A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 78: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 19

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

The chapter treated for this post, “Pursuit,” opens with a passage glossing the military situation between the Six Duchies and the Mountain Kingdom as Fitz made his way towards Verity. It moves thence to Fitz conferring with Starling and Kettle as they flee from the burned ruins of Moonseye. Fitz sends the women ahead of himself, which Kettle recognizes as him drawing away pursuit from them to him. Starling is not so sanguine about the matter as they part.

A pivotal scene in the present chapter…
Bastard Hunt
by ThereseOfTheNorth on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary

Fitz and Nighteyes move away, and Fitz ensures that he will be Regal’s sole focus for some time by Skilling openly and brazenly in the night. As he does, he finds Burl in the Skill, being tortured therewith through the efforts of Will and Carrod–while Regal observes with glee. Fitz opines about the depravity of his uncle, then lashes out brutally through the Skill. When he is next aware, Nighteyes is near frantic with fear at what Fitz has done, and the two make a slow pace as they flee for Jhaampe.

As they go, Fitz considers his situation again and the likely welcome he will receive from Kettricken, whom he believes to be in Jhaampe. Implications of news of his survival are unpleasant, and he considers bypassing the Mountain Kingdom’s capital–but rejects the idea as untenable for several reasons. His ruminations are interrupted by an encounter with a party of Regal’s soldiers that spots and pursues him–aided by one of the Old Blood. Fitz and Nighteyes flee, with the wolf working to distract the hunters from the slower-moving Fitz. It is not successful; the Old Blood hunter is wise to the deception, cornering Fitz and shooting him in the back with an arrow as Fitz tries to climb to safety.

Nighteyes pulls Fitz up the last bit of his climb, and their flight continues–slower now that Fitz has been shot. He begins, almost reflexively, to transfer his consciousness back into the wolf, but Nighteyes rejects him, and Fitz starts at what he had tried to do. When they achieve some distance from pursuit, Fitz tries to treat his injury. It is difficult, painful work, ultimately unsuccessful; Nighteyes ultimately snaps off the shaft of the arrow, leaving the head in Fitz. And still they must move on.

The thing that stands out to me as I read the chapter again is the juxtaposition of the shock at one of the Old Blood turning on Fitz and the relatively little attention the Old Blood receives in the pursuit. Yes, he is the one to wound Fitz, but he remains largely faceless and utterly nameless in the chapter despite his key role in inflicting yet another wound on the protagonist. Are readers to take it as passe that a member of an oppressed group would turn that group’s talents to the oppressor’s ends? If so, it is a subtle bit of commentary that seems all the more biting for being presented as off-handedly as seems to be the case here.

Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!

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A Rumination on Sousa

Today is a holiday for band nerds–and I remain one, “unapologetic if inept” as my Twitter bio has it–across the United States, a punning reference to John Philip Sousa. Noted for his martial music–and so appropriately celebrated on March Fo(u)rth–he remains a presence in the repertoires and award-walls of bands nearly a hundred years after his death, as well as providing a welcome opportunity to inflict a bad joke on people annually.

The man himself.
Painting of Sousa by Capolino at the Library of Congress, here, which I think makes it a public domain image

I do not need to go into much detail about the man; his biography is easily accessible and written by better writers than I. Nor do I need to wax eloquent about his music; it is widespread and, again, easily accessible. Playing it remains a standard practice for concert bands and others, and it is certainly challenging enough to do, not only in its more famous iterations, but in the less-played pieces, as well.

I have to wonder at a people, though, who made the man and his work so popular. Thinking on it from the perspective of my own time, I am confused that marches would capture so much popular imagination–but I have written to that effect before, and what I noted then remains true. I do not know who benefits and how from the continuation of Sousa’s legacy in schools and in such ceremonial culture as the United States retains–diminishing as it is against the various influences upon it (and not without justice, though that is a discussion for another time). Someone must, obviously, or it wouldn’t be suffered to stay in place, even as much as it has.

Charts ain’t cheap; help?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 77: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 18

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

The next chapter, “Moonseye,” opens with a brief note about Moonseye’s position and its history with Chivalry Farseer. It moves thence to Fitz and the others’ conveyance to the titular location. Fitz makes contact with Nighteyes through the Wit, and they reassure each other of their lives and relative safety. Nighteyes also shows Fitz an incoming attack; when it falls, it is family of the betrayed smugglers coming to rescue their kin.

Definitely the kind of thing to give pause.
Nighteyes by Alcine on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary.

After the attack, Fitz is guarded more closely, and he describes Moonseye as he reaches it in custody. His incarceration is also described, and Fitz assesses his situation. He also tries to work on his captors, meeting limited success with that or with finding an escape option. Nighteyes has more success, however, and he informs Fitz of fires beginning in the town.

As the fire spreads, Nighteyes takes the opportunity to make himself known to Fitz’s captors. They flee, and Nighteyes pursues, retrieving the key to Fitz’s cell as Starling arrives to aid Fitz. They make their escape from the burning town into the bitter cold, where they join Kettle. Starling relays the status of the earlier party to Fitz as they flee, and Fitz shivers from more than the cold.

Through Fitz, Hobb lampshades the cyclical nature of the heroic journeys that pervade Tolkienian-tradition fantasy fiction. Bilbo returns to the Shire, as do Frodo and Sam, and Fitz returns to Moonseye, site of his earliest memories. In some sense, he has returned home, though he feels no real connection to the place. But, as with the earlier examples, the place he has returned to has changed–and not necessarily for the better. The Shire to which Bilbo returns has assumed he is dead (not without cause, admittedly) and begun despoiling his possessions. The Shire to which Frodo and Sam return is treated far worse, laid largely to waste and the depredations of outside forces. At Fitz’s involuntary return, Moonseye is more like the latter than the former, with troops loyal to Regal imposing their will far outside what should be the confines of the law. It is not the most comforting touchstone connecting Hobb to her literary forebears, but it is one that lines up relatively well with them.

Too, each of Tolkien’s Ringbearers moves on from the Shire. Bilbo retires to Rivendell before going with Frodo into the West. Sam joins them later. Fitz is similarly bound for other places–coincidentally, perhaps, a mountainous west. It is such things that push readings of Hobb towards the Tolkienian model; there are correspondences to be found, certainly, and I’ve written to that effect before. A closer examination of the parallels specifically to Tolkien, rather than to the amorphously European / English settings of Tolkienian fantasy literatures generally might be warranted–but that is yet another project for another time.

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