The next chapter, “Galen,” opens with a brief discussion of the eponymous character’s background. It moves thence to gloss over the progress Fitz and Patience make with one another before Fitz’s Skill lessons begin. Fitz also notes his time with Molly, citing it as pleasant and helpful.
The night before his lessons begin, Fitz is summoned by Burrich. The stablemaster cautions Fitz about Galen and reminds him that his use of the Wit may well be revealed by the Skill. He relates a story of Galen having accused a girl of the Wit, having beaten her to death, and having it proven acceptable by way of the Witness Stones.
The next morning sees Fitz report for instruction. The other students, including one of his legitimate cousins–August–are noted, and Galen, upon his entrance, is described in detail. It is not a pleasant description, and Galen soon demonstrates himself to be an unpleasant person, more than a strict taskmaster and desirous of total control over his students’ lives.
Training begins and continues harshly, abusively. Fitz finds himself on the receiving end of the cruelty more than once. The Fool offers him some help with Smithy and a cryptic warning as the chapter ends.
A few things stand out for me in this reading, appearing below in no particular order:
- There is a clear implication from the initial background information and from earlier materials in the novel that Galen is himself a bastard and a royal one, the illegitimate child of Shrewd’s second queen and one of her staff. It makes the comments about bastards, particularly Farseer bastards, being denied training in the Skill all the more ironic. Fitz wears his bastardy openly; he can hardly not. Galen’s is hidden, and he perhaps overcompensates for that in his treatment of Fitz–although trying to assess the psychology of a fictional character is not perhaps the most apt thing.
- In the present chapter, there is also reinforcement of the implications of a closer relationship between Burrich and Chivalry. As Burrich seeks to warn Fitz of the threat Galen poses, he speaks of loving the late King-in-Waiting–and of Galen’s obsession with Chivalry. The connection between the stablemaster and Fitz’s father seems to be set in the same mode as that of Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, but that relationship is also frequently read as homoerotic. (A 2004 issue of Modern Fiction Studies addresses the matter, for example, as do any number of other scholarly works.) So that is of interest.
- The Witness Stones emerge as being of note in the present chapter. They are seen as a site offering divine, final justice for those who pleased their cases before them. They play larger roles later in the novel and throughout the Realm of the Elderlings corpus, but having them noted as they are offers yet more foreshadowing, following along with one of the major themes of Hobb’s series.
- Galen’s name invites comment. Though it does not function as such within the milieu, it does evoke a figure revered in medieval European conceptions of antiquity; it contributes to the medievalism that invites reading the Six Duchies as a refiguring of medieval northwestern Europe in the Tolkienian tradition, though other readings remain far better. Hobb’s Galen is no healer, certainly; the opposite is true, offering another bit of irony in the character. He does pass on stagnant teachings, though, which offers at least some point of correspondence.