Friday, March 30, 2012

A year's service for a philosophical question?

Bink stayed the night.  He found he rather liked the castle and its denizens; even the manticora was affable now that the Magician had given the word.  "I would not really have eaten you, though I admit to being tempted for a moment or three when you booted me in the ... tail," it told Bink.  "It is my job to scare off those who are not serious.  See, I am not confined."  It pushed against the bars, and the inner gate swung open.  "My year is almost up; I'll almost be sorry to have it end."

"What question did you bring?" Bink inquired somewhat nervously, trying not to brace himself too obviously for flight.  In an open space, he was no possible match for the manticora.

"I asked whether I have a soul," the monster said seriously.

Again Bink had to control his reaction.  A year's service for a philosophical question?  "What did he tell you?"

"That only those who possess souls are concerned about them."

"But—but then you never needed to ask.  You paid a year for nothing."

"No.  I paid a year for everything.  Possession of a soul means that I can never truly die.  My body may slough away, but I shall be reborn, or if not, my shade will linger to settle unfinished accounts, or I shall reside forever in heaven or hell.  My future is assured; I shall never suffer oblivion.  There is no more vital question or answer.  Yet that answer had to be in the proper form.  A simple yes or no would not have satisfied me; it could have been a blind guess, or merely the Magician's off-hand opinion.  A detailed technical treatise would merely have obfuscated the matter.  Humfrey phrased it in such a way that its truth was self-evident.  Now I need never doubt again."

—Piers Anthony, A Spell for Chameleon