A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 139: Mad Ship, Chapter 1

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

There is discussion of suicide in what follows.


The first chapter, “The Mad Ship,” begins with the titular ship, the Paragon, sitting sullenly on the beach where he has been left over the past decades, trying to stonewall Amber as she cooks and tries to converse with him. She pleads with him for help, relating her endeavors to save him and the stern response she got from his owner, Amis Ludluck. Amber also notes that the Ludlucks appear to be ready to have the ship towed away and dismantled.

Mad Ship, the - PlentyWiki
The cover of the edition I’m reading
Image taken from ThePlenty.net,
used for commentary

The Paragon‘s resolve breaks at the comments, and he finds himself asking Amber if she will visit him when he is taken away. He then asks her to help him die in flame rather than face a dismemberment that may well leave him alive, voicing suicidal ideation that shocks Amber. She asks him what the likely plan to take him would be, and he answers. Both of them pine for friends not present, and the ship seems to prepare for an imminent end.

The Ludluck name is repeated in the chapter–it has occurred before, but it seems to be something of a focus in the present selection. Knowing that Hobb has a penchant for emblematic names in the Liveship Traders novels (as witness here, here, and here, among others that can be found), it seems fit to look for something in a repeated name. The “luck” part of “Ludluck” is clear enough; the “lud” part, however, bears a bit of inquiry. Collins reports it as being either an informal rendering of “lord” in judicial proceedings or, previously, “an exclamation of dismay or surprise.” Taken together, the components render the family name as “bad fortune” or “unexpected fortune.”

The former seems to be the more pertinent in the present chapter. There is much about which to feel dismay for Amber and for the Paragon, knowing that an unpleasant end may well be coming at the hands of those who should protect the ship, and considering whether being hacked apart or burned away is better is hardly the happiest discussion.

That discussion does point towards something worth considering, both in the present work and in the genre more generally: logical conclusions. The differences between the narrative milieu and the readerly have their immediate, observed effects, to be certain–but there would necessarily be other effects that are not necessarily evident. How magic might shape social structures differently than they appear in the “real” world is one example of them. Another, touched on by the discussion between woodcarver and ship, is the different effects of violence on different types of thinking things. The preceding novel makes clear that a liveship absorbs the emotions and thoughts of its surroundings (something treated also in Fitz, here and here), and the present discussion suggests that there are yet darker things involved in the lives of the liveships.

It is something to watch for as the novels continue.

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2 thoughts on “A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 139: Mad Ship, Chapter 1

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