Polaris -- Choreography and Warfare

From: Peter Larsen <plarsen_at_mail.utexas.edu>
Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 17:35:11 -0800

        A couple of ideas from my misspent vacation (shockingly full of entertainment). First, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (a very fine film, see it if you can) has some great images of people running up walls and leaping around on rooftops, which (for me at any rate) inspired a lot of ideas on how Orlanthi movement feats might look. There is also a scene with one character trying to use "movement/flight" magic while another character blocks the attempt.

        Second, I was reading a translation of "The Water Margin" ("Outlaws of the Marsh" translated by Sidney Shapiro (1981)). In Chapter 84, a general challenges another to identify which formation he is using, then rearranges his men several times to try and stump his opponant. The whole thing is presented in much the same way as the champion challenges that usually proceed the battles in the novel with, presumably, the massive moral stakes that attend the pre-battle combats. Second, in Chapter 88, the Tartar army is arrayed in a vast and complicated formation that is based on the Zodiac and planetary arrangements. It proves unbreakable until a magic dream convinces the Chinese leader to perform a sort of "heroquest" attack, where various units are dressed to represent celestial influences and attack specific formations within the enemy array to disrupt the grand zodiac formation.

        These two scenes made me think about Gloranthan military activity. Gloranthan warfare usually gets described as Ancient RW warfare with magic added. However, it seems to me that some battles may be largely magical; units chosen for their correspondence to divine powers are arranged to recreate mythic actions, essentially heroquesting for miliary victory. Clearly, the more organized Lunar troops will have an advantage in options - -- the Heortlings seem limited to recreate the swirling confusion of the Storm Age (powerful, but not always the best choice). If Jane Williams is correct, Kallyr could have brought this idea to Sartar, allowing the Heortlings more varied mythical battle resources.

        Obviously, not all battles are going to be like this, but some of them could be, especially larger combats. Military intelligence and a knowledge of classical formations would be very important, along with deep mythic information. ("Aha! The Shining Justice of Yelm Formation! We will make him fight The Emperor Dies at Orlanth's Hand.") Contesting generals (at least within Dara Happa) might surrender or retreat before an army with a better mythic aspect.

Peter Larsen

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