Morally Gray Characters in the World of Avnul

Well, let me start off by saying that Avnul is a working name for this fantasy world so it might be changing at some point…I’m not sure I like it at all but I haven’t found anything better yet.  Regardless, the name never really comes up in any of the stories since it’s not what any of the peoples of the world actually call the world…I just needed something to refer to it by and I think it got tired of being call ‘that world…you know, the one with the Neshelim in it’…that title is also a little bit ponderous for me so…yeah, it got labeled Avnul and I’ve been looking for something I like better ever since.

Anyway, the world of Avnul is, at best, a fairly dark place.  The world is real and gritty, the bad guys usually win, and the good guys are lucky if they manage to survive.  Honestly, it’s my favorite world to write it, not because it’s dark (don’t get me wrong I like dark) but because it is complex.  Avnul is filled with very different cultures with a wide variety of different, often competing, beliefs, it is a place where it is difficult to know what is true and what is false, what is real and what illusion.  It is a very gray world where moral choices are not easy and where right and wrong are not always clear.  Sometimes a character spends all his strength doing what he thinks is right, only to find out that he was being deceived the entire time.  The world of Avnul is also home to some of my favorite characters, Horash (whom I’ve spoken of on this blog), Seshui and Abin-Thul (who have posted on the character blogs), and Chin Cao Yu (who will being posting on the character blogs today along with Gian Ba, also a character from Avnul whom I am developing for a new story).

One of the peoples in this world are the Neshelim, a people who are absolutely moral in everything they do.  The Neshelim follow a god who does not forgive, one of the founding tenants of their religious system is that ‘there is no forgiveness for sin’, from birth to death they are taught to obey the law perfectly because there is no second chance.  At the same time the Neshelim are definitively evil, they believe that the ‘lesser races’ (everyone else in the world) were created for their use, to be their livestock.  Understandably they use the ‘lesser races’ like livestock, for food, labor, sacrificial worship, and entertainment.  While a Neshelim would never consider cheating on his wife he wouldn’t think twice about killing a worthless slave in cold blood.

On the other hand you have Chin Cao Yu (Yu is his given name), a man of the Longminjong.  Yu is an old man who has lived much of his life burdened by guilt, running away from shame.  He wants to be a good man, but often he doesn’t know what the right thing is, knows but is to afraid to do it, or the temptation of his curiosity overwhelms him.  Yu is very intelligent, a scholar and a priest…he is also very good at rationalizing his actions.  Yu is an excellent example of a morally gray character who has spent his entire life flipping back and forth between right and wrong, often without realizing the difference.

Chin Cao Yu is the main character in my first book ‘The Neshelim: A Journal of the Scholar Priest Chin Cao Yu’.  The book chronicles his journey among the Neshelim and the effect which they have on him.  I’m not going to give too much away here but suffice it to say that the journey is interesting, and a bit disturbing.  The affect that the Neshelim have upon Yu is profound and changes his life forever, ultimately it is you, the readers, who will have to tell me whether or not it is effective.

The power in this kind of story comes from the reality of the interactions between its characters.  The visible, but often subtle, influences of one upon the other and the slow, creeping march of inexorable reality.  More than anything else it is a story about human nature, with all of its hopes, and fears, all of its successes and failures, and ultimately all of the gray we live in and out of which we try to make sense.  This is the value of grayness in literature, grayness is not something we aspire too, it is what we are, trying to figure out what black and white actually look like through eyes that are colorblind.


10 thoughts on “Morally Gray Characters in the World of Avnul

  1. Great premise for dealing with moral issues! But . . .

    Comment about the names: The Neshelim sound a lot like the Pharisaic tradition of our Jews. To give them such a Hebrew-sounding name on top of that will get you accused of anti-semitism in the larger world outside of Liberty. And your other character sounds Chinese. If Anvul is not this world, why would its people and their names sound so much like those in ours? Their languages and hence their names should sound like they are based on another linguistics altogether. For my money, your name symbolism is too obvious and hence clunky.

    But I love your premise. It’s worth working on.

  2. I am not a linguist, nor am I good at making up names which sound real. I also want strong connections to the real world. Neshelim is a derivation of the Hebrew term Nephilim which means ‘fallen ones’, the Neshelim are a fallen race. Furthermore we cannot avoid the danger of being charged with racism of some kind without completely sterilizing our writing. A number of authors today write cultures with similarities (both cultural and linguistic) to existent cultures in both the positive and the negative, Steven Erikson is a good example. His people of the Seven Cities are obviously semitic/arabic and are often portrayed very negatively. Many authors quite obviously base their cultures and characters on European nations and peoples, the central cultures in David Eddings Elenium are obviously based on the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire for instance. I would like to see this expand, I am very tired of European based fantasy when we have such a rich collection of world cultures to draw from. We cannot avoid basing our fantasy cultures and, for most of us, languages on existent cultures and languages, I’m simply moving beyond the popular English and Gaelic associations into those of other cultures.

  3. The Neshelim, as written, have very little in common with the Pharisees, though their culture is a blend of arabic and semitic cultures with strong overtones of Imperial Rome and Nazi Germany. While there is a strong Middle Eastern feel to the culture I do not think that it is necessarily a Jewish feel.

  4. I can see your point, Don, and it is a valid concern to take under consideration when writing. We should definitely be careful not to openly invite accidental (or intentional) insult to any race, ethnicity, creed, etc. However, having heard and read the majority of Kyle’s story, I am confident that it will not fall prey to accusations of racism. His world has a strong inspiration drawn from various mythologies, so it is the mythology of the areas that one recognizes, not any type of racial/ethnic caricature. Though the Neshelim have strong Hebrew influence in their names and words, there is no mistaking them for Jews. Kyle does a very good job of never coming across as mocking any of his races that he has created.

    1. If anything, I think people from the cultures Kyle has borrowed from will probably enjoy and have a special, personal understanding of stories from his world.

  5. For one thing, I would say that if there was some kind of explosive controversy over Kyle’s book, at least the press would get some free publicity from it.

    Joking aside, specifically what term or name does ‘Neshelim’ resemble, Dr. Williams? I had always made the association with Nephilim as Kyle just explained, and I don’t believe he’s ever told me what his word was derived from.

    1. Another thing, Kyle- whenever I see ‘Avnul’, I read it as “Anvul”- which I think I like better, what do you think? Does ‘Avnul’ have any important associations or meanings?

  6. Thank you Stephanie, I definitely appreciate the compliment. I think Don was worried about the Hebrew sounding name along with the connection he made to the Pharisees of Israel. I have to admit that the Neshelim, as I described them above (not in the story), do have some similarity to the Pharisee’s as they are portrayed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However in these Gospels the Pharisees are presented primarily, and very narrowly, as the enemies of Christ. When you study their history and the biblical presentation of the Pharisees outside of the Gospels you can clearly see that they were commonly considered to be the ‘good guys’. The book of Acts tells us specifically that many of the Jewish converts were Pharisees. The emphasis on the Pharisees as the enemies of Christ in the Gospels likely comes from 1) The fact that the Pharisees, as keepers of the Mosaic law, would have seen Christ as a heretic, one more in a long line of figures who falsely claimed to be the messiah, and a man attempting to once more lead the Jewish people astray. Followed closely by 2) The desire of the authors to show the superiority of Christ to the Mosaic law.
    When taken in their full history the Pharisees were a positive movement in Jewish history and I doubt that they will be associated with the Neshelim.

    Erik: Avnul doesn’t have any important associations and I don’t really like it as a name. The other possibilities that I have thought of are naming the world after one of the cultural names for earth, stone, dirt, or world, however I haven’t found one that I like yet. The closest I’ve come is the Hebrew ‘erets or eretot (I think that is the proper plural)’. However that just doesn’t sound right to me, so…I’m still looking.

  7. Yes, “Neshilim” jumps off the page at anyone who knows a word of Hebrew as a Hebrew plural noun, before you even start thinking about possible roots it could be derived from or similar to. It is VERY Jewish in feel, and this will not be missed. I am glad for the reassurances of those who have read the story, and hope you are all right–but I still wonder. The fact that some see the Pharisees positively will hardly have any weight with the sensitized on such things, who are looking for any opportunity for Christian bashing. I agree that we should not bend over backwards to avoid them, but I don’t think we should serve them up home run pitches either. I hope y’all are right that this won’t be one.

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