A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 280: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 3

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

The next chapter, “Trepidation,” begins with an in-milieu vignette regarding the White Prophet Hoquin before glossing more of Fitz’s preparations for travel. He reviews the information he has about the itinerary he faces, which will include a visit to the port city of Zylig, where the Hetgurd–“a loose alliance of Outislander headmen”–sits, before a call in at Wuislington on Mayle and thence to Aslevjal. Fitz also frets about those who will remain when he is away. And he is disturbed from his reverie by the quiet, unexpected entrance of the Fool.

Lots of this going on…
Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

Fitz and the Fool talk together, Fitz noting his concerns for Hap and the two finding themselves at ease with one another until Fitz recalls his plan to keep the Fool from taking ship for Aslevjal. Their talk turns to performativity, the Fool noting that he is not merely one thing, but that each role he plays is simply a revelation of a part of himself. The subject to the Fool’s impending death is treated, as well, and Fitz rails against it as the Fool lays out his bequests.

After the conversation with the Fool, Fitz gives his lesson to Swift, the boy once again nearly belligerent about his magic. The lessons go awkwardly, as does Fitz’s self-castigation afterward. And he finds himself calling on the Fool again, summoning him to the Skill lesson with Dutiful, Thick, and Chade. He finds him drunk and maudlin, but he drags him along through the secret passages anyway, surprising his students with the visitor’s presence. But the Fool is welcomed in and joins the practice as best he can–which is not much, in the event, until the Fool applies his Skill-silvered fingers to where they had touched Fitz before. Fitz is rocked by the experience, and Chade dismisses most from the lesson to confer with Fitz and the Fool. The talk does not go well, with Chade and the Fool exchanging sharp words about the need for dragons in the world.

The Fool makes his courtesies and departs, and Chade rails about him to Fitz in his absence. For his part, Fitz, observes that he has hardly been consulted about the choice the Fool and Chade seem set to have him make and makes his own exit, back to the hidden workroom. There, he finds a gift from the Fool, and it gives him pause.

The bit about the Fool’s roles being parts of himself put on display brings to mind Whitman’s Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself. / (I am large. I contain multitudes.)” I’ve noted before, several times, that others write of performativity in Hobb’s Elderlings novels more eloquently than I can; as before, I recommend the sources on it in the Fedwren Project. But, thinking about it, the Fool’s assertion makes sense. I am not quite the same in person as I am online, after all, and even online, I show different parts of myself to different communities in which I participate. Similarly, I do not show to my daughter the same parts of myself that I show to my mother, nor to my mother all the same parts I show my daughter, and I show neither of them so much of myself as I do my wife. And that is as it should be. The Fool simply does it…more. But that is part of the purpose of fantasy fiction (and other forms, to be fair), to enhance things to as to show them more fully and allow their deeper exploration.

And there is always more to know.

Help me close out the month right!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 279: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 2

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

The second chapter, “Sons,” opens with an in-milieu historical gloss of the foundation of Buckkeep by a settling Out Island raider named Taker. It pivots to Fitz’s continued preparations to accompany Dutiful to the Out Islands, including his tutoring in the Out Island language and his instruction of Swift. The latter grates on him somewhat, not least because the boy continues to be almost belligerent about his Wit, and Fitz seeks out Web. Getting to him alone takes some doing, but Fitz achieves it through indelicate means, and during their conversation, Web lets Fitz know that he knows his true identity. He also agrees to teach Swift–if Swift seeks him out–and extends the same offer to Fitz.

Lots of this, yes.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Unsettled, Fitz makes to mull over the matter and goes in to Buckkeep Town to distract himself. There, he meets with Hap, who admits to him that he is falling in with Svanja again, despite her clear perfidy. He notes the likelihood that he is being deceived, but also notes that he cannot help himself. The two talk together as amiably as might be expected, and they part in familial love. Afterward, Fitz walks through the town, considering changes, the prospects of unpleasant travel, and the looming confrontation with the Fool over his not going to Aslevjal.

Fitz notes that the reputation of the Fool as Lord Golden has grown obscene and prodigal. He puzzles over the changes to his friend, even in an already flamboyant persona, musing that some are merely covers for his intent to go to Aslevjal and to maintain information on Bingtown and points south. After witnessing an exchange that bears in on Lord Golden’s finances and being seen by the man himself, Fitz returns to Buckkeep alone.

A couple of points attract my interest in the present chapter. One is the encyclopedic entry at the beginning. I’ve commented on Hobb’s use of the device before, several times, and I note that the story is not dissimilar to that of the entry of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into what is now England–or, indeed, the Danes centuries later. Indeed, it’s a point worth remembering that many, many peoples live now where others lived before, and they maintain kinship with those where they themselves came from. It’s not always easy or comfortable to remember, of course, and it does tend to run afoul of nationalist assumptions and assertions, but there it is.

The other, and this is eminently affective, is the exchange between Fitz and Hap over Svanja and Hap’s apprenticeship. I am not so far removed from the experience of being a teenager as I should like to be as keeps me from recalling it–including the strength of hormone-driven infatuation and the equally hormone-driven anger at people not sharing adolescent certainty. Nor am I so far removed from Fitz’s experience of seeing one’s child doing something…inadvisable…and being unable to prevent it (at least without taking steps that are themselves…objectionable). Again, I feel for the characters involved–which is to the narrative’s credit. Readers are supposed to feel for the characters, after all…

As ever, I am grateful for any support!

Another Rumination on Some Old Writing

It happens from time to time that I look back at work I’ve done in the hopes of finding some new work to do. Sometimes, I look back and find that I’ve moved on for good reason, that the backward look is a waste of my time and effort, that there’s not much for me in what a friend describes as a country from which we have all emigrated. Sometimes, though, it works, and I’m able to find places where I might be able to do some work of interest. Those are more pleasant events, even if they are fewer than I might like them to be.

I keep copies of my work for just such reasons.
Image is mine and of my work.

One such example inheres in the image above, which is the slightly-edited typescript of a conference paper I gave some years ago, when I was still at work on my dissertation and still held the hope–the expectation, really; I was sure I’d be among the few exceptions to the rule of college teaching work–of a tenure-line job. I remember that, after giving the paper, I’d thought it’d been well received, and so I’d meant to take the usual next step with such things: developing it for publication.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, really. A person has an idea about a text or group of them and drafts a short piece to get that idea out onto the page where it can be seen decently. At that point, they look over it and check to see if it’s actually worth further development; it isn’t always, really. If it is, the academic will then often do the initial work of fleshing out the idea. For me, that usually means (because I do still do some of the work) looking at the primary source material for evidence supporting the idea. It also often ends up meaning a short paper–longer than the initial draft, which usually runs a page or two for me–comes out of the work. Mine commonly come out between 1,200 and 1,500 words, plus citations, which is publishable in some journals and is a good length for a roundtable talk.

At that point, paths vary. If the piece seems sound enough to send to one of the journals that publishes such short pieces, it goes there (if after at least one outside reader looks at it, as is the case for me–one of the benefits of having a wife I met in my graduate program). If there’s a roundtable that will take it, it gets submitted there. More commonly, it gets reviewed and expanded into a conference-length paper, usually some 2,600 to 3,250 words (plus citations). Such was where the paper above had been when I gave the long-ago talk, and a good conference paper will provoke comments and questions from audience members that can be used to expand and refine it into a journal-length paper–which usually runs double or more the length of a conference paper. At least in my field and in my experience, and I’m not alone in it.

Typically, when I go through to look at where and how a paper will need expansion, I follow the patterns I use when I am drafting and revising work in any other context. That is, I stub out where I think what kind of thing needs to go, and I highlight it so that I can see it quickly on review. I try to be consistent in the highlighting color; I use teal for that purpose, not only in my more academic work, but also in my creative endeavors and in the templates for my freelance work. Doing so helps me to know at a glance what I’m looking at, which helps me focus on doing the work rather than having to figure out what work I need to do.

It’s a concern.

When I look back over the work I’ve done, seeing the highlighting waiting for me betokens promises. Some of them, I very much need to act upon; leaving the messages for myself that I leave is tantamount to promising myself that I will return to the project in time. Some of them are aspirational; they show that there is more to do, more that can be done, and that I can do it. They show hope, and hope is always something worth having.

Send some support my way here, or drop me a line below, and we can talk about what all I can do for you!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 278: Fool’s Fate, Prologue and Chapter 1

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

In the brief prologue, “Battling Fate,” Fitz opines briefly on the White Prophet religion before pivoting to his own place in it. His repeated encounters with death are glossed as part of the Fool’s efforts to force the world into a better course, and Fitz notes the presence of an opposing force targeting the Fool.

Fool's Fate (Tawny Man, #3) by Robin Hobb
Looks familiar…
Image from Goodreads, used for commentary.

The first chapter, “Lizards,” opens with a brief comment from Fitz that notes the Fool’s assertion that death awaits him on Aslevjal and his request that Chade ensure the Fool would not travel to the Out Islands with Dutiful to fulfill the betrothal challenges the Prince and the Narcheska had exchanged. It moves then to the return of spring to Buckkeep and the lightening of Fitz’s mood as he prepares to meet with Swift in the Queen’s Garden. The boy arrives and presents himself as he has been directed, and the two begin to feel one another out. Swift discloses skill with a bow, and he notes having made a sharp break with his past, which Fitz–as Badgerlock–takes in stride. Swift’s near-belligerence about the Wit, however, earns him some chastisement, and he is dismissed sullenly so that FItz can clandestinely meet with Dutiful, Chade, and Thick for their Skill instruction.

Fitz’s tutees are described as the four sit to practice their magic together. They report minimal success with a practice assignment, but Thick and Dutiful both report having dreamt of a blue dragon in the night. Fitz elucidates Dutiful’s report to Chade, Thick contributing some information, as well, and Fitz notes his supposition that the dragon in question is Tintaglia. They converse further, FItz and Chade speaking at some length after the training session ends. Chade notes his worries for his intelligence efforts, and the continuing threat of the Piebalds is noted. Fitz offers aid, and Chade makes another play for Nettle, despite Kettricken’s earlier words on the matter.

I write this in the wake of Winter Storm Landon (#TexasFreeze) having frightened those of us who remember Uri’s visit to Texas. The thought of returning spring is a welcome one; like Gandalf as “The Ring Goes South,” I could stand to have warmer feet. The thought of dealing with a surly teenager is…less welcome, much less one who seems bound to press the spirit of things with the letter of them; I find myself feeling for Fitz once again. Too, being pressed by many tasks…once again, I know I should not be reading with affect, but I seem unable to help myself. Perhaps it is the pleasure of being able sit and read again…

Send some support my way here, or drop me a line, and we can talk about what all I can do for you!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 277: Golden Fool, Chapter 27 and Epilogue

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

The final chapter of the novel, “Spring Sailing,” opens with a kind of creation story recounted in Badgerlock’s Old Blood Tales before offering something akin to a reverdie that summarizes developments in Buckkeep at the approach of spring. Preparations for Dutiful’s trip to the Out Islands progress, and the party to accompany him on that trip is determined. Civil and Web, Chade and Thick, are set to go, and Fitz is “randomly” chosen as part of Dutiful’s guard complement. Others make their own arrangements to go along. Lessons of various sorts go on, and Swift finds his way back to court, entering Kettricken’s service as a page, evidently turned out by Burrich.

Butterfly Dress
Illustration series for the Golden Fool by Robin Hobb
She seems to have it handled…
Katrin Sapranova’s Butterfly Dress is used for commentary.

Fitz finds himself in mind of Nettle, and they Skill together. They are interrupted by the intrusion of a blue dragon, from which Nettle forcefully extricates them. Fitz ponders the event and continues about his preparations, including calling on Hap, who now makes good progress in his apprenticeship. The quiet interdiction of the Fool proceeds, as well, although the Fool still clearly intends on taking ship for Aslevjal to face doom. Fitz and Chade confer on that point and several others, including Chade’s continued progress in the Skill and Fitz’s preferred armaments for what they expect to face as they head to the Out Islands and Aslevjal. Fitz is also tasked with tutoring Swift, surprising him.

Later, Fitz calls in on the Fool, the two reaching some reconciliation, even as both acknowledge that things cannot go back to how they had been before their falling out. And in the brief epilogue, Fitz reflects on his writing efforts and the seeming cycles of life, commenting finally that “Perhaps having the courage to find a better path is having the courage to risk making new mistakes.”

It feels as if it’s taken forever for me to get to this point in the rereading–and there’s more to do yet, with another novel in this series, two more series and some scattered other works in the Elderlings corpus, a whole ‘nother series, and some assorted other works to treat. It’s good to have a project, though, and I’m not complaining at all about doing this. Really, it’s a treat to read the work again; I’ve not been able to do such things much for a while, and it’s a pleasure.

More on the present passage, though: I note with some interest the reported development of the Stones game Fitz had learned from Kettle and passed on to Dutiful as part of his Skill training. Having become a seeming pastime of the heir apparent to the Six Duchies, the game has become a preoccupation of the nobility at court, and consequently a focus of conspicuous consumption as well as what might well be thought some kind of organized play. That speaks powerfully to the verisimilitude Hobb identifies as a major component of her writing, because it is the case that people will find things to occupy such hours of leisure as they can find, it is the case that those who vie for favor will attempt to emulate the tastes and patterns of those whose favor they seek, and it is the case that those who seek to elevate themselves will often make a show of what they already have as a means of displaying that they deserve to have more. Yet such concerns are overlooked in many works of speculative fiction, or they are only glancingly treated. That Hobb attends to them–and that she does so consistently across novels and series, not only with the “Prince’s Stones,” but also with particular recreational intoxicants–is one of the things that makes her narrative milieu so compelling.

Send some support my way here, or drop me a line, and we can talk about what all I can do for you!

This One Is Another Office Piece

I suppose I am overdue for writing another bit about where I do my writing work. I’ve done a number of such pieces in the past, of course (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, if not elsewhere), many of them looking at places I have lost. (I do still have the car, though.) But in 2021, my family and I relocated, and the place where we live now is one we don’t intend on leaving anytime soon. Given that I’m freelancing for the most part, I’m spending a fair amount of time in the house we’ve bought, and more specifically in the office I have in that house.

Something of a webcam view.
Image is mine.

There is, admittedly, still some work to do on the place; I’ve not managed to get all of the boxes unpacked, clearly, but most of the books I’ve kept are out on the shelves where I can get to them. And I am trying to get to all of them again, not only for my ongoing rereading project, but also in the interest of doing some of my freelancing work. Among others, I recently had cause to look at several transcriptions and translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I have, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without having my office even so set up as it is now. Too, with the books out, some of the dreams I have had might, maybe, begin to come to fruition.

So much is to say that I am even more open for business now than I was before. I’d be happy to put my again-accessible apparatus to work for you, if you’d have me. Please let me know via the form below!

Or you could send a gift along!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 276: Golden Fool, Chapter 26

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

And happy Valentine’s / Singles Awareness Day / Monday to you!

The penultimate chapter of the novel, “Negotiations,” opens with an in-milieu proverb: “One man armed with the right word may do what an army of swordsmen cannot.” It proceeds thence to continued discussions between the Old Blood delegation and Kettricken’s court. Web suggests that much might be eased by Kettricken taking Old Blood people openly into her household, and he offers himself as one such–doing so with remarkable grace and to evident acceptance.

Restaurants and COVID-19: How to Safely Dine at Your Favorite Place
The Old Blood masking up hits differently now…
Image via Healthline.com, used for commentary.

Fitz watches as the Old Blood delegation dines, sans Web, and continues watching afterward as negotiations begin to stall out. Boyo tries to bring up personal grievances and is shunted aside in favor of more global concerns. Silvereye voices historical grievances and calls for extensive retributive justice, only to be rebuffed. Matters degrade, only to be interrupted by one of the Old Blood needing to attend to her gravid Wit-bonded animal. Fitz continues to observe from hiding, joined by Chade; they watch as Silvereye reveals herself to be affiliated with the Piebalds. Civil Bresinga joins the meeting, confessing himself and pleading on the Farseers’ behalf; his testimony sways opinion, and the meeting with the Old Blood delegation ends with far better prospects than it began. Civil discloses his Wit to the court, and legal reforms are proclaimed. The delegates are returned to their people, Dutiful returned, and things seem very much improved.

I note Fitz’s assertion that Web “sounded more like a Jhaampe Wise-man settling a dispute than a spokesman for the Old Blood” early in the chapter, and I delight in having more parallels between the Old Blood and the Mountain Kingdom. It’s a pleasure to see more evidence to support an idea I have, of course–although, again, a targeted reading would be needed to see if the notion can be borne out.

For those reading along with my little series–thank you! I’m glad to know that folks are looking at what I write here, and I’m happier to know that it’s doing some folks some good (I’ve gotten a few messages to that end). It may not be much, but if I’ve made your day a little better, then it’s worth doing.

I appreciate your support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 275: Golden Fool, Chapter 25

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

The next chapter, “Convocation,” begins with an excerpt from an in-milieu fairy tale before turning to the emergence of spring at Buckkeep, Fitz glossing his experiences in advance of the planned meeting with the Old Blood delegation. From his position in the Queen’s Guard, he watches with some interest as plans shift, to the disapproval of both the Guard commander–Marshcroft–and Chade, and Laurel assumes a position among the departing company.

Wait, you mean he’s not one of these?
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The group rides out and is met on the road by the Old Blood delegation, who confront them before they arrive at the agreed-upon location out of an abundance of caution. Kettricken surprises all again when she offers to leave Dutiful in the care of the Old Blood while she hosts their embassy; through the Skill, Dutiful notes that he had been unaware of the arrangement, though he understands it. He eschews guards other than Laurel despite protests, and he Skills to Fitz to let him know that he is not to pursue, either. Emissaries are exchanged, the Old Blood presenting Web, who serves as as much of a leader as they have. And Web makes a point of talking to Fitz, to his unease, as the Queen and her entourage return to Buckkeep.

The arrival of the party, sans Dutiful, at Buckkeep occasions concern and tumult. Web continues to attend more closely to Fitz than comforts him as the Old Blood embassy is billeted. When, at last, he is able to excuse himself, he keeps an ear on gossip and reports as he eats among the other guards; afterward, he navigates the hidden corridors to Chade’s secret chambers and the Queen’s council room. Fitz arrives to find an argument between Kettricken and Chade in progress. Kettricken gets the better of it and gives Fitz his assignment. He attends to it, spying on the Old Blood delegation, at which Chade joins him at length. They learn of some agitators among the delegation–Boyo and Silvereye–and Skilled conversation with Dutiful notes that he is being treated decently.

After, as Fitz makes for the guardroom for a late meal as Badgerlock, Web runs into and accompanies him. Conversation moves from strained to spirited and engaged as Web plies the guard for tales. Fitz muses that his presence seems to be doing the diplomatic efforts good.

I’ve noted elsewhere the interesting social structures at work in the Elderlings novels. The Six Duchies operate in many respects as a stereotypical “feudal” court, following common patterns of structure and intrigue (per my thesis). The Outislands follow another, more nuanced social structure (per this chapter), and the Mountain Kingdom follows yet another (noted here and elsewhere). I’m not alone in making such observations–obviously, really. With the description of Web in the present chapter as someone who is not a ruler, but an advising counselor, I find myself wondering if the Old Blood in the Six Duchies and the Mountain Kingdom operate along similar social rules. I’d have to do a dedicated rereading to be certain–and the gloss that I’m doing presently is not the kind of targeted investigation I mean–but there are some evocative parallels. Web’s status is one, while Kettricken’s Wittedness (noted here and elsewhere) is another; there are clearly Old Blood in the Mountain Kingdom, among others. Again, it’s a tantalizing implication, one that might be worth following up on–later.

Thank you for helping me to keep doing this!

Some Notes about Reliability of Sources

I’ll note that what follows is adapted, lightly, from some old Canvas notes from back when I had students. Perhaps some will find this useful…

Critical thinking–and the reading and writing that proceed from and influence it–demands that the sources used to create arguments be interrogated and assessed. That is, they should not be accepted blindly for what they say, but should be made to account for themselves and their utility. How they are assessed will depend, of course, on how they are to be used–and the same source can be used for different purposes in different situations. What follows offers a few reasonably basic observations about the matter.

To ease navigation, the following:

Subjects of interrogation…
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Types of Sources

One way of classifying sources is in terms of their proximity to what is being discussed. One system for such classification breaks sources into three grades of proximity: primary, secondary, and tertiary/critical.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the things being discussed. For a paper talking about Malory’s Sir Kay, for example, the primary source would be Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. For a paper talking about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the movie itself would be the primary source. For one talking about legislation meant to determine curricular standards, the text of the proposed law would be the primary source. And any number of other examples could be found.

Primary sourcing is vital to research, of course; it is the thing being studied, about which new knowledge is being made. As such, it must always be included in the work being done–although it should not be accepted blindly as correct. The questions that apply most especially to secondary sources, discussed below, also apply to primary sources, if not so much; secondary sources can be rejected, but primary sources must be grappled with.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are those things that discuss the primary sources. Published studies of those sources are the most common examples, as Sayers (2007) would be for Sir Kay, for example.

Secondary sourcing is also important to research, although, as the name implies, not to the extent of primary sourcing; as noted above, any individual secondary source may be accepted for inclusion in a piece of research or rejected from it. If accepted, a secondary source will typically be used

  1. To provide context in which the argument is to be made (i.e., “Many others have studied such phenomena. For example, Author (Date) asserts that Æ. Additionally, Other Author (Date) notes that Д);
  2. To bolster the claims made about the primary source (i.e., “Author (Date) agrees, noting Þ”);
  3. To provide a counter-claim against which argument can be made (i.e., “Not all agree. For example, Author (Date) contends that Ƿ”), also called a counter-argument;
  4. Or to rebut such a counter-claim (i.e., “Author’s (Date) work is not agreed upon. For example, Other Author (Date) contends Ȝ”), also called a rebuttal.

That is, secondary sourcing need not agree with the claim the research means to support; there are other, entirely legitimate reasons to include it within the structure of the argument. Context is helpful to situate understanding, independent of other concerns, and counter-argument helps develop ethos by demonstrating not only broader understanding of the current state of knowledge in the field (needed if the research is to generate new knowledge), but also to bear out the notion that the writer has considered other alternatives. Rebuttal then becomes necessary to clear out cognitive space in which to construct the argument.

Tertiary/Critical Sources

Just as it is not the case that all sources in a piece of research must agree upon the central claim being made, it is not the case that all sources referenced bear in directly upon the question addressed in the research. For example, secondary sources can be deployed that treat similar topics to that being handled in the individual piece of research, facilitating argument by analogy. More to the point, however, some works that are referenced serve as guideposts for that research, outlining approaches to take and philosophical stances from which to take them. Such works can be referred to as tertiary or critical sources.

An example of such a piece for Malory’s Sir Kay might be found in Fredal (2011). His piece does not directly engage with Kay, or with Arthuriana at all, but it does offer a useful rubric of measurement–and that rubric might then be applied to how Kay acts in Malory. (I did this, in fact, at a 2016 conference.)

One of the things that tertiary sourcing does is help writers to contextualize their work within the greater gathering of human knowledge–and that is a vitally important concern, one that helps to mark out a writer as a serious scholar or on the way to becoming one. It also helps readers to understand the work more fully, which is a good thing, as well as to develop ethos further by demonstrating again a broader consideration on the writer’s part.

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Yeah, I had a lot to say about this guy…
Image is “Sir Kay breaketh his sword at ye Tournament”
from Howard Pyle’s 1903 The Story of King Arthur and His Knights via Wikipedia, here, and I’m given to understand it counts as public domain.

Questions to Ask of Sources

Whatever the type of source, though, it should not be accepted uncritically. That is, it should have questions asked of it that go beyond “What is it saying?” and “How is it saying it?” Such questions get at the biases in the source–and there are always biases in the source–as well as its limitations, both of which are needed to understand how and if a source should be used. Many of them inhere in the environment of writing in which the piece being assessed exists–as described in other lecture notes.

An initial list of such questions, broken down by those involved in the production of the text, might look like this:

  • Writer
    • What ethos does the writer have? That is, what authority does the writer have to write about the topic being discussed?
    • How open about that ethos–and its limits–is the writer? That is, does the writer announce what authority is possessed, as well as where that authority ends?
    • What else has the writer written, and how reliable is it generally? A history of useful work makes the individual piece being examined more likely to be useful.
    • With whom is the writer associated, financially and personally? That is, who pays the writer, or whom does the writer value, and therefore who might have an ideological bias that influences the writer’s work?
  • Publisher
    • What ethos does the publisher have? That is, what authority does the publisher have to release materials about the topic being discussed?
    • How open about that ethos–and its limits–is the publisher? That is, does the publisher announce what authority is possessed, as well as where that authority ends?
    • What else has the publisher released, and how reliable is it generally? A history of useful work makes the individual piece being examined more likely to be useful.
    • With whom is the publisher associated, financially and otherwise? That is, who pays the publisher, or whom does the publisher value, and therefore who might have an ideological bias that influences the publisher’s work?
    • What editorial practices are in place? Also, what peer-review practices, if any, are in place? That is, how does the publisher go about assessing work under consideration for publication, and how is the decision made about whether or not to publish it?

Similar questions might well be asked of other major participants in the written environment, such as translators and other gatekeeper readers. They will have biases and influences upon them, and those will necessarily translate into the work in some way.

One other concern needs attention, as well: timeliness. That is, how appropriate is the time of the source being discussed to the topic and the context of discussion? Generally, more recent sources will be more useful than older ones, in that more recent sources have had more opportunity to emerge from the best available information. That said, a certain amount of time for fact-checking needs to happen (which scholarly work typically includes as part of the extended publication cycle). Also, a piece working with earlier attitudes toward a given topic will benefit from using older sources, largely as primary materials, but possibly in other contexts, as well.

It must be noted, finally, that answering such questions satisfactorily only leads to a greater likelihood of accuracy–never total certainty. New information might always emerge that undermines what is known now. Too, as Edmundson (2009) notes, the work done is done by people, and people are prone to error, deliberate and incidental. But that same uncertainty means there is always more to learn, always more to do, and so that there is always use for the work of researchers at all levels and in all fields. And that is a hopeful thing, indeed.

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  • Edmundson, M. (2009). Against readings. Profession, 56-65.
  • Fredal, J. (2011). Rhetoric and bullshit. College English, 73(3), 243-259.
  • Sayers, W. (2007). Kay the Seneschal, Tester of Men: The evolution from archaic function to medieval character. Bibliographical Bulletin of the International Arthurian Society, 59, 375-401.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 274: Golden Fool, Chapter 24

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

The following chapter, “Connections,” opens with in-milieu commentary about the White Prophet and Catalyst from the perspective of the priesthood of Sa before turning to Fitz’s frantic Skilling to Chade. He meets with his old mentor, reporting his findings and concerns, the two connecting the Pale Woman to Elliania through Henja and conferring about steps to take as they move forward to address the challenges Dutiful and Elliania had presented to one another. Their talk ranges to Skilling before Chade informs Fitz that he will be “hired” into the Queen’s Guard so as to report on the coming meeting with the Old Blood delegation and secure Dutiful as he attends it.

Kettricken’s Fox Pin – inspired by the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb
Something like this at Fitz’s breast…
From Hannah Hitchman, used for commentary

Skill lessons resume, if with some difficulties and missteps, and Fitz continues to recover from his near-death. He is accepted easily into the Queen’s Guard, guessing that others in it are clandestine agents, a well. Fitz improves his relationships with both Thick and Hap, but his relationship with the Fool grows more and more tenuous. For his part, Lord Golden begins to slide into dissolution. Fitz also muses over the arrival of Civil Bresinga at Buckkeep, and he confers with Dutiful about him before one of their Skill lessons, and during that lesson, Thick demonstrates the depth of his power in the magic. Chade uses the opportunity to summon Skilled ones to Buckkeep, and another voice makes itself heard to Fitz, though not the others.

One of the things in Hobb’s prose that sometimes grates is a tendency to rush things later in her novels. The present chapter is an example of it, with much glossed so as to make room for events that have to be put into the book before it concludes. This is not to say that much attention needed to be paid to the events that are glossed over, certainly, nor is it to say that I could do better. The latter is assuredly untrue; writing fiction is not among my skills (even if writing about it very much is!), though that does not mean I cannot comment on what seem to me to be lapses in excellent work. Loving a thing–and I think I’ve made it clear that I love reading Hobb’s writing–does not mean ignoring areas where it is not as strong. And what’s coming is an area of strength, so there’s that.

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