Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

February, 1999

"Honorable Threat-Response"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



Hour of Judgement by Susan R. Matthews, Avon Eos ( )pb. Jan. 1999.

The Best Christmas Ever by Cheryl Wolverton, ( )Love Inspired pb., Steeple Hill Books, 1998

Blue Moon by Laurell K. Hamilton, Ace pb, November '98.


In 1998, I noticed an underlying discussion within fiction -- and outside it -- regarding the matter of Honor.

Puzzling over that, I didn't make much progress defining Honor and creating a way to distinguish an Honorable Act from a Dishonorable one. Certain things about Honor seem obvious to us -- but those are culturally defined things. A Magician who wields "real" power must not be confined to one culture's prejudices.

Yesterday (Jan. 3, 1999) at the annual Sime~Gen CHAT, (for Sime~Gen Inc., see ) a fan brought up the matter of what constitutes pornography. I had just read two stories in different genres, one with a lot of sex scenes and one with none, both of which struck me as "pornographic." So, I had much to say on that matter but couldn't articulate it then.

For me, the definition of pornography lies at a very abstract level of artistic craftsmanship, and in general I don't review novels with flaws at that level. It's a level of craftsmanship that the average reader doesn't perceive and seeks to avoid perceiving. It is the level of "reality" at which "Art" (which we've discussed at some length in this column) becomes not a matter of opinion but a matter of definition.

As a result, people react to the matter of what does or does not constitute pornography very much as they do to a powerful "threat."

Curiously, that esoteric level of "reality" is exactly the level at which "magick" must be crafted. It is the level where the separate dimensions that frame our everyday, mundane reality become integrated into a unity strong enough to support our assumptions and perceptions.

In Tarot, it is the level at which the Fool's "imagination" fuses the cliff under his feet into a ledge strong enough to support his weight -- his assumptions must support his actions. When you fall off that cliff, (i.e. discover your assumptions are not correct) it's a long way down.

Often, when confronted with a matter of Honor in which action is necessary, one finds that Imagination fills the future with dire scenarios, threatening scenarios, which deter the action -- so that heroic courage is required to perform the Act of Honor.

Maintaining Honor, in life as on the Initiatory Path, requires the ability to deal with threats.

It occurs to me that the discussion of Honor can go no further without an examination of Threat-Response-Patterns. Of course, a curriculum in psychology will educate you thoroughly in the range of such patterns observed in modern society. But The Path of the Magician isn't about "modern society" -- it's about the Eternal Soul.

So the analytical tools I bring to bear on the novels I've been reading these last few weeks are Tarot and Astrology. (Astrology because I've got to teach a seminar on Karmic Astrology this spring.)

I first noticed this subject of threat-response while reading the third book in Susan R. Matthews ( ) series, An Exchange of Hostages, Prisoner of Conscience, and now the new one Hour of Judgement. You'd think it would be obvious to any writer that story is rooted in and constructed around threat-responses of a character. But it took Hour of Judgement to hit me between the eyes with this simple fact.

Teaching writing as I will be in the writing school on I have often described the essence of characterization as showing how a particular character responds to a particular threat and why.

The essence of pornography is to me a failure of connection between the characters and the threats they are meeting. The "pornography of violence" that I have mentioned in this column is not defined by counting the number of words devoted to descriptions of violence. The "pornography of sex" has, in my mind, nothing to do with who does what to whom how often. And I now have a new pornography category I think I'll call "pornography of gaming" which has little or nothing to do with how many nemesises (only in gaming does it have a plural) the hero vanquishes per chapter.

It has to do with relevance of the Threat to the Hero's Soul-Journey on the Path.

And it has to do with the writers' assumptions about the reader's assumptions.

Thus when writer and reader share an assumption-set, the resulting work is regarded as high art by the reader and a major accomplishment by the writer.

When writer and reader don't share that assumption-set, the reader can "see through" the surface of the fiction to the structure beneath -- and seeing through the illusion is not what people imbibe fiction for (usually -- there are always those who like reverse engineering their toys.)

The typical reader who penetrates that veil of illusion we work so hard to produce and sees our mechanisms "jerking their emotions around" and "manipulating their minds" regards the story either as "bad writing" or something that should be banned to protect others. (some people respond to threats by protecting others)

Perhaps -- just maybe -- the assumption set in the pornography of violence has to do with when and whether it is Honorable to respond to a threat to one's personal agenda by hitting to punish, destroy, disable or maim an adversary.

Likewise, maybe the assumption set in the pornography of sex has to do with when and whether it is Honorable to respond to the threat of intimacy by unleashing the power of arousal (the second chakra (sex) obliterates function of sixth chakra (heart/intimacy) and sucks all the energy downward -- keeping the spirit in the body, rather than allowing access to the Inner Planes by activating the Crown Chakra).

And mayhap the assumption set in the pornography of gaming has to do with when and whether it is Honorable to respond to a threat to the game itself by rewriting the rules.

I don't have examples of these three types of pornography for you because I rarely finish reading that type of book. I get bored. There are so many "good" books around that deliver what I am looking for in fiction reading, that I'm impatient with books that don't.

Which assumption-set you like best is not a matter of Honor, character, or right and wrong. Nor is it entirely just a matter of "taste." As I've said in this column before, there is a way to account for taste -- and that way has to do with one's innate philosophy of life, one's Visualization of the Macrocosmic All.

In my personal philosophy, I see life, and karma through the lenses of Astrology and Tarot. I see a cause-effect connection between the things that happen to you, and the innate mechanisms inherent in your astrological natal chart coupled to the way you "wear that chart" -- as revealed by Tarot. I regard as "Art" works that reflect that prejudice.

The artistic failure that can take a novel over the line into "pornography" is to me a lack of connection between the protagonist's subconscious anxieties (3rd/9th House axis and significators) and the events which he/she regards as threatening.

In the pornography of violence, you have a fighter who meets and vanquishes threat after threat, always using the same method to vanquish (application of force, usually, laced with brilliant tactics) a series of opponents, or sometimes the same opponent repeatedly. The fighter may take considerable battle-damage, but never learns from that pain that battle isn't an effective coping tool in life.

In other words, one of the traits that defines pornography is that the main character with whom the reader is expected to identify doesn't learn that the reader's assumptions about life are wrong.

In the case of sexual pornography, the reader's mistaken assumption would have to be that sex without the sixth-chakra activated does not feel good (by comparison to sex-with-sixth-chakra engaged).

I do have a novel in this stack that does illustrate that point, though it fails to challenge the assumptions of readers of the Inspirational Romance genre. It is The Best Christmas Ever by Cheryl Wolverton. And if Cheryl (yes we're on a first-name basis; she's going to teach in the writing school on because she's a graduate of it) had challenged the assumption that "love conquers all" the book would not have been published. I'm glad it was.

The Best Christmas Ever says a lot about the integration of Honor with threat-response, a completely appropriate theme for a Christmas book considering it's the Birthday of a figure who taught the world a new threat-response paradigm.

It is not just how you respond to a threat that qualifies you to advance on the Path of the Magician. It is likewise what you regard as threatening.

Consider the 8th "Anita Blake Vampire Hunter" novel by Laurell K. Hamilton, titled BLUE MOON (of which we have several coming up during the millenium years). Anita Blake deals with fearsome Master Vampires and shapechangers, knowing they can harm her, and regards as her greatest threat -- her own emotions. She responds to that threat, whenever the pace of events slacks off enough for her to breathe, by accepting her emotions as real, true, important, and honorable. But she's very skeptical about whether Love can conquer her problems. Don't miss this series.


To Send books for review in this column contact Jacqueline Lichtenberg



Until I get the direct links installed here, you can find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to.   To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below. logo

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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg