A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 190: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 11

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

The chapter that follows, “Bodies and Souls,” begins with Wintrow considering his convalescence as he hobbles across the deck of the Vivacia towards the figurehead. There, he confers with the ship, confronting the dragon-personality that has ascended to the fore, and a tense exchange between the two ensues. Wintrow realizes his mind and heart are divided, and he he skeptical of the dragon’s desire to have him leave the ship. Etta joins the conversation, but matters do not ease, despite the dragon-personality’s flattering. She seeks to confront the dragon-personality in her turn, and Wintrow is dismissed–with a clear warning.

Not the best soundtrack for the chapter, I admit, though I have enjoyed listening to it over the years…
Image from the group’s website, used for commentary.

After Wintrow retires from the foredeck, the dragon and Etta have their talk; Etta knows the personality she faces is not that the ship had had. The dragon-personality names itself Bolt to her, explaining it and remarking that she will not share her true name. As Etta considers, Bolt urges her to remove her wizardwood charm and take control of her reproductive rights, noting the effective inability of males–dragon or human–to properly regard them. Etta complies, and Bolt eats the charm, rendering the decision irreversible.

The serpent Shreever considers the increasingly large group of serpents that has gathered around Maulkin. Sessurea joins her briefly before scenting something and thrashing about to uncover the form of a fallen dragon, one of many in a place that once stood above the waves but has sunk beneath them. Maulkin seeks to rally the serpents once again, but is challenged by a white serpent who reports having conferred with and fled from She Who Remembers; Mauklin subdues the challenger and commands that he take them back to She Who Remembers.

Kennit regards himself and his situation as he makes to confer with Bolt again. Etta reports some of what she has learned to him, and Kennit is skeptical of her changed attitude–and that of his crew–as he strides to the foredeck to speak with the ship. After an enigmatic conversation, Kennit agrees to the terms Bolt has laid out for him; she will permit herself to be sailed by him and will help him to pirate well, and she will receive her due in return. At her urging, Kennit calls on Wintrow and appears to heal his scars; the act fatigues both of them greatly, and when Kennit wakes later, he marvels to find himself happy–and more to find Bolt singing to serpents that rise from the sea.

Bolt’s comments–and how helpful to have a name!–to Etta regarding childbearing are telling, I think. Certainly, “debates” in the United States regarding reproductive rights and choices were ongoing as the novel was brought to publication (the scare quotes are because there should not be a debate; medical decisions are the patient’s to make, or the proxy assigned by the patient, period), and putting comments affirming reproductive rights in the mouth of an antagonistic character–not an antagonist as such, but certainly not a friend–puts the novel in an ambiguous position among them. Bolt, after all, is in some opposition to characters the reader is encouraged to support, but those characters are not necessarily “good,” not necessarily to be emulated; it defies an easy assignment of support or denial of the position. At the same time, Bolt argues against the particular form of contraception and prophylactic Etta employs; again, the commentary is made ambiguous by being placed in the mouth of a morally ambivalent character–and one that decidedly hails from an older time (as well as another species). And there is the problem of the comments essentializing women to their reproductive capabilities–perhaps less overt an issue as the novel reached publication but certainly one that demands attention for a later rereading.

I could still use, and will continue to appreciate, your kind contributions.


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