Welcome, Once Again, to Elliott RWI

It’s been quite a while since I last updated my landing page, and a fair number of things have changed since then. More details are in my bio, linked below, and something of a table of contents for this webspace appears, well, right down there, too:

So you know what you’re getting…
Image is mine, severally.

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Hymn against the Stupid God 213

Oh, I am not immune to that demand
That Stupid God has called across the land,
From stony shore to balmy beach of sand,
From water’s side to high and snow-clad peak!
I often find myself compelled to seek
Some idle pastime through which that god wreaks
The ruin of the mind. I make me numb,
An infantile sucking on the thumb
Or sitting thereupon to depths self-plumb.
Yet while too many find their joy in such,
I linger in that hateful fear: too much
Of any joy will blunt the future touch
Of better happiness that can be found–
At least as much of it as is around.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 351: City of Dragons, Chapter 1

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

Following an extended message between bird-keepers treating concerns of information security, the first chapter of the novel, “The Duke and the Captive,” begins with a messenger reporting to the Duke of Chalced in fear or reprisal for the ill news he carries. The messenger is escorted away, and the ducal palace is described in some detail as the Duke is tended and receives a fuller report on actions in the Rain Wilds. His own situation is described in some detail, both his failing health and dearth of legal heirs, and his anxiousness to consume dragon-blood and -flesh to assuage both. The Duke lashes out, feebly but pointedly, at those around him.

Something of an antecedent?
Image from Google Maps, used for commentary

Selden Vestrit, captive, ruminates on his situation as Chalcedeans view him, an oddity among a collection of oddities. The onlookers discuss selling him, ignoring his pleas. As they leave, Selden is wracked by coughing, his situation worsening as he longs for Tintaglia and freedom both.

The question occurs to me again as I reread the present chapter: To what, if anything, is Chalced an analogy? As I’ve remarked, there are analogues for other nation-states in the Realm of the Elderlings series. Bingtown and the Rain Wilds echo the United States, making Jamaillia something like Hanoverian England. The Six Duchies and the Out Islands are not unlike the indigenous American peoples, if with other influences visible and at play, so that “parallel” would be too strong a term. It is the case that the Duchies and Bingtown are or have been in position to ally against Chalced, being both vexed thereby; the analogue of Chalced would therefore be some state vexatious to multiple populations, heavily autocratic, and with a (relatively) poor human rights record.

I admit to getting somewhat outside my remaining areas of expertise, here, but colonial Spain somehow comes to mind. I am not a Hispanist; I did grow up in an area marked by Spanish colonialism, and there is something of that in even popular and public-school accounts of the local and regional histories, but I am far from a specialist in such things. I do, however, think there might be something to investigate in that line for an intrepid student who is more attuned to such concerns than I can be. (Please be sure to cite me if your papers take you in such a direction; I shall thank you.)

Similarly outside my expertise but similarly suggestive is the parallel of the names. Chalced seems to work from Chalcedon, an ancient town of Classical Asia Minor now part of the Istanbul district in Turkey. Site of some important early Christian councils and the namesake of chalcedony, it exerts some historical and religious influence…but, again, my noting that there is some interest to follow does not mean I am equipped to follow that interest in what has to be a short(ish) blog post such as this one. Again, a student of more related concerns looking at this might well have more to say. (Again, too, kindly throw me a citation if you investigate that way; I shall still thank you.)

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Why Is This the Thing That Shocks You So?

Why is this the thing that shocks you so
The one at which you mean to draw a line
And sever yourself from the greater godly body
In which you were raised
To which you pledged yourself
And not the lie that you enact by
Pushing yourself away from it
And it from you?
Is it not a sin to lie?
Yet you expect to be forgiven
And to remain among the body of the elect
While working so very, very hard
To keep others out of it

I think it’s pretty.
Photo by Alexander Grey on Pexels.com

Why is this the thing that shocks you so
The forbidden deed among forbidden deeds
The unpardonable event that must be set aside
Or must be set aside.
Because it is commanded that it not be done
And that those who do it find opprobrium
And not the marks made in flesh and marring of it
And not keeping the gleanings of the harvest
Or the fruits from the edges of the fields
And not the mistreatment of strangers in the land
And not adultery
Which is one of the larger among
Thou shalt not
Set in stone on courthouse steps as a movie’s marketing maneuver
A politician’s campaign ploy?
Are they less forbidden?
Yet they who do them
Again and again
And gladly
Those get welcomed in and celebrated
While others would be left to languish

Why is this the thing that shocks you so
The one you claim cannot be forgiven
That merits castigation, condemnation
And not the killing of another person
Something many claim that they would do again
Given similar circumstances
And not when someone else is creeping into their home at night
Which might well be excused
But in the homes of others
Unwelcome on their lands
And for no real purpose save to be there?
Is it not a sin to kill?
And yet many do more than fail to repent
Who are kept among the congregation gladly

Why is this the thing that shocks you so
Demands of you that you rise up in anger
Giving voice to hatred
Giving hands to violence all too often
You who claim to hold as your lord and teacher
One who often abjured violence
Who said who lives by the sword will die by it
Who said who calls another a fool is in danger of damnation
Who said not to resist evil
Who said to turn the other cheek
Who said to give more to those who ask of you than they ask
Who said to take the beam from your own eye before worrying what is in another’s
Who said to cut yourself down to keep yourself from sinning rather than to cut another down
When you will welcome back among you
Even praise
Who flout the two true commandments
Who offer up not even a mumbled apology
Let alone burnt gifts of atonement
Or efforts to make real change in themselves
And whose actions bespeak praise for Mammon?
It doesn’t seem right, does it?
It shouldn’t
But you still do it
Over and over and over again
And demanding to have a house that is not yours
Be as you would have it
Shutting out those who have too often been in the cold
Who harming none have suffered harm

Why is
The thing that shocks you so?

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 350: City of Dragons, Front Matter

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The third volume of the Rain Wilds Chronicles begins, as do the first and second, with a cast of characters–the keepers and their dragons, people from Bingtown, the crew of the Tarman, and assorted others–before presenting a prologue. Said prologue, titled “Tintaglia and Icefyre,” focuses on the eponymous dragons as they fly and hunt together. Tintaglia assesses Icefyre as they return to a familiar landing-place, and they are ambushed as they alight. The attack fails, although it startles the younger dragon and injures her.

More or less the cover I have…
Image from Jackie Morris’s website, here, used for commentary

In the wake of the attack, the dragons confer, Tintaglia noting her inexperience with assault from humans. Icefyre opines on previous experiences and ancestral memories of such attacks and their effects, and he notes that he and Tintaglia will have to depart the area for a time–but not until they have eaten their fill from among their slain attackers. Tintaglia initially balks, and she questions one survivor. From him, she learns that the Duke of Chalced has prompted the attack, and Icefyre eats him for his trouble.

This will not be the first time I’ve written about City of Dragons, of course. In addition to occasional references in papers I’ve written for presentation, I reviewed the novel (for what all that’s worth) in another webspace I formerly maintained (find the review here), not long after it hit print, back when I had time to sit and chew through a novel in a day and write about it with daylight to spare. Certainly, there are things I miss about that part of my life, even if I did not recognize at the time the privilege I had then. That said, I am in a better place now than I was then, although it’s not the place I thought that I would be when I thought then about where I might be now.

I am struck once again by Hobb’s ability to write non-human intelligences sensibly, something that features throughout the Elderlings corpus. Admittedly, there are limits; Hobb is, to the extent of my knowledge and the public disclosures I have seen, human, and so there will be only so much of the nonhuman that she can depict. But the fact of presentation is something that continues to stand out to me, as does the believability of the same.

I note, too, that the prologue pivots into something that has been glancingly addressed in the earlier volumes of the Realm of the Elderlings corpus: Chalced. The repeated comment that “Sooner or later, there is always war with Chalced” comes to mind; the war seems to be coming. That the Chalcedean ruler is styled Duke speaks to it, as well as presenting an interesting implication for the Six Duchies; “duke,” of course, derives from dux, a Latin term for a high-ranking military leader, but in the Six Duchies, the Dukes are subordinate to a crowned King…

There will be a lot to do with this book. I look forward to doing it.

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Yet Another Rumination on Memorial Day

It would appear to be that time again, when the United States makes a particular show of honoring those who died in its uniformed service, and I air something of a re-run or a spin-off of something I’ve shown before (here, here, and here). In truth, the situation has little changed across the few years I have been making a point of writing in this webspace, the United States and the part of it in which I live marking the day as it has done so long as I recall, and some complaining, perhaps hypocritically, about the juxtaposition.

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I am among the some, of course, and doubtlessly the perhaps.

For me this year, while I’ve not been uprooted again, I have been on the road. My family and I took a short trip up through a part of the state we’ve not visited yet, despite it being only a few hours’ drive away. It has made for a decent enough weekend, and one about which I will doubtlessly have more to say in a future post. I’m given to understand that it’s a fairly common pursuit for the time of year, with people getting out of school and “summer” starting (again, the solstice is a few weeks off, and it’s already been plenty warm here); it hasn’t necessarily been so in my life, but a lot of that is because I am a crotchety curmudgeon who hates fun.

Ask my daughter. She’ll tell you.

It might not be the most fitting observance of the day, as I think I’ve noted. But I’m not going to feel ashamed that I took the time to be with my family. And I can affirm that I’ve made a point, not just here, but with that family, and particularly with my daughter, of noting why the holiday is in place. It’s not enough, of course; what can be? It is, however, a start, and that’s got to be good for something.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 349: Dragon Haven, Chapter 20

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

Following a message-exchange in which the topic of marriage appears to be broached between Erek and Detozi, the final chapter of the novel, “Kelsingra,” begins with Alise taking dictation from the returned Rapskal and assessing the youth as she does so. That the party has come near to Kelsingra is noted.

It returns from before and before!
It’s still Frozen History by MeetV on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary.

The progress of the dragons, their keepers, the Tarman, and the crew of the same from the meeting with Rapskal to the outskirts of Kelsingra is glossed, being a laborious process of several days. Weather and darkness hindered the beginning of the resumed journey, but Heeby and Rapskal urge the others onwards, and the group comes to the opposite bank of a river across from Kelsingra.

Alise notes her motives for writing Rapskal’s report, and she assesses the changes that have occurred in the youth along with the party’s situation. Alise prompts Rapskal for more details, which he gives, elucidating his time from his loss to his rejoining the group. Her also notes, briefly, some of the status of the city, exciting Alise and frustrating her, as she cannot yet reach the city. After Rapskal rejoins the other keepers, Alise and Leftrin confer about him and the implications of their arrival at Kelsingra. They plan for their futures together, short-term and longer, and Leftrin’s mind reels with possibility.

Elsewhere, Carson and Sedric confer after having attended to their dragons. Carson purposes to teach Sedric to hunt, but Sedric demurs and distracts Carson with other matters. Meanwhile, Thymara muses on her situation and confers with Tats about how matters stand. Tats voices some dissatisfaction with that status, and he asks to see Thymara’s nascent wings. She reluctantly accedes to his requests, amid which Rapskal joins them. Tats attempts to deflect Rapskal, but the latter persists in urging Thymara to develop her wings as Heeby had done, offering to help her with them. And Sintara makes a test of her own wings, surveying them and taking to the air.

Formal announcement of the betrothal of Erek and Detozi concludes the novel.

It is always a pleasure to revisit such things as the image above and the references in its caption. In a sense, it is like calling on an old friend after a time away, both having changed and both taking the time to catch up. Indeed, one of the pleasures of working on this rereading series, even if haphazardly and intermittently as has been the case for me, is in that revisiting. I see different things, I think, in each reading, and the differences in what I see are a way for me to track the differences in myself from myself. I like to think that I continue to grow in more ways than the horizontal across the years, and I believe that I can look in my journals for some of how I viewed the novel when first I read it, more than ten years ago. I do recall the delight in seeing the novel on the bookstore shelves, calling to me from between hard covers. And that much remains a pleasure, when I find it again.

Less pleasant are the overtones of the interactions among Thymara, Tats, and Rapskal in the chapter. Again, I know the latter two are adolescents, and it is inappropriate to expect adult thoughts from those whose brains are presumably not fully formed–both because of the continued development of the brain into the 20s and because of the changes being effected by the dragons on their keepers. But that does not make Tats’s impositions less impositions, and it does not make the discussion between Tats and Rapskal about Thymara less insulting, as if she is not there herself and not at least as much in command of herself as they are of themselves. Once again, Thymara is treated in a proprietary way, something that has been a problem throughout the text–and which, unfortunately, contributes to its versimilitude.

For it is the case, often, that the bodies of girls and women are not considered to be fully their own, but to be governed and in some ways owned by the boys and men with whom they must interact. Even when, as Thymara, they make such efforts toward modesty as circumstances allow, and when they make clear and explicit that they are not entertaining romantic or intimate interest, they are overridden, overruled, overborne. Such interactions as are on display in the final chapter of the novel may seem innocent enough; I certainly remember a time in my life that I would have regarded them as such. But, again, I like to think that I have grown, and part of that growth is a recognition that such things–such things as I might well have done in my younger years, perhaps, had I had the chance to do so, rather than having been stymied by my own situations–only seem innocent to the guilty.

I know that a variation on Bellisario’s Maxim or the MST3K Mantra will likely be trotted out in response to such comments. (Yes, I cite such sources. Why not?) It is “just a fantasy novel,” after all, and despite my abortive attempts to make a career of compiling insightful commentaries on it and its like, there is something silly about getting up in arms over such a work. It is a remarkable position of privilege that lets me spend my time on this kind of thing rather than having to scramble to gather together enough calories in a day that I and my family don’t die, or gathering in enough money that we have a decent place to live. I know that, and better than a great many.


The art we make reflects who and what we are. What gets put into the world reflects the artist; what gets distributed reflects understandings of broader cultures; what gets read and re-read reflects the reader. (And if it doesn’t get read or re-read, it still offers a reflection.) The novel is a novel, but the novel exists, the series exists, the very genre of novel exists because it says something to us about us and the world in which we live, even as it portrays a world distinctly not our own. Just as many will lean in towards a mirror to see if that is, in fact, a pimple beside their nose or some other blemish spreading across their cheek, I can look more closely at the text to see what flaws of mine it shows me, to see the ways in which the thing reflected is marred–or, as the case may well be and often is, to see the beauty that is there to be found.

Reading Dragon Haven again has helped recall as much to me.

Hopefully, it won’t take me so long to get through the next one!

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Small Howls Still Echo

A year later
Lives later
Daughters and sons
Sisters and brothers
Mothers and fathers
Cousins, aunts, uncles
Gone away now
Not dust in the wind but
Mesquite leaves beaten down by
Hailstones falling all too quickly
All too often

Image is still from Uvalde CISD’s “School Spirit & History” page, used for commentary.

Those who might build shelters from the storm
Take up their hammers and their Phillips-heads indeed
But what do they seek to pound on and screw
While some new La Llorona festers gestating
Ready to be born into a world made wet with obscene dripping

She will scream as she is born
And her own mother will scream
Again and again
And it may be that we have already heard the pangs of her birth
Ringing in a tritone over
Smaller cries silenced too swiftly

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 349: Dragon Haven, Chapter 19

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

After more expressed concern from Bingtown about Sedric and Alise, as well as the ongoing exchange between Detozi and Erek, the penultimate chapter of the novel, “Mud and Wings,” begins with the Tarman running aground, the waters grown too shallow to float the old liveship and no clear current emerging from searches for the same. Leftrin sourly surveys the situation, discussing things with Alise as he reviews events. Reports of Greft’s death diminish morale, and Alise notes changes in the dragons. Leftrin announces that he will make a decision in the morning, and the crew tucks in for the night.

I believe this goes here…
ThereseoftheNorth’s Thymara and Sintara on DeviantArt, used for commentary

In Alise’s quarters, Thymara and Sylvie confer, the former asking the latter to examine and tend her back. The state of Thymara’s nascent wings is detailed, and Thymara urges Sylvie to keep quiet what she has seen. Sylvie agrees to wait only a day before taking it to Bellin.

Sedric calls upon Alise as she cooks dinner and reviews her notes, asking to speak with her. Alise rehearses her reassessment of her life in Bingtown with Hest, and she brusquely agrees to hear him out. Sedric confesses more of his perfidy with Hest and the Chalcedean dragon-parts traders. Alise commiserates with Sedric about Hest, and the two reconcile.

Thymara muses over the changes going on in her body once Sylvie leaves, and she makes to confront Sintara about them. The dragon exults in the process at work in Thymara, noting that she is being made into an Elderling–and admitting that the changes were not initially intended. Some of Sintara’s insecurities emerge as she rails at Thymara, and the commotion attracts the attention of the other dragons. Mercor urges calm, Spit violence, and further upset is interrupted by the unexpected return of Heeby and Rapskal, aloft, announcing the proximity of Kelsingra.

There is much I might point out in the present chapter. It is possible, if perhaps something of a strain, to read them as mimetic of transitioning, although I am assuredly not informed enough about such things to offer any kind of insightful commentary thereabout. (I might note, however, that it seems to run athwart of other parts of the author’s work, as Roberts attests.) It is also possible, and probably a stronger argument, to read the changes the keepers are undergoing as allegories or analogies to puberty, especially given the ages of many of the keepers and the pregnancy remarked upon among them.

The puberty-reading works well in part because of structural concerns. I’ve noted before, here, that the novel has somewhat of the Bildungsoman about it; I’ve commented, also, that other parts of Hobb’s corpus have spoken to such concerns (here and here, for example). There are possibly other places I have, and there are definitely other places I likely ought to have, made such notes–and that they were available for making at other points in the corpus and in the novel means they are possible, if not likely, in the present chapter.

It has been a while since my own pubescence, as might well be imagined, and, as also might be imagined, my memories of the experience will be somewhat occluded by that time. But I do recall that much of my experience was determined by things other than my choice. Forces beyond my control acted upon me to occasion changes in my body that were confusing and distressing at the time, and I am given to understand that the process is more…intense in that regard for those born with ovaries / uteri. (Having not directly experienced as much, I must rely upon the reports others who have have made to me, but I trust those who have made such reports to me.) Teasing out any metaphor is, of course, conjectural and conditional; all metaphors fail at some point (which is good; I’ve used that failure repeatedly in the freelance work I have done). But I think I may be on some solid ground with this one.

It’s not the only reading, of course. But it is a reading, and that is good enough to get started again.

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Skewering the one in a hot time
Two going together in the split of a third
Melting into each other and
Leaving the sticky white clinging
To the lips that taste them all
Guided thence by a firm grip
Again and again and again
Something shared well with many people

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Not Burnt Out Yet

Pulling current
Rheostat rolling back slowly to
Let more power through
Shine more light as the filament
Grew more heated
More strident
More incandescent
The gassy tube more charged and pulsing
Scattering widely what it took in

Pretty neat, this one.
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Things wear out as they are used
They rot in place as they are not
And there is no preservation in the end
Nothing to keep things as they have been
Despite the desires and protests of many

The globe on the fixture has been swapped out
And it may be that the bulb does not
Cast so much as once it did
When the switch is toggled
But it still alleviates the gloom
From time to time

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