Monday, December 31, 2012
Read-along: Chapter 29
An eclectic chapter. Wow, this chapter covers a lot of ground! It also jumps to a variety of points-of-view. We start out with Prince Lionheart, from whom we have not had a point-of-view scene up until now. Then we move back to Una, deep in the Dragon's Village. And then we end up in the point-of-view of an entirely new character, Captain Catspaw of the Southlands guard.
You will notice as you read Heartless that we never once get a scene directly from Prince Aethelbald's point-of-view. This was an intentional choice on my part. For one thing, it keeps him much more mysterious to the reader, which I like. And this mystery, I think, adds to the romance. We don't know anything of him that he does not reveal to other people. But we do enjoy a variety of perspectives on him, including Lionheart's perspective in this first scene of Chapter 29.
The Council of Barons. We learn in this scene that the Council of Barons is watching Prince Lionheart. It's merely a brief mention, but becomes so much more important in later books. In fact, reading this book again after Moonblood gives you a very different perspective on this whole scene!
The addled Eldest. I think the Eldest's greeting to Aethelbald is proof of how dragon-poisoned he really is. He makes the comment, "I cannot remember the last time I beheld a man from Farthestshore." The fact is, he has probably never seen a man of Farthestshore, because very few people believe Farthestshore even exists! It is hard to disbelieve Prince Aethelbald when he is standing right in front of you. But I can imagine that more than a few of the courtiers gathered that day thought it was all some sort of hoax, some cruel trick being played on their sickened king.
Prince Lionheart doesn't doubt him, though. He merely dislikes what he knows to be true.
Aethelbald's Purpose. I think this scene is yet another example of Aethelbald caring for more than just Una. He came to Lionheart, not for Una's sake . . . as we see later on, he does not need Lionheart's help, or the help of Lionheart's men. He is not so limited.
But Lionheart desperately needs Aethelbald's help. He needs to turn from this path he has chosen. And Aethelbald, full of compassion, comes and offers him an opportunity to forsake his own will and journey with him into the heart of dragon country. A journey which would, I believe, have changed Lionheart's life forever.
Lionheart, however, is unwilling to accept Aethelbald's offer. He is full of more excuses, more common sense, more good reasoning. And sends others in his place, somehow hoping to atone for his own reticence. It's not enough, of course. It never will be.
I don't believe that Aethelbald has given up on Prince Lionheart. I don't think he's the sort to ever give up.
The dragons of the Village. This scene actually gives some insight into the Dragonwitch character from Starflower (those of you who haven't read it, feel free to skip this section!). We see the dragons in their former forms pacing to and fro in the darkness. Una watches them as they pace, crawl, and mutter to themselves. We can only imagine that they are going over and over in their minds the hurts that led them to this place of evil fire. Just as Una thinks over and over of Lionheart and her heartbreak. When the fire mounts up too great, they burst into flame, transform into dragons, and race up the tunnel to go vent that flame on the worlds beyond.
The Dragonwitch can't do this.
Because of what she rebellion, the Dragon King took away her wings and her dragon form. Thus she is a dragon, but trapped in the body of a woman. When her fire mounts up, she cannot take relief in transforming to the body of a dragon, which can stand the violence of that flaming furnace. Her immortal woman's body does not die, but the fire consumes her, burning her mind, taking her memory and driving her insane.
The Dragonwitch, firstborn of all the Dragon's children, truly is the most cursed of them all.
Do you wish to burn? The yellow-eyed dragon asks Una this question as she stands at the base of the upward tunnel. He tells her about his last time, burning soldiers in Parumvir . . . and Una does not realize that he also burned and poisoned her brother. I don't know if she would even truly care at this point, so lost as she is in her flame.
Dragon skin. The yellow-eyed dragon gives Una a black robe made from dragon skin. (Shudder!) He tells her to hide her exposed humanity.
And Una, thus clad, retreats back into the cavern. She's not ready to face the worlds above again. So she hides herself in the darkness, knowing that she can never be truly hidden. And she slips into dangerous dreams . . . .
Captain Catspaw. Poor Catspaw and eleven others are selected by Lionheart to travel with Aethelbald into the Red Desert. And the poor men have no idea what's coming! But things start out weird enough when Aethelbald asks them, "Will you follow me?" then proceeds to walk out of the gates without a horse! Worse still, he leads them away from the city, over the King's Bridge, an on at last . . . to one of the gorges.
He then leads them down into the Wilderlands.
None of them want to follow him in there. It is an unspoken rule that no one enters the Wilderlands. That's why they have bridges, for Lumé's sake! And there's a little reference saying: "No one climbed down to the Wilderlands below unless banished in cruelest punishment for the most vile of deeds." Foreshadowing!!!! But not until a later book . . . .
The Red Desert. The men follow faithfully enough, however, stepping onto the strange Faerie path behind Aethelbald. And they cover leagues upon leagues in mere strides! And when at last they emerge, they find themselves no long in Southlands at all. They've crossed to the Continent, over Chiara Bay, without so much as dampening their feet!
Now, then men are truly terrified. And when Prince Aethelbald asks them to enter the Red Desert behind him, they cannot bear to. Not even the honor of Southlands is motivation enough! A Catspaw himself says, "We have all of us breathed in dragon fumes and lived under the shadow of dragon smoke for five long years, and it's a miracle any of us is alive."
And so Aethelbald enters the Red Desert alone.
My Personal Favorite Lines
1. "Their hearts fear us even if they don't know why. I hate their fear. Nothing incites my fire more. I find I can scarcely enter a town before the fire bursts out of me now. So I come here when I need quiet. Here among my family." (p. 283)
Questions on the Text
1. This one is for your writers out there. Have you ever tried refraining from giving a main character a point-of-view in order to contribute to the mystery of that character? Have you maintained this mystery through an entire manuscript before? Do tell!
2. What difference do you think it might have made in Lionheart's life had he agreed and followed Prince Aethelbald?
3. In honor of the coming New Year . . . what book or books are you most looking forward to reading in 2013? Have any of you made reading lists?
4. Any favorite lines?
1. I also think I discovered another literary nod within this chapter. Una's attempt to brush her hair and the resulting hurling of the shell-edged comb at the mirror. "The mirror cracked". Alfred Lord Tennoson's "The Lady of Shalott?" Una, too, is waiting for her love just as Lady Elaine pines for Launcelot. "Out flew the web and opened wide ... The mirror crack'd from side to side. "A curse has come upon me!" cried The Lady of Shalot". Just a thought. -- Meredith
Good spot, Meredith! I am impressed! I do believe this was a little nod to Tennyson. I memorized most of the "The Lady of Shalott" when I was in high school, and I like to reference it here and there in my writing.
One thing you'll notice in all of my books is a tendency for my characters to make "three paces" here, there, and everywhere. This is an unintentional nod! Everytime I need them to take a step or two, the line from "The Lady of Shalott" comes to mind: "She left the web, she left the loom/She made three paces through the room." In fact, when I was doing a final read-through edit of Moonblood, I had to very consciously go through and take out several "three paces" references! They just keep slipping in. A case of a literary nod gone wild . . .
2. Do most of the characters represent fallen humanity in this way? I mean do all have the possibility of becoming dragons? Yet some are given to the sister of the dragon. If I have this correct - The dragon represents dreams that are destroyed (so dismay over what can not be) and the lady represents dreams that have been fulfilled (dreams that consume the heart of man). So depending on which way the character's life is going they will end up meeting with one of the two Fates? Do the people under the lady's power have a physical transformation as well? Lionheart did not so I am guessing no. Do only certain characters represent humanity? I noticed some characters, like Starflower, did not really go through this process. -- Courtney
Good questions! I don't think all of the characters represent fallen humanity in the same way Una does. Una is a very distinct representation of the church. Even her name, "Una," is taken from the princess in the St. George and the Dragon legend, who is said (by some) to represent The One Church. Thus she is fallen humanity, rescued by the blood of Christ in a very specific way.
The other characters are all flawed and fallen in some way, but they aren't such distinct symbols as Una is. They are more personal, less universal . . .
Some of those taken by the Lady undergo a pretty drastic transformation, but it's a much slower process than what we see in the Dragon's children. She is far more subtle and insidious than the Dragon is, so the transformation worked on her victims is also more subtle. If you read Veiled Rose you'll get an eyeful of one of her servants deep in transformation, however. I don't know if that character reflects the coming fate of all the Lady's children or not, however it is a possibility.
I see the Lady and the Dragon as two sides of the same coin. They have their own personalities, but they are basically just two different anthropomorphizations of Evil.