A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 253: Golden Fool, Chapter 3

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

The following chapter, “Echoes,” opens with an in-milieu commentary about the end of the Red Ships War. It turns then to Fitz returning to the chamber he has as Tom Badgerlock, assessing the room sadly before arming himself and tending to his servant-duties. Among them, he begins to resume weapons training, using it as one opportunity to reaffirm his identity as Badgerlock, in the hopes of dissuading those who might recognize him as Fitz.

Something like this…
Image here, used for commentary.

After his training session, Fitz-as-Badgerlock finds his way to the steam rooms used by guards to bathe, and he washes himself before some of the local guards enter. As he makes to leave, he is harangued by a young guardsman; after an exchange of words, the young guard swings at Badgerlock, swiftly losing the ensuing fight. After a time spent in conversation with the other guards, including one Fitz recognizes from his youth but who does not seem to recognize him in turn, Fitz makes his exit and prepares to go out riding with Lord Golden and Prince Dutiful. Laurel meets him at the stables, asking after Golden and Dutiful; Badgerlock offers little detail before having to wait for the others, who arrive accompanied by Civil Bresinga and others.

At length, they ride out together, and, when they are at some distance from Buckkeep, Dutiful turns to Badgerlock and asks after his lessons sharply; Badgerlock responds with somewhat mocking courtesy, and Dutiful rides off. Badgerlock pursues, and they apologize each to the other before awkwardly arriving at accord, largely over discussing Verity. Golden joins the conversation, aiding it, and they learn more of the Piebalds’ machinations through the Bresinga family. Talk turns to the Narcheska, as well, and the conversation reveals some of Dutiful’s own blindnesses–not surprising in a boy of fourteen–and the bias of the Six Duchies’ information on the Outislands. They arrange for Dutiful to have a Skill lesson the following morning, and they make their way back to Buckkeep. Once there, Lord Golden contrives to be “injured,” allowing Badgerlock an opportunity to be present in the halls of power for a ceremony that evening.

Such passages as the in-milieu commentary that opens the chapter are among the many things the prompt a reading of the Six Duchies as another iteration of the generic northern / western European medievalist mishmash setting common to Tolkienian-tradition fantasy literature; ringing of the Arthurian Avalon and the Tolkienian Ar-Pharazôn–a king in black and gold waiting for a final battle–the description of Verity’s quest to the Elderlings is very much in line with mainstream Anglophone fantasy literature, and the inaccuracies in presentation smack of the agglutinative legend-formation that associates itself with some of what might be anachronistically termed long-running narrative franchises. Not for nothing did I go into a conference presentation with ideas about the ways in which Hobb recapitulates and nuances the tropes she inherits from earlier authors, to whom she acknowledges a debt. Nor yet is it the case that the presence of one set of tropes precludes another; as I said to students when I had them, one of the marks of good art is that it sustains multiple discourses, and Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings does that.

Help me avoid the knockout punch of the holiday season?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 252: Golden Fool, Chapter 2

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

There is some ableist language to deal with in the present chapter.

The next chapter, “Chade’s Servant,” opens with in-milieu commentary on the White Prophet Hoquin before turning to Fitz realizing he is fleeing again, reverting to his childhood behaviors. He sits down in the corridors’ darkness to ponder his options and the likely goals of the Piebalds. He realizes that he is an intended target for the Piebalds, likely to be used by them to drive home their influence over the Farseers.

The Tawny Man Book 2: The Golden Fool - Thick
John Howe’s Thick, used for commentary.

While mulling over the affair, Fitz overhears the complaints of Dutiful’s intended, the Narcheska Elliania, and uses the spy corridor to observe her more closely. He marks the close relationship between her and Peottre, her mother’s brother, as well as the strange intrusion of a servant who carries orders from “the Lady.” A tense exchange and magical working ensue, and Fitz makes to reach Chade’s chamber.

Therein, Fitz encounters a strange servant, finding him immensely powerful in the Skill. The servant rages at Fitz for a time but eventually returns to his duties, grousing at him all the while in both words and magic, and Fitz begins to be plagued by a headache. He is roused later by Chade, who asks after him, and Fitz reports the Skill the servant–Thick–has. Chade is initially incredulous but soon accepts Fitz’s report; they confer about how to handle the untrained talent and about the situation with the Piebalds. They gloss over Chade’s apprentice assassin, and Fitz reports what he has learned about Elliania. Chade jokes that Fitz is now a journeyman assassin, which Fitz considers uncomfortably and briefly. Talk returns to the Outislanders and their customs, and Chade reassesses matters. He also cautions Fitz regarding Dutiful, and the two confer further on their current situation and the steps they must take to ensure matters proceed well.

Thick has appeared in the novel previously, and Fitz notes as much in the present chapter. This is the first extended focus on him, however, and it presents some problems–largely in the language used to depict him in-milieu. Yes, I know that the chapter is narrated by FitzChivalry and will necessarily reflect his biases, which themselves reflect the biases of the fictional culture in which he is enmeshed and from which he emerges; I know, too, that while Fitz is sympathetic, he is constructed to have any number of failings and foibles and worse about him, and even if he is part of a persecuted minority–although not comfortably so on either side of the exchange–there are other ways in which he remains privileged even in his servile guise as Tom Badgerlock. Intersectionality is a thing, and it was twenty years ago, if less openly than now. Additionally, I know that my attitudes have shifted in twenty years, and I do not recall being taken aback by the presentation of Thick when I first bought and read the book as I am now. But I am, and although I am not as up on disability studies as might be hoped, I am aware enough of it to know that those who are so versed might have things to say about the text. (I note with some interest that the works I’ve annotated as of this writing do not seem to treat it–which is not to say it does not deserve treatment, but none of us can do all of the work that needs doing.)

I’ll note, too, that it was consideration of the present chapter that did much to inform my reconsideration of the Realm of the Elderlings milieu. The explicit discussion of matriarchy among the Outislanders prompted my reconsideration of the cultural antecedents of that culture; I am reminded of as much again in the present chapter, along with the unpleasantly colonialist connotations (drive not least by Chade’s offhanded remark about the Outislanders “leaving behind” their matriarchy–although the Six Duchies does seem to be relatively gender-neutral). So there’s probably more of that kind of thing to be coming in my comments about the succeeding chapters…

Can I count on your support?

Meal Service

You may make the choice from the menu
I said
But someone else decides what’s on it
He said
Then get up and leave the restaurant
And I didn’t argue with it then
Sitting around the tables in a study group
With people who I knew agreed with him
Who have always been the ones to drive to that restaurant
Or another just like it
And who haven’t had to worry that
If they got up to leave
Someone wouldn’t scream
They’re skipping out on the bill
And call for aid
That is aid only for some
And they all know who they are
And they all know who they are not
And who they are not for
And who haven’t had to worry that
If they got up to leave
They would be standing up alone
And what sticks up gets hammered down
And who haven’t had to worry that
If they got up to leave
They wouldn’t have a way to get home
Because the restaurant is not where they would choose to be
Far away from where they rest their hearts
But they had to go where they were brought
Because walking until your feet bleed
Isn’t really an option when
You have to be on your feet all day
Every day
And your shoes are wearing thin
And who haven’t had to worry that
For a long while at least
They can’t afford another restaurant
Or a grocery store
Or a pot to cook in
Because choosing not to eat
Isn’t really an option when
You do still have to work the next day
But I should have argued
Shouted to the winds that blow
Summery breath from many directions
Even if their howling would have drowned out my voice
I should have gotten up and left
Even though it was no restaurant
If I did not like what was being served
But I was not the one who drove
And I could not have taken my party with me

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Help chip in for tomorrow’s meal?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 251: Golden Fool, Chapter 1

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

The first chapter of the novel, “Piebalds,” opens with in-milieu commentary detailing the groups origins, propaganda, and practices. It moves then to pick up directly where the previous novel ends, with Fitz-as-Badgerlock ending the night in Jinna’s home, waiting for Hap to return; Fitz muses on circumstances, including the revelations each has about the other. At length, Hap returns, exulting in Tom’s unexpected presence; he briefly seeks to relate his deeds and doings before being reminded that he has work in the morning, and he goes off to bed. As Tom makes to leave, Jinna again warns him about Hap’s dissolution.

Fitz’s sudden worry…
Image from friendly ghost on Tumblr, here, used for commentary.

As Fitz makes his way back to the castle, he is pursued and accosted by Pieblads who mock and taunt him. He is unassailed, however, and recriminates himself for his oversights as he proceeds back. The annoyance becomes anger as he reaches the castle gates and accosts the guards on duty, though he soon realizes his error. Swiftly enough, he returns to the duties he has as Badgerlock to Lord Golden, reporting events to him there. Golden notes Chade’s actions from the previous night, and as the two confer about all that must be done, Fitz realizes he has left his notes in his cottage–where any could find them. The Fool urges caution against Fitz’s sudden concern. Fitz accedes and makes preparations for the day to come.

The present chapter does an admirable job of explicating the events of the previous novel, catching up readers who either began the series on the second novel (I’ve had to do it several times for freelance work, so I know it happens for good reason) or who had had some time between reading Fool’s Errand and starting Golden Fool. And it does a good job of laying out the central conflicts of the present novel, hinting towards tensions surrounding homosocial and homosexual relationships as well as pointing out the problems of the Piebalds and of Dutiful’s training–in addition to motioning towards the cultural friction between the Six Duchies and the Out Islands. In brief, the first chapter does all of what a first chapter ought to do, which makes for helpful rereading; even if it’s not been long since I finished Fool’s Errand again, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to read Golden Fool for more than citation-mining, and it’s a welcome return.

Help me make a happy Thanksgiving for my family?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 250: Golden Fool, Prologue

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

The second novel of the Tawny Man trilogy begins with abortive in-milieu comments from Fitz about the loss of Nighteyes before pivoting to Fitz’s ruminations about his efforts to compile a history of the Six Duchies. He notes the repeated intrusion of the personal into what he had intended as the general. He also notes his utter bereavement in the wake of the wolf’s death and the strangeness of his choice of isolation thereafter.

Tawny Man Trilogy: The Golden Fool by Robin Hobb (2003, Hardcover) for sale  online | eBay
The edition I’m reading…
Image taken from an eBay ad, used for commentary.

Fitz then turns to reminisce about his time with the Lady Patience, noting remarks she’d shared with Lacey about the fixed attitudes of those unwed by their thirties; he notes that he falls under their rubric, having confessed as much to the Fool. He marks the Fool’s reply–respectful disagreement–and moves into ruminations on the bonds of family. Freedom, he notes, means a severing of ties; isolation is the price of self-determination, but the choices that lead to it can be amended.

As I noted before, I did not make the mistake of skipping the hardcover as the Tawny Man trilogy continued, but picked up Golden Fool as soon as I saw it on the shelves. At that time, I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at San Antonio, commuting from Kerrville to San Antonio five days a week to go to school and delivering pizza evenings and weekends, so I had low expenses and cash in my pocket, as well as access to bookstores–so I saw it soon after it hit the shelves. If memory serves, I read it cover to cover in a night, a delirious experience that has stuck with me strangely; I miss having the luxury of giving so much time to something at a stretch and having the focus to sit and read for hours, immersing myself in the synthesis of written word and feel of page and smell of it. Even now, when I can sit at my desk at home–and I suppose I need to do another office piece–I have many concerns to command my attention; I have to take such chances as this to read what I like to read, as they are rare unless they are made to be present. But I think it’s doing some good that I do so; certainly, there’re people reading what I write about what I read, and I hope it’s helping.

As to the philosophical import of the prologue: it is present, certainly, and those who are more studied in such matters can well discuss the ideological tensions that are at work in it. To my eye, there is something to read into it of the US idealization of self-determination, of rugged individualism; being Texan, I am surrounded by the idea that a person ought to stand on their own, entirely, rather than prizing the community. At the same time, I am aware of my own isolation from a great many things; like many people who spend a fair amount of time online and/or writing, I am removed from events even as I am affected by them, and like many men in the United States, I find it difficult to make new connections. That so many of those I have had have fallen away over time–as they are wont to do if not actively maintained–leaves me in a small world.

Perhaps that is part of why I read; I get some sense of connection by seeing into the lives of even fictional others. And perhaps that is part of why I reread; by turning the pages again, I can maintain some sense of connection back to who and what I have been, and if not at my best, it’s better than none at all…

Would you help me make more of these chances present?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 249: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 29 and Epilogue

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

The final chapter in the novel, “Buckkeep Town,” begins with in-milieu comments on fennel before turning to Fitz waking in his chamber after a long sleep. He and the Fool trade comments, and he resumes his guise as Badgerlock and makes his way out into Buckkeep Town. Badgerlock considers the townsfolk he passes as he moves through the bedecked city, musing on Dutiful’s circumscribed life along the way to Jinna’s. There, she greets him, welcoming him in from the weather and conversing with him about her concerns for Hap before inviting him to stay a while longer.

Illustration series for the Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
Once again…
Katrin Sapranova’s Jinna, here, used for commentary.

The brief epilogue, presented as a retrospection by Fitz, sees him muse on his efforts to compile a history of the Six Duchies and the overturning of those efforts by weather and passers-by. His comment near the end that “the past had broken free of my effort to define and understand it” is a telling one, I think. There is a tendency to view history as a fixed, immutable thing, and while it is the case that the events that happened in the past happened and cannot be changed, their presentation–which is what history is: the report and record and transmitted understandings of events and their importance–can and do shift and evolve over time. In part, this is and should be a reaction to the revelation of more and better information; new sources are found, new physical evidence emerges from the ground and from people’s holdings, and so knowledge changes, forcing interpretations to change along with it.

Of course, even so much gets opposed by a great many people, who want to think that history is what they were (badly) taught in their own histories, and that what their teachers told them (ineptly and in a rush, while they themselves listened far less than attentively) is Truth, immutable and Good; when new tools and rubrics for processing and assessing the information emerge, as they will as long as more people apply themselves to the study of the subject, they react even more strongly, perceiving the questions (rightly) asked about the narratives they imbibed not as critical questions aimed at generating better understandings, but instead as attacks on them, personally. Few of us are as important as that, truly–and Fitz, who is as important as that in his own milieu, seems to recognize it, offering a lesson many of us would do well to learn better than we have.

Help me make a better Thanksgiving for my little girl?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 248: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 28

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

The penultimate chapter in the novel, “Homecoming,” begins with in-milieu comments from Fedwren about the relationships between the Six Duchies and the Out Islands before turning to Dutiful’s party arriving at Buckkeep Town. Fitz-as-Badgerlock notes the shifting social arrangements among the party as they make their return, feeling some pique that Laurel only speaks to him because the Fool-as-Golden is occupying the Prince’s attentions.

Illustration series for the Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
I do so love her art!
Image is Katrin Sapranova’s Narcheska, used for commentary.

As they approach the capital, Badgerlock notes that the town seems to be decked out for revelry; he learns that the expected arrival from the Out Islands of a delegation–including Dutiful’s intended–has come early. Golden and Laurel ride ahead, and Badgerlock takes Dutiful aside to a clandestine entrance to the castle so that the ruse of his private meditations may be maintained. Rain begins to fall, and Chade uses the cover of it to spirit Dutiful into the castle, leaving Badgerlock to conduct their horses through more normal means back into Buckkeep proper. He watches the procession from the Out Islands along the way, and he sees to the horses once he is finally in the keep itself.

So much done, Fitz takes himself circuitously up to Chade’s tower, where a meal and a bath await him. He indulges in both and falls asleep, only to be woken later by Chade. The two confer about events, exchanging reports, and Fitz is shocked to note that Chade has ceded a position to him.

I don’t normally make much of the hero’s journey paradigm. I know it’s often used in teaching, and it does provide a convenient entry into looking at plots, but it is also not as applicable as many of its proponents claim it is. One former colleague of mine–former because I left the institution, not because she did–was notable for trying to read all works through that lens, something that even a number of undergraduate students recognized was not especially helpful. In the present chapter, there is perhaps something of the hero’s return and accommodation to a changed world; Fitz is taking a new position, and he is changed in advance of his taking that position. But he does not return to (public) accolade, and he is very much not a hero, although he is clearly the protagonist of the current novel. At best, the paradigm is an imperfect fit; it would be better, perhaps, to say that Hobb’s rendition is a more nuanced and authentic one than much of the escapist fantasy that is published and read.

I continue to appreciate your kindness.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 247: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 27

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

The next chapter, “Lessons,” opens with in-milieu comments regarding training in the Skill before pivoting to Dutiful’s convalescence following the trauma of his bonded beast’s loss–and Fitz’s numbed endurance of his own bereavement. They are in foul mood and not much better form as they make their way back to Buckkeep, somewhat circuitously. At one stop, Fitz-as-Badgerlock is obliged to call on the performing minstrel, Starling Birdsong, despite misgivings. She offers to take him back into her bed for the night; he refuses again, meeting her harsh rebuke.

Morning toilet…
Image from leafykat’s Tumblr, used for commentary

After, while the Fool-as-Golden is out, Dutiful and Badgerlock confer about his true origins, the Prince guessing at Badgerlock’s Farseer blood but utterly misidentifying its source. They also commiserate over the losses of their bonded beasts, and Fitz ponders deeply until he falls asleep. He wakes to find the Fool back in their rooms–despite the door having been locked from the inside. The two confer briefly before Dutiful wakes, and Golden excuses himself so that Dutiful and Badgerlock can confer. Dutiful asks Badgerlock to be his teacher for both his magics, and Badgerlock reluctantly and partially agrees; he recognizes that the Prince has been remarkably isolated, which facilitated the Piebalds’ efforts against him. Further conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Laurel, who marks the resumption by the Prince of his dignity, and, upon Golden’s return with the news that matters are arranged, Dutiful bids the group be off, and Golden pledges himself to Dutiful as he had to Verity and Shrewd before.

The present chapter does much to mark out the homoerotic tensions between Fitz and the Fool that scholars have commented upon; several of them are noted here, their works far more erudite than anything I do and therefore all the more worthy of consideration. The last passage, particularly, does so, with the detailed descriptions of intertwining hands and touch-driven magics at work. The passage also runs to homosocial bonding, with Fitz noting the particular lack of it in Dutiful; given the Prince’s report of his upbringing and his noted status as an only child, it makes sense enough that he would feel isolated. There is certainly peril in such isolation, not only in making Dutiful susceptible to the influence of the Piebalds, but also in creating such figures as Regal, whose jealousy of Chivalry and Verity a generation back occasioned so much harm. And while it is to be expected that a ruler will be alone in some ways–leadership always imposes some distance–to have had no close contact has to have been a heavy burden for the boy.

Yes, I’m reading affectively again. But I’m reading, still.

I’ve had a shift in employment status; can you lend a hand?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 246: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 26

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

The subsequent chapter, “Sacrifice,” opens with a selection from Chivalry Farseer’s treatise “Of the Mountain Kingdom” before pivoting back to Fitz facing down the Piebalds as Dutiful is overtaken by Peladine. Fitz points out exactly what is happening, and Dutiful makes an impassioned plea that seems to move some of the Piebalds, but not their leader, Peladine’s twin brother, Laudwine.

Illustration series for the Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
May we all be so lucky.
Katrin Sapranova’s Nighteyes, used for commentary.

Dutiful makes to accept his fate, but the cat to which he is bonded turns and attacks Fitz, calling for him to kill her and trying to force him to do it. Fitz succeeds, and the ruse that Dutiful has maintained is broken. Laudwine attacks, and Fitz cuts off his hand. Melee ensues, from which Fitz and Dutiful are extricated by the timely return of Laurel and Lord Golden. Those accompanying Laurel and Golden, local Old Blood, tend to Dutiful, who mourns for the lost cat.

As Fitz feigns sleep, he listens to the talk that unfolds, the Old Blood explaining the rise of Laudwine within the Piebalds to Lord Golden. As sleep begins to overtake him in fact, he hears the negotiations between Lord Golden and the Old Blood elders there assembled; an uneasy agreement is brokered, with the Old Blood holding the secret of Dutiful’s Wit against better treatment for their people from Kettricken and the Six Duchies.

Fitz finally finds sleep and dreams with Nighteyes. In the dream, the wolf is young again, and he goes out to hunt, leaving Fitz behind to rest. He dissipates into the wider world, and Fitz wakes to find the dead wolf in his arms.

Yes, I cried. Again. As I do every time. Do you find fault with me for it?

I appreciate your support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 245: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 25

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

The following chapter, “Ransom,” opens with a brief note about recognizing children who have the Skill before moving into Fitz and Dutiful arriving through the Skill-pillar back whence they had fled. Fitz reassesses their situation, finding it suboptimal, but is surprised that his horse, Myblack, awaits them. He hustles Dutiful along, the horse following, until he can get the Prince astride the steed. As they proceed, Fitz hums to himself, speaking to Dutiful about his magics; Dutiful notes that the woman is with him, raging at his inability to attack Fitz through the Skill-command. He also speaks of his cat and the ways in which the woman in the cat would not allow the cat to be a cat.

Australian Mist.jpg
Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty…
Regis2007’s picture of an Australian Mist Cat, hosted on Wikipedia, here, and carrying a CCBYSA3.0 license; used for commentary.

Fitz becomes aware of pursuit and of the suffering of his wolf, and the Prince’s abductors emerge. Fitz threatens Dutiful, and pursuit pauses, one pursuer questioning why Fitz stands against others of the Old Blood; Fitz lays out his reasoning, and the pursuer rages against the Farseers. Dutiful hears it, and Fitz learns the underpinnings of the plot against Dutiful; the deaths of the Witted at the hands of the Six Duchies and their Farseer monarchs. Fitz manages to dicker for time and the release of the Fool and Nighteyes, a thin hope for all involved, and they are taken to where the abductors hold Lord Golden and Nighteyes. Fitz directs the Fool and communes briefly with Nighteyes, sadly so, and Dutiful begins to be possessed by the dead woman, Peladine, but he offers some resistance.

Things just do not seem to improve for Fitz, do they? At least he recognizes his own complicity in creating the current situation, although he had no way to expect that many or any of his entanglements would occur as they have in the novel. And it is not as if he had not already given his life in service to the Six Duchies…but even that does not mean that his actions did not give rise to what befalls now, as well as what is portended. Because the deal Fitz has struck with the Prince’s abductors, the Piebalds, is a tenuous one at best, and he has to expect that it will not be honored. As suspicious as Fitz is even of those closest to him, he can hardly not believe that others, less kindly disposed toward him, will be forthright…

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