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When the King Comes Home: SPOILER ALERT

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  • Pauline J. Alama
    SPOILER ALERT: if you haven t read _When the King Comes Home_, you may not want to read this. I would be interested in hearing David Lenander & Alexei talk
    Message 1 of 5 , Apr 5 5:30 AM
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      SPOILER ALERT: if you haven't read _When the King Comes Home_, you may not want to read this.

      I would be interested in hearing David Lenander & Alexei talk more about _When the King Comes Home_ -- it might bring out something I may have missed. I felt very ambivalent about it. It drew me in immediately with excellent wordcraft and an engaging narrator with a very distinctive voice. The characters were very well drawn, and there were some beautiful moments, allusive symbols like the brook running milk as the king crosses, that sent my imagination running in all directions. However, in the end I was disappointed with it. None of the glimpses of wonder seemed to add up to anything. It was all for nothing; no resolution emerges. I don't think this was by accident, because it's elaborately foreshadowed: from the very beginning there's a tone of regret, we live in fallen times, things are not now as they were in my youth, etc. But I don't understand why. All these signs and wonders mean nothing. The king came back, but it was a mistake, and now he's gone, which is OK. Also, the end was not believable. They have no king, no priest-bishop, and the infamous lord who tried to use the king also falls. This is what we call a power vacuum, and it would be filled by something. Look at real-life Afghanistan, for crying out loud: there was a power vacuum which was filled by the Taliban. Now the Taliban are goine, and there's a power vacuum, and our country is trying to prop up an approved leader to fill it while a bunch of warlords are jockeying for position. No leader (or leading body) means every strongman sees the main chance, and you have endless war, not peace and decline to mediocrity. I know this is fantasy, but Stevermer declined to solve the problem of kingship by fantastical means (whether the historical king coming back to rule, the ailing king being healed, the new leader drawing the sword from the stone, or whatever), and that ought to require her to produce a naturalistic solution to the problem of government that runs through the plot. If you're not going to offer a magical solution, you have to have a natural solution-- like a war hero becoming the new king, or the people forming a sort of medieval Swiss proto-democracy--or else my suspension of disbelief gives up and goes home. I don't mean to beat up on Stevermer -- she kept me going for a good long time, and it wasn't until almost the last page that I started to think I wouldn't be voting for this after all. But I really don't understand why she brought things around to such a non-resolution of the problem of kingship that is, after all, proclaimed by the title to be a major theme of the book.

      Pauline J. Alama
      THE EYE OF NIGHT
      (Bantam Spectra, July 2002)
      "Indeed, all creation groans and is in labor, even until now."

      --- On Thu 04/04, David Lenander wrote:
      > Personally, I wasn't that taken with _Declare_, for which I will not be
      > voting unless the other 4 finalists are even worse. Haven't read Bujold's
      > _Curse_, though I was present at a discussion of the book with its author,
      > who lives here in town. I did like her earlier fantasy novel, _The Spirit
      > Ring_, which you might want to try, liking _Curse_ so well. To say nothing
      > of her many SF novels in the Miles Kosigan series.
      >
      > I won't be voting for _American Gods_, by another local, Neil Gaiman,
      > either, though I'd pick it over _Declare_. I certainly enjoyed reading it
      > more than the Powers book, but neither impresses me as much as some of the
      > respective authors' earlier work. I loved the Le Guin, and I'd be open to
      > a case for the Earthsea series as a whole, but neither _Other Wind_ nor
      > _Tales_ stand on their own. In some ways, _Tales_ stands on its own better
      > than _Wind_, but Ellie ignored my attempt to nominate it along with the
      > other books. Despite its problems, I might vote for _Fox Woman_ over
      > these, should it make the final list, or perhaps _When the King Comes
      > Home_, another book sliding in to consideration on its paperback reprint.
      > This is a subtle book, which I liked but needed a hint from Alexei K to
      > better understand and appreciate (see it quoted on my "Enchanted
      > Chocolate Pot" web-page). Of course I haven't started the
      > latest Sun trilogy from Gene Wolfe, one of my favorite living authors,
      > yet, either. (But I mainly like Wolfe's short stories, and his non-Sun
      > novels, like the _Soldier_ books or _Devil in a Forest_). And there are
      > lots of others for me to try to fit in.
      >
      > On the Children's side, Peter Dickinson's _The Ropemaker_ is the book to
      > beat, Laura Krentz and I agreed on a panel discussion at Minicon, this past
      > week. What a fabulous book, and it's just aimed at our sort of audience,
      > unlike anything he's really done before. It's also a book with the heft
      > and world-building needed to appeal to an adult audience. If any of you
      > out there want to give it a try, you might feel that it belonged on the
      > adult list, though I think unlike his wife's books of the past couple of
      > years, McKinley's _Spindle's End_ and _Rose Daughter_, this is comfortable
      > on the children's list. We also liked Donna Jo Napoli's _Spinners_
      > (another paperback qualifier), which I think one of her best books so far.
      > --
      >
      > David Lenander,
      >
      > e-mail: d-lena@... web-page:
      > http://umn.edu/~d-lena/OnceUponATime.html
      >
      >
      >
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    • Stolzi@aol.com
      (Still spoilers here) In a message dated 4/5/02 7:32:36 AM Central Standard Time, ... Good point. Yes, the very words When the King Comes Home rouse a deep
      Message 2 of 5 , Apr 5 11:36 AM
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        (Still spoilers here)

        In a message dated 4/5/02 7:32:36 AM Central Standard Time,
        PJAlama@... writes:







        > But I really don't understand why she brought things around to such a non-
        > resolution of the problem of kingship that is, after all, proclaimed by the
        > title to be a major theme of the book.
        >

        Good point. Yes, the very words "When the King Comes Home" rouse a deep
        hope somewhere in us, which is disappointed.

        Also, Stevermer for some reason -hates- to resolve any plot threads via
        marriage. She presents a perfectly acceptable candidate for Hail Rosamer
        and then has it fall through, just as she did in her earlier COLLEGE OF
        MAGICS. I think there are reasons beyond sentimentality - mythopoeic and
        archetypal ones - for happy stories to end in a marriage.

        There's some awkwardness, too, when it's said that the dead can only return
        in borrowed bodies, yet two or three dead folks turn up at the end without,
        it seems, any such need.

        Diamond Proudbrook
      • Pauline J. Alama
        As for the marriage thread, I was totally faked out. I thought that maybe Stevermer was going to throw a twist by having Hail marry Tig instead of Ludovico.
        Message 3 of 5 , Apr 5 2:20 PM
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          As for the marriage thread, I was totally faked out. I thought that maybe Stevermer was going to throw a twist by having Hail marry Tig instead of Ludovico. What I wasn't expecting was that, not only doesn't she marry either guy, but there's no discussion of why she doesn't. Is it the "To the Lighthouse" assumption that a woman can have either art or marriage, but not both? Never liked *that* book a bit.

          Pauline J. Alama
          THE EYE OF NIGHT
          (Bantam Spectra, July 2002)
          "Indeed, all creation groans and is in labor, even until now."

          --- On Fri 04/05, wrote:
          > (Still spoilers here)
          >
          > In a message dated 4/5/02 7:32:36 AM Central Standard Time,
          > PJAlama@... writes:
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          > > But I really don't understand why she brought things around to such a
          > non-
          > > resolution of the problem of kingship that is, after all, proclaimed
          > by the
          > > title to be a major theme of the book.
          > >
          >
          > Good point. Yes, the very words "When the King Comes Home"
          > rouse a deep
          > hope somewhere in us, which is disappointed.
          >
          > Also, Stevermer for some reason -hates- to resolve any plot threads via
          > marriage. She presents a perfectly acceptable candidate for Hail Rosamer
          >
          > and then has it fall through, just as she did in her earlier COLLEGE OF
          > MAGICS. I think there are reasons beyond sentimentality - mythopoeic and
          >
          > archetypal ones - for happy stories to end in a marriage.
          >
          > There's some awkwardness, too, when it's said that the dead can only
          > return
          > in borrowed bodies, yet two or three dead folks turn up at the end
          > without,
          > it seems, any such need.
          >
          > Diamond Proudbrook
          >
          > The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
          >
          > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
          >
          >
          >
          >

          ------------------------------------------------



          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • dianejoy@earthlink.net
          ... As for the marriage thread, I was totally faked out. I thought that maybe Stevermer was going to throw a twist by having Hail marry Tig instead of
          Message 4 of 5 , Apr 6 7:37 AM
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            Original Message:
            -----------------
            As for the marriage thread, I was totally faked out. I thought that maybe Stevermer was going to throw a twist by having Hail marry Tig instead of Ludovico. What I wasn't expecting was that, not only doesn't she marry either guy, but there's no discussion of why she doesn't. Is it the "To the Lighthouse" assumption that a woman can have either art or marriage, but not both? Never liked *that* book a bit.
            __________________________

            I suspect some feminism lurks in Stevemere's psyche. No problem can be solved with marriage under her assumptions. I think a lot of problems *are* solved with two parent families, that is, if the parents are committed to each other and to their kids. In ancient days, that was an unspoken assumption (which is why most comedies and fantasies ended with marriage). Mythic and societal reasons coincided. Now, of course, we question everything. I really was rooting for the cute guard who kept accompanying Hail to the library; I forget now if he was Ludovico or Tig. Must get the paperback (hopefully at a library sale) to refresh my memory. ---djb




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          • Pauline J. Alama
            Well, in older literature the happy ending had to be either marriage or (in the case of a saint s legend) symbolic marriage to Christ. Not that I ve generally
            Message 5 of 5 , Apr 8 5:16 AM
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              Well, in older literature the happy ending had to be either marriage or (in the case of a saint's legend) symbolic marriage to Christ. Not that I've generally found the latter a completely satisfying ending -- as a child, when I read a version of Robin Hood that left him with devotion to Mary rather than Maid Marian, I felt a bit cheated. But marriage is a good ending in a book -- even though, yes, in real life it's not an ending but a beginning of a whole new adventure, which not unfrequently turns ugly. But marriage is a good literary ending because of what it can symbolize: reconciliation (especially when you have a marriage across formerly feuding boundaries) and the continuation of life (as Benedick says at the end of Much Ado About Nothing, when he's mocked for marrying after years of railing against marriage, "The world must be peopled!").

              The traditional endings of stories are marriage (comedy & romance) and death (tragedy & epic). They're not the only possible endings; for example, the end of a war and the signing of a peace treaty can be a good happy ending of a story. In some respects, When the King Comes Home gives us that sort of ending --the war ends-- but it seems incomplete to me, because no new order is set up, and so I find it hard to believe the war is really over. This kind of ending really ought to take a stronger line on solving the public problems of the plot: who governs after the king dies without an heir, how do we prevent the problems of misrule and warfare that we have seen from recurring. Having neglected the public solution, she might at least have given us a tidier private solution. But here, too, she leaves things somewhat unfinished.

              I suppose we could say that Hail's happy ending is symbolic marriage to her art. But we don't really see her make that decision -- not even as much as that boring little artist in "To the Lighthouse," who has the moment of revelation when she decides that she doesn't have to marry whatsisname because she can move the tree to the center of her painting & not marry anyone (to which I responded, huh? You can't move the tree to the center *and* marry someone? But I digress.) We only find out indirectly that Hail never marries, because she mentions that Ludovico's children & Tig's children have visited her, implying that neither of their children are hers as well. We don't see her turn down Ludovico, or comment wryly that despite all his flirting, Ludovico never asked her to marry him, or anything -- it's simply not considered. If it was not to be considered, why put in all the obvious flirting to begin with? I don't get it.

              Pauline J. Alama
              THE EYE OF NIGHT
              (Bantam Spectra, July 2002)


              --- On Sat 04/06, dianejoy@... wrote:
              >
              >
              > Original Message:
              > -----------------
              > As for the marriage thread, I was totally faked out. I thought that maybe
              > Stevermer was going to throw a twist by having Hail marry Tig instead of
              > Ludovico. What I wasn't expecting was that, not only doesn't she marry
              > either guy, but there's no discussion of why she doesn't. Is it the
              > "To the Lighthouse" assumption that a woman can have either art
              > or marriage, but not both? Never liked *that* book a bit.
              > __________________________
              >
              > I suspect some feminism lurks in Stevemere's psyche. No problem can be
              > solved with marriage under her assumptions. I think a lot of problems
              > *are* solved with two parent families, that is, if the parents are
              > committed to each other and to their kids. In ancient days, that was an
              > unspoken assumption (which is why most comedies and fantasies ended with
              > marriage). Mythic and societal reasons coincided. Now, of course, we
              > question everything. I really was rooting for the cute guard who kept
              > accompanying Hail to the library; I forget now if he was Ludovico or Tig.
              > Must get the paperback (hopefully at a library sale) to refresh my memory.
              > ---djb
              >
              >
              >
              >
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