“It’s a lie that matches his desire.” -Naomi Novik, Uprooted
Near the end of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, we get one of the most frightening moments I’ve ever come across in a story. Seeing himself as the righteous flame of God, Judge Danforth has condemned people to death in the Salem witch trials. Now a few townsfolk have banded together, trying to convince Danforth that the devil isn’t alive on these streets. It’s human folly, these others say, that sows death among them: greed, jealousy, revenge, hate. So Danforth must make his choice: either he believes that he is the hand of God, or he believes that he’s killed innocents in his jealous fury. Depending on the actor, Danforth can seem to balance for a moment on the edge of that choice. Depending on the actor, you can see him decide.
And how would you decide? Wouldn’t you want to be the hero, not the villain? Wouldn’t you want to be clear-eyed, not confused? Wouldn’t you rather be the fire of God than the lost fool who’s looked into others eyes, misjudged them, and watched them die? Danforth would. He does, and because he’s so frightened of being wrong, more lives are taken. For his pride, for the story of his own glory, he makes others into monsters and goes to kill them.
Uprooted is full of enemies who never needed to be enemies–or perhaps, better, of confused people who end up killing each other because the moment moves quickly, and they don’t see what else to do. I won’t spoil the plot (it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year: alight with the song of music, and you should read it), but time and time again we see how much kinder the world could be if a king could admit his confusion, if a wizard knew that he didn’t always know; if I, sometimes, could let go of being the hero, and be a confused villager ready to ask questions instead.
Look: the world is not as I thought. The truth is not so cold that I need my lies to warm me. Beyond my desire that seemed so overwhelming, my desire for the world to be this way, there’s another path that I could walk. Perhaps we could walk together.