet his speech patterns and use of expletives are more in keeping with someone much more immature, much simpler. More "normal".

  • Self-loathing: Sure, Fiddler may have the corner on the market when it comes to wallowing in self-pity, but even Erikson wrote "There were times, Kallor reflected, when he despised his own company. [...] Despising himself was, oddly enough, a comforting sensation, for he knew he was not alone in his hate." I mean, if that doesn't sound like the soft, smothering comfort of self-loathing I don't know what does. It's a shield for him. It's an excuse to continue to be awful because no one expects him to be anything but. It allows him to act in accordance with the other points I've made. From experience as an addict I can say that self-loathing is fantastic fuel to have permission to continue your addiction. Kallor's drug of choice? Power.

Well, I hope that wasn't too long winded. I just ask that the next time you're going through MBotF, and you read Kallor you think to yourself, "damn, this sonovab&*^h is as flawed as I am." Minus the genocide, of course. (Another human behaviour)

This post has been edited by McTaco: 10 September 2017 - 02:05 PM

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#2 User is offline   Siergiej 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 05:26 PM

That's an interesting look at Kallor. I believe he's the Azathanai who created humans, so that would feat neatly into this. I also think the swearing argument fits into the pride part. Most of the swearing in Malazan world includes gods' names. People in MBotF say 'Hood's balls' like people on Earth say 'Jesus Christ' (that's certainly not true for all religions but you get the point). But saying that also acknowledges the divinity of the name. Kallor cannot do that because he doesn't acknowledge Hood, Togg, Fener or anyone really as gods - not in the sense of admitting their divine superiority. He's proud enough to consider himself equal or even above gods. So all he's left with is a good old 'fuck' Posted Image

Apart from that note, I also have one gripe with your analysis. Kallor being 'no different than any other tyrant' is not what makes him human - quite the opposite. Tyrants are sociopaths - hardly a trait that defines humanity ;)
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#3 User is offline   McTaco 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 05:44 PM

 Siergiej, on 09 September 2017 - 05:26 PM, said:

Apart from that note, I also have one gripe with your analysis. Kallor being 'no different than any other tyrant' is not what makes him human - quite the opposite. Tyrants are sociopaths - hardly a trait that defines humanity ;)


I agree to a point. Tyranny is a human failing. No other creature imposes the same kind of control/authority over it's peers in the same way. Yes, there are "alphas" in the animal kingdom, but this is usually a result of survival of the fittest and the right to procreate. A willingness to control for control's sake is why I attribute it to humanity, and ultimately Kallor's humanity. It's a twisted humanity, sure. At times the altruistic behavior of many of the other MBotF characters can wax false. The willingness to help others at the cost of one's life looks great as a writing convention, but doesn't paint the whole picture. For every Mother Theresa, there's a Muammar Gaddafi. Erikson can't illustrate the wide breadth of humanity without including some truly human, real and flawed villains. Consequently I found many of the other "bad guys" in the series to be kind of flat.

This post has been edited by McTaco: 09 September 2017 - 05:45 PM

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#4 User is offline   Siergiej 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 08:20 PM

I'd still argue that being a genocidal sociopath is something dehumanizing, rather than a human flaw. So is sainthood/Mary Sue-ism by the way. On the latter, there is a spot-on thing Orwell wrote about Gandhi:

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Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.

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#5 User is offline   worry 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 08:44 PM

Calling all tyrants sociopaths seems like a pretty sweeping diagnosis, especially given the dynastic route to leadership. That said, sociopaths (including the dreaded genocidal sociopath) are still human beings, even if they're neuroatypical.
They came with white hands and left with red hands.
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#6 User is offline   Siergiej 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 08:55 PM

But a tyrant is not just a leader/ruler. A tyrant is, by definition, oppressive.
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#7 User is offline   worry 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 09:12 PM

All rulers are, by definition, oppressive.
They came with white hands and left with red hands.
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#8 User is offline   Siergiej 

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 09:24 PM

Not according to Merriam-Webster Posted Image
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#9 User is offline   Andorion 

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 01:16 AM

 McTaco, on 09 September 2017 - 05:44 PM, said:

 Siergiej, on 09 September 2017 - 05:26 PM, said:

Apart from that note, I also have one gripe with your analysis. Kallor being 'no different than any other tyrant' is not what makes him human - quite the opposite. Tyrants are sociopaths - hardly a trait that defines humanity ;)


I agree to a point. Tyranny is a human failing. No other creature imposes the same kind of control/authority over it's peers in the same way. Yes, there are "alphas" in the animal kingdom, but this is usually a result of survival of the fittest and the right to procreate. A willingness to control for control's sake is why I attribute it to humanity, and ultimately Kallor's humanity. It's a twisted humanity, sure. At times the altruistic behavior of many of the other MBotF characters can wax false. The willingness to help others at the cost of one's life looks great as a writing convention, but doesn't paint the whole picture. For every Mother Theresa, there's a Muammar Gaddafi. Erikson can't illustrate the wide breadth of humanity without including some truly human, real and flawed villains. Consequently I found many of the other "bad guys" in the series to be kind of flat.


Note that in the Malazan world, tyrants are found in other species as well, the most obvious being the Jaghut.
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#10 User is offline   McTaco 

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 01:58 PM

 Andorion, on 10 September 2017 - 01:16 AM, said:

Note that in the Malazan world, tyrants are found in other species as well, the most obvious being the Jaghut.


True, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that Erikson's knowledge of sentient races starts and stops with humans. Any race he creates will be anthropomorphized. Even the K'Chain express feelings of suspicion, jealousy and gratitude. Sure, these feelings are secreted from glands, but that's just a language issue. Heck, you could even go so far as to say that any race in MBotF is ultimately going to be less dimensional than humans.

This isn't Erikson's fault, it's just a bi-product of fantasy writing. Dwarves are stubborn, inexplicably Scottish, beer-swilling masons. I've never met a dwarf, but it does seem presumptuous to make them all that similar. Elves are all prissy WASPS, prone to in-fighting. Tiste are hyper-loyal (to their race, not necessarily one another), racially and historically driven creatures of light/dark/shadow. Toblakai are giant war and rape machines. There, I summed up Karsa in 7 words. (Joking.)

The fact that most race bios in fantasy settings can be summed up in a few sentences helps to illustrate how limited their facets are in comparison to humans. If SE's going to make tyrants in other races, he's still going to use humanity as a model. What else could he do?





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#11 User is offline   Zetubal 

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 09:19 AM

Ever since I read TtH I've felt the same way about Kallor. What you're saying, I think, resonates well with something that Brys and Aranict discuss in TCG after they meet Stormy and Gesler. As I recall, Brys says something along the lines that he has his doubts about the two marines because of their odd antics, to which Aranict replies that Gesler and Stormy are close to Ascendancy and cling to their rituals because they represent their humanity. So the underlying message is that ascending is a process that (inadvertendly) strips you of your humanity. We see the same problem/dilemma in Cotillons talk with Lostara Yil after he's possessed her.

In light of that, Kallor's curse gained a whole new meaning. Earlier I felt that Kallor was denied godhood in order to prevent him from gaining the power he so desired. However, now I believe that the true curse is that Kallor is denied the one (seemingly) solid way of shedding his humanity thus forcing him to live through the millennia bearing his guilt and everything else humane.

I feel that as the series progresses one of the strong narrative undercurrents turns out to be the question how people cope with aging and the subsequent deconstruction of the glorified fantasy topos of immortality. We pretty much see how even the most powerful beings are bent by time and there are many talks in the novels (especially between Sechul Lath and Errastas, the monologues and dialogues of Endest Silann, the many conversations between T'lan Imass and mortals) that explicitly comment on the effect of time. Kallor's curse is a variation on that theme inasmuch as it shows the burden of living an eternity while staying human.

Just as a general comment: I absolutely love how SE carefully develops those ideas and notions from different perspectives. That's one of the things that make his writing to compelling to me.

This post has been edited by Zetubal: 11 September 2017 - 09:20 AM

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#12 User is offline   Siergiej 

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Posted 11 September 2017 - 09:30 AM

 Zetubal, on 11 September 2017 - 09:19 AM, said:


I feel that as the series progresses one of the strong narrative undercurrents turns out to be the question how people cope with aging and the subsequent deconstruction of the glorified fantasy topos of immortality. We pretty much see how even the most powerful beings are bent by time and there are many talks in the novels (especially between Sechul Lath and Errastas, the monologues and dialogues of Endest Silann, the many conversations between T'lan Imass and mortals) that explicitly comment on the effect of time. Kallor's curse is a variation on that theme inasmuch as it shows the burden of living an eternity while staying human.

Just as a general comment: I absolutely love how SE carefully develops those ideas and notions from different perspectives. That's one of the things that make his writing to compelling to me.


That reminded me of something that Endest Silann says in Toll the Hounds, that sums this up:

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Age did such things, feeding the desire then starving the will.

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