A few years ago, I ruminated on the observance that has come again today. The comments still largely apply; there remains something perverse in the tendency of the United States to commemorate events by sales and to make of what should by its own rhetoric be a somber occasion into a fetishistic paean to excess, but I will still take the opportunity to rest up a bit, being off from my regular job. I am not less perverse than others, and no few would argue that I am more so, not least because I make such comments.
There were several years in which today, and the weekend that is extended into today, saw my family move. When we left Oklahoma, we did so on Memorial Day weekend. When we moved within the Hill Country earlier, we did so on Memorial Day weekend. This time, we will not be; it’s not impossible we’ll move on Independence Day weekend, but this Memorial Day, we’re at home, more or less. Still, as I look toward making another such move, I cannot help but wonder if that is, itself, a fitting marker for the day. Is uprooting and relocating, starting a new life and necessarily leaving the other one behind, somehow mimetic in some small way of what today is supposed to mark and honor and which it commemorates only in perfunctory fashion for most, despite their full-throated jingoistic protestations? I suppose I could draft some verse that spins out a tenuous connection, holds it up to glisten in the light and seem larger than it is by the refraction, but I, being small, would struggle with such a task more than it likely deserves.
We are all of us small, in truth. Some of us are made smaller by such days as today, not because we could not measure up to those who have gone before, but because we have allowed ourselves to be made so–or, indeed, reveled in the diminution, thinking that what is gained is worth the exchange. As I look around, though, and see only some small pockets of quiet amid the tumult, and the smiles strained upon the faces of those outside them, I cannot think the price-tags accurate.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The ensuing chapter, “Prisoners,” begins with Jani Khuprus seeing to Reyn’s comfort as he prepares to be carried by Tintaglia once again. Dealings with the dragon are detailed, and Reyn and Selden confer briefly before Tintaglia goes aloft, bearing Reyn as he seeks Malta through the bond created by their dream-sharing some time ago and reinforced since.
Malta wakes from a vague recollection of connecting with Reyn to survey her materially improved circumstances aboard the Chalcedean ship with the Satrap. She also rehearses the ways in which her situation has deteriorated with the reassertion of the Satrap’s power and prestige, but, after questioning her father’s regard for her, she resolves herself to continue to press her own position on the ship. The appearance of pirates disrupts the flow of her work, however, and the Satrap rejects the notion that the Chalcedeans would be overwhelmed by the advancing raiders. She begins to dress him in his demanded resplendence as the sounds of conflict reach them.
Aloft, Tintaglia shakes Reyn back into his body. They converse briefly, not without tension, and the search for Malta continues as Reyn muses over relative powers at sea.
Aboard the Chalcedean ship, the Satrap makes to assert himself to the pirates despite Malta’s attempts to dissuade him. She accompanies him above deck and finds that the pirates have taken the ship; she falters when the Satrap proclaims himself as such to the victorious pirates and sickens when she sees the carnage of the taken deck. Malta affirms his identity, though, and declares her own; the pirates, laughing in disbelief, take them and the ship into their possession.
The thought suddenly, strangely occurs to me that the Bingtowners and pirates seem to be the only people depicted in the Elderlings corpus who seem to have blue-water shipping as it is typically understood. Yes, the Out Islanders can likely make such crossings; the ships they are described as having do evoke Viking longships for Tolkienian-tradition readers (or Haida war canoes for others), and such vessels can cross open water, but the frequency of raiding and other clues suggest that the Out Islands are not so far from the Six Duchies as might otherwise be thought. The Chalcedeans are explicitly reported to use galleys, and while such ships in the readers’ world might have crossed the Mediterranean, they were more used closer to the coast than far from it. The liveships, though, and other traders’ vessels described are depicted as striking out across open ocean, though, or at least in terms like the ships of the Golden Age of Sail. Perhaps they are to be taken as “more advanced” because of the technological distinction? I am not sure, although that suggests itself as a point that could be made…
Circumstances seem to have confirmed something I suggested not long ago: I’ll be moving again. My wife has accepted a promotion that comes with a transfer, and while I’ll be keeping the job I’ve had for a while, staying where I am now would make for too long a commute for her to be tenable. As such, we’re relocating to a place from which we’ll both have a bit of a drive to where we need to go: Johnson City, Texas.
I know that I’ve had somewhat to say about living in the Hill Country, particularly in the town where I grew up–such as this. And I confess to some apprehension about the whole thing. Johnson City’s a lot smaller than Kerrville, and though it’s only an hour away on a fairly easy drive, it’s still away from a town I’ve been reminded offers a lot of good–that I’ll now not have quite so easy access to as I do now. (Yes, I’ll still be working where I work, which puts me just outside of Kerrville, but there’s a difference between commuting to a place for work and living in that place.) And my daughter will be leaving friends she’s known for years, which is not an easy thing to do.
At the same time, the coming relocation has shaken a number of things loose that have needed to be shaken loose. It has pushed me to be more appreciative of things, for one, and such appreciation is frequently noted as a good thing. Too, the promise of new things to explore and to do entices, and Johnson City offers a fair bit for that; there’s history to the place, including a national park, as well as a pretty good children’s museum and some good food and drink.
Further, at long last, we’re buying a home instead of renting. I’d planned to for a while, as might be guessed from comments I’ve made about wanting to put down roots and provide more stability for my family. Somehow, though, there was always some reason for me not to do so, not to put out feelers and get ideas about what I could do on that score; the pending relocation somewhat forced the issue. And it was scary; in many ways, it still is. But it’s also exhilarating, and the further I get into the process of it, the more excited about it I get; I am looking forward to having the keys in hand, and I am looking forward to the new adventure that the move presents.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The chapter that follows, “Strategies,” opens with Althea relocating into the first mate’s cabin aboard the Paragon, with Haff settling into the second mate’s berth, and Amber complaining bitterly about the oppressive humidity and fog. She rehearses a conversation she had had abed with Brashen the night before, noting their situation and inveighing against the former first mate. They also voice a vision of a future together, possibly despite their families’ desires and Bingtown’s disapproval. Althea sets the vision aside, turning instead to more practical matters of how to handle Kennit and attempt to reclaim the Vivacia. Pointed questions from Jek interrupt Althea’s reverie, and a tense conversation is soon diverted by laughter and consideration of how matters have fallen out in the wake of the attempted mutiny and successful desertion before Althea muses again on what they will do.
In Bingtown, Serilla confers with Mingsley over tea, reviewing their current situation and the fallout from the work to reconstitute Bingtown’s government. The Trader is aspersive, but Serilla retains control of matters, assuming a position for herself in the negotiations outside the various factions still present in Bingtown and articulating her expectations of the nascent political order. Mingsley rails against her, but she takes his imprecations as benedictions.
Also in Bingtown, Reyn watches the Kendry return to port with a shrunken crew; Tintaglia notes to him that the Ophelia is following soon after. He muses on the changes he has had a hand in enacting in the liveships and in the Traders’ society that relies upon them for its economic heft. He notes that he should be happy, but he is not, largely because Malta remains absent. Selden retrieves him from his perch, explaining as he does some of the cognitive differences between dragons and humans. Selden also asks if he is turning into a Rain Wilder, noting some fear of drowning in memories; Reyn offers the boy reassurance as he can.
It is a brief chapter, certainly, although not as brief as some. Even so, it manages to counterpoint the previous chapter well; I note again the parallels between Malta’s work and Serilla’s, as well as the ways in which they run askew of one another (discussed here and here, among others, and with a content warning). And I note the overt consideration of unintended consequences on Reyn’s part; reintroducing a powerful species to the world after it had been driven nearly to extinction cannot but alter things. Hobb is scarcely the first author to treat such ideas, of course; Crichton is perhaps the most prominent prior example, but he is not the only one. Still, it tends to be something treated less in fantasy fiction than in science fiction, and it makes for an interesting thought experiment, in any case.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The next chapter, “Loyalties,” opens with Kennit reviewing a letter from Sincure Faldin and musing on its contents–among others a description of the investigation by the Paragon‘s crew. The news of the Paragon rocks him, and he contemplates killing and replacing his entire crew, as well as fleeing the Pirate Isles entirely. But his attention returns to those gathered around him: Sorcor, Etta, Wintrow, and Jola, the last of whom is currently the first mate on the Vivacia. Kennit muses on his successful piracy, aided by the serpents that come at his ship’s call, per agreement. As the news received from Faldin is discussed, Wintrow makes note of one of the names mentioned in it: Brashen Trell. Kennit marks the shift in attitude from Wintrow and from the ship as Wintrow discusses his aunt, whose presence on the Paragon and in Divvytown is also marked. Ominous words are exchanged afterward.
Aboard the Chalcedean ship, Malta continues to suffer the Satrap and the crew. She muses on her situation–it is not a good one–and upon the status of her family. She also absently picks at a scar on her forehead, finding its texture rough and its extent greater than she had anticipated. As she considers matters further, Malta begins to more coldly assess her circumstances and the ways in which she can achieve and retain agency, and she begins to proceed along those lines, making for the ship’s captain. When she finally confronts him, she seems to make some progress at improving her situation and the Satrap’s, though the latter is hardly conscious of it until water for bathing and clean clothes are brought to their cabin.
In the evening, Wintrow and Kennit confer with Bolt. The ship is acerbic at the prompt to consider Althea, but agrees, along with Kennit, not to harm Althea. Wintrow pleads for more but is rebuffed and sent off to Etta. After, Kennit’s wizardwood charm speaks up openly, and it and the ship press the pirate savagely about the Paragon and his experiences with that ship.
A couple of things come to mind as I reread the chapter. One is that the focus on Kennit’s internal state seems set to breed sympathy for the man in the reader, even as it presents thoughts of wholesale slaughter. Perhaps “understanding” would be a better term, though; I do not think that such attitudes are regarded as favorable, but I do think that Kennit expands upon some ideas that are present in Regal Farseer. I acknowledge the difficulty and presumption in conducting psychoanalytical readings of characters in works of (fantasy) fiction, but I do think there’s a useful reading in there–and one that explains but does not excuse the character’s behaviors and attitudes.
Another is that Malta’s shift in attitude and behavior aboard the Chalcedean ship seems ripe for reading as a reflection of various reclamation ideas, a deployment of repressive patriarchal gender roles in an attempt to secure her own advancement. A comparison to Serilla’s machinations, both during her travel from Jamaillia with the Satrap and in Bingtown afterwards, seems ripe for making, as well, although I note again that I do not have the theoretical or critical background to do a good job of analyzing and interpreting it to any substantial degree. Still, I cannot help but see the parallels in play, and I find myself wondering how often I am confronted in such ways, with people adopting what they believe are my expectations in an attempt to get from me what they want. I know there are ways in which I serve to deny or restrict the agency of others in unacceptable ways (there are limits to be enforced in some situations, though, and not always those voluntarily accepted; I would be a poor father not to work to keep my seven-year-old daughter safe, after all, and doing so does sometimes mean I have to disallow her from things), and I am sure that those over whom I have power do things to get around those denials and restrictions, even if I am not always aware that I am imposing them. But that is a facet of privilege, and there is much comment to be made about how relative privilege is addressed in the Elderlings corpus as a whole…
The text below was presented at the Tales after Tolkien Society‘s sponsored session–Deadscapes: Wastelands, Necropoli, and Other Tolkien-Inspired Places of Death, Decay, and Corruption–at the online 2021 International Congress on Medieval Studies; some emendations to suit the medium are made without further comment. Embedded images were not presented, but are included to aid discussion.
Robin Hobb1 is a pseudonym of Washington-state-based author Meghan Lindholm; under the pseudonym, she has written multiple works, far exceeding the output of certain fantasy authors who are her contemporaries, including the sixteen novels (along with assorted novellas and short stories) set in the Six Duchies, Bingtown, Jamaillia, and lands accessible from them–the Realm of the Elderlings corpus. Nine of those novels–the Farseer, Tawny Man, and Fitz and the Fool trilogies–center on the character of FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the heir apparent to the Six Duchies, trained as an assassin and wielding two powerful magics. The remaining seven–the Liveship Traders trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles tetralogy–focus on Bingtown and the nearby Rain Wilds; characters move among the series, and the events in one series influence our outright give rise to those in subsequent series, although each can stand as an independent reading. Throughout them, Hobb nuances the tropes and patterns common in the literary traditions of which she partakes; while her work is clearly in the Tolkienian tradition,2 including those antecedents of it identified by Anderson,3 it features substantially a number of elements not frequently seen within that tradition,4 and she tends to move away from the commonplaces while remaining grounded enough in them to draw readers along. Her tendency towards nuance extends to sites of memory, not so much in denying proper honors to the dead, but in playing with the very idea of death; her specific motion away from tropes about memorials offers a further suggestion of the limits of such literary traditions as the Tolkienian and possibly points to ways they can be reclaimed and reimagined to good effect.
The Typical Sites of Memory: The Stone Quarry, the Dragon Garden, and Kelsingra
The sites of memory in the Elderlings novels that most closely correspond with the literary traditions in which Hobb operates appear initially in the third Elderlings novel, Assassin’s Quest, as a ruined city, a quarry of magic-imbued black stone and an overgrown collection of carved and colored statues of dragons and similar creatures, ranging to a winged boar and an antlered, man-faced chimera.5 The collection is even commented upon as possibly being a graveyard; “Perhaps there are tombs beneath these creatures. Perhaps this is some strange heraldry, marking the burial places for different families,” the narrator remarks.6 Called to mind are such sites as the Arthurian Avalon and the Tolkienian Rath Dínen, with the latter’s “pale domes and empty halls and images of men long dead” and separate houses for the corpses of separate families.7 Called to mind, too, are the mausoleums and cemeteries of the readers’ world that often show in darkened stone markings indicating who is interred that would not be decipherable to those not trained in reading those markings, as well as the cenotaphs that mark the fallen who could not be recovered.
Both the garden and the quarry are associated in the novel with a series of roads made from the black stone of the quarry and a city largely built of the same substance: Kelsingra. That city is itself a silent memorial of a bygone civilization, empty of life but filled with memories of it that intrude into the consciousnesses of those who enter it and have the Skill to perceive them. When FitzChivalry first encounters Kelsingra, he finds it empty, perceiving no signs of life around him;8 as he searches it, he finds that “Whole domes of roofs had fallen in…outer walls had fallen away entirely, exposing the inner chambers and filling the street below with rubble” and sees, among others, “the tatters of ancient hangings, a collapsed wooden bench.”9 When another character later comes there, she finds it similarly devoid of the population it once had and cast into ruin by some long-ago cataclysm, claimed by no others, not even the creeping of vegetation and animal life that would normally swallow ruins in time.10 At the same time, the stones of Kelsingra–and of the dragon-garden–store and re-present memories to those with access to the appropriate magics; again, the stone dragons can be reawakened with the proper offerings, and even the dead city “replays” its memories for FitzChivalry as he stalks through it, immersing him in images of the daily lives of inhabitants.11 Clearly, then, the city is a testament to the departed, serving as a necropolis and, more literally than many others, as a locus of recollection.
As with much else that Hobb writes, however, she nuances her major sites of memory away from her prominent literary antecedents–given the context of the genre, particularly Tolkien, with whose work Hobb is avowedly more than familiar.12 The statues in the stone garden, all of which initially appear as sleeping creatures,13 are not grave-markers; they appear asleep because they are asleep, constructions imbued with the personalities and essences of the magic-users who carved them14 and able to be reawakened and summoned to aid with the correct combination of offerings.15 Again, the Arthurian comes to mind–the “once and future king” idea emerges prominently with a former ruler of the Six Duchies being among those carved figures.16 So does the Tolkienian, as the Dead at Erech are similarly brought forward,17 although there is a marked difference between the two, a nuancing away from Tolkien’s prevailing ideas. For while both the Dead of Erech and the stone-garden dragons are summoned by extra-natural means to help repel largely naval invading forces from the key nations,18 the Dead are addressing their earlier failures,19 while the stone-garden dragons are acting as the result of their successes.20 Indeed, the carvings are in most cases a reward for those who complete them,21 a fulfillment rather than a punishment.
Too, the fates of those sites differ. In traditional Arthuriana, Avalon remains “another place,”22 generally outside access despite protestations of its “real” location. In Tolkien, Rath Dínen is not much mentioned after the death of Denethor and the rescue of Faramir; it remains in place to receive Aragorn, but its tale does not extend past that.23 Kelsingra, and presumably the quarry and garden with which they are linked, end up subject to looting24–not only by FitzChivalry as he tries to survive pursuit and serve the king who has called him to his nation’s aid,25 but also by avaricious merchants.26 Although the looting does not, ultimately, occur in force,27 the fact that the potential for it is recognized and acted upon at all is a marked deviation from the idealization of Tolkien and of much other fantasy literature in the Tolkienian tradition. Attention to such concerns–the all-too-human factors of avarice and pettiness–is a hallmark of Hobb’s writing; that they manifest with regards to the deadscapes Hobb presents points towards a reimagining of the tropes with which Tolkien and those following him work, bringing fantasy literature more in line with the observable world of the reader and helping it to speak towards more attainable hopes for the readers’ world.
The Strange Sites of Memory: The Liveships
In the Realm of the Elderlings, Hobb also presents an uncommon–and unexpected–class of sites of memory: the liveships. As the name suggests, the liveships are living vessels, constructed from a substance called wizardwood and quickening to thinking, feeling life after taking in the spirits of three people of the same family–a life that depends for its stability and security upon the continued presence of a member of that family upon the ship’s decks.28 Peculiar to the Bingtown Traders, they are faster, better ships, more resistant to storm and wave, immune or nearly so to the barnacles and rot that plague other wooden vessels, and they alone can navigate the caustic waters of the Rain Wild River, from which flow the treasures that ensure Bingtown’s economic existence. As such, they are highly prized–such that a multi-generational loan, secured by potential marriages, to purchase one is not at all uncommon29–and, in some ways, are regarded as both enduring members of their owning families and the defining emblems of those same families.
Even so, the liveships are openly acknowledged to be memorials to the dead; not only do the lives in their names come from the deaths of their family members, as attested, but they take on the memories and knowledge of those family members.30 And, because they remain in service across generations, they function as repositories of their families’ histories long after their quickening; for example, one of the first such ships, the Tarman, remains in service despite having been built before the magical properties of wizardwood were known,31 and the ship remains in conference with its family even so. To ship on them, then, is to sail among the dead and alongside the dead, and while there are other stories of such things–the Flying Dutchman is only the most prominent example–they are not as common as other encounters with the departed, not as common as sites of memory and tombs visited happily or reverently, and it is certain that the liveships are valued and appreciated by the Bingtowners.32
The unusualness of the floating memorials that the liveships are is not confined to the fact of their magic or their water-borne work. There are many magical memorials in fantasy fiction, after all, and Tolkien writes of the ability of water itself to recall earlier events.33 No, the chief motion away from the Tolkienian tradition that Hobb makes with the liveships is one that points back to earlier beliefs about magic as being unnatural and despicable. There is motion towards the idea early in the Liveship Traders novels, when a character who had been in training as a priest evidences concern about and suspicion of his own family’s liveship,34 although his suspicions fall far short of the reality that emerges throughout the series. For the wizardwood of which the liveships are built, and of which other items of extranatural power are made, is not wood at all, but the cocoon-material of dragons–and not all of the dragons whose cocoons were harvested were dead before their cocoons were opened and cut apart.35
More, as is made clear through the series, the dead dragons remain in the wizardwood no less than the spirits of those who die upon the ships’ decks–aware of what happens “above” them in the consciousnesses of the liveships that form from the quickening even as they are imprisoned in forms imposed upon them.36 Indeed, so powerful do the echoes of the dragons remain in the wizardwood that combining the cocoons of multiple dragons leads to the untenable instability of a ship built from such a combination.37 Marlowe’s Mephastophilis comes to mind,38 and surely being left in a state of undeath, aware but unable to interact in any meaningful way, is an ongoing hell not often seen employed and exploited by the “heroic” characters in Tolkienian-tradition fantasy fiction. Even when, as happens at least once, the underlying dragon-persona can emerge to the “front” of the liveship, its existence remains a partial and circumscribed one, far different from the free-ranging (and, indeed, imperious) life a dragon would otherwise have in the Elderlings corpus.39
The liveships, then, in addition to being sites of memory are sites of torment, legacies of oppression and exploitation that are not the less heinous because so many who perpetrate it are (kept) ignorant of the import of their deeds. Nor is it made less heinous by the individual resolutions to which the liveships come, integrating the “levels” of their personalities–dragon, human, and created liveship–into cohesive wholes; they emerge from trauma, yes, and continue to take in the lives of those who sail upon them, but they continue, too, to carry the memories of what has been done to them. And while works in the Tolkienian tradition do make much of redemption, of persevering through suffering and past it, they do not as often reckon with what befalls those who do so suffer when those who made them to suffer yet remain in the world alongside them. Yet that is what those among Hobb’s readers who have suffered must do, and in looking at that ongoing life, after the “happily ever after,” as in other things, Hobb usefully moves beyond the confines of mainstream fantasy literature.
Again, Hobb writes within the Tolkienian tradition, borrowing from medieval and medievalist antecedents as well as other influences and working to nuance and adapt the prevailing tropes of that literary tradition. In her alterations to common depictions of wastelands and deadscapes, of sites of memory, as in her shadings and nuances of other tropes,40 Hobb provides a more authentic, accessible, verisimilitudinous fantasy literature than do many of her contemporaries and predecessors, which allows the quiet messages that emerge from her work to lodge more deeply and powerfully with readers. Those messages, speaking among others to the problems of colonialist agendas, to concerns of gender identity and equality, to political and interpersonal theories, to self-determination, and to increasing inclusivity, are well worth hearing; anything that makes them come across more easily and to more people is to be prized, therefore, and the more so in that it repudiates the ongoing misuse of the observed medieval and of medievalist fantasies by execrable groups with opprobrious ideologies that deserve all opposition.
I note that I write this while living on land once inhabited by the Lipan, Gaigwu, and Nʉmʉnʉʉ peoples and from which they have been in large part displaced by colonialist misdeeds–from which too many continue to suffer and against which much more needs to be done. The acknowledgement does not suffice, but to fail to do even so much is not acceptable.
The related city of Frengong, lying under the city of Trehaug, is looted almost entirely; it is the source of the wizardwood of which the Bingtown liveships are made, as well as many other treasures taken from the remains of the dead. There is something of a colonialist theme at play in the Elderlings novels; explicating it lies outside the scope of this paper.
Hobb, Assassin’s Quest, 525-26.
Robin Hobb, City of Dragons (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 125-29, etc.
Robin Hobb, Blood of Dragons (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 409-15.
Robin Hobb, Ship of Magic (New York: Bantam, 1999), 47-49.
Ibid, 47, 337, 625-26, 714.
Robin Hobb, Dragon Keeper (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 20.
The example of the Paragon in the Liveship Traders novels is a notable exception, of course–but it is remarked upon by many of the characters in those novels as being an exception, and despite the problems attendant upon the ship, many characters see value therein.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (New York: Ballantine, 1982), 8.
Hobb, Ship of Magic, 152, etc.
Robin Hobb, Mad Ship (New York: Bantam, 2000), 43-47, etc.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The following chapter, “Bingtown Negotiations,” starts with Ronica looking over the remains of the old Traders’ Concourse as the people of Bingtown gather together. She notes, too, that the people assembled are strangely equal, affected alike by war and grief. Notably, Serilla, Caern, Kelter, and members of the Traders’ Council are in attendance, as are representatives of the Tattooed, the Khupruses, Mingsley, and Selden; the last claims to be present to intercede between Bingtown and Tintaglia, and he reports on her current status. Keffria regards her son strangely, taken aback by the changes to him.
The assembly begins to confer, fractiously at first, spurred by Caern. Serilla unceremoniously rejects him and attempts to assert authority; the rejection is upheld but the authority rejected, in part by the Tattooed. Jani speaks in favor of the position outlined by the Tattooed, as well. And Tintaglia arrives, announcing her presence decisively and berating the people gathered together. Selden again intercedes, diverting what seems promised retribution, and Ronica senses the political realignments at work. Tintaglia again reiterates her command that the folk of Bingtown help her save dragonkind, noting the means to do so; negotiations regarding how best to do the work required ensue, and a tentative accord is in place when Keffria interjects regarding Malta. Reyn rushes to her aid, and Tintaglia rages–but does not attack, physically. Reyn is, however, pulled into her psychic power, where he is shown Malta. But even that revelation does not bind him to her will; negotiations continue, and it is averred that all who seek to remain in Bingtown and the Rain Wilds will agree to the arrangement and to the governance of the Bingtown Council, which is opened to new elections from among all the groups present.
Bingtown appears to be on the rise from the nadir of the previous chapter, with new beginnings and what seems to be a more stable, inclusive form of government in the offering. I am reminded again of parallels to the stories about the emergence of the United States (stories, I emphasize; I know that the histories are not so happy or fortunate, and that current events continue not to be so), and I do note that Hobb’s parallel is more open than even those happy tales. Women and minority populations are explicitly and specifically included, and those who had been enslaved are afforded equal status in the emerging system, with slavery being prohibited in both its chattel and indentureship forms. It is refreshing to read a piece of historicist fiction–that is, one that borrows from historical details without pretending to accurately represent bits of history–that does not laud the prejudices of the past and overtly reinscribe them, but instead offers a view of how things can be better.
It would be nice if more people would work towards such things.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The next chapter, “Tintaglia’s Bargain,” begins with Reyn waking where he has bedded down in the Tenira household alongside Grag and Selden. He muses on recent events, both the burgeoning new Bingtown and the holdovers of the older system and their interpenetration by Roed and Serilla. Caern’s bloodlust poisoned initial attempts at rapprochement as Chalcedeans attacked some days past, and the Chalcedeans seized the Kendry, the harbor, and many captives to enslave. Grag rouses, and the two confer about what can be done and what should be done. Selden also rouses and declares his intention to proceed with the other two to the fight that they all know is coming, and they find that matters are already in motion as they take what they recognize may be a final meal together.
Elsewhere, Tintaglia fumes at her reception at Trehaug; it was unkind even by human standards, and dragons tend to assume that they deserve veneration. But as she flies forth, searching for Reyn or Malta, she comes under attack from ships in Bingtown’s harbor; she responds in kind and is surprised to hear Selden singing her praises. She alights, and Reyn steps out to confront her despite the fatigue of his fighting. Tintaglia realizes his fey mood is prompted by his belief that Malta is dead; she says to him that Malta lives and bids him and those with him to work to save dragonkind. She also repels a sneak attack from Chalcedeans in the town before reiterating her demand; Selden interposes and sways her with honeyed words to clear the harbor of the Chalcedean threat. As Bingtown begins to rally, Reyn confronts the changes occurring in Selden.
There is an interesting echo of Tolkien in the first section of the chapter; Jani Khuprus and Nana Tenira both appear ready to go out and fight, with the latter remarking that she is of more account than simply to feed her son and send him out to die in a comment that calls to mind Éowyn’s remarks in The Lord of the Rings. Given Éowyn’s efficacy in the Battle of the Pelennor, it is possible there is some quiet foreshadowing at work, here; Hobb is certainly aware enough of Tolkien to have echoed the comment deliberately, and even if it is not deliberate, it is not to be wondered at that an author shows her reading.
In terms of narrative structure, the present chapter is close to the middle of the book; it is therefore to be expected that the climax for which Freytag calls or the turning point outlined in Frye’s models would be in the present chapter or soon enough. And Bingtown does seem to have reached something of a nadir as the chapter begins; it is in disarray, its holdings looted and burned, its people divided and being taken into slavery. Matters appear to improve somewhat by the end of the chapter, with Tintaglia turning to the aid of Bingtown, but Reyn is wary of the influence of and interference by the dragon. Given how the dragon acts–and fights–and the traditional associations of dragons in the English-speaking world, there is some question about whether Bingtown has made the proverbial “deal with the devil,” the more so as those who treat most closely with Tintaglia bear the mark of it upon them…
My daughter is coming to the close of her first-grade year, now; she started school last year, the COVID year, and had what was a good classroom experience interrupted by closures proceeding from the outbreak and reactions to it. This year, because we live where we live and my wife and I are considered essential workers–and we are in lines of work that do not admit well of working remotely–our daughter was back in the classroom. Overall, I am proud of her and pleased with her teachers and her school; they’ve done a lot under far less than ideal circumstances, and they are to be commended. (On the whole; there’ve been a few things I’d’ve rather not seen, but that’s true in the best of times.)
Like many parents, I am concerned about the effects the disruptions will have on my child. I am not so much worried about her “keeping up,” really; grade levels are a social construction that can and should be adjusted, and my wife and I, both having been academics, are in position to be able to supplement what our daughter gets in the classroom (and were going to be doing so anyway, virus or no). For me, the concerns are for her socialization and for lingering trauma occasioned by the sudden disruption.
I do not mean to imply that we have had it hard, here. There were cases of the novel coronavirus in my close family, yes, but they were mild and passed easily. My daughter was not one of those afflicted, either. Nor yet did we experience economic hardship; like I note above, my wife and I both qualify as essential workers, and our workplaces continued to operate throughout the pandemic–so our paychecks kept coming, even if my wife could not get the overtime to which she had grown accustomed in the months prior to the outbreak.
But even for our daughter–who was not sick and who had access to the kind of informational infrastructure that allowed for remote learning–it was a hard thing. She left school for spring break and didn’t go back again, and even now, more than a year later and with most of another school year done, she still voices worry that her friends and teachers are going to go away. I have to wonder how long she will harbor such fears and what effects those fears will have on her ability to form friendships. I did poorly enough at such things when I was her age, and I feel the lack now; I would spare her the same, could I do so.
This school year was better, admittedly. Even if it ends now, we made it a lot further through it than last time; it was a more thoroughgoing experience for her. My daughter has grown and improved quite a bit, although there are certainly areas in which she could do better; staying on task has been an issue, and I have to wonder how much of it results from the necessarily fragmented nature of the distance learning she got earlier on in her scholastic career. (I am trying to avoid the cildas þissum dægum that I hate to see in so many places. I really am.) And I have to wonder how matters will fall out next year; she will go into second grade, so she will not be quite at the point of testing culture yet, but it will be coming for her.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The following chapter, “Serpent Ship,” opens with the white serpent–who insists on being called Carrion–accosting Maulkin and the other serpents in his tangle. Carrion tries to get himself killed, repeatedly, and Sessurea is only barely discouraged from obliging him by Maulkin noting the scent of She Who Remembers in the water. They proceed towards the smell, finding sound that echoes it and rushing off to heed the call to recall.
She Who Remembers frets briefly as she rushes to meet the serpents, Bolt lagging behind. Maulkin greets her, and the two enter a communion that gives Maulkin back his full memory, and the memories spread to the other serpents. From the deck of the Vivacia, Kennit watches in amazement as the serpents churn and commune, and Bolt reiterates her demand to him, to which he agrees readily.
Elsewhere aboard the ship, Etta presses Wintrow as the young man considers his place and purpose. He voices his uncertainty to her, and she prods him to learn more–navigation, for one, and a return to his priesthood. They converse about the matter, and both realize that both have placed their faith in Kennit and not themselves–and that it should be in the latter. He slips into a strange meditation as he considers her words, and she quietly departs.
In the water, She Who Remembers considers Bolt and Wintrow with some confusion and trepidation. Maulkin joins her and notes his own suspicions, and they observe as Wintrow confronts the ship. It assails him, but the violence against him only spills his blood upon her wizardwood planks, where it soaks in and enhances the intertwined connection he has perceived within him and among them.
Once again, I find myself reading with affect as I read the passage wherein Wintrow considers that he cannot return to the priesthood that he had thought once and for years was his calling. I am in a similar place, having been obliged to exit the ivory tower in whose basements I long labored, hoping for a chance for a room of my own within it. I do well enough in my life outside it, of course, and I recognize that it has no real place for me within, but I still labored long to dwell within it, and that work cannot be undertaken without it doing much to the worker’s heart, in turn. I have not plied such waves as Hobb relates Wintrow has, nor are my scars as deep or extensive, but my currents have carried me far away, and my skin is far from smooth anymore, and I know not how to chart a course back to were I was before.