Study Guide

The Demon's Lexicon Morality and Ethics

By Sarah Rees Brennan

Morality and Ethics

"You gave your talisman away," he said, hunting for words. He didn't want to speak, but he had to; he could do nothing else, because what he wanted to do was hit Alan. […]

"I can't believe you were so stupid. Not again!" (2.175-176)

Alan kind of reminds us of a Knight of the Round Table, always willing to throw down his jacket (or his talisman, or his life) for someone else. But is it really moral of him to sacrifice himself for Mae, or even Mae and Jamie, when there are already two people who so greatly depend upon him?

"Did you know that [the Obsidian Circle] was the Circle that killed a man called Daniel Ryves?"

Nick thought of being eight years old and watching his father fall to ash.

"This Circle has something to pay for, then," he said. "I'm glad you told me. I'll be glad to kill them." (6.122-124)

(Note: This is between Liannan and Nick.) We get it: they killed his dad, he wants revenge. This goes straight to the question of whether or not it's ever okay to kill another person (and when we say okay, we mean okay/justified—not okay/hunky-dory). It's pretty clear how Nick feels about that question in this moment, but we wonder if he still feels the same by the end of the story. What do you think?

Nick would have sacrificed Mum to save Alan, every time. (6.184)

Eek. All alone like this, this quote doesn't make Nick look very good, but in context? Mum hasn't exactly been kind to Nick over the years—in fact, she's been downright abusive. So really, this sentiment doesn't make us question Nick's morality quite as much as we would if Mum was a little more like, say, Mary Poppins. But what if in order to sacrifice Mum—to save Alan, of course—Nick had to actually be the one to kill her? Hmm. Let's think on that.

"What's the big deal?" Nick asked. […] "It bothers you, it doesn't bother me, I thought I could do it and you'd be—I thought you'd be happy."

Alan closed his eyes and swallowed, and something about his face reminded Nick of the way Gerald had looked as he waited for the knife to come down.

"It should bother you," Alan said in a low voice. (9.111-113)

So what is the big deal here? They need information, and torture doesn't bother Nick, so Nick handles Gerald on Alan's behalf. The problem as Alan sees it though, is that perhaps torture should bother Nick. But is Nick justified here? After all, Gerald and his merry band of magicians seem to be hunting the Ryves family, so shouldn't they take whatever steps are necessary to protect themselves? This is tough stuff with a lot of relevance to the way various countries and militaries extract information from prisoners. (And you thought The Demon's Lexicon was just another YA page-turner.)

[Mae] smiled at Nick, and he kept his face chill and expressionless so she would transfer her smile to Alan. She did transfer her smile to Alan, and that was the thing: If there had been no hope for Alan at all, it would have been less of a dilemma. (9.151)

Nick's morality seems to be in question for much of the book, but this is one situation in which we see that he frequently does try to do what he perceives to be the right thing. Alan met Mae first, Alan has a crush on her, and Nick does his best (more or less) to honor that. (Except when he doesn't.)

Alan seemed ready to die to save her. Nick couldn't understand it, and he wasn't about to let it happen. (10.13)

The "her" in this case is Mum, and sometimes it's hard for us to see why Alan is so bent on protecting her. She doesn't seem to be a particularly good person for much of the book, and we almost start to think, "Wow, that Alan is a saint. He'll take a bullet for anybody." Of course, as we learn later, there's more to Mum than meets the eye in those early chapters, but still we wonder: who should a person be willing to sacrifice his life for?

"I knew he'd be sick," Alan said. "That didn't matter."

[…] "It seems a lot of things haven't mattered to you," said the voice of Merris Cromwell.

There was a small pause, and Alan replied, "I don't regret anything I've done." (10.201-203)

Up to this point, Alan's made a lot of choices that we don't yet know about, but the one Merris is most likely concerned with here is his decision to bring a demon to the Goblin Market. Do you think Alan was putting others in danger by making that choice? Why or why not?

He'd never been like Alan, never been able to take an interest in people, never had a crush or even a real friend. […] The idea of strangers dying didn't matter much to him. (12.2-3)

Hmm—sounds pretty cold at first. But there are lots of people who don't relate well to others, and really, how concerned can someone afford to be with the fates of strangers? Thousands of people die every day, and we certainly can't take the time to mourn them all. Still we can't help wondering if there's a difference between not grieving each and every loss and not caring at all. Is one approach more morally correct than the other? And is there a right way to feel about such things, or a correct way to relate to others?

"I can't work you out," Jamie felt the need to inform [Nick], because he was an idiot who never stopped talking. […] "You've been okay to me sometimes, but I can't tell if that means you like me. I don't know if you like anyone, I don't know if you can like anyone." (13.53)

Interesting question. What do you think? Does Nick actually like anyone? Can Nick actually like anyone? We think there's evidence to suggest that he can and that he does, but how about you? Can you find anything to support that statement—or refute it?

"Put down all your weapons," Gerald confirmed, in his mild patient way. "Or we cut Jamie's throat."

He'd never liked Jamie all that much anyway.

That was Nick's first thought. His second thought was that Alan did like Jamie […]. Alan would want Jamie safe.

Besides, Jamie was Mae's brother. (13.12-124)

The logic here is a little bit like a flow chart. First Nick assesses his feelings about Jamie, then he moves on to Alan's, and finally to Mae's. And since he gets a yes at the second and third stops on the chart (as in yes, they like Jamie), he decides he needs to act to protect him. Nick's methods of determining right and wrong might vary from other people's methods, but we're not sure that makes them any less moral. Just different.

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