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 Ten
Apto takes Flicker aside to speak to him, telling him he never wanted to be a judge, asking Flicker if he has any sense of the difficulty. Apto tells him all critics, if they could do what the artists do, would: “The truth is, we hate you… We seethe with resentment and envy.” Flicker though reassures him that “there are many kinds of talent. A sharp eye and a keen intellect… and their regard set upon us is our reward.” Apto, however, notes that’s true only if the artist likes what the critic has to say. Flicker agrees, saying otherwise critics are idiots. Apto “critiques” their conversation, and when Flicker says Apto’s trying to show he’s smarter than Flicker, Apto replies, “Sharper than your dull efforts to be sure. Wiser, cooler of regard, loftier.” Flicker explains though that the “wise artist” has a “perfect riposte,” though of course it doesn’t refer to Apto: they create a character based on a critic and then “proceed to excoriate and torture the hapless arse-hole with unmitigated and relentless contempt.” Smiling, Apto says he looks forward to hearing the end of Flicker’s stories and will consider them carefully when he judges “the Century’s Greatest Artist.” Flicker asks him if he thinks art has relevance in/to the real world, and when Apto asks “whose art?”, Flicker replies, “don’t ask me.”
They return and all prepare to move on. Brash asks if their nearness to the end means nobody else has to die, but Tiny mocks the concept. Brashly bravely (or stupidly) asks what if it were Tiny at risk of being killed, and Tiny responds if it were he wouldn’t waste his time on poetry: “Words—why, anyone can put them together, in any order they please. It’s not like what they’re doing is hard, is it? The rest of us just don’t bother. We got better things to do with our time.” Apto guesses Tiny wasn’t much of an arts patron while king and Tiny’s brothers inform the group that Tiny arrested all the artists and boiled them alive. Brash sings “Gotho’s Folly, the Lullaby Version.” The lullaby has a narrator singing to his “precious one” of the dead rising, and when the babe starts screaming, the narrator sings of how sweet the “oozing marrowww” will taste. Tulgord Vise interrupts, telling Brash he is sick. Apto points out artists don’t consider that a flaw, but Tulgord ignores him, demanding Brash stop. Flicker helps Arpo mount his horse (backwards). Vise tells Flicker it now all him.
Flicker interrupts the narrative to assure us he is not “particularly evil,” pointing out if he were as evil as we might think he would have killed Apto the critic long ago. However, he has to, he says, stick to telling things as they happened even if they make him look bad. He explains that the artist “must remain sharp and unforgiving, and every scene’s noted detail must purport a burden of significance,” adding that the timing of this paragraph is a bit random and clumsy.
After saying he’s happy if his audience skipped the prior passage, Flicker brings us back to the group departing, leaving behind Nifty’s corpse and Sellup, who was feeding on it. He considers which of the two required stories he’ll tell, and then begins with the Imass one. The Imass woman wakes to find the Fenn gone. He returns shortly with meat, still hot from the fire, calling it “a gift for the warmth you gave me when I needed it most,” adding “I shall not forget you, not ever.” He tells her he must leave at dawn, trying to find a home with the Fenn beyond the passes. When the woman asks him at least to stay while she eats, Relish interrupts, saying she doesn’t believe the woman would give up so easily. When Flicker says the woman was torn apart inside, Relish demands how was she supposed to know that. Flicker answers, “By crawling into her skin, Relish… Such is the secret covenant of all stories… With our words we wear ten thousand skins, and with our words we invite you to do the same… We invite that you feel as we feel.” Purse Snippet bitingly interrupts, “Unless you secretly feel nothing.” Flicker tells her the idea that his invitation is a lie belongs only “to a cynic,” but Apto adds that it belongs as well to “the wounded and the scarred… Or the one whose own faith is dead.” Flicker says maybe some artists don’t feel what they ask others to feel, but he’s not one of them, and Apto agrees.
Tiny tells Flicker to get on with it. Picking up the story, Flicker tells how the Imass woman imagined the Fenn’s love for her, his grief over loss, and other emotions. When she’s done eating, the Fenn lays a hand on her belly and tells her he actually gave her “two gifts.” Relish wants to know how the Fenn could have known the woman was pregnant (Brash didn’t get it), and Flicker answers that the Imass woman knew as well thanks to “the new voice in her.” Flicker then asks Purse if he can relate a few lines of the story for her and she says yes. He continues with telling how the brothers quickly killed the Fenn, and how the tiny new voice inside her “wailed for the father it had lost so cruelly.” Tiny yells and turns to Relish, but Flicker tells him to hold and continues, telling how the woman swore she would tell her child the truth, point at her brothers and tell him how “There is one of the men who murdered your father!… They sought to protect me—so they said, but they failed, and what did they do then, my child? They killed your father!” The brothers had lost their chance at being “smiling uncles,” and the child “would know only hatred for those uncles, and a vow would find shape… a kin-slaying vow, a family-destroying vow. Blood in the future. Blood!”
When everyone stops to stare at him, he continues on: “She would… She could. If they would not let her be… . They had nothing left in her to protect. Unless perhaps an innocent child. But even then—she would decide when and how much. She was now in charge… She was free.” Tiny turns to Relish and says she had told them nothing had happened with Calap, but she says she lied, and yes, she is pregnant and yes she would do as the Imass woman would if they don’t leave her to live her life as she wishes. The brothers, cowed, agree, and Relish gives Flicker “A look of eternal gratitude or eternal resentment—I couldn’t tell.” He also thinks he caught a glimpse of a “wondering smile” from Purse Snippet, but again, wasn’t sure. As the group continues, Apto whispers,” Flick goes the first knife this day. Well done,” and Flicker thinks to himself, “But only the first.” Sellup catches up, yelling that she brought Nifty’s head.
Don’t you wish you knew some critics well enough to pore through the Malazan books (or others) to see which ones (if any) Erikson has “excoriated and tortured”?
So, are all critics really frustrated artists? Resentful and bitter? Is this the old, “those who can do…” line? Do they honestly hate the authors they critique? I don’t know about bitterness or hate or resentment, but it’s hard for me to imagine that many (most?) critics didn’t/don’t have a desire to be a writer/musician/painter, etc. Or at the very least, after years of penning criticism don’t think to themselves, “I could certainly do better than this… ” Certainly many authors are excellent critics, and some critics have later become good artists, but I wonder how many manuscripts sit in a drawer or paintings in an attic of critics’ homes.
Do the authors think critics wise when they like the authors’ work and idiotic when they don’t? This is obviously painting with a pretty broad brush here, and I’d say Erikson is certainly having some fun, but should one wonder if there’s some kernel of honesty in all this? He’s certainly had more than a little fun with critics in other works (not to mention pompous artists).
I wouldn’t have minded more of this discussion actually, especially as it ends so abruptly with such a big question—does art have relevance in the real world? (you know Tiny would have had some erudite things to say about that… )
If the story is channeling the bitter critic, or authors who think of critics as bitter and resentful, well, we’ve also all heard this one—how hard can writing be? It is, after all, our mother tongue, right? We all learn it as a baby for god’s sake, how tough can it be to string some of those words “in the right order”? If everyone had the time or inclination for such a triviality, why everyone could be a poet/writer. And in this day and age of instant posting, self-publishing, etc., how far off is Tiny? Or is writing and being a “writer” a different thing? Publishing poetry or being a “poet”?
Remind me never to do a reading in Tiny’s realm…
“Gotho’s Folly, the Lullaby Version.” Chuckle. And the tune was funny enough, but I wanted it to keep going to see the connection to Gothos.
So a little bit of foreshadowing here? Is Flicker preparing us for some awful act he’s going to perform in the next 17% of the book? Something possibly worse than his manipulation of the Chanters into killing Calap Roud?
Probably a good idea at this point to remind the readers of just who is left in this group. Paying attention to nuts and bones (especially the bones).
Now, is it possible, in a story that deals so regularly with cannibalism, to not have a moment’s hesitation, a little flinch, when the Fenn warrior presents the Imass woman with some mysterious meat, especially when he has a “Bitter” sort of laugh and something in his tone “troubles” her. That’s a nice bit of tension there.
Flicker’s speech to Relish about the author wishing the reader to “crawl into the skin” of the characters, to feel for them, to feel their lives, could have come right out of the larger series, as it brings forth the constant theme of that series—the quality of empathy. And it’s been in the news lately that a study purports to show that literary fiction increased the capacity for empathy in its readers (as opposed in the study to reading non-fiction or genre fiction). Flicker’s on the cutting edge!
I love how Brash doesn’t get the painfully obvious implication that the Imass woman is pregnant when the Fenn lays a hand on her belly and refers to leaving her with a “gift.”
And how is this scene for an exploration of the power of words/story—the scene where Flicker uses his story to free Relish from her brothers? Appropriately coming so soon after Flicker asked Apto if art had relevance in the real world. Apparently it does, with tangible results here—a triumphant young woman and a trio of cowed bullies. And I love the layering upon layering here. Flicker uses a story to free her. But it’s a story about a story—the stories the Imass woman would tell her child about her father’s killers. But it’s also a story about a story being told within a story, as Flicker’s interruptions and flash forwards remind us. And then, of course, it’s a story about a story being told as a story in a story (Erikson’s story for us), assuming I’ve gotten my stories straight. Love it.
And it’s also a nice bit of suspense in that we as readers know Flicker has a whole other story to tell. A whole other promise to fulfill. And the little exchange—one voice one not—with him and Apto: “Flick goes the first knife this day,” and “But only the first” emphasizes that and heightens the expectations even more.
Which all makes sense, as we’re just about 90% of the way done (and where are those sneaky necromancers of ours?)
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.