I’d like to thank my good friend Marshall Tankersley for all his hard work in in making the cover art for my stories, Facebook pages, and Patreon. Without your talent this would be a very bland place to read stories. A special thanks to my Fiction 2 classmates and professor for helping me work on this story and figure out the heart of it. Thank you to my patrons or supporting me, both current and future. Special credit also must be given to Pierce Brown for his epic story of the Red Rising Saga. It is by far my favorite book series and really recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I’ve never seen such good characterization. Thank you all!
The Gods of Humanity
What ultimately happens when a person makes themselves into a god? The question is discussed heavily in science fiction. The question itself is Novum (Tale Foundry), which is one that is similar enough to the world around us for an audience to recognize but is still showing some level of difference. The novum of human deification in this genre occurs the film adaptation of Jurassic Park. The movie criticizes the scientists for “playing God” and creating life as something that humanity should never explore. This idea is explored further in the whole of the Red Rising Trilogy, written by Pierce Brown. In it the question of “what happens when humanity makes itself into a pantheon?” The exploration of this question does not stop with the Golds, who are often described as “godlike”, but it even goes down into Mars’ Helium-3 mines with the trilogy’s protagonist, Darrow, going from being unknowingly enslaved by his Color (or caste) to becoming the feared Reaper of Mars. Brown’s main thematic question, though, is can mankind truly retain its humanity despite its self-imposed deification.
It is obvious to any reader of the Red Rising Trilogy that the Golds – the top caste in the Society – see themselves as gods. They genetically altered humanity to serve their needs and keep the different Colors in check through the use of the Board of Quality Control. These measures are the greatest indicator of this view though. It would be their usage of ancient pantheons to refer to themselves. For instance, to keep the Obsidians in line, the Golds gave them the Norse gods and claimed themselves as the decedents of these gods. On top of this, the Golds who are tasked with keeping the Obsidian tribes from rebelling live on a manmade mountain called Asgard and are all referred to by the Norse gods’ names when dealing with an Obsidian wishing to fight for the Golds. This concept is also seen in the Institute where the house proctors are referred to by their corresponding house’s Roman god. Even Gold individuals, such as Adrius au Augustus – the Jackal – are obviously characterized as being psychopaths who view themselves as gods and everyone else, even fellow Golds, as toys for their amusement.
The Reaper of Mars
Now why state the obvious? Why briefly discuss how the Golds so obviously see themselves as gods in their own right? The reason is that the Golds’ view on this subject is to be expected with a genetically engineered caste of superhumans, but it is not expected with a caste of genetically engineered slaves. The Reds, in their own right, do not think of themselves as anything more than people, heroes even. They see themselves as pioneers working to terraform Mars into an inhabitable planet for the rest of humanity. These extremely familial people work and compete, dance and feast, and live and die, with and for one another. They even have a deity known as the Reaper who takes the dead and brings them to the Vale, where the dead dwell in peace with fellow deceased Reds.
It would be understandable to see how a Red could never see himself as anything other than a Red, but Brown challenges this notion by bringing Darrow into the whole of Gold society, even changing Darrow’s entire body into that of a Gold’s. Darrow’s transformation into a Gold goes from just his body to his whole being. He has to fight his way through the Institute and the Academy, going on to lead an entire army and rebellion. All the while he gains the title of “The Reaper of Mars.” He wears this title with pride and comes to see himself as a great man who can conquer the whole of the Society. But what is important here is the fact that he takes on the title of “Reaper”.
The Reaper is seen as a neutral figure in Red culture. He does not answer prayers, but he does take people to a better place. Darrow is different from this. He takes the side of the Sons of Ares, which is a terrorist organization that fights for the downfall of the Society and the freedom of the lowColors. But in another way Darrow is like the Reaper in that he is working to deliver his people, as well as the rest of the Society, to a better place in their current existence as slaves to the Golds. He takes on the persona of the Reaper, and fights to end the injustices of the Society’s Color system. Even going so far as to say he is the Reaper.
John Karavitis, in his essay “Driven by Love to Go to War,” argues that Darrow’s view of becoming the Reaper incarnate would show Darrow’s narcissism. This would not be far from the mark, because to call oneself a god would show an extreme level of pride. Throughout the books, Darrow is motivated by the loss of his wife at the very beginning of the whole story. “Eo’s Dream”, as Darrow refers to it, is the hope of restoring humanity to freedom from the Color system: freeing it from the extreme oppression that the Golds brought when they first rebelled against Earth. Karavitis argues that Darrow was an extreme narcissist who justified his horrific actions by invoking Eo’s Dream. What Karavitis does not bring up in his essay is the self-deification that Darrow goes through. Now, Darrow’s closest friend, Sevro au Barca, does often proclaim Darrow as “The Reaper of Mars”, and affectionately calls him “Reap”, which causes people, notably Reds, to see Darrow as the Reaper. This thusly causes Darrow’s narcissism about being the Reaper to grow until he totally embodies the persona of the Reaper.
In contrast to Darrow, the character of Sevro au Barca gave up his deity. Sevro was born a Gold, but his mother was a Red. To avoid going into detail about the circumstances of his birth – because they do not meet the needs of this paper, and it took an entire comic series to tell – it will suffice to say that he is the son of a Gold man and a Red woman. Sevro is far different from Darrow due to him giving up his distinction as a Gold. From the moment Sevro is introduced, Brown shows him as an outcast among his fellow Golds. While his Red heritage is kept a secret he was considered a “Bronzie”. These Golds were looked down upon due to their darker hair color.
Throughout Red Rising Sevro is called “Goblin” due to his small size and unorthodox behavior. He is rude and fits nowhere in Gold society. He is actually able to retain his individuality and humanity due to being an outcaste. Never once does Sevro truly believe he is a god, but instead sees all people as his equal. He identifies with the lowColors due to their oppression and his own. He is constantly ridiculed for his behavior but proves to be by far one of the most loyal characters in the entire story.
It is true that Sevro does take on the title of Ares between the events in Golden Son and Morning Star; however, he does not take it to complete heart. Ares may be the Greek god of war, but Sevro never totally depicts himself as such. Yes, he is a warrior, and yes, he does use the name, but he does not take it on as his identity. Rather, Sevro more identifies as the leader of the Howlers – a unit within the Sons of Ares – and more as the second in command of the Rising itself.
Can Deified Humanity Retain its Humanity?
The question of Darrow’s deification is now apparent. While some might disagree that the lovable hero of the Red Rising Trilogy is so prideful as to make himself into a god, it still is a probability, and is in fact the case. The main question now is to see if Darrow, or even the Golds themselves, can possibly retain their humanity. The simple answer is no. The more complex answer is possibly.
Brown writes his story in light of Plato’s The Republic (Jensen). The Republic a utopian society ruled by a caste of “philosopher kings” (Jensen). This is exactly how the Golds see themselves. It is how the Iron Golds – the first Golds – saw themselves, but that view was corrupted by the Golds slowly transforming their view of themselves into that of gods. In no way does the Golds’ self-view allow them to retain their humanity. It prevents them from seeing other people as equals, and from them allowing themselves to experience life on the human level. There are instances where the Golds enjoy the simple pleasures of life, such as Roque au Fabii reading a book, or when Cassius au Bellona and Darrow raced one another for a feast at the Institute. However, when the darkest moments came, the characters who saw themselves as gods always betrayed their humanity for ruthlessness.
In Darrow’s own actions this is exemplified by his actions at the end of the iconic space battle between the allied fleets of the Sons of Ares and Moon Lords against the Society’s Sword Armada, in Morning Star. Darrow attacks the shipyards of Ganymede. After the battle is won, Darrow is in position of an enemy ship and makes it appear that Roque au Fabii – the imperator of the Sword Armada – is so desperate that he attacks Ganymede’s shipyards, when in fact it is all a ruse. While the purpose of this was to prevent the Moon Lords from attacking the Core Worlds long enough for the Rising to consolidate its power after the Society is overthrown, the attack killed thousands, possibly millions, of lowColor and midColor workers. Darrow does wrestle with this, because they are the people for which he is fighting, but he reasons that it had to happen to protect the Sons of Ares’ final goals. But the reason why this moment is such an important one is that Darrow has yet too fully come to terms with his self-deification. While this strategy is a good one militarily (Bock and Bock), it was also a betrayal of Darrow’s own humanity because he said that the shipyard workers were not worth the chance of a Moon Lord attack. He made the judgement on who could live and who could not, which is a job reserved for a god. Though all this did occur, Darrow did manage to hang onto his humanity enough to bring him back from his apotheosis. The fact that Darrow wrestled with the attack on Ganymede shows that Darrow did not enjoy what he was doing, and in fact hated it. He wondered if what he did was right. Even though he betrayed his humanity he came to resent that fact: not for his own sake but for that of those he killed.
On the other-hand, Sevro’s loyalty and humanity are most depicted at the ending of Morning Star when a starship full of lowColors begin to riot against the Golds on board. The ship is a Sons of Ares ship, and housed the leader of the Obsidians, Sefi the Quiet. As the rioters were about to hang Cassius au Bellona, only because he was a Gold, and Darrow is unable to calm them down. Sevro rushes to the beam they are hanging Cassius and ties a noose around his own neck and hangs himself, declaring that if all Golds should die, then he is included. What makes this moment so important is that Sevro had the title of Ares, which designated him as the technical leader of the Sons of Ares, and he was loved by the lowColors for his leadership and caring for them. At seeing the point that Sevro was making both he and Cassius were cut down and saved. This single act of humility shows Sevro’s release of his deity and is an expression of his humanity.
Sevro acts as a total foil to Darrow in this way because of his acceptance of the fact that he is human, and that he is not a god. As mentioned above Sevro does take on the title of Ares, but he does not take it on as his identity. By giving up his godlike nature as a Gold and taking on his Red heritage – even going so far as to be carved with Darrow’s original eyes – he embraces his humanity.
Darrow as a Human
Darrow deifies himself, while Sevro does not. It is true that Darrow ends the story by embracing his humanity and rejecting his deity, but that is not the point of this paper. Darrow and Sevro act as examples of the difference between gods and humanity. At any given point in the story, a character that embraces the notion of themselves as a god must reject themselves as humans. The reason why Darrow is so important to seeing this is his origin as a Red made into a Gold. He started out embracing a very human identity as a husband, son, and even slave, but once he became a Gold he gradually lost his humanity until he realized in Adrius’ stone table that he had to give up his pride as a god and take on the truth of his simple existence as a human. It is not until he totally gives up his deity that he does not return to being a human again. He had to reject the widely held belief that Golds were more than human and accept the truth of himself as a human.
The Answer to a Not So Simple Question
The exploration of humanity’s self-deification is one of the major themes in Brown’s Red Rising Saga. He places Darrow in a world of men and women who see themselves as nothing less than gods, going so far as regulating humanity with the Board of Quality Control, and watches him attempt to take down the monstrous Society of deified men, while becoming one himself. Therefore, the answer to the question Brown explores in his books of “can humanity retain its humanity if it becomes a god”, is no. To Brown, for humanity to ascend to godhood would be to give up everything good about humanity and allow the true depths of human corruption to take over, destroying humanity in its own sacrificial fires. Niche’s quote “God is dead and we have killed him,” should be reworded in light of Brown’s Red Rising Saga to “God is dead, and man has become Him, only to loss itself.”
Bock, Gregory L. Jeffery L. Bock “Death Begets Death.” Popular Culture and Philosophy: Red Rising and Philosophy: Break the Chains! Series Edited by George A. Reisch, Volume Edited by Courtland Lewis and Kevin McCain, Vol. 104, Carus Publish Company, 2016, Chicago, Illinois.
Karavitis, John V. “Driven by Love to Go to War.” Popular Culture and Philosophy: Red Rising and Philosophy: Break the Chains! Series Edited by George A. Reisch, Volume Edited by Courtland Lewis and Kevin McCain, Vol. 104, Carus Publish Company, 2016, Chicago, Illinois.
Jensen, Randall M. “Pierce’s Republic.” Popular Culture and Philosophy: Red Rising and Philosophy: Break the Chains! Series Edited by George A. Reisch, Volume Edited by Courtland Lewis and Kevin McCain, Vol. 104, Carus Publish Company, 2016, Chicago, Illinois.
Spielberg, Steven. Jurassic Park. Crichton, Michael, and David Koepp, Universal Pictures, 1993.
Tale Foundry. “Solving Science Fiction – Sci-fi Month”. Youtube.com. 22 September, 2017.