Monday, January 27, 2020

Talislanta: In Zandu

Art by P.D. Breeding-Black

The land Zandu and it's people are relatives of the Aamanians, but the opposite side of the coin. Tamerlin tells us they are "eccentric and uninhibited" and "enhance their features with vividly colored pigments, adorn their hair with silver bands and dress in flamboyant apparel" to express their individuality. Where Aamanian society is uniform except for class, several factions of Zandir are described.

The entries on Zandu are no help with the Aamanian skin-color dilemma, however. The archetype descriptions across most editions say they have "topaz skin" (as they do for the Aamanians), but the setting text only says they "bear a marked physical resemblance to the Aamanians, both being descended from the copper-skinned Phaedrans." As mentioned before, the 4th edition attempts to resolve this by given the Zandir "copper or cinnabar" skin, and the 5th edition just says copper for everybody.
"I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue." - The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Zandu is its state religion, Paradoxism (or Paradoxy, as Tamerlin would have it). The Paradoxists  "profess to be mystified by their own existence." The central text  of the faith is "The Great Mysteries (author unknown), a lengthy book filled with over 100,000 questions, and no answers." The Paradoxist writ is named The Book of Mysteries from the Cyclopedia vol. 4 on. There are no Paradoxist priests, but wizards serve as seers for the faith. Outside of Zandu, these wizards "are largely thought of as frauds and impostors."

French Talislanta art
Paradoxy gets most detail in CTv4. It may contradict Tamerlin's original account by naming the founder of the philosophy as Zand, though this is ambiguous. I suppose he might not have been the author of the foundational text. While Paradoxy has no central deity or Pantheon, CTv4 introduces the idea of the Ten Thousand, which is the poetic name (there number is unspecified and ever changing) of the syncretized "saints, heroes, and deities" incorporated into Paradoxist practice.
"No fear of that. Cath has no laws, only customs, which seems to suit the Yao well enough."
- Servants of the Wankh, Jack Vance
All of that is the good stuff in the noncanonical CTv4, but it also has a tendency to present Zandu as the good guys with Aaman as the villains. There are hints of this in other Talislanta products, but it is the most present here. I think this is a mistake. Zandu is certainly more into personal freedom than Aaman, but it's ruled be an absolute despot and a capricious one to boot! It's a place where disagreements are often handled with duels.

I think Zandu works best if it is as frightening as Aaman in its own way. The culture of the Yao as presented in Vance's Planet of Adventure series would certainly be a strong inspiration. The libertarian, but baroque culture bound society of Sirene in Vance's "The Moon Moth" would be an influence here, too.

Paradoxy is, in many ways, more interesting than Orthodoxy, because it seems like it could come in so many flavors from absurd ascetism (not very popular) to lampoon's of New Age-y faddishness. I imagine variants of Paradoxy rise and fall like gods in Lankhmar (see "Lean Times in Lankhmar.") As to its seers being charlatans, well, I mostly take that to mean they have no more spiritual connection than anybody else, but their wizardry is likely real.


Picador said...

I always took the Aaman/Zandir thing to be one of the more allegorical bits of Talislanta as a setting. It combines a sort of Knights and Knaves "mirror-image nations" allegory ("All Cretans are liars" etc.) with some commentary on the internally contradictory orientalist tropes about the Arab world wherein it's simultaneously a depraved, anything-goes bazaar of earthly delights and a rigid, barren, humourless theocracy.

Trey said...

I think that's in there certain: Arab nights vs. The Ayatollah, but I also think it can be more Western: Medieval Catholicism vs. Venice at Carnival, or Gothic tropes: The Catholic Church vs. Arabian nights.

Anne said...

The idea of a paradoxical religion sounds really intriguing, although I'm not sure what it would mean.

Maybe just a religion that really leans into the textual inconsistencies rather than forgetting they exist? Like, "Yes. God created man and woman at the same time as equals, AND God created man first and fashioned woman from his rib to serve him. Both."

Unknown said...

Trey said...

@anne - Paradoxy from the brief mentions in the text really isn't so much paradoxical (despite the name) but more agnostic in the loose sense of professing a lack of knowledge, even perhaps to some questions being more about the question than the answer. The Great Mysteryis said i t consists of 100,000 questions with no answers. My personal conception is it is a mystical faith, a bit like a sillier Zen or a more frivolous Taoism, where contemplation of mystery and holding its contradictions in mind is supposed lead to transcendence, though I would suspect (like any religion) there are a lot of ways it is interpreted.