A Rumination on an Opportunity that Never Arose

Around two months ago, I wrote a bit about a missed opportunity in my classroom. I’ve been thinking about such things again recently, not least because I’ve noted a lot of people looking at the syllabus for the hypothetical course on mainstream fantasy literature I developed back when I was actually looking for college–level teaching jobs. In it, I note that

texts included [in the required readings] exist in an uneasy tension. They do contribute to what prevailing understandings of fantasy literature as a genre is, to be sure, and they do try to strike some balance between male and female authorship. But they also fail to reflect the engagement of dominant traditions in the genre with authors of color. It is in part to work against such failure, and the failure of dominant tendencies in fantasy literature to engage with persons of color, that the major assignment sequence in the course is oriented as it is. Further, the specific failures of the required texts to treat and reflect persons of color will comprise a recurring thread in the required online discussions. (2)

Image from PHD Comics, here, used for commentary

The problem I do not mention is, of course, that I do not flesh out those assignments. I’d meant to do so, I think; it’s been a while. But after I gave up the search for continuing work, it became less of an issue; I was still teaching, but I was teaching required syllabi, as is common enough. As with many things, returning to the project slipped my mind; perhaps it ought not to have done, and it does not excuse my failure that I am aware of it.

There’s more involved in assignment design than many realize, of course, and more than I can necessarily address in a single post (especially given the other stuff that I have going on in and around composing it; I’m moving, as might’ve been noted, and I continue to freelance and to participate in an NEH institute). But it might be a good starting point to follow up on the suggestion made already; the major assignment sequence in the syllabus, which results in a conference-length paper, (was meant to have) aimed at 1) looking at canon-formation and 2) suggesting what works / authors should be included in a future iteration of such a course. That is, students would have been asked to examine how “standard” bodies of work grow up, identify an author or work that seemed to fit that pattern, and then argue that said author / work should be included in the body of work studied as “standard” for the genre.

Considering the matter further, I am not sure I would still require an annotated bibliography from students. I taught or “taught” the genre at multiple institutions across many years, and it was always a struggle to get students through it; I am not sure it still carries the kind of traditional heft it seemed to when I was going through undergraduate coursework and being taught how to teach college English, although it certainly has come in handy in the years since (and I still work on one, obviously). Nor yet am I sure about all of the details; the summative exam included in the syllabus is a nod to what I’ve seen of institutional requirements, and the minor assignments mentioned are largely preparation for the exam, following my teaching practices at the time. (When I had the “luxury” of writing my own quizzes and tests, I’d pull the tests straight from the quizzes. It seemed to help.) But such things are dreams, really, glimpses of a life that never will be; I have enough to do with the life I do live, and with that, I should be content.

For now.

Care to help underwrite my efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 207: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 28

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

The following chapter, “Dragon Dreams,” begins with Tintaglia landing badly with Reyn; he sends her off to hunt as he surveys their landing site, rehearses his routine, and reviews his present circumstances. He thinks of Malta, and, as he falls asleep near the dragon and a large fire, he dreams of her. In the dream, she hears his call, and Tintaglia starts awake with it. The dragon notes both the lowering barriers between them and his transformation into an Elderling.

The woman of the hour…
Malta by HazelFibonacci on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Malta, still aboard the pirate ship, muses on thoughts of Reyn and considers her own circumstances–which she believes leave her socially ruined. She rehearses her plans for freedom, and she manages to convince the waning Satrap to go out on deck. He muses on his own background and circumstances, and he presses Malta for details about it. When they are forthcoming, they bode ill for them both; he realizes he is worth more dead than alive, as his death allows another to take the Satrapy. Malta presses him further, and they dicker over details of how to proceed; Malta comes out of the exchange with a fine deal and a finer idea.

The present chapter shows Malta well, certainly; she’s come a long way from being the vain and petty girl she was when her role in the series started, and, though done with difficulty, it is a good progression. She suffers, as characters must, from limited knowledge; it’s clear she is ignorant of events in Bingtown, for example. But, given what she knows, she is making excellent use of her situation and the resources available to her–and in ways that make sense from the character’s background and history. It’s a fairly rare thing, actually, and its presence–a consistent presence in Hobb’s writing, really–does much to bespeak the quality of the novel. More writers would do well to read such things.

Let’s keep this going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 206: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 27

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

A content warning: there’s discussion of suicide here.

The next chapter, “Key Island,” opens with the Paragon sailing with the tide–uneasily, but with determination. Amber confers with the ship, learning more of the history of the dragons, the region, and the Ludluck family along the way. The ship also notes the amalgamation of memory and personality that animates the figurehead, as well as musing on the desire for death and noting the approach to the island of the chapter’s title.

Satellite view of Niuafo'ou, 2005-03-19.jpg
Not unlike this?
Image is of Niuafoʻou Island, Tonga, per NASA, which makes it public domain, I think.

Brashen commands the crew aboard the Paragon, assessing their status and the ship’s progress. Clef reports the anticipated course and progress to his captain, and Brashen goes forward to confer more closely with Amber and the figurehead. They arrive at the intended destination, and Brashen takes a large contingent ashore, guided by the ship’s report from Kennit’s memories. They encounter the small settlement in which Kennit houses his mother and some others, meeting some resistance and more suspicion, but Kennit’s mother is fetched. Brashen relates to her that he means to take her aboard the Paragon to Kennit, and she agrees to come–along with a chained captive who has to be hoisted aboard as if cargo. Kennit’s mother restores the ship’s logs, and the captive, recognizing Brashen, announces himself as Wintrow’s father and asks to be taken home.

I note, with some interest, that Bingtown and the Cursed Shores are depicted as having access to whiskey. Although the typical spirit associated with piracy in mainstream United States popular culture is rum (with all of the unfortunate associations thereto appertaining), it could be argued that whiskey is more fully piratical, being so often a spur to smuggling and rebellion as it is. The latter becomes particularly important in line with my contentions that the Realm of the Elderlings partakes more of the Americas than of Europe and that Bingtown seems to parallel the early United States (as witness here); the Whiskey Rebellion was a thing, certainly, if not one that gets a lot of attention anymore. (Too, whiskey is a drink of choice in the distinctly-US Wild West; it’s another reinforcement.) I’ll admit that the point’s not a particularly strong one to argue in favor of my earlier assertion, but it’s not exactly a counter-argument, either.

Help support my continued endeavors?

Lament for What Is Not Yet Gone

Flowers blooming
Such as make a clear sky float atop the limestone hills
And strange clouds of the spreading cedar boughs
Lightning strikes of twisted oaks
And dancing rain of mesquite
Leaping deer grown fat with summer grass
Kings seeking queens even while they wear their velvet hats
Before their crowns emerge in full and they go to war
Where even the winners will be deposed
By the bullets of assassins who do not seek those thrones themselves
But others that sometimes serve as altars
Hearing prayers and receiving outpoured offerings amid lamentations
The smokes of burning drifting on the wind that
Cause no fear but merriment and joy
As people join together around the partial cremation
Partake of what remains
Small pieces of sky wrestled from within calcified clouds that mount
Stacked upon each other where once waters surged and flowed
And ran to depths imagined but seldom seen
And dogs find renown in writers’ work
Less still than they deserve
The virgin’s stream in which
Fish yet swim that are found in few other places
And none so sweet
And by which stand harder woods
Roofs overhead once but no longer
Foundations long since laid and built again
Where the slow fever of the world has yet to sear them away
The sands may creep in and cover them
Drops of brine fall to water the thin crop
Bringing in an uncertain harvest

Photo by Mauru00edcio Eugu00eanio on Pexels.com

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 205: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 26

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, and there may be some homophobia present, as well.

The following chapter, “Courtship,” begins with Althea attempting to argue for her release aboard the Vivacia; Kennit refuses, citing her injuries and the danger posed to her by Bolt. He regards her lasciviously, musing on the effects of the drugs he has administered to her and noting the similarities between his situation with regards to her and his former abuser’s situation with regards to him. He continues to press upon her, and her ability to resist fades.

Althea Vestrit
We’re a long way from here…
Althea Vestrit by DoctorPiper on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Althea asks after Brashen and the Paragon, and Kennit tells her that the ship has been sunk by serpents attacking it. The news rocks her, and, in her emotionally and physically weakened state, drugged, she cannot effectively resist his raping her; she recalls Keffira upbraiding her for her first tryst years before, and loses consciousness.

Having concluded his assault, Kennit considers its implications for the ship. The charm on his wrist rebukes him harshly, and as Kennit considers quietly killing a crewman who might have overheard, the charm tells him that he has become the monster his former abuser was.

Elsewhere, Etta and Wintrow confer, and they take stock of what they know about Althea and Jek. Some of the information is conflicting. Jek is reticent. Etta notes that Bolt rejects Althea, railing against her. She also notes Wintrow’s foolishness, and Wintrow apologizes for his lack of understanding. He also kisses her, leaving both of them uncertain of where they stand in relationship to one another.

Unconscious, Althea finds the “original” personality of the Vivacia, suppressed by Bolt but still present. For an interval both seek death, but Althea presses the ship to endure; she is convinced to lead the ship back to waking life, and the Vivacia floods her with life as she returns to consciousness and awareness–but Althea loses her sense of the vessel.


The big thing in the present chapter is, of course, the rape. I…hesitate to discuss it in detail, for several reasons. I will note, though, that I am struck by the connection to internalized victim-blaming depicted, as well as the implication that the homoeroticism Kennit displays in his comparisons of Althea to Wintrow derive from his own rape. Neither sits entirely well with me, although I do not recall either evoking that reaction from me in several earlier readings of the series. Then again, I am not the same person now as I was then; I hope I’m better, but I don’t take that for granted.

I am struck, if less forcefully, by Wintrow in the present chapter. His affection towards Etta is not new, certainly; his boldness is, and I am not sure there’s enough lead-up to be believed. Yes, adolescent boys are mercurial; I remember that much of it well. But such–dare I use the term?–nerdy boys as Wintrow…I have noted before my tendency to (over-) identify with the character, problematic as it is, and I don’t think I’d’ve had the nerve to do such a thing. Hell, I’m not sure I have the nerve now–not that it’d do me any good (or that I’d need it, being happily married).

It’s strange to go back to reading done often and enjoyed, only to find it…uncomfortable. It seems to happen to me more and more often, anymore. Whether that’s for good or ill, though, I hardly know.

I can always use, and do always appreciate, your support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 204: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 25

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

The next chapter, titled “Refitting,” begins with the Paragon commenting about being beached again, Amber offering some comfort and consolation as Brashen dourly stalks the decks and directs repairs, the progress of which is described. Recent events are rehearsed, as is the ship’s strained attitude and internal conflict. The two of them discuss trust and secrets as Amber investigates the figurehead, and the ship relates plainly what liveships are and why the Paragon is as shown. The ship asks Amber to carve a new face for the figurehead, and Amber learns–and reports–that Althea yet lives.

Something like this, perhaps?
Image is by i_am_jim, here, and under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, used for commentary

Brashen rushes to the figurehead and rebukes Amber for working despite her injuries, which are rehearsed. He receives the report of Althea’s survival and begins to find joy again, which starts to spread through the crew. They begin to plan how to retrieve her from Kennit, and the Paragon offers to take them to Kennit’s secret stronghold.

Readers of the Elderlings novels will realize the import of Amber’s conversation with the Paragon in the first section of the chapter, something attested to by no few of the sources noted in the Fedwren Project. There had, of course, been earlier hints, but the present chapter all but states that Amber was the Fool in the Six Duchies, and it points meaningfully towards later Elderlings novels; the character has clearly developed since originally appearing.

The chapter is a brief one, a volta of sorts for the novel. I am not certain it is a Freytag-style climax, but it certainly marks a turning point, perhaps more powerfully for its brevity. But it is not the only such point to come, either…

Any chance I can get your help to keep going?

Reflective Comments about the Sixth Year

It has been six years since the first post to this webspace went up, six years that I have been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have published 1,057 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 1,058), and I have revised individual pages, collecting 40,752 views from 15,872 visitors as of this writing. In the last year, therefore, I have made 155 posts and collected 14,822 views from 5,361 visitors (based on “Reflective Comments about the Fifth Year”). Performance is markedly up from last year (see the figures below), which I ascribe to the influence of the novel coronavirus and my own continued shameless self-promotion.

Figure 1 is posts per year by year of blogging.

Figure 6.1

Figure 2 is views per year by year of blogging.

Figure 6.2

Figure 3 is visitors per year by year of blogging.

Figure 6.3

I am pleased to be able to continue doing this kind of work, and I look forward not only to another year of it, but many other years of it. I hope I can count on your help to do that work; I’d appreciate you sending a little bit my way here.

A Rumination on Vacation

This last week, my wife, my daughter, and I took a bit of a vacation. I was nervous about doing so, to be certain. For one, the last time we thought to take one–spring break for my daughter’s Kindergarten year–happened right as the shutdowns and lockdowns from the novel coronavirus started hitting in earnest in our part of the world. For another, I have…challenges…having fun, as I’ve noted. But I am happy to report that things went well, overall; there are always issues, of course, but they were minor, and the family had a good time.

Clearly, a happy time!
Photo is mine.

Heading out from where we live, we went first to Houston, where we spend a couple of days. We traveled by way of Shiner, allowing us to see not only a couple of interesting historical markers, but also to tour the Spoetzl Brewery and sample some of the products of which my wife and I are fond as we sat for a picnic lunch under cloudy skies. And we drove the rest of the way to Houston along surface roads rather than the interstate, which made for a far more pleasant drive, even if it was a longer one. I think I’ll do so much again.

In Houston, we spent a fair bit of time touring around. My wife had grown up in the area and had lived not far from where we stayed, so we had a chance to check out her old stomping grounds, and I was gratified to learn a little bit more about her. We’ve been together for years, and I’m happy about it, and any chance I get to know her better is a welcome thing. Too, our daughter, Ms. 8, getting a sense of her parents’ background is a good thing; we live in the town where I grew up (for a little longer, anyway), so my history is clear enough, and getting the chance to expand on my wife’s for our daughter was good. So was going to Galveston, where we visited a confectioner and went to the beach; both were good for us!

From Houston, we headed to Lafayette, where my wife and I had attended graduate school. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast there, the Duchess Downtown, where we received excellent treatment; we felt welcomed and appreciated and at home there, and I recommend it highly. And we revisited a number of the places we’d been together, including the office where we got to know one another while in graduate school and working on translating Beowulf. It was good to go back and find our bricks–UL Lafayette paves its walkways with the names of those who have graduated, so that we symbolically speed current students along their way as we remain part of the institution–as well as to go into the Edith Garland Dupré Library and find both my master’s thesis and my dissertation. Even better, both showed that they’d been checked out, and more than once!

We did some of the touristy stuff, too, of course. Chief among them was heading down to New Iberia, where we called at the Konriko Rice Mill and Museum before heading to Avery Island. At the former, we got some tasty treats that will soon grace our table; at the latter, we toured the Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco factory–as well as making a few purchases for ourselves and our loved ones.

We also took a little excursion to Breaux Bridge and Henderson, where we got to check out some attractions. Ms. 8 enjoyed walking amid dinosaur models and reconstructions (while her parents needed the exercise!), and the lot of us enjoyed mini golf, go-karting, laser-tag, and the like next door to it. Ms. 8 was especially fond of the karting; I drove her, and she got to learn that, while I drive with restraint on the roads, I don’t have to do so. Little speed junkie that she is, she thrilled in it..

Again, in all, it was a good vacation. We saw and did neat stuff. We ate good food (perhaps more than we should have.) We bonded. And we look forward to doing as much again in the future.

Help me give my daughter more such experiences?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 203: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 24

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

The succeeding chapter, “Trader for the Vestrit Family,” begins with Keffria cleaning out the bedchamber she had shared with her husband; in the tumult that beset Bingtown, it was despoiled, and her efforts leave it “Empty, clean, and somewhat cold.” She considers it a reflection of her life as Ronica enters and asks after Selden; Keffria notes that he is packing to relocate to the Rain Wilds and that she is letting him do so because she has nothing better to offer him in Bingtown. Their own financial situation and the current status of negotiations to set up the new Bingtown government and division of land and materials are glossed. So are their hopes that Althea will return home; Keffria presses her mother about her husband, and the two women discuss Keffria’s twinned dislike for having to manage her own affairs and pride in doing so well until Rache arrives to indicate, with some displeasure, that Jani Khuprus has arrived to take Selden.

Something like this, yeah.
Image from https://ats-heritage.co.uk, used for commentary.

Jani muses on the status of the Vestrit home as she awaits the inhabitants. As they join her, she notes her hopes for Selden and their towns before laying out two offers. One, her personal offer as she formally accepts stewardship of Selden in honor of the agreement between the Vestrit and Khuprus families, is to host the Vestrits in her own home. The second, on behalf of the Rain Wild Traders, contradicts it, obliging Keffria to remain in Bingtown as the official representative of the Rain Wild Traders. She demurs, but Selden seeks to persuade her to accept, noting the other Elderling cities along the Rain Wild River that await rediscovery and the prospects of an ennobling interchange between human and dragon. And an agreement is struck among them.

The present chapter expands from the ideas of the previous in offering possibilities. There are legal avenues open to Keffria at this point in the narrative that would allow her substantial agency, and though she does not find any of them entirely satisfactory, she reaches an arrangement that brings her some contentment; she is the controller of her own affairs, but she only arrives at that point by giving up control of others’ dealings and doings. And that, as with her daughter far away, is surely instructive.

Care to help me keep this going?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 202: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 23

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

A chapter titled “Flights” follows and opens with Reyn startling awake in Tintaglia’s clutches as the dragon seeks a place to land safely. He reviews their progress together, and he comes to reconsider the dragon as she shares her situation with him, and as the dragon heads off, Reyn tries to hunt some of the sea bullocks to aid her. The gesture confuses the returning dragon, but it also seems to mollify Tintaglia, and they confer about their expectations of the others’ species as their time together continues. Reyn is left uncertain of his feelings and of the price he and the rest of humanity will pay for the agreement he has made.

Pacific Walrus - Bull (8247646168).jpg
Something like this comes to mind.
Image originally from Joel Garlich-Miller for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, thus public domain.

Aboard the pirate ship Motley, Malta tries briefly to comfort the Satrap, but his whining sours her on the project swiftly. She moves to join the ship’s captain, Red, at mess, and the conviviality of his table is noted as he asks after the Satrap; Malta attempts to demur without success, and Red lays out the situation with the Satrap plainly: he will be taken to Kennit, who will ransom the Satrap to the highest bidder. Red also propositions Malta, and she considers how she might avail herself of standing as his mistress to effect her father’s rescue. She refuses, and he accepts the refusal–though he also notes that she would be better off joining him and his crew than holding onto her earlier desires before releasing her to get information from the Satrap.

Though the chapter is a brief one, it does much to present possibilities–and not only for Reyn and Malta, on whom the narrative action focuses. Reyn’s conversations with Tintaglia reaffirm that the two species, human and dragon, can learn from one another and can find some accord, although they also reaffirm that there are fundamental differences between the two not likely ever to be bridged. Again, I know I ought not to read for parallels to present circumstances, but I also cannot help but see them; I cannot help but think there is some kind of comment being made about one or another of the many, many divisions within humanity in the readers’ world as Hobb depicts the separation between species in her narrative one. And Malta’s conversations with Red speak to a certain relaxation of social mores that even she entertains–if only briefly, and if only to reject them. But her rejection is less on the grounds of adhering to the mores than upon pursuing her own goals, which is surely instructive…

Still working through the move, could still use your help.