A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 164: Mad Ship, Chapter 26

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

The succeeding chapter, “Compromises,” begins with Keffria and Rache working on a dress for Malta in preparation for a formal event. Malta complies willingly enough, although she chafes at their straitened circumstances. Conversation turns to Reyn and the lack of contact from the Khuprus family, and Malta finds herself obliged to consider the fact that every man on whom she has thought to rely has abandoned her when she has had need. She determines to enter the coming event, a ball at which she will be presented as a young adult, on her own; Keffria questions the propriety, but Ronica affirms the gesture.

Jek, Althea and Amber
Uncertain cabinmates…
Jek, Althea and Amber by Lalawu29 on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Althea walks the liveship docks in Bingtown, hampered by the skirt she wears as a bare concession to propriety while in town. She and the liveship Kendry confer, the ship offering to take a message to Grag Tenira along the next run up the Rain Wild River. They confer regarding the Paragon, with the Kendry remarking that the general liveships’ opinion is that the Paragon is to blame for many of the troubles that have befallen the ship.

Althea reflects upon the work done to ready the Paragon, no small amount of it driven by Amber’s influence over various sectors of the Bingtown population. She also notes that Brashen has hired a first mate of his own choosing, a brute named Lavoy, and that she has been assigned as second mate in the meantime. Amber, too, will sail aboard the Paragon, having earned the right and been assigned as the ship’s carpenter; Jek, a woman from the Six Duchies, will also join the crew. Althea considers the strange and uncomfortable circumstances, which extend to the crew, as she boards the Paragon and reports to Lavoy. He orders her to see to stowing cargo with a crew of six; she takes it for the challenge it is, and goes below, working with her crew to arrange the incoming supplies to their best effect. She assesses the crew as she works, noting problems and bright spots, and Lavoy finds himself pleased with his subordinate’s work. When, at length, Althea is done, she reports to the captain, Brashen, noting her concerns; Brashen notes his plan to address them, with Paragon putting in darkly.

In the Rain Wilds, the Khuprus family confers, with Reyn rebuked by his older brother Bendir and Jani not entirely pleased with either. Bendir comments about the family finances, occasioning sharp comments from Reyn, in turn, and Jani steps in to reassert her authority over both of her sons. Some of the source of the Paragon‘s troubles is remarked upon; the ship was built from “mixed plank,” making it inherently unstable, and the likely over-loading of the ship by the Ludluck Traders did the rest. So is the threat of piracy coming to the Rain Wild River, with the Vivacia confirmed to be in Kennit’s hands and the Ringsgold rumored to be vanished. Reyn rages against the continued depredations of the Satrap and against Bendir’s reluctance to lead resistance. Jani, surprisingly, agrees with Reyn, and plans to foment rebellion begin. Reyn also tries to argue for access to the dragon that speaks in his mind, unsuccessfully, though an arrangement is reached that allows him some freedoms in exchange for his relinquishing claim on the last remaining wizardwood log. After Reyn agrees to the terms and departs, Jani confers with Bendir, bidding him dispose of the dragon once Reyn is away.

At night, Amber confers with the anchored Paragon. The ship voices concerns about being unable to see and asks about Amber’s work on the Ophelia‘s hands. Paragon presses Amber to recarve the figurehead into a new form that can see; she is hesitant to make the attempt, fearful of working badly or doing worse, but she agrees to consider the work.

The attitude towards blame in the present chapter is of interest. Malta notes that her father’s absence may not be his fault, but it is still felt, and she must still move away from relying on others. The liveships believe the Paragon caused the problems that befell, while the Khuprus family knows some of the blame for the ship and its situation is theirs–though they do not admit to all of it. Rereading, I am put in mind of the talk of “personal responsibility” that crops up every so often, usually when there is some motion towards addressing systemic inequities that have and have had generational impacts. And I remain uncertain how best to respond to such things, although I note that 1) not everyone has the capability of choosing well and 2) a person may well choose from a menu without being the one who sets the menu. You’re not likely to get sushi at a burger joint, after all, and if you didn’t drive…

I’ve also had to replace my computer; help offset the cost so I can keep doing this for you?

A Quiet Joke in Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie

The freelance work I have noted doing (here, here, and here) has continued, as might well be expected; I continue to have bills to pay, so I am continuing to work to earn money with which to pay them, and writing lesson plans is work congenial to my skills and talents. As I write this, I am working on a lesson plan for a work of early US literature, Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, or, Early Times in the Massachusetts. I’d heard the author’s name during my graduate coursework–one of my exam areas was early American literature–but hadn’t read the book, and I have to note that I found it a largely enjoyable read.

A portrait of Sedgwick, from the 1902
Literary Pilgrimages in New England to the Homes of Famous Makers of American Literature;
I am told the image is public domain,
and I assert that it is used for commentary.

Reading to draft a lesson plan demands reading with a particular level and type of attention; writing a lesson plan demands thinking like a teacher, and for me, thinking like a teacher works in tandem with thinking like a scholar. That is, when I taught, I did so with an eye towards helping students to find their own information in the texts they read, and that meant doing the same thing, myself. Thus, as I read, I look for little puzzles in the works I read, small puzzles from which meaning can be teased out. And, because I am the person I am and I had some success with using the approach in the past, a focus of that search is on jokes and quips of one sort or another. They stand out to me in many instances–and I go hunting for them when they do not. Sometimes, the hunt takes some doing; often, it needs but little searching to find such quarry as I would pursue. Sometimes, too, it pops up unexpectedly (although I expect to see it more often than I think most people do), and such was the case for Hope Leslie as I read it.

Some of that humor, particularly the way in which it manifests in the novel, is folded into the lesson planning; it allows for focus on particular literary techniques that I think students will benefit from investigating. But I also keep in mind that I should not be doing students’ work for them, even as I used to offer models (such as this) and now continue to indulge my own interests and inclinations by drafting the occasional essay (or something like one) that addresses one of the “little puzzles” I find in a lot of what I read. Accordingly, there is (at least) one thing that I am keeping out of the lesson plan in favor of addressing it myself, and it inheres in the name of the Fletcher family dog: Argus. That name is a lovely little bit of irony, one that offers a humorous setup for the tragedy that soon after befalls the Fletchers in the novel.

The namesake is not the dog…
The image is Jacob Jordaens’s 1620 Mercury and Argus, which I am told is public domain and which is used here for commentary.

Admittedly, “early American literature” and “humor” are not necessarily closely yoked in popular conception, with the possible exceptions of Irving and Twain. Certainly, such early American literature as treats the early Puritan colonists does not tend that way; Hawthorne and Edwards are perhaps the most frequently taught authors, and their works do not lend themselves to people rolling on the floor, laughing. Even such critics as focus on humor in such works–Pascal Covici in Humor and Revelation in American Literature: The Puritan Connection, Gregg Camfield in Necessary Madness: The Humor of Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, and Michael Dunne in Calvinist Humor in American Literature offer examples–note the tendency to be taken aback by the emergence of humor within such works. Then again, popular conception does not tend to make much of early American literature–or any early literature, really, “that old shit” being something many folks avoid when they can (likely a result of having been taught it badly early on–but that’s a different discussion entirely).

Hope Leslie is not an exception to that, really. Again, I had not read the novel previously, and I sat for a doctoral comprehensive examination in early American literature (about which some information appears here and here); if even I did not read the book, it can hardly be thought that a great many of my contemporaries would have done so. Too, even the scholarship that focuses itself on the novel–which, again, I enjoyed reading; I commend said reading to others, as well–does not much treat its humor, although there are nods towards Bertha Grafton as being a focus for many of the in-character jokes made, as well as others towards comments about sexual and gender politics at work in the novel. But the extensive introductory notes Carolyn L. Karcher leaves in the edition of the book I read–the Penguin 1998–do not treat the topic of humor at all, and that despite being directed towards Karcher’s “students at Temple University, the imagined readers [she has] kept in mind while preparing the introduction and annotations,” a group that my experience suggests might well benefit from such attention, as would more general readers.

Springfield (The Simpsons) - Wikipedia
This one? Maybe…
The image is from The Simpsons Movie, hosted here, and is used for commentary.

That said, there are humorous bits to be found throughout the novel, not only those centering on Bertha Grafton and sexual and gender politics. One example of such appears relatively early in the book, in Volume I, Chapter IV. At that point in the novel–and it was originally published in 1827, so I think spoiler warnings no longer meaningfully apply–Everell Fletcher and Digby are on watch at the Fletchers’ estate, Bethel, which is at some distance away from the fortified village of Springfield and which has received some warning of an imminent attack by remaining members of the Pequod people, whom the colonists had driven nearly to extinction in a sneak attack perhaps a year earlier. They have reason to be wary, obviously, the more so because Digby had fought in the earlier conflict and therefore has direct experience with the people in question (and would himself be an appropriate target for revenge). Amid their wariness, the Fletchers’ dog, Argus, gives notice of having perceived some interloper; Everell calls off the dog, which then returns to where it had been sleeping and, presumably, to sleep.

The name derives from Argos Panoptes, the many-eyed watchman into whose keeping Hera gives the transformed Io. He is supposed to be ever-vigilant, although he is bored to death by the interloping Hermes; he is commemorated in the peacock’s tail. The character is therefore associated with watchfulness and (gaudy) splendor, making the assignment of his name to a sleepy Puritan hound something of an irony in itself, much on the level of calling a big person “Tiny.”

Part of humor, however, is in its layering of meanings that do not necessarily accord with one another. In the case of Argus in Hope Leslie, there is reason for watchfulness, as has been noted; the threat of attack is specific and imminent, and there is no mercurial figure to afflict the hound with fatal ennui. (Indeed, both Everell and Digby are commented upon as being steadfast, the latter with some aspersion). The dog therefore fails to live up to his namesake–partly, because Argos Panoptes faltered in his own vigil, if under much more compulsion than the dog. The failure adds another layer of meaning to the irony or enriches that inherent in the name.

For readers aware of that irony, who can find in it a bit of laughter, there is a break in the tension of the passage, something not unlike the porter scene in the Scottish play (with which Sedgwick appears to have been familiar, due to the inclusion of quotation from and reference to the same throughout the novel). Prior to the fleeting mention of the hound–it is named only thrice in the novel, and those three times are in close proximity in the text–those on watch are apprehensive in the night; immediately after, Everell confronts Magawisca, one of the last surviving Pequods and a servant in the Fletcher home, regarding the imminent attack; and not long after, Bethel is ravaged by Magawisca’s father and people, Everell abducted along with another, and several members of the Fletcher family killed. The irony offers a short-lived respite from the stress of events in the plot, highlighting the impact of the tragedy that follows by the juxtaposition–for at least some readers.

It is a small thing, perhaps, and in some senses, any such look at literature is a small thing. But it is of small things that the world is made, and even if it is small, a delight is still a delight.

No joke: I could stand a bit of help to keep doing this kind of thing.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 163: Mad Ship, Chapter 25

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

The next chapter, “The Launch of the Paragon,” opens with Brashen reviewing the final repairs and refitting conducted on the Paragon before the ship can be floated. He mulls over the question of disciplining the vessel, which he had discussed with Amber and Althea previously; their discussion is rehearsed. Their initial foray is also rehearsed. So is the plan for floating the ship and addressing likely further repairs. Brashen assigns Althea to monitor below-decks action; Amber will remain at the figurehead to handle the strange moodiness of the ship. That done, he signals for the plans to begin, and the ship starts to move.

That’s more like it…
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The ship is disquieted by the return to the sea; Amber works to soothe the Paragon. The ship perceives obstacles to being floated and calls them out, initially to disbelief, but soon enough to acceptance, and the work of the on-shore crew and offshore barge pull the ship out from the beach into the surf. Pumping and caulking begin in earnest. The ship is righted, exulting in being afloat again even amid the fear of unseen dangers, and secured to the work barge as timbers align, planking swells, and caulking continues. The ship’s conversation with Amber grows strained, as if Paragon is a moody boy amid the throes of puberty, and as Amber withdraws, Clef approaches and reproaches the ship.

Below decks, the pump crews are rotated. Brashen and Althea confer about progress and prospects. After, she moves off to survey the damage occasioned by re-righting the long off-kilter vessel. Berthing receives consideration, both aboard the Paragon and for the ship; Brashen purposes to put in with the other liveships, while Althea expresses concern regarding that arrangement. He acknowledges is, put means to proceed, anyway, proud captain of a ship at last.

The Paragon remains aware of what transpires on and below deck. The process of realignment continues, considered closely. The ship begins to take a peculiar pleasure in being captained once again.

The Liveship Traders series makes much of anthropomorphism, obviously. Ships speaking through the mouths carved for them, noting thoughts and feelings much like those of their crews, is a blunt instantiation of the device. The present chapter, though, seems to be a better example of it than most. Something in it rings true to me; something in the depiction of a ship exulting in returning to sailing seems somehow right to me. I know it’s silly in the sense that I should not be an affective reader, and I know it’s fraught from the perspective of a rereading that knows whereof the liveships are made in milieu. Still, I find myself thinking “Yes, that’s it!” as I read the chapter again–as I have several times elsewhere in the book and in the corpus of which it is part.

I can always use your support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 162: Mad Ship, Chapter 24

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

The succeeding chapter, “The Ringsgold,” begins with the serpents Maulkin and Shreever regarding their growing tangle. More serpents come to join them; some remain feral, some regain identities, and some languish between the two states. They confer about their progress and their needs; they also confer about “the silver provider” that has confused and assailed them. Conversation among the serpents leads to the idea that such as “the silver provider” have forgotten themselves much as many of the serpents had, and they purpose to make one such return to itself as they had to themselves.

Sea serpent.jpg
Something like this, maybe?
Woodcut from the 1555 History of the Northern Peoples by Olaus Magnus; I’m pretty sure it’s public domain.

The attempt goes poorly. Despite the serpents’ imprecations and assaults, the ship they pursue gives no sign of knowing them. The serpents drag the ship under, killing the crew–but reawakening the dragon within the wizardwood ship, which claims to speak with the voices of the dead. The ship tells what it knows of its history and the cataclysm that led to its situation. It asks to be consumed by the surrounding serpents, ended thus and freed from the torment and enslavement it has learned it suffers. The serpents oblige, and memories flood into them–including, for Shreever, memories of flight.

As before, the interludes focusing on the serpents serve to remind readers that other intelligences than human inhabit the Realm of the Elderlings’ milieu. The confirmation in the present chapter of the nature of wizardwood and the liveships is striking, perhaps, although, if memory serves, it has been amply foreshadowed by this point in the series. What it portends for the other liveships that have featured in the novels, the Vivacia and the Paragon, will be worth attention as the reread continues…

We’re still handling medical expenses and could use your help.


Crappy as the job is
A certain satisfaction springs forth
When the remains of golden showers are rinsed away
And a second course is scrubbed out
Pumice pushing the pieces away
To dribble down the drain

Not quite this nice, no.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

There are some, of course, who swiftly say
Such labors must be kept away
From the view of those who pay
And that they should not do them
But they are fools not to be heeded;
The work is worthy, and it’s needed
By all who are on that throne seated,
And pay-signers sit among them.

I know we’re not alone in facing high cost of care. Still, if you can help…

A Rumination on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Today commemorates civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States. Framed as a national day of service, the observance has been and still is fraught, with many people still objecting to it on grounds that ought not to be entertained. For while there are some problems inherent in the person, as there are in all people, and while there were and are many others involved in the continuing struggle for racial justice and for social justice more generally, the good Dr. King did and has inspired deserve commemoration and honor.

It’s an impressive installation, in fact.
Photo by Gotta Be Worth It on Pexels.com

For many, today is a day away from work. For no few, notably those working in retail, it is a day of increased demands, with some people still rushing to avail themselves of sales and specials despite the surrounding pandemic and the upheaval that has been too much on display and too little redressed, if perhaps less than other recent holidays because of those holidays and the pressing demands of the still-new year. But that seems to be the way of things, that those who are most in need of rest cannot find it, while those most in need of sober reflection and who would most benefit from doing good work in the world will not find either. I am not a scholar of Dr. King and his works, and I am trying to avoid the problems pointed out by Layla F. Saad insofar as I am able, so I would not presume to speak to “what he would think” about current circumstances. For what it is worth, I deplore them.

It is not enough, however, for me simply to note that I deplore things, or for anyone to do so. It is a useful start, yes, but those who would move forward cannot remain where they begin. My ability to do more at the moment is limited, but what I can do now, I still do, and when I have been able to do more, I have done that. It is not enough, I know, and it will not be on its own. We–and it is an amorphous we, though still too large a one–are not yet at the point where it is the content of character–evidenced by deeds and words–rather than the color of the skin that occasions judgment. Looking at what is around, I think it will be a long time until we get to that point, and some will have to be dragged every inch of the way.

I hope at least not to resist going along for that ride.

The medical expenses continue, as does appreciation for your help with them.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 161: Mad Ship, Chapter 23

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

A content warning regarding sexual assault is in order here.

The following chapter, “Consequences,” opens with Serilla rehearsing her recent circumstances. Her efforts to resist the depredations inflicted upon her had been futile, and she had been abused with seeming nonchalance by the Chalcedean captain upon whose vessel she and the Satrap had embarked.

Maybe it’s worth the paper it’s written on…
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At length, Serilla is returned to the Satrap. He is filthy and ill, and Serilla upbraids him bitterly. She contemplates killing him before he opines that his death will only occasion her total surrender to the ship’s crew. She also notes that his current political position is fragile; he is away from his seat of power, and others doubtlessly plot to place themselves upon it in his absence. When he comments that he assumes she will have to be bribed, she agrees and begins to lay out some means of securing her independence and future security, holding the Satrap’s care against his agreement to do as she bids him.

The blithe disdain Serilla reports of her Chalcedean rapist and abuser is telling, speaking to a theme present in the Liveship Traders novels and elsewhere in Hobb’s Elderlings corpus: the idea of people as property dehumanizes those who presume to hold the “property” more than those who are held. That is, those who are enslaved may be dehumanized by their conditions, but those who enslave are made even worse; the former may be pitied and should be aided, but the latter deserve no such consideration, save only (and not necessarily even) in extreme circumstances. Serilla responds to her assaults in ways that those better informed regarding trauma theory than I might more meaningfully address, but those responses are not to be scoffed at or rebuked; what should be, and in the context of the novels is, is the (largely patriarchal and misogynistic) attitude that allows for such assaults to take place. It manifests to some degree in the Haven household, as depicted in Ship of Magic, with Keffria’s husband expecting deference even in error and physically enforcing his will–only on those who could not resist the physical attack. And it is evidenced in the deplorable words of the Satrap that claim rape is no crime, since what is infinitely supplied cannot be stolen. Ultimately, it is a cowardly practice, rightly abjured even as it is still entirely too prevalent in the readers’ world–but it deserves no less rebuke and opposition outside the novel than inside.

We’ve had some medical expenses pop up; care to help with them?

A Rumination on Something Recalled from Teaching

As I was chatting online with a friend of mine–yes, I have friends–I’d mentioned some of the work I’ve been doing recently. When I did so, I noted that part of that work is in drafting multiple choice questions and the answers for them–work that is not difficult, as such, but that takes a fair bit of time to do. That part makes sense, really; drafting multiple choice questions requires composing the stem (i.e., the question), the right answer, and three or four wrong answers (distractors). The distractors additionally have to look like they could be right (with the possible exception of one, which can be included as an “obviously wrong” answer and which I often use to make some kind of joke or another). But, anyway, as I was noting the work, I recalled a story that I recounted to said friend, who suggested I write it…

Oh, this takes me back…not that I follow the advice…
Image from Gerry Everding’s “For Better Multiple-Choice Tests, Avoid Tricky Questions, Study Finds” on The Source, and used for commentary.

Back in 2009, I started teaching at a two-year technical college in Midtown Manhattan. While the main campus was just out back of Penn Station, south of the big post office, the location where I taught was further up Eighth Avenue, and I remember the wind always smacking me in the face as I rounded the corner of 57th Street to get to the door. And most of the teaching I did there and then was remedial reading and writing, working with students who had been out of schooling for a while and needed to get reoriented to it or who had dropped out of school and were working on their GEDs. Most of them were older than I was, something I’d gotten to “enjoy” the entire time I was on site at grad school, and many of them had had…strained relationships with formal education previously.

Now, my usual teaching practice at the time was still worked with what I’d learned as I was getting certified to teach high school English; within the boundaries set for me by the institution, I offered a large number of smaller assignments, rather than a small number of larger ones. Most of the time, those assignments took the form of short-answer quizzes, usually what I used to close class (i.e., lecture, discussion, and activities happened, then the quiz; students could leave once the quiz was in). I’d generally score them fairly leniently, or what I thought of as leniently, returning them to students at the next class meeting and going over answers. But since I worked from my background and expertise, and the students came from different circumstances, what I looked for and what they offered did not always line up.

As such, one group of students asked me–rather vociferously, as it happened–to give them multiple choice quizzes instead of the short-answer I’d been assigning. At the time, I was doing the preliminary research for my dissertation, which was taking a lot of time, and I was learning how to live with my then-fiancee in advance of our wedding now more than eleven years behind us, which was also taking some time. (I love you, my sweet sopapilla!) Knowing from experience even then how much time was invested in putting together multiple choice questions, I was hesitant to oblige–and I admit to no small degree of annoyance in my “youthful” arrogance. How dare these…students question my assessment methods?

Look, I know I’ve been an asshole at least as often as not. I’ve been trying to be better, but I can’t change what I’ve been.

Anyway, the students kept pressing for the multiple choice quizzes, and I finally had enough of it. My lips curled in what might have been a smile or a snarl, and I asked them if they were sure they wanted the next quiz to be multiple choice–I didn’t have time to draft one that meeting. They said “Yes” in one voice, and they repeated it when I asked again “Really? Are you really sure?” So I nodded, made a note, and moved through the rest of the class meeting as if nothing had changed.

I didn’t do anything when I got home that night; class ran until 9pm, and I had an hour commute back to the apartment. The next morning, though, after I’d gotten showered and some coffee into me, I sat down to work, drafting the quiz I’d give to my students when I saw them next. I spent a while poring over it, working in some detail from the assigned readings (one of the areas where I did not have room to change things was in the reading sequence). And when that class met again, they got to sit for the quiz. Their faces nearly lit in joy when they saw that I had, indeed, given them what they wanted; they got a multiple choice quiz. The difference between the right answer and the distractors was in comma placement and nothing else, but they got the multiple choice quiz they’d asked for.

And they got another one in the next class meeting; every answer was C. On the one that followed, every answer was C–except the second-to-last one, which was A. After that one, the students asked if they could go back to the short-answer quizzes; I was happy to oblige them.

Honestly, I should have been happier when I obliged them the first time. Getting into what amounted to a pissing contest…it’s never a good look. Years later, I find myself regretting it–as I probably should have years ago.

Help fund me so that I can stay out of the classroom?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 160: Mad Ship, Chapter 22

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

The next chapter, “A Change of Heart,” opens with Wintrow weathering the aggravated defiance of the liveship Vivacia. The ship has focused its attentions on Kennit, who has focused his on Etta, drawing the envious attention of and provoking pride in all aboard. Wintrow rehearses recent events, marking the ways in which Kennit continues to assess him. He also notes the revelation of Etta’s illiteracy and finds himself tasked with teaching Etta to read. Lessons are set to begin but are interrupted by the sight of a slaveship and the ensuing pursuit.

Vivacia design front
Something like this, perhaps, though the gun-ports are wrong…
Vivacia design front by 8Dimat8 on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

The Vivacia springs to the pursuit with a will, nearly subsuming Wintrow in her bloodlust. The Marietta joins her to take the slaver, and one of the crew of the slaver–the cook–attempts to bargain for his life with information about the hidden treasure of Igrot the Bold. Kennit takes charge of that particular situation, directing his own crew to see about cementing their hold on the ship and the disposition of the now-freed slaves. Kennit dispatches the cook, asserting repeatedly that Igrot’s crew had had no survivors, before ordering dispositions and scuttling the taken slaver.

Elsewhere, Althea meets with Grag Tenira, who seems to be comfortable in temporary exile. Althea’s path to him is noted, as are the concerns some have about her travel thither. Developments concerning Grag are also discussed; he is a wanted man with a substantial price on his head. Despite his need to depart soon, he states his love for Althea, and he asks her if she will marry him; she demurs, citing the need to reclaim the Vivacia before she can make any other major decisions. He acknowledges her choice and affirms that he will wait for her. The matter of Brashen Trell comes up between them, occasioning painful discussion that bespeaks a certain disregard by Grag for Althea’s agency. It dashes any thought she had had of a life with him, and she takes her leave.

Good Guy Greg
This guy…
Image from Know Your Meme, used for commentary.

The last passage is perhaps the most interesting. Until this point, Grag has been presented as a “good” character, and even with his failure to recognize Althea as being valid outside his understanding of gender roles, he comes across as more a benighted character than a “bad” one (such as Althea’s brother-in-law). And it is not out of line for him to want to find happiness on his own terms; the problem is that he expects Althea to defer to his views and his understandings, rather than that they will both have to accommodate each other’s. That, and the comment that because Brashen is a man, he is responsible and therefore to blame for Althea’s sexual expression, rather than Althea being in possession of her faculties and able to make her own decisions about sharing herself in such a way. As much a “good” guy as Grag might be–and “good guy Grag” does evoke some memes, even if likely unintentionally, but I read from who and what I am and where and when I have been–he suggests some problems inherent in even the “best” iterations of such systems as emerge from and reinforce strict gender dynamics. Saga Bokne has more to say on the matter, of course, and Goran Katavić’s work addresses similar concerns elsewhere in Hobb; Julia Hallgren Sanderson’s work also illuminates, and I would be happy to hear of others.

My anniversary was this past weekend; help me celebrate it?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 159: Mad Ship, Chapter 21

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

A chapter titled “Salvage” follows, beginning with work to refit the Paragon ongoing under Brashen’s watch and with his help. Progress is noted, as is the difficulty the work faces of returning the long-beached ship to the sea. So is his continued difficulty addressing his addiction to cindin. And trouble emerges as the ship lashes out, frightening the work crews such that Brashen has to resort to threats to get work to continue. They extend to the ship, itself, despite the disapproval of both Amber and Althea, who look on. The three return to work, Clef joining them, and the sullen work crew resumes its own efforts.

We’re a ways past this…
Image from electropeach’s Tumblr, here, and used for commentary.

At the Vestrit home, Malta entertains her friend, Delo Trell. The latter passes along a missive from her brother, Cerwin, and Malta muses ruefully on her current situation. The contents of Cerwin’s missive are paltry, Malta contrasting them with what she has had to learn about the family finances. She asks about how the Trells stand and gets little useful information from it; Delo reports the argument between her father and Cerwin had echoed that between him and Brashen, frightening her. Malta mulls over what her friend says, recalling more of the events of intervening days and the sacrifices the Vestrits have been making, thinking on the increasing separation between herself and her peers. Malta retires to her chamber and considers her situation further. The room grows oppressive, and she finds herself ensnared in a dream. During it, the dragon speaks to her, demanding she help persuade Reyn to help her.

As night begins to fall, Brashen calls a halt to work on the Paragon as he wrestles with his longing for Althea, considering their strained relationship. As the work crews filter away, he pores over ledgers, tallying costs ruefully. He approaches her where she confers with Amber at the aft of the ship, and the three discuss the next day’s prospects. Althea notes updates from Grag; the Teniras’ situation is not improving. Brashen’s temper gets the better of him for a bit, and he is rebuked for it. He continues, confronting Althea with what he has intuited about her truth; Althea makes a perfunctory denial, and Brashen stalks off to where Clef has a cook fire going. He and the boy speak briefly about luck.

After Brashen leaves, Althea makes to depart. She rails against Brashen to Amber, who defends the man to her, in turn. Althea admits to the woodcarver that she would like more of a relationship with Brashen, and Amber encourages her in that desire.

Brashen’s addiction to cindin has been noted at several earlier points in the Liveship Traders books, and it joins with the problems identified in carris seed and elfbark in the Farseer novels to suggest a theme in Hobb’s novels addressing the perils of substance use. (From the vantage of a rereading, I can also note that others of the Elderlings novels speak to the issue, as well.) My own perspective, coming from administering a substance abuse treatment facility, predisposes me to look for such things, as might be expected, but even without that admitted bias, the inclusion of such things–not only the drugs and their intoxicating effects, but also their sometimes lingering aftereffects –does a fair bit to reinforce the verisimilitude of Hobb’s milieu. The drugs with mystical properties have all too mundane ones, as well, or else the mystical is only an extension of the mundane; they have the same narrative effect, really.

I shall appreciate your continued support.