A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 241: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 21

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

The next chapter, “Dutiful,” opens with another selection from Badgerlock’s Old Blood Tales before moving into Fitz waking slowly and in discomfort from a half-remembered dream; he realizes that the prisoner has escaped, and the Fool notes that Laurel is also gone, arriving at the conjecture that she took him and fled. The two confer, the Fool noting his fear for Fitz, and they set out in pursuit once again.

“And without your brain, too, alas.”
Photo by Steve on Pexels.com

The trail is clear enough, and Fitz opines that they will face resistance, including some likely from Dutiful. Nighteyes gives off of the chase with the clear trail, acknowledging an inability to keep pace. The Fool presses Fitz about his dream-sharing, and Fitz sights their quarry, assessing the situation glumly. The approach to the target is made, and melee ensues. Fitz reaches Dutiful, disoriented by the similarities between himself and the Prince–though he knows the reason. With difficulty, Fitz extricates Dutiful from the fracas, and he and the Fool make their flight.

It had to happen, of course, that Fitz would encounter Dutiful, and it had to happen that the physical similarities between the two would be remarked upon. Even had Dutiful not been conceived as he was, he would still be close kin–a first cousin–to Fitz, so that some similarity in appearance would be likely. But he was conceived as he was, and as someone who is similar enough to his own father to be mistaken for his (younger) brother, I know well that a son can favor his father’s appearance to an uncanny degree. (Seriously, even the patterns of the veins on the backs of our hands is the same, let alone our faces and frames.) That said, I’ve had a lifetime to be accustomed to the idea of my similarity to my father; he’s had my lifetime to be similarly accustomed. Fitz has not, and I can well understand his shock at seeing his own younger face, a face that might have been his own in other circumstances, looking back at him. So, yes, I again read affectively, but not without reason, I think.

But then, I would think that.

Send me a birthday present; I’m getting older soon!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 240: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 20

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

I suppose this one will need a content warning.

The chapter that follows, “Stones,” opens with a short passage about torture before moving into the continued pursuit of the Prince by Fitz, the Fool, and Laurel. They find the trail of the Prince and his company, as well as the site of an ambush of their pursuers; Fitz is not much affected by the carnage, though Laurel is, and, after an assessment of the changed circumstances, they press on. Coming to a barrowfield, they note some of the deeper histories and legends of the area before they press on.

Not a face to see on a dark night.
Moriadat’s Badgerlock on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

A warning from Nighteyes indicates that the party is pursued, and they hasten forward, narrowly avoiding being taken unawares in ambush. A short fracas ensues, with Fitz taking captive the archer who had lay in wait for them. He is not gentle with the young archer as he pushes his party to shelter for the evening. While there, Fitz begins to question the youth, letting him stew as he reconnoiters. Once he returns, he resigns himself to the course that seems clear before him, and he begins to torture the youth into providing information about the Prince’s whereabouts and his company. Laurel’s pleas and the Fool’s fail to dissuade him; only the emergence of Nighteyes gets through to Fitz, and at the wolf’s insistence, he leaves off. But he also becomes sharply aware of the wolf’s fading life, seeking to steady his companion only to be rebuffed just as the archer attempts escape. The youth is soon restrained, harshly, even as he rants about the plan to free Dutiful from bondage. Fitz attempts to correct him and is soon brought to rest by the wolf’s insistence.

There is a bit of Hobb’s Tolkienian roots in the scenes that Fitz, the Fool, and Laurel pass in pursuit of the Prince. The barrowfield they encounter, with the stories of spirits rising from the graves to prey upon the living, calls to mind the Barrow-Downs and the Barrow-Wights. It is no surprise, of course; Hobb herself attests to her early engagement with Tolkien, and, writing in the genre she does, she can hardly not engage with his works (even if, as I’ve argued, there are other sources more powerfully at work in her work). Nor is it necessarily a surprise that she works with a trope about which I’ve written elsewhere: the empty countryside of the medievalist kingdom. Even if an expectation is tacit, it is felt and often met–and there is an expectation that medievalist areas are sparsely populated, especially in the wake of a plague within a couple of generations (the Blood Plague referenced in several of the Elderlings novels) and of a rampaging war scarcely a decade gone.

Following a trend is not blameworthy in itself, of course, but it does provoke some interest. What gets carried forward, and what functions that carry-forward serves, are well worth interrogation and investigation.

I suppose I ought to comment about the near-torture, as well. I am not sure, however, what to say about it. I am not sure at all.

Can I count on your continued support?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 239: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 19

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

The succeeding chapter, “The Inn,” opens with a brief commentary on the gladiatorial King’s Circles that had arisen under Regal before turning to Fitz waking without pain from Skilling and communing with Nighteyes briefly. He returns to Golden and Laurel, and pursuit of the Prince continues. Fitz lapses in his charade with the Fool, chastising himself mentally for the failing, and they continue on until nightfall.

I saw the sign…
John Howe’s The Piebald Prince Inn, used for commentary.

That night, they lodge in an inn, the Piebald Prince. Fitz muses with unease on the name of the place, and he watches as the party’s horses are billeted for the night. He rejoins Golden and Laurel for dinner, overindulging and occasioning comment from Golden about the effects of Smoke–a popular intoxicant–upon him; Fitz stumbles through the following hours uneasily. In the night, the Fool wakes him with concern, and Nighteyes realizes that the stone from which the inn is built is the same as in the dragon-quarry and on the Skill-road, with the same effects on Fitz as before, and Fitz makes his way outside to be away from it.

Once outside, he finds himself in communion with the Prince again, and the Fool sees to him again. They confer briefly, and Fitz moves off, called by Nighteyes to see the wrong he has found: a drawn-and-quartered man. Laurel soon joins them, and they confer, in turn; it is clear the Prince and his companions or abductors are on the move, fleeing the kind of execution of which the evidence remains hanging before them. They rejoin Golden, who is making a ruckus about bedbugs in his bedding as an excuse for the trio to ride out in haste. They note the risks, but they also note the dangers for delay.

I delight in the clear ties back to earlier parts of the Elderlings corpus; the nerd in me–and, let’s be honest, that’s more of me than not–enjoys having consistency across intellectual properties and within milieux. I like the call-backs and the continued consequences of things within the setting; it helps with the Tolkienian “internal consistency of reality” that promotes Coleridgean willingness to suspend disbelief, often already noted to be necessary for fiction generally and for speculative and fantastic fiction, in particular. Events matter within the text, and that’s good to see.

I appreciate, too and again, the imperfections of the characters. That Fitz and the Fool lapse in their performances as Badgerlock and Golden is a good touch, adding more authenticity to the narrative. Performative as many things are, there are roles and roles, and that the players imperfectly inhabit the newer roles rings of truth to me. It’s one of the things I’ve long appreciated about Hobb’s writing, that she does such things; her characters are not Mary Sues or Marty Stus, both of which too often appear.

I would very much appreciate your support.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 238: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 18

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

The next chapter, “Fool’s Kiss,” opens with another in-milieu commentary from Badgerlock’s Old Blood Tales before pivoting into Fitz following Nighteyes, finding him at length and offering some small treatment. The two confer briefly about how they will proceed, Fitz worried for the wolf as he returns uneasily to the Bresinga household. There, he resumes his role as Badgerlock to the Fool’s Golden, and the latter works along a plot to effect their speedy departure, if at the cost of some scandal.

Fool-ish Golden Lord
Such devious plotting…
Fool-ish Golden Lord by A6A7 on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Badgerlock accompanies Golden, with Fitz musing ruefully upon it, as the latter returns to the Bresingas’ great hall, where he flirts audaciously with another guest, making himself the happy center of her willing intentions. Badgerlock watches with a strained equanimity as Golden continues to press his flirtation, noting the reactions of others present. They confirm to him that no few present are of the Old Blood, and he begins to reason through implications thereof. He is prevented for further observation by Golden’s dismissal of him, but he learns no small amount through listening to servants’ talk as he scrounges his own meal from the leftovers.

Some time later, after he has managed to slip back to his quarters, Badgerlock is summoned to attend to Golden, who is clearly suffering the ill effects of too much strong drink. Once he has retrieved Golden, he asks what has happened; the Fool replies that he kissed the Bresingas’ son, Civil, which event will occasion their shamefaced departure the next morning. And when that morning comes, Fitz emerges to find the Fool making himself look all the worse, so as to ease their leave-taking; the formalities are accomplished, and Golden, Laurel, and Badgerlock depart the Bresingas’ household in their continued search for Dutiful. Bidden, Badgerlock rushes off ahead to where Nighteyes has continued to track the Prince; they continue their pursuit, joined at length by Laurel and Golden. Matters grow tense with Laurel, who has suffered social pains at the hands of the Old Blood, and who has not been wholly honest with Badgerlock. And in the night, Fitz reaches out with the Skill, not finding Dutiful but instead a sense of simple peace.

Ah, here it is: the place where the idea that the Wit is a metaphor for homosexuality begins to get…frustrated. Here, Hobb begins to bring in overt homoeroticism–a tacit had been possible early in the Farseer novels, as well as afterwards–and, to my eye at least, it is difficult for a thing to be made a metaphor for something present and direct in the text. A hint is not an open statement, after all. I do not know yet, because I have not gotten to a place where I can think about it yet, whether or not the presentation of homoeroticism here–which becomes somewhat more later–is homophobic, as such; certainly there are homophobic characters, but I do not recall as I write this if they are depicted…well, anyway, it will be something to consider as I look at the novel again, as I keep looking, as I keep wanting to do.

Help fund my girl’s Halloween?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 237: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 17

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

A chapter titled “The Hunt” comes next, opening with a selection from Badgerlock’s Old Blood Tales before pivoting into a dream shared between Fitz and Dutiful. In the dream, the two–and others, a woman and a cat–realize that they are pursued and attempt to evade that pursuit, only to be found out in a way that leaves Fitz in pain and craving elfbark. Through the burgeoning pain, Fitz tries to press for Dutiful’s recovery; the Fool dissuades him and tends as he can in the absence of elfbark to his spreading pain.

Cat Hunt
Illustration series for the Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
I do so love her work…
Katrin Sapranova’s Cat Hunt, here, used for commentary.

There is little rest for him; Fitz-as-Badgerlock and the Fool-as-Golden take part in a hunt the next day, with their preparations and setting-out detailed. The hunt proceeds, and an excuse for Badgerlock to part from the rest of the hunters is made; he seizes upon it, and makes for Nighteyes, who has been attacked by Dutiful and the cat. Fitz attends to his long-time companion as he can and receives such report as the wolf can make; Fitz reluctantly returns to the hunt in time to see it end, and the two plot to head out to pursue Dutiful as soon as possible. Fitz makes shift to prepare for their departure but is informed that they will not be able to leave easily; still, an excuse for Badgerlock to be away from festivities is concocted, and Fitz begins the search for Dutiful anew.

I’ve noted before my appreciation for the Asimovian device with which Hobb opens the chapters of the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, the citation of in-milieu reference works. It’s not only because I retain some nostalgic fondness for Asimov (I am aware of how…problematic a figure he is, but the books read in youth tend to stick in the mind far past it.) There is a certain humor in a work narrated by a character featuring work by that same character in such references–but then, I cite myself often enough that I have to regard myself as the butt of such a joke in my turn. It’s fortunate, then, that I’ve long since learned to laugh at myself, if perhaps not to do so kindly. But then, I have it coming.

Aside from that, I’m not sure I have any comments about the present chapter. There’s probably something to mine in the contemplation of mortality that marks it, but I’m not really in a place where I can do that kind of work. At least, not at the moment…

Help me keep going?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 236: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 16

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

And my apologies for the delay in getting this out…

The following chapter, “Claws,” begins with an in-milieu gloss of the recent history of the Bresingas before turning to Fitz-as-Badgerlock following the Fool-as-Golden to the appointed feast hall; Fitz marks the appearances of those in attendance as the two of them proceed. Reactions are noted, as well, and Badgerlock takes up his position as bodyguard. is difficulty standing watch is noted, as is the information he takes in from his unaccustomed position.

Dinner at Bresingas
Illustration series for the Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
Ahh. Perfect.
Katrin Sapranova’s Dinner at Bresingas, here, used for commentary.

Golden steers conversation so as to encourage a fair amount of exposition about hunting cats, their rearing, and their practice. As Golden turns the talk to Prince’s hunting cat, Badgerlock finds himself subjected to the attentions of an insistent kitten; it occasions some comment, innocuously enough, and dinner proceeds. Golden turns conversation to the Prince’s cat again as Fitz confirms that the Bresingas are Witted, and Golden tries to draw out information from them. The meal is shortly thereafter called to a close, and Golden and Badgerlock retire to their chambers.

Fitz makes a search of the rooms and asks after the Fool’s condition, finding the latter exulting in having given a good performance. Fitz, as Badgerlock, ventures to the kitchens to get his own meal and to take in such gossip and rumor as can be heard. He hears a few things and puzzles out some more before having another encounter with a cat, one that gives him cause for concern; he begins to think his own Wit-bond will be known.

When he reports back to his chambers, he finds Laurel in attendance on Lord Golden. They confer about findings; Laurel has learned that Dutiful has been present. Fitz awkwardly retires for the night, comforted by the bare touch of Nighteyes’s mind on his own.

Interestingly, as I am rereading the chapter, my wife and I are adopting a kitten, Stormy; our daughter has wanted a new one for some time, and we are in a position to take on the additional responsibility. Now, ours is hardly hunting stock; she’s a rescue kitty, adopted from a nearby nonprofit. Still, though, it’ll be interesting to see if our Ms. 8 bonds with Stormy the way her mother did with other cats we’ve had.

Myself, I’m more a dog person. I’m sure there’s some joke to be found in that, somehow.

I note that the present chapter makes much of performativity. I’m not the only one to note the phenomenon in Hobb, of course; both Räsänen and Sanderson speak to it, for example. The Fool is overt about it in the present chapter, however, citing his conduct with the Bresingas as a performance and noting that Fitz is the only real audience for that performance–and since Fitz is the reader’s access to the milieu, the reader becomes part of the audience at both the usual readerly level and alone with Fitz within the milieu. It seems to me, as I read the chapter again, a strange blurring of narrative perspective; it remains first-person due to the narratorial style, of course, but it also seems almost to become metanarrative, raising a number of questions in me that I’m not sure how to articulate well, let alone answer.

The only solution is to read more and think on it. Fortunately, I’m inclined toward both.

Help me get back on track?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 235: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 15

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

The succeeding chapter, “Galeton,” opens with an in-milieu discussion of the Piebalds before pivoting to Fitz as Badgerlock, the Fool as Golden, and Laurel arriving at the ferry to Galeton, where they are forced to wait; they converse to pass the time. Talk turns to potentially dangerous places as Fitz attempts to sound Laurel out, interrupted by the appearance, however fleeting, of Nighteyes. Golden arrives shortly after, escorting Laurel off and leaving Fitz to ruminate. NIghteyes rejoins him, and the two confer through the Wit.

The three riders.
Rescue Team from Katrin Sapranova’s Tumblr, used for commentary.

Golden and Laurel summon Badgerlock back in time to board the ferry and cross the river it spans, and they proceed to Galeton in the night. Lady Bresinga and her son, Civil, welcome the party with their household, and Fitz determines that Old Blood are present among the entourage. Golden and Laurel are taken off to formal greetings, while Badgerlock is left to unpack and see to Golden’s quartering. The multiplicity of the Fool’s lives breaks upon him while he does so, and Nighteyes reports initial scouting efforts as Badgerlock is bidden attend on Golden at dinner that evening. After he prepares for the duty, he is taken aside and confronted with his own appearance; when he takes the time to present well, he presents well. After a brief exchange with the Fool as Fool, Fitz as Badgerlock accompanies Lord Golden to the meal.

Some of what gives the lie to the idea of the Wit as metaphor for homosexuality emerges in the present chapter; there are decidedly homoerotic overtones in the text at this point. Admittedly, sources I’ve annotated do a better job of explicating such things than I am equipped to do; while I am back in the classroom, I am not back into my scholarship in earnest, although I am striving to be so. In some ways, the energy fairly crackles toward the end of the present chapter; from the vantage of rereading, I can attest that it moves further as the Tawny Man novels continue. How much so, though, will have to wait for later chapters’ discussions.

Any chance you can send some help my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 234: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 14

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

The next chapter, “Laurel,” begins with a musing on the stone with which the Elderlings built before turning to Fitz waking in the bed in Chade’s hidden chambers, still fully clothed. He assesses his situation as Chade arrives, noting a coming breakfast with Lord Golden and a coming expedition to Galeton. The two exchange information, Fitz reporting his Skill-sharing and Chade noting the lack of romantic entanglements for Prince Dutiful. Chade also notes that matters are being prepared for Hap to have a chance to succeed.

The titular vision…
Image from Talking about the Weather, here, used for commentary

Fitz begins to attend to his errands in his guise as Badgerlock, including making arrangements for Hap. Despite worries, he notes being eager to get underway, and he is comforted by a brief touch of the Wit from the approaching Nighteyes. He reports being called to an errand before the wolf breaks contact, and when he returns to Buckkeep proper, he is bidden report to Lord Golden at once. There, he is informed that the Queen has bidden her Huntswoman, Laurel, join the pair, and they pack to depart.

Laurel meets Golden and Badgerlock as they make to depart, and they go out together, exchanging backgrounds as they do. After they are clear of Buckkeep Town, Golden urges haste, and the horses all leap into gallops, Badgerlock’s fractious mount outstripping the other two as they proceed.

The musing early in the chapter on the tensions between love and duty as they applied to Fitz in his youth, and how Chade and Kettricken have steered Dutiful away from encountering such entanglements, resonates strangely with me as I read the chapter once again. I’m fortunate enough not to have experienced such a thing; my loyalties are neatly ordered and not in conflict, and I met my wife when we were both in graduate school–neither of us were children at that point. But I cannot help but feel for the as-yet unmet Prince Dutiful, bearing an emblematic name as is so often the case among the Six Duchies nobility and royalty, and one that constrains him mightily despite his youth–no less than his position as the sole heir to an uncertain throne must.

Help me get ready for Halloween?

About Another Classroom Activity

I have noted my return to teaching and commented upon some of the work I’ve done in the classroom after making that return, I know. The work continues, of course, and that means I’ve gotten to come up with more things for my students to do–and since I teach English, that’s meant I’ve had the opportunity to share my love of reading, and some of the things that I love to read, with my students. Whether or not they like it.

Christopher Marlowe - The Marlowe Society
The man himself
Image from the Marlowe Society, used for commentary.

One such thing was Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” a poem I’ve read repeatedly over the past twenty or so years and that I’d previously taught, along with Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” and Donne’s “The Bait,” several times during that span. I’ve enjoyed the reading and the teaching pretty much every time, and students usually get into it by the time we get to Donne, catching on to what’s going on in the poems and realizing that we are still doing more or less the same things the three of them do in their poems. When I had the students read and discuss the sequence most recently–a couple of weeks ago, as this emerges into the world–I had much the same experience; I had a good time, and so did the students, with even some of the more reticent getting into discussion.

I say much the same experience because there was one key difference. As it happened, I stumbled into understanding a joke in Marlowe’s poem that I’d not previously recognized–and I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t seen it before, although I must plead that I am not a specialist in early modern English literatures. I mean, yes, I sat for a comprehensive exam in it, but it was not my major or even my secondary area. (My apologies to Prof. Vaught; the fault is entirely mine.)

Anyway, at the beginning of the third stanza, Marlowe’s narrator offers to make for his putative love “beds of roses,” which seems a strange thing to offer someone, especially as a first item to be offered. Now, my students noted, rightly, that offering a bed works as an invitation into bed, and the shepherd is trying to make something of a score–a “goods for services” arrangement, as one student put it, not incorrectly. With the first class I had that day, though, I noted the thorniness of roses and that a bed of them would make for uncomfortable lying down–which the students seemed to understand and agree with.

With the second class I taught that day, though, I had the revelation. A bed of roses, one still having all the thorns, would be a bed upon which the shepherd’s love could expect to be pricked abundantly. It’s the kind of joke I should have pointed out years ago, a little bit of fun embedded in the lines that helps make them continue to merit study–and something that, like a chicken joke in Malory about which I failed to get published, I wouldn’t’ve realized without the help of my students. And it’s the kind of thing that makes teaching continue to be worthwhile.

I can, of course, use more help to keep doing this.