A Review of Claude Lalumiere’s The Ministry of Sacred Affairs (In Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth: Issue Seven, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
In The Ministry of Sacred Affairs, Lalumiere demonstrates his love of questioning social conventions and enforced messages by giving voice to a socially abject figure: the goblin, a figure hated by the public and viewed as a general threat to public safety.
Lalumiere creates a world where the Ministry of the Sacred has dogmatic control, gradually declaring anything that does not fit within its purview as blasphemous and subversive. The world becomes one of fear and isolation where anyone can be viewed as a danger to others, a traitor, or a potential terrorist. Any humanitarian outlook toward those judged to be subversive – whether rendering them aid or voicing concerns for their safety – can be viewed as an act of terrorism itself.
This is a world where secrecy is the most important lesson – keeping things hidden and never revealing too much of yourself, even to friends, family, and lovers. Lalumiere cautions readers about the dangers of giving in to fear of the Other and accepting the government and religious authority message of submission through fear, a government that uses the name of protection to enforce its control. Everything has been made into a threat.
Lalumiere uses the figure of the golem, an animated clay body without a will of its own, an image of the body subjected to total control to question the control that is imposed by religious and political authorities. Family secrets intersect with religious secrets as Leo’s father refuses to share the secrets of the creation of golems with him. But the golem becomes a figure that Leo shares his adolescent secrets with, all of the things that he couldn’t share with others. The golem becomes a manifestation of secrecy, the hidden, the unspoken. The golem becomes a vessel of secrets, of hidden fears, and the concerns that cannot be revealed to a society charged with terror and hatred. Despite being a figure that is designed by virtue of its creation itself as an unquestioning, silent vessel, the golem comes to illustrate the need for social change, the desire to challenge authority, and an image of resistance to the hegemony of fear. Lalumiere’s golem becomes a symbol for members of society without agency or voice. It is the golem who begins the process of standing up for the rights of the oppressed goblins in this society, taking on agency when it is needed to defend others.
Lalumiere unconventionally uses the figure of an old man, a 70 year old, to challenge convention. This, in itself challenges the too-often-seen portrayal of the elderly as unshaking and unchanging in their way of life and conservative in their viewpoints. Often the elderly are portrayed as people who enjoy the political use of fear to enforce conformity, so Lalumiere’s use of an elderly man to question the status quo impressively changes the reader’s preconceptions.
Lalumiere delightfully invites the reader to question everything and ignore limiting social messages by displaying a society where people who ask questions or challenge norms are cast as threats. Lalumiere uses the demonic figure of the goblin to represent the demonising of others in our society. He illustrates that the notion of “Truth” is subjective.