A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 101: Ship of Magic, Prologue

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

The prologue, titled “The Tangle,” is a short few paragraphs in length. In it, Mauklin, a leading sea-serpent, rouses the other serpents in his group–the titular tangle–to answer his dimly-perceived recollections of time and begin to migrate to some uncertain end. The other serpents are resistant, but they eventually follow, leaving shed skins behind them as they swim north.

This seems about right.
Maulkins Tangle [sic] by baccahanal on DeviantArt, used for commentary
The prologue, focusing on non-human–indeed, non-humanoid–creatures immediately differentiates the work from the earlier Farseer series; though dragons factor into the text, those shown started as humans, even if they are other than the people who read of them, and the animals that feature as Wit-bonded companions are still filtered through human perceptions. Neither applies here, however, leaving no doubt that the present series is a different thing entirely. (The lack of Asimovian encyclopedia-style entries is a subtler clue, though still worth noting.)

Symbolism in the prologue seems to be more overt than in much of the Farseer novels. Maulkin’s false eyes are noted explicitly, of course, and it is hard to miss the sloughing off of reptilian skin as a sign of leaving old ways behind. The emphasis on poisons, though, seems of interest. Maulkin emits and consumes poison to affirm his honesty; are readers to take the notion that words are potentially perilous? It would be something consistent with other work Hobb has published (if later), as I’ve noted elsewhere. That Hobb’s corpus tends to ascribe that peril to the non-human likely has some additional resonance that might be worth untangling.

More personally, the Liveship Traders series that begins with Ship of Magic was the first of Hobb’s series that I read; Ship of Magic was the first of her books that I read, one recommended to me by Gloria at Books to Share in Kerrville, Texas. I’ve been buying books at that store since 1986, taken there originally by my late maternal grandmother, who had been one of the store’s first customers. It was also the first book in a still-emerging series that I recall; it was the first one I read and hungered for more to come out–with the expectation that I would have that hunger sated.

I still have the copy of the book I bought that day; it’s the one I am reading again for this reread. I most recently previously read it while putting together my paper for the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies, which can be read here. I’ve not read it as often as I have the Farseer novels, even if I read the Liveship Traders first. I’m glad to be reading it again, though, and I look forward to this portion of the project.

Help me get going again?



I have often fretted about telling such small stories as I have lived or seen. I have wondered what right I have to relay events to such audiences as find me, to speak of others in my life, to write what I have heard and may well misremember. Occasionally, though, discussion will turn such that a story comes out, and, once it’s out, I might as well keep it that way.

Unicorn Horn Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock
Close, but not quite.
Image taken from iStock, used for commentary.

One such that recently came up hearkens back to my days in the classroom–somehow, many of my stories move that way–when I was teaching several sections of first-semester composition. It’s a common enough class for adjuncts to teach–and, whatever my “formal” title might have been, I was an adjunct, working on a term-limited contract that hinted at but never promised renewal. As happened from time to time, I had my students read a short story from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which I then devoted class time to discussing. That is, I gave them the story on a Friday, telling them that they would do well to look at some historical context for the character types in the story, and be ready to discuss it on Monday and Wednesday in advance of a writing exercise to come on the following Friday. I believe I was going to be away at a conference that day, and I needed something for them to do while I had somebody else cover my class.

One of the students, whom I’ll call Chuck(lefuck), spent the class meetings on Monday and Wednesday with his head turned to the side and his jaws flapping–a common enough occurrence, really, and easily visible in the small-but-still-overenrolled class I was teaching. Another, whose name was something like Mary, had a really good few questions when she came in, though; she’d clearly taken my recommendation to heart, which is always flattering, and she’d clearly thought about what she’d read, which is always good to see. And, when I read over and assessed the writing exercises my students had done on the Friday, I was generally pleased with what I saw; Mary earned an A or an A+, and Chuck…didn’t.

I thought nothing more about it until the next semester started. When I got back to campus–because the break between semesters was a break for me, too–I got called into the composition director’s office. Evidently, Chuck was unsatisfied with the grade he got–a D–and complained to Daddy, telling him that I had been “pushing a gay agenda” in the class and “called [him] out repeatedly” because he “stuck to his beliefs.” Daddy was a golfing buddy of the provost’s, so Daddy complained to him. The provost called my department chair, who, to his credit, reminded the provost that the institution had a grade appeal policy for a reason and invited Chuck to follow school policy.

I have the distinct impression that Chuck, faced with that invitation, wanted to decline. I also have the distinct impression that Daddy demanded he not. And I learned that Chuck talked to the composition director–I was evidently considered hostile–who denied the grade change. Chuck went to the department chair, who also denied the grade change. Chuck went to the dean, who denied the grade change. And Chuck went then to the academic appeals committee, the ostensible institutional final word on the matter.

It was at that point I became involved in the matter again; the committee summoned me to appear before it. But I was not a stranger to academic bureaucracy at that point, having already completed my doctorate and having taught at more than one school previously. I knew that, because it was an internal institutional matter, FERPA protections did not apply; they could not, with Chuck’s performance being, indeed, the very matter being discussed. So I made sure to bring copies–printed from the institution’s learning management system, through which all the students’ papers had been submitted and returned with comments–of Chuck’s work, and I dressed to impress, it still being a time when it was the seams at my shoulders that strained, rather than the seams at my waistband.

The committee called me in just after sending Chuck out of the room; again, I was evidently considered hostile to him. The members told me that Chuck had complained that his grade was issued because I was discriminating against him based on his beliefs, and that I had “made him uncomfortable” through forcing discussion of practices he found morally repugnant, namely the story “Billy and the Unicorn.”

I couldn’t help it; I laughed. And I told them what had happened with that story, that I’d assigned it as a reading to inform an in-class writing exercise, that a student–who’d looked into unicorns and noted that, historically, they are attracted to virgins–had asked if she ought to read the unicorn as homosexual, that I’d noted it as one way to regard the character, and that I’d asked the class if and how it changed their reading to look at the unicorn in that way. The members seemed to agree it was an appropriate thing for me to have done in a college classroom, and they agreed that, in a class of under twenty students, one student persistently having his head turned to the side with his jaws flapping out to be called out every now and again. And they agreed, when I presented them the copies of Chuck’s papers, including my comments on drafts and notes on final submissions that the comments had not received attention, that the student’s grade was an appropriate one.

Now, the story came up in another discussion, one involving a number of people who still teach at the college level, as well as people who have completed degrees, about student complaints. I certainly earned enough such things in my years at the front of the classroom, and it is probably for the better that I am no longer there; I was in the wrong more than once. But I was not always so.

Whether I am in this, though, I am not sure.

Support my ongoing efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 100: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 41

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

The final chapter, “The Scribe,” opens with comments about the end of the Red-Ship war that trail off, revealing themselves to be in Fitz’s retrospective hand. His “current” circumstances are noted; he and Nighteyes have been joined by a foundling, Mishap, brought to them by Starling on one of her irregular visits to where man and wolf have made a quiet, lonely life for themselves, and taught by Fitz as best as he is able.

An apt enough image, really.
FitzChivalry by Calealdarone on DeviantArt, used for commentary

How others in the narrative fare also receives attention. Patience has taken over Tradeford, which has become an agricultural hub. Burrich and Molly live well, having had more children together and started breeding horses. Kettricken was delivered of a prince, Dutiful, who seems to be growing well if solemnly. Chade has emerged into the public eye and seems to be enjoying it greatly.; he is the subject of Starling’s major work, with which she is pleased.

The Fool was delivered to Buckkeep by Girl-on-a-Dragon, who joined the work of the other roused dragons against the Red Ships. He did not remain long, but fled.

As for Fitz, he and Nighteyes spent years wandering before returning to Buck Duchy and taking up residence near Forge. Fitz cannot help but reach out with the Skill, despondently, and he continues to take drugs to number himself to that pain. And, as the text ends, he and Nighteyes dream of carving dragons.

I wish I could take credit for having had the foresight to plan things such that the end of the book–the end of the Farseer trilogy–and the first hundred entries of this rereading series coincide as they do. It was pure chance, however; I am not prudent enough to undertake such planning, as my efforts at fiction attest. That is not to say I am not pleased by the coincidence, but it is only that.

As I read the chapter again, I find myself once again feeling contented. The ending reads as satisfying, even as it does set up more material for more work to come; Dutiful’s reign and the Fool’s flight both foretell works following them, the which Hobb delivers and to which I will turn soon enough. (I am going to take the holiday weekend off, however.) But the sense that the world continues after the events of the novel adds to the verisimilitude that marks so much of Hobb’s work; even in apocalyptic situations, things continue afterward, and the apocalypse seems to have been averted for the Six Duchies. Nor is it the case that things are always happy and pleasant for those who work toward such ends, as my day-job shows me all too clearly, and the fact that Fitz endures, largely alone, wracked by his competing addictions, while not necessarily comfortable, seems more true than would be the case if he returned so quickly to glory and honor as other novels might have had him do.

The project is not the “Farseer Reread,” though, but the “Robin Hobb Rereading,” and there are more works, not only in the Elderlings corpus, but outside it. Next, I’ll start in on the Liveship Traders novels–after Memorial Day, which I plan to spend with family. But it’ll only be a short break, after all…

Could you help me mark the Monday holiday?

Softer Stone

Though limestone shows its pores and bares its faults
Far more than marble
It is not less fair
Holding in itself rainbows for those who care to look
And promising in its slow-carved curves
Wrought with more detail by more patient hand than can be easily envisioned
More life
Showing lives that have been spent within it
And bearing the waters of life that is now
And that is yet to come
And holding in itself potential knowledge that
Schoolchildren can unlock
Cladding itself in colors of its own accord
Carrying for a time upon itself the sunset sky or sunrise
And feeding multitudes from its nooks and crannies
And that is far better than a statue’s stone
A more imposing edifice than carved columns

Season creek with water flowing and algae around the edges
Image from TPWD, here, so it should be public domain…

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 99: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 40

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

The penultimate chapter, “Regal,” opens with “The Catalyst comes to change all things” before moving to Fitz and Nighteyes wearily surveying the aftermath of the dragons’ battle. As they consider what to do next, they find Will, still alive though near to death. Fitz delves into him through the Skill, seeking his connection to Regal so he can make one final attempt on the man.

The image fits, even if the book is wrong.
Assassin’s Apprentice by DiKra on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Fitz finds Regal numbed by drugs against pain and tremors and raging in jealousy at Verity. Fitz Skills into Regal, then returns to his own body. There, he keeps vigil over Will until the other man dies. And after, Fitz and Nighteyes begin to wander.

He reports what he perceives of the efforts Verity and the other dragons undertake against the Red-Ship Raiders and the islands of their homes. Kettricken and Starling are delivered safely to Buckkeep, where Patience greets them. Then Verity goes out to face his foes in person, devastating them with the fury of his attacks before the other wakened dragons join him in an orgy of destruction that continues into the fall.

Regal, notably, lends his full aid and support to Kettricken, enacting many favorable changes as he steps aside in favor of her and Verity’s heir whom she carries. And he dies from an attack by a large rat soon after.

Honestly, the present chapter seems a good enough place to end the book. The major plot-lines are completed, the peace of the Six Duchies appears to be restored, and a time of rebuilding is promised. Were it a more “normal” fantasy novel, that might well be the end of it–but Fitz is not a “normal” fantasy protagonist, as I have argued in more than one place, and so it makes sense that another ending might be in order.

If I look at the novel as belonging to the Tolkienian tradition, though, I find that Fitz overlaps a bit with Frodo in the chapter. He appears to renounce (specific forms of) violence, and he steps aside from acclaim rather than seeking what could well be called his due. It is not an exact parallel, of course; it could hardly be expected to be so. But it does offer a nice little touchstone back to the prevailing fantasy tradition in which Hobb writes (with differences, certainly). And that is not the least helpful of things.

It’ll help me if you send a little my way.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 98: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 39

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

The following chapter, “Verity’s Dragon,” opens with a note about the mistakes made in Tradeford’s dealings with the Red-Ship Raiders. It moves thence to Verity kissing Kettricken goodbye, making ready to enter his dragon along with Kettle. There is a final conference about what is to follow; Verity will return Kettricken to Buckkeep, Starling accompanying her, while Fitz and Nighteyes remain apart. Fitz knows he cannot risk returning to Buck, having already been executed once. The Fool obstinately determines to remain with Fitz, as well, though Fitz is suspicious of the Fool’s reasons.

It’s a good look. Verity-as-Dragonby John Howe, from The Plenty, here, and used for commentary

Farewells made, Verity and Kettle enter the dragon. The dragon wakes, rises, and takes Kettricken and Starling on its back before speeding off to Buck. Fitz watches them go, then misses the Fool, who has gone to Girl-on-a-Dragon. The Fool realizes the impossibility of waking that unfinished statue and agrees to help Fitz pack for a return to Jhaampe. Fitz makes to retrieve pack animals, only to be informed by Nighteyes that they are under attack.

Burl assails the Fool, and Nighteyes assails Burl in turn. Spilling the blood and calling through the Wit awaken Girl-on-a-Dragon at last, carrying the Fool away as Burl dies. And Will attacks Fitz, in turn, Regal guiding him and summoning the strength of additional coteries of Skill-users to help press the attack on Fitz in anticipation of carving his own dragons to become the savior of the Six Duchies and the conqueror of the Mountain Kingdom–and other lands yet. More soldiers join the fracas, and Girl-on-a-Dragon returns to assail Regal’s forces.

Will flees, and Fitz and Nighteyes take the opportunity provided by the dragon’s return to stake out a likely avenue of further flight. Their stakeout is rewarded; they intercept but do not stop Will as he makes to flee through a Skill-pillar, and they are dragged along with him. Melee resumes, and Fitz and Nighteyes hold their own admirably, but they soon reach their limits.

Again, though, blood and the work of the Wit awaken one of the carved dragons, which acts towards Fitz and Nighteyes as a hunter in the same group. Fitz and Nighteyes realize the trigger for the dragons’ awakening, and they rush to rouse the other dragons, marshaling them to their aid and Verity’s. They send the Fool, still astride Girl-on-a-Dragon, to lead the others to Verity and remain behind where the dragons had been.

The end of the book is fast approaching at this point, and it makes sense that matters would seem to rush towards completion therefore. Fitz does seem to do better in the fight than would be expected, especially given the injuries described and the tendency earlier in the novel to have him suffer from his wounds. Adrenaline and the strange workings of multiple magics may be accepted as explanations, however; dragons awakening and consuming life more directly than as food has to have some other effects that might well not be noticed in the moment and ill-remembered afterwards.

And I had something I was going to write, but it escapes me at the moment…

I could still use your help to keep doing this.


A Reflection on #Kzoo2020 from an #AcademicExpatriate

Were this year a normal year, I would be posting now about my experience at the International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ve done so once or twice before, I know, and I’ve commented about papers I’ve delivered there, such as this one. The Congress has its problems, as I think I’ve noted and as I know many others have written about far more eloquently and at greater length than I have it in me do do, but it also remains one of the few places where I can be part of a broader scholarly discourse, having sharply limited access to journals and the other paraphernalia of contemporary scholarly work.

And there are these glorious accommodations, too!
Picture mine.

This year, due to COVID-19, the Congress did not meet. I am fortunate in that I was able to get most of the money I’d laid out to attend back; the rest is bound up in other things, and I do not expect to see it again. I am fortunate that the business meeting I was to chair was able to move online and do what needed doing. I suppose that I am fortunate in that I ended up not needing to write the papers I was going to have to write for the event and that I had not started when I needed to get them going; my sloth will not out in quite the same way as would have been the case had I tried to talk once again. (Obviously, I am admitting to it here, but telling doesn’t have nearly the same impact as showing, right?) Too, I was home for my mother’s birthday and for Mothers’ Day for the first time in many years, which is the kind of thing that should be celebrated.

But–and it should have been clear that a “but” was coming–I do miss the opportunity to hear new ideas pushed forward by people who have not yet been so ground down by the drudgery of academe that they cannot see farther than a single step in front of them. I miss getting to see friends I’ve known for ten years and more, now, and to enjoying their company again. I do miss getting to get up and advance my own ideas and see them taken up for consideration by others, to hear them discussed and debated; I miss feeling like I still matter in some small way inside the ivory tower I so long sought to enter and from which I had to make an escape because I knew I would never be let out of its basement. And I miss the power I felt in pulling together ideas, in making new knowledge–even about so small a thing as a series of fantasy novels or a particular kind of bullshit in something Spenser wrote–and, in so doing, pushing back against the boundaries of human ignorance, clearing out just a little bit more room for what we know against what we still have to learn.

I still have the chance, of course. I can use this blog to that end, and it is expected that the Congress will happen in 2021–and that I might well be able to attend it. But that good things are still to come does not mean it is wrong to sorrow for such good as was lost.

Help me save up for next year?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 97: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 38

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

The following chapter, “Verity’s Bargain,” begins in a note regarding the inland Duchies’ experience of the Red-Ship raids before moving into the party facing an end to their efforts and lives. Fitz contemplates their mortality before dozing off.

Ah, for such quiet nights, but such are not to be…
Fitz, Nighteyes, and the Fool by Lady Frickinda onDeviantArt, used for commentary

He is wakened by Verity looming over him. Fitz accompanies his king to confer about possible next steps, and Fitz volunteers to give himself over utterly in exchange for a final vision of Molly. Verity reluctantly agrees, and Fitz sees Molly tend to Burrich before the two confess their acceptance of Fitz’s death and their mutual love. Then Verity takes Fitz.

It is not what Fitz had expected. Rather than pulling his life from him to put it into the dragon, Verity exchanges bodies with Fitz, who hobbles around in the older man’s form. Nighteyes inquires after the event, and the Fool greets him, taking a bit to recognize him. Once again, the Fool is drawn towards the statue of a girl on a dragon, on which he has been working as Verity and Kettle have on their dragon. Fitz gives some of his pain and memory to the same, earning successive remarks and rebuke from the Fool, Nighteyes, and Kettle. The last quickly recognizes what Fitz has done for Verity and commends him for it.

After, Verity returns to Fitz, and the two consider each other before Verity puts them back in their right bodies. They confer, Verity noting that Kettricken will bear his heir and the Farseer line be preserved. He moves off to consider what he has been able to recall, while Fitz makes to wash. In the wake of it, Starling approaches him. She reiterates her offer from before, and, after some hesitation, he accepts it.

In the wake of their intimacy, Nighteyes reminds Starling of the Wit-bond as they make to return to the group to quicken Verity’s dragon.

It is clear that the book is hastening towards its end and the trilogy’s in the present chapter. Similarly clear is the setup for a sequel series; engendering an heir, particularly through magical means, portends more to come. And the narrative function is far from opaque, as well; the chapter reads like a pause before a headlong rush into other action, not setup for Freytag’s climax–that is long past, both in the book and in the trilogy–but rather a juxtaposition of contemplation and gentler humanity with much less pleasant, much less human and humane things to come.

Because there are, after all, still foes on approach, as well as a greater threat that is treated in the Asimov-invoking chapters’ openings and that still needs to be addressed. The Raiders are yet raiding, and stopping them was the whole point of Verity’s expedition and the sacrifice he is making…

Throw a little bit my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 96: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 37

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

The next chapter, “Feeding the Dragon,” opens with a note about the progress of the Red-Ship raids against the Six Duchies, with raids striking into the central regions of the kingdom while few troops remained to repel them. It continues with Verity and Fitz returning to the party, which has anxiously awaited them. Nighteyes exults in Fitz’s return and in being able to convey need to Kettricken. Kettle reveals that Verity had taken her to the Skill-river to enhance her power, at which Fitz grows jealous and protests his treatment.

The Fool’s fixation…
Girl on a Dragon by Crooty on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Reports of events and findings are exchanged, and the party deploys itself in response to the new information. Fitz tries to get more information from Verity and Kettle about the dragon, and they answer as they are able, but words do not suffice, and Skilling is too perilous in the circumstances to attempt. Kettle does note to Fitz, though, that Verity refuses to give him to the dragon, despite Fitz’s offer and Verity’s ability.

Less comfortably for Fitz, she also notes to him that he does have memories of his mother, despite his protestations. She also notes to him that Molly is beyond his reach, now, and ever after, the time in their lives when they could have loved as they did having passed. Fitz grows angry with the news and moves to confront Verity, who takes the anger from him and puts it into the dragon. Fitz is left with a better understanding of things in the wake of it. Verity also thanks Fitz for helping him to feel again, to have food for the dragon he carves with Kettle.

Stymied, Fitz retires for the night. The next day, he hunts with little success with Nighteyes and Kettricken, though they fish successfully. After, realizing that Verity has stopped work, Fitz rushes to his king’s side, the rest of the party joining. But though the carving is done, the dragon does not quicken, and Verity despairs. He and Kettle soon fall to sleep, exhausted by their work, leaving Fitz and the others to tend to them.

The comments in the present chapter about the insufficiency of words are interesting to read, coming from an author, whose craft depends entirely on the appropriate arrangement of words. Hobb writes in other places about the importance of getting words right, as I have discussed elsewhere, so it is perhaps surprising to have the admission that words are not enough.

But that it is a surprise does not mean it is untrue, of course. Words are slippery, for one thing. Back when I had students to teach and thought I could do well at that work, I would talk with them about such things, looking at the word “blue” and noting the many meanings it has even when restricted to color. That there is so much variation in so simple a word shows that there is space within words as between them, and much lingers in those spaces.

And there is this, too: Hobb writes in a milieu that admits of forces and powers not present in the readers’ world. We who read her work do not have access to the phenomena at work in the Six Duchies; we do not have the experience of things that would allow us to understand words that fit them. It works well, thus, that there are not words given for what happens.

Help me give the mothers in my life a good weekend?

Additional Thoughts on Writing

I am aware that I have only recently discussed my writing amid my writing,so it may well be too soon to talk about it more. But I have been having trouble doing writing, so it has been much on my mind as the COVID-19 panic persists. And as I have been trying to get myself back to doing the kind of writing I need to be doing–daily, really, and not only in the pages of my journal–I have been falling back on something of a standby, not only for me, but for a great many writers.

Yep, this is the kind of thing I’m trying to do.
Image from Roman de la Rose in the National Library of Wales via Wikipedia; I am assured it is public domain.


Yes, I know it’s an abrupt shift, and probably not one that speaks well of my writerly skill. But that does not mean that there is not a lot of writing about sex; even a casual glance about affirms it. And some of my own writing treats the subject; indeed, it was to that topic I turned to get myself writing again. Doing so, of course, induced me to wonder why.

There are easy reasons, of course. I am libidinous, probably far more than is good for me, certainly far more than I am comfortable detailing here. It’s an easy topic for me to turn to, and it’s often with easy things that work starts. I imagine it’s much the same for others, though I would not presume to speak for them, but I cannot think that the perceived association between creative endeavor and (sometimes illicit) sexuality has no basis in fact.

Too, I have the thought that sex is an accessible topic for many people. I am well aware that not all readers are motivated by sexual desire, and that even those who may be are not as apt to indulge that motivation as I am (yes, I do tend to look for sex in works, and I have suggested that the students I have had do so, as well, when they asked me where to start delving into texts in those receding days when I was trusted to guide learning), but it remains an open avenue of inquiry for them, even so. Sex sells, after all, and the mercantile nature of contemporary popular culture tends towards making everything transactional; if getting people to buy pervades such zeitgeist as is, and sex pervades getting people to buy things, then it follows sex will pervade the zeitgeist–insofar as that goes.

What all this means is, of course, open to more interpretation than I am equipped to provide. And I acknowledge that an awful lot of what I write and what others write is more onanistic than elsewise, though I hold it no sin to be so, in keyboard work or in the lives that surround it.

Nothing special today, just a hope you can help out.