(This is part four of the essay series “What Makes a King: Monarchical Representations in Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. Link to the introduction and essay outline can be found here.)
“Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” -Robert Browning
Regardless of any kind of story told through any kind of medium, whether the medium be literature or anime, mothers are pretty much everywhere. Why? Because mothers are universally recognized as playing a crucial (if not, often also, central) part in the formative experiences of their children. As fiction draws from life, the story of mothers are telling of the societal responsibilities and characteristics of being nurturing, caring and loving.
Of course, not all mothers are alike. Some are idealized, virtuous saints, mothers that can do no wrong. Others are perverse, promiscuous and selfish. Some are active characters who do things, while others are passive representations. Others still are simply ordinary folk who hover somewhere between these two extremes.
Magi, like many tales of heroes, is similarly fixated on mothers. We’ve seen examples of both good and bad mothers, passive and active. Alibaba and Sinbad’s mothers respectively were nurturing yet mostly passive mothers, whose lives were claimed early by terminal illness. Empress Gyokuen–Hakuryuu’s mother–as well as Umm Madaura–represent the perversion of motherhood–while Madaura plays on the hopes of unloved orphans to reap the “benefits” of raising children without actually loving them, Gyokuen takes it a step further by actually slaughtering all but two of her children for the sake of pursuing her political goals.
Do mothers and politics not mix then? The history of many societal cultures suggests that this answer has been a resounding “no”. Women are supposed to be dutiful wives and loving mothers–anything else, including participation in politics, which was traditionally the man’s arena–was thought to be not only unseemly but also dangerous.
Scheherazade, the High Priestess and Magi representing the Reim Empire, is a good case study to examine Magi’s representation of a woman–and specifically, a mother–in politics. Gyokuen would be the other example but seeing how she’s a bit more unhinged than we’d like and does not have the best track record for being a decent human being, let alone a mother, we won’t delve too closely into her character.
Scheherazade: Priestess or King?
“A Magi is…someone who selects royalty. Before long, this world… will need to select a king… a person who has mastered magic. A person that others will flock to because of his righteousness. A king like no other. This person must be sought out, found and then chosen. He will be trained by the wise and then elevated to become a king of unprecedented grandeur. To even take the place of beloved Solomon.” -Amon, Djinn of Politeness and Austerity
So being a Magi necessarily involves getting tangled in politics. While Aladdin wisely avoids himself from allying with nations (despite being affiliated with Sindria, he’s actually not Sindria’s Magi), other Magis embrace it. Scheherazade’s been at this political game for a while, having watched over the Reim Empire for over two hundred years.
Don’t let her cute little girl appearance fool you. Behind that cheerful exterior lies a battle-hardened old soul. Though she may look hardly older than Aladdin, their outlooks on life are astonishingly different.
First things to consider, Scheherazade is not actually Reim’s king.
Wait, what, then who is?
It doesn’t really matter because he doesn’t ever appear in the anime (or even in the manga for that matter). Which is interesting given how our protagonists have been uncomfortably and comfortably up, close and personal with powerful kings and rulers.
We’re first introduced to Scheherazade in person during Alibaba’s arc in Reim, where he battles a gigantic gorilla…thing in the coliseum. For those of you guys who remember your classical history (no, watching Spartacus doesn’t count), Rome was famous for its gladiators, armed combatants who would do battle with others–often criminals, wild animals, and slaves–for the entertainment of others.
So yeah, Reim doesn’t seem to be a particularly great place for pacifists. And like many other places in the Magi-verse, Reim’s also a place that practices slavery. Which seems pretty strange given Scheherazade’s presiding over the empire, but maybe banning slavery is just a little too progressive for our little blonde Magi here.
“It’s unusual to see you here, Lady Scheherazade. Sword fights aren’t your cup of tea, are they?” -Muu Alexius
We first see Scheherazade when she and Muu Alexius are watching Alibaba’s fight with the monstrous Garda. Unlike the bloodthirsty fanatics of the coliseum audience, she watches on rather impassively, not at all entertained by the violence. On the contrary, the violence seems to sadden her though she does not do anything about it.
This short scene tells a lot about Scheherazade’s character as well as her political standpoint. Like Aladdin, she grieves that the world can be dangerous, that people can be cruel and hurt each other. Unlike Aladdin, she accepts this truth to be an immovable one. That’s the way things are, this is the way it has been so it must be. Rather than actively speak out or do something about the fighting, Scheherazade ultimately goes with the flow, seeing herself as limited to only softening the inevitable blows of war.
“If Magnostadt’s aim is to attempt to use magical tools to intimidate the Reim Empire…I will have something to say about that!” -Scheherazade
If bloodshed is impossible to avoid, then one must do anything to minimize it. Having seen the best and worst moments of humanity, Scheherazade positions herself to become Reim’s shield and sword. Empire building and the social institutions it nourishes have proven to be problematic but also a sure way to gather power. If conquest is the way to rule the world, then as Reim’s magi, Scheherazade must advance along that well-trodden path, as opposed to seeking a new one.
You’d think that motherhood and politics don’t go well together but Scheherazade’s rearing of the Reim Empire might prove otherwise. While hardly the perfect country (as Alibaba will attest to, their welcome reception to foreigners leaves much to be desired), Reim is a powerful and secure kingdom. Their standard living conditions are generally decent, their economy is healthy, thanks to the strong gaming and gambling culture of Reim, and they have a very robust military that’s proven itself capable of fending of the advances of other countries, both from mundane and magical attacks.
In many ways, Scheherazade sees Reim like a mother sees her child. She’ll lead its people and advise the leadership, gently guiding them to make good decisions. So…not too different from being a king. Unlike a king, however, Scheherazade does not see herself as the ultimate decision-making authority, at least not one that’ll be there forever. Like a mother, Scheherazade knows that there will come a time when Reim is “all grown up” and is capable of protecting itself and make its own decisions.
“No, this is not magic. This is something that Reim citizens studied and produced after repeated modifications…it is the power of ‘science.’…I know very well what you want to say. Why is it that Reim won’t follow Kou and Magnostadt’s example by relying more on Metal Vessels and magical tools? We could do that but we won’t. The people of Reim are capable of walking on their own.” -Scheherazade
Magic is might in the Magi-verse but Scheherazade occupies a perhaps blasphemous position in that she believes that magic is merely a tool, only one of the many tools available to humanity. Nothing says this more clearly than in Reim’s siege against Magnostadt, where Reim’s soldiers, using science and technology, smash through the once-impenetrable magical barriers erected by magicians.
“Lord Mogamett, you are mistaken. They can walk solely under their own power. They don’t need magicians. True, there are times when they err. There have been eras when they’ve chosen a tragic path, and gone astray…but what on earth is wrong with that? Making mistakes, getting hurt, none of that matters as long as they can still move forward…on their own two feet, under their own power! The accumulation of individuals who believe in themselves, the aggregation of ‘human’ power built up relentlessly over the years…that is the Reim Empire!”
Scheherazade takes pride in the strength of Reim’s people, a natural reaction for one who has spent centuries nurturing it. She has used magic for the benefit of Reim but has never allowed magic to become the ruler. In stark contrast to Magnostadt, which has sequestered itself from the rest of the world and elevates magic at the expense of all else, we see an empire that draws its strength from the best of ordinary folk–we have trained soldiers, clever tacticians, and military scientists take part in battle.
Reim’s military strength shows that there is strength in everyone, not just those blessed with magical powers and through cooperation, one can overcome what was thought unconquerable. In this light, the absence of a king, or a “divinely appointed” ruler makes sense. Reim doesn’t need a king to make its decisions, its people can do it for themselves.
Yet Scheherazade’s politics, like so many others, does come with a price. Scheherazade minimizes bloodshed through pre-emptive strikes. Not unlike a certain purple-haired king, Scheherazade’s not above resorting to morally scrupulous tactics to protect the ones she holds dear.
Scheherazade’s wariness and protective eye are not unlike that of a mother’s. Reim is her child and like a mother, she loves it and will do anything to shield it from harm. To ensure the safety of Reim’s people, Scheherazade’s willing to resort to espionage and other politically unsavory strategies. Ironically, her act of motherhood–protecting Reim, her “child”–comes at the cost of the most unmotherly act of all–exposing one of her children to danger.
Titus occupies a very symbolically heavy position as a character. As a citizen of Reim and as a magically engineered biological clone, he is both figuratively and literally Scheherazade’s child. Yet she rarely shows him motherly affection. Instead, she treats him as a tool to be used, a weapon to be aimed at the heart of Magnostadt. The poor guy’s not only got a lifespan of about one year but he has to sacrifice his well-being for the sake of protecting his country.
Titus: “I’m not Lady Scheherazade! Maybe I’m just a clone…maybe I’ve only lived for a little more than a year…but I’ve become a human being! I can’t afford to lose, because I have to protect the people I now hold dear!
Muu Alexius: People you hold dear? Good for you. But you don’t understand. The flow of time, the way your body’s built, the fate you were given. Don’ ever look away from what it is that you truly are…you are a monster! You will never be a human! You’re a life that never should have been born into this world in the first place!
Not to knock on cloning, but Scheherazade’s method of reproduction is a decidedly cold-cut method. As opposed to the warmth embrace of a mother, Scheherazade raises Titus to become an extension of herself, perhaps forgetting that despite inheriting her immense magoi and Magi abilities, he’s just a kid and has a far different set of emotional needs than she.
“I have grown to love the Reim Empire. As I watched over Reim, I fell under the illusion that it was my own child. And to go on supporting my child, I averted my gaze from the rest of the world…from the slaves and gladiators toiling during this moment in Reim history, telling myself over and over it couldn’t be avoided, I expected my own children to think the same way I did, that they should think like me.” -Scheherazade
Not that I’m saying that Scheherazade is the world’s worst parent. You could certainly do worse but her priorities for most of the Magnostadt arc lie with her main child, the Reim Empire. As bad as she might feel for Titus, who will never get a chance to do all the normal things a kid should do, Titus’s happiness is barely a blip on the radar compared to the happiness of an entire country. She sees Titus as an extension of herself and thereby doesn’t see his sacrifice as his, but hers.
It’s ironic that Headmaster Mogamett, the main antagonist of the Magnostadt arc, ends up being Titus’s salvation. He’s quite the opposite of Scheherazade in many ways. Scheherazade is a shrewd and powerful political figure but a terrible mother. Mogamett is a kindly grandfather but a hypocritical ruler. Scheherazade is willing to protect the many at the expense of a few, while Mogamett is willing to sacrifice the majority (remember, goi, or non-magical folks, make up well over 60% of Magnostadt’s population) to protect the few.
Being a king isn’t a picnic. It involves making some tough decisions. Scheherazade’s preemptive strike on Magnostadt (reconnaissance and infiltration) is a morally dubious but smart move. Titus’s information confirms her fears–that Magnostadt is a lot more powerful than they let people on to believe and they’ve got some seriously dangerous weapons of mass destruction just waiting to be used. A king’s responsibility is to protect his people and numbers wise, Scheherazade’s decision is a politically reasonable one, one that’s possibly beneficial to her people. With the intel, Reim is better prepared to take on Magnostadt, despite the huge discrepancy in magic ability between the two military forces.
Of course, Magi-verse doesn’t let us be satisfied with that. It constantly needles us to question every seemingly sound decision a king or leader makes. Aladdin might be one of the few characters who are unquestionably good but for those who choose to play on the treacherous stage of politics, there’s no such thing as a “purely good” political leader. Every king has their agenda and has their own people to look out for. It’s harsh but kings can’t afford to think about the overall well-being of the world when they have their hands full managing a specific subset of that population.
Sacrifice is also an action associated with both mothers and kings. We revere mothers for being paragons of self-sacrifice. A mother’s love and its encompassing power to protect and to love her child is a ferocious force indeed and Scheherazade’s decisions throughout her considerable lifespan have been centered around this very principle. Mogamett reminds Aladdin that the price for keeping entire countries shielded from enemy attack is a steep one, even for Magi.
“If we were to depend on one individual’s abilities, sacrifices would be unavoidable. Martyring yourself for your own special skills…young magicians who believe that could be their mission, their true desire–my pity for them knows no bounds.” -Matal Mogamett
Scheherazade shows us that being a good king is a lot like being a good mother. Good kings put their countries, their people above all else, including themselves. Scheherazade has done an admirable job at protecting Reim, carefully nurturing its people to become strong and able to stand on their own, without the use of magic as a power crutch. But at what cost?
“You’re running out of time, you know…Titus, you’ve done a fine job. Come home now. I’ll do everything I can for you during the time you have left. Just as I have for all the other children…” -Scheherazade
It’s sickening when you realize that Titus wasn’t the only clone to go through the unenviable process of living with a year long expiration date. More than likely, they may have had similar misgivings about their tragically abrupt endings. And perhaps they weren’t as fortunate as Titus in friends and colleagues (as horrifying as it may sound, having your headmaster ready to go to war just to protect you is a flattering prospect, at least it affirms that there are people in the world who very much care about you). Titus’s fate reminds us that your own sacrifice must be freely chosen. If it’s not a willing sacrifice, can it really be considered yours? It’s the reason why we don’t tell children to make life-changing decisions until they’re old enough to understand the consequences. And time is something that Titus lacks and desperately needs.
“Titus’s life was far too short. That’s why he can’t choose what it is that he really wants to protect above all…he’s only just discovered the people he wants to spend time cherishing. I only hope that the can find some kind of answer in the little time he has left.” -Scheherazade
For us, it seems like a no-brainer that Titus’s short lifespan was the primary cause of his suffering, but Scheherazade’s initial lack of foresight into this is really telling of her age. Unlike Titus, she’s had time, lots of it, more than enough time to make connections, fall in love, find a cause and people she’s willing to lay her life down for. For someone who has had so much time, death is but a welcome end to a long traveled journey. To the young, it is horrific and unfair. And while Titus may share the same Rukh and biological makeup as Scheherazade, he’s his own person. Children may resemble their parents, but the resemblance does not come attached with the surendering of their own autonomy. Pushy parents may try (and suceed) to run their kids’ lives, but everyone’s lives are their own, including kids as well.
Scheherazade: Bad Mother, Good King?
“I was a fool. Children, indeed. Since I’ve never really given birth myself and have no idea how to go about it the right way…I really am sorry, Titus.” -Scheherazade
So how does Scheherazade stack up as a ruler compared to some of the other rulers we’ve talked about already? She’s certainly a very capable one–Reim, for all of its flaws, is a very prosperous and powerful nation, with enough power behind it that even the Kou Empire is cautious about attacking openly. She’s also a ruler who clearly loves the nation and its people and has had a hand in every facet of its societal development–from providing counsel on diplomatic and military ventures to encouraging the growth of technology and innovative thinking to solve problems. Scheherazade has shown to be very fair, graciously informing Mogamett (even while threatening him) that regardless of Magnostadt’s shady reputation, she does not discriminate against magicians and vows to treat all people absorbed into Reim’s dominion as kindly as she treats her own people. She is also a believer in the individual’s strength, in teaching humanity as a whole, rather than mentoring a chosen one or leader, in learning to live independently and righteously.
Yet Scheherazade ultimately fails as a Magi, and perhaps more importantly, she failed as a mother. Not just in a biological sense in that she never actually gave birth to children, because there’s more to motherhood than just conceiving offspring. Mothers nurture and protect their children from harm. They’re often well acquainted with the notion of self sacrifice and unhesitatingly take that burden upon themselves, but almost never demand it of their children. She sacrificed numerous children for the sake of securing Reim’s future, and while she may not have seen then as unwilling sacrifices (after all, from her perspective, they’re essentially her and she’s willing, right?), from where we’re standing, they were. She raised them for the sole purpose of infiltrating enemy territories and preemptively eliminating threats to Reim, dismissing their fleeting lifespans as justification for not allowing them to learn to live. Granted at the very last hours of Titus’s lifespan, Scheherazade does come to regret her actions, it is a realization that comes too late and one that is of cold comfort to them both, when Scheherazade realizes that her own life is coming to an end as well.
“Without returning a single person’s life to the Rukh, I’m going to end this war!” -Aladdin
Scheherazade’s attachment to Reim’s prosperity above all else made her a “good king” but an abysmal mother and Magi. A Magi guides kings along the correct path and while Scheherazade’s done a credible job helping Reim, she’s neglected her duties to the rest of the world. While the Magi’s role of selecting King Candidates is overemphasized, the intent behind the king selection is understated. Why have multiple Magi select multiple King Candidates if such actions create nothing but war and conflict? Because cooperation is needed. World peace is not a project to be carried out by a single divinely elected king–it is a task for the many, for the all. Aladdin urges Magnostadt and Reim to find a solution together, and emphasizes that the question people should be asking is not whether or not who is right or wrong, but instead how people with different beliefs can find common ground and coexist harmoniously.
“Either way in the near future, your country will have but one of two choices. Either submit to the Reim Empire’s authority, or become a territory of the Kou Empire, and engage warfare with Reim.” -Scheherazade
Scheherazade’s failing as a Magi lies in her acceptance of what she perceives to be a fixed destiny–that the only path to peace is the path of the conqueror. Though shown to be more compassionate, she is not so different from the likes of Prince Kouen of Kou, a general known for his ambitious “One World, One People” conquest plan. She may not like it but Scheherazade has to stoop to his level and willing to play the game of snatching and absorbing territory, all just to keep Reim from falling prey to someone bigger and more powerful.
As usual, Magi leaves us with more questions than answers in regards to kingship and its viability as a governmental system. Scheherazade shows us that it’s definitely possible to be a decent ruler (without the crown), but that continued prosperity does not come without a price. While Aladdin is so far fortunate in that he has not had to resort to the bitter option of sacrificing his morals to achieve his ends and protect the ones he holds dear, Scheherazade’s fate suggests that Aladdin can live in this way, precisely because he is not a king, that while he has personal ties to friends and comrades, he does not have the lifelong burden of being bound to a nation, an entire people. For Aladdin loves everyone (except maybe the Al Thamen folks) but can a king afford to love everyone? Or does being a king involve making sacrifices, including ones that compromise one’s own moral standards?