This is topic Sign of Evil Race in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=1;t=005177

Posted by Grant John (Member # 5993) on :
I am currently having a debate with a friend about this and was wondering what you guys thought. This post will include a semi-spoiler for The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman so if you don't want to know don't read on.

**********************SPOILER BELOW****************************

While reading The Amber Spyglass I came across a scene where Iorek - a sentient polar bear - ate the corpse of a human who had been his friend in life. I thought this was very strange and felt that the action of a sentient being eating another sentient being was an act of evil, even if he was a polar bear. I had only come across this in other books with evil races like orks.

Am I alone? Would you have a 'good' sentient being eat another sentient being in your writing? Especially a human?

Alternatively as a reader would this sort of thing turn you off like it did me?

Posted by debhoag (Member # 5493) on :
Michael Valentine Smith and Jubal Hershaw. It worked for Heinlein!
Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
I would even get turned off by a sentient being eating a non-sentient very smart being such as a dolphin, whale, or elephant.
Posted by Patrick James (Member # 7847) on :
I would have to say you made an astute observation, Grant, where a sign of an evil race is eating sentient beings(orcs, great example), but is this case actually an act of evil?

You said it was a corpse he ate, presumeably the person was dead already, killed by someone else or other means, right? So eating was an act of survival? Perhaps he was starving?

Under any currecumstances (that of survival, or just plan canibalism), does it put me off, reading of a human being being devoured for any reasons? Yes, it does. Would I stop reading the story? Not if it had been strong up to that point. If it had not, well, that might be the straw that broke the camels back, as it were.

Posted by ChrisOwens (Member # 1955) on :
The question is how tasty the sentient being is and what side-dish would complement them best...

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited October 02, 2008).]

Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
I remember that part, and it grossed me out too. It was, however, I thought appropriate to the story (yes, it was necessary for the bear to survive, as I recall.)

I guess I wouldn't make any grand statements about one sentient being eating another as always defined as evil, but I sure wouldn't write that into any stories of mine!

Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
I think that's one of the ways Pullman challenges our notions of 'good' and 'evil'. Good art, fiction included, often provokes us into re-thinking pre-conceived ideas.

In such scenes the writer treads a fine line between making us queasy and repelling us entirely--and no doubt accepts that he may lose a few readers. IIRC Pullman kept us reading on because Lorek had already been established as a bear with whom we had sympathy, even if he was rather fearsome.


[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited October 03, 2008).]

Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
I have not read the book, but just from what I have read, I actually would think that it was an act of honor.
The native Americans would drink a bit of the blood of the animal they killed to get their spirit into them, to gain some of the animal's strength.

Without knowing the story, consider if the body would have been horribly desecrated, put on display, used to humiliate what the person was. The body being devoured could well be a way to protect the memory and honor of the dead.
Also, being devoured might be preferable to lay on the ground and waste away in the weather. It gives the one feeding on it strength to continue on, and in essence allow that person to live within its host.

Again, not knowing what was involved in the situation, Consider if the mission is extremely important to both races. It has to be completed. Both of them are struggling through horrible conditions, starving to death. Both are weak.
One dies due to exposure. feeding on the other might be what allows the mission to be completed, saving both races. It would almost be a wish by the one who died to be fed on to complete the mission.

I can see how it would not be a bad thing. I have gotten a story idea out of this too, a person who wants to be eaten as he will take over the mind and body of the one that eats him.


Posted by Crystal Stevens (Member # 8006) on :
I would think that a polar bear would probably eat a human corpse if the meat was fresh and the bear was hungry. The corpse would be "easy prey" so to speak. It would be instinct for the bear to take advantage of the "free" meal. In other words, the bear was just being a bear. So I guess it would depend how much the writer wants this sentient polar bear to react like a bear or like a human.

When thinking about animals being sentient, we have to ask ourselves if, in this instance, sentience in a bear would be different from the bear's point of view than how a human would view sentience. It could be two totally different ways of looking at things. A bear doesn't think or look at life like a human would. Anyway, that's the way I would look at it.

Now for me, personally, I don't really think the bear ought to eat his friend... unless it does have something to do with honoring his dead friend. I kind of like that idea. It has merit .

Posted by jdt (Member # 3889) on :
Some human cultures eat flesh of the departed in their rituals. Australian aboriginals come to mind.
Posted by kings_falcon (Member # 3261) on :
Can't remember the story now but it was about a wolf that was captured in the wild and trying to return to his pack. The story was the wolf's POV. While being transported, the plane he was on crashed and killed all but one of the humans. Because he hadn't eaten for days and didn't know when he would find other food, he ate from the corpses even though the human kept trying to drive him away. But I didn't consider him "evil," he was just doing what he needed to survive and wasn't responsible for the deaths.

So, the reasons would color my perception of "evil." Orcs are evil because they like killing, torture and preying on sentient beings. The wolf wasn't because he was only doing what he needed to survive.


Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
"Don't eat your friends, son, that's not nice." As in the aforementioned Stranger in a Strange Land anti-cannibalism is said to be a taboo so strong one might mistake for an instinct.

But we've gotta accept that it is a taboo, that it might break down, that it might not even be present in other cultures or sentient species.

Posted by Josephine Kait (Member # 8157) on :
I think that the underlying issue is the value of life, as opposed to an act of eating.

Orcs might commonly eat even each other because food to consume was more valuable to them than another being’s life. Native Americans greatly value life and honor life given for life to continue. It is my understanding that most vegetarians choose not to eat meat because they see it as an act of disregard for animal life. Heinlein presented the act of eating as being the greatest respect that could be shown for a now ended life.

I think that this is why we struggle so much with situations where the value of meat for survival becomes greater than the value of our cherished traditions for honoring the dead.


Posted by Corky (Member # 2714) on :
COURTSHIP RITE by Donald Kingsbury
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Is it fair to believe a race or species evil because of the actions of one member?

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited October 04, 2008).]

Posted by kings_falcon (Member # 3261) on :
Well, no. But we do. How many sterotypes do we have based on a limited observation of a small number of the race, ethnic group, profession or the like?

There are people who believe all Chinese or Germans are evil or at least tainted by and complacent with it because the countries' leaders, both dictators, is doing/did, respectively, many horrible things. There are people who believe all Americans are greedy, self-absorbed capitalist. There are people who believe all lawyers are pond scum. There are people who believe(d) that everyone who filed bankruptcy prior to the 2005 amendment to the Code were abusing the system rather than truely seeking help.

Are there people who fit the stereotype? Sure. Is it representative of the entire group, generally not.


Posted by EricJamesStone (Member # 1681) on :
Douglas Adams wrote a fantastic scene playing with the concept of eating a sentient being in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In it, a sentient creature that wants to be eaten is recommending parts of itself, and Arthur Dent (a human) is repulsed.
"I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing there inviting me to," said Arthur. "It's heartless."
"Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten," said Zaphod.

Posted by steffenwolf (Member # 8250) on :
I read a similar plot to that by PK Dick, I think it was called "Therein Lies the Wub".

I thought Iorek's eating of the corpse as it was presented was reasonable. For starter's it was established much earlier that the ice bears do not think like humans, and don't intend to.

By this point in the series, though, I was just skimming. I thoroughly enjoyed book 1 because it was a solid fantasy tale. By book 3 the story had degenerated into a very thin veil covering Pullman's anti-religious viewpoints. In the 3rd book most of the major characters spent much of their time doing things that were totally out of character. Characters can change over the course of a series, of course, but I was very skeptical of the characters pulling a 180 in motivation and action for no reason.

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2