Monthly Archives: February 2020

US-style ‘Dating’, or the Opposite of what Relationships are supposed to be…


We were watching what was supposed to be a romantic Hollywood comedy movie last night,  and then it became more of an anthropological analysis of a world that was not only completely alien and terrifying, but also not completely comprehensible.

Thinking more about I wrote a FB post with some thought on the subject of that is called ‘dating’ in modern US-influenced popular culture earlier today, that I also posted in several groups, and which which mostly got agreements and some additions with more nuance from people. The original post read something like (it was posted in several versions and is slightly edited again here):

Yesterday I was having a bit of a cultural disconnect moment while watching a Hollywood movie with my wife (‘He’s not that into you’ or something like that, with Jennifer Aniston and other well-known people that I didn’t recognize myself). She was annoyed with how the women were portrayed as stupid creatures (Well, the men really weren’t much better I’d say) and we couldn’t really figure out what the age of the characters was supposed to be. (For behaviour somewhere early twenties, although they were more than teenagers in a way, but other signs said thirties already, especially for the Jennifer Aniston character).

Now the biggest question was about the whole idea of ‘dating relationships’. I’ve always been rather confused by the way dating functions in US fiction and stuff influenced by it (I have no access to the real world over the ocean except through FB friends and the like though) and the way dates seem to function as liminal moments in which a romantic relationship (including intimacy and sometimes sex) is temporarily present, which is over when the date is over and then becomes something very vague that leads to a lot of stress, insecurity and mostly a lot of pursuit of unhappiness.

The contrast is big with the approach to relationships that I saw when I was young here in Belgium: the most childish way of taking about relationships was ‘het aanmaken’, or ‘het is aan’. When ‘it’ was ‘on’, you had a relationship, when the relationship was over it was ‘off’. So you were in a relationship or you weren’t, even in a stage of hand-holding teenagers, and there really wasn’t that much confusion about that. You are in a relationship or not. Dates could occur in the relationship evidently, but they did in no way define anything. If you’re ‘together’ you need to see each other and do stuff together, not?

I’ve also noted that the word ‘verkering’ (a word usually for teenagers, for a steady and commited but casual relationship, a stage of relationship in between the first kiss or ‘het is aan’ until getting engaged) doesn’t exist in English. Translator services translate it with ‘courtship’ (which sounds extremely formal to me, or reminds me of creepy American purity culture) or with ‘dating’ (see all of this).

It seems to me that the whole dating game that I see in movies (with its strange and contradicting rules that only make it more hell) doesn’t have any way of providing that stability of ‘it’s on’ in child language. Relationships seem quite uncertain until people are engaged or so, and people seem to be dating several people at the same time (rather intimately) without any commitment.

Also, the whole idea of having romantically intimate (or even sexual) dates before you really know each other just creeps me out. Without knowing someone enough as a friend already I would never want to be romantic with anyone, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster actually. How can one start a meaningful relationship without a friendship in which it is possible to talk about important things? Shouldn’t relationships that are supposed to become a family together develop from friendship – ‘verkering’ -engagement – marriage?

So while I certainly am a fan of both dating inside a relationship and hanging around to get to know each other (as friends, without any pressure, and certainly without games and nonsense rules), the whole thing called dating, at least in movies, sounds toxic and and stupid to me, and potentially more a vaccination against good relationships than something that leads to healthy couples.

But maybe my analysis is completely off? What do you think? (crossposted in several very different groups and no-one said my analysis was off yet)

What I didn’t get was reactions that my analysis was completely off. Some people warned me that Hollywood isn’t exactly reality. Luckily that is true, but on the other hand US Americans shouldn’t forget that Hollywood provides a picture of reality that is seen a ‘this is America’ by non-Americans. And it seems that (at least for some Americans) dating culture is a hell even worse than what the movies show.

A main point for a lot of people seems to be that ‘the dating world’, especially in the US it seems, is confusing as hell, and that all people who are married or in a relationship who are happy to not have to participate in it, and that some even are single because of it.

After thinking more about the whole thing there are some points that I think are worth stating.

  1. I strongly believe that the best way to handle romantic relationships that are meant to become a family and a partnership for life (I can’t say much about other relationships, and they don’t really interest me either) is to start from a friendship in which open communication about stuff like for example being anxious about this whole dating world and its mad rules among other things. Without that it’s mad to start something with anyone.
    From that I would go through a stage of ‘verkering’/’going steady’, or a growing romantic and committed relationship, followed by engagement and marriage when the time is ripe. (Not too soon, not too late). I also believe it is very important to be clear on where you are, always.
  2. A lot of other non-Americans seem to find the US situation incomprehensible too. I’m rather glad about that for the rest of the planet, but I offer my condolences to any Americans that are screwed by this culture.
  3. The confusion about not knowing where you are in a relationship (that even was a sexual relationship on the last date) sounds like hell. How can anyone live with that? See what I wrote about a friendship with open communication in point 1. I wouldn’t even have a first kiss with someone that I can’t talk about what kind of relationship we’d be in.
    The strange thing is that it seems that people are really intentional about not defining their relationships (or DTR, there even seems to be an acronym) for reasons that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. There even seems to be an active peer pressure even to not define relationships or even call them relationships because that would put pressure on them or something like that.
    I have no idea what that would even mean but it sounds like a very bad idea and an absolute recipe for disaster. And I’m glad that all of this sounds very alien to me. (My condolences again to those stuck with this kind of screwed-upness)
  4. It seems that both weird forms of evangelical ‘purity culture’ (‘don’t ever be alone with someone of the opposite sex’ madness) and the strange and contradictory rules of ‘the dating game’ try to actively keep people from said friendships in which can be communicated like that. Which is keeping people away from a basic requirement without which relationships will always be unstable. Instead of looking for signs and trying to find out what the other might have meant people should just say that they need to say.
  5. There seems to be an element of consumerism too on ‘the dating market’. When you reduce people to products to consume you’ll never be able to have healthy relationships with them. Aforementioned friendship would already be impossible, or make this approach to human beings impossible… (There are more ways in which consumer capitalism is deadly to relationships, but I’m not the one to go to deep in that rabbit hole and that would divert from the topic of this post)
  6. This is probably the place too to give my opinion on ‘hook-up culture’ and one-night stands, which is not based on religion here but merely on the relational wisdom outlined elsewhere: if you’re not in a relationship with someone that enables you to understand each other very well when talking about sex and intimacy it’s just a very stupid and potentially very destructive idea to have sex with them.
    Let’s add to that that hook-up culture very easily becomes rape culture with just the tiniest hint of either sexual entitlement or peer pressure, both of which seem to be more present too in the US than here by the way.
  7. The idea that men and women cannot be friends is not only nonsense, but also very very very problematic, as you should have gathered from everything else I wrote here. See also: The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)
  8. Speaking of vaccinations against relationships: porn in modern society is probably one of the things that destroy relationships in very different ways. But that’s another topic.
  9. It seems that the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy’ are used almost as synonyms sometimes, while they certainly aren’t. There is a lot of intimacy outside of sex and sexual relationships, and a lot of sex isn’t really that intimate at all. Hook-up sex, and whatever porn describes, (as well as the ‘men need sex as a physical release, wife give it to him’ of certain US evangelical marriage books) can be completely devoid of intimacy and even the opposite of it.
  10. Marriage itself when it turns into an obsession more important than your partner themselves can become an idol that is destructive to your relationship. Same with wedding days when they become more important than your partner and your relationship.
  11. If this is what is called ‘Dating’ in the US I understand now that Josh Harris kissed it goodbye. It’s just that not much of the things he proposes instead seems to be a better alternative…
  12. I can understand how this mess turns men into Incels and MGTOW and the like. Which is also a destructive and a rather effective vaccination against healthy relationships.
  13. Saying ‘I love you’ seems very hard for a lot of people even in romantic relationships (also something I don’t really get. I’d think it’s a requirement very early on). But I think it’s important to be able to say those words and mean them.

So, to summarize, my own relationship advice: be honest, be yourself, be open, form a strong frelovelutionriendship before you even think of ‘intimacy’ (which is a lie anyway without a relationship, you can’t communicate love that isn’t there), talk about everything, and look for someone with whom you can run away from all the dating game nonsense.

The best way to have a healthy relationship is to just short-circuit all the nonsense, and go your own way together. So anyway, before you ‘date’ or whatever you call it with someone, it’s probably good to form a friendship deep enough to talk about how to evade, subvert and completely ignore the whole nonsense of dating, and then face the madness world together.

That sounds like a very good bonding experience by the way…

What do you people think?

Peace

Bram

Other posts:
Joshua Harris, unkissed frogs and false promises
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity

Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society


The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Like I said in my last post I’ve been rereading Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy recently. There are several interesting ideas in the books that are worth blogging about, which is problematic since they are only available in Dutch. So in this post I will try to summarise the most important details of the intriguing worldbuilding of the trilogy as a reference for further posts in this series.

In a way the books are built around a simple post-apocalyptic reboot of humanity, in which some cultures have learnt from ‘the Great Catastrophe’ (nuclear world warIII), and others haven’t a thousand years later: The Thulenes have a nonviolent culture based on respect for life and the leadership of women, while their opponents the Badeners are a dystopian mix of the negative aspects of European cultures of the last few centuries that isn’t actually that unrealistic.

See also:

The land of Thule
The land of Thule is a temperate-climate Greenland in a world where the North pole has moved to Japan and the South pole to South America. It is inhabited by people of mixed race, mostly descendants of Danish colonists and Inuit from before the Great Catastrophe. The capital is Gothab. The language is Thulene, which isn’t used in the books, but is the place and person names are a good indication that it falls something in between Inuit languages and Scandinavian too. People on the coast often known some Kanadene as a second language, descended from English and still mutually intelligible with the languages of the Merikans and Brits.

Thule: General culture:
Thule has a simple and rather low-tech culture, depending on horses and windmills. No-one is poor and no-one except for the royal Konega-family is rich. Communities share most of their stuff: houses, boats and horses belong to the whole community, but people do have personal property too. They also use silver money, but part of the wages is paid in various stuff. Children in school don’t just learn theory but also how to build houses and other practical stuff, and most people make furniture themselves.

He (Kilian) would have to search for a job, because his academic degrees were worthless here in this country. Thulenes had a completely different education than children in the Badener Empire. Here they were taught carpentry, sailing, cooking, shipbuilding, and all kinds of practical matters. And what were his skills? Nothing like that… (THP p.262)

Frederiksborg is an important university city. 80% of the university population is female, since men are rather rare in higher jobs. Thulenes have printing presses and colour print. Gunpowder is known but normally only used for fireworks or mining. Fire-arms are unknown orand later considered taboo. The only weapon used is a kind of stun-gun with little poisoned arrows, or the thorns of which the poison comes, that make an animal or human fall unconscious for a while. Men with weapons are seen as extremely indecent, except in the case of woodsmen. The idea of men fighting is shameful, almost obscene.

Important areas are the Capital Gothab on the West coast, the Holtak-district where the vases vases with gold-dust are made in the middle, and Kulus in the East. The Mining districts are in the North, where winters are still cold. Gold is exported to Kanada for wheat, and most trade with other countries is barter.
The population runs in the millions, but no-one has ever counted how much Thulenes there are, since people are not registered. They only have first names, except for the women descending from the ‘Mother of the Motherland’ Sigrid Helgadottir who are called ‘Dottir’ and are considered some kind of nobility. Most of the dottirs seem to be connected to trade.

Thule: Nature
Thulenes live very close to nature, and feel like themselves are a part of nature. Destruction of nature is punishable. Hunting is generally forbidden, and for every tree that is cut down a new sapling must be planted. Killing an animal is seen as murder almost as much as killing a human. The Thulenes import wild animals from Kanada for the balance of nature, and have a very diverse wildlife with deer, 4 species of bears (it’s implied that ice bears have survived too in the North, and adapted to a more temperate climate), wolves, foxes, moose, and much more. The people are friendly to animals, even predators and are in return rarely attacked by them and often treated as friends by animals.

I don’t understand, Kilian thought. This wilderness is full of devouring beasts, but this morning a wolf only woke me up and then ran away from me. And I seem to have slept in the arms of a bear, which didn’t do me any harm either. Shouldn’t people feer them at all?
No, he answered his own question. Not if the bear thought you were a Thulene. (THP p. 226)

Marine mammals are also friends of the Thulenes, and orcas even know the difference between the Thulene language of friendly humans and the Badener language of enemies who want to kill them. Elvira knows to ward off an orca that wants to attack the lifeboat after her ship has sunk by talking to it in Thulene, although it tries to attack people speaking Badeners.

Meat is eaten though, but only from old animals that have lived a happy life, which makes all meat extremely chewy. Birds are never eaten or killed. Eating fish is less of a taboo than eating meat, but in the dolphin season fish is left for dolphins and humans and not fished by people.
Poaching and destruction of nature get punished harshly with a mark in the face. (see later)

Thule: Gender roles
Thule is clearly a matriarchy: women are leaders in every aspect of society, they held most jobs with power, and they are seen as the more responsible sex. Men are seen as not to be trusted with power, which is connected to the stories about the Great Catastrophe, when the world was almost destroyed by men. Apart from that the society of Thule is not only very friendly but also egalitarian. There are hardly any class distinctions and people of all classes mingle with each other.

Men were nice, strong, often friendly creatures that could do the heavy work, that could plough the land, cut down trees, carry heavy loads and build houses, but couldn’t be trusted with something as sensitive as governing a country. They were too rude for that, too headstrong and selfish… Am I rude and selfish? Christian wondered. Was my father Rajo? (KOMA p.20)

This is also reflected in the political system: Thule is ruled by the Konega with the Council of Women, which consists of all district leaders and sometimes family members of the Konega, but traditionally no men. A small reform at the end of the first book tried to balance the inequality between the sexes by giving the men in the Konega-family a place in the Council of women too. In the third book, 50 years later that means 3 men and 26 women. Other cultures close to Thule like the Kanadenes and the Baffinlanders seem to also be female-led by the way.

Thule: Relationships and Marriage
monogamous marriage based on love seems to be the norm, but with reversal of traditional gender patterns: Christian at the beginning of the first book for example is horrified by the idea that he, as a Konega-son, might have to ask a woman himself instead of her asking him. Apart from that it seems that relationships are both rather relaxed and serious at the same time and based on friendship and intimacy.
Intercultural relationships and marriages, even with Badeners, are not seen as a problem at all if the character of the outsider has proven to be good.

Nanora had told her friends of the weaver mill enthusiastically about the young sailor who was so nice, had such a sweet face, cared so much about his mother and behaved so well. It wasn’t true at all that all of the Badeners were fiddling around with your body, that they were intrusive and brutal and thought that all girls just had to do whatever they liked. Erich was completely different: modest and careful. He left the initiative to his girlfriend, as it should be, and waited quietly until it was time for more intimate caresses. Really, Badeners were okay if you got to know them. (THP p 307)

Women get only a few children, because they have more things to do with their life than being a mother. (I suppose contraception is implied but not named because it is a childrens’ book after all. Nothing is said about sex explicitly.) Girls are sometimes valued above boys, although in theory boys are loved equally. People are very relaxed about nudity and young people are very playful and relaxed about their bodies in general. (Compared to the prudish Badeners) Prostitution is unknown, and harassment of women or violence within a relationship is a strong taboo.

The one exception to people being free to choose their own partner is the succession law for the Konega-family: a Konega-son can traditionally only marry a woman from the ‘dottir’ families, because of the supposed genetic superiority of the family line of Sigrid Helgadottir. This rather eugenic practice is called out as such by Christian, as he struggles with his love for the non-dottir girl Thura, and this law also gets a reform at the end of the first book for Christian and Thura.

Thule: Religion
Thulenes have a rather non-religious reverence for mother Earth, which is mostly just seen as the planet herself. They are not offended when Badeners describe it like that either. There are no priests or religious services, only small open temples in which people can sit in silence. These temples typically have a place on which one or more vases (if possible Holtak-vases made with gold-clay) with flowers are put express thankfulness.

Thule: Political system
Thulenes have a monarchy led by a Konega. The first Konega was Sigrid Helga-dottir, who came from Yselan (Iceland), and the Icelandic matronym ‘dottir’ became a kind of clan name for her female descendants, which were seen as women of great intelligence and intuition. Only a dottir can be a Konega. Thura becomes the first non-dottir Konega-mother, and her daughter Ferika-dottir then became the successor of Christians mother Armina-dottir.

The Council of Women consists of the leaders of all districts of Thule, and is in Gothab with the Konega half of the year and in their own district the rest of the year. District leaders, as well as region and city leaders are chosen democratically by men and women, based on their competence and skills, and always female.

Thule: Punishment system
The last intriguing part of Thulene society is their unique system of punishment. Thulenes never use violence (their worst weapon is a stun gun) and they don’t take away someone’ Continue reading

Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: The best post-apocalyptic dystopian/utopian fiction that was never translated to English.


The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Recently I’ve been rereading some books that I liked as a kid that I know to still make sense to me  as an adult and that’s quite an interesting exercise. So when I found ‘Het helse paradijs’ (the infernal paradise) by Thea Beckman in a secondhand bookstore I didn’t even think about it and bought it. It’s a fantastic book, second in a trilogy that I would put on the level of Narnia, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, Astrid Lindgrens Ronja the Robbersdaughter and the ‘Avatar: Legend of Aang’ cartoons.

Thea Beckman (1923-2004) is a rather well-known writer of books for older children (‘jeugdboeken’) in Dutch-speaking areas. I think the three Thule books are 12+ or so, something like what is weirdly called ‘Young Adult’ in the English-speaking world, but I certainly must have been younger than that when I read most of them. She’s famous for high-quality historical fiction, like ‘kruistocht in spijkerbroek’ (available in English as ‘Crusade in Jeans‘, also made into a film in 2006), but also for example for her impressive trilogy around the hundred years’ war. But the books I remember and loved most aren’t historical books but the trilogy about the future land of Thule and its conflicts with the great Badener empire. ‘Het helse paradijs’ is actually the second book of the trilogy, so later that week I went to look for the first one, and I couldn’t resist the third one too. Luckily they are easily found in the better bookshop: even though being written in the eighties they are still reprinted constantly. Rereading the books has been a pleasure, they are still as good as ever so I’m still rereading them; and they contain some very interesting ideas.

See also the next post:

It’s also interesting how European the story is, an American for example wouldn’t write  a story like this. Thea Beckman endured the second world war under the fascism of the nazis (The Netherlands were occupied for most of the war, as was Belgium where I live) and wrote the books in the cold war from inside country that had no influence on the madness of the idiotic arms race between the US and the USSR and the possibility of total destruction of the planet. Both have certainly influenced her views on the future of planet Earth and human civilisation.

Thule and the Baderner Empire
The Thule books are built around a clash between an utopia and a dystopia, and contain intriguing experiments in speculative sociology: what happens when a nonviolent female-dominated culture meets an aggressive colonialist culture that wants to subdue it. How will both sides see each other? How will they react to each other in conflict? The whole series gives a very interesting critique and sometimes outright deconstruction of fascism, militarism, colonialism, male chauvinism, societies based on aggression, industrialism that destroys nature, and so on. The stories follow 2 countries in a recovering post-apocalyptic world some thousand years after a nuclear world war III, which has hit the planet hard: her axis has changed, the continents have been redrawn, and the poles have moved to Japan and South-America. Most of humanity and other life has been killed in the mad nuclear war, but over time nature has stabilised again, and humanity too has come back from near-extinction so new civilisations are rising up again on what’s left of the world. Greenland has become the green land the name has always suggested it was and it is now the matriarchal nation of Thule. Meanwhile in central-Europe an industrial colonial power named the Badeners is rising up to conquer everything in sight in the name of progress and civilisation.

The difference between both cultures couldn’t be bigger: the Thulenes, descendants of a mix of mostly North-Europeans and Inuit that survived the Great Catastrophe, have only women in power, they even believe than men should never have power since men were responsible for the Great Catastrophe, and can be called fanatically non-violent ecofeminist, living in peace with nature, with a rather limited use of money, and a taboo on men having too much power, since that was what led to the Great Catastrophe. The Badeners, named after an area in between Germany and Switzerland, are a violent and (self)destructive culture, combining industrial colonialism with a form of fascism (later replaced by some kind of democracy), and are always trying to expand their territory, having conquered most other European people except for the Brits and supposedly some South-European countries. Fear and oppression as well as poverty and pollution plus a heavy dose of corruption are the price for a ‘great civilisation’.

Kinderen van Moeder Aarde

Men were nice, strong, often friendly creatures that could do the heavy work, that could plough the land, cut down trees, carry heavy loads and build houses, but couldn’t be trusted with something as sensitive as governing a country. They were too rude for that, too headstrong and selfish… Am I rude and selfish? Christian wondered. Was my father Rajo? (p.20)

The first book ‘Kinderen van Moeder Aarde’ (Children of Mother Earth) follows the royal family of Thule at the time of the first expedition of the Badeners to what the old maps called ‘Groenland’. The main character throughout most of the book is the Konega-son Christian, whose name is not referring to Christianity (the Thulenes have an almost non-religious reverence of ‘Mother Earth’ as religion) but just a Scandinavian-sounding name like most of the royal family has, with them being descended from a legendary family from Yselan. Christian is the son of the matriarchal monarch of Thule, Armina-dottir the Konega but just as his father he has no special title or role. He is just a man. (A bit like a princess in a kingdom where only men can be king)
One storyline revolves around his family, the disappearance and reappearance of his father Rajo, and the problems of being a man in a female-led society with as his father calls it the ‘gentle oppression of men’. The Women Council of Thule is extremely conservative, and men are not supposed to have any power because that is dangerous (it is what led to the Great Catastrophe) There also is the problem of Christian being the only child of the Konega-family and being only a boy, so he will be expected to marry a Dottir (a woman from the royal bloodline) to hopefully one day father a girl who can become the new Konega.
The arrival of the Badenfelder and the reaction of both cultures to each other is another big part of the story. Both cultures are completely alien for each other, and they completely get lost in translation even though there is a language they can both use(Brits and Kanadene are still mostly mutually intelligible language). The Badeners try to start with diplomacy and talk about friendship and alliances, but don’t they just want to conquer the whole country? Christian is interested in the other culture, but still skeptical. At a certain point the ‘prince’  as the Badeners see him gets ‘kidnapped’ (actually he joins them willingly, trying to understand them more as he was assigned by his mother) by the commander and asked to show them the inland and he takes them on a crazy hike to the wilderness, where he learns by their reaction what the true (murderous) nature of their culture is.
A third storyline is the impossible love-story between Christian and Thura, a young-captain-in-training and certainly not a Dottir, a fierce, intelligent and unyielding personality with a lot of Inuit blood. She turns out to be one of the most courageous and tactical defenders of her country though, and will play an important role in conquering the Badeners, who are not killed but prevented from ever returning and assimilated in the Thulene society.

Het  Helse Paradijs

The Konega looked straight at Kilian. ‘You are right,’ she spoke. ‘We tried deliberately to kill all of you when it became clear that you didn’t want to abort the invasion attempt. It was you who convinced us of that. We wanted to smother what was left by the hurricane, the rat disease and the swamps in fire and smoke. We had thought out much more natural disasters for you. But it became too much, we couldn’t go on. Pity choked us. It is against our nature to be cruel and ruthless. (P. 271)

In the second book ‘het helse paradijs’ (the infernal paradise) we get more insight in the culture of the Badeners. Kilian Werfel, a young linguist, is summoned by the Egon, the dictator, together with an admiral, a Government Commissioner, and a geologist, to go on a new expedition to Greenland after the disappearance of the Badenfelder 2 years ago. The fleet consists of 5 warships and around 1000 soldiers that takes over the harbor of Kulus and Kilian will have the impossible task to try to connect to an enemy whose new tactic is mostly to completely ignore them.  He’ll also have the misfortune of falling in love with Thulene spokesperson Thura, who is completely unreachable as the fiancée of the Konega-son.
And on top of that none of the leaders of the invasion is ever happy with the messages he needs to carry from the other side, which is that they just have to leave Thule or will be ‘destroyed by Mother Earth’.

The Thulenes led by the Konega and Thura don’t use any conventional warfare, but they are very successful against the Badeners. They move in stealth and stun the invaders whenever they misbehave, to leave them to wake up stripped of weapons and uniforms elsewhere. At a certain point the whole invasion army wakes up in their underwear, robbed of a lot of stuff, with a red mark of a criminal in their face. And that’s just the beginning: the warships get sabotaged and the big march over land to Gothab, the capitol, gets stuck in the middle of nowhere before a blown-up bridge with a ‘city of gold’ just out of reach on the other side, plagued by diseases and natural disasters.

Kilian himself gets more bad luck and is accused of treason after he brings another message from Thura (‘go back to Kulus, you won’t survive the winter here’) to his superiors. He barely escapes alive, and then wanders around as beggar and stranger, marked as a crimnlal  through Thule to end up in a hospital, while the Badener army goes rogue destroying a village and then finds its demise in natural disasters as a reaction.

In the end the second invasion will have a similar outcome as the first one: none of the Badeners will see their homeland again, but this time with a lot of casualties. Assimilating the remaining Badeners into the Thulene culture is much harder this time, but the Konega-family mobilises Kilian, whom they’ve picked up along the way to Gothab and who knows both cultures now as their own mediator to explain the culture to the scattered left-overs of the invasion-army.

Het Gulden Vlies van Thule

Elvira shook her head, rather hopelessly. ‘Lady Thura, please understand! If I go to Gothab, and make myself known as the mediator chosen by the Thulenes… The head-governor will roll over with laughter. He will say ‘child, don’t be silly, go get married, get six children, and that’s how you’ll do a service to the fatherland.’
‘That man couldn’t be that stupid,’ Thura said. (p.178)

The third book ‘het Gulden Vlies van Thule’ (the Golden Fleece of Thule) is set half a century later and is written again from a Badener point of view, but this time the main characters are female. The Badener Empire has moved on from dictatorship to democracy, but is in a lot of problems, which it tries to solve with new colonies overseas. Four coastal Thulene cities including the capital Gothab have been conquered and are under Badener rule, but the colonisation isn’t very successful and the Thulenes are doing endless acts of sabotage while rarely being seen or caught. The Badeners don’t understand anything of the Thulenes, and don’t really try to understand their culture and language, seeing them as just stupid and primitive cowards for them.

The book first follows Elvira, daughter of a  deputy governor. She sees the need to understand the Thulene language and culture, and she even gets help in secret from a Thulene woman to learn it. Her father is sent to join a punitive expedition to the inland where no-one ever returns from when he protests the corruption of the governor, and doesn’t come back. Finally she goes into Thulene country to find him. She meets a district leader who tells her the fate of her father, and meets the Konega-son Tjalk who  hates the Badener who killed half his family, but still brings him to temporary capitol Holtak, known for its expensive vases made with gold-clay to meet Thura, an old woman now but still the fierce leader of the resistance.  She predicts the end of the Badener colonies, and wants her to be a negotiator with the Badener government.

Another storyline follows the three daughters of the new head governor of the added territories of Thule. Being a nobleman of ill fortune he tries to find a new chance for his family in the colonies, which are in bad condition already when he arrives. Unlike his predecessor he is more interested in trade and diplomacy, and sees the importance of learning the language and culture of the native Thulenes, so he orders his daughters to study it.
After a while the three girls will do their own attempt to reach Holtak where the famed vases made of gold-clay originate, to try to make trade possible between Thulenes and Badeners. When they finally reach Holtak they are received by Thura and the Konega, who tells them that friendship is impossible as long as the Thulene cities are occupied, . Together with Elvira they are sent back, and find the capitol in worse state than ever, with rats everywhere and workers on strike. The head governor sends a message to the motherland, and finally a diplomat arrives to talk with the Konega, even though the idea of talking with women is rather ridiculous to him. The cultural misunderstandings are big and the demands of Thura and the Konega-family are high,  but there is one trump that the Thulenes use to buy off the Badeners (one which is hinted at in the title already) to get their country back.

It really is a pity that the books have never been translated. They are very intelligently written, and help one ask questions and see through the nonsense of society.

Some themes will be worth exploring more in future posts.

Peace

Bram