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Prince of Nothing > TDTCB -- Character Analysis: Anasurimbor Kellhus (spoilers)

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message 1: by John (new)

John | 139 comments Bakker draws a number of interesting, striking characters in this novel, and I thought one way to explore the novel might be through the lens of some of the main characters. In that spirit, I'm throwing out some thoughts about Kellhus.

In looking at Kellhus, at least in one regard I’m reminded of the Nietzschean übermensch, and I’d like to start by exploring that. My treatment of Nietzsche here will, no doubt, be sketchy and inadequate, but since we’re not really discussing Nietzsche, that should be okay. But I’ll also say that I don’t think it’s coincidental that Bakker begins the novel with a quotation from Nietzsche.

Nietzsche starts from the premise “God is dead,” which is largely to say that we can’t use God as a basis for morals and values (the Dȗnyain are right in line with Nietzsche here). At one point, Nietzsche’s character Zarathustra offers a metaphor to describe three stages of a human’s moral development. The first stage is a camel—a pack animal, loaded down with the values that his parents, his culture, etc load onto him. In Bakker’s terms, this would be the darkness that comes before. The second stage is the lion, who tears these things down, who matches “I will” against “Thou shalt”: in other words, he realizes that these values he has grown up with are essentially arbitrary, not “true” in the way he believed them to be, and he tears them down. In a sense, Moenghus leads Cnaiur to this stage—he sees that his culture’s norms are not absolute, are not “true” in the sense his people believe them to be, and so he at least partially tears them down and steps outside of them. Nietzsche’s third stage is the child: a new start, a creator of values for itself rather than the bearer of others’ values (camel) or the mere denial of values (lion). The Dȗnyain, through their conditioning, step outside of this progression, but I think they still play by the same terms: they just get there by the shortest path. The question, though, is what they do value?

Well, they seem to value mastery: being able to control circumstances and regular people. But to what end? By the end of this first novel in the series, Kellhus has started the process of taking control of the Holy War, and he’s clearly heading toward his father, though it isn’t clear whether he’s going there to join up with Moenghus or to kill him, nor is it entirely clear what his motives for either course of action would actually be. And what are the Dȗnyain up to, anyway? What’s the purpose of their Conditioning and their breeding program and their training to read and master “world-born” men and women? Other than Moenghus and now Kellhus, they haven’t ventured out in to the world, though it sure seems like a whole community of them could pretty quickly take over the whole world, judging by the Anasurimbors. So why now, and back to my point: what do they do once they have mastery? It’s hard to measure Kellhus without knowing motives.

I find my own feeling about this character to be ambivalent, and to some extent changing from one reading to another. He’s part appealing, part appalling. He’s not only übermensch, he’s superman: stronger, faster, more skilled than anyone. He sees everything more clearly than anyone else: he’s not deceived about his own motivations and he understands the world and the people around him with incredible clarity. And yet, he’s basically inhuman. Neither moral nor immoral, he’s amoral. He doesn’t care about others except as tools he can use, and he doesn’t really give anything back to them (other than what they get from him as part of his manipulations of them). He’s not cruel in the way that we see some characters being, taking pleasure in hurting or dominating someone, but he’s only kind when he has a reason to be.

Well, at any rate, I wanted to get something out there to kick off some discussion: what are other folks thinking about Kellhus?

message 2: by John (new)

John | 139 comments It occurs to me that in many ways, my above post just looks at Kellhus as a Dȗnyain, and avoids some of the specific aspects of his experience since leaving their hidden stronghold.

As much as I painted him as part superhuman and part inhuman, it's also worth noting how vulnerable he can be, how precarious his life is at times.

Almost as soon as he leaves, the work of traveling and surviving turns him into something like an animal. He does finally recover his humanity before too long, but he almost dies before being saved by Leweth (and again before Cnaiur finds him). While he's with Leweth, he learns a lot about that wilderness and about "world-born" men... and then Kellhus finds a stone shaft with an inscription: “And I, Anasurimbor Celmomas II, look from this place and witness the glory worked by my hand…” Kellhus dismisses Leweth’s stories of apocalypse and No-God, but “The world, he now understood, was far older than the Dunyain. And if his bloodline extended as far as this dead High King, then so was he.” He's realizing that the Dȗnyain did not, in fact, know everything (and learns this again when he encounters the Non-man and his sorcery). And that quotation suggests that he's viewing himself as being in some fundamental way different from the community he left.

There's a passage that struck me, and I'm not sure what to make of it, but it seems to fit this context. It's right after he and Cnaiur have killed the other Scylvendi and taken Serwe and the other women. He singles out Serwe.

She reminds him of someone. One of his wives...
Anissi, the only one he dares love.

Kellhus watched while the Scylvendi took her again. With her whimpers, he suffocated cries, it seemed the ground beneath slowly spun, as though stars had stopped their cycle and the earth had begun to wheel instead. There was something… something here, he could sense. Something outraged.
From what darkness had this come?
Something is happening to me, Father.

In other words, he has a very un-Dȗnyain feeling: where has it come from, he wonders? Yet... what does he do about it? He doesn't protect her. He evokes her worship, and doesn't he at some point think about how he's using Serwe to break Cnaiur? Yet, there is still this feeling, that wasn't conditioned out of him...

message 3: by Kathi, There’s no such thing as too many books! (last edited May 29, 2014 06:03AM) (new)

Kathi | 1065 comments Mod
I find Kellhus gets more appalling as time goes on. (I just finished Book 2 so will withhold specifics.) He has no center. Well, perhaps his purpose is his center, but the way he uses people is what is appalling to me.

message 4: by Maggie, The Malazan Queen of Chaos (new)

Maggie K | 1206 comments Mod
yes, it's like there is nothing that would be too much...

message 5: by Kathi, There’s no such thing as too many books! (new)

Kathi | 1065 comments Mod
Having now read all 3 books in this series, I can say that, while I am still intrigued by Kellhus's ultimate purpose, I find him unlikeable, terrifying, cruel, and truly inhuman.

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