Wed
Apr 1 2009 2:00pm

Propinquity Contrivance Re-read: The Deep Purloining

It’s been a while since I last posted my re-read of E.G. Praithewaite’s Propinquity Contrivance series. Because of the lag in posts (and I apologize for that but I’ve been recovering from a bout of bird flu) it’s necessary to do a little more re-capping here and there than I usually would.

Last time, we’d gone over chapters 3 through 5 of the twelfth book, The Deep Purloining in which Praithewaite’s already grim portrayal of interspecies violence turns grimmer indeed with the Battle of Mount Valley. The battle is, without a doubt, the bloodiest fight between unicorns and midwives ever written.

The first time I read it, the gore so overwhelmed me I was of no mind to consider the subtext. It’s a reference to the Viet Nam War, according to some, though I favor the theory that Praithewaite patterned the bloodshed after the battle of Sekigahara. Still others say he drew inspiration from the second Superbowl (given the similarity of the names of the unicorn Starrbolt and quarterback Bart Starr).

As the battle raged, far from the evisceration of midwives or sudden episiotomies of enchanted ungulates, a second conflict erupted between the wizard Mions and his former master, Farkenlug. The two faced off at Troubledwater Bridge. (I’m still a little pissed that Mions’ famous line, “Hello, my old, dark friend” didn’t appear in the film adaptation.)

Chapter Six: A Mobius Indefinite

I’m not one to stir up controversy, but there’s no way to discuss Farkenlug’s summoning of the Darkblack Horde without bringing up his racial views. I know, I know, we went over this before with the whole “Are the elves really Mexicans in disguise” question from the beginning of the first book. I said then, and I say again, we can cut him some slack. It’s a coincidence, ok?

 Remember, the whole darkness = evil thing isn’t Praithewaite’s invention. It goes back at least to early Victorian Era. Some would say even further back. So, just because the Darkblack Horde is, well, dark and black, doesn’t mean he’s a racist. Let’s not forget that this book was written in 1974. I mean, women had just earned the right to vote.

That aside, the chapter lags a little after Mions drives the horde away with magically conjured accordions. At this point in the story, Lad Farmer doesn’t know if the prophesy is really about him or simply the mutterings of an old, dying dolphin. And while there are charming moments between Lad and the fiery red-tressed Velurvia, the whole scene at the waterfall was nearly too much for me to take. I mean, Lad is just as obviously attracted to her as she is obviously a princess disguised as a wandering juggler, and even though he has the Eye Amulet of Through-Seeing, he simply blushes and turns away while she bathes nude in the pond and splashes him? No way. Lad’s supposed to be a sixteen-year-old boy! When my brother was sixteen, he still got turned on by the JC Penney catalogue, ok?

I’ll never understand why Praithewaite, who had no problem writing about knee-torture, execution by hard-boiled egg and elephant rape, gets all squeamish when it comes to a sex scene. It’s always, “Her lashes fluttered as she skipped away,” and “He nearly kissed her, but his soup interfered.”

Chapter Seven: Deliberation of the Eventual

While incapable of discovering the joys of voyeurism, Lad does, at least, discover that his late father’s swordhammer works well against a band of marauding Darkblacks.

The three inky spawn approached, their thick lips glistening with spittle as they scented the fair-skinned Velurvia, who trembled with such delicate ferocity that she completely forgot the three daggers at her belt and her years of training in knife-throwing.

Black as crows and half as clever, though supernaturally gifted with an incredible sense of rhythm, the Darkblacks continued their slow, predictable course toward the petrified maiden. “Let’s pull a wagon train on her,” snarled their leader.

“Not today, swarthy whoresons!” Lad cried as he leapt from the small pile of leaves, swinging his steely weapon manfully. “Have a taste of my swordhammer, a legacy from my father, who was a perfectly ordinary blacksmith, you dogs! He died when I was but an infant, shortly after my mother, the village wisewoman and herbalist, oh black bastards! After that a kindly but strict village woman took me in as her own, so prepare to meet your infernal plane! Hayaaaa!”

If you’re playing the Propinquity Contrivance drinking game, this chapter marks four uses of the word “whoresons,” two instances of Velurvia complaining about her boots getting muddy and a record fifteen mentions of Lad’s “downy lip hair.” The phrase, “moist heavings of war” is surprisingly absent.


Next Installment: We learn of the true purpose of the mysterious “Area Time” and Lad asks, “Who is the Ocelot?”

6 comments
Richard Fife
1. R.Fife
I've always felt that Praithewaite was rather average in his attempts at portraying Romance. Although, there is a throw-away line that is often overlooked (as it is in a footnote of a footnote) where Lad does steal a quick glance through the Eye Amulet at Velurvia's reflection on the water. So he isn't entirely pure, mind. As to the JCPenny catalogue, I'm 26 and I still enjoy it.

On Chapter Seven, I actually still have the early edition where Lad accidently claims to have had two fathers. Copyeditors, I tell ya. What are they good for? I do like the foreshadowing in this fight scene, though, with the last of the Darkblacks dying words:
"You may be defeated us," the dying darkblack said. "You may have skewered our craws with your mighty swordhammer, but know this, there is more to this than you know. Bitterest of bitter rivals shall bitterly be thine own, whoreson!"

The board speculation was awestounding, and Praithewaite resolved this particular bit for forward-looking very well in book 17: Darkblacks Revenge.
Jason Henninger
2. jasonhenninger
I remember hoping Praithewaite would at least give us a little description of a nekkid Velurvia. I mean, what's the point of being an omniscient narrator if you don't get to check out the goods (and share them with the audience!).

That aside, Tammi, the elves are totally Mexicans. Can't gloss over it. It's a fact. Nothing wrong with it either, though I got beat up as a kid for trying to speak Elvish to the Mexican kids at school. LA is a rough place for a nerdy kid.
Kate Nepveu
3. katenepveu
I think these chapters are interesting structurally because they echo the confrontations of student-master and mauraders-innocent in book 2, chapters 3-4, except of course that in the earlier confrontations the student is really a colleague and the mauraders are actually foragers and the confrontations are strictly verbal.

Also, I've never understood how the soup interfered with kissing, can anyone explain it to me?
Richard Fife
4. R.Fife
Kate:

I always thought of this as just poor word choice. It makes so much more sense if you just substitute bisque.

And yeah, the recurring themes of dichotomous bilinearalities through the loquascious propundance of asymetrical polymorphisms is wonderfully executed, although the confrontation between Lad and his estranged third cousin was a little flat, mainly due to yet again another Deus Ex Soup.
Jason Ramboz
5. jramboz
I really can't add anything to your excellent analysis of these pivotal chapters. I am curious, though: did the Praithewaite estate ever manage to resolve its lawsuit against O'Reilly Publishing for cover design infringement? Last I heard, O'Reilly was trying to argue accidental similarity or mutual influences or somesuch, and it stalled in court.
legionseagle
6. legionseagle
Kate, I think this is where we have to be realists Too many critics simply beat about the broth when it comes to the religious themes in Praithwaite's work, but when it comes right down to it he would simply have baulked at the very thought of letting the reader witness the consommétion of even the most emotionally intense relationship in his works. You'll recall his essay Broth and Cauldrons of the Enya where he bemoans the way in which explicit scenes of "slurping and spooning" (as he somewhat quaintly put it) have infested modern works if heroic history, and where he quite frankly admits that this is simply not his potage du jour and that he'd rather be boiled alive "like an Anabaptist" than perpetrate anything similar in his own cycle.

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