Examining Light Novels: Medieval and Modern Castes

I have every intention of making this my last article on Spice and Wolf.  Nine is the elvish number for luck, and nine articles of Spice and Wolf ought to whet anyone’s appetite to explore this series further and perhaps even the Middle Ages.  (I’ll save my next series as a surprise.)  Over the course of fourteen volumes, Isuna Hasekura’s attitude towards Christianity and the Church appears to ameliorate.  (At least, one is hard pressed to find the kind of statements which inspired a past article of mine.)  His research into the Medieval Age and the Church has no doubt affected his opinions.  Perhaps, he might just be led into the Faith by means of this study!

For my last article pertaining to these light novels, I found a note on self-segregation among medieval professions interesting: “…any stain on their reputation would remain.  That was why apothecaries did not visit taverns and why scale makers did not make friends with money changers.  The former would be suspected of drugging drinks, and the latter of tampering with the scales,” (Vol. 14, p. 136).  The quotation mentions prudential reasons for certain professionals not mixing, but medievals also avoided those with “unclean” professions.  Executioners stand as the most famous example of this, with people avoiding them assiduously until they broke the law or became ill.  (Curiously, executioners became renown for their healing abilities and often worked as doctors or bonesetters on the side.)  Only other executioners would willingly associate with men of their own stripe.  Frequently, their sons could only work as executioners, and their daughters could only marry executioners.  It often happened that a medieval person descended to this status, but few ever rose from it.

Where is Kraft Lawrence on the scale?  I’d place him as just under middle class.  The medieval middle class tended to be composed of people with capital but not nobility: shopkeepers, town merchants, ship captains, and others with a stable abode, freedom of movement, and money.  Lawrence is like most people who read Spice and Wolf: not yet of the middle class but yearning to be part of it.  Lawrence may always be calculating profit but only to fulfill his dream of building a shop in a particular town in order to stay there forever.

We moderns might not place executioners at the bottom of the social scale (I’m pretty sure that’s held by abortion doctors now–with more cause), but we have our own favored castes.  If one judges by the media and various cultural phenomena, the man of the middle class has the most favor with the poor and the rich being equally despised.  People look at the poor as a miserable, lazy, and exploited class which only gets by through recreational drugs and welfare.  The rich are looked upon as exploiters who ruin other people’s chances of success–unless they are in the entertainment industry, at any rate.  The terminus of the American dream is no longer holding a multi-million or multi-billion dollar company and employing lots of people.  Instead, people want to be employed and make the magical salary of $75,000 per annum.

How does one explain this aversion to being too rich or too poor?  On the religious side, one recalls Proverbs 30:8-9: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”  The man of religion neither wants temptations beyond his strength nor to become self-satisfied.  The Church itself, though having the outward veneer of riches, has ever preferred the poor to the rich and recommended the state of poverty.  Though, clerics and religious under a vow of poverty have all their needs provided for, even if they are denied personal property. 

On the other hand, the secular zeitgeist has adopted much from Marxist philosophy.  Marxism combines materialism and envy as the driving forces of its worldview.  So, secularists want as many possessions and as much money as possible without exciting the envy of their neighbors.  They never want to be seen as the rich, but want to avoid the state of poverty.

Though moderns don’t have strict castes which cannot be broken out of, we still have the tendency to judge others based on their material or professional worth.  The determining factor in how we view those with various degrees of wealth or those of certain professions lies in where we place our ultimate value.  The religious man places salvation and the goods of the spirit as the ultimate things, to which wealth can be a distraction–even more than poverty.  The secularist, seeing only this life, places his stock in a happy material existence.  The medieval was concerned more with one’s actions than one’s living.  Franz Schmidt, executioner of Nuremberg from 1578 – 1617, led a very comfortable existence indeed–yet, none of his contemporaries thought the better of him for it!

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4 thoughts on “Examining Light Novels: Medieval and Modern Castes

  1. Hmmmm….that bit on making $75,000 a year is interesting. To me at least, that’s a lot of money! I don’t think people need so much to be happy, and I also believe it depends on where you live and inflation rates per year, things like that. For example, I know for a fact that if I lived in most places in Latin America I would be filthy rich with less than half of that! I mean like, stupid rich. Like, convertible with the sunglasses on rich.

    I do think that people put too much stock into how much people make and social status. When we are united with Christ in Heaven, there’s no chaste system. We need to love others where they are, regardless of why they are there. God loves us in our mess, whether we are rich or poor or in the middle. Thank God for His love and kindness. Thanks for the article.

    1. It seems like a lot of money to me too. As you say, it would make one fabulously wealthy in certain parts of the globe. Yet, around New York City or in New Jersey, it’s only considered a modest income. When I was in high school in NJ, one was not considered affluent unless one made $450,000 per annum, which is amazing to consider when people think that people who make $100,000 per annum are very rich!

      I’m glad that you liked the article. Yes, we need to spend more time earning treasure in heaven and becoming rich in a manner that matter to God and not in becoming rich according to a worldly manner. With all the material necessities bombarding us, ignoring mammon is harder than we would wish. But, let’s try our best with God’s help.

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