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7. (Archery)

a. the outmost ring but one on a target
b. a shot that hits this ring

A target has concentric circles to help measure the archer’s aiming accuracy. We are all familiar with the center of the target – it is the bullseye. Those other concentric circles have names, too. Outside of the bull and it’s eye we have the inner circle, then the magpie, followed by the outer circle. Anything outside of the last circle is just a hit.

It can be no coincidence that Ship of Theseus is written by V. M. Straka (Straka is Czech for magpie) and within this book is a tantalizingly elusive book we all know as The Archer’s Tales.

An archer who is just learning may be fortunate to score a magpie – this is in his early stages. But an archer who has practiced – who has given himself over to making his aim true – his goal is the center of the target. The bullseye.

The magpie is on the outer edges of the target. The goal of the archer is to methodically make his way inward. His journey from magpie to bullseye might be known as The Archer’s Tales.

On p290-292 of Ship of Theseus, our man S. is in the center of Obsidian Island, high atop its lone volcano, inside the cabin on the outer rim. The Lady has just explained to him that he has choices to make – And they are about how, and even whether, you will live.

S. is seated in front of the Book of S. He opens it. He sees page after page of schematic drawings of his xebec. In its original state, the ship was perfect. Beautiful.  A harmonious whole, a shipwright’s realization of a xebec that would fly across the main and leave sailors aboard other vessels dumbstruck with envy.

As S. turns the pages, however, the ship begins to change. Portions of it are replaced. It begins to lose its luster.

Some of the changes are felicitous; many more are not, each one seeming to widen the gap between what was intended and what turned out to be.

By the end of the book, as it currently is, the xebec looks like the ship S. has come to know. A horrible thing.

Between what was intended – and what was intended to be. Jen boxes in this phrase and writes in the margins…

Intended by whom? Who decides what you’re supposed to be?

There is a single word that manages to encapsulate all of this: the archer’s target, the magpie along the outer rim, the gap between what was intended and what was intended to be.

This word is the Greek word hamartano. It is an ancient archery term that means, literally, to miss the mark – or to strike the target away from the bullseye. 

The Book of S. is the story of a man who begins as a magpie (Straka). We see him struggling to find his center – his purpose, his target, his very identity. Like the Eurasian magpie from which Straka’s name is taken, S. is self-awareHe knows something is not right and he wants to fix it.

But because S. does not even know who he is, he isn’t sure what exactly is broken and, in turn, what must be fixed. So when he stumbles into the bombing at B__, he finds something tangible that is clearly missing the mark – Vevoda. In fact, the Greek word hamartano is translated in the Gospel of Luke as sin. To sin is to miss the mark of what is intended by God. And so S., seeing just how far off the mark Vevoda is, assumes the identity of one who wishes to destroy that which misses the mark. He becomes a sworn enemy of Vevoda and all who serve him.

And yet, as S. chooses to pursue Vevoda’s destruction, a curious thing happens. As he closes in, he finds himself about to assassinate one of Vevoda’s key men – the governor of the Territory. A man they call Nemec. But as S. is about to complete his mission, he recognizes Nemec as an old friend – Pfeifer.

The pages that follow S.’s recognition reveal an internal struggle. Pfeifer once was running from Vevoda – but now he is working for him. How can this be? How could Pfeifer do such a thing? But we see in S.’s thoughts an implied realization. S. has become the very thing he hates. He is moving away from the center of the target instead of toward it because he is fighting the evil without instead of the evil within. He has become just like Vevoda.

This fact is driven home immediately after S. chooses to kill Pfeifer. As he flees the Governor’s guard, a bullet strikes a magpie and kills it (p368). And as S. returns to his ship, it is destroyed – along with everyone in it.

Later, after S.’s purgatorial sojourn in the Winter City, he discovers with Sola how to find Vevoda’s Chateau where he plans to murder Vevoda and all of his guests – those who have bought his Black Vine and used it to kill others.

But then, S. realizes something. This is not what he wants to do (p432). He changes his mind. He does not kill. In fact, he abandons the notion entirely. Rather than deliver deathS. delivers the bird of truth (avis veritatas) p434.

S. begins as the self-aware magpie, hitting only the outer edges of his purpose – missing the true center of his being. He spends his life trying to find purpose on the outside – the external evil of Vevoda and his agents and detectives. What he learns in the end is that he is not meant to be just a magpie – but a bird of truth.

Only when he makes the journey inward to confront his own shadow – the evil in himself – does he realize that the only way to destroy it is to choose not to do it – even if others do. In the very center of his being – in the bowels of the cellar’s of Vevoda – he confronts his own hamartano – his sin – and finds his purpose. He hits the bullseye – he descends into the labyrinth’s very center and slays the minotaur. And what does S. see at the end of the book as he returns to his ship? Through the spyglass he sees a perfect ship where he and Sola share the wheel together.

Whatever The Archer’s Tales are – whatever The Book of S. is, the stories these books tell are helping us take aim at discovering the very center of who we are – our identity. Our purpose. Bullseye.