Under the Vale and Other Tales of Valdemar - Mercedes Lackey Mercedes Lackey was the first author of fantasy I’ve ever read. Her Valdemar tales were my favorites for years, before I grew out of them… somewhat. But I still occasionally read new Valdemar novels and the anthologies like this one. I don’t want to review the short stories in this collection – they are neither better nor worth than in any other collection of Valdemar. But I want to express my thoughts about Valdemar itself.
In the beginning, I was enchanted by the author’s ideas of Heralds and Companions but the longer I read about Valdemar the more the stories irritate me. My beautiful enchantment is long gone. What really happens when a Herald is Chosen?
A Companion selects a gifted person, usually a teenager, with an innate strength of character, and removes him or her from the family. Sometimes, it’s an abusive or inconsiderate family. Often the Chosen is an orphan. But sometimes, the family is good and loving. In all cases, the teenager is withdrawn from his original surroundings and placed in – a Collegium you want to say – well, yes, but really it’s an institution. A glorified orphanage.
Then the said teenager gets educated – brainwashed really – so he or she would consider the interests of the Crown above all else for the rest of their lives. It’s not a coincidence that teenagers, with their personalities still unformed, are the best source material for being Chosen. After their education = brainwashing is complete, they are set on a course of serving the Crown – for free.
They are not encouraged to marry, because married people usually shift their priorities to their own families. They are seldom Chosen from loving families, and they are actively discouraged from bringing anyone from their former lives to the Collegium for the same reason. There is a story in the current anthology to that effect, The Bride’s Task by Michael Williamson and Gail Sanders. In the story, a betrothed girl follows her fiance, a recently Chosen boy, to the Collegium, and the Dean can’t wait to get read of her. She is an impediment for the future Herald’s ‘proper’ education.
Ideally, the Heralds should have in their lives only the Crown and each other. The Crown thus creates an army of dedicated, lonely fanatics, a gilded, twisted sort of slavery, if I ever heard of one. Of course, they all have Companions as a reward. After all, we are human and need someone to love us. The entire system leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think it’s even remotely realistic. It’s definitely not favorable towards creativity or independent thinking.
In real life, what becomes of orphans raised in institutions? Nothing good usually. No noble, incorruptible Heralds in any case. In the best scenarios, they end up honest citizens. More often than not, the lack of love in their childhood leads them towards criminal paths. Almost never they amount to much more than manual laborers. No musicians, no scientists, no doctors, no lawyers, no businessmen. Sometimes, seldom – writers. This unsavory rule has exceptions, of course, but they are rare and only confirm the rule.
A psychiatrist I interviewed once said that when a child or a teenager is taken from a family or from a culture, it creates a metaphorical hole in his soul. Those holes need fillings, and they are filled most often by violence or drugs. Look at the results of Indian residential schools for Aboriginal children in Canada, which operated from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century.
I don’t think that an author who had children of her own could’ve come up with the idea that an institution could be better than a family. No mother or father I know thinks that, because a family of your own, even a flawed family, is infinitely better than an exalted orphanage with a fancy name: Heraldic Collegium, or an exclusive community of Heralds.
I’m tempted to write a story for the next anthology, a story in which someone rebels against being Chosen, in which that kid or her parents select family over the dubious honor of becoming a Herald. But I suspect such a story would be ultimately rejected.