I learned yesterday that there’s a new Slayers series airing right now. I hadn’t heard anything about it, as I get most of my news from fellow bloggers, and I seem to be the only person who cares about the weapons-grade awesome of Lina Inverse, et al. At any rate, I watched the first two episodes today, and decided to make a post that’s actually been in the back of my mind for a while now. I’ll pose a question to you: where does power come from?
In the Slayers world it comes from a lot of places. Zelgadis is one-third demon, and seems to draw a lot of power from that part of himself (a semi-popular fandom trope is that he’ll be left behind if he’s ever cured of his chimerical status, as he wouldn’t then be on the same epic-tier as the other party members, to borrow some DnD terminology — appropriate, as Slayers supposedly began as an idea planted by a DnD campaign). Gourry has a magic sword doodad. Lina, Amelia, and all the other spellcasters draw their powers from prayers, basically. They are spells, but they call upon the power of certain gods, demons, and so on.
There’s a significance here that I think a lot of people overlook. Lina is a good character at her core. In DnD terms, again, she would be considered Chaotic Good (wanting, sometimes desperately, to be Chaotic Neutral). She helps people, generally, even though she also demands payment or, famously, preys on bandits to get lots of cash while still doing good deeds. Amelia is definitely good — paladin material, if she weren’t a cleric already. Lawful Good, in fact. She’s a healer, a do-gooder, and a bit of a power ranger (she’s fond of high ground). And yet, her reason, originally, for following Lina around was to learn the Dragon Slave, the rare spell that Lina mastered at some point before the story begins. It’s devastating, the magical equivalent of a small nuclear bomb. It’s also evil — the spell draws its power quite specifically from Ruby-Eye Shabranigdo, the demon that almost destroyed the earth in the Slayers setting’s ancient past. Lina fights Shabranigdo at one point, and she can’t use the Dragon Slave, as it’s trying to hit him with himself. This is (roughly) the equivalent of drawing power from Satan — though, as usual with media from Japan, there’s not just a binary set of gods out there, but the comparison is valid. Shabranigdo is evil, the show never makes any bones about that. Lina uses his power to fuel her most famous (though not most powerful) spell. Where does that leave us, exactly? Most media of the same ilk tells us that evil power is evil, and good power is good. Star Wars makes a good comparison — it doesn’t matter what one’s goal is, if one uses the Dark Side, one is evil. Light Side? Good.
Lina is… uh, well. Lina.
Amelia isn’t the only person to take lessons in the Dragon Slave from Lina. Sylphiel (your spelling may vary, I think this is what the American novel translations use) learns it too, and as we see in Slayers R, mastered it finally (along with Flare Arrow, a spell she couldn’t use for diddly beforehand). Sylphiel is a shrine maiden, a magical miko, and knows no spells other than healing spells when she enters the story. She’s fine with the Dragon Slave as well.
Slayers leaves us with one impression: the source of power is completely unimportant. This isn’t all that new, other shows, comics, and novels have posited the same thing, but it’s not the most popular view in fiction such as this. The trope is that corruption leads only to corruption. Gandalf must refuse the One Ring, even to the point of death or failure. One point of view isn’t better than the other, mind; Slayers is just taking an interesting route, given that it’s also a show that features a main character who’s willing to destroy the only hint for a quest because the hint reminds her of someone she doesn’t like.
If you haven’t already grokked the title, I’m building to a Nietzsche reference here. I really like Nietzsche, even though I still haven’t read a whole lot of his stuff. In many of his works, including Will to Power, he posits that power is a construct essentially in the mold of Lina Inverse: it’s just power, who cares where it came from? What are you going to do with it? Nietzsche goes so far, I believe, as to say if one has the power, whatever one does is okay. That might be an overgeneralization, but it wouldn’t be the first time Nietzsche has suffered such (certain language, his association with Wagner, and his sister’s political inclinations after his death have been enough to brand Nietzsche both an anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer). We can see, at least, why Hitler might like Nietzsche, but I suspect Nietzsche would think Hitler a buffoon, using power to do stupid, quotidian things rather than altering the paradigms (to borrow phrasing from other philosophers).
Does this have any significance to reading Slayers itself? I feel that it does. I have always wondered, when I wasn’t laughing at it, why Lina’s name is so widely feared and wrongly interpreted. She’s saved the world several times now, and yet it’s perfectly okay, socially, for the inspector, at the beginning of Revolution, to arrest her simply for being Lina Inverse. One gets the sense, from her companions’ reactions, that it would be enough for a conviction. I suspect that the world of Slayers has two layers to its power aquisition — one is the purely utilitarian, which we have been dealing with so far. The other is the social picture painted of it, and I believe stories probably lean, in the world of Slayers, toward the Star Wars side of things, that power comes from good and bad places, and thus shares nature with its origins, rather than its use and purpose. To this day, after nearly destroying the world, Rezo the Red Priest is regarded with awe and respect, though we know all his terrible history. His public magic came from healing sources, and thus he was good. Lina’s public magic comes from destructive sources, and thus she is evil. That’s the press for you.
It’s remarkably medieval, actually, which makes sense given the setting. Medieval Europeans believed the exterior of a person reflected the interior, so a beautiful woman was saintly, an ugly man was devilish, and a beautiful person randomly scarred (probably by pox) did something immoral and their inner nature has changed. As I’ve told my students, all that description of how someone looks in a medieval romance, that you might think would be better as some kind of characterization, is both. External appearance was characterization for readers back then. So Lina looks evil, because of her spells (along with her temper and so on) so she is evil, despite what we know about her. Her friends do the same thing as the villagers they run into, despite knowing everything we do about what she’s been doing the past few years.
In Slayers, it’s pretty clear that where power comes from doesn’t matter. You can summon the devil himself, so long as he doesn’t go berserk and you use the power he lends you to save a town. However, the town is likely to misinterpret things just a bit.