Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Psycho-Sexual Ravenloft: Heart of Midnight II

If you thought I was just whistlin' Dixie with all this "lycanthropy as metaphoric cover for unspoken gay desire," check out this description in which Casimir attacks a drunkard at a bard party in order to steal his fancy costume: "Even through the roses, Casimir could smell his prey--not the salty, natural tang of a commoner, but the sweet, liquor-tainted scent of a nobleman. His mouth was watering again. The man's odor brought a savory taste to his tongue. His heart felt suddenly hot in his rib cage" (45).

Nevertheless, that's not to say that Casimir isn't attracted to women as well. However, Casimir's desire for Julianna Estovina is also depicted in terms of male queerness; the quantity of his desire for her is matched by the quantity of his desire to be penetrated by her: "The kiss felt painfully hot, but Casimir didn't pull back. Her breath was sweet and intoxicating. Her small hands pressed him mercilessly against her, as though she hoped to cut him open and crawl inside. Casimir trembled. Her very soul seemed to force its way into him. The sensation was wonderful" (57). Though this encounter is but a dream, it seems that his subconscious is revealing the overall shape of Casimir's desires through an obfuscated trajectory. Another layer of sexual strangeness is added when Casimir and Julianna include the similarity of their coloring and appearance as part of what makes them want each other: "'It's as if we are blood kin,' Casimir ventured cryptically" (61). The inversion of desire toward one's family here replicates and compliments the attendant fear of the inversion of desire toward one's own gender.

Of course, this being a Ravenloft novel, Heart of Midnight at last goes Full Freudian on us. As readers we've already been party to Casimir's quest for revenge against Zhone Clieous, but now we learn that his vengeance is nothing less than the Oedipal Complex writ large: Zhone Clieous is Casimir's father. Casimir's revenge must go to the final extremity; Clieous is the phallus-wielding father who must be killed so that the son can come to terms with the man he is inside. "I want to kill my father, not just frighten him," Casimir is forced to admit to himself (86). In this case the symbolic phallus materializes as control over Harmonia; after killing his father, Casimir assumes his "scepter" and becomes the new lord of the land.

Casimir's metaphoric confluence of homosexual desire and lycanthropy isn't just staged in terms of violence in Heart of Midnight; it also informs the ways in which Casimir will be accepted or rejected for who he is both by himself and by others close to him. When Casimir transforms into wolf form and finally kills his father in a blaze of Oedipal glory, his long-time friend and companion Thoris witnesses who Casimir really is. Horrified by the revelation that his friend has a secret self that he cannot understand, Thoris takes to the streets where he is robbed and left for dead by thugs. Upon finding his crumbled and battered form, Casimir realizes that his secret has consequences for those he loves. This put Casimir at a crossroads: he can't change who he is, but he needs his friend to accept and understand him. "I can't go on without him," he says, acknowledging the painful interplay between what he is and how that endangers the homosocial bonds the nourish him. 

He also needs to find a way to accept himself. Indeed, self-acceptance is what Casimir finds most alluring in the masterful bard Harkon Lukas: "The scent that come from him was jaded, confident, sober. He was the first man Casmir had met who was perfectly at home in his own skin" (142). If we read Heart of Midnight as a bildungsroman, we might argue that this is what Casimir's coming-of-age moment will entail: self-actualization in the form of owning who he is both internally and to the outside world. Will he get there with Lukas's help? Let's see how things progress in our next installment.