A Robin Hobb Rereading Series–Entry 1: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 1

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

The first entry into the Elderlings Corpus is Robin Hobb’s 1995 Assassin’s Apprentice. It is not the first of the Elderlings novels I read, though. In time, it has also become other than the first work to take place chronologically in the milieu. But it remains the first book in the main narrative arc of the Elderlings Corpus, introducing characters whose deeds occupy most of the stories Hobb has told as of this writing. It remains, therefore, the best place to start rereading the novels again.

Not the edition I have at home, but pretty, even so.
Image from RobinHobb.com, used for reporting/ commentary.

The text of the novel opens with a chapter titled “The Earliest History. Its first paragraph is an excerpt from a piece being composed within the milieu, not unlike the Encyclopedia Galactica from Asimov’s Foundation novels. It moves thence swiftly into the recollections of the piece’s author, who muses on the indulgences shown to him and the enthusiasm of his earlier teachers before beginning his own recollections.

The narrator–and the Farseer books, as well as the series that follow them, the Tawny Man and Fitz & the Fool trilogies, work in first-person narration–asserts that his memories begin on a day when he was some six years old, and he questions their validity and their source. I recall it being a point at which I fell into what I would later learn to call affective reading; I identified wit the narrator at that point, having little if any recall of what happened before I was six, and wondering if what I remember is what happened or what I was told happened, my family repeating the same stories again and again until my perspective on the events cemented as if I were there and could bring them to mind.

Too, I find I cannot escape sentimentality; I cannot help but feel for the narrator as he describes being taken by his grandfather from his mother and delivered, without affection, to a keep over which his illegitimate father was king-to-be. He is taken to his uncle, named Verity, and thence dispatched to the care of his father’s footman, Burrich. Burrich takes the boy in hand, calling him Fitz for his bastardy, and the narration passes over some time until an incident in which Verity and Regal confer, with Burrich attending, on his fate. Regal proposes killing him; Verity ignores the suggestion, but heeds the command from their father, the king, that his illegitimate nephew is to be brought to the royal court at Buckkeep. In advance of Fitz’s arrival there, his father abdicates his claim to the throne; Fitz never sees his father in the flesh. It’s not something I can comfortably imagine, either as a son or as a father, though I know it is the case for many, many people.

I’ve remarked before, I believe, that Fitz’s beginning is hardly the most auspicious. He is a bastard, and one effectively abandoned by his closest kin. While his more extended family does take some measures to bring him in, they are hardly kindly ones, and it is not to be wondered at that things proceed as they do for Fitz as the novel–and, indeed, the Elderlings corpus as a whole–proceeds.

A couple of other thoughts on the chapter to close out:

  • It occurs to me that Chivalry, the narrator’s absent father, is “supposed” to be the hero. The name suggests that he is an embodiment of honor, and descriptions of the character reported by others generally confirm it. That he fathers a bastard son whom he never appears to see or to acknowledge (though others in the family do) suggests either a failure on his part or a comment by Hobb about the ultimately flawed nature of chivalric constructions. There is no end of scholarship on the latter idea, as even a casual Google Scholar search shows–and there are better searches to run, to be sure, though those rely on more restricted resources.
  • Following up on the idea of commentary, if Fitz is the bastard by-blow of Chivalry, does the profession he enters–foreshadowed by the title of the novel, really–serve as the sign of chivalric failure? That is, does Fitz’s formal profession serve as the illegitimate but seemingly inevitable product of putatively upright conduct? For many or most chivalric narratives admit readily of bastards; in Malory, even the most noble of knights–Galahad (since he achieves the Grail)–is the illegitimate child of the most worshipful Lancelot, and Mordred is the natural son of Arthur. How necessary is such a thing, then, given the tension between what should be and what is? I’m not yet sure, but it’s something on which to think.

I could still use funding for this project!


A Robin Hobb Rereading Series–Entry 0: Background and Context

To follow up on the material in the last post, some background and context for my proposed series of posts working through a rereading of Robin Hobb’s works seems in order. As noted before, I’ve long been an avid reader of Hobb’s works; I began reading them in the later 1990s, having had the Liveship Traders novels suggested to me by the owner/operator of a local bookseller, Books to Share in Kerrville, Texas. I plowed through the novels greedily, almost salivating as I waited for the last one to come into print, and I soon found myself picking up the earlier-authored Farseer novels, chewing through them with the same relish.

Robin Hobb, from RobinHobb.com, used for commentary/reporting.

When later novels in the same milieu emerged, I again and again found myself buying them without counting the cost and losing myself for joyful hours among their many pages. It was the kind of reading that pushed me to become an English major when I had to give up on the goal of becoming a band director, the kind of reading that made grad school seem a good idea.

It was the kind of reading that I did not get to do as much as I would have liked in the intervening years. Even though I did my master’s thesis on Hobb’s works, obecoming one of the earliest to make a formal, academic study of them, reading for academic work is not the same as reading for love of it. And though there are things that the focused, interrogative reading rewarded by academic humanistic study reveals that no other reading can, I missed reading for the love of the words.

I was not the best student when I was doing the initial reading–at least not of the world outside the classroom. I have since worked to keep a journal, but I did not do so then, not in any way the is currently helpful. My memory is not as good as it used to be. So I am not in a position to do as Luke Shelton did in his own work recalling Tolkien; I do not recall many of my first impressions of the books. (There are a few such things, admittedly: here, here, here, here, here, and here. I am more proud of some than of others.)

Consequently, I will not be giving first impressions, except incidentally as I may end up remembering them while I read. Instead, I will be reading the novels again, following the main narrative arc and going back after to pick up some of the incidental and subsidiary materials. I generally don’t do fandom studies; I don’t much engage fandom anymore, for reasons I’ve noted. I might welcome comments from those who do engage such materials; I would love for a discussion to be ongoing. But I can hope that the reflection on such things from years after my first readings will offer some insights that those initial readings would not have done, and I can hope that they will be of some value other than just to me.

Read the next entry in the series!

Please help fund this project!

A Note on an Upcoming Project

At this point, I am back from my conference trip (about which I’ve remarked), and things are slowing down a bit for me. They are not slowed as much as would let me get started on what I want to do (I’ve got two gigs coming up, and my daughter is performing this weekend; such things need preparation.) Thus, as before, I’ll have to ask for a bit of forbearance as I get going again.

Image result for harried man public domain
It sometimes feels like this.
Image from PublicDomainVectors.org.

I am going to get going, though, and soon. And I know what I am going to be doing for a fair bit of it. Making reports on a class that meets online, and I am teaching one, seems a bit odd to me at this point; I think I’ll be on-site again soon enough, and I’ll make the usual reports at that point, but until then, no. Too, I may still do some of the In Response to posts that pervade this webspace; I run into things as I look at the world that seem to call for attention, and it does not hurt me to give it them. Neither, though, will be my focus moving forward for a while.

No, what I’ll be working on most will be something like my colleague Luke Shelton has had going on his website. (Check it out; it’s good stuff.) I’ll not be working on Tolkien, though; he’s already amply covered, and, after my recent conference trip, I feel so far behind in that research that I’ll not be able to catch up. Instead, I’ll build on the work I’ve been doing (less diligently than I ought to be) in the Fedwren Project and do an annotated re-reading of Robin Hobb’s novels. I had occasion to do some re-reading as I wrote the paper for the recent conference, and I was reminded in doing so of the love for the material I’ve felt for quite a while now. It sustained me through writing my MA thesis, and I realize I really ought to have pursued it more diligently in my research through the rest of my career in academe. (I might still have such a career had I done so, in fact, but that’s a different matter altogether.)

So, in the coming months, I’ll be working on that kind of thing in this webspace. I don’t know how long it’ll take me to do it, but I think it’ll be rewarding. I can hope I’ll not be the only one to see or feel the reward; I know what I’ve done on the topic has already helped at least one other person, and I wouldn’t mind adding to that, whether in the project itself or in others that I can hope might grow from it.

I can do more with your support!

A Reflection on #Kzoo2019 from an #AcademicExpatriate

Over the weekend just past, I was once again in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, hosted by Western Michigan University. Once again, attending was a good thing for me, even if I was only there for part of the proceedings (rather than the whole event, as I have generally been–though that has not been the case most recently). It was also good to have gotten done what I took a brief hiatus to get done, and I am looking forward to getting back to work at home and on the various projects that are represented in this webspace. But there are some things that I do need to address about the conference before I move on.

It looks much the same as last year–but not quite exactly–in this picture I took.
I still cannot take credit for the title, though, even if I might continue using it.

I could remark on the commonplaces of the Congress. Issues of accommodation and access deserve consideration, after all, even if I am not necessarily the best equipped or the best situated to offer that consideration. Yes, I can crack wise about the conditions of my room, shown in the relevant picture (which originally appeared on my Twitter feed, @GBElliottPhD), and I do note that there is some value for me, if perhaps less so for others, in being a bit removed from the comforts and convenience of my daily life. But I am also aware that things which serve as comforts and conveniences for me are much more important for others, and I am trying to be better about listening to scholars of differing abilities about such things.

The aforementioned picture of the room. Not bad, in all.

Also important to note–because I am not about to get into the issue of comparing circumstances, and I have no desire to be taken as moving towards that issue at all–is the more-pronounced-than-usual whiteness of the Congress this time around. There was a boycott of it by a number of scholars, and I am sympathetic to it. (I was also not as aware of it as I perhaps should have been, for which I apologize.) What I read of the comments about it going into the Congress (which is less than I likely ought to have done, for which I apologize) suggested that one thing I could do to demonstrate support was to call attention to the issue in my own panels–and I believe I did so. In a business meeting I chaired, as well as in my paper presentation, I made explicit the need to do better with such things. For example, the conclusion of my presented paper:

Further study of other religious practices at work in medieval Europe than those commonly associated with medievalist tropes would also seem to be warranted, particularly as concerns depictions of in-milieu disadvantaged populations and their correspondences with real-world counterparts and analogues. Entirely too little has been done in that vein, with putatively mainstream audiences focusing more on themselves and those like them than upon respectful examination and appreciation of difference, and it has allowed rhetorics of ignorant hate to flourish entirely too much. It falls to further work on this project, and on any project, to work against such things with all possible vigor; I can hope that refinements to the current paper will serve that end.

I acknowledge that my backgrounds in racial and ethnic studies, in feminist studies, in gender studies more broadly, and in disability studies, as well as in many other areas of inquiry, are not as robust as could be imagined or hoped. The positions from which I have approached academe have shaped me in ways that have highlighted other issues that intersect with such fields but are not congruent with them, and I know I have had the privilege of looking at other things. I do not claim to have any particular expertise in them. But I can apply the expertise I have to at least point out the gaps in itself; I can refuse to pretend that my inexpertise with a thing means the thing is not worth expertise. No few humanities scholars complain of those outside the academic humanities ignoring the broad field because they do not work within it; how many of them will do he same thing with smaller areas of inquiry closer to them? I, at least, will try not to do so.

It is a small thing, I know, put against a large, large problem. But it is to be expected that the work I would do would be small; I am largely out of academe, an expatriate rather than an exile only in that I am allowed to return from time to time at gatherings such as the International Congress on Medieval Studies. I can hope that, in the coming years, others who have been here and would be here can well be here again–and I know that they can only be so, and should only be asked to be so, when they are treated with consideration and dignity. And I believe them when they tell me that they have not, even when and where I have not seen it.

Help me fund continued travel?

A Brief Progress and Status Note

I have been working to post to this webspace at least every Monday and Friday, and I’ve generally done well with it in the past months. Occasionally, however, I have other things going on that keep me from doing as well with it as I might like. This is one of those times; I am preparing materials for the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies, and doing so is taking most of my attention and effort. I will try to have something up for the next scheduled posts, but I cannot promise it; I hope it will not be too much of a disappointment to have only such brief notes as this for a short time.

After the conference, though, I have ideas about how to proceed. I expect I will be able to spend some more time with them, and I hope they will be worth the wait.

A Rumination on Slowing

Time was, I drank coffee more by the quart than the cup (or by the liter rather than the cup for my metric-using friends). When I was an undergraduate, for instance, and worked in the campus coffee shop, I drank espresso like it was drip coffee, and I could knock it back by the cupful and go straight to sleep. As a graduate student, I would drink the bitter black brew–for I stopped taking cream or sugar in my coffee before I started driving–as long as it was ready to hand, which was most of the day each day. My consumption ran at times to multiple pots in a day, and I remember one day that I was into double digits.

The cup in question, mostly empty again.
Photo is mine.

Now, I am aware that I was not the smartest in doing so. My body served to remind me of it at times then, and I am chagrined at my youthful follies independently of those reminders now. The idea seemed good at the time, of course, else I’d not have done it–but so did various bouts of drinking that left me puking down stairwells or falling down them, and so did provoking arguments that left me sprawled on the floor against the opposite wall from where I had begun. (Clearly, I have not always had good judgment. Perhaps I have not often had it.) I felt I had need or would benefit–or both, as when I finished drafting my dissertation more than seven years ago, now.

Consequently, I have reduced my intake a fair bit. Rarely do I drink more than a pot in a day, anymore, though I seem most days to drain a pot or its equivalent. And I seem to drink it more slowly than I used to; even a year and a half ago, I would drink three cups in the morning before heading out ton work, but now, I drink only two. Nor is it the only thing I seem to do less swiftly now than before, though the list of such things is longer than I care to recount at the moment. (It is also not universal; there are some things I do faster now than before. Typing is one. I suppose the persistent practice is helping.) And I find that that is somewhat worrying.

As I write this, I am in my mid-thirties. I can anticipate a long life ahead of me, still more of it than has already passed. If I am slowing now, then I would expect that I will slow more–and, paradoxically, more rapidly–as I move through the remainder of my life. At some point, I would grind to a halt, and that might be the end of it, but if it is not…it is not a comfortable thing to contemplate. And even if it is, if I am at such a place in my life that things will get worse, and more worse than better, from here, surely that is also not a thing about which to be happy.

I have to hope that slowing down is not going to be a bad thing for me. But what I have been able to do, I have done because I can do things quickly and well. Losing part of that does not seem like it has much good in it.

Help me buy another cup?

Reflective Comments for the March 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the January 2019 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of SPCH 275: Public Speaking during the March 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in SPCH 275 during the March 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many were irregular formal presentations; others included homework assignments preparing for and reflecting on the presentations, as well as ongoing online discussion. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are below, with relative weights shown in the figure below:

SPCH 275 Grade Breakdown

Point values sum to 1,000.

Homework and presentations were assessed by adaptations of University-provided rubrics. Discussions were assessed through an instructor-developed rubric.

The section met concurrently on-site and online in Room 105 at the San Antonio Metro Campus on Thursdays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time. Its overall data includes:

  • End-of-term enrollment: 27
  • Average class score: 699.9259/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 229.339
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 6
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 6

Numbers of students receiving each of the traditional letter grades are indicated below:

SPCH 275 Grades Earned

Additionally, since the class met at a prescribed time, it was possible to take attendance. Most students in the section missed at least one class meeting; some missed quite a few more, as indicated below (with the figure being classes missed, students missing that many classes, and percentage of students falling into that category):

SPCH 275 Students by Number of Absences

I must confess that this was not the best session of teaching I’ve done. Part of the issue is that the University is trying co-sat courses in an effort to fill classes; physical sections are paired with online-only. The idea is that each instructor will be able to help more students and that the students will benefit from exposure to yet more diverse viewpoints. In practice, however, it makes more work for instructors, and for those who will insist on a work-life balance, on keeping a part-time commitment a part-time responsibility, that additional work translates into less effective instruction. Or such was the case with me this time around.

I am pleased to note that more students earned A and B grades in the class than earned D and F grades. And I note, once again, that the chief cause of low grades among my students was simple non-submission of work; I can only award one score to assignments requested and not submitted. Admittedly, as part of a means to protect myself during the session, I operated under a restrictive late-submission policy, and some students ran afoul of that.

I am also pleased to note that things seem to have gone slightly better this time than last time I taught the course. It had been a year since I had a speech class, and I have evidently improved, if only slightly, in my teaching; the average score was slightly better, and I had higher percentages of students earn A grades this time than last. (The percentage of F grades awarded was reasonably similar.) So there is that to consider, as well.

As before, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to teach once again. I have been offered it at least once more (there is some suggestion there are more such opportunities to come), and I remain aware of my contingent position in the classroom. Keeping it, for what it’s worth, has been helpful.

Another Rumination on Publication

In addition to the academic work I’ve done and might yet post to this webspace, as I’ve noted, I’ve spent a fair bit of time writing less formal essays and poetry in other venues. I’ve also tried my hand at serial narration in this webspace, though that has not gone nearly as well as I would have liked. (There are reasons I abandoned the projects when and where I did. Some of them are even good ones.) I keep them in other places for reasons that must remain private for the moment, but I do toy with the idea, now and again, of sending them out for formal publication. I do still flirt with the idea of seeing my name in print, on the spines of books that other people read, even if there is much in me that hesitates to send ideas out into the world in ways they might actually be rejected.

Related image
Image from iStock, used for commentary.

I am a coward, I know. The worst that can happen with a rejection is the rejection; it’s not money out of my pocket, in the main, and it’s certainly not a punch in the face or a kick to the ribs–or lower yet. I’ve suffered such any number of times, sometimes even undeservedly so, so I ought to be glad of a simple “no” instead of a more emphatic iteration. Still, the “no” scares me more than it ought to, and I seem less able to move past it than ought to be the case. I expect my students to persevere; I ought to demand no less of myself. And I’ve knocked until my knuckles have bled before…

I can easily come up with reasons not to send things out. Some of them would even sound good. But they would be excuses, ultimately, ways to talk myself out of making an attempt that might not succeed. The idea of being rejected is an uncomfortable one, even if it is one I know I must contend with (again; I’ve had papers handed back with “nos” of varying friendliness). I try to avoid it; not being rejected has occupied more of my time than actually doing something that might be rejected–or accepted. But as long as I am not told “no,” I do not have to confront the idea that I have somehow failed (again; it would not be the first time I’ve failed, as I think has been made abundantly clear in this webspace and elsewhere). I do not have to face evidence of my own unworth.

Really, though, I need to get over myself. I cannot not write the words; I am compelled to it, and I grow even more irritable than I normally am when I do not heed that compulsion. And since I am going to write them, and since I put enough of them where others can see them anyway, why would I not see about gathering enough of them together (and there are enough such out in the world) and trying to make a sale of some of them?

Help a writer out?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 25 April 2019

After making some procedural notes, discussion turned to presentations of the assigned impromptu speech for those students present on-site and live online. Some feedback on speeches was provided for those who presented.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at approximately 1800 US Central Time in Room 105 of the San Antonio Metro Campus. The class roster listed 27 students enrolled, unchanged from last week; seven attended on-site or live online.

No students attended the week’s office hour.

Students are reminded that, for those who did not present their impromptu speeches tonight, recorded presentations are due by the end of day Saturday, 27 April 2019, as the session closes at that time. Any petitions for incomplete status must also be submitted by that time, per University guidelines.

Reflective comments on the session will be forthcoming after the session closes and assignments are graded.

A Rumination on a Roleplaying Game Character

I have made no secret of my long-running play of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). Nor have I made it much of a secret that I am currently playing in an online one, another Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) game, if one using an older rules-set than the current. (It’s still one more familiar to me than the current one; RPGs update, partly to make more money, but games continue despite them.) And, as is common, I have a character in that game, one character whose thoughts and deeds I narrate in reaction to the thoughts and deeds of other players’ narration of their characters and to the overall milieu which has been presented. It is, as Daniel Mackay has described it, extemporaneous, rules-assisted, collaborative storytelling, and I have found it to be great fun across years.

Not quite this automated…
Image from Giphy.com.

The game I am playing now has me playing a hunter turning clandestine security operative, and it dovetails with a concept I’ve often turned over in my head, playing L5R. There is a group of purportedly elite guards, and it has long occurred to me that they would be in position to be kingmakers or eliminate rising threats, and it has also occurred to me that their internal affairs analogue would be both present and fearsome. The character I am playing now is working towards becoming such, although that work is not going quite so well as I might like it to. (It’s a common thread with me; I’d like most of my work to be going better.)

The thing is, much about the character is at odds with who I am. There is little clandestine about me; I am open, perhaps too much so, and make little effort to hide. Nor am I so committed to causes as I would need to be to be able to act on their behalf; I am timorous in the main, averse to risk more than desirous of reward. I am certainly not an outdoorsy type, preferring air conditioning and indoor plumbing to open skies and tree-leanin’. (I remain Texan, however.) And I am aware that playing a character is, at best, a fleeting and transitory thing; I know better than to think that my experience in the RPG translates in any way to the real world.

I know that much of the allure of RPGs is escapist. That is, they allow players to inhabit other lives for a time, leaving their own behind. And they are or at least try to be fair, which the real world decidedly does not. And perhaps it is that fairness that I look for as I play, that notion that what happens happens not because the system is set against me, but because my own skills and choices, with some random chance at work, have led to such outcomes. I know I feel forces working upon me that I can hardly name and can worse understand, and I do not think I am alone; the idea that I have some control is a welcome one, time and again, at table or in online simulacra of one.

Dice cost money, even virtually. Aid in indulging my bad habits is welcome.