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 soon.

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 enxt 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.

A Brief Note of Apology

As happens every so often, other stuff has popped up for me. In attending to it, I’ve not been able to attend to this webspace (or a couple of others) as I would prefer to do. Rather than push out work that doesn’t meet (my admittedly low) standards, I’m pushing back a bit. I’m still working on the Robin Hobb Reread, and I mean to have my next bit of it pop out on Monday, 12 August 2019. Today, though, I’ve not got it ready.

I apologize for the lapse.

Class Report: ENGL 112, 7 August 2019

Following the address of questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to concerns of research, including the environments of writing and publication, before addressing upcoming assignments.

Class met as scheduled, if with some interruptions, 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, a decline of two since the last class meeting; nine attended live online or onsite. Student participation was good. No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that the following are due before the end of day Sunday, 11 August 2019:

  • Discussion: Beginning Research (five posts or equivalent)
  • APA Quiz

Students are still urged to be at work on the rhetorical strategies essay, due at the end of Week 6. (A sample is available for student reference here.) Working on it longer will allow for better results.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 20: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 20

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

A chapter titled “Jhaampe” follows. It opens with a blurb from a fragment that Fitz swiftly after reports reading later on. It proceeds to Fitz’s first impressions and description of the city itself, as well as the awkwardness of the entrance of the Six Duchies party into it. They end up being carried into the city, at which Fitz chafes.

Robin Hobb: Jhaampe by Starsong-Studio
Robin Hobb: Jhaampe by Starsong Studio on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Fitz does what he can to make the best of the situation, studying the surroundings with clear delight and practicing what he knows of the local language. It attracts the attention of Jonqui, with whom he converses, if haltingly, along the way.

He and the rest of the Six Duchies party are shown into the main hall of Jhaampe, which Fitz describes amid an inner lament for how exposed he will be as he attempts to carry out his assigned work. The ruler of the Mountain Kingdom and his children, Rurisk and Kettricken, are introduced, and Fitz realizes to his chagrin that such royal family as the Mountain Kingdom has has tended to him and those he accompanied.

Gifts are exchanged, and Fitz, to his surprise, finds himself presented to the Mountain royals. Rurisk notes his grief at Chivalry’s death, and the two talk briefly of Fitz’s father. Kettricken interrupts with questions about his training as a poisoner, which greatly unsettles Fitz, before leading him out into the gardens surrounding the royal hall. The two converse reasonably amiably, and Fitz takes the chance to speak well of Verity as he had been asked. Kettricken lays bare that Regal has been creating poor impressions of Verity and of Fitz in the lead-up to the nuptials. Fitz pleads misunderstanding her words, and she makes to re-explain when she is summoned away.

It is not long afterwards that Fitz becomes aware of having been poisoned. He takes such corrective measures as he can after the fact, with no small regret, but he survives–and looks forward with unease to what will come next.

A thought occurs as I reread the chapter and look at Starsong Studio’s art, above. One of the things that promotes bright colors in nature is the presence of poison. Monarch butterflies, for example, are noxious eating–and signal it by their bright colors. Any number of species of frogs do the same, as do no few sea creatures. Even many of the flowers Fitz compares Jhaampe’s buildings to are themselves toxic. Looking back on the beginning of the chapter after reading the end, the appearance of the town foreshadows its peril for Fitz. It is perhaps a subtle thing, but that does not detract from the quality of the writing; instead, it increases it that the foreshadowing is subtle.

Something else that calls attention to itself is the strange misunderstanding of the Six Duchies party’s entry into Jhaampe. Being carried in litters or palanquins can be seen as an indication of status; it seems the Six Duchies party, generally, regards it so. But it is also, as is noted in the chapter, a thing done for those whose mobility is limited–and the appearance of incapacity, however inaccurate, can be damaging. What other signs are interpreted in such ways as to cause confusion make for interesting investigation…

A new school year starts soon; help me buy supplies, please!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 19: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 19

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

The chapter that follows, “Journey,” opens with an in-milieu reflection on the general history and politics of the Mountain Kingdom, whence Verity’s chosen bride, Kettricken, hails. It is a harsh land with harsh ways that work well for it, if not for other places.

Image of the Fool’s Room by Anya Elvidge, used for commentary

The chapter moves on to summarize the state of the Six Duchies–which is increasingly bad. Red-Ship raids and Forgings continue, with people carrying poison to kill themselves rather than being Forged. Discontent with Shrewd’s policies grows, both among the people and among the Dukes, themselves, with a schism growing between the coastal and inland Duchies. Shrewd seeks to quiet unrest with the royal wedding, and details of its arrangements–Regal traveling to Jhaampe, the seat of the Mountain Kingdom, to pledge for Verity, and Kettricken pledging at Buckkeep later–are noted. Galen leaves Buckkeep with Regal, stopping orr in an inland Duchy, and Fitz finds himself at something of a loss.

To ease it, Fitz seeks the Fool, looking for him in his private chamber. The chamber is described in detail, as is its strange effect upon Fitz. So is the later summons Fitz receives from Chade. During their conference, Fitz asks Chade after his assignment to kill Rurisk; uncomfortable silence falls, broken by Chade’s note that Verity has interceded with Shrewd on Fitz’s behalf. Chade reminds Fitz that all are expendable against the need of the Six Duchies.

The next morning, Patience summons Fitz. He responds as bidden, and, after a brief and confusing exchange, Patience pierces his ear with an earring that had been Chivalry’s. She reminds him of his heritage and sends him off.

The following day sees Fitz line up for his part in the caravan to Jhaampe. The Fool offers him a purgative and a warning, and Fitz apologizes for having intruded into the Fool’s chamber. Fitz also receives new clothing for the journey, complete with a new crest assigned by Verity. Verity himself charges Fitz to speak well of him, and Fitz finds several of Regal’s men, Burrich, and Verity’s cousin, August, in the procession, as well.

Fitz glosses the progress of the caravan towards Jhaampe, noting its comforting familiarity. He also mulls over his coming mission. At length, the caravan is greeted by people from the Mountain Kingdom and sped in happiness to Jhaampe.

There is something a bit colonialist in the opening description of the Mountain Kingdom, an attitude that tacitly contributes to Tolkienian-tradition readings of the Elderlings corpus. Looking at a more itinerant people’s ways as “quaintly barbaric” speaks of an ethnocentrism that lines up with entirely too much of observed history. The reluctance of several members of the caravan to associate with the Mountain folks when they arrive at the Kingdom speaks similarly. It’s something I had not noticed in earlier readings of the novel, but something that comes across to me as I read now, and I think it speaks to some of the social changes that have marked nearly twenty-five years that the novel’s been in print and the personal changes of some twenty years of my reading it.

I wonder what will change in the next twenty to twenty-five.

A/C’s expensive. Help me pay for it?