Philosophy in the Q-orpus

Active Agent:
Eastern and Western Ideas of Doing
in the Quiller Novels

Rick Holt

[Editor's note:  some of the analysis advanced in this essay's discussion of karma was originally presented in "Karma," Thought of the Day, February 27, 1998.]

Introduction.  In a March 3, 1998, post to the Quiller Mailing List, Jeff Simser wrote of his attempts to fit "some of the Eastern philosophy that permeates the Q series" to "what Q actually is."  Mr. Simser concludes wryly that the result of this effort is often that his "synapses are a bit strained at the end of the day."

I can certainly understand his feeling, as it echoes a problem which has dogged me since I began, first, reading, then later studying, the Quiller novels.  The problem for me has been that I have learned about Eastern philosophy and culture in nearly a parallel path with learning about Quiller.  Since the Q-orpus has many references to Eastern thought, from karma to Zen to mantras, in Quiller scholarship the issue is not one easily avoided.  Nevertheless, despite my life experiences--which have included published research into Eastern and Western philosophical traditions, exhaustive work analyzing Quiller, and having been married to a Chinese woman for eight years--I still am confused by most (though by no means all) the references Hall makes to Eastern thought.  Many times, when I read such references, I am puzzled as I try to understand the sense behind them, frequently ending up with synapses as strained as those of Mr. Simser.

The reason for the less-than-optimal fit between Quiller and Eastern thought is that Quiller is drawn as a character who knows how to use techniques derived from Eastern philosophy to aid him in the pursuit of his rather individualistic goals, but who (largely because of the trade in which he finds himself) is not able to follow the thought underlying the technique to its deeper levels.  Briefly:  Quiller is a thoroughly Western character who, in his Western way, sometimes acts in what he takes to be an Eastern mode.

"East" and "West":  What is the difference?  Before going further, let me point out that the distinction between "Eastern" and "Western" thought, though common in academic discussions, might at first prove unpalatable to someone not accustomed to such venues.  The reasonable and critical person may chafe at the notion that people sharing an entire racial and/or cultural background would think even remotely alike.  Not wishing here to reenter the lists in that debate, I'll just point out that, based on the broad philosophical traditions that appear to drive the cultures in which they originated, Easterners (by which are meant the people of Asia, principally China, from whose culture other Asian nations derive so many of their traditions) and Westerners (by which are meant people, chiefly of European ancestry, whose culture emanates primarily from their Greek and Judeo-Christian heritages) have different views of how the universe, the world, and human beings operate.  In the discussion which follows, it will be more useful to think of "Eastern" and "Western" as covering metaphors, rather than as precise designators of the behavior of any given "Eastern" or "Western" individual.

In Table I, below, I have listed six of the currently accepted dichotomies between Eastern and Western tradition.  These six elements of cultural tradition represent the broadest possible perspective for discussing the East/West distinction.
Table I
Primary Distinctions Between Eastern and Western Tradition

Cultural Element
Eastern Tradition
Western Tradition
What the cosmos is Self-operating and self-organizing system. Controlled by some divine or supernormal power.
Purpose of investigating phenomena To know the manifestation of the universe. To mark distinctions between the knower and the thing known.
Origin of knowledge Arises from synthesis which comes through "spiral" logic and contemplation of the self and the universe. Arises from postulation with emphasis on analysis through "linear" logic by syllogism and dialectic processes.
Reasoning Focus on multiple causes and effects in interrelated chains. Focus on singular cause-to-effect linear chains.
Human nature Neither innately good or evil, but blinded by human desire. Fundamentally evil.
Role of humans in the natural world To live with nature in harmony. To master nature.
Throughout the essay, I'll be referring to this table, and providing by example more complete explanations of its concepts.  To save time, I'll refer to the dichotomies in Table I by the letter "C" (for "comparison") followed by the number of the comparison.  Moreover, each such reference will be hyperlinked so that, by clicking the reference, the reader can "pop up" a window containing the table.  Thus, if I were discussing Quiller's use of terms found in formal logic (such as "corollary," "conclusion," and "premise"), I might refer to "[C4]" to denote the differing logical traditions between East and West.

As students of Quiller, we know how difficult it is to summarize the character as Adam Hall has drawn him.  The contradictions Quiller encompasses have led to much discussion, not only on the pages of this site, but on the Quiller Mailing List, offlist correspondence among list members, and the "Thoughts of the Day."  Rather than focus on specific features of Quiller's character, I am going to take what is perhaps the most central feature of the novels, the hero's activity, and show how, in both its physical and metaphysical manifestations, Quiller's activity evinces a less-than-optimal fit with regard to Eastern thought.  To put it more directly, the qualities of the Quiller character bespeak some basic understanding of Eastern traditions but not an adherence to those traditions.  I will demonstrate this by analyzing examples related, first, to the physical manifestation of activity (Quiller performing his tradecraft in the Q-orpus novels), and second, the metaphysical manifestation of activity (human agency as the determinant of one's karma).

Physical Activity:  Doing and Overdoing.  A key distinction between Eastern and Western traditions can be seen in their respective approaches to human activity.  In the individualistic Western tradition, human activity, or doing, is held to be chief means by which the natural world can be mastered [C6] and the knower to discern that which is to be known [C2].

Quiller, of course, is the archetypal fictional practitioner of the art of actively measuring and thereby mastering his environment.  In the field, almost all of the time, his faculties are actively focused on analyzing input, on interpreting what his perceptions yield him as data, and on adjusting his activity to conform with the findings of his analyses.  He gets disoriented when he can't see, smell, hear, taste, touch, or even sense paranormally things in his environment.  Quiller's a man to whom active empirical measurement and response to his environment mean survival, and passive acceptance of his environment means failure and possibly even death.

The Eastern tradition takes a somewhat different view of human activity.  In much of Eastern thought, there is a strong sense that, in the face of a natural world that cannot and ought not be mastered by humans [C6], excessive action is futile, and indeed likely to cause problems.  I like to think of it as the distinction between doing and overdoing.

There is a principle in philosophical (that is, not religious) Taoism, strongly felt throughout Chinese (and hence other Asian) culture, that any action carried too far will revert to its opposite.  It is easy to point to common-sense examples of this principle:  the miser who accumulates out of all proportion as a lifelong defense against penury, but dies a pauper as his or her progeny squabble over the money; the military commander who does not know when to stop conquering territory, and ends up before a firing squad; the attractive person who experiments with relationships so much that he or she, bored with adoration, becomes wedded to the most abusive possible mate simply because that person offers a different kind of attention than others do; and so on.  In Eastern traditions, there is a belief, often mistakenly interpreted in Western societies as passivity or resignation, that the highest form of wisdom is to know when to act and when to stop.

It has long been a contention of mine that many of Quiller's mission-related difficulties arise from his tendency to push things much too far, too fast.  "I'm in this trade to prove myself," he tells us:  "I'm frightened of pushing things to the point where they might blow up, so I push things to the point where they might blow up, to prove I'm not frightened." [The Kobra Manifesto, 6:57]  Often one senses Quiller's  impatience as things do not move quickly enough toward the goal he has in mind.  When this impatience overtakes him, Quiller, the quintessential man of action, takes it upon himself to, as television chef Emeril Lagasse might say, "kick it up a notch."

Now, it's true that some activity in Q-orpus missions do not permit Quiller much choice in whether he will or will not push things to the "blow up" point.  Such activity can involve deadlines that are not negotiable--examples are the scheduled arrival of the Person in The Ninth Directive; the occurrence of Sroda in The Warsaw Document; and the time of Xingyu Baibing's departure in Quiller Bamboo.  In these situations, Quiller has no choice but to opt for extreme action as soon as possible.  In some other missions, he's given his "pushing" orders by his superiors, as in the Striker operation when Ferris tells him early on to "get in their way" [The Striker Portfolio, 3:45].  Finally, in some missions, Quiller gets foxed in the preliminary phases and has to resort to pushing things to the limit in order to retrieve a mission gone awry (for example, recklessly going aboard the car with Kuo's brother in The Ninth Directive).

In other missions, though, it's questionable whether it's necessary for Quiller to move as precipitately as he does.  A good example is The Berlin [Quiller] Memorandum, where (lacking a real DiF, since Pol's merely another executive serving temporarily as a messenger) Quiller is absolutely at liberty to advance the mission at a pace he chooses.  To make the opposition come to him, he opts for the dangerous strategy of ratting out ex-Nazi war criminals and then having himself photographed by newspeople as the police move in to arrest them.  "The quick way," Quiller explains, "was to reverse the order of things.  To find one man among three and a half million I must let him find me.  Let him know I was here and here to get him.  Draw his fire, so that he'd show himself.  Then try to finish him off before he finished me.  Hope for an overkill." [3:27]

In this mission, there doesn't appear to be any compelling reason for this strategy; it's just the way Quiller likes to work (and, in passing, certainly good for reader involvement in the narrative, as we wonder how anyone could possibly put himself in that much peril).  Moreover, while it's certainly undeniable the strategy succeeds, it seems too dangerous for good tradecraft.  After all, later on, all Quiller has to do is to jump the wrong way when the car comes for him outside the courthouse, and he'll be dead.  It's even arguable that the only reason he survives treatment at the hands of Oktober is because that's exactly the way Oktober wanted it.

I elaborate this position, not to criticize Quiller's well-known working method (personally, I find this calculated derring-do to be one of the series's most satisfying features), but rather to distinguish it from the philosophy about action underlying the Eastern traditions whose techniques Quiller says he so often employs.  In Eastern tradition, to push things too far, out of a sense of impatience, is not just irresponsible in and of the moment, but often seen as indicating a deep character flaw.  The Eastern perspective influences one to take a much broader, more interconnected view of activity in any given situation; there are always more consequences, more people and more issues to be taken into account.  Quiller's view is often, "Here is A and here is B, and I need C, so I will do D, and to hell with E and F, and maybe G, too."  This is a very linear approach to problem-solving [C4]; it can be used to get things done, but it remains insufficiently sensitive to the broader environment in which the action takes place.

This is, I think, one reason why Quiller so consistently seems to be at odds with Bureau planners.  Because the controllers of the mission must look at the big picture, must consider the consequences of Quiller's activity, Quiller can afford to be a fast-burn ferret shoved down into the warren to perform his act.  That's why Loman is so cross with him in The Ninth Directive; when the finicky DiF tries, circumspectly, to bring up the question of the consequences of shooting Kuo, Quiller says, "Worry it . . . .  Worry it out.  I've got my limited view.  All I need to know is that the consequences of crooking the index finger are a hole in a skull." [end of Chapter 11]  Those schooled in Eastern traditions would be very reluctant to advance such a narrow asssessment of the conditions surrounding such a delicate and potentially explosive situation.

Now, let us turn to the text of the Q-orpus for some insight into how Western action does (but more often, does not) jibe with the temporarily Eastern perspective Quiller assumes.  The "strained synapses" one can get from trying to fit Quiller to Eastern thought might arise from nothing more complicated than the intuitive sense that, if Quiller is really performing the Eastern technique he is said to in the narrative, things ought to be more complicated than they seem.  The frenetic activity in which Quiller is engaged (often, as fans know, described in deliciously excruciating detail) is frequently a very poor fit to the brief, off-the-cuff mental invocation of Eastern thought with which Hall peppers the more elaborate description of what is going on.

There is an excellent example of this disproportionate weighting in Northlight [Quiller], occurring (appropriately enough) after Quiller has just gone to KGB headquarters to confront Demichev over the KGB having searched his hotel room (as an aside, it's difficult to imagine a more thoroughly Western approach to such a situation, involving confrontation, argument, and all because it's expected of a person from a Western culture where they have "civil rights"!).  Quiller's ever-present internal lecturer is explaining the advantages of a freewheeling approach to getting a target across a border; as you read the passage, look both for the frantic, rushed tone of what Quiller is recounting, and as well for the offhand insertion of a reference to Eastern meditation (emphasized by underline) at a crucial point in the narrative:

"A shadow executive or a cutout or a courier would break for a frontier within an hour of closing down his mission and he'd expect instant help and he'd get it--I'd brought three of them across like that, carrying one down a mountainside into Bavaria and throwing another into a meat truck on the drug route across the Isonzo Bridge and shoving a third man into a plane in Topolovgrad with a bullet still in his shoulder blade but a lot of life left in him and a photocopy schedule of the Warsaw Pact military exercise still taped round his leg.  It's difficult work but it's fast and you don't have to rely on signals or changes of plan from London; you just make your run and bring him with you and there isn't time to think about frontier rifle-fire or airfield security forces or sirens in the night--you're running hard and you can only keep up the pace by going into Zen, and it works, it really works, because the instant you switch off and leave it to the alpha waves you're moving into a protection zone where you can do things that would otherwise kill you off." [Northlight/Quiller, 10:46, emphasis added]

Whether one knows anything about Zen or not, Quiller's appeal to Eastern mysticism at that point, after telling all the various harrowing experiences he's been through, rings a false note.  Zen is a form of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Japan and China; its principal tenets are that enlightenment is attained through meditation, contemplation of the self, and intuition, and not through faith, scriptures, and devotion.

The question naturally arises, then:  what does Zen have to do with what Quiller is saying about getting targets to safety?  The only thing I can possibly think of is that one principle of Zen relates to the belief that, while the objects of consciousness are not real, consciousness itself is real (note the distinction in mode of knowledge, as described in [C2]).  Accordingly, Zen initiates are taught to experience phenomena directly, not through verbal/logical means.  I suppose Hall could be saying that the best way to survive such life-threatening situations is to invoke a relaxed, wide awake state (go into "alpha waves"), not do too much reasoning or worrrying, and just let intuition take over and allow the organism to take care of itself instinctively.

The problem is that what Quiller describes is not how Zen students are brought to this state of understanding without words and logic.  Rather, that state is achieved through guided meditation, with the teacher employing such devices as the koan, a paradoxical saying or question which repeatedly tests the student's state of enlightenment (the most famous koan is a riddle, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?").  The koan has no answer that can be verbalized or even thought about in logical terms; upon realizing this, the student experiences what some Zen Buddhists refer to as sudden enlightenment ("satori").

In the quoted passage, the clue that Hall's view of Eastern and Western thought is broad, not deep, is the conflation of Zen Buddhism and "alpha waves," the former thoroughly Eastern and the latter (based in empirical psychology) just as resolutely Western.  The dictionary defines alpha wave as, "a pattern of smooth, regular electrical oscillations in the human brain that occur when a person is awake and relaxed.  As recorded by the electroencephalograph, alpha rhythms have a frequency of 8 to 13 Hz."  From my limited personal experience with Zen exercises, I could believe that Zen meditation could easily produce an alpha state.  However, I also know that it would take a good deal of quiet meditation to get to this state, and I don't believe for a moment that it is possible to consciously produce that state, instantly, on demand, under the conditions which Quiller specifies in recounting his experiences.

What is the lesson of all this?  Simply that it is possible to connect Quiller's recounted activity to a true and accurate rendering of the Eastern view of Zen only by the most tortuous and tenuous of interlinkages.  My own feeling is that Hall had something in mind when he linked up Zen and alpha waves (perhaps even some research work with which he was familiar, but I am not); hence, in some sense, he can, and should, be given a pass by the reader's ascribing his conflation of the two notions to authorial license with metaphors.  However, I do think it disingenuous thereby to suggest that when the crunch comes and the bullets are flying, the best thing to rely on is Zen.  Meditation has its uses (a very good one is when Quiller employs asanas--yoga postures--in The Warsaw Document [10:53] to deal with the cold in the Ochota Precinct lockup), but it almost certainly cannot be summoned up in extremis as just another of Quiller's formidable arsenal of combat techniques.

The reader interested in pursuing analysis of questionable fits between Eastern and Western conceptions of activity are urged to try their hand at these other passages from the Q-orpus:  Quiller's use of a mantra to put himself to sleep prior to the Finback flight (The Sinkiang Executive, 7:5); Quiller's invocation of "blood lust" in the martial arts (The Kobra Manifesto, 11:36); and Quiller's reaction to the presence of a totem designed to absorb spirits as he's getting a shiatsu massage (Quiller Bamboo, 16:72, and especially the discussion of ghosts preceding that passage).  The reader will find it useful, first, to check a reliable encyclopedia to determine the Eastern conception concerning these particular aspects of Quiller's knowledge base, and second, to work through its implications with respect to the activity in which Quiller is engaged, based on the six comparisons of Eastern and Western thought (Table I).

With these thoughts on immediate physical activity in mind, let us turn now to the second of our two points of focus, the metaphysical manifestation of activity in the Quiller novels:  the idea of karma.

Metaphysical Activity:  Karma and Fate.  Karma refers to the belief, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, that an individual's destiny, in a given lifetime, is determined by the sum of that individual's conduct in previous and current lifetimes.  Obviously, this perspective depends on belief in reincarnation, a notion which has very little place in Western thought.  Though there are virtually no references to karma in the early Q-orpus, they occur with increasing frequency in the middle and later Q-orpus (particularly the triad of The Peking Target, Northlight [Quiller], and Quiller's Run).  As with activity, however, Hall seems to show a decidedly Western take on what Quiller is thinking about this most quintessentially Eastern of religious beliefs.

For an example of how karma is handled in the Q-orpus, let us turn to a book in which the word occurs frequently, The Peking Target, where it occurs six times:  three times in reference to Quiller's decision to leave something up to the course of events, after having done all he could [12:56, 28:34, 29:52]; once in quoting a priest in reference to his own blindness [15:76]; once in reference to a presumed affinity between Quiller and Tung Kuo-Feng [21:79]; and once to account for Tung's frustration at having had to see his son captured [26:25].

Quite apart from the complexities of soul transmigration in the process of reincarnation, karma is a difficult concept to pin down.  In Western cultures, it is often (and often mistakenly) used as a synonym for "fate" or "destiny."  What the Western interpretation leaves out, however, is the role of human agency.  Karma's strictly a "tit-for-tat" proposition; what you do comes back to you, inevitably, inexorably, and inescapably.  In this lifetime, you may get away with something "bad" (obviously, since over many lifetimes you get both what you do and its opposite, "bad" and "good" are very tricky descriptors here), but in a subsequent one you will pay for it.  To put it a slightly different way, your "bad" deeds in this lifetime may also be to compensate for something "good" you did before.  Of course, it's also possible that your deeds "now" are preparing you for some balancing that will need to be done in a future incarnation.

What makes the use of concepts like karma especially ticklish in Quiller novels is that Quiller is so obviously (and thankfully) a man of activity in the present moment, doing what the organism demands, right then and there, with seemingly no awareness of, or governance by, such arcane considerations as previous and future lifetimes.  Thus, when, at the conclusion of The Peking Target he places his helicopter in the path of the Pacific Cathay jet coming down the runway, he says, ". . . there was nothing I could do except sit here and leave it to karma:  It will stop, or it will not stop; I will die, or I will not die" [29:52].  Nonetheless, there's a real question whether or not Quiller really is "leaving it up to karma."  He didn't come to this pass by chance, after all:  if karma is a valid idea, then decisions in lifetimes, past and current, ought to have led him to his staredown with the jet.

However, there's an even tougher question to answer:  what, exactly, is Quiller's karma?  What outcome has he bought with his deeds, in this and previous lifetimes?  Is it to survive the staredown?  Is it to make it to the airport but, in respect of the danger to Tung's son's life, to allow the plane to take off anyway?  Is it to die himself in a crash with the plane?  When he says he's "leaving it up to karma," what is the "karma" he is referring to?

The facile answer is, karma is simply what happens:  Quiller survives, so that must have been his karma.  But the pat answer doesn't quite wash, again because it ignores the factor of human agency.  Remember that the presence of Quiller's helicopter there, in the path of the plane, comes only after his having made extraordinary efforts simply to get to the situation in which he finds himself:  he has had to survive Yang's attack; commandeer a helicopter; battle the pilot; get control of the helicopter; and put it down in front of the plane (and this of course doesn't even take into account all that led to him being at the monastery in the first place).  Given all this activity, it's highly questionable whether he's "leaving" anything at all "up to karma."

Here again we confront the central problem with the Western man being temporarily in the Eastern mode:  Quiller's speaking of karma, not as a unifying factor holding together multiple interrelated chains of cause-and-effect over several lifetimes (the Eastern tradition), but as the consequence of a linear chain of events (the Western tradition) [C4].  "I've done all I can, here, now," Quiller seems to be saying, "so we'll see what happens."  However, countless (and I mean, literally, countless) decisions have gone into this moment on the runway when Quiller's helicopter confronts the airliner.  Quiller doesn't acknowledge any of this, but simply inserts the word "karma" (as he did "Zen") into another frantic narrative sequence.  As before, with "Zen," this makes it difficult to reconcile the two types of thought.

I am not claiming Adam Hall did not understand concepts such as "karma" (in any case, disputes over whether someone "understands" anything from Eastern tradition are purposeless, since the whole idea is to gradually and incrementally come to experience understanding, in accordance with the personal degree of evolution of one's soul, through the process of living and contemplating one's life).  In fact, as I noted in the "Thought of the Day" for February 27, 1998, there is in The Peking Target a passage which demonstrates an extraordinarily elevated awareness of what karma is.  Ironically, the reference is embedded in one of a series of embarrassing stylistic klinkers as Quiller is hiding behind a cat as he floats down the river away from a gunmen from Tung's hit cell:  "Poor kitty.  How did you get here?  How long has it been since our paths began meeting?  Since the day you were born, I suppose." [12:62]

Despite its embarrassing tone, this passage shows a profound understanding of reincarnation and fate, although it is possible Hall was making a general philosophical point and did not necessarily recognize it as a facet of Eastern thought.  Buddhism holds that certain living entities are destined to be associated with each other, having incurred karmic obligations in previous lifetimes.  Quiller is saying here that he and the cat have come to share a fate, led up to by their divergent paths since the day of birth (and to be perfectly accurate, Quiller should say that involves his birth, too, not just the cat's).  The Chinese refer to this as yuan, using it to explain all sorts of human relationships, primarily those involving romance or family.  To have yuan (which can be either uplifting or stressful) with someone is considered to be one of the most precious of human experiences.  Chinese believe that all of the experiences of one's life can lead to a significant association with another, and that therefore such associations are priceless.  In a way, Quiller is saying that his fate (to survive) and the fate of the cat (to allow him to survive) are the result of yuan, or something very much like it.

However, in the sequence with the cat, the tone of the narrative describing Quiller is much more suitable to the thoughts he is having about karma.  He is floating, drifting down a river behind a box and a dead cat (wonderful image for reincarnation, that), can do nothing, can say nothing, can only be borne by the current, hoping the gunman will not see him.  Also, it is worth noting that Quiller doesn't mention the word "karma" here, almost as if Hall intended the lesson about the cat to be taught, not in abstruse philosophical terms, but in a metaphor so outrageous as to be laughable.  If it's not stretching a point too far, use of the extravagant images of the cat might in fact show Hall knew a great deal about Eastern teaching, knew it down to his fiber, since Eastern traditions often use outrage, humiliation and embarrassment as means to lead the student to enlightenment:  for example, the most profound lessons in Zen Buddhism frequently are imprinted on the student by what some might regard as a crude practical joke (a whack on the head from the teacher's staff or the mindless repetition of some laborious task as the student is sent from teacher to teacher).

There's one other point worth noting about Q-orpus references to karma.  In mentioning the subject, Quiller too often presents karma as the end point (a result) and seldom discusses its equally important role as a cause of living activity in the future.  This is of particular importance, given how socially unsavory are the tasks he is often required to perform.  Of course, we read Quiller precisely because we like vicariously to experience that most of us would never want to be involved with on our own.  However, the moral quality of Quiller's activities are virtual guarantors of his either having been, or subsequently becoming, a victim of the same thing he is doing in his current lifetime.  When Quiller lies, double-deals, kills, disrupts relationships, threatens, bullies, and steals, he is--by the inexorable laws of karma--guaranteeing that he'll be lied to, double-dealt, killed, have his relationships disrupted, threatened, bullied and stolen from.

As with the earlier suggestions for further analysis of physical activity, interested readers may find it enlightening to analyze for themselves the treatment of karma in the conclusion of Quiller's Run.  Of particular note are the phrases Quiller uses to bludgeon Mariko Shoda into committing suicide--"it is not your karma to kill me," "obey your karma," "acknowledge your karma"--and the role of Quiller's activity in precipitating the situation which allegedly arises as the result of karmic responsibilities.  The interested reader might want to consider questions such as these:  Is Quiller serious in presuming a karmic relation between himself and Shoda?  Are karmic responsibilities being apportioned equally in this episode?  What is the role of agency in the confrontation and its outcome?  Given the balancing of the karmic forces, is possible for Quiller to be truthful when he says to Shoda, "it is not your karma to kill me"?

Conclusion.  It is not, of course, necessary that the Quiller novels containing references to Eastern thought go into any great detail about the philosophies underlying them.  In fact, if abstruse philosophy were too much a part of Hall's narrative style, the pace and excitement (that which draws us to Quiller novels) would almost certainly suffer.  Perhaps it is precisely because Hall tantalizes us with references that are (to some readers) exotic, and does not go into too much detail, that we are better allowed to fill in whatever we know, or do not know, of the subjects to which he refers.  Perhaps it is this very indeterminancy that invites so many different people, of so many different backgrounds, to bond so strongly with Quiller, the preeminent fictional focus for all human contradictions, in all their maddening but endlessly fascinating variety.

And yet, with respect to images of the East, there remain in Quiller novels troubling vestiges of dead ideologies reflecting the worst of the Western perspective, particularly the English colonial view of the world.  More than once, Hall implies Asiatics are "savage"; he is given to repeated physical stereotypes, particularly of Asian women (with metaphors suggesting objectification, such as "porcelain" or a limb that resembles a "dry stick"); and now and again he vents some utterly outrageous cultural stereotype, such as attributing present behavior to a Korean individual's "ancient race" or cynically depicting as a "voodoo bit" the use of guilt about her karma to hammer down a Cambodian woman.

At the same time, it is very clear that Hall's view of the East changes as the Q-orpus progresses.  Starting with The Peking Target, we begin to find extended discussion of Eastern themes.  Predictably, these initial efforts are somewhat awkward (Tung Kuo-feng hurling Quiller about with his ki is a painfully instructive example).  However, there are some references to Eastern thought in the immediately following Northlight [Quiller], and the cultures of the East provide several interesting themes in the next novel, Quiller's Run.  In subsequent novels, we get Eastern references in varying degrees of believability, until Quiller Bamboo, a book which, despite its many flaws, actually encompasses a reversal of stereotypes:  many of the Asians (for example, Chong and Baibing) are drawn as being as individualistic and modern as any of the Westerners Hall creates, while it's often the Europeans (for example, Trotter) who come across as bizarre, exotic throwbacks.  Even the next novel in the series to take place in Asia, Quiller Salamandar, attempts to extend Hall's view of the East, although it is done in a way that prevents his best intentions from bearing full fruit, principally because the narrative too often degenerates into a sermon, leading Hall to suffer the fate of every author who prioritizes message over story.

We can only speculate about what made Trevor begin to look at themes of Eastern thought as the Quiller novels evolved.  From fragments of the biographies so lovingly, carefully, and professionally gathered and displayed by Jon Peralez on his "Unofficial Quiller Web Site," I can guess at three possible reasons, though in reality, it is probably a combination of these three factors and almost certainly others.  First, the increasing Eastern emphasis might have had something to do with Trevor's martial arts training.  We have been told that Elleston Trevor received a black belt in karate at the age of fifty-eight; since he was born in 1920, that achievement would have occurred about 1978.  The Peking Target, where we find the first extended treatments of Eastern thought, was published in 1982.  Following the usual path of martial arts training, it is possible Trevor first mastered the techniques of karate, and then later evolved into an understanding of its metaphysical principles, with the accompanying need to express these principles in his fiction.

A second factor may have been Trevor's move to America.  We know this happened in 1972, and we also know that in the early and mid-1970s, America was surfeit with purportedly "Eastern" approaches to everything from Taoism to acupuncture to I Ching to yoga.  As a man of boundless curiosity, Trevor's love for America's openness must certainly have brought him into contact with these forms of knowledge, even though his understanding of them might have lacked the depth that can only be achieved when they are studied, over long periods of time, in the cultures from which they originate.

Finally, I would guess that Eastern thought (particularly the treatment of karma) must have figured in Elleston's having had to suffer the tragic death of his wife Jonquil, who passed away in 1989.  Experiences such as this, which make us think of the cycle of life and death, as well as the implications of the actions of ourselves and others, lead inevitably to considerations of the supersensible world which may lie beyond the miasma of what appears to happen to us every day.  It is possible that Elleston Trevor, speaking through the thoughts of Quiller, the fictional amanuensis who we all agree did a great deal of his talking for him to the outside world, was trying to work out the puzzle of life's rewards and its tragedy on his own terms--just as Quiller himself would have done it.