A Literary Analysis of Silent Titans by Patrick Stuart

I haven't seen many rpg books that really seem to provoke my literary analyst brain, but Silent Titans by Patrick Stuart is one of them.

Here is a little review:

It's good. It's really good.

Sometimes the text's inclination towards radical terseness leaves some gaps in understanding, presumably to be filled at the GM's discretion. Otherwise, the writing is evocative and ultimately very easy to use. Dirk Detweiler Leichty's art is gorgeous and it fills every page. Its a genuinely fabulous book that even normal people can recognize as beautiful. Some of the maps are a smidge too stylized for my taste. It makes some of them unclear.

I don't know quite how I feel about the main method of mapping out the environment. Like a lot of Patrick's stuff, it borders on being just a little bit gamey and disconnected from practical reality. Some of the curses and mutations have a similar issue. I don't exactly know how Patrick runs things at his table. How do you enforce that a character always lie and what exactly does that mean? Can they just speak in negatives? Its that sort of question that occurred to me from time to time.

I can't complain about it much. I really like this book. Its the next thing I am running for sure.

Review done. Its time to analyze. The following will contain spoilers.


Who is the Knight of the Pentangle Shield?

This is the fundamental question of the text. On one hand, it is a fairly easy question to answer. It's Gawain. That much has been said by the author in a blog post. Not only that, but you can tell by his iconic shield that this is Gawain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Patrick Stuart has been doing a sort of translation of the work on his blog and has said that these are adjacent texts.

But there is far more to this character than a reference to a medieval text.

He is the Mythic Past

Why do the player characters stay in Wir-Heal? In the context of a game, it is typically to dangle something the player(s) can look forward to at the beginning. For instance, in Megaman X, you get to see Zero be awesome. This isn't just to show off the edgy boy. This is also to show what the player can become. Zero offers up a goal to strive for. Another example might be the treasure of Smaug's hoard, dangled before the dwarves and Bilbo at the beginning of the Hobbit. This isn't a game but the rewards of a journey make themselves known before the journey. It is a basic matter of incentives that even fiction must yield to.

One of the first things the player become aware of after their hectic beginning with Doctor Hog within Chronos is the Knight. The player characters awaken in Elles Mere where they are told through murals that they must have, long ago, partnered with Gawain to go on a grand quest. Remember that, while the GM has been told that the Titan's thoughts are gleaming gold, an obvious material incentive, the players have little reason to believe that such treasure exists in all the Titans.

The incentive dangled before them is a mystery. They must learn why they are here and who this Knight was and what they have forgotten. It is set there as a lure so interesting that the players are expected to stay in this cursed, time-wrecked land simply to uncover the truth.

They cannot remember Gawain and are only made aware of him through murals and dim flashes of memory yet he is meant to fuel their every action. There is a sense that, if only they could discover the truth of this incredible shining individual, they can know what they have lost. The world can be made to make sense.

In much the same way, we all have forgotten the past. Our author is a scholar, sending much time looking at the past which he himself feels alienated from which we have all been alienated from. We see this past through relics and dim remembrance, never truly grasping at it. Time has made our own selves distant, our cultures and pasts seem far away. I think this "we" applies to all humanity, but perhaps especially us in the West who have embraced modernity and been demystified by post-modernity, rationalism, and the sheer horrors of war. We have been distanced, some might say irrevocably from that past, yet it drives so many of our actions.

So many of our actions, especially in matters of politics, are guided by our narratives of the past. In America, it might be the defining division between our parties. I think it is true for just about all humans that we define ourselves in the present by how we interpret our history. In America, for instance, we ask the question of whether our founders were good people quite often. Some defend the foundational principals and edicts of our Constitution based on the original will of our Founding Fathers, assuming that their will is something to be valued. Others do not regard their will or persons to be of value and thus attack the foundation they laid down.

The players even encounter the Knight in a similar way as we encounter our past, through pieces of art, telling the story of days gone by such as we fill our places of importance with. Museums, monuments, statues, and more. We build them all to remind us of the narratives that we define ourselves by.

He is the Disillusionment

Within Birk, the Titan which fell to the mad worship of Azathoth, the Nuclear Chaos, the Idiot God, the party discovers the Knight once more. They come face to face with the thing that has driven them all this time, notably in the last Titan in the book, and he is overcome with the fungal corruption of the Daemon Sultan. Not only do they find him this way and trying to kill them, but they also have a memory flash that reveals that it was their cowardice that led to his present condition. They left him here because they were afraid. They let him down and the guilt is so terrible that it can incapacitate them.

The driving force behind their quest all this time has become their enemy, the myth is shattered, and with this revelation comes a revelation about themselves and what they have done. The narrative that has guided them thus far has given way to disillusionment.

In the same way, uncomfortable facts tend to shatter our narratives and conceptions of ourselves. To continue with our earlier example, an American patriot who deeply admires the Thomas Jefferson might come to know that it is highly likely that he slept with his slaves, a power differentiation that brings up the question of whether this was a case of rape. It would be a terrible blow to such a patriot. It might lead such a person to question Jefferson's entire legacy.

Such a questioning inspires us, the disillusioned to question our own selves. Is Jefferson's legacy still good though he did terrible things? Our theoretical patriot might earnestly question the entire American system. Some might say perhaps he's right to.

The destruction of such narratives can mean the adoption of a different, equally shallow narrative, like that America and everything about it have been evil from the start. It can give way to a more complex understanding a reconciliation of truth with the constructed narrative. Such destruction can also give way to utter despair which is an adoption of a kind of narrative in and of itself.

It is no mistake that the Knight is encountered in the one Titan that fell to the corruption of Azathoth. Azathoth is a god, and like many gods, he represents the Central Logic of Being: the narrative that defines the fundamental character of human existence. A god like Jesus Christ represents a Central Logic that is good for human beings. In divinity becoming human, he shows the intimate concern of the universe for humanity. In dying an returning to life and promising this same resurrection for those that follow him, he removes the ultimate threat of death and characterizes Being as a process of perpetual death and resurrection in which human beings are refined, brought into oneness with the Central Logic.

Azathoth represents a very different story. His is a universe which cares not for human beings, our understanding or understanding of any kind. His universe inevitably boils down into absolute entropy. The Central Logic of Being is a progression towards decay. Azathoth's story is the story of despair, the narrative that means that you might as well give up. There is no meaning to suffering, no rising up over death, and all the oneness you will ever experience with any kind of purpose is that one day you will die, your corpse will rot, and you will be forgotten as everything you have ever built of stood for crumbles and decays.

The party is confronting the disillusionment which leads to despair, to the belief in the inevitable decay of all things.

Is Despair the Truth?

This is the next question. If the Knight can fall to decay, is that not the truth for us all? What is the point?

It would not be an unreasonable question. In Wir Heal, reality is falling apart. The greatest achievements of human endeavor lie fallen, their dreaming corpses corrupting the world about them, waiting for the time where they will rise up an enact their terrible betrayal of humanity. Indeed, it is implied that the present state of the world is the result of the Titan's destruction. Chronos might have sent them back in time, but the past which they have returned to is not the past as we know it. In bizarre fashion, they have returned to past which is the result of their future devastation.

If this destruction is an inevitability and the proof of that is all around, what is the point? Why fight against the Titans' rise? The Knight's quest was foolish all along.

Or was it? Consider what happened to the Titans. Yes, they rebelled but they were stopped. Azathoth could have taken over the world and yet the Ouzel's presence, being the angel Uriel, would seem to prove that another God yet presides over the universe. Azathoth's corruption seems to have been driven back and the Titans have been made silent.

On a side note, I theorize though I do not know, that Uriel has made the masks for the animals as a kind of proliferation of sentience. His whole theme seems to revolve around consciousness in all its complexity, the shadowy world of thought holding power over the bright world of endless sight. He seems to be indicating that "to know" is not always as good as "to believe." The demon which he holds captive advocates for a fairly simple world. He asks that the dreams of the rooks which ensnare him be ended, he asks for the unmasking of the animals. He seems to advocate for an uncomplex view of the world which the ambiguities of consciousness are removed in favor of a kind of blinding obviousness. It seems that Uriel knows what is to come and wants to help the party succeed and that this compounding of the complexity of thought is a part of his plan for victory. The Titans have brought into existence a cycle in which Uriel, acting for God, is building an increasingly complex crystalline barricade of consciousness to defend against the degradation of Azathoth's entropy.

In the same way, knowledge is not always good for the party, but belief is, driving them on to keep the Titans asleep. Such seems to be the narrative of Silent Titans: the Central Logic of the Work.

Conclusion

Human beings must constantly strive against entropy. It is only our persistence, our belief, in the face of the knowledge which brings despair that allows us to keep the darkness at bay. It is a Sisyphean struggle of Quixotic hope which holds back the night: the Fool's Prayer against the Idiot Decay.

The point is not to close our eyes and walk blindly forward, to accept an uncomplicated view of reality, but it is to allow our belief to preserve us as we stand upon the intricate edifice of history and culture. It is to see all humanities glories and horrors and still call our Being good and worth defending.

History looks a lot like a few noble fools, imperfect creatures, who fight through all their faults to hold back degradation, who descend into chaos and face its horrors to return with the gem of Truth, thus making the world a better place.

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