Character Study: Itempas

OK, this got prematurely posted a few days ago thanks to the unmiracle of scheduled blog post publishing; I clicked “OK” when I should’ve clicked “Save for later”, basically. Took it down a few minutes later, but those of you on the RSS feed might’ve seen it already. Sorry ’bout the confusion. Anyway:

I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether it was safe to do a Character Study for the big guy yet, given that his role in the trilogy isn’t yet over. (Not a spoiler; if a god’s not dead, s/he’s not done.) Spoilers for both The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, obviously.


So. Itempas. From the beginning I knew he would be the most challenging of the gods to write, because he’s an unlikeable bastard and I needed to keep him that way no matter how much he changed over the course of the series. Naha’s the charmer, Yeine’s the mediator, so Tempa has to be the dick. And I had to work the hardest to understand him, because his inflexible, domineering nature runs completely counter to my own. So I decided to start with his beginning.

Itempas was born surrounded by enemies — or so it must have seemed to him. His first experience was of the incomprehensible semi-chaos of the Maelstrom, which tried to destroy him the instant he was born. When he fled it, he found only the equally chaotic mass of the early proto-universe (as accidentally created by Nahadoth) in which to hide. And only one other living being was there to greet him: a crazed, formless thing almost as dangerous to Itempas as the Maelstrom had been. My suspicion is that Nahadoth probably hurt Itempas when they first encountered each other — not intentionally, but just because as gods their natures were almost diametrically opposed. It took time for them to learn how to interact safely. But this was the final straw for poor confused, newborn Itempas, who finally decided he wasn’t having any of this crap. The first few centuries of his battle against Nahadoth were just the two of them lashing out at each other in pure thoughtless instinct.

I believe Nahadoth would’ve been the first to make an overture to peace, simply because it was something they’d never tried before and change is his nature. But Itempas is the one who would’ve made it work. I imagine Nahadoth simply refused to fight one day — maybe because he was tired of battle, maybe because he was bored, no way of knowing. In return, thanks to his innate sense of fairness, Itempas would’ve stopped fighting too. Then he would’ve made their first true attempt at communication. There was no language back then, so the first exchange would’ve been something profoundly simple. Itempas, who naturally thought of himself as “Itempas” from the moment of his birth, would have offered his own name. But Nahadoth was nameless then; even the concept of naming would’ve been foreign to him. So perhaps Itempas created a name for him and offered it as part of their truce. Nahadoth, given his fascination with new things, accepted it. Through such small, gradual gestures, the truce became peace, and mutual enmity started to become something wholly different.

So that was the beginning. We know about the middle phase of Itempas’ life through Enefa’s memories (as experienced by Yeine in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms), Nahadoth’s statements, and Madding’s nostalgia (in The Broken Kingdoms). It’s easy to imagine what the Dayfather must have been like then, as the rather stiffnecked patriarch of the wild and glorious divine family. It struck me as I was noodling him that only Itempas, of all the Three, would be anywhere near parental, in the traditional mortal sense of the word. In fact, Itempas would have been the one to create the concept of “family” itself, establishing a hierarchy in which himself and the other two older, stronger gods became the leaders and nurturers of the younger set, and designing names and customs for their interrelations. So instead of a bunch of fractious immortals interacting at random, they became parent and child, or siblings, or even just friends. Fatherhood became a fundamental part of Itempas’ identity — thus his mortal titles of “Dayfather” and later “Skyfather”; even the mortals recognized this aspect of his nature. (Naha was known in a few quarters as the “Nightfather”, but much less so.) And Itempas, taking his role as father quite seriously, would naturally have been the one that those godlings who craved nurturing — Sieh, for example; yes, they were close once — felt most comfortable in turning to. I imagine this gave Tempa a great sense of satisfaction.

But Itempas’ later breakdown, which triggered the Gods’ War, was entirely predictable. It’s in Enefa’s and Nahadoth’s natures to be flexible — Nahadoth to an extreme degree, given that his appearance and personality transform even against his will, Enefa in a more moderate and controlled fashion. Itempas, being Naha’s equal and opposite in most ways, is just as extreme in his inflexibility. However, where Naha’s extremism was obviously a problem, the danger inherent in Itempas’ was less clear. Most of us laugh at controlling, perfectionistic, “anal retentive” people, after all — but controlling behavior taken to an extreme is no laughing matter. Think abusive partners. Think untreated obsessive-compulsive disorder. Think totalitarianism. The first gods’ war — the one against the demons — was a tragedy. It was also a warning to all of the Three about the deadly consequences of letting either sky lord’s nature rampage unchecked. I haven’t yet written the full story of that war, but the way I envision it, there was a triggering event — the death of a godling, due to demons’ blood — that caused Nahadoth to descend into full-on berserker rage, as he is wont to do. Extreme chaos; madness. But Itempas’ reaction was equally mad — he sought a way to control the demons and negate their threat. Alas, the only way to negate any threat posed by living, free-willed beings is to destroy them. Extreme order; genocide and nihilism.

Both gods later regretted what they’d done to their children, and to their family as a whole. (Enefa did not participate, but neither could she stop them. A single member of the Three can never hope to defeat the other two.) But while Nahadoth hadn’t really been aware of his own actions, Itempas acted with deliberate, methodical brutality. Of whatever moral weight the gods’ murderous act carried, Itempas clearly bore the greater burden. Unfortunately, he hadn’t quite come to terms with this by the time the second gods’ war began — so he reacted with the same extreme, kill-the-problem-to-solve-it logic when (as he perceived it) Enefa threatened him with solitude.

So this is the Itempas we meet at the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. He has twice looked into the abyss of his own soul and been revolted by what he’s found — yet without the aid of the family he has shaped and been shaped by, he cannot change. And he’s too proud to ask for help from mortals, whom he considers inferior and untrustworthy after that whole business with Shahar Arameri went so wrong. So he tries to hang on to his loved ones even as they reject him, and even as his effort to control them pushes them farther away. And he accepts the worship of mortals like the Arameri, but only because he’s got nothing else to give his life meaning. He is a warrior without an opponent; god who has killed all his demons; a lover alone. As a being so defined by his relationships to others, Itempas fears solitude not just because it’s anathema to his nature, but because it leaves him trapped in his own company. And he hates himself.

As a counselor, I’ve spent my share of time working with people like this, and it’s tough. Their behavior is hard to understand, harder still to endure. They’re assholes, for lack of a more clinical term. But if you dig beneath the surface of the asshole behavior, you begin to realize that the way such a person seems to view others is actually the way he sees himself. So consider the Itempas of The Broken Kingdoms. “You were irrelevant,” he says to Oree when she asks him about his silence. “Just another mortal.” But is she really irrelevant? He talks to her eventually, and she’s still mortal, so clearly that’s not true. And he doesn’t ignore her words or tell her not to speak to him, as he should if he considers her beneath him. Instead, he stays silent himself — which suggests that his own words are what he truly considers irrelevant. His violence is even more obvious: throughout the story, he hurts himself more than he hurts anyone else. He kills himself again and again through self-inflicted attacks or sheer neglect; he lets the Orderkeepers beat the crap out of him before he kills them; he doesn’t fight back when Sieh attacks (or speak, which might have saved him some broken ribs); and though he has ample opportunities to harm Oree during the months that they live together at the beginning of the story, he doesn’t hurt her until she tries to help him. Because she tries to help him.

In real life, a person like this can go either way. He can choose to change, or he can let inertia run its course. In fantasy — well, for an immortal entity with an unchangeable nature, there are fewer options. Itempas has done inertia; he is inertia, embodied. Prior to the Gods’ War, he changed only when circumstances demanded. But since he’s mortal now, and mortal life — as created by the Three — is a blend of entropy, intertia, and equilibrium, he finally has the chance to change by choice. We’ve seen his clumsy first efforts: changing his mind about allowing demons to exist, choosing to love the mortal Oree. Will he keep it up? Hard to say. I guess we’ll just have to check in with him in a hundred years or so, when The Kingdom of Gods resumes the tale of him and the other gods.

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6 Responses »

  1. Very interesting insights into this character. I just finished “The Broken Kingdoms,” and I found myself wondering what was at the center of Itempas/Shiny’s behavior.

    And now I know. :)

  2. Oh, HECK, this is too interesting and now I really, desperately want to read The Broken Kingdoms. I’ve got it right here as well. But I shall resist! No new books until I’ve finished the WIP (dammit, mumble, grumble).

  3. If he were to become a god again, would his nature change then because of his time as a mortal? Or would he go back to being the father they all know and love? From what I can tell of the gods, their nature is unchangeable, which is why Itempas is the way he is, but I kind of think that if Itempas changes from being a human, then he would become a different kind of god altogether.

  4. Thanks for this…I enjoy reading your writings even when they are just blogs! The Broken Kingdom was another wonderful example of your talent. I read it in 4 days, could barely put it down. You have turned me into a sci-fi/fantasy fan ;-) I am reading more books in the genre and finding I enjoy them very much. I look forward to the third book and wish you continued success!

    Nancy

  5. Orlando, belated —

    Yes, his nature would change. But that’s not because he’s been human; it would change because all living beings change. Itempas has always done so, really, just veerrrrrry slooooowly, and kicking and screaming (figuratively speaking) the whole way.* As a mortal, however, he’s got to change faster. When (not if; it’s inevitable that he will eventually rejoin the ranks of the gods, just as it was inevitable that Nahadoth and the gang would eventually break free and do the same) he’s a god again, he’ll return to his preferred method of incremental, only-if-he-must change, because that’s his nature.

    *Remember that all of the gods contain their antithesis to some degree. Nahadoth can tolerate some light and order (he just doesn’t like it). Sieh can function as an adult or even an old man, it just makes him very weak. Etc.