Saturday, February 28, 2009

40th Anniversary of Don Pendleton's The Executioner: Mack Bolan Series, Part Two

In Part Two of the Birth of Don Pendleton's Executioner Series, we are looking at the underlying theme of the Mack Bolan books. Don Pendleton considered his Executioner Series of Action/Adventure novels to be a study in the metaphysics of violence. You may want to read Part One first.

In the 1970s Don Pendleton had this to say:

The Metaphysical Theme of the Executioner Books

Some people may say that these books are not examples of metaphysical thought, but they are. Metaphysics grapples with the nature of reality and the Executioner books undertake an examination of the essentially violent nature of nature.

In the first appearance in the series, Bolan was already aware that he lived in a violent universe. In Book One, War Against the Mafia, page 166, –a quotation in Bolan’s journal, his diary–“Life is a competition, and I am a competitor. I have the tools and the skills, and I must accept the responsibilities. I will fight the battle, spill the blood, smear myself with it, and stand at the bar of judgment to be crushed and chewed and ingested by those I serve. It is the way of the world. It is the ultimate disposition.”

Does that sound like Bolan the metaphysician? Not really. It’s Bolan the killer, the Executioner. His metaphysics are an out-picturing of the universal ethic as this character vaguely understands it.

You know the first spark of life to move across this planet was a violent entity, predatory, perpetuating itself through a predacious assault upon its environment. Bolan reflects this when he says: I am alive tonight because of violence loose upon the earth. Each breath I take is paid for by crushed and digested once-living things. Violence is the way of the world because competition is the way of life-perpetuation. Without violence there can be no competition, and without competition there can be no life. Something dies for every instant that something else lives.

Now Bolan, in that, was not referring to human violence per se, but as violence as an essential element of the reality of life. He’s recognized this–and it is a metaphysical idea. But this understanding doesn’t result in a cynical attitude toward life for Bolan as it has done for many others. Quite the opposite. Bolan views the violence of nature as a tool of the universe, a very useful and constructive tool when applied through human consciousness toward the attainment of noble goals. But he takes the Friedrich Nietzsche concept in Book One Front Piece–“You say that a good cause will even sanctify war! I tell you, it is the good war that sanctifies every cause!”

Now, obviously, Bolan has a good cause. Just the same, he isn’t using this shield of good to justify his actions. The cause is already well established. Most people will agree that organized crime is an evil that the world can do without. The problem has been that no one seems strongly enough motivated to put their hands where their conscience is. Bolan is saying, in effect: Now look, I offer up my life to oppose this crime against humanity. In this Nietzsche-ian idea, Bolan says let my blood and my dedication serve as an example to all good people who are sitting by and tolerating these injustices, let my impossible war sanctify this good cause. Not justify it, but sanctify it.

So, no, Bolan is no cynic. In Book Five, Continental Contract he says, “It isn’t enough to simply believe in something. To be truly alive you have to be ready to die for something. Harder still, there are times when you have to be willing to kill for something. I am both ready to die and willing to kill.”

Now the key phrase to that chain of thought is: to be truly alive. Is this metaphysics of a killer? Well, I think so. Another man said it this way once: If you will truly live, then you must be born again. Well, Bolan is reborn. He is reborn with every beat of his heart and he came to this understanding in Book Four, Miami Massacre via the prose of the girl who befriended him and actually died for him. She wrote him: “The world dies ‘twixt every heartbeat, and is born again in each new perception of the mind. For each of us, the order of life is to perceive and parish and perceive again, and who can say which is which–for every human experience builds a new world in its own image–and death itself is but an unusual perception. Live large that you may experience large and thus, hopefully, die large.”

In the original edition of Book One, War Against the Mafia, we also carried two quotations in its Front Piece that have been dropped from the newer editions. These were by Thomas Carlyle–“The courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully.”–and from Elbert Hubbard, “God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.”

I don’t know why these were dropped in the later editions unless some editor thought I was over taxing the page or the mind of the reader, because these two quotations give more of the philosophical overview of the character than the one remaining.

I relay on these little front pieces to set the tone for the book that’s going to follow. In a sense these are the theme pieces and usually this theme is no where else stated in such precise language, although it is certainly present in every movement of the story from the first page to the last.

So, as for the metaphysics of an Executioner, Bolan’s own reading of himself is hung out there in that first book for all to see, who wish to see: “I am not their judge. I am their judgement. I am their executioner.”

This is a rather concise statement of a rather broad metaphysical idea. It is karmic law in action with Bolan as the instrument of that law. He evades “judge not that ye be judged,” “vengeance is mine saith the Lord”–and so forth, by a simple elevation of the law. He, himself, is the violent judgment of a violent universe, the tool of the balancing forces of nature, the cataclysmic answer to the cancer cells of human destiny. Sure, Mack Bolan’s character is his fate and that is a strong metaphysical idea.

As I mentioned in Part One:
Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan, The Executioner, theme is "Live Large" and recently the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume II (H-O) gives derivation credit for "live large" to Don Pendleton and his Executioner Series.

Part One

Part Three

Part Four
© Copyright Don Pendleton, Linda Pendleton.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At one time I had every book from the series, but sad to say after all these years I only have a few left. Loved the series and my grandsons have red all the books I have. Thanks