Mither Mages

Orson Scott Card has often taken aspects of LDS belief and used them to build stories: the life of Joseph Smith for the Alvin Maker series, the events of the Book of Mormon in the Homecoming saga, and so on.  Card continues that trend with his Mither Mages young adult fantasy series.  The first two books of the planned trilogy, The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief, have already been published, and I highly recommend them.  [Some minor spoilers follow.]

The protagonist of the series is Danny North, a not-so-typical American teenager.  The North family are the descendants of the Norse gods, and many of them have magical powers. There are other families descended from various other pantheons. However, the powers of modern mages are a mere fraction of what the gods of old could command, because about 1500 years ago, Loki closed all the “great gates” that allowed travel between Earth and Westil, the original planet of the gods.  Travel through such a gate vastly multiplies one’s powers.  Because any family that could create a great gate would instantly become more powerful than any other family, the families have a treaty that requires them to put to death any gate mages that are born, thus maintaining the balance.

Of course, every family secretly wants to have a gate mage who can make a great gate.  And when Danny discovers he is a gate mage, he has to go on the run to avoid people trying to kill him.  He learns to control gates, which not only allow teleportation and various other related tricks, but also healing: anyone alive who goes through a gate is instantly healed of any disease or injury (although it doesn’t regenerate lost body parts).

None of that sounds particularly Mormon.  But here are some more details:

  • There’s a world full of incorporeal beings who come to Earth and are born into physical bodies.  Humans aren’t just smart apes: they’re the fusion of a physical body and a spiritual one.
  • Following a great war in the world of the incorporeal beings, many of them were cast out of their world and onto Earth.
  • The cast-out beings can’t fuse with a physical body, but they can sometimes take it over — especially when several of them work in concert.  However, they can be expelled by passing the host through a gate.
  • After the death of a physical body, the incorporeal being that was fused to it continues to live.
  • Danny, who’s 16 or 17 by the end of the second book, wants to save sex for marriage, despite his attraction to several willing young women.

(Non-Mormon readers may find the last of those to be the most far-fetched.)

Of course, there’s a lot more to the novels, including a parallel plotline involving Loki and a devious queen on the world of Westil.

While both books are good reads, I think The Gate Thief in particular is one of Card’s best books — and the ending is so brilliantly crafted I was still marveling at it days later.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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2 Responses to Mither Mages

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    I haven’t read The Gate Thief yet, but did read The Lost Gate with enjoyment several years ago. On your recommendation, I’ll put The Gate Thief higher on my (already far too long) to-read list.

    It seems to me that there are multiple ways that a work of literature can be Mormon. These include (but are probably not limited to):

    - Culturally Mormon: i.e., feature characters and/or cultural settings that are recognizably Mormon. Examples from Card’s work include Saints and the Folk of the Fringe stories.

    - Thematically Mormon: i.e., engage with themes that are important to Mormon thought, whether or not there is anything explicitly “Mormon” about them. A particularly clear example from Card’s work (in my view) is The Worthing Chronicle, which explores the ethics of godhood.

    - Narratively Mormon: i.e., the plot is based on peculiarly Mormon stories. Card has pioneered this category, with his retellings of the Joseph Smith story (Alvin Maker series) and the early parts of the Book of Mormon (Call of Earth series)

    - Symbolically Mormon. This is the fuzziest of my categories, but includes works like Angels in America that use (or distort) tropes and icons of Mormonism in some way that is important to the story. I’m sure Card has done this one as well, but there aren’t any particular shining examples that come to mind — perhaps in part because a work that is symbolically Mormon is also likely to be either culturally or thematically Mormon (though I’d argue that Angels in America isn’t). It may be that this is the category for works that aren’t about being Mormon and don’t feature particularly Mormon themes, but that touch on Mormonism in some important and clearly recognizable way.

    - Incidentally Mormon (on which, see my Nov. 5 post, An example of this might be Ender’s Game, with Ender’s Mormon mother.

    It’s no coincidence that Card keeps popping up in these categories: he is, without significant competition that I’ve seen, the person who has explored the greatest variety of different ways that literature can be Mormon. We owe him for that — as well as for the quality of his storytelling, without which we wouldn’t care about how clever he’s been…

  2. Good for Scott Card! Can’t ignore the fact he is one of our greatest literary pioneers. And SO GRATIFYING that he is also a good example: a strong family man and LDS advocate. He is also a generous gentleman. (Last year I sent him 1400 on a debt I collected in 1975 and he sent back the check!) He deserves all the attention and kudos he gets. And it is nice to know his latest work (since the movie) is so good!

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