A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 139: Mad Ship, Chapter 1

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

There is discussion of suicide in what follows.


The first chapter, “The Mad Ship,” begins with the titular ship, the Paragon, sitting sullenly on the beach where he has been left over the past decades, trying to stonewall Amber as she cooks and tries to converse with him. She pleads with him for help, relating her endeavors to save him and the stern response she got from his owner, Amis Ludluck. Amber also notes that the Ludlucks appear to be ready to have the ship towed away and dismantled.

Mad Ship, the - PlentyWiki
The cover of the edition I’m reading
Image taken from ThePlenty.net,
used for commentary

The Paragon‘s resolve breaks at the comments, and he finds himself asking Amber if she will visit him when he is taken away. He then asks her to help him die in flame rather than face a dismemberment that may well leave him alive, voicing suicidal ideation that shocks Amber. She asks him what the likely plan to take him would be, and he answers. Both of them pine for friends not present, and the ship seems to prepare for an imminent end.

The Ludluck name is repeated in the chapter–it has occurred before, but it seems to be something of a focus in the present selection. Knowing that Hobb has a penchant for emblematic names in the Liveship Traders novels (as witness here, here, and here, among others that can be found), it seems fit to look for something in a repeated name. The “luck” part of “Ludluck” is clear enough; the “lud” part, however, bears a bit of inquiry. Collins reports it as being either an informal rendering of “lord” in judicial proceedings or, previously, “an exclamation of dismay or surprise.” Taken together, the components render the family name as “bad fortune” or “unexpected fortune.”

The former seems to be the more pertinent in the present chapter. There is much about which to feel dismay for Amber and for the Paragon, knowing that an unpleasant end may well be coming at the hands of those who should protect the ship, and considering whether being hacked apart or burned away is better is hardly the happiest discussion.

That discussion does point towards something worth considering, both in the present work and in the genre more generally: logical conclusions. The differences between the narrative milieu and the readerly have their immediate, observed effects, to be certain–but there would necessarily be other effects that are not necessarily evident. How magic might shape social structures differently than they appear in the “real” world is one example of them. Another, touched on by the discussion between woodcarver and ship, is the different effects of violence on different types of thinking things. The preceding novel makes clear that a liveship absorbs the emotions and thoughts of its surroundings (something treated also in Fitz, here and here), and the present discussion suggests that there are yet darker things involved in the lives of the liveships.

It is something to watch for as the novels continue.

Your patronage continues to be appreciated!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 138: Mad Ship, Prologue

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


The prologue of the novel, “A Recollection of Wings,” opens not long after the end of Ship of Magic. Several serpents–Maulkin, Shreever, Sessurea, and others–linger near “the silvery provider.” Shreever considers their situation; Maulkin muses aloud over his uncertainty. A fight over food ensues, and Mauklin realizes that the other serpents have forgotten themselves and their intelligence, despairing that they will succeed in their quest. He, Shreever, and Sessurea share memories of a different life, and they recommit to moving forward as more food presents itself.

Looks about right.
Maulkin’s Tangle by Sandara on ThePlenty.net, used for commentary.

Brief as the prologue is–only some six pages in the edition I’m using to do the reread–it serves two useful purposes. For one, it re-grounds readers in the narrative milieu, serving as a powerful reminder that there is a non-human intelligence very much at work in the story. For another, proceeding as swiftly from and in the same kind as the end of Ship of Magic as it does, it reinforces the continuity between the two novels. While marketing alone makes clear that Mad Ship is the direct sequel to Ship of Magic, and while trilogy setups tend to promote the notion that stories continue through them, having so smooth a transition between novels is rare and serves almost to make the two books one in multiple volumes rather than separate works.

As the novel gets more fully underway, moving into chapters from the prefatory material, I expect I will have more to say. For now, though I am once again delighted to be pressing ahead with this project, and I hope you, dear reader, will continue along with me.

I’d love to have your help to help me keep this going!

Another Student Story

A while back, I wrote about a former student I’ve decided to call Chuck. While he was something of a problem, largely for getting me involved with institutional bureaucracy, he was neither the only one such nor the first. Nor, in the event, was he the most problematic of them in that regard.

First Day Of College Read The Syllabus GIF - FirstDayOfCollege  ReadTheSyllabus Shock - Discover & Share GIFs
Useful advice that too few follow.
Image taken from Tenor.com, used for commentary.

No, that one for me was back at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I earned both of my graduate degrees and where I did my first few years of college teaching. In many ways, it was a good experience, although I readily admit I did not make the best possible use of my time there–but the fault for that is mine and not the institution’s.

While I was there, and maybe in my second year of teaching there, I had a slate of first-year composition classes, as is typical of graduate students in English. As is also typical, I had some conference activities scheduled, and, in an attempt to be responsible and forthright about them, I had noted on the course syllabus when I would be away to take care of them. And as is not uncommon, I also had a note on the course calendar about the mandated attendance policy–namely, that students could miss a set number of classes without penalty, but after that, grade penalties would accrue up to and including failing the course.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

As happened most sessions that I taught a class with a mandated attendance policy, some students suffered grade penalties due to missing too many classes. (In my defense, 1) the policies were mandated, and 2) I offered students the chance to “test out” of the class; if they could submit A papers without coming, I’d agree that they didn’t need to be in the room, and I’d excuse all their absences. None made the attempt.) As happened many such sessions, a few students failed on absences alone. And as happened more often than I care to recall, there were complaints about the grading.

The one that stands out, though, was a student I might well call Kofaire. She’d been a student in a second-semester composition class I taught in the spring, and she’d failed the class because she’d racked up something like thirteen absences in a class that met some forty-five times. (It’s been a few years, so my counts may be a bit off.) When she came to my office hours in the summer–because I tried to teach summers, needing the extra money–I looked over the records I had, quoted the mandated policy to her, and sent her on her way; I’d thought that would be the end of it.

Wrongly, in the event, because Kofaire went from me to my department head and made the same complaint. Of course, she got the same answer after the department head pulled her copy of my syllabus and the gradebook I’d turned in (because all of us were asked to do that). It should have ended there, and I think, on Kofaire’s part, it would have–but it stopped being up to Kofaire at that point, because Maman Kofaire got involved, then.

Karen | Know Your Meme
I don’t remember if her name was Karen…
Image from Know Your Meme, used for commentary.

I first learned of Maman’s involvement when I came into my office, checked my voicemail, and found not one, not two, but seven messages from her, asking (in various terms of politeness) that I call her back and talk about Kofaire’s grade. Now, FERPA being FERPA, and me still not having begun to mellow out in my old age, I did what I thought I ought to do: delete the messages. But they didn’t stop; when I came back to the office after teaching, I found three more messages waiting for me. And this went on for a couple of weeks, with every day seeing message after message after message asking and demanding that I talk with Maman about Kofaire’s grade.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t the only one getting to handle Maman. She’d gone in to talk to my department chair, bringing Kofaire with her and (inadvertently?) stepping around FERPA thereby. (The student, being present, could agree to have the conversation with others.) Kofaire had evidently been of the opinion that, if a day in the class had no explicit assignment made, there was no class that day–despite the explicit notes about when class wouldn’t meet. Maman seemed to think the same, complaining about spending her “hard-earned money for [Kofaire] to have a class with some damned worthless grad student” and vowing that it would never happen again.

My department chair sent her out of the office. I am told that the college dean did the same. As did the Dean of Students. And the Provost. Rumor reached me that Maman even tried to go to the University President, only to be asked something like “Why are you bothering me with this?” But it was more than rumor that let me know Maman hadn’t dropped the matter.

No, it was when Maman found out what classroom I was teaching in and ambushed me outside it, jawing at me for thirty minutes about how it wasn’t fair that Kofaire had fared poorly, and that she didn’t understand how some upjumped student could sit in judgment over her darling little girl. I count it to my credit that I kept my mouth shut except to say that “I can’t discuss students, ma’am” and to excuse myself as quickly as I could–to my department head’s office, where I reported the incident. I believe there was even paperwork.

I found out later from one of the campus police (I was in judo classes with him) that my report and the observed harassment from Maman Kofaire resulted in her being barred from campus. Kofaire herself, I believe, took second-semester composition again and had perfect attendance, scraping by with a low passing grade. And I have something of a story to tell, one I know others have, as well; maybe there’s some study that can be done about such narratives by someone who’s still able to be in academe…

I’m not writing syllabi anymore, but I am still writing, and I could still use your support!

A Rumination on Today’s Observances

Like many others, I grew up marking today as a holiday celebrating the arrival of a particular person to the shores of a Caribbean island in 1492, labeling it the “discovery of the Americas.” As was the case for many–and still is, given what I see going on in my daughter’s own schooling–I was given no cause to question the assertion, and I do not think that any such questions would have been welcome. (My questions to teachers during my elementary school years generally weren’t. Admittedly, I was a little shit. Still…) I never really thought about it, except to enjoy the day off from school I got.

Columbus Day and Its Discontents | Britannica
Yeah, this did not go quite as depicted.
Image from Britannica.com, here, used for commentary.

It was only later that I began to realize the error in the assertion–even within the school’s materials. For they had all noted that the jackass in question had encountered people upon landing, and it occurred to me that you can’t discover a damned thing when there’re already people there. I learned about Leifr Eiriksson, too, and in class, giving the lie to the earlier-learned narratives. And, as I continued in school through into college and graduate school, I learned yet more, enough to know I do not and cannot know the whole truth of things–and had damned well not been taught it early on.

Now, I know that kids in elementary school are not equipped to handle as much as grown adults. I know that individual teachers are constrained by curricular demands that are written in statehouses by legislators with vested interests in particular positions (you know, politics) and who do not seldom benefit from speaking with testing and publishing companies that like to have control over materials so they can make more money from them. I know that no report of atrocity can adequately convey the horror of it, even as too many students experience too much atrocity in their own lives.

But I also know that, yes, the decision to teach particular views of history that aggrandize people who record in their own journals that they are doing things not excused even by the mores of the time, let alone more modern sensibilities, is a choice, and it is one that serves to glorify some unduly, as well as to set aside others without cause or justification. And I am not calling for the events in 1492 not to be taught. No, I would hope that they would be taught in greater detail, not eliding the evil that was done–and done knowingly. I know they will not be, of course, as making such changes–even though they are more in line with contemporary attestations and physical evidence that remains even now (you know, the facts that are purportedly so highly prized)–would cause questions to be asked such as I might have asked and which are therefore unwelcome.

We can’t have people questioning the chain of greatness, after all, especially at times when it has to be insisted upon if it’s going to work.

Help me keep spreading good words?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 137: Ship of Magic, Chapter 36

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


The brief final chapter of the novel, “She Who Remembers,” opens with the serpent Maulkin expressing confusion at the seeming-but-not-actual serpent he had scented and followed. Conferring with other serpents, he notes their previous cyclical existence and their slow degradation. They determine to find and follow the titular She Who Remembers before they become nothing more than beasts, themselves.

Searching for the One, Who Remembers
Something like this seems to fit…
Searching for the One, Who Remembers, by DraconianArtLine on DeviantArt,
used for commentary

The chapter functions as something of an epilogue, pointing forward more emphatically than the previous chapter (which makes clear that how Kennit works on Wintrow and the Vivacia will be a focus) by giving an explicit indication of what is to come. Too, it serves as a reminder that the world in which Hobb writes is not only a human one; there are other forces, other thinking creatures at work in it. (Some will contend that the same is true in the world Hobb inhabits, but that discussion is outside the scope of what I can even pretend to be qualified or competent to address.)

Ship of Magic is one of the few Elderlings novels I do not have in hardcover. The next volume in the series, Mad Ship, is not one, although I will be reading from my paperback copy to continue this reread; it travels easier than the hardback I was fortunate to be able to find. And I might discuss the differences, for me, in reading each. Maybe. Another time.

Care to help with celebrating Leifr Eiriksonns Dagr and Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 135: Ship of Magic, Chapter 34

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


The next chapter, Restorations,” begins aboard the liveship Ophelia, with Grag Tenira rousing Althea, still in disguise as Athel, with a summons from the captain, his father. She fears she has been uncovered, but she reports as ordered. The captain confronts her about her true identity, and, after she admits to her ruse, he orders her put ashore–so that he and his crew can take her aboard formally and properly, under her own name. She will also have the opportunity to act as the ship’s mate, as Grag will feign illness to allow it to her.

The Drunken Sailor
What to do with him? What to do…
The Drunken Sailor by BeSea on Pxleyes, used for commentary

As the principals involved agree and make arrangements, the senior Tenira notes the increasing political tensions in Bingtown. Grag sees her off, and they make arrangements to meet the next day, both recalling earlier, happy encounters previously.

Elsewhere, aboard the Springeve, Brashen has an encounter with one of the sailors under his command. The sailor, one Tarlock, voices recognizing Brashen from earlier voyages. Brashen reviews his situation and present condition, including some unsavory dealings with pirates in trade, and attempts to steer conversation away from his own past. Succeeding, he leaves the passed-out Tarlock behind and returns to the Springeve with cindin in his lip and a spring in his step, happy to have evaded identification.

I note with some satisfaction another bit of support for my notion that the milieu of the Elderlings novels is more North America than medieval/ist Europe. In the present chapter, Brashen and Tarlock drink together for a time, with Brashen calling for rum in his attempt to get Tarlock drunk enough to pass out. While that liquor has origins in southern Asia–there are early attestations in India and Persia–it is indelibly associated with the Caribbean and with the Americas through the horrors of the slave trade (with which topic the present novel also grapples), as well as with the pirates that continue to feature in the text and which, themselves, are a traditionally New World phenomenon.

I note also the ease with which the Teniras handle the revelation of Althea’s ruse. Perhaps it is because they are Traders with a liveship of their own, to whom (which?) they listen, that they are able to adjust so readily to the deception, annoyed only at being taken in instead of at the presence of a woman working aboard ship. Whatever the reason, in or out of the milieu, they do mark a pointed contrast to how others have viewed things, perhaps indicating that there is something of value in Bingtown society, after all.

Care to help me start this month off right?

Why Am I Still Doing This?

I met my wife while we were both in graduate school. The two of us had cubicles across from one another in the bullpen office we shared with several others, the Deuce-38 that might be of story and song had I paid more attention to the world around me and were I a better writer than I am. We got to know one another as we worked together, first on translating early English into modern, later on other projects, not all of which were academic in nature. But our first association was as scholars, laboring together to master knowledge so that we could make more of it, and that foundation still shows in our relationship and conversations.

Griffin Hall stands, deserted for the weekend, facing the Girard Park Tower on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019.
This is where it happened, of course.
The image is Abbigail Wilson’s in
The Vermillion,
and it is used here for commentary.

I point all this out to offer context for what follows, of course. My wife and I are both trained as scholars, although both of us have left off academia as a profession; she opted out of continued study soon after we learned of our daughter, while I gave up the search for full-time academic work a while back and left teaching at the beginning of the year this year. Even so, I continue to write, putting out chapter-by-chapter summaries of one author’s corpus and putting together such essays and other pieces as this. Indeed, I’ve been doing more writing, and more public writing, since leaving academe than I did while I was making a go of an academic career. (And, yes, I am aware that writing syllabi and assignments, and making comments on students’ papers for grading all “count” as writing. I think more of what I write now gets read, though, although how much of that was my attitude towards students and how much was the students’ attitude toward the work is not entirely clear to me.)

Not long before this writing, although some time before it will appear where others can see it, my wife asked me why I need to keep writing. I was penning pages in my journal when she asked, and I had said something about needing to write when she had asked what I wanted to do with her and our daughter on a sunny afternoon. And I didn’t have a good answer for her. I mean, I could have quoted Asimov, talking about writing as breathing, but she and I both know it’s not quite that important for me; I’ve spent many days not writing, although I admit to feeling some compulsion to keep putting words together. And it’s not as if I was writing for pay, which would have justified the time away to some extent.

The question has stuck with me, as might be imagined. I still do not have a good answer for it. Yes, I continue to entertain the fantasies that what I write will be of some use to others and that I will, at some point, be able to bring in a bit of money for my family from doing it. But they are largely–not entirely, but largely–fantasies. A more concrete answer, well, that slab hasn’t yet been poured.

Help me make it into and through the coming month?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 134: Ship of Magic, Chapter 33

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


A chapter titled “Day of Reckoning” follows. It opens with Wintrow engaging in more philosophical musing as he and Sa’Adar continue the work of unchaining the slaves aboard the Vivacia and the slaves rise in revolt at their captors. Wintrow struggles to reach out to the ship and only becomes aware of her in her fear at being out of control with nobody at the helm. He takes the wheel and strives to right the ship against the storm, pleading with the warring slaves and crew as he does.

a Ship In a Storm
Not ideal sailing conditions, no.
Ship in a Storm by ShockHit on DeviantArt, used for commentary

They begin to make progress when Torg arrives, having brokered a deal with the other slaves. He upbraids Wintrow and, when Wintrow says he is not trustworthy, Torg finds himself pitched overboard, to Wintrow’s shock. The captain is brought up next, and Wintrow asks for his aid; there is some argument, but Haven gives in.

In Bingtown, Malta rails against the arrangement that has been made regarding Reyn’s courtship. Ronica pointedly puts down her objections, noting, among others, that she had invited the attentions upon herself.

Aboard the Vivacia, Haven asks if he will be allowed to live. The Marietta begins to close in on the liveship. Kennit has his ship drawn up alongside the Vivacia and makes ready to board her, if with some difficulty; Sorcor and Etta seem to recognize that he is failing, and Sorcor prevails upon Etta to let his captain take the liveship himself.

The implication of the previous chapter is borne out as Kennit’s ship draws up alongside the Vivacia, and, given circumstances, it appears certain that Kennit will take the liveship for himself. Sa’Adar recognized the flag the Marietta flies, after all, and the reputation he must surely have among slaves and slavers speaks for itself. And that is aside from the arrangement Kennit and Sorcor have regarding liveships and slaveships.

Thinking on it now, as I reread the chapter again, I am struck by the recognition of a theme that comes up in the Liveship Traders novels. Full explication of that theme depends on later events in the series, so I will not treat it now; I am not worried about spoilers for novels twenty years old, but I prefer to establish materials before working with them. I will note, though, that the seeming duality of liveships and slaveships–the latter being floating charnel houses or abbatoirs–is not quite as dual as might be thought. But that much is likely obvious even without a rereading…

The end of the month is coming; help me make it into the next one?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 133: Ship of Magic, Chapter 32

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


The chapter that follows, “Storm,” starts with Wintrow tending to those chained in the holds of the Vivacia as heavy weather approaches. His ministrations are not always appreciated, and Wintrow muses on the changes in his situation before talk of his old monastery attracts his attention. The talk leads him to one who claims to be a priest of Sa; the putative priest implores Wintrow for some metal implement to use against the chains that bind those in the hold. Wintrow agrees to do what he can for those enslaved alongside him.

Ship Water GIF - Ship Water Sea GIFs
Might be something like this.
Image from
Tenor.com, used for commentary

Above deck, Gantry and the Vivacia confer. The ship reports being able to understand one of the trailing serpents in some strange way; Gantry is confused, and he does not heed the sense of apprehension the ship feels. He also balks at Wintrow’s request to have one of they dying enslaved brought out onto the deck to die, though Wintrow is, with the ship’s help, able to persuade him to take a look at conditions below deck. When he does so, the putative priest, Sa’Adar, takes the opportunity to disable Gantry and begin to rise up against their captors. Wintrow falls into analysis paralysis as Sa’Adar works on the takeover.

Aboard the Marietta, Kennit orders pursuit of a liveship in the storm. He considers Sorcor and Etta as they move to his command, the lingering pain of his amputation vexing him as the Marietta bears down on the liveship. Pursuit is joined, and Kennit coaches Etta as she steers the ship towards her intended prey. She exults in his attention.

It is not directly stated in the present chapter, though it is heavily implied, that the liveship the Marietta has in sight is, in fact, the Vivacia, the pursuit of which is a (contrived, though everything in a novel necessarily is) coincidence of Kennit’s desires and Sorcor’s. The Vivacia does not seem to be living up to her name, for the most part, understandably in the circumstances, and I find myself once again reading the book in a frame of mind reminding me of a romance novel. I am not as versed in that genre as I am some others, I admit, and perhaps that is a failing on my part, but I have to wonder if Hobb is working towards some critique of the genre in the Liveship Traders series.

It is certainly an interesting possibility.

Care to support what I do here?

A Consideration of Luna’s “Poem #335”

A while back, I wrote a short piece looking at “Poem #264” on Pen to Paper, a website that hosts works by the site owner and a number of others, including myself. Because I can never seem, in fact, to leave well enough alone–why else would I still be writing things that look like academic papers months after exiting academe?–it seemed to me to be a good time to go back to that blog and pull up another piece. In this case, it’s Luna’s “Poem #335,” the most recent of the site owner’s own verse on the site as of this writing.

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/writersblock.jpg
It’s like this sometimes, yes.
Image taken from
TVTropes.com, here,
used for commentary

The poem, composed of three non-rhyming quatrains of uneven line-length, adopts a second-person stance that appears to be a reflexive address; that is, the narrator appears to be talking to themself. (Yes, I know the singular “they” and its derivatives annoy, and I know it is easy to assume that the narrator shares the author’s gender unless there is textual evidence to the contrary. Still, for reasons I have addressed, I use it here.) The subject is a change in orientation towards writing, noting a shift from release to rebuke and a tendency to move away from writing therefore–with a cover story offered as justification for the motion.

As I read the poem, I am reminded of comments I have seen from other writers, namely that revisiting old works is not a good idea–and the problem the narrator of “Poem #335” cites is one occasioned by reading back over their own words. They cannot shout back from a page that is never turned, after all. Given my own propensity towards looking back at my own work, though, I cannot find fault with the narrator–or the addressee, if I am wrong about the narrator talking to themself–doing the same thing. It is often helpful to have a sense of context and continuity, after all, and it’s hard to achieve those without looking back over older work. (Hell, it’s hard enough doing so with the backward look. I’m pretty sure I demonstrate that difficulty.)

I also note that a focus of the poem seems to be that the narrator / interlocutor seems moved towards numbing and distancing. The feigned writer’s block is a defense against the emotions occasioned by writing; it is easy to read “the smoke and alcohol, / the hobbies and oversleeping, / [and] the binges and the purges” of the first stanza similarly. Working in substance abuse treatment as I do, I can attest to the frequency of recourse to chemicals to blunt the pain or ennui of daily life; having been a fan, I can attest, too, to the distance afforded by over-engaging in a hobby. I have to think the others work in much the same ways. All such matters are temporary, fleeting, and it is clear to my eye that the narrator is pointing towards a similar transience of feigned writer’s block; it can only stave off emotional engagement for so long, for so much effect.

It is also true, however, that doing the work of writing or of reading may well not be so cathartic as might be hoped and has been posited by any number of commenters. Wrestling emotions out onto the page–printed or pixelated–does not always empty the head and heart of them; sometimes, even if such opponents are pinned, they retain a grip on a joint or the throat, and being laid out does not mean they let go. So there is that to consider, as well.

If you could help me keep doing this, I’d appreciate it.