3 Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings (The Stone Edition).
There are benefits to being a vampire in the Shadowhunters’ world. Immortality. Beauty. Strength. Community. But Simon rejects that community. He rejects vampire ideals by not relishing his vampire status. He consumes blood to stay alive—but only animal blood. He tries to hide the truth from his mother—because he is ashamed and in denial about what he has become. And perhaps most tellingly, Simon resists interacting with other vampires. He doesn’t live with them. He doesn’t feed with them. He doesn’t befriend them. He behaves more like vampirism is a disease he has, rather than something that defines who and what he is. He does not see himself as being one of them.
But if he chose to, he could be.
When Simon finally acknowledges and proves to his mother that he is a vampire in City of Fallen Angels, she calls him a monster and casts him out of his own home. That devastates him, to the point that he actually asks Raphael if he can stay at the Hotel Dumont—with those who initially turned him into the thing that he hates. It’s a request of last resort—Simon literally feels like he has nowhere else to go, having been kicked out of his mundane home and being unable to enter the Institute with his friends. But as Raphael says, “In every way you do not accept what you really are, and as long as that is true, you are not welcome at the Dumont.” Camille Belcourt, another vampire, says to Simon, “You befriend Shadowhunters, but you can never be of them. You will always be other and outside.”
The primary authority figures in Simon’s new, adoptive culture—vampire culture—express disdain at his refusal to assimilate, to acculturate to their ways. Raphael takes the position that Simon is in denial about his true nature—that his humanity (his positive inclination, his Yetzer HaTov, of which Jewish identity is a significant part) is gone. Camille attempts a subtler, more subversive pressure; she doesn’t deny Simon’s humanity—she appeals to it. To his yearning to belong and to his feeling of loneliness with infinity stretching out before him. But even Camille then mocks his inability to speak the name of God, saying that if he were to simply abandon his beliefs, the name of God would lack meaning and he could speak it without a problem.
Simon ultimately rejects her and Raphael both. He is unwilling to abandon his Jewish identity, his humanity, his Yetzer HaTov, even though it means forgoing community. Even though it means remaining separate and Other from Downworlders and Shadowhunters still. In his staunch refusal to assimilate into vampire culture—despite the benefits it affords, despite how harmonious it would doubtless feel to not have to constantly struggle with his Yetzer Hara, or vampirism, if he were to truly identify and live as one of them—Simon embodies the commitment of the Jewish people to adhere to the core beliefs and traditions that have made us separate, distinct, and Other from every other culture for centuries and for millennia.
It is a fundamentally Jewish act.
Simon is a denizen of two worlds—the Downworlders’ and the mundane world. But while he can’t be a part of the mundane world anymore, he chooses not to belong in the Downworlders’. He is a wanderer not because of the Mark of Cain, not because he is “cursed.” He is in exile because he chooses to be. Simon would rather belong nowhere than belong with other vampires; he would rather be nothing than be the creature ruled by his Yetzer Hara, the animalistic instinct we glimpsed in that Jewish cemetery.
In City of Glass, Valentine says to Simon:
“I’ve seen you choke on the name of God, vampire…As for why you can stand in the sunlight—” he broke off and grinned. “You’re an anomaly, perhaps. A freak. But still a monster.”
Simon is a freak among freaks, Valentine says. A monster among monsters, who can’t even speak the name of God. But here is a character who was transformed into a predator that has to harm others to survive, and still he wrestles with his “evil inclination,” his instinct to kill and drink blood. The Jewish concept that sin rests always at the door is truer for no one than it is for Simon. But despite how he suffers in City of Fallen Angels—despite the fact that he is tested and fails (with Maureen), missing his target spectacularly—Simon refuses to accept that being a vampire is what he is. He doesn’t let his Downworlder blood define him and embraces belief instead, even though doing so cuts him off from those who most closely resemble what he has become.
Perhaps it’s the Jewish will to survive and endure, to persist unchanging in our beliefs despite the most horrific circumstances, that lends Simon the strength to survive and endure and hold onto his Jewish identity and humanity, to embrace his moral aims even as a new, dark, intruding part of him urges him to let go. But whatever the source, in fighting to retain that humanity, Simon proves that despite being a vampire, he isn’t a monster at all.
He proves that he’s a hero.
The Other as the Hero
In City of Bones, Simon is a mundane whom virtually no one bothers to talk to because he doesn’t matter—he is Other because he is painfully normal. But in City of Lost Souls, the world, and Jace’s life, hangs in the balance—and Simon is seemingly the only one who can save it. The Clave would kill Jace if they found him—not because they’re evil, but because they believe the greater good is served in saving the lives of many over the life of one. To stop them and to help Jace, Simon bargains using the only chip he’s got—himself.
Despite the fact that Magnus is clear about not being able to guarantee Simon’s safety, Simon decides to call on the angel Raziel himself in order to procure a weapon that would separate Jace from Sebastian without killing him. “I’m not Nephilim…I can’t do what [Jace] can do,” he says to Isabelle, justifying to her and himself why he should be willing to sacrifice his life for the chance to save Jace’s.
When Simon raises Raziel, it brings him face-to-face with death again. “This time he did not try to say the words, only thought them. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one—” Simon doesn’t die, but what’s notable is that what saves him is the Mark of Cain—the very thing Simon considers a curse. It prevents Raziel from taking his life and enables him to request the sword.
As the Angel tells him, “You would kill the one and preserve the other. Easiest of course to simply kill both.” But Simon refuses to accept this, even from an Angel. “I know we’re not much compared to you, but we don’t kill our friends. We try to save them. If Heaven didn’t want it that way, we ought never have been given the ability to love.”
Simon has no special love for Jace, nor Jace for Simon, as all fellow devourers of the Mortal Instruments series know, but Simon decides to save Jace anyway—not for himself, or for Clary, or for the world, but because he believes it is the right thing to do. It’s a brave, bold move, arguing with an Angel, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. “A veritable warrior of your people, like him whose name you bear, Simon Maccabeus,” the Angel says. He then agrees to provide Simon with the sword—at the cost of his Mark.
Simon hates the Mark. It scares him. But deep down, Simon also thinks it’s “the thing that made him special.” Not one thing—the thing. The only thing.
And still, Simon lets it go.
It is a sacrifice, relinquishing the Mark’s protection, and it’s only after he makes it that Raziel calls him “Simon Maccabeus”—which is not, as Simon helpfully informs him, his name. It is Raziel, however, who then corrects Simon: “But you are of the blood and faith of the Maccabees. Some say the Maccabees were Marked by the hand of God. In either case you are a warrior of heaven, Daylighter, whether you like it or not” (City of Lost Souls).
Simon Maccabeus, the youngest of the five Maccabean brothers, made a tactical and strategic alliance that prompted the full independence of Judea, and under his reign, the Jewish people became politically autonomous for the first time since the era of the First Temple. He won wars and led his people into one of the most prosperous periods in Jewish history.
On the surface, it seems like Simon still has a long way to go before he earns the title “warrior.” But a deeper look reveals that Simon has been fighting a war since City of Ashes—the war between the positive and evil inclinations, the Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer Hara, that rages inside him every second of every day of his vampire existence. Physically he may be more demon than human, but he is called a warrior of heaven by an Angel, no less.
From the moment Simon is changed into a vampire, he is transformed into the Gothic Other; something inhuman, something else. And because of it, like Cain, the desire to kill, the desire to sin, rests at his door. If Simon gave in, he would be physically stronger. If he accepted Camille’s offer of “community,” he would be less lonely. If he abandoned his Jewish beliefs, he would be less vulnerable as a vampire. Simon could rationalize each of those decisions—he didn’t choose to become a vampire, he is what he is, it isn’t his fault, et cetera.
But he never does.
Simon Lewis isn’t perfect. He sins. He “misses.” He is tempted in City of Fallen Angels, and even though he isn’t a literal angel, he certainly does fall. But in City of Lost Souls, despite his mother’s rejection and his wandering and his loneliness, despite flirting with the idea of giving up and giving in, Simon returns to himself. He never let go of the things that make him Simon: his Jewish identity, his beliefs. He sinned—he missed the mark—but he returns. And in returning, he shines.
Not because he was born a Shadowhunter, like Alec and Isabelle, and not because the blood of angels runs through his veins, as it does for Clary and Jace. He wasn’t born to be a hero the way they were. But in holding on to his humanity throughout the physical metamorphosis that threatens to swallow it, he demonstrates more than any other character in the Mortal Instruments that it is not our blood but our actions that define who we are. And when Simon finally realizes this about himself, he finds that, for the first time since he was changed, he is able to speak the name of God.
Michelle Hodkin grew up in Florida, went to college in New York, and studied law in Michigan. Like Simon, she is Jewish. Unlike Simon, she is not a vampire. When she isn’t writing about Jewish vampires or ill-behaved teenagers in her books The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2011), The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2012), and The Retribution of Mara Dyer (Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2013), she can usually be found prying strange objects from the jaws of one of her three pets. You can visit her online at www.michellehodkin.com.
After reading this essay, I’ve decided my writing doesn’t get lumped in with the films of John Hughes often enough. I’ll have to work on this.
Meanwhile, enjoy Kami’s loving dissection of why the hapless best friends never get the girl…unless they happen to be the girl. But you’ll read more about that in a minute.
Why the Best Friend Never Gets the Girl
I’m just going to come right out and say it because we’re friends, and I don’t want there to be any secrets between us (unless, of course, I’m your best friend and I’m madly in love with you). Brace yourself, here it comes: Simon
never stood a chance with Clary. Before you start sending hate mail, give me a chance to explain. I’m not suggesting that Simon isn’t handsome and brave and perfect for Clary in every way. Some mundanes might actually argue that he’s superior to Jace in all three categories, but that doesn’t change the fundamental law of attraction on which my claim is based. In literature and film, the best friend never gets the girl.
It has nothing to do with Simon’s potential as boyfriend material. He lost the battle before he even had a chance to fight, doomed to join support groups full of best friends who never got the girl. (The reverse is true if the person in question is a girl secretly in love with her best friend, but we’ll get to that later.)
In pursuing Clary, Simon ignored a decade’s worth of case studies conducted by a handful of gifted filmmakers in the 1980s, most notably John Hughes, the godfather of them all, who dedicated his career to exposing what I refer to as the Duckie effect.
For those of you unfamiliar with this master filmmaker and his legacy, the Duckie effect is this: A boy falls hopelessly in love with the girl of his dreams who also happens to be his best friend, spends all his time with her, yet she still chooses another guy over him. It’s a fascinating and heartbreaking phenomenon, worthy of scientific research. But you don’t need to be a scientist to analyze the data collected from the 1980s filmmakers and conclude that our Simon is a victim of the Duckie effect.
Case Study 1: Pretty in Pink (John Hughes, 1986)
It’s only fitting to begin with the movie that includes the best friend after whom the phenomenon was named. In Pretty in Pink, Andie is not one of the popular girls at her high school. In fact, she’s one of their favorite targets. Andie wears the wrong clothes and drives a beat-up car, and she isn’t the girl that most of the guys at her school want to date. Unless you happen to be Duckie, the guy who pretends he needs help with his homework just so he can spend time with her. Duckie is completely devoted to Andie, but she still falls for Blane, a handsome and popular guy at school—the complete opposite of Duckie in every way (sound familiar?). So what does Duckie do? He tries to make Andie jealous by kissing her friend Iona.
Exhibit A : Like Duckie, Simon tries to make the girl he loves jealous.
In City of Bones, Simon notices the attraction between Clary and Jace almost immediately and employs a slightly more sophisticated strategy to make Clary jealous. Simon focuses all his attention on the beautiful Isabelle, often staring at her “rapt and openmouthed.” And he is actually more successful than Duckie. Simon does make Clary jealous, most notably at Magnus Bane’s party, when she watches as Isabelle dances around Simon, “looking at him as if she were planning to drag him off into a corner to have sex.” In American literature and film, consciously choosing a guy with whom they have an instant attraction is one of the ways young women signal their independence. Their sexual identities are closely tied to breaking free from their parents and the expectations others have for them—expectations that sometimes include a sweet best friend.