“What Is Best In Life?”

Always set fire to the temple after you are finished looting, and on your way out.

Always set fire to the temple after you are finished looting, and on your way out.

Today is the last day of school for a week. In LAUSD, we get the whole week of Thanksgiving off, at least for the last few years. I like my current posting, but I can’t say that I’m not looking forward to a week off. The project that I have been working on with the students has been demanding, frustrating even…despite the fact that if it manages to come together today, it will be excellent. We will see…as I may have mentioned before, students are the most productive on the final day of any project.

I have been re-reading Terry Pratchett’s “Interesting Times” on my Kindle, which to a large degree informed the artwork. “Interesting Times” is the seventeenth novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, set in the Aurient (a.k.a. the Orient). I have always been fond of it, as it satirizes the kinds of cultural misunderstandings that frequently happen between Western and Eastern cultures, and at the same time, lampoons the “barbarian” sub genre of sword and sorcery books and comics.

A key plot point revolves around Cohen the Barbarian. Ghenghiz Cohen, also known as Cohen the Barbarian, is hero in the classical sense… i.e., a professional thief, brawler and ravisher of women. His name and character are a clear reference to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and the historical Genghis Khan. He’s an elderly Jewish barbarian, quite literally the man who introduced the world to the concept of “wholesale” destruction. Cohen is the Discworld’s greatest warrior hero, renowned across the Disc for his exploits rescuing maidens, destroying the mad high priests of dark cults, looting ancient ruins, and so on. Already, you can see how that informed the artwork.

On his first appearance in the series he is already an old man, but still tough enough to handle anything the world can throw at him; his opponents often underestimate him because of his age, realizing too late that a man who does for a living what Cohen does and nevertheless survives to such an advanced age must be very good at it indeed. Cohen is described as a skinny old man, with a long white beard hanging down below his loincloth, and wearing a patch over one eye. His most distinguishing feature, however, is his smile — his unique dentures are made out of troll teeth, which consist of pure diamond.

Obviously, Cohen is pretty fantastic, and very humorous. A major portion of the subplot in “Interesting Times” has Cohen trying to set up his retirement with his Silver Horde…all aging barbarian heroes. The Horde also has Mr. Saveloy, a schoolteacher who quit his job, and left with Cohen and the Horde to be a barbarian. Having taught public school, he’s pretty well suited to it.

A quote from the text:

“Self-doubt was not something regularly entertained within the Cohen cranium. When you’re trying to carry a struggling temple maiden and a sack of looted temple goods in one hand and fight off half a dozen angry priests with the other there is little time for reflection. Natural selection saw to it that professional heroes who at a crucial moment tended to ask themselves questions like ‘What is my purpose in life?’ very quickly lacked both.”

That pretty much gave life to the art. Cohen’s dilemma about his retirement also reminded me of being a teacher, and my life. Barbarian heroes go and look a giant gem from a temple or castle, right? You can’t spend a gem…so they sell it, and get a big sack of gold. That in turn gets spent on taverns, booze, and the wooing of tavern types, which stimulates the local economy, but leaves the barbarian broke pretty quickly. Then, it’s off to another temple or castle, with no real thought about long term investments.

If we were to substitute the looting of temples with a monthly pay period, it’s pretty much on point.

When asked about becoming a barbarian instead of a teacher, the following dialogue ensues with Mr. Saveloy:

‘… I decided to give it up and make a living by the sword.’

‘After being a teacher all your life?’

‘It did mean a change of perspective, yes.’

‘But…well…surely…the privation, the terrible hazards, the daily risk of death…’

Mr Saveloy brightened up. ‘Oh, you’ve been a teacher, have you?’

With that, I think the profession of both barbarian and teacher a pretty equally summed up. “Terrible hazards, privation, daily risk of death”…pretty basic understanding of the conditions at times. Given the more “barbarian” approach to the fantasy genre, I didn’t draw the current costume with the shoulder armor or the metal bustier. I thought that just the green t-shirt, with some pretty gaudy, probably cheap medallions seemed on point for the modest genre shift. This is quite possibly the current “vacation costume.”

Hopefully, leaving school today Zebra Pony and I will only have to deal with traffic on the 10 Freeway, instead of mad dragon cultists and demon priests. This is, however, Los Angeles.

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One thought on ““What Is Best In Life?”

  1. Nice post, but the title poses a question that is left unanswered. I’ll answer it now, using the words of Ahnold in one of his most iconic roles: “To crosh your enemies — see dem driven befo you, and to hea the lamentation of der vomen.” (Said in your best Austrian accent).

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