Welcome, 40K fans, to a series of articles I am writing about some of the deeper aspects of Warhammer 40,000.
These articles are a thought exercise, and by writing them I hope to improve my thinking about 40K and its fiction (and maybe about much more). Topics in this series will be wide-ranging and will not shy away from moral or philosophical issues that some may consider sensitive or even controversial. I would rather risk the conversation, so while you or I may not agree, I look forward to hearing why. Consider yourself warned for lore spoilers as well. Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles on gaming in 40K!
Entitlement, Selfishness, and Envy
Horus has often been characterized by many as a sympathetic character. The “greatest” son of the Emperor, trusted with the title of Warmaster, the first found of his brothers, the longest at the Emperor’s side, commander of a mighty legion that set the benchmark for all legions to reach or exceed. Beyond that, he was lured into a trap trusting Erebus (not his first mistake), his loyal advisor. He was a victim of ignorance, not understanding the nature of the warp and its tools as he was stabbed by a terrible weapon and nearly lost his life. When his sons tried to save his life (unknowingly sending him into the warp) Horus was confronted by visions of the future he would create – a carefully crafted set of lies aimed at steering him towards the path of chaos and rebellion.
This does sound sympathetic if that’s all that you know about Horus. Time and again, Horus showed the subtle signs of his coming betrayal. In the beginning, meeting his brother Leman Russ (the second-found primarch) he displayed the first signs of resentment. His contempt for his brother was palpable. He resented having to share the stage. It would only grow worse as more and more of his brothers would be found. The Lion contended with him as a bitter rival, Guilliman’s achievements and glories were setting examples for all the legions, and Dorn was trusted with the stewardship of Terra when the Emperor went to begin his webway project – a project Horus thought he deserved to know the secret of. Hundreds of years of war at the Emperor’s side as his trusted son and advisor, nigh-immortality and supernatural physical and mental might, a nearly peerless and victorious legion, an appointment to the role of Warmaster for the Imperium with authority over all his brothers and rivals, and the adulation of an entire species were wasted under Horus’ pettiness.
All of his negative feelings culminated with Sanguinius, perhaps the only one of his brothers he truly felt inferior to. Where he demanded respect, Sanguinius was rewarded with it. Even Angron liked Sanguinius. In the War of Murder, Loken observed that Horus would take to the field ostensibly to lead the troops, but truly to not be shown up by his brother, Sanguinius. Long before his fall, Horus was scheming to undermine those he saw as his rivals and those he resented in his heart of hearts.
The Moment of Truth
The true measure of character for Horus, however, wasn’t until he was faced with the decision in the warp in the False Gods novel. Confronted with the words of Erebus about the Emperor seeking godhood and a vision of a future where he was forgotten, Horus says the following:
“I know of the warp and the tricks it can play with the mind. I am not stupid. I knew that this was not Sejanus just as I know that without a context, everything I have seen here is meaningless.”(False Gods, 324)
We know that the Emperor gave Horus and his sons some warning of the warp (enough for Horus to explain Samus’ appearance to Loken in those terms in Horus Rising). He knew that the future that he saw was meaningless and not certain to come to pass. When told that Lorgar had already been chosen to receive great power from the gods, Horus showed “…jealousy that Lorgar should have been chosen first.” (325).
So, in full knowledge of who was manipulating him, and knowing that he had a choice between losing his life to protect the Emperor’s dream, or saving it to destroy everything he and his father built, he chose the latter. He didn’t choose it for the Chaos gods. He didn’t choose it because the Emperor betrayed him and lied to him about seeking godhood. He didn’t do it because he believed Erebus’ lies. Horus did it all for himself. He wanted to be the Master of Mankind. He wanted to rule humanity’s destiny. He wanted all of the glory for himself, and Chaos’ gifts were a simple means to that end. The lies of Erebus were mere dressings to justify his ambition.
This is the truth of Horus Lupercal – that it didn’t matter how much he was given, born with, or celebrated, he was only really interested in himself and his own desires. As a result, he dragged the rest of the galaxy into madness, war, death, and destruction on a scale not seen since the wars between the Aeldari and the Necrons. To top it all off, he died and was eternally unmade – failing to achieve his selfish ambitions at the cost of all that he had once treasured and in violation of the trust of all of those who had loved him. The tragedy of Horus isn’t that he was a victim of others, it was that he was a victim to himself and how that cost everyone around him.
Practical Philosophy – Thanksgiving
Yeah, that was a pretty negative bunch of words. I didn’t write it all for doom and gloom, however. I was challenged recently to think more about the things I am grateful for in my life. I contemplated this quite a bit before the time to write this article came along. This is why I love the lore of Warhammer because there are practical applications.
Horus never took a moment to be grateful for what he had. He was always focused on what he didn’t have, on his troubles, and on his jealousies. He wanted the things that he didn’t have, and he lost everything he did because he let those feelings rule him. How often are we like that? How often do we (even in a time of great hardship) let the feelings of resentment, entitlement, and jealousy of the circumstances of others rule our internal thinking? How long does our internal thinking have to operate like that before it becomes a part of our outward behavior? What is the antidote for that?
Gratitude. Thanksgiving. The acknowledgment of what we have and the things in our lives that make life worth living. That isn’t to say that our problems disappear by being grateful, but maybe it stops our problems from getting worse by our own hands by remembering the things we should appreciate.
I’ll start. I’m grateful for my wife and her family who have supported me and my son (who has suffered greatly this year) through everything. I’m grateful that I have a place to live, power, food, and health. I’m grateful for friends who have had my back through good and bad. I’m grateful for the upcoming arrival of my second son, Orion, who has been the brightest star in the dark night of this year’s catastrophes. I’m grateful for music and stories that lift my spirits when the world seems crushingly heavy. I’m also grateful for this hobby, and the chance it gave me today to share these thoughts with you, and I’m grateful you read them. I hope you found them worthwhile.
An Ongoing Conversation
What are you grateful for? I’d like to challenge everyone who reads this to put something they are grateful for in the comments. As an extra layer of challenge, tell someone you are grateful for them, and act out these behaviors in the world.
If you found this interesting, please check out my page Captain Morgan’s Librarius. You can also check out the content on my new YouTube channel for audio versions of my articles and other 40K videos. These are the spaces where I test these ideas in their first drafts and also talk about all the other parts of the hobby that I enjoy from painting, community, and gaming to all the rest. It’s also the best place to converse with me about this and many other topics in 40K. Likes and shares are appreciated. I hope you enjoyed this week’s read, and I’ll see you again next time!
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