A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 28: Royal Assassin, Chapter 3

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

The third chapter in the novel, “Renewing Ties,” opens with a description of an old scroll detailing the encounter of the early Six Duchies ruler, King Wisdom, and the Elderlings after which the overall series takes its name. It moves to Fitz going back out into Buckkeep Castle before he finds himself drawn to a tower room to which Verity has summoned him via the Skill. The two of them confer frankly and surprisingly openly, and Verity seems to have great affection for his bastard nephew.

Image result for verity farseer
An image described as of Verity, used for commentary.
Source unknown to me; information will be welcome.

When Fitz leaves Verity, Lacey, Patience’s maid, finds him and bustles him to her lady. Patience quizzes Fitz randomly, and he begins to suffer again from the lingering effects of the poison that had been used upon him. Patience recognizes his infirmity and sends him off to rest–and he encounters Molly along the way. He is initially buoyed by the encounter, but as he elicits information from her, he finds himself rebuked for his seeming drunkenness and for the many lies he had told and allowed, and he learns that matters have been poor for her family. She leaves him despairing of his infatuation with her, and he staggers back to his room to sleep.

Again, I find myself reading affectively, sympathizing with the folly of an adolescent boy trying to make sense of lust and love at once, and I have to think that that correspondence informed my early regard for the novels; when I first read the Farseer books, I did so much closer to my own adolescence than I am now (though some might say I still need to grow up), and I was not much more adept than Fitz in such matters, if I was at all. It is as good a reason as any to start to make a fuller study of something, and better than most.

There are parts of me, even now that I am largely out of academe–I’ve given up the search for an academic job, and I’m not teaching in the current session at the one school where I do still get to stand in front of a classroom–that clamor for me to make some kind of insightful, scholarly comment about the chapter. And I could tease out something about, perhaps, a suggestion of something between Charim and Verity like that I have suggested lay between Burrich and Chivalry in the imagined past of the novel, or I could point out that Hobb subtly signals the ultimately untenable nature of chivalry through reflecting on Chivalry when Fitz’s eyes meet Patience’s and “She nodded slowly, accepting the lie [Fitz had told] as necessary, and looked aside. [Fitz] wondered how many times [his] father had told her similar lies. What did it cost her to nod?” Neither would be wrong, exactly, and either might be fodder for a short piece of commentary that might well be worth doing. So might a bit linking what happens in the chapter to more of the foreshadowing that is itself a common theme in the series of novels; looking ahead only to find later that such peerings were correct is something of a motif in the main Elderlings novels, perhaps the dominant one. (I’d have to do more work on that, though.)

At another time, I will have such things to write. I hope you will continue to read them.

I’d love to have your support.

Reflective Comments for the July 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the May 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of ENGL 112: Composition during the July 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 112 during the July 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. While there was some overlap with previous iterations of the course in terms of the assignments requested, there was not congruity; the later assignments differed from previous practice. Three papers (a profile, a rhetorical analysis, and a “persuasive” paper) and a presentation deriving from the final paper accounted for the majority of the grade; discussion activities accounted for more than a third, and a quiz over APA guidelines occupied the remainder, as presented in the figure below:

ENGL 112 Assignment Spread

Point values sum to 1,000.

Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.

The section met in a hybrid on-live session on Wednesdays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 18
  • Average class score: 762.222/1000 (C)
    • Standard deviation: 158.91
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 5
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 1

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

ENGL 112 Grade Spread

Since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to assess attendance. Most students in the section missed at least one class meeting; some missed quite a few more, as indicated below (with the figure being classes missed, students missing that many classes, and percentage of students falling into that category):

ENGL 112 Rptd Absences

This session has been one of the better ones I’ve had in the past few years. Although live attendance could have been better, the students who did attend were more engaged than many I have had in my classrooms since leaving New York City, and student engagement in discussion threads was quite robust. I think it directly ties to the quality of the work I received from students in the class; many of the papers and presentations I got were good ones, if perhaps not the most adventurous. (I note that many students took a “safe” route in their final two major assignments, but with as many as were in their first session at DeVry, if not in college, generally, I cannot be justly annoyed at it.) It is the kind of thing I continue to hope to see when I take on a new set of students, and I am particularly happy to have gotten it this time around.

The thing is, the fact of having good students does not do much to help me further develop my skills as a teacher. Working with good students is easy; they do most of the work, needing only limited guidance. In the kind of lock-step curriculum in place at DeVry, there is not the flexibility to challenge further those students who show themselves able to do more, and while I have worked to reward those who have done that more, there is only so much I can do within the constraints within which I must operate to keep working. The same offers have been and will continue to be open to any students who seek to avail themselves thereof, but I am still not sure how to get more students to take me up on them. It is something I clearly need to continue to work on.

As ever, I am glad to have had another opportunity to put to work those skills I spent years developing. I am less happy that the September 2019 session does not have me teaching–but I look forward to future sessions that will.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 27: Royal Assassin, Chapter 2

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

The next chapter, “The Homecoming,” reflects briefly on the founding of Buckkeep before moving to gloss the progress made by Fitz, Burrich, and the stableboy Hands from the Mountain Kingdom back to Buckkeep. It is a wintry journey and slower than might be hoped, the more so because Fitz’s condition impedes their travel. Too, when they lay over in an inland town, Burrich and Hands hear much of the disgruntlement about the continuing threat of the Raiders and the appreciation the people seem to have for Regal; Burrich takes the opportunity to caution Fitz that his uncle still hates him and will have him killed if he can.

Buckkeep at night by Winterkeep
Buckkeep at Night, by Winterkeep on DeviantArt.com, used for commentary

At length, Fitz and his party return to Buckkeep, where they are challenged by the gate guard. After a bit of banter, they are recognized and admitted, and Burrich has to caution Fitz again about returning to his subordinate place as a bastard princeling in a place where people care about such things. Fitz accedes to the wisdom, if with difficulty, as well as to the wisdom of allowing others to do for him what his condition prevents him from doing well. And after, when Fitz makes to report to King Shrewd and King-in-Waiting Verity, he is turned away by both and muses on the changes that have occurred while he was away and with the arrival of others before him.

The device of using rumors heard in passing through a town to gloss over events is a good one; exposition is often a difficult thing to do well, though it is also necessary, so any adept handling of it is good to see. But it is not as good as the depiction of the strange tensions of adolescence that Hobb depicts in Fitz; I am not so old that I do not recall the awkwardness of my own teenage years, though they were far less eventful for me than Fitz’s are for him, and I find myself reading affectively again as I sympathize utterly with a young man who, having had a taste of being something more, chafes at being returned to older, more constraining patterns. And I sympathize, too, with the desire to be open with someone, only to have that openness set aside–gently, perhaps, as Burrich does with Fitz, but still put aside. I have a person with whom I can be so open now, and I revel in it, but I recall not being able to do so. Again, though, it’s an affective reading, and something I ought to know better than to do.

Except that the idea that any would “know better” than to allow themselves to be moved by a character in a story is a strange one. To do the work of literary study, it is necessary to be able to remove reader from text to some degree, just as a physician must be able to look at the flesh of a patient as a thing apart from a person to some degree. Yet the physician who does not engage the patient’s humanity is decried, and rightly; no scholar, no practitioner, does well to separate the humane wholly. Acknowledging it is needed, yes, but ignoring it is certainly not.

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