George R. R. Martin's 'Thousand Worlds' Universe Wiki
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The Way of Cross and Dragon is a science-fiction novelette by George R. R. Martin, first published in the June 1979 issue of Omni. It takes place in the "Thousand Worlds" universe, and is set on the Fyndii Space planet of Arion during the post-Interregnum period. It is about a priest of the Interstellar Catholic Church of Earth investigating a sect that reveres Judas Iscariot.

Plot Summary

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS —

Damien Har Veris is a human priest of the One True Interstellar Catholic Church of Earth and the Thousand Worlds who has become spiritually exhausted. Nevertheless, he is skilled at resolving heretical disputes efficiently, and is sent by his alien archbishop as Knight Inquisitor to deal with a particular sect that has made a saint of Judas Iscariot.

The sect follows a religious text called "The Way of Cross and Dragon," which radically revises the life of Iscariot and his place in Christianity. The text describes how, born of a prostitute, Iscariot mastered the dark arts to become a tamer of dragons and the ruler of a great empire. After torturing and maiming Christ, Iscariot repented and relinquished his empire to become the penitent "Legs of Christ," the first and best-beloved of the Twelve Apostles. Returning from proselytising to find Christ crucified, an enraged Iscariot then destroyed the perpetrating empire and strangled St. Peter for renouncing Christ, only to discover, too late, Christ's Resurrection. Rejecting Judas' violence, Christ restored St. Peter to life and gave him the keys of the kingdom. St. Peter then suppressed the truth about Judas, vilifying his name and exploits. Seeking redemption for his wrath, Iscariot became the thousand-year-old Wandering Jew, before finally rejoining Christ in the Kingdom of God.

Perusing the materials of the sect, Har Veris finds himself enjoying the fanciful, creative but ultimately ridiculous narrative, finding it far more interesting than the more mundane heresies that have developed around power, money and doctrinal quibbles.

Arriving at the sect's distant planet onboard his ship, the "Truth of Christ," Har Veris confronts its heresiarch, Lukyan Judasson, creator of the "Way of Cross and Dragon" narrative, but finds that he is already expected. Questioning Judasson, Har Veris uncovers a conspiracy of nihilistic "Liars," who see Truth as entropy and despair, and who wish to soften and colour the ultimately meaningless lives of others by creating belief in carefully crafted Lies. In essence, they create faiths. They have perpetrated this Judas cult as well as others, and now want Har Veris to join them. Despite his own spiritual exhaustion, he realises that, though he may be losing his faith, he has not lost his passion for truth. When he refuses to join the Liars, Judasson wishes to have him silenced, but his senior in the conspiracy, a misshapen psionic mutant, senses the impending Liar in Har Veris, and allows him to go.

Har Veris then uses political manipulation and the public's fear and distrust of psychic powers to turn the tide on the Judas cult, resolving yet another heresy with dispatch. When, much later, he fully acknowledges that he has lost his faith, his superior is indifferent: results are what is needed, and Har Veris is to continue in his role as inquisitor. The priest accepts this, realising that the psychic was right: he is himself a consummate Liar, perpetuating a faith in which he no longer believes. However, departing on his next Inquisition, he has named his new starship "Dragon."[1]

— END OF SPOILERS —

Themes

Artwork by Stephen Hickman, from Comicartfans

The Way of Cross and Dragon presents religion as a false, yet comforting institution. On a grand level, Martin shows how people are sustained by the fabrications of religious faith, along with other narratives, such as history, science and commerce. On an institutional level, Martin depicts similar delusions, with the Interstellar Catholic Church presenting itself as the sole provider of truth even while there are seven popes and "over seven hundred Christian sects." The theme is also expressed at a character level, with the protagonist Inquisitor masking his doubts and his humanity with the garb and ritual of his office.[2]

The story also suggests that truth, beauty and meaning are not necessarily incompatible, and that human beings require all three elements in order to be happy. Truth without an appropriate medium through which to deliver it will be ignored, rejected or remain unknown. Indeed, art and storytelling may serve as tools to illustrate truths that science and rationality are incapable of articulating.

Author's Notes

Martin was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic preparatory school, and as a child he would often wonder what the religion would become in the future after space travel and interplanetary colonisation had been realised. [3]

Publication History

The Way of Cross and Dragon was first published in the June 1979 issue of Omni.

It was included in Martin's short story collection Sandkings, published in 1981.

It was later included in his 2003 anthology Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective.

Adaptations

In 2007, Martin's short story anthology Dreamsongs was released in audiobook format. It included a recording of The Way of Cross and Dragon read by Roy Dotrice.

"The_Way_of_Cross_and_Dragon"_by_George_R._R._Martin_(audiobook)

"The Way of Cross and Dragon" by George R. R. Martin (audiobook)

Reception

In 1980, The Way of Cross and Dragon won the Hugo Award and Locus Award for Best Short Story, and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Short Story.

In 2021, the Vassals of Kingsgrave podcast released a review of The Way of Cross and Dragon:

"The_Way_of_Cross_and_Dragon"_by_George_R._R._Martin_(Review)_-_Bastards_of_Kingsgrave_Ep.84

"The Way of Cross and Dragon" by George R. R. Martin (Review) - Bastards of Kingsgrave Ep.84

Connections to the "Thousand Worlds" Universe

The full name of the religious institution within the story, the One True Interstellar Catholic Church of Earth and the Thousand Worlds, clearly references Martin's preferred name for his science-fiction universe.

The Way of Cross and Dragon is partially set on Vess, the same planet where Royd's mother was born in Nightflyers. Royd recalls that his mother lived in poverty and was tortured by the Vess locals for being a telepath.

Har Veris references Celia’s World among a list of places where he has studied. Celia’s World is also mentioned in "A Beast for Norn" (the fifth chapter of Tuf Voyaging), The Stone City and Sandkings.

The Way of Cross and Dragon features a nihilistic religious called Liars. In The Glass Flower, one of Cyrain’s Apostles, Sebastian Cayle, refers to the cyborg Kleronomas as a "Liar." Indeed, Cayle--a telepathic, embryonic lifeform floating in a vat of green liquid--resembles Jon Azure Cross in the The Way of Cross and Dragon. Given that Jon flees Arion at the end of this story, it's possible that it is the same character in both works.

Allusions to Other GRRM Works

Allusions to Other Media

In The Way of Cross and Dragon, Lukyan Judasson references the Christian New Testament, and offers an alternate version of it as the basis of his new religion. The original Gospels contain contradictions in their accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, undermining the One True Interstellar Catholic Church's claims of an absolute truth. Martin exaggerates these contradictions by introducing a radically different account, which still retains the same figures and similar themes of guilt and redemption.

References

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