A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 26: Royal Assassin, Chapter 1

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

The first chapter, “Siltbay,” opens with an in-milieu reflection on the position of King/Queen-in-Waiting, which serves the Six Duchies much as the role of Prince of Wales serves the UK or Dauphin served the French monarchy; attention is paid to the holders of the title under Shrewd. It moves into a Skill-vision, with Fitz occupying Shrewd and learning both of the attack on the place in the chapter’s title and what it truly feels like to be an old man. He observes as Shrewd reasserts himself and issues orders to send aid to Siltbay; when the old man turns his attention to Fitz in his mind, their connection is broken, and Fitz makes to return to Buckkeep.

The Fool and King Shrewd by Crooty
Crooty’s The Fool and King Shrewd on DeviantArt, used for commentary

There is a bit of annoyance in the chapter–not because of what it shows, because the descriptions are well written and finely balanced, and they offer a useful musing on the status of the conflict in which the Six Duchies finds itself. No, the annoyance comes at the whiplash attitude in it. At the end of the prologue, Fitz had been ready to retire from the world; what is, in effect, a nightmare, if one “real” in showing what “is” in the milieu, turns Fitz around. It reads as hurried, somehow, something of a deus ex machina, and if there is antecedent for such in the tradition from which Hobb borrows for the novels as a whole (about which there is some discussion here), that does not mean it is the most desirable thing to see in the present text.

A sense of being rushed is something I have noted in others of Hobb’s works (this and this offer some short discussions thereof; there are others). I think it attracts my attention because I like Hobb’s writing as much as I do (and it should be clear I do; I spent the time doing a master’s thesis on her work, as well as presenting any number of papers on her writing and buying copies as circumstances have permitted across decades–and such projects as the present one). I want it to be without flaw, and so when I see something that I have to regard as being less than it could be, I cannot help but mark it. But that failing is mine, not that of the author whose work I have spent most time reading and writing about. (I think; I’ve not logged hours, but I’ve certainly written on Hobb more than I have Asimov or Tolkien, who are the two most likely competitors.)

A failing that will not be mine will be an end to the rereading before I have finished it. As I’ve noted, the reading I’m doing now is slower than I’m accustomed to doing, but that it is slower does not mean I am going to be giving up on it.

It’d still be nice to have you chip in to help support this.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 28 August 2019

For the final meeting of the session, discussion opened by noting the availability of evaluations and the looming end of the session (31 August 2019). It moved thence to treat questions from the previous class meeting and earlier before looking at others’ presentations to offer critique and addressing final assignment concerns.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 18 students enrolled, a decline of one since the last class meeting; seven attended live online or onsite. Student participation was good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the the rhetorical strategies presentation, of which a sample is available here, is due before the end of day Saturday, 31 August 2019.

Grading will be finalized shortly after the session ends, with reflective comments to follow after.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 25: Royal Assassin, Prologue

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

The second of the Farseer books, Royal Assassin, opens with a brief prologue, unlike Assassin’s Apprentice. In the prologue, titled “Dreams and Awakenings,” Fitz considers (in retrospect) various magics known to the Six Duchies. He notes both that magical knowledge tends to be transmitted orally and that it requires an inborn predilection for practice. He passes on to further consideration of the authority to treat a topic in writing, musing on it for a while before shifting topics again.

Michael Whelan’s cover art for Royal Assassin, which graces the copy of the novel I own and is hosted on the artist’s Tumblr page; it is used here for commentary.

Fitz’s narration shifts to consider his continuing admiration for Molly, and he comments at some length about his work as the apprentice assassin for the Duchies, quietly working for the betterment of the Kingdom through performance of heinous deeds. And he arrives at his status following the end of Assassin’s Apprentice: recovering slowly and shakily in Jhaampe from being poisoned and abused, to his annoyance. He is not eased when Burrich notes the difficulty in treating him, though in their conversation, he begins to reappraise the man who might as well be his foster-father. And, amid fits caused by the lingering injuries and damage from the poison, Fitz makes to order Burrich back to Buckkeep before finally falling into sleep.

The prologue serves as an interesting way to recapitulate the events of the first novel in the series for the benefit of those who might be picking up Royal Assassin before reading Assassin’s Apprentice–while not reading as a dreadfully dull repetition to those who have moved directly into the new novel from the last one. It also does admirably to lay out the beginning state of affairs for the still-young FitzChivalry, while offering in its initial retrospection an assurance that Fitz will outlast the events of the novel. That is important because of the novel’s position in its series; it is the second book in a trilogy, traditionally the member of a trilogy that positions the protagonist in the worse possible position. But Fitz will survive, readers are assured.

Of additional note is the bit of philosophical musing Fitz advances in the first few paragraphs of the prologue, those presented as being the work of his pen as he writes in times in the novel’s future and those following close after, when he muses to himself and not upon the in-milieu page about what right he has to document traditions in which he does not take part–particularly when his right to attest in writing to those of his own experiences is in question. Some irony could well be read into writers voicing, even through fictional characters, a reluctance to write about topics at some remove from themselves, or arrogance could be read into it, since such a stance implies that authors believe themselves to be experts in the areas upon which their writing touches. It is not as if Hobb does not make other comments about the craft of writing in her work, as I’ve noted before, so it does not come as a surprise to see such comments in the earlier parts of her corpus, even if how to interpret them may not be entirely clear.

Can I count on your support?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 24: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 24 and Epilogue

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

The final chapter, “The Aftermath,” opens with a description of a tapestry in Jhaampe that serves as a sort of call-ahead to later novels. It then moves to a gloss of the fallout from the previous chapter’s events, focusing on the beginnings of Fitz’s recovery and Burrich’s. What happened to August receives note, as does Regal’s behavior that glossed over all his misdeeds.

FitzChivalrySketch by MonsieArts
FitChivalry Sketch, by MonsieArts on DeviantArt
Image used for commentary.

Fitz recovers but slowly, and with difficulty, and Burrich accompanies him as he returns at length to Buckkeep. Matters seem to be improving there, with Galen dead and Kettricken’s presence enlivening things. And Fitz notes that it was Nosy who saved him from the pools, dying from the effort of it. He was a good dog.

In the following epilogue, Fitz returns to his narrative present–the novel has been recounted in an informed retrospective–to consider his lingering pains and condition. A boy in his keeping is noted, as is a friend with a quiet voice, whose “No” is the last word in the novel.

Most of the chapter is denouement and setup for the next volume; the epilogue is more or less all setup for later work. There’s not necessarily much to comment upon in either–but it is a good time to reflect on the experience of re-reading.

I welcome comments from my own readers, of course; I benefit from the work of others, and I try to acknowledge all of it I receive. (Check the embedded links and other citations in my work, please!) I know that the rereading has been a different thing for me; I’ve not usually read things in the way I’ve read the novel and plan to read the rest of them for this project. Reading for pleasure, I plow through novels, often chewing though hundreds of pages in a few hours before I recall that I am me and that I have a body that has needs that must be answered. Reading for scholarly work, I thumb through pages at high speed, seeking out tag phrases I recall or notes I’ve made in margins–when I’ve made them, which I’ve not always done–to develop the arguments I mean to make. Both are, if not rushed, intense and speedy things.

By contrast, the rereading has been a slower thing. I’ve proceeded a chapter at a time, pausing between each to write the gloss and to offer the reflections I have about what I’ve read. Sometimes, I begin to move to more scholarly activity, although generally informally; I’m not bound to any one style guide here, but have tended to embed links and move on. I have been trying to restrict myself to materials readily available; as I write this, I do still have some institutional access, but I know well that many of my readers will not, and I have no desire to exclude them. (Academic publishing is also a racket, but that’s a set of comments for another time and place entirely.) I’m sure it’s come across as vain or cute at times, but this is also ultimately a vanity project, not in support of a scholarly career as the project that inspired this is. So there’s that.

It’s been enjoyable for me so far, though, and I hope it’s been a pleasure for others, as well. I’ll be moving on to the next book in the sequence, Royal Assassin, soon; I hope you’ll come along with me!

Last chapter in this novel, though there’re more to come. Help me bridge the gap!

Class Report: ENGL 112, 21 August 2019

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion remarked upon student surveys being available. It then turned to concerns of presentation, in anticipation of the final assignment for the course.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 19 students enrolled, a decline of two since the last class meeting; seven attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonable. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 25 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Presentation Experiences (five posts or equivalent)
  • Discussion: Presentation Peer Review (five posts or equivalent)

Students are urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies presentation, due at the end of the session. (A sample is available here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

Sample Assignment Response: Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Presentation

Typing Monkey GIF - Typing Monkey GIFs
Hopefully, it goes better.
Image: “Typing Monkey GIF” from Tenor.com

Another of the assignments students in ENGL 112 are asked to do in the July 2019 session, following a course redesign, is a “persuasive” presentation that derives from the earlier “persuasive” essay. The presentation should be five to seven minutes in length, containing five to seven slides (possibly more, if the references list is particularly long), and should provide a summary and breakdown of the earlier essay. Following previous practice, I propose to provide a more targeted one for the current session–the more so because the assignment is new to my experience of the present course (though I have examples relevant to other courses on hand).

To draft the presentation, I knew I would need to work from the materials I have previously developed, so I opened my saved copy of the earlier essay. That ready to hand, I did a reverse outline of it, noting how much space I allocated to which components of the paper (excluding cover page and references list, which take a prescribed length and “as long as they need,” respectively). Doing so showed me with an introduction, three points that take up approximately 206 words each, a final point that takes close to 400 words to develop, and a conclusion, plus references. That leaves me seven slides’ worth of material, possibly eight due to the length of my references list. Knowing I need to observe length guidelines and that the introduction slide cannot be the same as the introduction of the paper (the slide needs to reflect the cover page, with an overview slide that glosses the introduction to the paper), I knew I could not simply bring over the points as presented.

With two slides at the beginning and at least one at the end already reserved, I knew I had two or three slides to make my points. Normally, this would mean I would make two or three points only, out of the four available; generally, one slide takes one point. From my outline, though, I knew I had one point that outweighed the rest, and by a large margin. I figured that that point would get a slide of its own, reflecting its importance. The other three could be glossed together, perhaps in one slide, compressing them to effect. I would be able to touch on all of my points while emphasizing the importance of the most pertinent, while still allowing myself room to expand if I needed it.

A rough plan in place to put together the presentation, I opened a PowerPoint template I’ve long had for use in this webspace; it’s colored and formatted such that it lines up with the materials I present here, coming off as of a piece with them and helping me to present my work in a unified manner that increases my perceived professionalism, thus ethos. I saved it as my working project so that I could find it again at need and began to stub out the slides I knew I would need. Some adjustments needed making to keep my formatting consistent, which happens; one exception was the References list, which I allowed to auto-format in the interest of compressing the information. The slide can be looked at in isolation and at larger magnification, if needed, so its legibility amid the presentation is less of an issue than it might otherwise be.

Presentations rely on graphics to make their point, and I had not generated graphics in drafting the essay from which the presentation derives. I was obliged, then, to do so, rather than to use decorative graphics such as the GIF at the top of this blog entry; presentation graphics need to be informative rather than entertaining. I tend to use Excel to do so, finding the program useful for converting numbers to figures and setting them up appropriately. As I developed each graphic, I inserted it into the appropriate slide; the graphics take precedence over any text, so I placed them with the intent to insert text around them. I also inserted text-box captions, as appropriate. Too, I made sure to save my work with each adjustment; I’ve lost too many projects not to do so.

With the graphics in place, I inserted the text I wanted to have present. Reading straight from slides is far from ideal; the text on slides should serve as a set of guideposts for speaker and audience, rather than as a script. I placed the text with that principle in mind, moving swiftly to bullet out my ideas. Owing to my background, I did draft complete sentences for my text, but that need not always be the case, as long as what is presented conforms to the usage standards expected by an audience working in the field the presentation treats.

The text in place, it came time to record audio for the presentation. Moving slide by slide, I recorded short audio pieces to embed in each slide, saving after doing each; again, I’ve lost projects, and I have no desire to repeat the experience. I did not read straight from my preceding paper, though I had it ready for review; instead, I extemporized from each of the sections I had identified in the reverse outline, making sure to note my sources of support in my narration (in addition to where they appear in the presentation’s text already). Because I want my audience to engage with the presentation, rather than passively receive it, I made sure the audio does not automatically play; I placed audio icons consistently in the slides to ease access.

All that done, I reviewed my work, making adjustments I saw as needed to bring the presentation in line with stated requirements as nearly as I could determine. With that done, I put the presentation–which I hope is helpful–where my students and others can get it: G. Elliott Sample Presentation July 2019. It is a PowerPoint file, so it has to be opened with that program or a similar one…

I continue to appreciate support for drafting better teaching materials.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 23: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 23

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

The penultimate chapter, “The Wedding,” opens with only a brief blurb about Shrewd’s approach to diplomacy and Verity’s adherence to that approach. It moves swiftly into Fitz’s assessment of his situation and his conversation with Burrich about it. Burrich notices the earring Patience had given Fitz and is taken aback by it.

Regal, the Mountwell Prince by Mimi-Evelyn
Regal, the Mountwell Prince, by Mimi-Evelyn on DeviantArt
Image used for commentary.

They are joined suddenly by Jonqui, whom they initially resist but shortly come to follow back into Jhaampe, where they find that Fitz’s room has been ransacked; Fitz realizes his store of poisons has been taken. They gather strength while Fitz frets over Verity; August arrives to deliver messages as he is commanded to do. After the Farseer cousin departs, Burrich attempts to offer Fitz his own strength through the Skill, to no avail.

After, Fitz and Burrich answer the summons that Regal had issued them, reporting to him in the hot springs that serve Jhaampe for baths. There, Burrich is incapacitated, and Regal gloats over Fitz as he tips his bastard half-nephew into a hot tub to drown. As Fitz flounders, he reflexively reaches out for Verity with the Skill, finding Galen coming to siphon his life away; Fitz, able through the slackness that precedes final surrender, offers Verity his own strength. Verity takes it, killing Galen as Galen had thought to kill him, and working powerfully through the Skill to leave August a message for Regal and to solemnize his marriage to Kettricken before he slams Fitz back into himself.

The chapter again motions towards the homoerotic relationship between Chvalry and Burrich that has received attention in this series already (here, for example). Burrich’s reaction to the earring–noting that it was a thing with which Patience, Chivalry’s widow, should not have meddled–reads less as a servant/master thing and more a thing between people particularly close. Given Melville’s comments about queerness in the novels at large, as well as Prater’s, Sanderson’s, and others’, it should not be surprising to find other suggestions of intimate relationships that transgress the “expected” dynamics of fantasy fiction in the Realm of the Elderlings novels.

The chapter also strikes a strange point of correspondence with generic expectations in offering Regal’s gloating as he makes to subdue Fitz in the baths. I have noted some of Regal’s more “normally” evil tendencies before, and I recall a 2007 course paper I wrote treating antagonist oration of the kind Regal indulges in in the chapter; in the paper (and I cringe at some of the writing I did then, but I think the idea is reasonably good), I argue that such narrations “permit character explication, in-text tactical movement, narrative pacing, and reader catharsis and return.” That is, they help show more of the character involved, allow time to move to more advantageous positions, provide a sort of lull between bouts of more intense action, and allow readers to come back to the text refreshed. Regal’s narration serves such functions, certainly, and his actions end up facilitating the undoing of his and his half-brother’s plans–fitting the trope neatly and reminding readers that Hobb continues to work with the dominant Tolkienian tradition of fantasy literature.

The next one’s the last one–in this novel. Help me bridge the gap!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 22: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 22

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

A chapter titled “Dilemmas” follows, opening with Fitz recounting a dream of the Fool and returning swiftly to Fitz puzzling out how he can resolve the situation in which he has found himself. He turns to his cousin, August, prevailing upon him to send through the Skill to Shrewd for direction. August reluctantly accedes, or appears to, but Fitz is left with no clearer sense of what to do.

Image result for strychnine poisoning
A dilemma, indeed, such poisonings…
I am given to understand it’s a public domain image, but I’m having trouble tracking the source; any ideas?

The ceremonies that bind Kettricken to Verity continue through the day. Amid them, Fitz observes August and Regal, and he determines that they discuss his own mission, which gives him unease. It has not lifted by the time he reports to Regal’s chambers as he had been bidden. Regal does not speak with him directly, but has his attendant provide Fitz directions and materials before sending him on his way.

Fitz, somewhat addled by chemicals, proceeds. He confers briefly with Kettricken, then goes to Rurisk, laying out what he knows of the continuing plot against him. Kettricken arrives in time to see Regal’s own plot come out; he has arranged for Rurisk to be poisoned independently, with Fitz poised to take the blame for it. In the ensuing fracas, Fitz kills an assailant but is taken, himself.

Fitz wakes to find Regal gloating over him. He soon passes into a drugged delirium in which he hears voices conferring through the Skill and becomes aware through the Wit of Nosy’s grief at Rurisk’s death. The old hound helps Fitz out of his bindings, and Burrich, following the Wit that he admits being able to sense, helps Fitz leave his captivity.

One thing that the chapter does well, among the many things that Hobb’s writing generally does well, is convey the notion of the narrative world existing outside the main narrative. Fitz becomes aware that there are plots involving him that he does not know about, and their presentation makes clear that they have been long in the making. It has a strangely decentering effect on Fitz. The narrative of the novel is recounted from his perspective, informed by commentaries appearing at the beginning of each chapter, so it makes sense that it focuses on him, but the present chapter makes clear that Fitz is far from the only actor in the milieu–and far from the most effective, in the present circumstance.

Tolkienian-tradition fantasy fiction usually focuses on characters who are themselves the most important people within their milieu. Frodo and Aragorn are the key figures at the end of Tolkien’s Third Age; Rand al’Thor is, in effect, the messiah of his own world; Ged becomes the de facto ruler of Earthsea, at least for a time. FitzChivalry Farseer, though, at least in the present novel, is but one piece among many in play on the board, and, in the present chapter, he seems to have been played badly.

We’re coming up on the end of one and the start of another. Help me bridge the gap!

Class Report: ENGL 112, 14 August 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion returned to concerns of citation, which had been brushed against during the previous week’s meeting. It then treated some common concerns of usage noted from student papers and suggested by students during the meeting.

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 CDT in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus; the class was broadcast online, and a recording will be made available soon. The class roster listed 21 students enrolled, unchanged since the last class meeting; eight attended live online or onsite. Student participation was reasonable. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 18 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Integrating Research in APA Style (five posts or equivalent)
  • Rhetorical Strategies Persuasive Essay (in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format, please)

Students are urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies presentation, due at the end of the session. (A sample will be made available for student reference soon.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 21: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 21

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

The next chapter, “Princes,” opens with only a brief comment on the virtues of a particular herb. It moves thence to Rurisk breaking in upon Fitz in pleasant surprise that he yet lives. He lays out that Kettricken had thought to poison him before he could poison Rurisk, and that any attempted assassination plot against him now would be fruitless. Rurisk gives Fitz a message to take to Shrewd before collecting himself and Kettricken and departing.

Carry Me, Phyllanthus amarus, in an image from Wikimedia Commons, used for commentary

Fitz rests before attending more of the ceremonies marking the nuptials and the diplomacy attendant upon them. Amid them, Rurisk takes Fitz aside to show him the pride of his hunting dogs, and Fitz recognizes Nosy. Fitz make the time to speak to Burrich about the matter, laying out some of the old strain between them, but there is little reconciliation.

That night, Fitz is summoned by Regal. His uncle, drunk, demands a report on the progress towards killing Rurisk; Fitz demurs, and Regal voices discontent that things are not moving more swiftly. He commands Fitz to return to him on the next day, when he will be provided what he needs.

The herb named in the blurb at the beginning of the chapter, carryme, evokes the Phyllanthus amarus. There is some scholarship treating the herb, as witness this and this, among others. Medicinal properties and uses (including pain management) are ascribed to it, as are potentially damaging effects, which would seem to align with the introductory blurb, at least generally. And that is in keeping with Hobb’s stated desire for verisimilitude, though an interesting quirk does arise.

I’ve made the argument that Hobb’s Six Duchies echo the North American pre-invasion more neatly than the European medieval, and I’ve used the flora and fauna described in the Realm of the Elderlings as parts of that argument. Raccoons, for example, come in. The thing is, the Phyllanthus amarus is, so far as I can tell, native to southern Asia–though I will readily admit my investigation into it has been limited. (This is a volunteer project, after all; I cannot afford to spend too much time on it.) And it seems to prefer tropical and subtropical climates rather than the colder weathers of the Mountain Kingdom.

The plant’s presence in the narrative illustrates the dangers of looking for too much in the way of real-world correspondence in fantasy fiction–or any fiction, really. It is fiction because it does not have to be true in the sense of giving a factually accurate report of places and events. It often is true in other senses, usually revelatory of some kind of inner reality or guiding principle, but that truth takes teasing out of the sort that many abjure, being accustomed to having others do the work of thinking for them.

Do please help me keep doing this kind of work.