Mhoram’s Test

My favorite singular book used to be the Illearth War by Donaldson. It might still be, but it’s very grim and I don’t have the stomach for that much any more. It’s the second of a trilogy, the first being Lord Foul’s Bane, which is okay. The third, The Power That Preserves, is exceptional but not quite as good as the Illearth War.

There’s a duplicated bit in the second and third where one character, Mhoram, uses some special supplies to get to the fight instead of using them for the fight. The basic premise is the good army/people have an ordeal before them, and they’re on the edge of losing due to being worn down. The ordeals aren’t climactic battles, but tests of endurance, will, and morale. Mhoram uses and uses-up his magic stuff to get the people through. The fact that he doesn’t have a lot and comes out with less is significant.

I wonder about that a lot. The book is dramatic, and everything works out (sorta). In the real world, you often need your special stuff to get through great conflicts. What’s more, Donaldson writes with a lot of rule-of-cool, and it’s not like he inventories the special supplies ahead of time. Mhoram has enough to use them, and if plot required more, he’d have more. Reality does not afford that luxury.

But ordeals, tests of will and morale, conflicts that must be overcome by endurance instead of defeating an adversary, are highly real-world phenomena. They happen a lot. How much of your invaluable resources do you burn in the moment and how much do you save for later? You have to get to later, but people don’t have willpower points or hit-point tracks. We don’t really know what we can take, and crude, sloppy, and slippery as real endurance tests are, we don’t really have the option of budgeting too carefully. We just don’t know.

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