“Two Suns Setting” has held a grip on me for a couple of decades now. I wanted to take a moment of introspection to find out why. Hopefully this essay will provide me that exercise of self-discovery.
The beginning of the story finds Kane leaving the city of Carsultyal with ambition to be anywhere else, as far away from the city’s influence as possible. He was originally attracted to Carsultyal for its grandeur, it being mankind’s first truly great city. This splendid city was once a bastion of progressive thought and unrestrained experimentation built on a rediscovery of the nearly-forgotten knowledge of the ancient ones.
As I’ll show in a moment, the dichotomy of Carsultyal, that being progression built on the conservation of cultural fundamentals, is expressed throughout the story in the relationship between Kane and Dwassllir. Furthermore, it is the harmony of this duplexity that has drawn me to “Two Suns Setting” from the start. But why? I still need to find out why this concept resonates with me.
Carsultyal had grown beyond its manageable proportions. So much so that the elements that once made it great have become the same elements that corrupt it. Kane’s radical studies in the realm of sorcery guided his work in bizarre and alien directions beyond the comprehension of his peers. The legitimacy of his experiments bred jealousy from the city’s council of sorcerers, just as all pursuits of individuality do with all collectives. Therefore, he was essentially run out of town. Not by force, but by his own choosing.
Could Kane have stayed and fought? Yes. Would he have won? Of course. But, the city was dying from its corruption and there was nothing for him to gain by staying... So Kane fled to the furthest reaches of the surrounding desert’s unsettled wilderness. He braved the unrelenting and grimly honest harshities of the lonely desert. He was bored of Carsultyal anyway.
“Philosophically he congratulated himself on riding a course that no enemy would care to follow.”
Kane traveled for days without food, eventually reaching a point where the land’s horizon became decorated with rocky hills and valleys. It is here that he encounters Dwassllir of the race of giants, alone eating a goat. The race of giants is on the verge of extinction, living a secluded life aloof of the world’s progress and scornful of the rise of man.
Dwassllir has been more attentive to the world’s advances than his brethren and knows who Kane is. Kane, an immortal who has a connection to the ancient past in a way that other men do not, has earned Dwassllir’s benevolence, thus provoking him to share his meal with the starving wanderer. A comradery is formed as Kane pays homage to the giant’s legacy by speaking his long-forgotten language. It is through their conversation at the campfire that they express why their own race is superior, attempting to gently persuade the other into agreement.
In many ways, Dwassllir’s world view is similar to that of the “noble savage”. He believes that embracing the natural environment and willfully engaging in its challenges is essential for a people to reach their full potential. His ancestors built their homes into the mountains, rather than atop them. They lived wildly in nature, understanding that life is fleeting, but never fearing their mortality. The race of giants balance their animalistic savagery with intellectual pride and embedded code of honor. Dwassllir’s people are noble in their dealings with one another, something that is only possible where the sanctity of intellectual pursuits is maintained.
Therefore, Dwassllir views mankind as a parasite who has only flourished because it has stolen from the ancient races, like his, that was its predecessor. He sees mankind’s cities existing in deliberate conflict with the environment as a means to compensate for man’s frailties. To Dwassllir, the blossoming of this new civilization is only possible because of how soft the world has become.
“You retreat into the walls of your civilization because you are too weak to stand before nature as part of the natural environment.” — Dwassllir
His people have chronicled the changes of the planet including the extinction of the great beasts that once challenged them. To Dwassllir’s dismay, he admits that his race is dwindling due primarily to the extinction of these beasts, acknowledging that the challenge of existence is what allowed his people to thrive. Once those challenges were removed from the world, his race began to “perish of boredom”.
Dwassllir’s romantic worldview is realized as Kane learns that he has traveled to the barren desert in search of the remains of one of his people’s great kings, Brotemllain. Dwassllir had spent years researching the location of the lost civilization to uncover clues leading him to the burial chamber of the great giant. He aims to reinvigorate his people by retrieving the crown of Brotemllain, believing that once they are aware of their forgotten majesty, that they will return to prominence, thus saving his people from extinction. He invites Kane to join him on his quest, not only because of the assistance he’ll provide along the way, but also because it gives him a chance to educate Kane on the legacy of his ancestors.
Although Kane is initially cautious about associating with Dwassllir, he grows to respect and admire him by the end of the story. While apprehensive, Kane shares, in honesty, his opposition to Dwassllir’s worldview and opinion of Man.
Kane admits that mankind is less wise than the older races, including that of the giants. However, despite its flaws, he views mankind as superior, citing Man’s flourishment across the land is evidence of its superiority. He sees the race of giants as an elderly parent and mankind as an arrogant youth.
“The measure of a race’s attainments must finally be its ability to flourish within its chosen role. If your race has done this so well, then why do your numbers diminish while mankind spreads all over the earth?” — Kane
Kane is largely immoral throughout all of Wagner’s stories. Not immoral in the “anti-moral” sense of the word, but immoral in the sense that morality is irrelevant to him. He has lived to conquer for too long to make decisions by any other criteria than whether or not the outcome works... and furthermore, works to suit his needs. There is a moment in “Two Suns Setting” when Kane regrets alerting Dwassllir of the existence of his King Brotemllain’s jewel-encrusted crown of gold, because he would have preferred to claim it for himself. In fact, although Wagner doesn’t provide evidence of this, I’m quite sure that Kane claims the crown for himself in the end.
Although Dwassllir and Kane have opposing worldviews, their differences remain compatible because their viewpoints are founded on the principle of true pride that does not require justification by sacrifice. Kane accepts Dwassllir’s invitation to join the quest, one which they pursue harmoniously. They respect each other, not because of some ambiguous notion of hippified peace and love. Both of them remain killers. Instead, they respect each other because they have good reason to. Their comradery is honest and sincere.
The more I think about it, the reason that this harmonious dichotomy... this yin and yang philosophy... is appealing to me is because it’s how I’ve chosen to live as an adult.
For example, I love complementary extremes, being able to listen to both the heaviest music of bloodshed as well as techno so gay you’d be embarrassed to play it for your mom... all in the same setting. I enjoy both the cringe-worthy wholesomeness of The Andy Griffith Show as well as something as debased and entropic as Chris Morris’ Jam... each with the same amount of heartfelt elation. I can become just as absorbed by stories of rich supernatural fantasy as I am by text that documents the most dry and mundane of historical tales.
Additionally, even before reading “Two Suns Setting”, I’ve tried to live my life progressively while honoring the fundamentals that make progression possible. I’ve never been a fan of tradition, but I do view the past through romantic lenses. Like Dwassllir, I hold reverence for the indifference of the natural world, trying to honor nature as I live among it. And like Kane, I venerate man’s ability to sculpt his environment to suit his needs, conquering nature rather than be enslaved by it. My worldview is made up of the yin of Dwassllir and the yang of Kane and my psyche may be expressed by their relationship.
In short, the compatibility of Dwassllir’s romanticism and Kane’s pragmatism resonates with me because it reminds me of the same pursuit of alternating extremes that enrich my life. And I suspect that I’m not alone in this regard. Thanks for reading along as I figured this out for myself.
Of course, I highly recommend “Two Setting Suns” by Karl Edward Wagner, as I do all of his Kane tales. You can find it as part of his Night Winds collection of short stories.