by Dan Simmons
Father Paul Duré
The Priest's Tale is more about Father Paul Duré than it is about its teller, Father Lenar Hoyt. The story covers Duré's ill-fated trip to Hyperion—but he was losing conviction in his faith even before his trip to Hyperion to study a weird little tribe called the Bikura. Hoyt evens says that there were "whispers of excommunication" (1.148).
During the trip, he gradually loses all hope, until all he sees around him is death and a lack of respect for life. He doesn't know what the point is. "There has to be more" (1.225), he laments—and then decides that "My emptiness is only... emptiness" (1.302).
With no point to life, can there be anything to look forward to after death? Father Duré's religion may be based on the belief that there is, but Duré just can't see it anymore. He's the first of several characters to undergo a crisis of faith.
When Duré does find something that renews his faith, it's not a positive experience; it's a horrifying one. The Bikura have achieved immortality at the cost of their individuality, and maybe their souls: "Why has God allowed this obscenity? Why have the Bikura been punished this way? Why was I chosen to suffer their fate?" (1.641-1.643).
Meet the cruciform, the strange cross-shaped object that resurrects them after they die. It's what saves Duré at first—that the cross he bears around his neck looks like a cruciform. After a few days, they bestow him with one of his own, which then takes over his body and keeps him from leaving the village.
But that's not all. He also finds a cross in a mountain-side chapel, one that predates Christ's teachings by millennia.
Oops. That's going to cause an uproar in the Catholic Church.
Duré vows to escape and spread the word: "I will leave or get my message out" (1.482). Whether or not this will strengthen (or destroy) the church will never be known, but it gives Duré new purpose. He writes, "I now understand the need for faith—pure, blind, fly-in-the-face-of-reason faith—as a small life preserver in the […] universe ruled by unfeeling laws" (1.647).
After everything he's seen, Duré develops a sort of a savior complex. He decides to build a giant metal cross in the flame forest and crucify himself, where he will be struck by lightning, die, and reborn again, ad nauseum, by the cruciform.
He doesn't do this because he has nothing or nobody left to live for. He often writes in his journal to someone named Eduoard—a friend or a lover, we're not sure. One of his last journal entries is to Eduoard, "[Eduoard], my hope of seeing you again shall not be placed on this life but on the one to come" (1.672). He does it because he feels he must. And it's nice to know that Father Duré has this ambiguous adult male friend. Being a nearly defrocked priest being moved around to a different planet made us wonder exactly what he might have done to almost get excommunicated in the first place.
Seven years after escaping into the forest, he's found by Father Hoyt. Now known as the Son of Flames, Duré is just a skeleton and charred muscle tissue. Hoyt removes him from his cross, and says, "[Duré] smiled. And he died... really died... there in my arms. The ten thousandth time, but real this time" (1.719).
You'd have to be blind to not see Duré as the Jesus figure he is. (Or maybe it was just so gross you closed your eyes during that part.) Duré's crucifixion and rebirth takes the Christian story of Jesus's resurrection to the most horrific extreme. Are we supposed to see this as a criticism of Christianity? Or as a confirmation of its message? We're not too sure.
But we do know that Hoyt now carries Duré's cruciform, which means Duré will be reborn upon Hoyt's death. And we don't think he's going to be too happy about his resurrection.