I see a lot of Starfleet Academy AUs that take place in the AOS universe and that’s great and all, but…
CAN YOU IMAGINE
A seventeen year old Jim, who returned from Tarsus IV alive, but scared, still dealing with the trauma and desperately trying to excel at everything he does. He is picked on a lot because of his eagerness to please and a certain gullibility that comes with his deeply romantic nature. He studies and works hard, soon he gets to be the top of his class and other students have very little love for him. He is a loner, but he is ambitious and someday people will look up to him. Nevertheless he is still so very very young.
Now just imagine a barely 20 year old Spock, who left his home planet after a big fallout with his father. Spock, who is so different that he is not only alien to both humans and Vulcans, but also a stranger to himself. Imagine him not taking Captain Pike up on his offer and staying to teach at the academy.
Imagine Jim taking a fascination to Spock from the very beginning, eager to see things from a completely different perspective, one that is completely unique. He can’t help being awed by the seemingly endless facets that make up Spock. And Spock himself is curious about this particular human. A man who’s own emotions often enough get him into trouble, but he seems to always get back on his feet, laughing. Maybe after some time Spock is able to see that emotion and weakness are not synonymous, even if he still needs to learn what true strength really means.
Think about the two of them sitting on the rooftop of their dorm staring up at the stars and talking about everything from Nietzsche to Surak, from the invention of the telescope to the latest warp core drive. Just talking and talking and through it gaining not only an entirely new perspective on the universe, but also themselves.
Until one night Spock brings up Vulcan custom and what Vulcans are supposed to do and not to do. It’s as if a dam is breaking and although Spock will probably regret it, he tells Jim about the fallout with Sarek.
And Jim is silent for a long time. It’s almost sunrise when he repays Spock’s trust and tells him about a madman and a forgotten colony with a hunted look in his eyes.
I want to talk about the origin of t'hy'la, as well as the ‘editor’s note’ we get explaining it away. The word has become so commonplace within the fandom that there’s probably not much I have to say that hasn’t been said already. Nonetheless, I noticed a few new things that I want to bring up.
We learn of this mysterious Vulcan word in Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As Spock prepares himself to have all remaining emotion purged from his mind, he says a mental farewell to the most important person in his life:
“Jim! Good-bye my … my t’hy’la. This is the last time I will permit myself to think of you or even your name again.”
While the reader gets to experience his internal monologue in English, there is one unrecognizable word. Lucky for us, they included a footnote to define it:
“Editor’s note: The human concept of friend is most nearly duplicated in Vulcan thought by the term t’hy’la, which can also mean brother and lover.”
Let’s start with the diction of Spock’s silent goodbye to Jim. He hesitates in the middle of his sentence, which sounds kind of strange, seeing as we are meant to be hearing his thoughts. He then randomly shifts into Vulcan. The pause implies that either
Spock takes a moment to find the proper word, unable to find an appropriate term to describe his feelings.
The idea is too difficult for Spock to articulate without stirring up emotion.
Keep in mind that in the movie, this entire scene is spoken in Vulcan. The novelization is written in English for the ease of the reader’s understanding. Especially when you consider that Spock is deliberately trying to cleanse his mind of his humanity, it is only logical to assume that he was thinking in Vulcan.
So why then, is the word “t'hy'la” not translated? If he only intended the meaning of “friend” or “brother”, why not just use one of those words?
The definition of “t'hy'la” states that it “most nearly duplicate[s]” the human concept of friend- it does not mean exactly the same thing. Rather, it defines a relationship encompassing all three definitions: friend, brother, and lover. Otherwise, it would be illogical for Vulcans to use a word with such a loose and variable definition.
The word t'hy'la is used here because it describes their relationship as it truly was, including all three human ideas.
The word comes up again later, brought to the front of Spock’s mind as he sees Kirk again for the first time:
“And on the bridge—Kirk! The mere name made Spock groan inwardly as he remembered what it had cost him to turn away from that welcome. T’hy’la!”
Here, it makes even less sense for the word to be in Vulcan. Spock is among humans, so it is logical to assume that he is thinking in a human language. It’s significant to note that it is not only the narrator that makes this distinction, it is Spock himself. He reverts to Vulcan, unable to find an appropriate human word to express the depth of his feelings for Jim.
So how exactly does this relationship work? It seems strange to think of a relationship being both brotherly and romantic. But consider this.
Spock and Kirk have displayed a deep bond since the very inception of their friendship in 1966. At this time, homosexual relationships were considered so radical that they were largely invisible in popular culture. It was also somewhat uncommon to see deep platonic male/female love in works of fiction. Such relationships existed, but they were largely overshadowed by romance.
Nowadays, we say things like “I love him like a brother” to differentiate between the different types of love that have become commonplace. At the time, the ideas may not have been so separate. Now, of course “brotherly love” did not mean the same thing as “romantic love”, I am merely suggesting that it did not have the connotation it has picked up in recent years as a term of differentiation. Instead, the term “brother” is used to imply a sense of loyalty, equality, and permanence in their relationship.
If the idea still seems strange, take a look at this. During Kirk’s separation from Spock, he became involved for some time with a woman named Lori. Here’s how he describes their relationship:
“She had been perfection—lover, friend, wife, mother, and in every other role and joy she supplied as he slowly recovered from the fatigue and emotional wounds of those five long years out there. They had lived the basic and simple one-year arrangement together—but those months had been memorable ones. He had not been aware, at least not consciously, that during that time she had been something of a surrogate Enterprise to him.”
Interesting. While she explicitly fulfilled the role of a "lover” to Kirk, she also fulfilled the role of “friend”, “wife”, “mother”… even starship. Here, the word mother is used to imply her tendency to nurture and help him, although their relationship was clearly not that of a parent and a child. It’s no different with Spock, who fulfills the emotional role of a brother as well as a lover.
It’s a good thing Vulcans are so much more concise with their language than humans, right?
Now if this seems too good to be true, it is. There’s a little more to it than that. At the time of the novel’s release,The Star Trek franchise was extremely popular, and unfortunately, the American culture was still largely homophobic (although there was already a major improvement over the attitudes of the 60’s). Roddenberry wasn’t really in a position to explicitly acknowledge the homosexual subtext of their relationship, even in novel form. Several years earlier, a Star Trek novel, Killing Time, had been published that depicted Spock and Kirk acting, well, a little too close. Although the novel was essentially just fan fiction with an official logo on the cover, it received several complaints and was eventually recalled and edited (Reportedly, Roddenberry was unhappy with the forwardness and inappropriate characterizations within the novel, although he was generally supportive of fan fiction and even slash fiction).
So to diminish any backlash, this explanation was included in the footnote:
Spock’s recollection (from which this chapter has drawn) is that it was a most difficult moment for him since he did indeed consider Kirk to have become his brother. However, because t’hy’la can be used to mean lover, and since Kirk’s and Spock’s friendship was unusually close, this has led to some speculation over whether they had actually indeed become lovers. At our request, Admiral Kirk supplied the following comment on this subject:
“I was never aware of this lovers rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow which usually connoted some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself, although I have no moral or other objections to physical love in any of its many Earthly, alien, and mixed forms, I have always found my best gratification in that creature woman. Also, I would dislike being thought of as so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years.”
I find it very interesting that Roddenberry chose to have the character of Kirk supply the explanation. He could have easily written something along the lines of “As it turns out, this speculation was false, they merely shared a close platonic bond.” Instead, we get this wordy non-answer from Kirk.
The third-person narrator has the power to make objective statements about the characters and their relationships. The narrator is not himself a character, and has no goals or motives thereof. Having a character step out of the story to answer a question is a tactic rarely seen in literature, and it raises some new questions: what is this character’s motivation, and can they be trusted?
And in this respect, even as well as we know Kirk, there’s a lot that we still don’t know. When was this “interview” conducted? Were they in a relationship at that point? What does Spock have to say about all this? An emotion as intimate as love must be a sensitive topic for Vulcans. Is Kirk protecting Spock’s privacy? Is he protecting his own privacy? His reputation? If there’s really nothing going on, why doesn’t he just say that?
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly he says, because he never actually denies it.
First, he notes that Spock employs a similar tactic of not actually denying it when confronted, opting instead to lift his eyebrow instead. It seems that Spock is annoyed at invasive questions about emotional topics. Does that surprise anyone? Moving on.
Next, we have Kirk basically saying that love is love regardless of gender or species. Aw.
Then there’s this: “I have always found my best gratification in that creature woman."
Um… Kirk? The word "best” kinda implies that you have some other frame of reference to compare it to.
But it is true. Kirk has had numerous relationships with various women (for various reasons), and perhaps he does feel that a women are where he finds his “best” gratification. That’s perfectly valid. To me, that sentence tells us that Kirk is bisexual with a preference for women, or at least a sexual preference for women (his next sentence implies that he is referring specifically to sexual gratification). As to his romantic preferences? Well, that’s up for debate. But I’m gonna leave this quote here:
“It still felt painful to be reminded so powerfully and unexpectedly of his friendship and affection for Spock—theirs had been the touching of two minds which the old poets of Spock’s home planet had proclaimed as superior even to the wild physical love which affected Vulcans every seventh year during pon farr.”
I never read the original version of “Killing Time”, but it’s hard to believe it was gayer than this book.
Finally, we have Kirk’s quip that “I would dislike being thought of as so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years.”
And after all that, he still didn’t actually answer the question. As I listed above, there are a whole handful of possible, in-character reasons for him to do this. It’s an interesting concept, keeping your readers guessing by giving the characters reasons not to be forthcoming with information.
If Roddenberry wanted to definitively settle the issue and say they were not lovers, there was ample opportunity to say so. He instead used an in-character statement to talk around the issue.
If Roddenberry wanted to leave their relationship open for interpretation, he didn’t need to do anything other than what he was already doing. He could have had Spock call Jim his brother, or his friend, or defined t'hy'la to mean one of these. Instead, he created this word in an original language specifically for this instance. There was not reason to include "lover” in the definition of the word unless that was exactly what he meant.
Although Kirk had been as dumbfounded as the others, he was pleased to note that he had recovered first and was now handling all this with some degree of command presence. But it still felt painful to be reminded so powerfully and unexpectedly of his friendship and affection for Spock—theirs had been the touching of two minds which the old poets of Spock’s home planet had proclaimed as superior even to the wild physical love which affected Vulcans every seventh year during pon farr. However, Spock’s new demeanor warned Kirk to stay clear of personal considerations for the moment.
Gene Roddenberry in the Motion Picture Novelization,
is the moment that Spock returned to the bridge and Jim saw him for the
first time in years after thinking Spock left him forever. Again:
had been the touching of two minds which the old poets of Spock’s home
planet had proclaimed as superior even to the wild physical love which
affected Vulcans every seventh year during pon farr”
But not my crew, Kirk thought as he looked over to Spock. We saved him. Kirk was struck by the realization that what he felt for the impending loss of the Enterprise was nothing compared to what he might have felt at the loss of his friend