". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What To Do With Dragons

I was finally able to pick up The Widow's House, fourth volume in Daniel Abraham's Dagger and Coin series..

I've read the prior volumes, and quite liked the first two. The third one though, was fairly generic in ways the first two were not.  However, The Widow's House is back to form and I stayed up later than I should have for two nights in a row, reading it to the end -- because I could not guess how it would end, which is not the case for this reader with most fiction at this point.

As Widow's House contains a dragon that held some promise of being an interesting character,  I got to thinking about dragons in fiction.  Actually, the most interesting thing Inys the dragon does is get drunk. That may be a first?  I can't recall whether any of the dragons in the books of the alternate history/fantasy Tremaire series ever got drunk.

Writers like to have dragons, but few of them seem to know what to do with them when they get them. Among those who seem to understand their dragons are the

writers Katharine Kerr, whose Deverry dragons are essentially cats (which works very well), or McCaffrey's, in the first Pern novel, who are medieval heavy

cavalry chargers with super firepower. Another exception is McAvoy's Mayland

Long, the black dragon of Tea With the Black Dragon (1983) -- "black dragon" signifies my favorite oolong tea -- is a shape shifter. So, as a wise Mandarin, he possesses human-kind personality and physical characteristics. And Novak

 knows how to create an Enlightenment - Age of Revolution philosophe with Tremaire.  Others of her dragons also had differentiated characters and voices.*

However, Hobb's dragons seem nothing more than slabs of mountain in one series and, unintentionally on the part of the writer, never made any sense. Another couple of her series made dragons be everything from rotting toxic poisonous swimming serpents to mad things that made no sense. These dragons' real function is to become woods out of which are constructed ships, that communicate with the special persons. Then there was another series, which I confess I couldn't read which seemed to try to unify the mountain dragons of a Fitz series's world with the world of the Shippers. In that one the dragons' function was to give a very special young female a save the world mission.

Got's dragons' function -- so far, only expected function -- is to be WMD -- which so far at least can't seem to be imagined actually taking place in the narrative either. Wait! one of them burned up a bad guy once who spoke contemptible insults about Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons in a language he mistakenly thought incomprehensible to the Mother of Dragons Who Is Always Threatening / Promising Something-or-Other Will Be Done to Something-o- Someone-or-Other. Or did that only happen on-screen and not on the page at all?  It's all so long ago who remembers?

The exceptions to this would be the afore-mentioned Novak dragons,  Kerr's, and now, Abraham's Inys, the world's last dragon, has personality / character. Still, for all his size, Inys inhabits only few pages of The Widow's House. He's referred to much more than he's on-stage, er, on page.

Which again seems that with dragons, when one has them, it's difficult to give them actions of active significance, beyond deus ex machina, or, as in Hobb, McGuffin roles. This seems so for Got's dragons. ** 

Well, in fact Abraham's Inys is instrumental to a significant action: as he falls to the weapons of the enemy, the inhabitants of the city that has never been successfully sieged other than by insiders opening the gates -- OPEN THE GATES to save the dragon that was thought to be saving them -- AND THE CITY FALLS TO THE ENEMY.  Horribly.

There is the Ch'in dragon in Carey's Namaah spin offs from the Phedré - Terre d'Ange series, featuring Moirin, whose voice is exactly like Phedré's, and whose

vagina is equally magical. In the second volume, Naamah's Kiss, Moirin goes to Ch'in and rescues Snow Tiger-- a celestial princess imprisoned by her uncontrollable dragon powers and appetites. Moirin saves and liberates Snow Tiger via her afore-mentioned divine vagina.** It also employed the Westerner-goes-to-Asia-and-saves-the kingdom trope.

Maybe the best dragon is still Smaug from The Hobbit, though he too was onstage for a relatively short period?  But he had a character and agency up the wazoo, and he sure did something. And when he fell, the story of what he wrought wasn't magically concluded.  He was onstage as long as he needed to be.


*   I haven't read the volumes released since Tremaire and Captain William Laurence went to Africa -- I've been so immersed in one way and another for the last few years with the Age of Revolution and Napoleón history and slavery)

** This seems equally so for dire wolves. Everyone talks endlessly about dragons and dire wolves, but they do very little, and in fact entire books go by and they don't even appear

* * *  Please take note: I am neither criticizing the divinity of the vaginas of either Phedré or Moirin, nor the author for giving them these vaginas.

Their vaginas have as much right to possess magical power as do the bodies of the super-powered, super-attenuated male characters in every genre from mysteries (for example, James Lee Burke's Robicheaux and Clete, or Child's Jack Reacher) to sf/f, in which these aging Warrior - Heroes are still taking and giving punches and kicks more powerful than a mule's and getting up immediately, or at least recovering after a day or two in the hospital with no further problems until they again do something stupid.

No matter how old they are crowds of gorgeous lascivious and smart women throw themselves at these old, beat-up guys who continue to exhibit truly bad judgment and make terrible life choices. Additionally, their wives and lovers keep getting killed because of these guys' bad choices, even as they white-knight service even more gorgeous and / or deserving females.

So why shouldn't a Fantasy Female God-blessed heroine be the most beautiful and attractive woman in the intelligently and lovingly imagined author's world, the foundations of which are built on a spiritual belief in the worship of love and beauty, that these qualities are indeed divine? Carey's women live fully within their milieu of theology, philosophy and history that are inclusive, not exclusive (though of course the less special Special Terre d'Ange's take it for granted they are superior to all other peoples, which surely annoys the Others), so within this world building they are entirely plausible extra-special saviors.

As a reader, my real objections are the primary characters' non-differentiated voices, vocabulary and cadences. "Blessed Elihu" and "love as thou wilt" seem invoked in every gdded paragraph; by the fourth volume what had been fresh about the voice and invocations had crossed over into annoying and even snort-provoking. One was so tempted to do the drinking game with the endless repetitions, but -- you know? probably Phedré would agree and say, "as thou wilt, what makes you happy."  :)

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