A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 311: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 34

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The next chamber, “Commitments,” opens with a brief in-milieu directive from an old Skillmaster before turning to Fitz considering the shift in his situation and preparing to return to the Fool and Prilkop on Aslevjal. He returns to the Witness Stones and contemplates them before passing through the Skill-pillars once again and making his way to the Fool. The two confer, exchanging news, and the Fool affirms a determination to absent himself from Fitz’s life. The risk of occasioning change is too great, and the Fool withdraws the marks of Skill-sharing from Fitz, leaving the two sundered and Fitz considering what has been given to him by those whom he has loved.

How the mighty have fallen…
Source should be visible in this.

In the wake of the loss, Fitz follows Chade’s bidding and makes to retrieve some of the purloined Skill-texts that the Pale Woman had had, aided by Prilkop. They find the corpse of the Pale Woman, and Prilkop notes that he and the Fool will return to their shared school–in Clerres–to address some concerns they have there. Prilkop also urges Fitz to remain with him for a short span before returning through the Skill-pillars, which urging Fitz, being called by Chade and Thick back to Buckkeep, politely refuses.

Some things present themselves as of interest in the present chapter. One of them is a bit of foreshadowing that I do not think will be a spoiler to point out (aside from the novel being nearly twenty years in print as I write this): Fitz refuses a polite warning from a knowledgeable figure, and that has never worked out well for him in the preceding texts. Never.

Another point is that the present chapter is, I believe, the first mention of Clerres, the center of power of the White Prophet religion. I offer some discussion of it here, in “Manifestations of Medieval Religion in Robin Hobb’s Elderlings Corpus,” and I have the idle thought that I might revisit the project at some future point, expanding the conference paper with quotations and, maybe, further analysis. It’s not like I was going to place it in a journal in any event, after all; I still do some of The Work, but I am decisively out of academe. Still, the name might well be a bit of sequel-planting for Hobb, which would not be out of line–but even if it is not, the detail is not a throwaway thing as much as it is an enrichment of the milieu. After all, people give names to places, and everybody’s from somewhere.

One more, before I close, is the discussion of responsibility and authority at work in the chapter. It does note receive much space, admittedly, but there is something of an undercurrent of the issue throughout the Six Duchies books. Much of the action in them, and certainly the bulk of the political intrigues, result from the abdication of FitzChivalry’s father, King-in-Waiting Chivalry Farseer, from that position and his self-removal from the line of succession to the throne of the Six Duchies. Would matters in the Red-Ship War have gone as they did, had Chivalry remained present in government? Certainly, Verity would not have done as he did…but I am not a fan-fiction writer, and certainly not in the Six Duchies. That way lies opprobrium, and I have faced enough such in my life already.

Send a little something my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 310: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 33

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The succeeding chapter, “Family,” opens with a brief and pointed message from Patience to Kettricken before picking up with Fitz and Nettle meeting in the flesh for the first time. Their exchange is strained and somewhat awkward, although they both recognize that they are acting poorly and restart their conversation–with both of them being somewhat overwhelmed by their emotions, Fitz at meeting his daughter and not being able to say as much, Nettle by grief for her father and upset at the change to her family and station. Fitz passes along Burrich’s message, and Nettle takes her leave.

Fatigued, Fitz falls asleep where he is. When he wakes, it is with Patience and Lacey present, and his appearance startles both women, so much so that Lacey passes out. Patience orders Fitz to assist her and Lacey to their rooms, and Fitz complies, barely getting the door shut behind them before Patience lights into him, demanding an account of his days and deeds since she had seen him buried. Only when Patience has finally fallen asleep does Fitz excuse himself and take a solid meal, purloining supplies to take back to Aslevjal for Prlikop and the Fool. He is sent aside by Chade’s Skilled command, though, and serves as relay between Fallstar and Kettricken as the former complains to the latter of Dutiful’s actions. Amid the task, he finds himself bidden advise Kettricken, and he does so–against Chade’s ideas. And he finds the older man ceding power to him at last.

The denouement continues in the present chapter, with Fitz belatedly “coming into his own,” although it is a partial and frustrated thing. Because he is not the true king, despite Chade’s epithet at the end of the chapter, and he is not the seniormost Farseer; that is, instead, Chade, even if Fitz was recognized as belonging to the family in a way Chade never was. So he is neither a public face for the throne nor the one most entitled to that throne, and he seems to be aware of as much, given his reluctance to assume power at this point in his life (with reference to an earlier instance of his doing the same). Again, though, Fitz’s story is not the traditionally heroic. It is, in some senses, much more as Tolkien’s legendarium operates; the traditionally heroic figure, Aragorn, is not the protagonist of the tale. And while Fitz is far removed from Frodo or Sam, he is just as far from the traditional heroic ideal as they are–closer in birth, perhaps, but far more willing to do what would never occur to either of those hobbits. But so much is to be expected from the protagonist of series that use the Tolkienian tradition even as they make decided efforts to move away from it…

Help me keep this going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 309: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 32

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The following chapter, “Through Stones,” opens with a passage from Chade’s writings about the Witness Stones and Skill-pillars before returning to Fitz’s attendance on the ill Fool and his messages through the Skill to Chade about the same. Fitz dithers about leaving his friend behind but is persuaded by Prilkop, Thick, and the Fool himself to depart in favor of the Fool’s continued convalescence and conference with Prilkop. Fitz offers to return swiftly, though Prilkop advises against rapid successive use of the Skill-pillars, and Fitz takes Thick to and through the Skill-pillar back to Buck and the Witness Stones.

Uh oh…
Image from Nettle’s page on the Realm of the Elderlings wiki, used for commentary

The trip through the Stones is unpleasant, but Fitz gets himself and Thick to Buckkeep, even so. He leaves Thick in the company of guards, and he makes his own way to the hidden chambers in which he and Chade long worked. Shortly thereafter, he heads to Kettricken’s chambers and reports to her before being asked to relay messages to Dutiful via the Skill. Fitz serves as a conduit between the Prince and his mother for a time, until he begins to be subsumed by the Skill and has to be forced away from the magic. After some time and recovery, Fitz is released and tends to himself briefly before being encountered by Nettle unexpectedly.

Or at least unexpectedly on his part; those who have read Hobb, or are rereading her, or who have followed along my rereading (thank you, by the way!) will know that Fitz gets to “enjoy” such things on an alarmingly regular basis. But though the encounter with Nettle must be a social shock, it is at least only that; for once, Fitz is not imperiled by a chance encounter, which is something of a relief.

If I read the novel with Freytag’s structure in mind, it seems to me that the present chapter is firmly in the denouement. Certainly, it feels as if the novel is working to resolve various plot threads before it concludes, the major actions of the plot being accomplished. (I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere, whether in this webspace or in some other place, that the story that would “normally” be told in the Realm of the Elderlings is not Fitz’s, but Verity’s in the Farseer novels and Dutiful’s in the Tawny Man. As I get further into the reread, we’ll see how much it holds–and there’s a lot of reread left: seven Elderlings novels, the Soldier Son trilogy, and various other short stories, novellas, and other pieces. I picked a hell of a project, right?) But I rather like that aspect of Hobb’s writing; it works to give the impression that her narrative world is not just what is shown in the main text, but is suggestive of a larger world outside the narrative readers get to see. That things do not all tie up neatly at once, but close off raggedly…we come back to it, as I recall–and as I believe will show up soon.

I’d really like it if you could send some support my way!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 308: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 31

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The next chapter, “Dragon’s Head,” begins with an excerpt from a minstrel’s account of events before turning to Fitz and the Fool returning to the Black Man, who marvels at the return of the latter from the dead. Thick makes a scattered report of what he has been told through the Skill, and reports are exchanged, in the flesh and through magical means. The difficulties in concluding the marriage arrangements between Dutiful and Elliania are rehearsed, as are their resolutions–which involved Icefyre shoving his head into the Narwhal mothershouse and touching it to the hearthstones therein.

Quite the fireplace decoration…
Dragon-head Drawing by kejig on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Fitz and the Fool confer about what was reported, and the Fool delights in connecting with Prilkop–the Black Man–whose experiences are both like and unlike his own. The Fool urges Fitz to return to his life and is surprised to have it affirmed that he will do so. And that night, Fitz connects with Nettle through the Skill, where the latter complains of the difficulties at court and makes her own report to the former, receiving his reports, in turn. Their conversation turns tense around the issue of Molly, but it ends amicably, and Fitz sleeps well in the knowledge that he will return home at last.

Were this the last chapter in the book, I’d not be worried. Even had I not read the book many times before, given what Hobb has shown throughout the Elderlings novels, and knowing how much text remains–nearly 100 pages in my copy–I would be worried. Fitz is in a good place, and that cannot be allowed to continue. And of course not; it is in seeing Fitz persevere against situations that are as often his own damned fault as not that so much of his attraction lies. It invites affective reading, which is something I ought not to do, given my training and experience–but it is how most people read, and I am far enough outside academe–more than ten years since my last degree, now, and some time since I had a college job–that I’m not really outside that “most.” Not so much anymore…

I could use your continued support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 307: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 30

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The following chapter, “Whole,” opens with a personal letter from Kettricken to Molly. It moves thence to Fitz and the Fool as the latter continues to convalesce from the trauma of resurrection, beginning to explore the uncertainty of having outlived his prophecies. Fitz continues to care for his friend as they confer about what the Fool should do, moving forward, and the Fool determines to leave the stone city where Fitz had brought them.

How apropos…
Take Back Your Memories by BlackTeaandBones on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

As the two prepare to depart, they confer further, talking of their history with Girl-on-a-Dragon as they come to her. The Fool explicates some of what he has learned of the carving–Realder’s Dragon–including parallels between those involved, and he notes his purpose for the Rooster Crown–a thing to be given in exchange for the return of that part of Fitz he had rashly put into the carving years ago. The exchange is made, the Fool taking that part of Fitz back from the dragon and returning it to Fitz with difficulty for them both.

Fitz suffers through the onrush of returned memories, returning to himself only slowly and spending the evening considering what he has regained. The next day, he and the Fool return to Aslevjal, where they survey what had been the Pale Woman’s facility and confer about the nature of the Skill as Fitz recognizes a way home.

The present chapter makes much of the contrast between youthful passion and settled stolidity. I find myself reading with affect yet again, considering my own unexciting nature as I come ever closer to my forties and the ways in which I used to be excited about things. But I have no repository into which I poured my youthful feelings, no stone cellar from which they may be withdrawn by a kiss–and so I will not need to feel again what I felt then, for which I am likely the better.

Let’s be honest. I’m the kind of person who does this, now, and I was not much more active in my youth than now. So much shows in the habits that kept my belly flabby when I did exercise, and I do not do as much of that now as previously–not by quite a bit. I am staid now, and I was then, more concerned with avoiding the consequences of failure than with enjoying the results of success and therefore reluctant to engage with anything. The tendency has left me more timorous than not, and the fatigue and ennui of years spent failing at my goals has not helped.

Fantasy fiction serves as escapism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I know I would not be fit to abscond from such confinement as constrains me; I am the architect of my own prison and my jailer, and the judge who spoke the lifelong sentence. There is no appeal in it.

It’d be great if you could lend me a hand!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 305: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 28

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The following chapter, “Catalyst,” begins with a note about wizardwood before turning to Fitz’s efforts to reenter the Pale Woman’s domain. He finds a path inward, if with some difficulty, and makes his way through the labyrinthine facility. Among others, he finds the flayed skin of the Fool’s back, and he swoons; when he comes to, he leaves the marred skin behind, although he takes the piece of the Rooster Crown he finds.

Here it is.
TeodoraLaessa’s Fitz and The Fool on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Pressing on, Fitz finds scrolls and records that had been sold away from Buckkeep, musing on it but leaving it behind as he continues to search for the Fool. He finds one of his erstwhile companions along the way and makes a pyre for him, and then he finds the Fool, dead among filth. Fitz attempts to Skill into the body to bring it back to life, but even with the help of the whole Skill coterie, he cannot do so. Chade and Dutiful offer such comfort as they can, little enough in the wake of the Fool’s death and the announcement to him of Burrich’s.

Fitz closes off Skill contact and recovers the Fool’s body, mulling over where to bear it when interrupted by the maimed Pale Woman. She taunts him, seeking to provoke him into killing her, and he refuses; she attempts to negotiate with him, and he walks away.

Wandering, he comes to a room with a map detailing the geographical extent of the Realm of the Elderlings and marking Skill-pillars. Another room contains a Skill-pillar, and Fitz takes the Fool through it to a plaza in a ruined city. There, he lays the Fool out and tends to the body, repairing the broken Rooster Crown and inserting the wizardwood feathers into it. Before placing it on the Fool’s head, Fitz hesitates, placing the crown upon his own head in an attempt to change what has happened.

I note with some interest the exchange of names mentioned by the Pale Woman as a custom of the Fool’s native people. The significance of the custom is noted explicitly, if in mockery, as the Pale Woman asks Fitz “Did you ever call [the Fool] by your name, to show hum that he was as dear to you as your own life?” It joins the comments about hair-cutting as mourning that appear at intervals in the novels treating the Six Duchies to increase the verisimilitude of the milieu; such small things pepper lived experience, and having them appear in fiction adds richness to the fictional worlds in which they appear. And in the case of Hobb’s Fool, the recollection of how many times the character called Fitz “Beloved” becomes all the more poignant…

Send a little support my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 304: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 27

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The succeeding chapter, “Doors,” opens with an in-milieu spy’s report before returning to the retrieval of Dutiful’s party and those they have recovered from Aslevjal. Those aboard celebrate the return and recovery, but Fitz lays out his purpose to Swift; he means to return to the Pale Woman’s domain to cremate the Fool and to confirm the death of the Pale Woman. He affirms as much to Dutiful when the Prince speaks with him as the rest board, adding that his return as himself will occasion problems in the Six Duchies.

The man of the hour…
Leanna Crossan‘s depiction of the Black Man, used for commentary

Unbeknownst to either Prince or Fitz, Thick remains behind on Aslevjal with Fitz. His emergence startles Fitz, though his cleverness in remaining behind and easy acceptance of Fitz’s intent prevent the latter from sinking into depression. Thick also reports on Nettle’s status in Buckkeep, which displeases Fitz; she is not in a situation he would choose for her.

In the morning, Fitz sets out to find a way into the Pale Woman’s holdings, Thick trailing him. Progress in that line takes some days, and Fitz grows closer to Thick. In his sleep, Fitz communes with Nettle through the Skill, and in the morning, he wakes to find signs that the Black Man has been present. Pressing on, Fitz and Thick find their way to the home of said Black Man, who welcomes them in warmly and offers cryptic advice to Fitz. He also notes that he was once a White Prophet, relating some of his history on Aslevjal to Fitz as he sends him on to recover the Fool.

If I think about narrative structure, I am not certain how to regard the present chapter. I suppose this might be the beginning of what Freytag would call the denouement, what my musician self is inclined to call not a coda (that’s the epilogue), but another movement. Themes long heard in the work are being woven together, even if the main line of the melody is something other than what is being presented now. Something like a shift to another mode or a pivot into a minor key or a blues pattern begins to emerge…I think. After all, I wasn’t able to make it as a band director; my education in that line is truncated, so I might well have it all wrong.

If you like it, rather than put a ring on it, put some cha-ching on it!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 303: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 26

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The next chapter, “Healings,” begins with in-milieu commentary by Fedwren regarding Chalcedean slave tattooing and manumission. It pivots to Fitz musing on what the battle recently ended has left behind it as the combatants attend to themselves and he, himself, begins to take in the death of the Fool as he makes his way to Burrich. As Fitz reaches the man who raised him, Burrich dismisses the rest–including Swift–and lays out his final intent to Fitz; he bids his erstwhile ward take care of his family and wed Molly at long last. Swift is summoned back, and the rest move to comfort Burrich in his final pains as best they can as they strike camp and return to the shore of Aslevjal.

You’ve come a long way, baby…
Image is from Tess Fowler on Tumblr and is used for commentary.

Fitz assesses the losses and confers with the guard captain that had accompanied Dutiful. They laugh bitterly together, and Fitz sees to Thick, who has been billeted with the captain. More conference follows, and, in the morning, Fitz asks if the Skill coterie can attempt to heal Burrich. The attempt is made, and it does not succeed, but the energies that are marshaled to that effect are directed by Thick into the other injured. Those efforts succeed, and Thick is acclaimed by all who witness.

Reports are exchanged afterward, Fitz learning much of what had transpired on the island under the tyranny of the Pale Woman. Fitz and Swift also confer at length, largely about Burrich, as their descent to the shore proceeds. More reports follow, chiefly from Riddle, and the party reaches the shore to await retrieval. And on the shore, Fitz guides a slow healing of the Narcheska, directing the Skill of others to remove the tattoos that had been inflicted upon her by the Pale Woman, completing it just as the ships arrive to bear the party away.

It strikes me as of interest that the chapter leads in with tattooing as a marker of enforced servitude. That the Fool and Elliania are both tattooed and compelled does not escape me; that they are both tattooed with the forms of dragons to mark their compulsion–as is Wintrow, even if it was not widely known at the time–does not, either. (Admittedly, the motif is somewhat frustrated in the milieu by Patience’s tattooing, although that case might well be understood as a divergence of cultural practice and Patience’s own repeatedly attested eccentricities.) The practice and its emergence in several places within the milieu would seem to link that milieu more firmly to itself, which is a good thing from a worldbuilding standpoint; one of the things that mars a text is when the world it depicts does not work the same way consistently, while seeing things kept in place serves to bolster the narrative quality of a fantasy world.

Help me move into the summer in style!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 302: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 25

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The following chapter, “Dragons,” begins with brief in-milieu commentary regarding the depredations of Kebal Rawbread on his own people before turning to the ongoing conflict on Aslevjal, which is joined by Tintaglia. Icefyre struggles to go aloft, and Rawbread, as a dragon, heeds the Pale Woman’s instructions to focus his attentions on a single dragon, attacking Tintaglia. Fitz urges flight for Dutiful and his party, and Dutiful spies the returning Elliania and Peottre–and her mother and sister, Forged. Dutiful rushes to aid them, bringing Fitz into melee–which the others of their party soon find thrust upon them as the Pale Woman’s forces attack.

Brave youth…
Swift and Rawbread, based on Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Fate, chapter 25, from perplexingly’s Tumblr, used for commentary

The melee continues, with Tintaglia falling and Rawbread advancing upon her, goaded on by the Pale Woman. Burrich and Swift interpose themselves between the two, Burrich attempting to attend to the dragon, Swift standing guard with bow and arrows. Burrich moves to defend his son, assailing Rawbread with a massive outpouring of the Wit and being struck down in return. Swift looses a wizardwood arrow at Rawbread, killing him, and those who had been Forged into the dragon that yet live begin to be restored. Reunions begin, and the dragons begin a mating flight. Fitz realizes that the Fool might yet live, but he is called away to Burrich’s side for his final moments.

I admit to beginning to tear up as I reread the chapter this time, whether from relief at so much of the narrative tension easing or in sadness at once again seeing a character I’ve read over decades take his deathblow in the service of fatherhood. And it occurs to me, now or again, that one of the glories of a book is that it allows engagement across years, that the characters and their thoughts and words and deeds are on the page every time the book is opened, that they can be lingered over again and again, a cologne that never fades; but one of the things that is part of that, too, is that their sorrows afflict the heart again and again, a stink in the nose that, once first encountered, remains a wisp in the cologne ever afterwards.

Clearly, I put on the cologne again and again, breathing deeply of it and sighing in pleasure. Sometimes, though, that little bit of lingering stink chokes me, and my eyes water from it. But it is good to feel, sadness no less than joy, even if it is for ink upon a page only.

Send a little something my way?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 301: Fool’s Fate, Chapter 24

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The subsequent chapter, “Tintaglia’s Command,” opens with an in-milieu story about the enchantment of dragons before turning to Fitz returning to Dutiful and his company, where he is upbraided for his choice to preserve and even awaken Icefyre. In his upset at the event, Chade lets slip that Fitz is himself, rather than Tom Badgerlock, and questions are threatened but delayed. Reports of events are exchanged, and work to free the dragon begins–spurred on by the titular draconic demand. Dutiful assesses the power of the command upon his mind, but most of the rest of his company rush to free Icefyre.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Chade takes charge of the excavation efforts, leaving Fitz to consider the consequences of his actions for the Fool, as well as to confer with Burrich. The latter reveals his intentions, having thought mostly to assuage his daughter’s fears but having been wrapped up in events. The absence of Peottre and Elliania is marked, and conference about the ramifications thereof undertaken. And Fitz and Burrich confer privately as it all goes on, easing many of the long pains between them; Burrich’s relation of the underpinnings of his personal hate of the Wit are detailed.

Preparations are completed, and Chade and Fitz make to place the blasting powder, Fitz and Burrich still conferring about events. Fitz lights the charges, and after a misfire, explosions begin to go off in earnest. Icefyre panics in the tumult, and Tintaglia rages as Dutiful’s group reassembles, injured from the concussions and debris. More efforts to free Icefyre get underway, and Web presses Burrich towards reconciliation with Swift. A final charge explodes, and Icefyre emerges, emaciated, into the free air.

Fitz is forced to reassess his place in the world, faced with a greater predator, and his considerations are disrupted by the revelation that the Pale Woman’s ice-hold is crumbling under the strain of the explosions and the dragon’s struggles. And to make matters worse, the Pale Woman’s stone dragon emerges, ravening and raging, and attacks.

There is a lot going on in the chapter–fittingly enough, given its location in the book and in the series; it’s time for things to begin wrapping up. Of interest to me as I reread this time is the expression of generational trauma surrounding Burrich in regards to the Wit. His animus against the magic he himself possesses is attested throughout both the present series and the Farseer novels, beginning early on, and it can be explained as Burrich aligning firmly with a prevailing attitude in the Six Duchies. The present chapter makes it more personal for him, though, with the story of his family’s enslavement and the note that it came about “Because the man who should have made his primary bond to his wife instead chose a horse over her and his children” (408); it becomes much harder to condemn Burrich for his attitudes in that light, although it does not necessarily excuse him in his perpetration of that trauma on Fitz and on Swift.

Fitz has long internalized that trauma and Burrich’s reaction thereto, while Swift seems to resist it as social changes occur in the Six Duchies–and the changing attitude does lend itself to interpreting the Wit, again, as a metaphor for homosexuality in the United States, even as the direct presentation of homosexuality in the novels tends to undermine the metaphor. (I continue to contend that reference doesn’t work with what is actually present.) As I’ve noted at several points earlier in this series, though, others do far better at attesting and explaining so much than I; even absent that, though, the chapter points to a lot of work that needs doing, because we all carry the burdens of our pasts and the pasts of those around us.

Help me keep doing this?