[LMB] Structures and reflections in WGW, was HH chs 4, 5, 6 & Falling off a horse

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Fri Oct 12 12:30:50 BST 2012

In litcrit the form "chiasmus" is used, rather than "chiasm", and covers
pretty much everything with mirror-symmetry. There is all of that in WGW,
but also larger linear and chiasmic structures. In the essay I did for the
forthcoming volume of Lois Studies, I put it like this:

 Structurally, the novels might be regarded as paired diptyches. *Beguilement
*and *Legacy*, uniting the couple and setting them adrift, are closely
continuous, as are *Passage *and *Horizon*, bringing them back to harbour,
while between *Legacy* and *Passage* there is a jump of a few days and a
hundred miles. Bujold’s initial concept extended only to the first two
novels, by intent paired romances, the first ending with the woman’s choice
of the man over her family and the second with the man’s choice of the
woman over her rival, in this case his job (bound up with family and
culture) rather than another woman. The third and fourth novels equally
pair, as outward and homeward legs of a journey and as romances—this time
in the older literary sense of (vernacular) tales of travel and adventure
rather than the narrower subgeneric sense of tales of courtship (though
several of those are worked in).


The incremental volumes have strong linking structures and patterns. In
each, one particular evil is overcome—malices of increasingly advanced
intelligence in *Beguilement*, *Legacy*, and *Horizon*, a murderous
Lakewalker renegade in *Passage*—and in parallel Dag’s capacity of healing
groundwork matures in symbolic acts of reconstruction or healing using the
renascent ground of his lost hand, successively of a glass bowl, a sharing
knife, a human knee and appendix, and a human womb, child, and spine. In
each someone is wrenched from a familiar, stifling home into a company
pilgrimage of hope—Fawn, Dag, Fawn’s brother Whit, and a Lakewalker
medicine maker, Arkady—that collects other strays, Farmers (including
rivermen) and Lakewalkers alike. In each, forms of purely human malice are
encountered in the sins of falsehood and lust, jealousy and pride, despair
and envy, indifference and selfishness; and in each deepening understanding
of the potentials of groundwork, by protagonists and readers alike, induces
a new pertinence of philosophy, broadly, in turn, Gaian, Emersonian,
Marxist, and Augustinian, while all sins and philosophies are in some
measure present throughout. The Gaian goes with ground and groundwork, the
Emersonian with the relation of individuals to history, the Marxist with
the imminence of capitalised industry (signified in a new mint), and the
Augustinian with the fundamental divide of sessile and mobile, which
applies to malices as they mature and to sedentary farmer and nomadic
Lakewalker cultures.


Within that encompassing validation, moreover, Bujold weaves a particularly
memorable tale connecting Fawn’s lost and surviving babies. The miscarried
babe, whose conception and faithless father initially drove Fawn to flee
home, is not lost to natural causes. She is captured by a mudman and taken
to its malice, her foetus’s ground being ripped from it and her *in utero*—but,
Dag arriving and the malice being itself slain in the next instant by Fawn
wielding Dag’s sharing knife, the foetus’s ground is accidentally
transferred to an unprimed sharing knife Dag also carries, against his own
potential need to suicide if mortally wounded. That newly primed knife, a
bone from Dag’s long-dead wife containing a Farmer death (without a birth),
functions to unite Fawn and Dag but also to precipitate Dag’s alienation
from the rigidities of Lakewalker culture and his investigation of
groundwork, a trope that becomes that of the craft-apprentice discovering
fundamental truths that stultifying teachers have long forgotten or
misinterpreted. The knife’s utility is a painful conundrum, for the
innocent Farmer death it contains lacks the affinity to make it capable of
teaching a malice mortality, but Bujold wonderfully solves the puzzle (in *
Legacy*) in its use to destroy with Dag’s ground-assistance a surviving
fragment of a slain malice, an isolated *involution* the malice had
deployed as a mudman nursery. The peculiarities of the knife’s
death-without-a-birth and the malice’s birth-beyond-a-death balance
movingly, while emotional and material connections between Dag’s dead
wife’s bone and Fawn’s dead child-by-another greatly deepen their union and
bless it with a redemption as profound as it is purely human.

A second sharing knife links *Passage* and *Horizon*. Its origin is unknown
(it is among the booty of the renegade Lakewalker’s gang), but Dag redoes
its groundwork and offers the captured renegade the chance to share his
death-by-execution as atonement. Taking an exceptional step into public
action Dag also explains exactly what he is doing, and why, to Farmers
(largely rivermen) he led against the renegade’s gang, an act of disclosure
intensely disturbing to all but critically breaching mutual isolations; the
resulting knife, like the one that bore the foetal ground, is anomalous in
origin and nature. Correspondingly, it is used against a malice, after
Dag’s temporary incapacitation in *Horizon*, by the newly pregnant Fawn and
her brother, without Lakewalker assistance—a feat by groundsense-less
farmers that spells revolution for Farming and Lakewalking beliefs,
cultures, and societies, and more proximately ensures Fawn’s survival to
bear her and Dag’s child. The two anomalous sharing knives superbly
thematise and orchestrate, in paired succession, the central myth of
co-operative survival and growth that Bujold expounds—Dag and Fawn jointly
conceiving, bearing, and midwiving a secular human deliverance that
impassions life, compensates for loss, and redeems sacrifice.

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs

More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list