Welcome to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll begin our coverage of Crack’d Pot Trail.
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Note: Next week’s posts will be a bit iffy, as I’m participating in the Festival of New Theatre here, which means several days of rehearsal and almost definitely some frantic rewriting before my play has a stage reading at the end of the week. I’m also contributing a scene (yet to be written) for a one-night medley of scenes from participating playwrights. I’ll try and get something up, but fair warning…
Crack’d Pot Trail Part Two
Our narrator, Flicker, begins to tell the story of the twenty-third night, saying how the group had faced “desperate deprivation and then horror” and was now facing the “weight of necessity” and a sense of guilt. As Brash speak, the group flinches at the sound of fat sizzling on the fire’s coals. Brash speaks of the artists Ordig and Aurpan with disdain, Mister Must turns the leg over the fire “guiltily,” and then Tulgord wonders, “who do we eat tomorrow night?”
The narrator describes the artist gaining final “recognition,” as in “I recognize that this artist is dead and so finally deserving the accolade of ‘genius,’ knowing too that whatever value the artist achieved in life is not aspiring in worth tenfold and more.” Thus the “critical feast.”
Time flashes back to the eleventh night of privation. After a brief discussion of the idea of eating the horses and mules, Well Knight Arpo Relent argues nobody can refute the idea that there are too many artists in the world, then points out he and the other hunters “whose cause is most just” need their horses to catch Bauchelain and Broach, while the Dantoc must have her mules for her carriage. Flicker, telling us “Say it plain has always been my motto,” translates that what Relent means is the group must eat one of its members. Relent is somewhat annoyed by Flicker’s spurning of euphemism. As they wonder how to choose, Relish suggests that they tell stories, and they agree that the artists “would have to sing not to be supper.” The first one, however, doesn’t get to tell a story as Tulgord Vise kills him when he objects to the whole idea. Flicker tells us they ate an artist that night, the sixteenth, the twentieth, and the twenty-second (and a second one that night after Arpo suggested “mid-day meals to keep up one’s strength and morale”).
Responding to an imagined question from his audience about why the group was still eating poets when they were so close to the ferry landing, Flicker explains that “a certain level of comfort had been achieved.” At this point, there were only four artists left (Purse snippet had been given “unanimous dispensation”) with sixteen nights left in the Great Dry.
Brash, about to start his tale, announces it is “drawn from the Eschologos sequence of Nemil’s Redbloom Poets of the Third Century,” though he quickly amends that to mean only inspired by those famous poets. Apto asks who those “famous” poets were, and when Brash cannot come up with names, the two go back and forth. Brash asking what does it matter if he gives the names since Apto never heard of them (so Brash could just make up names) and Apto pressing Brash on his ignorance. Brash notes bitterly that the men conveniently voted all the women safe from being eaten, and speculates aloud about “how succulent” they probably would taste. Vise interrupts, disgusted, and Relent points to the obvious “immoral decrepitude” of artists, adding, “everyone knows it’s the woman who do the eating.” A statement which creates a moment of silence he doesn’t understand.
Brash begins, but is almost immediately interrupted by Tiny, who notes a logical inconsistency in the opening stanza. Brash continues on with his song of a queen mourning the loss of her daughter, though the song wonders if the daughter isn’t dead, for “King Gling” might have a secret hidden away in his tower. “But no, he was a king without any terrible secrets,” and so Princess Missingla (whose tale this is) had indeed been stolen away by the “king in the kingdom beyond the mountains between the lake in the Desert of Death.” (as he recounts the tale, Flicker can’t help but add some lines of his own). But then according to the song she wasn’t stolen away but left with him due to him being rich (which apparently outweighed him being “cruel and evil).
As Brash strums his lute hard, a string breaks, snapping into his eye and startling Steck, who accidentally shoots a crossbow bolt into his own foot. Purse, also startled, sprays a surprisingly flammable bit of tea into the fire, signing Apto’s eyelids and causing him to jump backwards, unfortunately into a cactus. Thanks to the chaos and his performance, Brash lives through the night and then the next, when he is about to announce he still isn’t finished singing, but Flicker gags him with his hand, stopping his “suicidal desire.” Flicker tells us proudly of his “impervious nature” and his “natural brevity with respect to modesty.”
Whose tale is this indeed? I like how this question can be asked as well of the story as a whole.
So it doesn’t take us long to learn that this group is eating its artists, but there is a little bit of nice build up and some hints before we get the relatively early intervention. And if some lines may not be “hints” per se, that do have a delicious sense of duality to them knowing what we now know.
- That sense of dread that ended chapter one.
- The introduction that is “so well chewed… not a babe would choke on it.”
- The “teeth-bared defense of Apto’s life… the savage display of barely human snarls . . the vote had already been concluded.”
- The sense of guilt hanging over the party.
- The way they all “flinched” at the fat sizzle.
- The “critical feasting.” Brash’s head that “could just as easily be siting on a stick, and it was still a wonder it wasn’t.”
- Mister Must turning the haunch “inexpertly skewered” and then looking around “guiltily” as everyone avoids his eyes.
- The way the concealing darkness, smoke, and dancing flames were “gifts of mercy.”
- The growling, “truculent” stomachs.
And then we get the revelation and we’re back in the dark humor world of Bauchelain and Broach, but also as mentioned in the last entry, the metafictional world, where the world/an audience “consumes” an artist. And as well we get some lines about an artist being most recognized after his or her death. And some unkind lines about the typical audience: “It’s important to bear in mind the innate denseness of the common people.” And you can tell already that Erikson is having, and will have, lots of fun with this premise. But even as we read it we’re like, “Ha ha, the dense audience! Hey, wait a minute… “
Is it possible to have “too many artists in the world”? Not an untimely question to ask perhaps in the modern world of self-publication and social media. In a world where everyone/anyone is an author/photographer (or is it writer/picture taker?), is everyone/anyone also an artist?
I do so enjoy Flicker’s little asides, especially about himself, as when he notes his alleged belief (belied by that intro I’d say) that “Speaking in the interest of pith . . ‘say it plain’ has always been my motto.”
In a tale that will shortly have one of the artists excoriated for his digressions, it’s hard not to smile at Erikson’ s wondering a bit afield to discuss what it takes to provoke a bully/thug (not much actually—what one says has little impact is the argument) or “since when do ethics triumph power.”
Or at the language use, as when the first poet is killed “succinctly,” a term usually employed to describe writing. Or this: “Ordig now resided in bellies with a weighty profundity he never achieved in life, while Aurpan’s last narrative was technically disconnected and stylistically disjointed, being both raw and overdone.”
Really, it’s all just so much fun. The spat between the critic and the poet over Brash’s pretentious theft (cough cough “inspiration”) over obscure yet famous poets. The bitterness over the women not having to compete. And then, oh, that song. I was laughing all the way through those pages. Beginning with that opening “ancient history/a galaxy far far away” setting: “In Ages long past/A long time ago/Before any of us were alive…”
Then Tiny’s obvious question about how can there be a king if it was “before kingdoms rose from the dust.” The wham-bam banter of “You can’t interrupt like that! I’m singing!” “Why do you think I interrupted!” You can almost hear Steck Marynd doing a rim shot in the background.
Then, oh, King Gling of the Nine Rings, “sad was his sorrow” (I’m laughing again as I’m typing all these), “A queen in her own right,” “Long-haired she was and Longhair was her name” (OH, B-I-N-G-O, B, oh wait, wrong song), for only a while thanks to the daughter who died or was hidden or kidnapped or eloped with, ahem, “Lope” (who may have been the only one without “shapely shoulders”). This song hurts so bad it feels good. You have to wonder how long it took Erikson to come up with something so bad.
But give Brash points for a grand finale: nearly blinding himself, Steck’s foot pinned by his own crossbow bolt, Apto burned and cactus-needled, a group grope by the Entourage, and Midge pissing himself. An “extraordinary performance” indeed.
All the stories can’t be this bad, can they? Or this kind of bad? Guess we’ll see…
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.