[LMB] Another Desdemona question

Beatrice Otter beatrice_otter at zoho.com
Sat Jul 20 20:08:20 BST 2019

---- On Thu, 18 Jul 2019 12:54:17 -0700 Tony Zbaraschuk <tonyz at eskimo.com> wrote ----

On Wed, July 17, 2019 9:53 pm, M. Haller Yamada wrote: 
> On Thursday, July 18, 2019, 12:43:11 AM GMT+9, Gwynne Powell 
> <mailto:gwynnepowell at hotmail.com> wrote: 
> Just wondering; what's the upper limit for demons?  Desdemona has 
> had thirteen riders now. More than two centuries. She seems to be the 
> oldest demon anyone has seen - certainly one of the oldest, if not THE 
> oldest, around. 
I got the impression that Joen's demon was centuries old, probably 
older than Desdemona.  (And we note that a sufficiently iron will could 
subdue even a demon that old and powerful.)  It's possible that the 
more powerful a demon is, the more effort the gods spend to deal with 
it, too, in whatever way.  (The B*stard can pull them back and 
destroy them, but it looks as if the other Four only have the power 
to encapsulate them -- though Desdemona's terror at the Father's 
close brush near them suggests that encapsulation may not be the only 
thing she's worried about.)

Beatrice Otter:

I don't know that "powerful" is really what happens as demons age, though.  It's not that they have more raw ability, it's that they have more understanding.  More ability to do subtle things.  More variety of perspective on what's going on around them on which to base their personality.  Des can do so much more than younger demons not because she's some Mega Strong Uber Demon, but because she's got so much experience and figures out how to get the most out of what she's got.  (Penric's inquisitiveness probably doesn't hurt, either.)  Also, the text doesn't say this but I would assume that the more hosts a demon has had, the easier it is to form some sort of aggregate solo personality.  Demons take their personality from their host--that's how all of Des's previous hosts are still present within her.  Now, as a musician, it's REALLY HARD to tune two instruments together to play in unison, because they have to be absolutely perfectly in tune or else anyone listening can hear every place they're not quite in tune enough and one is just slightly higher or lower than the other.  But once you've got three or more instruments playing in unison it's a lot easier.  They don't have to be perfect, just fairly close, because there are enough to blend together and form a unison sound.  If demon personalities work in the same way, for your first human rider you pretty much have their personality, because you don't have much of a pre-existing one (Consider Foix's bear demon, which doesn't seem to have had much of a personality at all, certainly nothing that could overwhelm Foix).  Second rider, you have the personality of your first rider and the personality of your second rider, and how things go depends on which of them is stronger and how they get along together.  But by the third rider, you've got enough weight to kind of press the various personalities together and get some sort of blended amalgamation which can serve as a core of self, something that is the demon and not one rider vs. another.  With each rider, that would change, as new personality bits got added; but the first riders would set the tone.  The more riders you have, the less the demon personality would change with each new rider.

How much effort the gods put in to dealing with demons probably has more to do with what KIND of demon they are than how powerful.  As we see from Desdemona, demons have aggregate personalities.  Some are constantly fighting for control, for power, to ascend.  That sort of demon, as they grow more concentrated, more intense, would become ever more of a threat, being harder for their rider to subdue and more and more able to use the power they have.  A demon like Des, however, who has definite opinions but isn't just out to dominate, is willing to share and work together with her rider rather than fight or dominate them, would not be a threat.

M. Haller Yamada wrote:

> Penric tries to make a Great Worm, but the body can't hold many spirits. 
> Presumably there's an upper limit for the Great animals, the point when 
> an experienced shaman (or the animal itself) knows that an animal body (or 
> mind) can't hold enough any more. 

Tony Zbaraschuk <mailto:tonyz at eskimo.com> wrote
Or they find out the hard way, or the accidents of time keep pruning 
off those Great Animals before they get to that point.  How many 
generations does it take to make a Too-Great Stag -- or, in a similar 
way, a Too-Great Demon?  I don't think we've seen anything that plausibly 
looks like the upper limit to either.  And with demons, we see a certain 
amount of blending and fading as time goes on -- perhaps demons lose 
their earliest memories over time and just don't 'fill up' the way 
earthworms do. 

M. Haller Yamada wrote:
> Demons build up, in a somewhat similar way - do they have an upper limit? 
> People who can see Desdemona (other sorcerers and any shaman in a 
> trance) see a massively dense spirit. And they can't understand why it's 
> not ascended, why something so powerful hasn't taken over. Will there come 
> a point where the demon is simply too dense for a human to hold it? 

Beatrice Otter:

You're both assuming that demons and great beasts build up *in the same way*.  But the thing that is building up is *not* the same thing.  In Great Beasts, what is building up as one is sacrificed into another is explicitly the soul.  But what a demon caries from one rider to the next is *not* soul--the soul goes to the gods.  (Except in the case of the forcing Joen was doing, and even still, only shreds of souls were picked up and carried along by the demon, and that as a byproduct.)  What demons accumulate is *minds*, which is not the same thing.  I would define the difference as the soul is something supernatural; the mind is a lot more about what the brain.  And we've seen what happens when a demon goes into a being that doesn't have a brain complex enough to handle all the weight of personality they've built up.  It happened in Penric and the Fox.  When the demon went from a human sorceror into a fox, it lost a lot (but not all) of the higher thought it had had when it was in a human, but retained the basic goals and emotions it had had.  Because foxes have emotions and goals, and because the personality of the fox melded with the personality of the demon, just as the personality of the human rider melded with the personality of the demon.

Given that example, what happens when a demon grows too complex for the brain of the human it inhabits to sustain?  Probably, it loses stuff.  Old memories it doesn't think about often, and the like.  Bits of the personalities of previous hosts that don't meld very well with the amalgamation the demon has become.

And here's the thing: how do we know this isn't happening already with Des?  Would she or Penric know if bits of who she used to be, bits of the minds that went into creating her, slipped away slowly, or in that first day when Pen was unconscious?
Beatrice Otter

More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list