Collecting some comments I wrote in the Malazan series re-read at Tor.
Tyrion or Jaime or Sansa in GRRM’s series where there’s more transition that leads to personality changes and development.
Oh, I so disagree. Martin, in those cases and more, just expertly pulls at heart strings. Whatever he does with a character is VERY deliberate and very precise.
If even one reader develops antipathy for a character like Tyrion, then it means the book failed. There’s nothing truly open to interpretation if not the illusion of it. Martin always chases an effect as is typical of Hollywood/western writing. Nothing can be accidental or uncertain. Which is why he writes and rewrites incessantly till the experience isn’t absolutely perfect and works the way he wants for everyone. The book is built to be successful when EVERY reader has the exact same response to it.
Tyrion is one of those characters whose negative traits are cleverly exploited to ADD to his sympathy. It’s anti-hero done in a trivial way (written and executed well).
With Felisin instead Erikson creates a character that can trigger a different response depending on how you approach her, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to get the character. I’m not more “right” than you saying that I loved Felisin. Erikson doesn’t shove the reader in a specific direction that “feels” natural but that is instead carefully defined. It’s not on rails. Whatever you draw from that story is up to you, a subjective emotional response and all the “truth” about it, you keep it to yourself and no one can say you’re wrong. The character arc has nothing of the typical uplifting destination, and a lot of true ambiguity.
People always tell say they love gray characters when what they love is to read heroes who are “gray” only in a slight, but pleasing, nonconformity that feels very “hip” and “modern”.
Martin is a great executor and a very good writer. But it’s all pre-chewed material.
I also kind of chuckle when I see that “maturity” is taken as synonym of wisdom and moderation. But it very rarely is. Maturity only defines someone more broken than another. It’s just a collection of the number of pieces you’ve shattered into and how deluded you are about them.
Nope, you’ll rarely get to put the pieces back together. And that’s is valid both for Felisin and everyone else in the real world. Well, besides fantasy stories. In fantasy stories you can.
When I started to read the prologue of DG it was right after finishing the last page of GotM, I was well aware of who Felisin was and also of the fact she was going to be a major character in the next book.
The prologue starts with a very cinematic scene. You can see the camera panning while following the Hood Priest. The Priest is the initial focus of the scene and the PoV follows it as it walks toward its mysterious destination. Only after this initial set-up Felisin comes into play and we discover that it’s instead her PoV. We see the Priest approaching right toward Felisin, who’s merely an observer of something that seems to have gone “wrong”. Feelings of foreboding, the slaughter, the season of Rot, the mule, but still no mention of how this is going to be related to the plot (or to Felisin, she’s still out of the scene, out of perceived threat).
So up to this point Felisin is an external/passive observer. It came to me as a total shock that she was chained with the others. You have this Priest walking toward someone or something. Felisin wonders if it’s really her to be the target. But for the reader this becomes about discovering that it’s her the *victim* already. There’s no way out. We have been shown a Felisin chained right from the start, without any hope to get free. The fate is sealed.
Usually we see a character who faces danger and struggles to find a way though. We read anxiously how the story develops. It builds tension. Here we are thrown in a situation in which “possibility” is crushed. The chains locked before the first written line but the reader’s realization comes with delay, and in the text is completely understated, almost tangential. The scene is then followed by an escalation of brutality that shows clearly that there’s no way to turn back. It’s a path carved deeply into hell and the more you go down the worse it is. Even if you find a way through and up again the price you’ve paid would be already way too much to find any sort of absolution or justification in it. The threshold has been already passed and the reader somewhat forbidden to experience any sense of hopeful possibility.
What’s worth saving is already irremediably lost.
I’m still awed by the prologue and how it works spectacularly on its own. In two pages the reader goes through the feeling of having chains locked by having Felisin only entering the scene last. It’s her PoV right from the start but Erikson structures the scene so that the perceived PoV is completely overturned as one reads. From a side we have a cinematic scene, from the other we have an effect that is basically impossible with a camera, since the PoV would be already “bound” to the character.
Erikson uses cleverly everything that is unique to the writing medium. Even a small scene like this is brilliant not just because of what happens, but in how it is carefully structured and narrated word by word. Defiant of expectations, and ambitious.
Whichever way you look at it, I don’t like the idea—it makes me deeply uncomfortable.
I guess it’s worth discussing. On your blog you posed the question whether “rape” can be “art”. The discussion is broad, but also quite straightforward from my point of view.
What’s the purpose of a book? Flatter its reader with edifying stories and encouragements?
Is “art” whatever we enjoy, and non-art whatever we despise and contemn? Is art exclusively self-congratulatory?
The point here is that the book will tell its story. The book has EVERY right and legitimation to tell its story without censorship. It’s the reader who decides how to personally weigh what he reads.
So should a book just tell a story that makes its readers comfortable and content? Nope, all stories are legitimate as long there’s someone who wants to hear them.
At the same time not feeling comfortable with a story and refuse to read it, is a personal and legitimate choice that should always be respected.
So I really won’t support the idea that criticizes Erikson for tackling certain themes that may hurt common sensibilities. Every reader can make there a personal choice whether or not to read it, but one can’t attack a writer for writing outside certain expectations.
Writing, as part of culture, MUST break through imposed or perceived barriers and limits.
And I write this not because someone has stated the opposite, but because that idea always lingers in these types of discussions.
I think it is too ingrained in some people to be judgmental about her trading sex for favors in the prison camp. Or the drinking and smoking scenes, just because we tend to frown on that as a modern society
You can as well stop that first line at “it is too ingrained in some people to be judgmental”. That’s enough.
I’m very, very uncomfortable even thinking of JUDGING Felisin personally. I feel it very wrong and perverse.
I think personal choices are always to be respected because the external point of view is so hypocritical and partial. It’s too easy to nitpick from the outside about the personal choices someone else makes. It’s haughty and arrogant.
Felisin makes choices that are solely about her. She hurts herself in some cases. She never deliberately takes action against someone else (at least up to this point).
So, whatever is her choice, I would always respect it because it’s not a restraint on someone else’s choice. Maybe not approve it, but respect it.
People shouldn’t tread carelessly and be judgmental over pain and trauma of others. It’s a delicate topic.
Even posing the question whether one of her choice is “right” or “wrong” is about taking a truth out of it and rationalize what can’t be rationalized.