An Analysis of "His Temple of Walls"
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The following essay was written by Argus Ackle, a professor at the University of Northshire. It was published prior to the court rulings on citing the works of Shiloh A. Wrun.

The document has not undergone any external modifications. Copies of its original published form are neither in the possession of The Library, nor in the possession of any associated distributors.

Due to the unavailability of copies of His Temple of Walls, it is impossible to determine the contents of the original extracted quotes.


Shiloh Wrun’s His Temple of Walls was proclaimed as a triumph of Post-Sulkran literature. Published toward the end of the Rulang Disruption, Wrun’s novel attempts to encapsulate the experience of Rulangians as they dealt with their rapidly shifting totalitarian government. In its first month in circulation, His Temple of Walls was distributed to over 100,000 readers across Rulang, namely delivered by airdrops from international aid organizations. Most analysis and essays written about the novel were published while the days of conflict were fresh, but what does a little time do to this esteemed piece of writing? Maybe we can take a look back through the words, take a seat in the guard tower, and reevaluate one of Wrun's most famous works. And who better to perform such a trip to our literary past, than someone who has never picked up the book in the first place.

However, Wrun is not a non-fiction writer, and tends to take numerous creative liberties in his descriptions of real-world events in his works. Therefore His Temple of Walls is set in an analogous prison city: Sha’Leigh. The prison city is run by the wardens, and the revered Battalion, which is feared by all of Sha’Leigh’s inmates.

Wrun immediately sets the tone for this novel with an opening passage that introduces us to our unnamed protagonist who we follow through the story:

I can see Julie’s hands shaking. Years, years have lead up to this. So many nights planning in the stench of the sewers, sweating in the wretched hot air. Recruiting, doing patrols, acquiring explosives, all of it took so long in these ever towering walls.

The courtyard is packed to the brim with blissfully ignorant inmates. A man behind me collapses from the heat.

“Are you ready?” Julie asks.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

We share a brief smile, and then she leans in, kissing me on the cheek.
“No going back now,” she says. I nod, as Julie points a gun in the air and fires.

We can see here, the use of first person point of view along with the recurring “vision” motif throughout this passage creates a repeated “I” sound, much like if even the passage itself was full of prying eyes. Opening with the mention of the cameras and microphones and general lack of privacy introduces both one of the major conflicts of the story, as well as one of the major themes. How does one live when their every action is tracked and recorded? We follow our title character very closely throughout the beginning of the story, as if our sole job as readers is to never let him out of our sights. No matter where he goes, be it the bathroom, to sleep, or into his own mind to contemplate his situation, we watch him like the surveillance systems of Sha'leigh.

One of the most prominent ways this feeling of being watched manifests is in how it dulls and impedes any intimate moments between Julie and our main character. The constant knowledge that, they can’t be their genuine selves and speak candidly with one another makes their interactions feel fake and forced. For example, when they meet to talk about the meat processing incident:

We split ways, dashing through the crowds. When I was younger I could pass between people’s legs but now I need to force myself past their shoulders. Someone has definitely alerted The Battalion, which only serves to quicken my pace.

The alarm sounds. Tidal waves of people crash against residence doors, scrambling to get inside. I’m caught in the turbulence and fall face first. Heavy foot steps of the crowd place themselves firmly on my back as the stampede to safety continues. I push myself up, sending feral spirits flying. The sprint continues.

It’s easier to run, now that there’s fewer people. Which also means I can start covering my tracks. I let loose a canister from my belt, which explodes in a fit of bright green smoke.

As I turn more corners, I’m met with more smoke that isn’t mine. Some of it blue (Yasmin’s), some of it orange (Ti’Wool’s). No black smoke. Which is good. Julie should be clear on the other side from me.

Our protagonist knows that he’s filtering himself, keeping his words mild while his thoughts run like a roller coaster. But even more importantly, he projects his own filtering into Julie, which leads him to question if this woman who commands his affections is really there once you take away the facade she puts up for the cameras. The contrast of the listless dialogue and these panicked thoughts give us as a reader a deeper look into how draining this constant performance must be.

This also serves to set up what is possibly my favorite chapter of His Temple of Walls: the birth of the rebellion. When the characters first believe they have found a spot with no cameras, no microphones, no bugs. The way they change their mannerisms and speech is so drastic, and what our protagonist thinks is about to be a confession of love turns into a call for revolution:

Red wire, yellow wire, green wire.

Snip. Snip. Snip. Weld back into place.

I never knew sabotage could be so easy. Sure, there’s ten dead guards, three broken doors and an exploded wall behind me, but now that I’m at the security camera control panel, this is easy.

The explosives are ready. The detonator in hand. Julie will be so happy.

The yearnings from Julie to truly feel alone and isolated in Sha'Leigh are an interesting divergence from more traditional character arcs, where they strive to feel more connected to their surroundings rather than less. But here, the fact that she feels that she can never be alone is likely the cause of her disposition for using a facade instead of acting like her real self. Again, this pounds home the themes of privacy: the characters feel trapped by being watched.

Unfortunately, after this point, we see fewer of these, simply inspired passages from Wrun, usually in favor of long detailed descriptions of logistical aspects of Sha’Leigh. I have seen this change in pace called "experimental", but for me it felt simply like a muddling of the core themes, or at its worst, word padding. Thirteen pages (over 3000 words) are devoted to how food is curated for the residents, completely ignoring our POV protagonist until his gloop is served to him in the cafeteria line. It’s clear from the dialogue that ensues that we have missed important developments in the rebellion:

Moving back through in the smoke is difficult. I stumble about with my arms outstretched, waiting to collide with a wall. I would’ve thought that all these years traversing the same corridors, the same crawl spaces, would’ve prepared me better for this moment. I had a mental map of the residential level seared into my mind, yet I can’t tell if I have three or four more steps until I reach the escape grate.

I get down on my knees so I can finally see the ground. But I can feel it better too. It’s shaking. Regular vibrations. The Battalion.

I scramble forward. The grate has to be here somewhere. The quakes grow more violent. Another few feet, right? I’m in the right alleyway, right?

My hand feels a pair of iron bars. I grab hold of them and pull up. The grate comes loose. I slip into the sewers.

The air down here is disgusting, but I take deep breaths. I can finally breathe easy. Now to meet up with the others.

While the build up to it feels very opaque to critical analysis, I can at least appreciate the tactic of snapping back to our core story as if we have been still been following our main character. We spend so much of this novel following our main character so closely, and now we’re jerked away for a moment. The off-hand mentions of names and locations throughout this passage reinforce the whiplash we feel when reconnected with our main character. The end effect really hammers home how much can change in Sha’Leigh when you’re not looking.

This pattern of focusing away from the core plot and development of the first half of the novel continues. We get a short story of the romance between two previously unseen inmates, instruction on how to replace a stained window, and a glance at our protagonist’s grocery list before we’re violently dragged back to the core plot. It’s unclear how the situation has progressed to this state, but our protagonist is restrained by the wardens of Sha’Leigh. What follows is a very extended sequence describing various wardens met throughout the piece (but namely Rogers and Li’Plah) torturing the unnamed main character:

Everyone is already back in the central irrigation cavern. I can barely see, since the smoke on the surface blocks out our already dwindling light sources, but I can hear the excited chatter of my fellow rebels. It's enough to guide me through these tunnels.

Someone taps the side of a wine glass. The room silences. I can hear Julie climbing on top of a milk crate.

“Does someone have the detonator?” She shouts.

“Right here!” I yell from the back of the room.

“Good. Don’t blow it yet, I want to say a few words first.”

The crowd grumbles.

“It's short this time, I swear!”

I let out a small chuckle. Julie has never once been brief in this room.

“For years, we’ve been asking ourselves, what does the world look like, with no walls? What did God make for us outside of these wet corridors and grey skies? We all knew there was a chance that he didn’t make anything at all. That it’s just null and void. But we still wanted to see it. Unfortunately, God also put us in here. God boxed us in. Made the Battalion. He kept us imprisoned. So to see what he made for us, we had to disobey him. And disobey we did.”

The sewer cavern erupts into cheers. The wardens, the battalion, even God himself can't stop us now.

Julie raises a fist in the air, “When fighting God, what do we aim for?”

“THE EYES!”

I could be convinced that Wrun intended this to read similarly to the ending of the famed Earth novel 1984, however I am not thrilled with the execution. The descriptions read to me as gratuitously violent. Given the lack of direction seen in the latter half of this story, I instead propose that this is Wrun taking his frustration with this piece out on his characters. Or possibly, if I had read this closer to it’s original publication date, when the surveillance of Rulang was more culturally relevant, there may be some deeper meaning to this section I may be able to see through the words, but for now, it is obscured by time and Wrun’s own prose.

We do eventually return to Julie and the rest of the rebellion though. They are low in spirits and drinking at a bar:

[FEED UNAVAILABLE]

Despite all of the prior non-sequitur chapters, this one left me the most confused. Is this in Sha’Leigh or outside? If it is in Sha’Leigh, then how are they getting alcohol? It was made abundantly clear that dive bars like this are forbidden in Sha’Leigh. If they’re outside, then why is Lirel here? He never demonstrated any sympathy to the rebellion’s cause. This chapter fails to keep to the story’s internal logic and setting, even before I attempt to analyze its relation to the rest of the piece.

If I am to be completely honest, at this point I skipped the remaining twenty pages or so of the story to read the author’s note at the end, Hoping that it would illuminate Wrun’s intentions. The most useful section was the following:

We’re coming for your tongue.

He definitely intended for the ending to have significant amounts of whiplash, as to mirror the turmoil in Rulang for the people experiencing the political unrest. However, even for great writers, sometimes the end product does not do their ideas the proper justice.

This overall leaves me as a critic quite… frustrated. I have gone back and reread the essays of Titus Obeary and Sel Dellackerty, which deconstruct His Temple of Walls in painstaking detail. They shower praise upon the story's twists, and how these delicate characters are portrayed in such a hard and cold world. Their arguments are well written. During my reviews I found myself agreeing with most points Obeary and Dellackerty make, but when I turn my eyes back to the text anew, I simply do not feel the same passion.

Perhaps this is why academics such as myself have rarely revisited this monument of literature. Admitting to myself that a piece which made the Rulangians feel heard and understood in their time of crisis, had no emotional bearing on me was quite difficult. I would imagine other scholars would feel the same. I considered scrapping this essay all together. That I just didn't get it. But instead, I must voice my opinion, because what am I doing with my days if not pretending to be an authority. I do study such a fickle thing as fiction, after all.

If only I could live a day in those walls, toward the end of the rebellion. Watch from the guard tower as the prisoners revolted, maybe then I would understand how Wrun felt. But for now, Sha’Leigh is as closed off as Rulang. No way to see inside. No camera feed into their inner machination.

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