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 continue 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.
Just a note that there will be no Friday post, as I’ll be in Saratoga Springs for the World Fantasy Convention.
Crack’d Pot Trail Part Four
Relish tells Flicker she knocked her brothers out, warns him that Snippet will see him killed, and then the two have sex.
Really, they have sex.
The twenty-fourth day dawns as the camp awakens. A nearby “harashal” a “lizard vulture” responds to the smell of human flesh, deepening the group’s guilt, save for a few who seem immune to the emotion (the Chanters brothers. Watching Ambertroshin collect the chamber pot from the carriage, Tulgord Vise notes its odd heaviness. Arpo points out she had two helpings of meat last night, while Apto wonders about how hot the carriage must be inside. While the others see to their mounts, Brash and Calap Roud confront Flicker on his deal with Snippet. He tells them he’s sure she just wants to hear the end of his story, and when Brash complains it isn’t a “believable” tale, Flicker responds:
Must you have every detail relayed to you, every motivation recounted to that it is clearly understood? Must you believe all proceeds at a certain pace only to flower full and fulsome at the expected time? Am I a slave to your expectations, sir? Does not a teller of tales serve oneself first and last?
Calap says he’s always scoffed at the “necessity” of an audience, but points out this situation is different. Flicker, though, says it really isn’t, as is usual, the audience can listen or leave, find enjoyment or frustration. But, he says, “If I kneel to one I must kneel to all. And to kneel is to surrender and this no teller of tales must ever do.” When Calap points out their lives are on the line and that’s why this isn’t the same, Flicker says yes, he has an audience of one and yes, his life is in her hands, but he’ll still not surrender— “I will hold to my story, for it is mine and none other’s.” Calap exits, confused. Brash confides in Flicker that he has hidden his talent to save it for the festival, but now that he needs it to save his life (though he keeps getting voted dispensation despite never finishing his songs), he knows he has none. He fears once his audience stops laughing, he’s dead. Flicker thinks this is the plight of all artists:
The gibbering ghosts of dead geniuses… The bald nakedness of some future legacy… The secret truth is every artist kneels… sets head down upon the block of fickle opinion and the judgment of the incapable… [is] driven again and again to explain oneself, to justify every creative decision.
He has always thought, he says, that an artist though should “explain nothing, justify even less.” As for legacy, that belongs to the future generations, not to the “artist and the audience trapped together in the now.” He tells Brash not to worry about it: “Neither sun nor stone heeds human ambition… Is it not enough to try? Is desire not sufficient proof?” He adds that Brash should revel in his lack of talent and promises that he, Brash, will survive the trip, that Calap and Nifty are more likely to go first, and their meat will get them through. The camp is ready to move on.
Flicker tells us it “falls upon artists of all ilk to defend the indefensible,” thus revealing “the utterly defenseless nature of all positions of argument.” The truth, he says, is “nowhere and everywhere,” with lies hiding always beneath it. He warns his audience, “assume the devious, and you’ll not be wrong and almost half-right, as we shall see.”
As they move, Tiny tells Calap it’s time to finish his story about the Imass woman and the Fenn warrior. Sellup interrupts him at the start to ask the Imass’ name, and he tells her she’s “Everywoman.” Sellup grumbles, “not me.” And Calap continues. Oggle soon interrupts him again, saying the Imass not telling the Fenn about how badly her clan is doing (the Imass invited him to be their guest) was “stupid,” but Apto points out if she did that, the warrior would just leave and then there’d be no story. Oggle says she wants to hear more detail about the woman, and how she’s in charge, and “secretly smarter than everyone else, because that’s what heroes are… They see clearest of all! They wear Truth and Honour.” At least, she says, according to Nifty, but he says he didn’t mean it like that exactly, explaining it’s more complicated. He tells Calap to continue, but before he can, Apto asks Oggle what Truth and Honour look like?” She calls him an idiot, and Calap goes on with how the warrior and woman enter the camp and how the others Imass look forward to the stories he’ll share later, as that is, “the currency a stranger pays for hospitality.” Apto points out the poets’ long similar tradition, and Brash bitterly notes their reward is to be killed and eaten. He starts to bring up the horses, but Tulgord Vise shoots down that idea before it can be fully argued again. Tiny, however, says when the artists are done, it’ll be the knights’ horses or the knights themselves.
Calap continues his story, with the Imass chief not so thrilled about the arrival of a Fenn, particularly one with a body on a sled, considering the camp’s lack of food and medicine. But still he prepares to welcome him. The woman stands beside the Fenn outside the chief’s hut, knowing his presence is her doing, even if she just followed tradition, and she senses the spirits of the Imass gathering around them. She takes the Fenn’s hand and when he looks at her, he sees her youth and beauty and he appeared pained. Sellup interrupts to ask what he knows, throwing off Calap momentarily. Flicker gives him a quiet prompt and Calap is able to continue. The warrior and woman enter the hut where the other Imass wait, and the Fenn reveals himself to be younger than they’d thought. Calap sings of how we all “Blood and suffering are all-too-common masks among all people throughout every age… We must face the scarred reality, and all too often don our own matching masks.” He pauses a moment, struck by this thought. Flicker thinks how an author cannot, no matter how hard they try, “stir dead soil to life,” call up feeling and meaning in those “flat and devoid of emotion.” Calap continues, telling of how they shared food, “for to eat in company is to acknowledge the kinship of need.” Tiny interrupts that things are turning too grim, and tells Brash to sing something else.
I’m not a huge fan of the sex scene, I confess. However, I did enjoy a few aspects of it:
- The metafictional discussion of are sex scenes necessary or should the author simply “draw the veil of modesty upon these decorous delicacies?”
- A similar metafictional reference to how such scenes, if they are shown, are typically handled, describing “lovemaking as the most gentle art. Sweet sensations, tender strokes… the sharing of wine breaths… etc.”
- the dark humor of this line: “My tongue… partook of flavours I wish never to revisit,” given what Flicker has been eating this whole time.
- And the underling sneaky question: how much can we trust our narrator and his “riptide” of lust, his “hungry stream,” etc.? (the, um, “fish” was thissssss big!!)
You can’t have a wasteland story of arid death and murder and fear without a vulture, right? Though being a fantasy, it’s a “lizard vulture.” You can almost hear the Ennio Morricone soundtrack in the background…
More mysterious hints about our carriage lady: her nightly excretions seem “heavier” than one might expect, she is rumored (if we can trust Ambertroshin—he might just be lying to save himself) to be a sorcerer, is feared (maybe), is connected to the slave trade, and apparently has a strangely unfamiliar title. Hmmm.
And here again, one has to imagine that besides a general author-reader relationship, Erikson has some personal experience with this desire of a readership to “have every detailed relayed to you, every motivation recounted so that it is clearly understood?” How many times have we wondered in our years of wandering through these texts just why someone did something? Or how exactly something worked? And clearly as we’ve talked over things in our posts, we’ve found a wide variety in terms of one’s tolerance for ambiguity, for the unanswered question.
Beyond these texts, this idea of the author being a “slave “ to the readers’ expectation has cropped up not only with the Malazan world, but perhaps most famously (notoriously might be a better word) with Martin, who gets lambasted all the time for not feeding the beast frequently enough. This little speech from Flicker seems to be another way of saying what Gaiman said about Martin in this context: “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” Certainly, as Flicker says, the audience always has the choice, no? To partake or not? To listen or not? To turn the channel or no
I like how Snippet can stand in for that audience, despite being an audience of “one.” And like any audience, as an author well knows, those that are with you can just as easily, just as quickly, drop you. Just like that. As Flicker says, “so be it.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at Brash’s epiphany about why it was so easy for him to hide his talent. Turns out there wasn’t much to secrete away.
This is a bit sharp—the idea that each artist is judged by “the incapable.” Seems to smack a bit of the “those who can’t…”
Luckily for us here, even if Erikson hasn’t explained a lot, we’ve gotten a little more than “nothing.” Sometimes. Now and then. Haven’t we? Right? Wasn’t there that time… (and here I pause for the it’s-been-a-while-since-we’ve-thanked-Steven-for-taking-time-out-to-offer-up-some-deeply-thoughtful-authorial-thoughts-about-writing-and-reading-his-work-and-the-same-to-Cam. We now return you to our regularly scheduled posting )
Do we trust Flicker on Brash surviving? On Calap and Nifty not? On the group moving faster than expected and not needing as much “meat” as thought? What say you?
I love the story-telling within the story, especially those pesky interruptions from the audience. “What’s her name?” “Why didn’t she just…” “Because then there wouldn’t be a story, would there?” I’m often mocked by my friends for being notoriously unable to let certain things go early in a movie (or a book, but usually the discussion arises around film). Usually the conversation beginning with, “I just couldn’t get by…” This happened most recently with the new Supergirl show, where I “just couldn’t get by” the idea that planes are falling, trains are derailing, cars are crashing, famines are occurring, etc. in this world (I at least wasn’t shown otherwise), but it was only when it was someone she knew (spoiler alert for the first ten minutes of a week-old hour-long episode) that she felt the necessary motivation to leap to save someone. All I kept thinking for the next 50 minutes was, “Jesus, that’s a selfish bunch of years, how am I supposed to like you now?” Anyway, I may not be as bad as Oggle, but I like my story’s beginning premise to at least give me a façade I can pretend to accept.
That’s a great passage about the masks, the dead poet’s vision, the inability of even the best of author’s to “stir dead soil to life,” to “awaken sincerity among those crouch’d in strongholds of insensitivity.” And a grim vision that such is “a growing plethora.” Is a hostile audience better than a dead (dead inside) one?
I like how some tension is added among the group now between the Chanters and the knights, with Steck Marynd left up in the air as to which side he might come down on, if either. Along with the obvious tension with the poets, and the mysterious nature of the carriage inhabitant, and the constant background tension of “when will our chaotic sorcerers show up?”, it’s a nice build up. Speaking of which, anybody getting nervous about their lack of appearance, Bauchelain and Broach?
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.