One of the themes I hope to express, if not emphasize, in the Shine Cycle is heroism. In particular, I want to convey what it is (that is, in what it consists) and why it is important. But I want this to come through naturally, as an outgrowth and essential part of the story I’m telling, not as an ex cathedra authoris lecture or an infodump (which is something I know from experience I have to be wary of with any theme I think is important). Today I’d like to explain and explore this theme.
Honor is a quality that’s really, really hard to define with any precision. It includes the ideas of virtue and holiness, but neither of those is quite sufficient. For one thing, virtue can be (at least to some extent) taught, but true honor can hardly be distinguished from an imitation except by being put to the test, and in particular by war. Honor is like a shield; it can be true, and will bring glory to its possessor and God its maker in the day of trial, or it can be false, decorative and beautiful on the surface but a betrayer when it is tried.
It is instructive to contrast honor with chivalry. Chivalry concerns itself with actions—keeping one’s word, for (the most central) example—while honor is primarily—but not only—concerned with intentions. Scrupulous observance of the code of chivalry and flawless courtesy are not enough:
A man can smile, and smile, and be a villain.
And while chivalry includes guidelines on the treatment of commoners, it restricts itself to the “nobility,” arguing that they should avoid unchivalrous (and most dishonorable) behavior because “*noblesse oblige”. Honor has no such restriction; anyone from the poorest peasant to the king can be honorable or dishonorable. And honor is demanded and valued not because of anyone’s position in society, but for its own sake.
In the world of the Shine Cycle, the society of the Empire has made the cultivation of honor its aim. Honorable behavior is expected of all, and a standard education includes extensive explanation and exploration of the motivations of those expectations, and of the theory and ethics of honor. On the surface, it looks much like a chivalry-driven quasi-medieval culture. But it is well understood that chivalry—honorable action—is not enough. The Empire promotes similar policies among its allies and friends, and with the help of other countries it enforces something like a code of conduct in international relations, but all are resigned to the fact that until the last of the old order falls in the Dragon Empire true honor is impossible there.