3. The Heinlein Individual
To an extent, the chief characters of any writer
are likely to resemble their creator. As the character is the child
of his creator, he resembles him. As a writer assigns his own opinions,
attitudes and interests to a sympathetic character, so the character is
likely to sound like him. This does not happen in the case of every
man who writes, but it isn't uncommon in the case of a writer like Heinlein
who has a distinct point of view to sell, and it is to this extent that
I believe the Heinlein Individual resembles Heinlein himself.
"I could set you down on an island peopled by howling savages and dangerous animals -- in two weeks you would own the place. . . . You've got the physique and the mentality and the temperament."The third-stage Heinlein Individual, perhaps because he has lost his energy, perhaps simply because he has lived longer, is even more cynical:
"My dear, I used to think I was serving humanity . . . and I pleasured in the thought. Then I discovered that humanity does not want to be served; on the contrary it resents any attempt to serve it. So now I do what pleases Jubal Harshaw."The major difference, however, between a Zeb Jones and a Colonel Dubois is that a Jones knows how things work, while a Dubois knows why, as well. This makes him an even more effective mentor, and this is the role a third-stage Heinlein Individual most often takes. Jubal Harshaw, the mentor of Michael Smith, the human Martian, is the one human who knows enough to explain things to Smith and, moreover, is the one human who knows enough to "grok the fullness" without knowing Martian.
This third stage serves as mentor not only to his young innocent counterpart but to his knowledgeable second-stage self as well. For instance, the head of the super-secret intelligence organization in The Puppet Masters is both father and mentor to the book's narrator, who is his chief agent. In "Waldo," Waldo is given advice by old Dr. Grimes, the one person he will listen to.
This continuing mentorship even forms a chain in several books, third stage lecturing second stage, and then second stage passing on advice to first stage, like a little girl solemnly telling her dolly to look both ways before crossing. Beyond This Horizon is one example. The third stage is Mordan Claude, District Moderator for Genetics and wise old man, who regularly counsels the novel's chief character, Hamilton Felix. Hamilton (the man with the physique, mentality and temperament to rule that wild island) in turn serves as advisor to his friend, Monroe-Alpha Clifford, who is an innocent for all his competence as an economist, and needs to be kept out of trouble.
There are, of course, clear intermediate examples of Heinlein Individuals. The narrator of Farmer in the Sky is not naive enough to be called a pure stage one, and his friend and sometime-mentor, Hank Jones, is not quite knowing or cynical enough to be a pure stage two. Roger Stone of The Rolling Stones and Hugh Farnham of Farnham's Freehold seem to fall somewhere between stage two and stage three.
More than this, however, in two Heinlein stories we are given a view of a single character at all three stages -- and serving as mentor to himself in full view, besides. The stories are "By His Bootstraps" and " 'All You Zombies--,' " both time travel stories.
In "By His Bootstraps," the hero, Bob Wilson, finds himself counseled by successive older selves, from slightly-more-knowledgeable to wise-old-man-who-knows-both-how-and-why. Then he himself inevitably acts out the roles he has already witnessed.
" 'All You Zombies--' " is more sophisticated and, in fact, very neatly symbolizes all the points we have considered. The first-stage ego of the story is a young girl, competent and ambitious, but innocent. The second stage (male) knows how the world wags but not why. He passes through time to meet his former female self and initiates her sexually, thereby ending her innocence. (And a more explicit sort of mentorship I can't imagine.) The third-stage ego, much older, knows why things have happened as they have. In his role as mentor he makes what has come before possible, including the ending of the innocence of his first self by his second and his own birth.
If there is one wish that all men have had at one time or another, it is that they might be able to go back and avoid the mistakes they once made and so save themselves a lot of pain. Heinlein has the perfect way to do this: his Individual, no matter the number of different guises he appears in, is one single character who quite conveniently serves as teacher to himself. In this way the man who has learned better can alert his naive self and save him the cost of his mistakes. The world may have to be tied into knots to allow the Heinlein Individual to prevail, but that is quite all right since he is the single, solitary real thing in an essentially unreal world. The world exists for him, not he for the world.
seems to be something that is tremendously important to Heinlein, and a
guarantee of it a necessary reassurance. His character Hamilton Felix
Beyond This Horizon,
for instance, takes the promise of life after death in the form of reincarnation as the
gives life any point. The form of continued existence does vary,
however, from one story to the next.
"When you die, you won't die all over, no matter how intensely you may claim to expect to. It is an emotional impossibility for any man to believe in his own death."So, admitting the possibility of death of a sort, Heinlein has mitigated it in several ways. Ghosts are one way -- they linger on and in lingering deny the finality of death. The only flaw is that the power of the ghost to influence things through his continued existence is severely limited, so when Heinlein has introduced ghosts, they have been Martian ghosts (in Red Planet and Stranger in a Strange Land) rather than human ones.
Another way Heinlein has found of mitigating death is reincarnation, which, of course, does allow for effective action beyond death and so is suitable for Heinlein Individuals. Heinlein makes reincarnation an important minor thread of Beyond This Horizon, but his use of it in Stranger in a Strange Land is more revealing: in that story Martians become ghosts but human worthies are reincarnated.
As important as this denial of the reality of death is, however, just as important is a denial of the reality of the world, the only thing that can make the first denial meaningful. It is by his singular ability to transcend the bounds of the world that the Heinlein Individual demonstrates his difference from other humans. For instance, Waldo, in the story named after him, is able to make the world what he wants it to be by simply thinking it so and forcing his idea on everyone else. Similarly, in "Elsewhen" it is possible for the story protagonists to leave this world and travel to any number of other aspects of reality by thinking proper thoughts. It is by success that the Heinlein Individual reveals himself, including success in Heinlein's brand of transcendentalism.
With this in mind, it is interesting to look at one of the few quotations from Shakespeare that Heinlein has used in his stories. The quotation is particularly interesting since Heinlein has introduced it no less than four times -- in Between Planets, Double Star, Have Space Suit--Will Travel, and Farnham's Freehold. The speech is from The Tempest and in full goes:
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
"All right, take away our star-- You will if you can and I guess you can. Go ahead! We'll make a star! Then, someday, we'll come back and hunt you down -- all of you!"In other words, the world may end, but wolfish men will survive.
The ultimately "real" Heinlein Individual, however, is the solipsist. A solipsist is a person who starts as Descartes did, with "I think, therefore I am," and then is unable to go further. He knows that he is, that he exists, but is not sure that the rest of us think and so is forced to doubt our reality; the world then becomes the conscious or unconscious product of the solipsist himself, the only real thing that exists. Heinlein played with the notion in Beyond This Horizon (which, remember, also deals with reincarnation). In this story it is suggested that the world is a game and all the characters of the story pieces in the game, some of them automatic and some not:
You locked up your memory, and promised not to look, then played through the part you had picked with just the rules assigned to that player.Solipsism forms the core of the short stories "They" and " 'All You Zombies--.' " In these stories the central point is not just that the main characters are solipsists -- not so strange since many solipsists have lived and died since the world began -- but that their solipsism is justified. They are, in fact, the points around which all the universe revolves.
A quotation from the central character of "They" may serve to sum up the essence of all Heinlein Individuals who outlive their worlds:
"Second only to the prime datum of my own existence [I think, therefore I am] is the emotionally convincing certainty of my own continuity. I may be a closed curve, but, closed or open, I neither have a beginning nor an end. Self-awareness is not relational; it is absolute, and cannot be reached to be destroyed, or created."It does not matter too much how, but the Heinlein Individual always goes on existing.
To draw the threads together, then, the Heinlein
Individual can be seen as the one real thing in an unreal world, quite
naturally seeking to do as he pleases. You might even say that it
is by doing as he pleases that he demonstrates his reality. Without
his liberty, the Heinlein Individual becomes indistinguishable from the
other shades and shadows that inhabit the worlds he plays his games in;
with it he rules his worlds and survives their passing. And this
is an indication of the basis as well as the limits of both Heinlein's
elitism and his libertarianism.
Note: The print edition of
Heinlein in Dimension
is still available from Advent:Publishers, PO Box A3228, Chicago, IL 60690
$17 for a hardcover copy, $10 for a paperback. I charge for shipping
and handling, Advent doesn't.
*In Search of Wonder, 2nd ed., p. 77 [Back]
Border courtesy of The Humble Bee