Robin Hobb’s Liveship-Trilogy and the shift beyond anthropocentrism

(Minor spoiler alert)

When the dragon Tintaglia rises and heralds the return of dragonkind to the world, the perspective of human beings as the crown and and center of creation is abruptly jettisoned. Suddenly, there is a being at once far mightier and more beautiful than them and her lifespan likens human existence more to gadflies. Their reaction to this is interesting, the shift in perspective is not endorsed by the people. They are wary or even directly hostile to her, calling her wicked and treacherous. Certainly she does not see why she needs to bargain with or consider the morals of men, she is a dragon after all, and she will go to any means to fulfill her one burning ambition: to ensure the continuation of her race.

The human reaction is founded on a sense of self-centeredness, but the conflict indeed provides a mirror image of how we ourselves are treating the world: as human beings we entitle ourselves to use what resources we may, for our own survival and welfare, simply because we are humans. Might gives right. When there is suddenly another, superior being claiming this same mode of thought, it shows that despite the morals we claim to separate us, we still prioritize, like every other being, for continuation. We might be strange creatures but creatures nonetheless.

The story does not end in a depressing Darwinist view on morals though, as might be surmised. Hobb goes further and in my opinion provides a powerful narrative of recovering the ties of human beings to a larger all-encompassing sphere of creation. It ties in remarkably well with modern ideas in sustainable development in terms of a systems approach as a model for society (see for example Walker & Salt. Resilience thinking). It calls for the need to place ourselves within the complex mesh of life’s interconnected ecosystems and how we might strengthen the whole, instead of optimizing certain aspects for perceived short-term profit but in effect creating greater vulnerability and steadily ramping maintenance costs. Acknowledging the need to place ourselves and our societies as part of a larger system is key to our welfare. In the context the dragon can symbolize Nature manifest, be it in the form of a local ecosystem or the whole world, scale and borders are irrelevant.

The initial resistance also seems to give way to a rekindled sense of purpose as guardians and stewards to the dragons, among many of the human characters. While it might be a stretch to argue that this is a transcendance into ecocentrism, it does show a shattering of anthropocentrism and subsequent move towards something wider and more interconnected. The story shows how this shift in perspective need not be one of self-deprecation, as might otherwise be thought. The sense of purpose coming from serving some larger purpose is perhaps weather-beaten for a reason? Indeed, the perspective of a dragon and the renewed connection with the wider web of life, revitalizes the humans’ will to live rich and meaningful lives, fully embedded in the world, where we not only take but also give back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *