A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 59: Assassin’s Quest, Prologue

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


The novel opens with a prologue titled “The Unremembered,” in which Fitz muses about the need for purpose and the purposes of his own writing–the framing device of the trilogy of Farseer novels. It serves both to document the history of the Six Duchies as a whole and to distract him from the pangs of lingering addiction, both to the Skill and to the chemicals used to combat the aftereffects of indulging in the Skill.

https://www.theplenty.net/wiki/images/b/b7/Us-aq-original-hc.jpg
Stephen Youll’s cover art for the novel, taken from ThePlenty.net, here, and used for commentary

Fitz moves on to relate, in brief, his recollections of the events at the end of the previous novel, those of his torture and death. They beset him in dreams and waking. So does the lack of connection to his former life; having died to the world, he cannot make contact again with those he had known before. This includes the Patience and Lacey who tended his corpse and, alone, mourned him.

Fitz also notes the strain of his regard for Burrich and Chade, who exhumed him and forced him to live again. They returned him to life and humanity, but they also returned him to the burdens of obligation; not even the end of his life occasioned the end of his service to the Six Duchies.

That last is a strange idea and a compelling one. Typically, debts and vows end with the death of the one who has incurred them or sworn them. This is the case with the student loan debt that plagues me and many, many others in the United States, and it is the case with marriage vows, as traditionally framed in US English. It is also true in Hobb’s fantasy antecedents; Pippin’s vow to Denethor in Lord of the Rings (about which my friend, Luke Shelton, could say more and more eloquently) stands out as perhaps the easiest example to find.

When they do not, when they pass beyond the end of a life, they usually devolve to the obligated’s next of kin. They do not, in such cases, return to the one who incurs the obligation; indeed, dying is usually considered to be the discharge of such, at least on the individual level. For Fitz, then, to be called back from a death he incurred in service to the Farseers, only to be put back to the service of those same Farseers, seems cruel. It seems cruel even for one such as he, whose work as an assassin would seem to invite disdain and opprobrium. And though I know how matters turn out–there’s a reason it’s a reread–I still find myself wondering how much worse it can get for Fitz.

There’s also something to be made of the connection between Skill and addiction, and I ought to be able to do more of that making, given where I work. I have the sensation, though, that doing it will take more space than I can give it here–and I am trying to leave academe further behind me…

Help me celebrate New Year’s Eve?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 58: Royal Assassin, Chapter 33 and Epilogue

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


The final chapter, “Wolf Days,” opens with a comment on a centering exercise before moving into what Fitz recalls of his experiences as a wolf, inhabiting Nighteyes’s body beside him, as well as his musings about the life of a wolf, generally. He resists being summoned back to his body by Burrich, who has exhumed him and cradles the now-barely-living thing in his arms.

Snowall by solomonvolfovich on DeviantArt, here;
image used for commentary

In the brief epilogue, Fitz rehearses his situation at that point. Only Burrich and Chade know he lives. What else would have been his life is in ruins. Regal is crowned and ascends to power, and Fitz purposes to head inland, following Verity and Kettricken even as he chafes against the structures of fealty that compel him so.

It is clear that the book sets up for a sequel, as should be no surprise; a person isn’t brought back from the dead for nothing, after all. In the specifics, though, Hobb takes what would normally be a joyous event and twists it to be the traditional ending of a trilogy’s second part; the protagonist is in a terrible position, one that could be argued is worse than being dead. Then again, such a position leaves much room for improvement of circumstances. Whether the next volume offers such resolution, though, remains to be seen–at least in the reread. The book’s been out for a while, and it makes for good reading…

Given the time of year, too, there is a bit of obvious symbolism here. Fitz is presented as being something like a messiah, but not quite one. The whole dying and coming back bit is one clear motion towards that point. The resurrection being associated with the chapter number, 33, does, too. So, too, does Patience’s claiming Fitz’s body, as related in the epilogue, which echoes the Biblical report of how Jesus’s corpse is treated after crucifixion. Like many other tropes, though, the messianic one is altered and nuanced as it applies to Fitz; he is not the product of a virgin birth, nor is he yet a shining exemplar of conduct, though he does seem to be persecuted. How effective a savior he is or can be can also be argued.

I look forward to seeing such, and maybe to moving into them as the reread progresses.

It’s not too late to give!

Reflective Comments for the November 2019 Session at DeVry University

To conclude a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the July 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 135: Advanced Composition during the November 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 135 during the November 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Owing to changes imposed by the University, there was little overlap with previous sessions’ assignments and examples. Three short papers (a current event response, a claim analysis, and a case study on counterargument and rebuttal), a presentation deriving from the last of them, and an informal statement of connection between the course and careers accounted for most of the course grade. Discussion activities took up more than a third, and an online assessment took the remainder, as noted in the figure below.

November 2019 Class 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 wholly online, so no attendance was assessed. Online office hours were generally held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 25
  • Average class score: 687.88/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 289.871
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 6
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 8

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

November 2019 Grade Spread

 

As I have intimated, I do not intend to return to teaching, whether at DeVry or at another institution. I had been having doubts even prior to the session about whether I was doing any good continuing to teach and continuing to teach in the specific circumstances at the institution, though I continued to accept pay for doing so, so I did not voice those doubts quite as openly as I might otherwise have done. I understand my complicity in structures and their continuation well enough to know that I would invite more justified critique by offering my own. Some events early in the session, both in and outside the class, affirmed those doubts, and, as I compose this final report about my teaching, I know I have made the correct decision in withdrawing from the profession.

I have a number of regrets about my career in the classroom. I have had what is perhaps an unfortunate amount of time to consider those regrets, to mull over what I ought to have done better. Some things did improve in time. For others, the opposite was true; certainly, I have lost much of the joy in the work that I once felt. I have also lost the grinding necessity of continuing; I am in a much more stable place, emotionally and financially, than I have been in previous sessions. Having that stability, being able to stand firmly for a bit and take a look at my circumstances and situation, has let me see what others have likely realized for some time. Having stable footing is letting me step away–and it is time, indeed, for me to do so.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 57: Royal Assassin, Chapter 32

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

This entry needs something of a content warning for torture and suicide. Consider it given.


The penultimate chapter, “Executions,” opens with something of an encyclopedia entry regarding Burrich. It moves to Fitz failing to understand Nighteyes’s call to join him.

Dungeons by ThereseOfTheNorth on DeviantArt, here;
image used for commentary

Understanding breaks upon Fitz as he wakes to pain. He tries to release himself from his own body and into Nighteyes’s, but he cannot. Guards seize him and drag him out before Regal, who watches with mild interest, drink in hand. Will urges Regal to allow him to work on Fitz, and Regal refuses; Fitz provokes Regal, and very nearly poisons him. The toxin takes Will instead, though, and, after more brutality, Fitz is returned to his cell. Rousing himself there, he takes the dose of poison Burrich had prepared for him and lets his consciousness enter the wold while his body dies.

The chapter is a brief one, indeed, though the death of the narrating protagonist does call for the division. And Fitz does kill himself in the chapter, even if there is some…nuance to it. But it is still suicide, and it necessarily introduces the idea of when such is acceptable. Noting that the milieu is a fictional one, the mores of which differ from those prevailing around the circumstances of composition, it still seems a cold and pragmatic thing for Fitz to end himself as he does–and a mercy for Burrich to offer the specific means. The mercy fits him, though; euthanasia would be an expected duty of a stablemaster, and it is made abundantly clear that Burrich esteems the animals in his care. That he values Fitz at least so much…

Defeat is certain for Fitz in the situation. That he dies as he does, and not as Regal wills, is perhaps the only victory he can claim in the situation. It is hard to begrudge it him.

Any chance for a present?

 

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 56: Royal Assassin, Chapter 31

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

This entry needs something of a content warning for torture. Consider it given.


The next chapter, “Torture,” opens with an excerpt from a Six Duchies legend. It moves to Fitz contemplating his end in the Buckkeep dungeons. He reaches out to Nighteyes through the Wit, learning what the wolf can tell him of the events on the night of his capture. Fitz sends Nighteyes to Burrich and settles in to wait.

Related image
An image of the legend in question, from Jackie Morris, here, and used for commentary

After a time, Will pays Fitz a visit, working on him with the Skill. Fitz is able to resist the psychic assault, but he is left afraid in its wake, and he considers its implications. Later, after some fitful dozing, he is roused by Regal and his torturers, who begin their grim work upon him. Fitz ends up battered and with a broken nose in the initial session, but Regal does not get what he wants from him.

In the wake of the session, Burrich visits Fitz, seemingly drunk and angry. He reviles Fitz and spits upon him. After Burrich leaves, a hurting Fitz sees what came with the sputum: a gentle poison that Fitz takes. As he considers dying, he joins Nighteyes in the body of the wolf, speeding away over the snows.

A brief note before I go on: the legend of the Piebald Prince is something that comes up more than once in the main line of the Elderlings corpus, and it is treated at length in a novella titled The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince. It will feature in the rereading series, to be sure. But not yet.

As to the present chapter, though: Hobb does well to address the issue of torture in her work, and to address it in the way she does. (Another of her works, a story in an edited collection, addresses it differently. It, too, will get a reread series entry. Later.) Indeed, the present chapter serves as a common reference point for a fair bit of Hobb’s later work; Fitz is never fully free of his experience herein. Those more up on trauma theory than I might have more to say about the matter than I, though.

More, there is something to be noted in the fact that Regal uses the torture both as a bloody entertainment and a means to assess members of his guard; Fitz comments that he “became aware of another thing. Regal’s enjoyment. […] He watched his guard, too, noting, no doubt, which ones turned their eyes away from this sport. He used me to take their measure.” Regal’s sadism has been hinted at before; he certainly takes relish in Fitz’s earlier injuries, and he seems to delight in his late father’s pain earlier in the novel. To have it laid out, and to have it used as a rubric seems particularly depraved, and, once again, I find myself put to it not to read the chapter against the circumstances prevailing during this writing.

May I suggest making a holiday gift?

 

The Work Is Done

The work is done, or near enough,
And I will set aside that stuff
That I have carried o’er the years
And for which I have shed my tears.

No longer will I do that task;
No longer will I have to ask
Myself how I will find the will
To push the stone up that steep hill.

I will be Sisyphus no more;
I will, instead, walk out that door
But one more time, and not again
Will I through it enter in.

To other tasks, I’ll set my hand.
As for this work, let others stand
To it, perform as they would see
It done–and may they find their glee.

The work is done that I will do.
I’ve carried my part of it through,
And now I leave it without rue.

Graded paper
Image from MWSU, here, and used for commentary

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 55: Royal Assassin, Chapter 30

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


The next chapter, “Dungeons,” opens with a traditional “corrective” for the Witted. It moves on to Fitz awakening in a dungeon and assessing his situation; it is not good.

Rosemary in bloom.JPG
Rosemary, from Wikipedia; image used for commentary

Patience visits Fitz early on and, when a guard is distracted, briefs Fitz on the current situation in Buckkeep; it is not good. After Patience is escorted out, Fitz is fed, and he considers his situation further, trying to make sense of events.

The arrival of Regal and the Coastal Dukes interrupts Fitz’s musings. Regal levies charges against Fitz that he has killed by the Wit; Fitz denies them, and the Dukes demand that legal proceedings be followed. After some dickering, Regal agrees, and Fitz realizes that Regal will see him dead in his cell, that the Dukes still do not regard Regal as they ought.

After the others leave, Fitz contemplates suicide. He sleeps badly and tries in vain to hear a message Chade speaks to him. When he drowses again, he dreams of Molly, and Verity visits him through the Skill. Fitz is shaken from their conference by the arrival of Regal and a “witness” to his transformation via Wit magic. Fitz realizes that Kettricken’s young servant, Rosemary, has been Regal’s spy all along, and he despairs.

I yet again find myself trying not to read a chapter from a decades-old book against current political circumstances…but that is not new. What is new to the current chapter is the revelation that Rosemary is one of Regal’s operatives, the source of Regal’s information about the plot Fitz has headed up. In her, I am once again struck by the use of emblematic names in the Six Duchies; while Rosemary might seem a common enough feminine name to Hobb’s presumably primarily English-language readership (though I note for reason a number of translation studies done on Hobb’s works), it does serve as a usefully descriptive name for the character.

To explain, there is the bit from WebMD, here, noting that, among others, rosemary has been attributed abortifacient properties (even if not necessarily accurately; the resonance would still carry through). Rosemary is the operative whose actions led to Kettricken’s feared miscarriage, making her, in the event, an ineffective abortifacient. Too, rosemary is reported as associated with improved memory–something not unlike the conveyance of information, if within the body–and with a number of cosmetic concerns–and Regal has been demonstrated repeatedly to be particularly vain about his appearance. Further, the herb is reported to interact badly with certain seizure-causing disorders, and the lingering effects of Fitz’s being poisoned late in Assassin’s Apprentice include a tendency towards seizures (which, admittedly, seem to taper off throughout Royal Assassin, but still…), so there is another point of correspondence to be found.

It is a small thing, to be sure, and relying on a single source to provide context is far from the soundest argumentative strategy. But this is also an informal treatment, enough to suggest that more might be done–and that more attention should be paid to such details, as they can reveal much with a bit of consideration.

I appreciate anything you can send my way.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 54: Royal Assassin, Chapter 29

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


A chapter titled “Escapes and Captures” follows, opening with commentary about the historical basis for the tensions between the Coastal and Inland Duchies. It moves to gloss over the lead-up to the ceremony in which Regal is invested as King-in-Waiting. Rumors of ill portents surround the event and penetrate it as Regal crowns himself as the heir apparent to the Six Duchies’ throne.

In the wake of the formalities, Fitz realizes that the Coastal Dukes do not fear Regal as they ought to do. He makes as hasty an exit as he can from the following revelry and sets about the next phase of his plan, feeling the weight of his folly as he does so. Stealing into Shrewd’s chambers, he looks on as Kettricken, the Fool, Rosemary, and a hated attendant try to make a bit of cheer in the room without success. The attendant is dismissed, and Kettricken and Rosemary exit, leaving the Fool and Fitz to spirit Shrewd away. The old king refuses to go, however, and uses Fitz to Skill to Verity one last time.

The effort kills Shrewd, and Fitz learns that the other Skilled ones–Serene and Justin–had been leeching power from Shrewd. A clamor rises, and Fitz urges the arrived Chade to take the Fool and flee. Fitz then goes about foolish, burning revenge. While he kills Serene and Justin, he is taken in the following melee.

The present chapter refers back to comments made in previous chapters about Fitz’s self-destructive tendencies; Fitz himself asks “Did I taunt self-destruction, or did I desire it?” as he sets about his revenge for Shrewd. Given the references to Galen in the chapter and the demonstrated lingering effects of Galen’s work upon Fitz, I have to wonder if the self-destructive tendencies are themselves the ongoing work of Galen’s machinations, if they are the echoes of a Skill-suggestion or command that Fitz die. It is not the only explanation for them, of course; Fitz is an adolescent who has suffered repeated traumas and who has indulged in or been subjected to mood-altering chemicals on no few occasions, so a fair bit of recklessness is to be expected. But the idea that Galen has had a lingering effect on him fits with Fitz.

As I continue to work through the re-read–and I am surprised to realize I’ve got more than half a hundred entries in it so far, with a lot of reading left to do again–I find myself wondering about the fan communities whose edges I glimpse as I look for images to use to accompany my commentary. I wonder how much of what I see has been seen by others already and where such sayings are, if they are. I have tried to compile scholarly and related works on Hobb, of course, but I do not pretend that I have a comprehensive list, and I know better than to think that the scholarly world is the sum of insightful treatments of the Elderlings corpus. I am aware of my not-“fan” status and of the dangers fandom can present (as noted), and I wonder what I miss because of it.

I continue to thank you for your support.

 

Sample Assignment Response: Career Connection Analysis

Female Boss Gives Presentation To Team Of Young Businesswomen Meeting Around Table In Modern Office
Female Boss Gives Presentation to Team of Young Businesswomen Meeting Around Table in Modern Office from Shutterstock, used for commentary

The final assignment required of students in ENGL 135 during the November 2019 instructional session at DeVry University is a career connection analysis. For it, students are asked to compose a somewhat informal paper (formatted in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman with one-inch margins on letter-sized paper, but not requiring formal citation or most other APA apparatus) of some 500 words in length that addresses one of two prompts (quoted from University materials here):

  1. Discuss how the skills of writing, researching, presenting, working in teams, and using technological tools help you in your current role in the workplace. Which of these skills do you find most important right now? Which skills do you think will be important to you in helping you achieve future goals?

or

  1. Look up an occupation you are interested in pursuing after you graduate from DeVry. To find information on occupations, you can visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/. Search for a career you are interested in, such as software developer. Then, click on the “What They Do” tab. Compare the duties of that occupation to what you learned in this class. Which skills that you learned in this class will be most useful to you in your chosen career?

Being well past my own graduation, I cannot address the second prompt directly as given. I can, however, address the first. As such, in the interest of posting an example for my students’ use, I set up a Word document with the requisite formatting and proceeded to draft a response to the prompt. To do so, I divided the task into several short, informal sections (i.e., I stubbed out keywords to guide my drafting, but I did not put in headings, as such): my current workplace role; uses of writing, researching, presenting, working in teams, and employing technological tools; most important skills; and future-goals-related skills.

As I began drafting, I found that the first “section” occasioned only a little bit of attention; it was enough to note the position and its basic duties before moving into the details of composition-class skills I use. The rest, though, seemed to fall into place relatively easily; having taught college-level writing since 2006, I have had time to think about how the skills such classes trade in apply to the working world outside. Since leaving off the search for full-time academic work (note here, here, and elsewhere in this webspace), I have had more occasion to think about how what I have learned can continue to serve me outside the enterprise I had sought to enter. Compiling half a thousand words on the subject took little doing in light of such thinking.

Having composed the document, I looked over it for ease of reading, hoping to keep it in late high school or early college, per Flesch-Kincaid grade levels. I also looked it over for adherence to usage standards; even an informal document benefits from easy reading. That done, I rendered the document such that it can be opened by multiple operating systems, which I offer here in the reiterated hopes that it will be of use: G. Elliott Sample Career Connection Analysis.

This is the last one, perhaps ever. Send a little help to send me on my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 53: Royal Assassin, Chapter 28

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


A chapter titled “Treasons and Traitors” follows, opening with a note regarding the children of Shrewd and Desire. It moves to follow Fitz’s continued plotting to spirit Shrewd and Kettricken from Buckkeep; he confers with Burrich, not entirely comfortably. He moves then to confer with Nighteyes; man and wolf both chide him for thanking them for what they perceive as their duty.

al-norton:“Be careful in a Buckkeep castle! They say, the witted basterd still walks the halls… ”
Be Careful in Buckkeep Castle from Realm of the Elderlings on Tumblr, here; image used for commentary

Fitz moves next to Kettricken, and, after she manages to achieve privacy for them, he relays what he can of what she is to do. After, he finds himself wandering in thought, and he arrives in Verity’s chambers. Reminiscing about the man, he inadvertently makes Skill contact with him, and they confer through that medium until Verity grows aware of an interloper and breaks off the connection. Fitz soon confronts said interloper, Justin, who is joined by Serene; they depart, and Fitz continues his errands.

Fitz is distracted from them by a summons from Duke Brawndy of Bearns. Answering it, he finds himself the focus of something of a plot. Brawndy, speaking for his counterparts in Shoaks and Rippon Duchies, purposes to put Fitz forward as a regent for the child Kettricken bears. Fitz steps slightly aside from that purpose, and Branwdy offers him his fealty. He also asks Fitz to accept Celerity’s betrothal, and Fitz nearly accepts, but demurs in favor of resolving the present conflict first.

Later, Chade presses Fitz for information about the plot, clearly in high dudgeon. He reminds his protege of their rightful place and backs away from earlier concerns about Regal’s kingship, then sets aside that line of conversation in favor of returning to their plot to spirit Shrewd and Kettricken away. It is an unhappy conversation, one without much hope.

The name of Shrewd’s second wife, Queen Desire, is not newly announced in the chapter, but as I reread it this time, I was struck by the comment being offered by way of her name. I’ve noted (here, here, here, and here), as have others, that the Six Duchies tends towards emblematic names, particularly among its royal and noble houses. Given that, Desire reads as being something of an allegory of her name, the more so with the reminder at the head of the chapter that she was routinely intoxicated, and not always on alcohol, and in conjunction with the earlier notes of Desire’s…amorousness (here, for example). She is clearly given to indulging her name, and was presumably able to instill her name in others–such as Shrewd. Given how matters fall out from that relationship–it seems not to have been happy, and the fruit of it, Regal, is hardly the most pleasant of fellows–it is possible to read into the Six Duchies’ monarchy the comment that succumbing to desire or putting the enactment of desire above other concerns is the unmaking of the shrewd, as well as much else.

It is a lesson many could still stand to learn.

The holidays continue their inexorable approach; can you help me out?