Several readers of my novel Beyond the Dream (one in this blog) have asked me why the people of Rocdur are terrified of cats. I think it is about time I give them an answer.
First I must say that this terror of cats has its origin in the Lord of Rocdur, who truly is afraid of cats. Before the Lord seized the power of his country, Rocdurians were not afraid of cats. It all started with him around 200 years before the novel’s narrative time –remember that the Lord of Rocdur has been in power for all these years.
You must keep in mind that Rocdur, under the Lord and the Castle, is a totalitarian dictatorship and, as such, controls not only the lives of its citizens, but their minds as well. The Rocdurians have been completely brainwashed by the people of the Castle, at the top of which is the Lord of Rocdur.
As happens with tyranies in our own world, those in power dictate what the people under them should do, think and believe. The beliefs of the citizens are a product of the obsessions and fears of the controling class. If you check the history of our world, you’ll find many examples of this; and you’ll find how terrible the results of the prejudices of the powerful have been for many people, sometimes for millions of people. I’m sure you can already think of some examples.
When I wrote Beyond the Dream my intention, as to Rocdur and the cats, was to depict a fear that comes from a tyranical ruler and how it is then inserted into the minds of all the citizens. And it does not matter that this fear does not make much sense, because, after all, who could be afraid of a small cat, right? Well, a whole country, Rocdur, is terrified of all sorts of cats, including the small ones, because the Lord has decided so and everybody has believed it as an undeniable truth.
In countries under a despot the indoctrination of its citizens is essential in order to keep the control of power by those at the top. If the ruler is clever and implacable enough, the people under his control, who otherwise could be intelligent and good people, take to believing what the ruler wants them to think. Anything that those in power want the citizens to believe is disseminated into the population’s minds. It is like a thick fog that invades it all, leaving people in a sense of torpor. That’s how brainwashing works. People are caught in the fog and everything becomes blurred; nothing is what it really is, but just what it seems to be. And what it seems to be is only a creation of those in power. The Lord of Rocdur and the people of the Castle, in our story, are the ones doing the brainwashing, and the foolish fear of cats by a whole country is one of its results. Of course, there are other notions inserted into the minds of the Rocdurians from those above, such as the prejudice against Potian immigrants, but to me the fear of cats is the one that illustrates brainwashing at its best.
Let me add that not everybody in Rocdur is affected to the same degree by this fear. In Beyond the Dream we can see that the Potians living in Rocdur are not afraid of cats in the same sense that Rocdurians are. For the Potians it is more the panic of being caught with a cat –remember that the punishment is execution– as we see when Tam brings a cat home. The thoughts of the Potians are of little concern to the Lord of Rocdur; as long as Potians obey and work like mules its enough for him; their inner thoughts are irrelevant to the Lord because Potians cannot be a threat to Rocdur, or so he thinks. But, aside from the Potians, there are some Rocdurians who, due to an undeniable intelligence and inquisitiveness on their part, realize that they are caught in a fog and, given a chance to disperse it, reality becomes quite different. I’m sure the readers can picture Tariana here.
I hope I have clarified some aspects of the Rocdurian’s fear of cats. And I gave you a hint: the Lord of Rocdur is the origin of this fear and, furthermore, he is genuinely terrified of cats. Now, for the reasons as to why the Lord of Rocdur himself has this fear of cats, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the books that will follow Beyond the Dream.