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.
Crack’d Pot Trail, Part Nine
After Brash headed off, Purse Snippet appears and after some chat tells Flicker she “intends no mercy,” to which Flicker replies he remains confident in his ability to satisfy. He notes her looking into his eyes and thinks if women could truly peer into the “murky male realm lurking behind” the eyes they “might well shatter the night with shrieks and flee into the shelter of darkness itself.” He thinks how we all stumble through with mere “guesses and hazy uncertainties.” Purse asks how he plans to save her, wondering if it would be via flesh and desire, pointing out to him that she has had many men (and women) and every time each has the “conviction writ plain that this one can do what none before was capable of doing.” He guesses she saw nothing but failure, and she confirmed that but then asks what he thinks she sees in his eyes when she looks. He thinks how in her eyes she sees “the conviction that she and she alone has what it takes… to crack loose that mysterious lockbox of fabulous revelations that is, well, the real me.” He recalls his wives, how they “pried me loose long ago, to their eternal disappointment.” Purse kisses him and Flicker tells us he’ll skip the details (Tiny would be so upset).
But then he doesn’t and there are details a-plenty (Tiny would be so pleased). Up until the very moment she “mounted herself smooth as perfumed silk, only to suddenly pull free,” telling him, “You get the rest when I am redeemed.”
Decades later, retelling this story, Flicker still can’t believe it.
Flicker heads to bed and in the morning Steck arrives with Nifty, though without the Entourage. Thus starts the 25th Day.
Flicker sets the scene as Steck tells his story.
He begins by admitting he is a man of doubts, despite appearances, explaining that when one “looks into the eye of evil… the ground becomes uncertain” and to destroy the evil is “an act of self-preservation. In defense of one’s soul… But there are moments when it is not enough.” He wonders how gods, if they created people, could have made such “ignoble spawn,” and why they would make “the proper and good path so narrow, so disused… the choice of integrity the thinnest branch.” He forestalls the argument that ease dilutes values, saying the gods must be insane to throw such obstacles up to the righteous path. He decides the gods “have all the moral rectitude of children” and “created nothing, are no different from us, knuckled to the world.” He announces he has no faith in any of them (including himself), pointing out they’ve all eaten flesh, taken the “easiest road of all.” One day, he says, he’ll face Bauchelain and Broach, and when he looks upon their “true evil,” they will see as well the evil he himself has done, “and they will smile and call me friend. Companion. Cohort in the League of Venality.” He mocks the idea of faith, pointing to Nifty Gum, beloved artist, and explaining how he found Oggle Gush’s body out there after Pampera and Nifty had fed on her (while she was still alive). He kept after them, saying he somehow thought he could still distinguish what they did and what he’s done, what they’ve all done. He tells them how Pampera then attacked Nifty, biting, and he turned upon her, biting through her jugular and drinking her blood, walking only a few more yards before Steck caught up to him. Steck says he should have just killed him, but then decided “why should his blood stain my hands alone? I give him to you, pilgrims. He is the end of this path, the one we have all chosen.”
Brash wants to go back and get the body to eat, but Mister Must interrupts him mid-suggestion, saying “No… we cannot.” When Brash replies, “But I don’t want to die!” Steck begins to weep.
Flicker admits to us a “certain satisfaction,” saying, “Given the chance, what artist wouldn’t eat his fan?… Far preferable than the opposite.” Sellup crawls up closer to Nifty, happy she has him all to herself now. She promises not to eat him. A wrecked Nifty looks up and explains, “It was the eggs… I was so hungry. All I could think of was eggs.” He jumps from there to the story of the dragon in the egg and says he tried to tell them (his entourage) but they wouldn’t listen to the truth that he was out of ideas—“it’s it’s all gone.” Sellup picks up a rock says “she’ll be his egg,” then starts banging the rock against her head (to “crack” her open). Watching, Flicker is reminded of a group of poets who took hallucinogens in an attempt at enlightenment, “only to get lost in the private weirdness that is the author’s mortal brain when it can discern nothing but its own navel.” As Sellup keeps thumping the rock against her head, Nifty moans “Someone end it. Please.” Flicker assumes he meant to stop Sellup or move her but Vise instead kills Nifty. The poet’s last words, to Flicker, were, “The eggs. The eggs!” and he dies with a “strange, blissful smile.”
Flickers wonders if this is what happens to all artists who steal inspiration, and immediately dismisses the idea: “Certainly not, and shame on you for even suggesting it.”
Arpo suddenly wakes up and begins divesting himself of his armor. Sellup is curled up on Nifty’s corpse licking his blood. Much to Apto’s dismay, Vise asks Arpo if he recalls what happened to him (he’d been trying to kill Apto if you recall), but Arpo starts ranting about “death to all demons” and announces some new proclamations even as he continues to strip. Arpo asks who Vise is, then grabs his (Arpo’s) penis and ask what that is. Told it’s his penis, Arpo looks down and says, “Kind of explains everything, doesn’t it?”
After a few moments of concentrated attention, followed by a “mess,” Arpo decides he could do that all day. Sardic Thew announces that he thinks today might see them done with the journey, but Tiny objects that Flicker has to finish his stories. Flicker says not to worry; they’ve got all day still.
Flicker’s lines about looking into another person’s eyes could, maybe slightly modified for less flowery oomph, just as easily be lifted from any contemporary novel’s passage about two modern people who know each other looking at one another: “We bounce through guesses and hazy uncertainties, and all it rapport, bridged and stitched with smiles and engaging expressions, whilst behind both set of eyes maelstroms rage benighted in wild images of rampant sex and unlikely trysts.” And if not “rampant sex,” in particular, certainly hidden thoughts and feelings. I like how he offers up two insights for the price of one here, noting that this eloquent “deep” thought may just as easily stand in for a more painful, more simple (and more simply expressed) reality: what lurks beneath the eyes is not feeling at all but mere boredom, or perhaps a floating thought like, “what did people call belly button lint before we had clothes to make lint from?”
So, are Flicker’s wives serial wives or simultaneous wives? And can we trust him when he says they pried loose his true self and were only disappointed in what it turned out to be? Or should we not trust him a few lines later when he tells us he actually does have a hidden depth/self still, and his audience (us) should come find it? Can one read “readers” for wives in this metafictional work? Do we as readers always seek to crowbar out the “true” author behind the work—what they really “mean”, who they really “are” as revealed in their works? Are we disappointed at what we find? Or do we never really find it?
You have to chuckle at his taking the high road in not offering up the details for all of two seconds. And at his self-awareness even as he goes into the details: “Buttocks, what a maddeningly absurd word,” or “”was this even possible?” Not to mention the romantic language: “tubeworm,” “dubious crack,” etc. And what an ending—might have been the only thing that could have Flicker at a “loss for words.”
From the profane to the philosophical, the prosaic to the spiritual: “For all out conceits, we are, in the end, helpless creatures. We grasp all that is within reach, and then year for all beyond that reach.” Story of the human race…
I love how this opening line of this chapter shows how banal, how normal atrocity can become: “Steck Marynd… told his tale whilst we gnawed on what was left of Calap Roud.” Just a bit of leftovers for breakfast, nothing to see here, move along, move along.
For not being one of the poets, Steck tells a pretty good story. And displays hidden depths.
So here we are three-quarters exactly the way through, and we get a direct mention of Bauchelain and Broach, and the reader has to wonder where the heck they are. Is this perhaps a prelude to their soon-to-be appearance?
And tell me his lines about the gods couldn’t have come straight from the novel series:
What god would so countenance such ignoble spawn? Why is the proper and good path so narrow, so disused, while the cruel and wanton ones proliferate in endless swarm? Why is the choice of integrity the thinnest branch within reach? While the dark wild tree is a made web across half the sky?… The gods have all the moral rectitude of children.
I do wonder what it was in what he witnessed that caused this epiphany, the charge to them all that they, himself included, “have eaten of the flesh and it was the easiest path of all,” and leads him to point out that those who most vocally justified it were the two “noble” knights.
But it is an important question, is it not? Sure, none of us (I’m assuming) have eaten human flesh, but in what are we complicit? Where do we draw the lines between evil done and evil allowed, evil unremarked upon? Do those lines even exist? Makes me think of Le Guin’s great short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”
As mentioned, I’m not quite sure I can suss out exactly what it is in what he found with Nifty and the two women that made him reassess things. What was the “distinction” he could make been making between what had happened out there and what the group has been doing this whole time? I confess to feeling a bit dim here. And does he weep because Brash seems to have learned nothing from the tale, because he vocalizes the same defense-that’s-not-a-defense that they’ve all, including Steck, been making?
“She but followed his lead”—the old “Just following orders” defense?
So if you thought eating the other people and being in constant threat of being eaten was the nightmare, it turns out Nifty’s true nightmare is that his creative well has run dry. So I guess Vise puts him out of his misery.
I’m not sure it’s intentional, but I can’t help but laugh at the echo of another set of famous last words—those of Kurtz “The horror. The horror.” And here we have “Sudden horror lit up Nifty’s eyes. ‘The eggs… The eggs!’” Certainly this pilgrimage has been a journey into the heart of human darkness.
It’s also funny that that Nifty loses it for “plundering every fairy tale I could find,” a pretty common source material, to say the least, in our fantasy genre. Is there a fairy tale that has not been redone yet? Redone twice? Five times?
Sure, Eliot wrote that, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” But I don’t think he meant “mature” as is “too old to come up with any new ideas anymore.”
I suppose it was about time for some comic relief after this scene, happily (and I mean happily provided by Arpo). And now at 80% through, we’re told we’ve but a day left, and are reminded of Flicker’s burden—a pair of stories to finish and lots of expectations to fulfill.
And where are those damn sorcerers?
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.