A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 317: Dragon Keeper, Chapter 2

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The next chapter, “The Hatch,” is again preceded by part of an exchange of messages, official and unofficial, and it begins with Thymara taking up a spot alongside her father to observe the dragons hatching from their cocoons. The scene of the hatching, Cassarick, is described in some detail, as are the Elderlings emerging from among the Vestrit and Khuprus families–Selden, Malta, and Reyn.

A small, new dragon, hopeful of life…
Image is VerteRill’s Sintara on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Even amid the hope, however, sorrow is noted. Recent flooding swept away many of the cocoons, and several of those that remain are of doubtful viability. The hatching begins, and young dragons begin to emerge from their cocoons, eating the memory-laden clay mixture as it sloughs away from them. Tintaglia arrives with food for the young, and they struggle to clear themselves of their cocoons. Some die in the attempt, and Thymara calls her father away from the peril he faces at trying to help–communicating with the newborn dragons as she does so. She and her father–Jerrup–and others confer about the newborns, noting that they are malformed and suggesting arrangements be made to take care of the young creatures. Political and economic entanglements are noted, and the questionable circumstances of Thymara’s own birth are glossed. The hatching continues, with the Tattooed contributing to the feeding efforts, and implications are noted.

A new section pivots to the perspective of one of the new dragons, who examines herself and proclaims her name to be Sintara. Sintara attempts flight and fails at it, assessing and reassessing herself in the light of the failure and the obvious hunger of the other dragons as they feast upon their dead and dying kindred. Challenging another dragon, she pounces awkwardly upon more of the meat Tintaglia brings, sating her hunger and assuring she will live another day.

The present chapter helps to give a sense of the time of the novel relative to the other Realm of the Elderlings novels, taking place as it does before Golden Fool’s “Tidings from Bingtown.” As such, the novel begins some time between the Liveship Traders and Tawny Man trilogies, perhaps as late as the events in Fool’s Errand, but certainly not after the events of Fool’s Fate. It’s not necessarily germane to the present storyline, of course, but it is helpful in understanding the greater narrative context in which the current storyline takes place, and that, in turn, enriches the story with a greater world in which events can occur. It’s not necessarily looking at the bones of Tolkien’s soup, but it is good to know more of what’s in the stew.

The present chapter also again reinforces how inhuman the intelligence of the dragons is, partaking both of ancestral memories (echoing Dune, perhaps?) and the practical animalism that pervades much of the Realm of the Elderlings. (The fatalism of the Rain Wilders seems akin to it, it seems to me, and there is something of the Gæð a wyrd swa hio scel–Fate ever goes as it must [Beo. 455]–therein.) Too, it does more of the explication expected early on in a book and series, introducing more principal characters–whom it will be fun to follow as the rereading proceeds!

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I Can Sing a Rainbow, Too

Coruscating colors clash and confound
Me as I look at the world around me
Contained within four walls
And framed by sash not raised up to show
The flabby pale and pasty thing within
Never firm anymore despite how firm a grip
Upon it might be taken

The old longing rises yet again
To mimic taking in hand some
Long thing and working it back and forth
To make pregnant some furrowed places
Or make a good attempt at the same even if
The fields that might once have been planted
Are gone so long fallow that they
Will not take the plow and can yield no harvest
Save some small misshapen thing that might
Have featured well in the circuses of years past
But no more because we think we have
Grown past such tawdry entertainments
Although few if any of us will look away from a
Spectacle that presents itself

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 316: Dragon Keeper, Chapter 1

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The first chapter, “The Riverman,” is preceded by a pair of missives from official messengers, one of which is personal and marks changes in political arrangements. The chapter, proper, opens with complaints of the cold aboard the deck of the liveship Tarman as the captain, Leftrin, wakes in the morning after a night of drinking. Urged by dimly recalled dreams, Leftrin dresses and informs the crew that he is going ashore, assessing the state of affairs after recent flooding.

The ship in question…
Image is VerteRill’s Tarman – Mataf on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

While pressing through the hostile shore and surroundings, Leftrin happens upon a wizardwood log of some size, and he recalls earlier experiences of such things in the Crowned Rooster chamber where Tintaglia had lain dormant until her release. Leftrin considers his familial and professional histories and assesses how he might make use of the cocoon of the dead dragon that has presented itself to him, mind reeling with the idea of the money clandestine sales of the product would bring. The need for discretion and the possibility of sale to Chalced, the fraught nature of relations with which is glossed, also occurs to Leftrin. As Leftrin returns to the Tarman, though, the ship, one of the oldest of the liveships, speaks to him in his mind, bidding him put the wizardwood to the ship’s use and improvement.

This first chapter of the book strikes me oddly as I read it again for the first time in a while. While the kind of exposition that makes up much of its content is to be expected upon both the beginning of a book and the introduction of a character, fantasy in the Tolkienian tradition in which Hobb participates (despite clear deviations from it) typically focuses on protagonists who, while they might be bastards, and they might well engage in unsavory and disreputable behaviors, are not outright criminals–and Leftrin is perilously close to that mark. But then, the Rain Wilds Chronicles are direct sequels to the Liveship Traders trilogy, and there’s a fair bit in the preceding novels to read as commentary on the United States and its history (as noted here, here, here, here, and here, and probably ought to be elsewhere). There’s a long and storied history of such protagonists in US literature–Twain’s characters come to mind, not least the Connecticut Yankee who goes to King Arthur’s court–and the argument could easily be made, if it hasn’t already, that quite a few of those figures that are venerated in the civic identity of the US are…questionably ethical profit-seekers. So perhaps it ought not to be a surprise that shady Leftrin receives initial focus in the text.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 315: Dragon Keeper, Front Matter

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Hobb opens the first volume of a new series–a tetralogy, in the case of the Rain Wilds Chronicles–with a cast of characters, grouping them as Keepers and Dragons, Bingtowners, the crew of the Tarman, and miscellaneous others. The text moves on to present a formal and informal message sent from Bingtown to Trehaug, discussing the agreement between the Traders and Tintaglia, before turning to a prologue that begins with the serpent Sisarqua starting to make the cocoon for her metamorphosis. Coached by Tintaglia, she joins other serpents in preparing to become dragons, however few they are.

The version I have–though my cover lacks some of the words…
Image from the Realm of the Elderlings wiki, used for commentary.

Tintaglia notes her fatigue, and the population imbalances at work among the surviving serpents is observed. The poor survival rate of the cocooning serpents is also attested. So are the changes from the ancient geography of the Realm of the Elderlings, as well as the struggles of the journey upriver to the cocooning grounds. And the serpent Sisarqua calls for aid, answered by one of the nascent Elderlings, and she falls into her hibernation as the Elderling and Tintaglia confer.

As with the Liveship Traders novels to which the novel is a direct sequel, Dragon Keeper lets readers know from the outset that it is dealing with nonhuman intelligences that will necessarily have different perspectives and practices. The prologue viscerally reinforces as much with the openly accepted cannibalism among dragons in their larval and adult forms, and, although Hobb does not shy away from…heavier materials in her other Elderlings works, the frank performance and acceptance of cannibalism before the book, proper, begins is…telling.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I read the Rain Wilds Chronicles; I purchased the books as they came into print and devoured them hungrily, but I have not much revisited them, if I have at all, in the years since. It’s not like the Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man novels that I’ve come back to time and again in my research, although I have the idea, certainly, that I should work to return to some of that earlier work with the latter Elderlings texts in mind. Perhaps rereading them will help me to do so…

I note with some approval the dramatis personæ that opens the current volume; it’s nice to know who’s in the work. And I note with some approval, too, the shift in the prefatory tack taken by the Farseer and Tawny Man novels; I appreciate having the outside in-milieu context for the piece, and the epistolary format adds a nice touch–not just the encyclopedic, but the personal, which helps the text start to come alive early on. I’ll look forward to re-reading the works!

I look forward to your support as I press ahead!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 314: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 37 and Epilogue

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The final chapter, “Ever After,” begins with commentary on a Skill-ritual that summons those with potential for that magic to study. It moves to document Fitz’s attempts at courting Molly again after many, many years. A correspondence between the two grows up, one that grows to encompass Molly’s children with Burrich, although his relationship with nettle remains strained.

The happy couple, years having passed
Image from The Randomness and the Fandomness, here, used for commentary

At length, the relationship begins to thaw between Fitz and Nettle, the two conferring about Farseer history and Fitz’s, and Fitz calls upon Molly not at the estate granted her in appreciation of Burrich (Withywoods, which had been the estate to which Chivalry had retired long before), but at Burrich’s own home. He is received stiffly there, though he soon finds himself more welcomed for his willingness to work and his familiarity with Burrich’s ways, and Fitz and Molly begin to find their way back to their old love.

Matters proceed for Fitz, with him calling on Molly at Burrich’s home, and Hap visiting Buckkeep along his itinerant minstrel’s life. Fitz visits Patience and Lacey, and when he visits Molly at her home again, the two reconsummate their love.

The brief epilogue describes Withywoods as Fitz glosses the continuation of his resumed relationship with Molly and events in the Six Duchies, at large. While he muses on having missed a final meeting with the Fool, he reflects with satisfaction on his life as it stands, ending with the comment that “I am content.”

I once remarked that the contentment which Fitz gets to have at the end of the present novel is as much as could be expected for him. Given his history, it’s quite an achievement; he does, in the end, find a life of peace and, if not ease, fulfilling work for himself, one that still allows him to be of service to his people but that does not keep trying to kill him and that does not oblige him to engage in underhanded works that are not the less useful–and perhaps needed–for their distastefulness. He gets to be as close to normal as it is possible for him to be, and it’s far from a bad thing to see–or to desire, truly.

With this, I’ve reached the end of rereading the texts about which I know most, having done my master’s thesis on them. (Indeed, I wonder if I ought to return to that thesis, tracing the Arthurian implications through the remainder of the corpus…) The remaining Elderlings materials, as well as the Soldier Son stuff, I’ve read less–once only, in several cases. It will be good to revisit the texts and to see what I recall–and what will be new to me once again.

As I move ahead into the next series, I could use your help to keep going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 313: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 36

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The penultimate chapter, “Harvest Fest,” begins with a reply from Kettricken to Bingtown about Tintaglia. It turns then to Fitz in a spyhole, observing and musing on festivities in progress, the Harvest Festival’s preliminaries. Among his observations are Hap’s performance and the conduct of Molly’s children, as well as the doings of his recent and earlier companions. And he grows somewhat maudlin as he watches others’ merriment.

The happy couple…
Image from Inky Thinking, here, used for commentary

Fitz determines to call on Molly and makes his way to the chambers where Lacey had noted she is quartered. She reluctantly admits him, and the two confer about Burrich and about how they will proceed in the wake of his death, the details of which Fitz relates. Fitz also accounts for his deeds and doings in the years since his death. And as Fitz makes to take his leave of Molly at her insistence, news comes that a ship from the Out Islands comes–bearing Elliania. Fitz finds himself swept up into the general assembly, shielded from easy view by Patience and Lacey, who come upon him amid the press of people eager to see what is going on. He therefore marks Elliania’s grand entrance and Dutiful’s enthusiastic response thereto, and through the Skill, Fitz prompts the Prince to action.

Celebrations commence, extending into the next days, which are marked with celebrations not only of the accelerated nuptials of Dutiful and Elliania, but the honoring of Burrich and the elevation of the Witted coterie. Fitz determines to call on Molly again and makes bold to do so, announcing himself openly to some consternation from Nettle and concern from Molly. The imminent arrival of Tintaglia and Icefyre forestalls further motion in that line, and arrangements for that arrival are swiftly concluded. The dragons alight and feast, their presence prompting Dutiful’s elevation to King-in-Waiting.

Festivities draw on for some time, until farewells become obligatory. New routines begin to emerge, with Fitz integrating more openly into Buckkeep life, and exploration of the Skill commences in earnest. Plans for the days to come are noted, as well.

I find myself feeling…hurried again as I read the present chapter, although I again note that the position of the present chapter in the novel and the trilogy conduce to hustling things along. And there are dangers in lingering too long on descriptions of festivals and the like. An old gift I received from my wife, Winkour’s The Traveling Curmudgeon, opines that “No one want to read about a halcyon voyage on glassy seas, a routine flight in first class aboard a half-empty 747, a glorious stay at a four-star hotel with sumptuous food and fabulous service. Comfort and luxury are forgettable” (viii); the comment speaks to prevailing disinterest in good times, and disinterest is anathema to a novel. Too, getting into the details of such things can easily provoke fandoms, which are far from always kind, as well as scholars, who are often even worse.

Yes, that’s my tongue in my cheek. Why do you ask?

Still, there are threads yet to tie off in the Tawny Man tapestry, and there are others to hang upon the walls yet. I continue to look forward to them.

If you could send support along, it’d be appreciated!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 312: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 35

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The following chapter, “Resumption,” opens with a brief verse before turning to Fitz’s return to Buckkeep–with difficulty. Fitz makes to transit through the Skill-pillars and finds himself adrift amid the void, where a comforting voice recognizes him and helps him to reintegrate himself with himself. The voice offers a warning and ejects him out into the world, where he slumbers until dawn.

Warps do weird work…
Image from the Legend of Zelda wiki, here, used for commentary.

Waking, Fitz finds himself ill and reaches out through the Skill to Thick, Dutiful, and Chade, who Skill out a series of questions to him and retrieve him back to Buckkeep with some aspersion. Fitz is treated for his seeming infirmities, and he slowly returns to life in Buckkeep. Amid that, he is summoned to a meeting of Dutiful’s Skill coterie, in which Nettle is markedly displeased with him, having been made aware of his true identity and relationship to her. Fitz reports his experiences to the coterie, which does not ease matters; afterward, Dutiful and he confer, Dutiful remarking on events with Nettle.

Following Dutiful’s remarks, Chade takes his turn with Fitz, reporting on the Fool’s arrival and departure during the time Fitz spent trapped between the Skill-pillars. He also notes Hap’s circumstances; Fitz’s foster-son has lost his apprenticeship and is spending time among performing folk. Chade additionally comments on the largely stabilized political situation in the Six Duchies that has resulted from Fitz’s decisions and the actions taken based upon them. Dealings with and among the Old Blood also receive attention.

Chade leaves Fitz, and Fitz considers the gifts the Fool has left for him. One is the poem with which the chapter begins. Another is a carved Skill-stone that contains memories of Fitz, the Fool, and Nighteyes together.

Nostalgic, Fitz stalks out through Buckkeep, where he encounters Starling. She notes Hap’s likely whereabouts and her own situation–happily pregnant despite earlier beliefs. They part amiably, and Fitz makes his way to the tavern Starling noted Hap frequents. The two confer about their deeds and doings, Hap noting that he is becoming a minstrel, endorsed by Starling and apprenticing to an older minstrel to learn the ways of that profession in detail. They talk, too, about Hap’s lapsed romantic interest, and they part again, Fitz returning to Buckkeep to call on Patience and Lacey. The three talk together for a time, and Lacey notes where Fitz can find Molly at last.

I note, among other things, the mention of Pecksies in the current chapter. It escapes me at the moment if they have been mentioned previously–but they are real within the Six Duchies, and I’ve written somewhat about them previously, in addition to other mention. At the appropriate time, I will return to them–clearly, since the rereading series will not only treat the Elderlings novels.

The current chapter does seem to display to me some of the problem I’ve noted in Hobb’s writing at other times: the tendency to rush at the end. Admittedly, the novel is in a denouement, with the major conflict resolved; the sweep of the epic within which the novel takes place is more or less done at this point in the text. (And, yes, I am using somewhat formal definition of an epic, here; there is an underlying grand heroic conflict that determines the fates of peoples rather than of people, which was also true in both the Farseer and Liveship Traders novels. Here, though, the focus is not on the epic hero so much as what would be a foil in a more traditional epic–not quite the Wiglaf to Dutiful’s Beowulf or the Merlin to his Arthur, but still…) It makes sense that things to be wrapped up would be wrapped up, and narrative constraints do tend to call for things to be wrapped up, unlike in life where many things simply end rather than resolving. Still, I feel…hurried along, and I’m not sure I like it.

Whether because of narrative sensibilities or once-again-over-affect, I want it to last a little longer.

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Hymn against the Stupid God 190

Yet more the Stupid God would strip away
From those who follow it with every day
And those who look upon it with dismay
Than has been lost or never had been found
Despite long search ‘neath both the sky and ground
And in the ocean’s depths that few will sound
And in the cloak Ouranos long has worn.
With each new pass, another thing is torn
From those who prized it, leaving them forlorn
While they look on who Stupid God do praise
And chant, excited that they see the days
In which the Stupid God does rightness raze.
Let ev’ry voice be lifted up to sing
That its singer’d not suffer that thing!

Not quite it, no.
Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

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A Rumination on Today’s Observance

Today is US Independence Day, the commemoration of the adoption by the Second Continental Congress of the Declaration of Independence of what had been colonies from Great Britain (although the dates are wrong; the vote was on 2 July, and the signing on 2 August). It is traditionally held to be a celebration of freedom from foreign tyranny, although there have long been and continue to be reservations about it.

Some will have a blast.
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Two hundred forty-six years on, arguments still rage–and move into violence at times, too often–about what freedom and tyranny are, and there continues to be opposition to the exercise of rights by populations traditionally exploited and denied those expressions, denied recognition of their humanity, even as those in power and empowered sputter on about the ways in which they are oppressed and claim that those who are oppressed even now should be thankful that they do not live elsewhere, where they would “really” be oppressed. And it may be the case that overt oppression is not as extensive in some places as others, although I note that the comparisons are rarely made to other industrialized nations than the one whose birthday is celebrated today. (I note, too, that many of those who claim so much love for the country that they willfully ignore its flaws and failings–which does not seem to me to be love, but what do I know?–had to be forced into its service, whether de jure or de facto, and they rail against being asked to put their resources to its support even as they benefit, directly and otherwise, from the expenditure of others’ resources to that end. But I digress.)

That it is relatively less–which may well not be the case; I know the positions of privilege I occupy keep me from experiences and understandings that may well nuance or overturn that assertion–does not mean it is little enough, though. The promise, of which the nation too often falls too far short, is of an increase in freedom, a lessening of oppression, and it won’t be fulfilled until it’s all done. And that seems quite far away today.

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Celebrating an Event Today

Some years ago, a very special someone was born. Some years ago, although not as many, I met that someone. Not long after, I fell in love, although it took that person a while to respond in kind. I’m glad she did, though, and I’m glad to have gotten to spend another year of my life with her.

Stately and dignified. Nothing like it’ll be.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is as much as to say happy birthday to my beloved wife!

That’s it. That’s the post.