[LMB] Paladin discussion questions
john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Mon May 7 19:58:10 BST 2012
Becca: Can any one suggest a couple of good questions I can ask the group
to get our conversation started?*snip*
John: Yup. In the archives for March 2011 you'll find the portion of the
book discussion of *Paladin*. I've pasted the questions asked below (7 in
this, 7 in a second post, to avoid troubling the moderator); all received
Stacey: I have seen these bookclub questions in the back of a few pbks I
have read over the last few years, and it puzzles me.? Why do you need
inane prompted questions (and trust me some of these were DIRE) to start a
John: Whoa! I agree entirely that many back-of-book Book Club questions are
inane (would I had the Oprah contract to do 'em -- I'll guarantee to do
many times better at $1 less) Becca asked for good questions -- and having
some kind of agenda to keep a discussion more or less onroad and with some
traction is a big help if you don't just want a chat group.
Questions from the 2011 BD of PoS:
1. DEATH AND THE DOWAGER PROVINCARA
So, in the forced absence of Meg Justus, here I am driving the
c/r/a/c/k/v/a/n/ ah, book discussion again as we flow forward from *Curse*
to *Paladin* ...
... and the scene opens with Ista bereaved of her mother. In *Curse* the
Dowager Provincara is a pretty feisty and entertaining character whose
judgement by and large seems pretty sound. But here her death, though
certainly not unmourned by Ista, is also plainly a liberation -- quite
literally so, in many ways.
We've spent a fair amount of time of late regretting (for the most part)
Aral's death, and construing parental loss as diminution, and as the passing
of an age. Is Ista's bereavement just a different angle on the world
turning, as it does and will? Or is there something else going on? Do you
find yourself re-adjusting your view of the Provincara as well as your view
of Ista? And for those who have experienced the deaths of parents -- perhaps
especially, of mothers -- what is there here that you do or do not recognise
about Ista's experience of maternal loss?
2. CHAUCER AND PILGRIMAGES
I know many of you are, um, less fascinated than I by Lois's
intertextuality, but there's an intertext here that really shouldn't be
In the last chapter of *Curse* the book the dedicat is reading to Umegat,
and that Caz wants to borrow when they're done, is "an Ibran import" and "a
fine conceit [...] The author follows a group of travelers to a pilgrimage
shrine, and has each one tell his or her tale in turn. Very, ah, holy." --
while, as the dedicat adds, some of the tales are "very lewd".
It's no stretch to identify this imported volume as (an in-world version of)
Chaucer's *Canterbury Tales*, right down to the famous lewdness of, say,
"The Miller's Tale". And that could just be a lovely literary jest -- except
that as we start *Paladin*, we seem to have entered Chaucer's text. The
group of pilgrims whom Ista meets during her first, ill-advised flight from
the castle are surely Chaucerian : Caria Palmer with the three husbands she
had buried (not simultaneously) is a slightly younger sister of the Wife of
Bath (who'd had five husbands), and various others in the group invite
similar identifications with Chaucer's tale-tellers, including dy Cabon,
probably as the Nun's Priest.
And from there it rolls on, the whole novel being in one sense cast as a
pilgrimage, undertaken almost in jest but turning real and more than real
(shades of Miles, anyone?); and also made up of the narratives of the
travellers who accompany Ista, weaving around her central narrative.
So, what do you make of this clearly deliberate connection? If you do know
and recognise the Chaucer, how does it factor in your reading? And if you
don't (didn't <g>), what if anything does it help to explain, or add?
If anyone wants it, there's a decent summary of Chaucer's work, and useful
comments, at Wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canterbury_Tales.
3. LORD DY LUTEZ'S "MURDERER"
In discussing Death and the Dowager Provincara, Nicola cited this passage:
In the funeral ceremonies, the gods had signed that the old lady's soul had
been taken up by the Mother of Summer, as was expected and proper. Even the
gods would not dare violate her views on protocol. Ista imagined the old
Provincara ordering heaven, and smiled a little grimly.
*And so I am alone at last.*
Ista considered the empty spaces of that solitude, its fearful cost.
Husband, father, son, and mother had all filed down to the grave ahead of
her in their turn. `her daughter was claimed by the royacy of Chalion in as
tight an embrace as any grave, and as little likely to return from her high
place, five gods willing, as the others from their low ones. *Surely I am
done.* The duties that had defined her, all accomplished. Once, she had been
her parents' daughter. Then great, unlucky Ias's wife. Her children's
mother. At the last, her mother's keeper. *Well, I am none of these things
*Who am I, when I am not surrounded by the walls of my life? When they have
all fallen into dust and rubble?*
Well, she was still Lord dy Lutez's murderer. The last of that little,
secret company left alive, now. *That* she had made of herself, and that she
One takes entirely Ista's (and Lois's) point about women's lives being
defined in relation to others, and the stiflement thereof. (Grammatically I
also note with interest murderER rather than murderESS.) But the designation
she retains of dy Lutez's murderer seems ... harsh, a part of the 'bitter
Ista', harsh and self-lacerating Ista, who is left behind as the novel
progresses, as much as any form of cold-eyed objectivity or self-knowledge.
The differences between 'murderer' and 'killer' are interesting, I think.
Miles, frex, acknowledges his Da and himself (and Mark) as killers, IIRC,
but presumably wouldn't (doesn't, in canon) call them murderers. The topos
also figures repeatedly in the 'In Death' series by J D Robb (Nora Roberts),
where the cop protagonist, aged 8, killed her abusive father and has a
tendency as an adult to think of herself as a murderer, even though, were
she as a cop to investigate that killing, she would never hold as a
responsible murderer an eight-year-old who struck back in extremity at her
physical and sexual abuser.
Different countries do it differently, also -- murder in the first/second
degree, murder/manslaughter, culpable and vehicular homicide etc..
So, fellow-jurors, would you convict Ista of dy Lutez's murder?
Liss arrives with her letter to dy Ferrej soon after Ferda and Foix have
turned up with Caz's blessing on Ista's pilgrimage and provision of a troop
of guards, and catches Ista's eye. Providence? (in the sense of being
god-directed in some faint fashion) or chance? I wonder. In any case, Ista
takes fairly high-handed and impulsive advantage to commandeer Liss, a
decision that in the end works out well but also puts Liss in very real
danger at least once.
Which is all very well, but Liss is only 18, has no real opportunity to say
'no', and is fairly summarily yanked out of her chosen life and into
something very different. I think I might have some rather less
complimentary things to say about Ista at that point, were I in Liss's
shoes. How about you?
5. THE HEROINE'S JOURNEY
Some preamble to today's questions, but worth it, I hope.
So, back in 1949 a man called Joseph Campbell published an anthropological
study of world myth that has been very influential, not least in Fantasy
writing -- *The Hero with a Thousand Faces*. This argues, in a very Jungian
way, that very many apparently disparate myths embody the same *monomyth*,
wherein "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of
supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive
victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the
power to bestow boons on his fellow man." (from Campbell's introduction). As
Wikipedia summarises it in slightly more detail:
In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps
along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a
call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a *call to
adventure*). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the
hero must face tasks and trials (a *road of trials*), and may have to face
these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero
must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey.
If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the *goal* or *
"boon"*), which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge.
The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (the *return to
the ordinary world*), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the
hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the
world (the *application of the boon*).
On the surface this seems at first to map quite well to *Paladin* -- but
here is Lois, responding to interviewer Alan Oak, who had asked if she felt
she were "taking a risk making your protagonist [in *Paladin*] an older
person and a woman"?
LMB: I prefer non-standard protagonists generally, as a glance at my other
work will show. If a writer wants to stand out in a crowd, it’s a wise idea
to pick a direction no one else is going, and head there. So any risks were
outweighed by the potential rewards. God knows, the world has more than
enough fantasy novels replaying Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” tropes.
It was clear to me from reading Campbell and listening to his recorded
lectures that while he was very big on the Hero’s Journey, he was utterly
clueless about women. The journey into maturity (for which the above was
metaphor, in Campbell’s view) has an entirely different structure for women
than for men, starting from the fact that while the male goes out into the
world and returns to his starting point to take over the role of his father,
the successful female (in exogamous cultures, which most are) goes out and
keeps on going, never to return. The Hero’s Journey is just the wrong shape
for the Heroine.
So, it seems clear that Lois was at some level responding to Campbell's
patriarchy and chauvinism (and all-round phallocracy), and that Ista's
journey might therefore be read *against* Campbell's monomyth, as a
heroine's journey, beginning with the fact that she doesn't quite start in
the ordinary world, continuing all through the nature of the challenges she
faces and the quality of her responses, and ending with the fact that she
doesn't go home afterwards but "goes out and keeps on going".
What do you make of _this_ connection? Does *Paladin* invite reading as myth
and/or metamyth? Or is Campbell an irrelevance?
6. MAIDEN, MOTHER ... BASTARD?
In the same interview with Alan Oak (cited and linked in Q5), Lois said:
[Ista's] role as a post-mother is very essential [to *Paladin*]. She was a
vehicle for exploring a challenge faced by a very few women in the past, but
many in modern times. The old model of “maid, matron, crone” for women’s
lives was based on a much shorter average life-span. Modern technology,
over the past 150 years, has literally doubled the life expectancy of women
in industrial societies (from 40 to 45 years to 80 to 90 years). With lower
birth rates, “matron” takes less of a bite than ever out of the prime years,
and the debilitation of old age is pushed off for decades. This gives
instead a life structure of “maid, matron, 20-or-30-year-blank, crone.”
There are no historical social models for that second-maturity period. It’s
something our time is having to invent. Men’s life spans have been extended
as well, to be sure, and we’re seeing more fellows re-invent themselves with
second and third careers (and sometimes families). But for men, it seems to
be a smoother extension of what they were doing already, and less of a *terra
I would add that in significant measure the triad of maiden-mother-crone is
not only about "the debilitation of old age" in a general sense, but
specifically maps stages of female reproductive life, from viriginity to
post-menopause. Whether there's textev that Ista is menopausal or
post-menopausal I'm not sure -- anyone? -- but in any case, she is plainly
positioned on what would have been the mother/crone boundary, and is now in
Lois's schema the mother/blank-years boundary.
All well and good, but then it struck me that while the Holy Family directly
accommodates maiden and mother in the Daughter of Spring and the Mother of
Summer, the latter has to double up as the crone (she takes up the
Provincara's soul) ... and the deity who connects with Ista's post-maternal
pilgrimage is not female at all, but the Bastard, and rather lewdly male he
is about it too, with his vile sense of humour.
To be frank I'm not sure what to make of this, but the more I think about it
the more a Bastard-Crone (or Hag) connection feels like the real deal,
somehow. What do you think?
Time to confess that I have actually taught *Paladin* several times, as a
set text on a contemporary SF&F course I did in Jamaica. The student body
there is odd in various ways (80% female across all departments, frex, the
boys being undersocialised, in jail, or dead), but for whatever reasons
essays on the book had two very strong polarities -- the older female
heroine (yay) and what I shall call idiosyncratic demonology (less yay).
In particular, a lot of the students found it hard to ditch Christian
associations, to distinguish the Bastard's Hell from Dante's Inferno, and to
consider the notion of demons who were not intrinsically Fallen in the
Satanic way. Yet Lois goes to some trouble to make them very different, in
their animal-hopping habits, developmental curves, and utility to sorcerers,
as well as showing that they too, as much as humans, can be enslaved and
Considering all the evidence in *Paladin*, from Foix and the poor old bear
(Lois does seem to have a thing for bears!) to the conversations with
Catti's demon and the visions of those whom Joen has mastered, what do you
make of 5GU demonology? If you have faith, again, does it intrude at all in
this respect? Or guide? or ...? Can you wrap your minds around an unfallen
demon? And if you don't have faith, is there any greater or distinct issue
with the reality of demons as distinct from that of gods?
John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)
General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs
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