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“Life has meaning only if we live for meaning”. This literary work by Piers Anthony, “On A Pale Horse,” focuses on the main character, Zane, and how he becomes the incarnation of Death. The story is set in a world where religion, science, and magic all coexist in harmony, with Heaven and Hell playing a role throughout the story. It starts with Zane, who, due to unfortunate circumstances, who attempts to take his own life via a firearm. As he does this, Death appears before him, in which out of fear, turns the gun on Death and kills him. Due to this, Zane becomes the new Death: a successor. This begins his story of how he adapted to his office, and how he topples the expectations of said office and implemented new policies through his bold course of action. The role of Death is to collect the souls of those who are in perfect balance – unable to go to Hell or Heaven. Then it is up to the discretion of Death to sort these souls to go to Heaven or Hell however they will. The souls that are inherently good or evil will make their own way to their respective domains. There are important themes throughout the narrative of this book, being: compassion, the consequences of actions, and how misogyny is represented. These themes will be compared with Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady, and how the writing was influenced by her years of service in the United Kingdom.
The first theme to discuss is compassion throughout the book, as this is an important and defining trait to the main character, Zane, which shapes the story. Zane, in the office of Death, wants people not to suffer in Death, but to view it as a release of suffering and terror. In one section of the book, this is seen when Death must collect the soul of a woman in a hospital. Due to magic and technology, this woman is being kept alive against her will – leaving Death unable to take her soul. After some discussion with the patient, he had learned that the people within the hospital were all being kept alive against their will. After many other patients testify to this, he takes it upon himself to shut off the power to these devices, killing the patients within to free them from suffering.
These actions lead to the second theme, the consequences of his office, being in the position to make a change. As he performs his duties as Death, he also allows people to live who were doomed to die. In one scene, Zane is to take the soul of a woman who had poisoned herself. Rather than take her soul, he tells her to find an antidote, so that she can alter the balance of her soul. Thus, Death had saved her life. As a result of this, his peers in immortality thought poorly of him, causing distrust in his ability to perform his office. Towards the end of the book, Zane goes against Satan in order to save the woman he loves, Luna Kaftan. Luna was sworn to die within a month of him meeting her through a plot by Satan, as Luna would fulfill a role that defied Satan in the future. Zane put her demise on hold, as well as the rest of the world. He does this for both selfish reasons and to show his power in the office of Death, this is shown in a line that Zane speaks to Satan: “Death is inviolate, as it must be, not to be tampered with by the likes of you. Where Death has dominion, the Lord of Flies has none”. As a result of his transgressions, he had altered the course of the future, defying fate.
The third theme focuses on misogyny in the author’s writing. This can be seen in the conversation between Zane and the woman who had consumed poison in order to commit suicide, “’I am a woman,’ she said with a wry smile. ‘I owe more to emotion than to logic’”. This is a recurring theme throughout much of the story, showing that women emotional and nonsensical, where men are the ones who are to make the decisions. However, this is not an unexpected trait in science fiction and fantasy writing: “Earlier male writers objectified and sexualized female characters, with portrayals ranging from complete exclusion to misogynistic exploitation”. This could also be explained by the audience Anthony writes for. “Then, not only were the majority of writers assumed to be male, but so were the readers”. While the narrative is skewed against women in the case of Anthony’s work, he portrays Luna Kaftan as a powerful character due to her future in politics. A potential inspiration could be due to the United Kingdom’s political climate of the time – Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister.
Margaret Thatcher started her career for leading in politics in 1975, where she ran against Edward Heath to become the leader of the Conservative Party, whom of which she defeated. As a result of this election, “Thatcher became the first woman to serve as the opposition leader in the House of Commons”. Due to instability from unhappy labor unions, rising unemployment rates, and the government’s funds depleting rapidly, Thatcher helped the Conservative Party return to its former state of power in 1979. In the same year, Thatcher was appointed the first woman prime minister of Britain. Thus, started a new wave of management.
In the first term of Thatcher’s service as prime minister, she raised interest rates to control the inflation in the economy. This was a controversial course of action in order to fight the recession of the time in the United Kingdom. Another bold decision was her choice in allies, being Ronald Reagan, the President of the United States at the time, where they shared similar views and philosophies in politics. Because of her controversial economic and political choices, support for Thatcher was starting to fade. In 1982, the British territory of the Falkland Islands was invaded by Argentina, thus starting the Falklands War. Thatcher sent in British troops in order to take the islands back, in which Argentina surrendered two months after the war began. This raised the approval ratings of Thatcher greatly because of her expeditious actions involving the war, allowing for her to be re-elected.
In Thatcher’s second term, she targeted “labor organizations such as the miner’s union, and for the massive privatization of social housing and public transport”. She reduced the prices of council houses during the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, raising the amount of sales from 200,000 to over one million. She privatized many different industries, including gas, water, coal, and electricity in order to promote the individualism of the country. As a result, the state of British politics started to become divided – while these actions were successful, critics viewed it as a short-term solution. As these policies were being put in place, the Irish Republican Army made an assassination attempt against Thatcher through a bombing at the Brighton hotel in 1984. The bombing killed and injured many people, but Thatcher remained unscathed. Unphased, she continued into her third term in office, winning the popular vote once again.
Thatcher seemed to have been at her most powerful at the start of her third term in 1987. However, the polarization of the country was starting to take hold. “The gap between rich and poor continued to widen, homelessness and unemployment rose as part of a further deep recession”. The education system was underfunded due to neglect, as was other parts of the United Kingdom. From 1986 to 1990, the average income rose for all except those in poverty, widening the economic gap. Thatcher attempted to implement a standard curriculum for the education system throughout the United Kingdom, as well as alter the system of socialized medicine that the country had put in place. Due to the polarization, the support she accumulated had all but disappeared, leaving her in an almost powerless state within her party. The final policy solidifying the public’s opinion, was a poll tax that caused the public to protest. As a result, Thatcher was pressured by her party members to resign from her position as prime minister. She made an announcement in November of 1990 for her intention of resignation. A week later, “Thatcher departed from 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, for the last time”. On April 8th of 2013, Margaret Thatcher passed away.
“On A Pale Horse” and the history of Margaret Thatcher were chosen due to the time of publishing for the book, as it coincides with Thatcher’s years in office. Recurring themes can be seen from Thatcher in Anthony’s writing. The main character in “On A Pale Horse,” Zane, is similar to Thatcher – Through the themes provided earlier on, such as compassion, misogyny, and the consequences of actions. Misogyny is chosen in this scenario due to the controversial position Thatcher held. “She was the ‘Iron Lady’ who was “not for turning””.
The first theme to compare is compassion. In Anthony’s writing, Zane can be modeled after Thatcher’s policies in her first term of office. In the book, Zane strives to help others in a time of turmoil through his empathy for the individual. He does this by saving those who are not ready to die, or to help put those who are doomed at ease. For Thatcher, she looked to aid both the people and the industries in the United Kingdom. She initially helped combat the recession, as well as take back the Falkland Islands. These actions from both Zane and Thatcher make them personable, opening an attachment to them. In another sense, this raised the approval rating for Thatcher, and gave Zane lee-way from supporting characters throughout the book. A quote by Thatcher summarizes this well: “Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction”. However, this segues into the next theme: consequences of actions.
High risk and high reward are the two defining characteristics of bold action. Zane, with the actions to keep alive those who were supposed to die, he was viewed as incompetent from many other characters throughout the book. In fact, due to this, Purgatory, Death’s domain, had dispelled the magic that Death could use, leaving him vulnerable: “You have been declared in violation of your office, and your magic has been turned off”. This had put Zane in danger, nearly costing his life. In Thatcher’s third term in office, this is the turning point for her approval in the public eye. Her short-term actions had consequences, such as the poll tax and actions against the workers unions. Because of this, Thatcher was pressured into stepping down as prime minister. With these comparisons, the recurring theme from much of Thatcher’s political history comes to mind: controversy. While readers could relate to Zane’s morals, they were highly controversial in his position as Death. With that, however, Zane was able to continue in his office in the end, while Thatcher was not.
The next point, and one of the most interesting, is misogyny. While Margaret Thatcher was controversial, she was an extremely powerful woman in both politics and her personality. She had overcome the stigma of being a woman and became the prime minister of the United Kingdom. An interesting quote by Thatcher encompasses her position: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”. The author Piers Anthony was born in England in 1934 and grew up in war times where men were primarily dominant. Seeing a feminist icon in power in his country of origin, especially one deemed ‘The Iron Lady,’ can be viewed as reactionary. Here is where inspiration clashes with reaction. A point of inspiration could be Luna Kaftan, and how she would be a dominant political figure in the United States’ politics in the future, if she were not to die by Satan’s hands. This could be connected to Margaret Thatcher, who at the time of writing was considered a popular figure in UK politics due to her actions in her first term. In a sense, his writing has a love-hate relationship – misogyny and sexism had been ingrained in Anthony, causing him to write women in a misogynistic way, while at the same time inspiring him to create Luna Kaftan.
Piers Anthony’s character, Zane, was an intriguing take on morality and the writer’s personal views, while at the same time being a point of conflict. The same can be said for Margaret Thatcher, how she implemented both her own views to have the country be reborn, while simultaneously was a point of conflict in politics due to her resolve. They both aimed high due to their compassion to the average person. The issues both Zane and Thatcher went through as a result of their actions helped them in their respective positions in office, be it positive or negative. Even through Anthony’s reactionary sexist narrative, the inspiration from Margaret Thatcher was enough to create a strong character in Luna Kaftan. Margaret Thatcher was a controversial woman, but a feminist icon and prominent figure in British politics nonetheless.
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