Mar 26 2014 12:00pm

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: On Hetan, The Barghast, and the Portrayal of Torture in Fantasy Fiction

The following post will be dedicated to discussing a specific event in the series: the Hetan scene, which occurs in Chapter Fifteen of Dust of Dreams. Readers should be aware that the conversation that follows contains descriptions of torture and sexual violence, in order to discuss this particular scene within the novel but also in the larger context of how violence is used throughout the series and elsewhere in the fantasy genre, and how it relates to and reflects the real world.

The post that follows contains the reactions of Amanda (approaching the series as a first-time reader), followed by Bill’s reflections on rereading this scene, with some thoughts from the author, Steven Erikson, following in the comment thread. As always, a spoiler thread has been set up for discussion of events beyond Chapter Fifteen, as we’d prefer to keep the comments below spoiler-free….

Amanda’s Reaction

I was given an inkling right from the comments in our Prologue post that there was an event in this novel that I would possibly find disturbing. Then there was some discussion behind-the-scenes between our benevolent overlords and Bill about how to handle the horrible events occuring later in the novel. And the Barghast storyline has been gradually building and building into something of horror. So I knew that I was going to feel uncomfortable. I suspected this was going to leave me feeling down.

I actually feel shellshocked. And numb. This series has never been afraid of showing me the worst in human nature – we’ve seen rape, and murder, and truly evil acts. Luckily we’ve also seen the best in human nature to balance it all out.

So what makes this somehow more? Somehow worse?

I hate to say it, but part of it is because the hobbling was done by the women in the tribe. You see women as being part of some sisterhood, of acknowledging that we should stick together, that we are often treated badly by men so we should treat each other with respect. The fact that the women here were so determined to be part of Hetan’s punishing, the fact that they were gleeful at her fall from power, the fact that they urged the men on into serial rape. It makes it more painful.

In the same vein, I found it massively troublesome that the person to cauterize Hetan’s bleeding stumps was a nine year old girl. It would have been horrible to see anyone do this, but, damn, it becomes truly horrific to see a child participate in this ritual punishment and humiliation.

The nature of hobbling – the cutting, the cauterizing, the rape. It’s just too much to face for me. I read with an actual chill. The fact that *everything* is taken from this women. Her freedom is taken, her mind is taken, her body is taken. She is left with nothing – and the women keep her alive in order that she will suffer for longer. Again, the fact that it was the women who stopped the raping after two dozen men – TWO DOZEN – had participated; but not out of any kindness, rather, out of a desire to fix her up enough to prolong the agony and humiliation.

So, stop. I can’t think on this anymore. It makes me feel physically sick.

Why is this worse than other things Erikson has written? Why is it worse than that seen in other novels?

For one, we are in Hetan’s POV as it happens. We are in her thoughts as she decides that this punishment is just for what she did to her children. We see her acceptance as she rises up to receive the first rape. That makes it worse.

It makes it worse because we, as the reader, are not permitted to look away or pretend this doesn’t exist. We see every part of it happening. I think this is very deliberate on Erikson’s part. It is in our nature to look away from things we find disturbing or troublesome. We like to think ‘there but for the grace of god…’ and then move on with our lives. We don’t think much on how different lifestyles and cultures can put people into situations where they experience torture and maiming and rape. We don’t like to imagine that this can happen in our sanitized and ordered life. But, damn, it does happen – and this fantasy novel brings it front and centre and demands that we acknowledge it exists.

You know something? I was told that I could skip this post – that the re-readers with their knowledge could protect me from having to go through what they had gone through, that I could avoid this potentially triggering scene. I understand why this offer was made. But I find that almost disrespectful – both of me as a reader and Erikson as a writer. As a reader, I should not avoid what the author is laying out for me. As a writer, Erikson wrote this scene in order to make a point – what right do I have to say that I only want to read what makes me feel happy and comfortable?

I appreciate the fact that, along with the cinematic scenes, the buddy twosomes, the love expressed, this Malazan series also tackles the big ideas, the big themes, the actual horrors and delights of life. We can’t say that Erikson focuses just on the good stuff (like Eddings). He doesn’t focus just on the grim (like Abercrombie). He presents us with the full gamut of human emotion and behavior, and shows us what it means to be totally alive.

One of the themes we have identified in these complex and rewarding novels is compassion. And I think we need to have compassion in this case. And not just compassion for Hetan and her children. Compassion for those who commit the atrocity because it is part of their lives and will always have to live with it. Compassion for those who see it and do nothing, because they fear for their own lives. Compassion for those suffering real torture and atrocities, in our real world.

This scene – no matter how troubling, how haunting, how triggering – feels important. I can’t say necessary, I just can’t, but important.

I can understand readers who no longer want to read the Malazan novels. I can understand those who found this a step too far. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to read, and, right now, I don’t like Erikson for making me read it. But, at the same time, I thank him, as ever, for making me think. For forcing me to consider a life outside my own. For requiring me to acknowledge that our desire to look away does a disservice to those suffering right now. And for writing fantasy books that feel essential – not just to the genre, but to all readers.

Bill’s Reaction

So here we are. Hetan. Hobbling. Serial Rape. Horror piled atop horror. And to what end? Why do we “need” to read this? Steven has given us some thoughts on the matter, and will try to join us in the conversation as well, but I’m going to give some of my own views here, some of which overlap Steven’s. I’m going to just be thinking out loud, because I didn’t want to formalize this topic—it felt too much like removing myself from it. So this may turn out long, circular, meandering, incoherent… You get the idea. Apologies in advance.

I want to start by talking not about the Malazan world, but about an entirely different creative enterprise—last week’s episode of The Walking Dead. What happened in that particular episode not only frustrated me as that show regularly has, but also truly, deeply, angered me, and did so for reasons that speak directly to my thoughts on Hetan’s hobbling. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to give a brief description of the pertinent scenes in that episode. If you watch the show and haven’t seen the episode yet, be warned that there will be spoilers.

In it, we have two young sisters, Lizzie and Mika. Lizzie is more than a little crazy in that she doesn’t see zombies as creatures to be killed or feared. Instead, she considers them simply “different” or “changed.” And so we’ve seen her feeding the zombies rats, not letting the adults kill them if the humans aren’t in immediate danger, and even “playing tag” with a zombie “friend,” until one of the adults kills it (an act that evokes a tantrum on her part). Her sister Mika, meanwhile, knows zombies are dangerous and need to be killed, but she’s just a little too nice and optimistic for this world. Near the close of this episode, the two girls have been left alone (along with a baby they tend to while the adults do adult work), and Lizzie kills Mika, telling the horrified adults who arrive just afterward that it’s OK, they just have to wait for Mika to “change.” Then one of the adults kills Lizzie in George and Lennie Of Mice and Men fashion.

OK, horrific, shocking acts of violence. A young girl cuts the throat of her younger sister, and seems wholly unaffected by it, and then is herself killed with a bullet to the head. In its own way, it is as horrific an act of violence as we see here with Hetan, if less drawn out and torturous. And yet one makes me respond with visceral anger toward the author (s) and one does not. Why?

I’ll do my best to explain, though I’m not sure I’ll be able to, it’s such an emotional response. What so enraged me (and really, I was enraged, ranting and yelling at the TV) was the way this act of violence was meant to shock and do nothing but shock. The two girls had never been developed as characters, so we had no emotional connection to them. The killing could only have happened via the Idiot Plot—no adult ever (ever) would have left Lizzie alone with anyone, let alone a baby (we’d not only seen her playing with a zombie and getting furious when it was killed, but we’d seen her make no attempt to escape a zombie while she had been holding the baby). And there was zero logic (and yes, craziness often has a logic to it) to her “changing” her sister, as she’d never spoken of being a zombie as being a superior life or of her sister having a miserable one that she needs to be freed of. And she of course has witnessed the adults with her killing those who “changed” even when they cared for them, meaning there is zero reason for her to think elsewise when her sister changes. In other words, they were throwaway deaths, with no thought given to them at all save one—this’ll shock the hell out of ‘em.

Oh, I know it was supposed to both shock and move, but it “moves” an audience in a wholly faux fashion, it’s an intellectual, a logical emotional response—A little girl just killed another girl, and then she died herself, and that is horrible, so I should feel really bad about it, and because I should, I will and do—and because it is an intellectual, logical emotional response, it is no emotional response at all. It is a tawdry façade meant to manipulate the audience via violence solely for the purpose of shocking them, and therefore, was entirely gratuitous in my mind. It used the deaths of the girls not to evoke true feeling or thought but just the opposite, and thus cheapened death and violence in the name of nothing. In the service of nothing. It was a betrayal of the audience. I felt slimy afterward.

That’s one example of the use of violence that repulses me. Another type is the “death quip” that is often a staple of action films—the “Consider that a divorce” line Schwarzenegger delivers after shooting his had-pretended-to-be-his wife in the head. Or the way characters nonchalantly mow people down with total glee, or with nary a twitch even if they aren’t joking. I don’t care that they’re “bad guys.” This is not gallows humor, or trying to repress feelings; it isn’t people trying to live with themselves after performing horrible acts. It makes death “funny,” but not in the “If I don’t laugh I’ll weep” way that it needs to be. That it is—see any wake. It makes it funny like cat videos (or so I hear). In other words, it cheapens death and so cheapens life (for a great explanation of soldier humor, see Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Well, for a great anything).

Ok, so what is different about Hetan? A few basic premise points first.

One is a different type of question—what is different about Hetan as opposed to, say, all those people we’ve seen blown to bits by munitions in this series? Or other deaths? Or rapes? Or threatened rapes? Or children dropping dead as they march through the wasteland? It’s not so easy for me to pick out Hetan and say, “Hoo boy, this, this is where I draw the line.” I can’t say for 100% surety there isn’t a difference here, but I’m also not sure that there is. Part of me wonders if it’s a little convenient for us to cherry-pick this rape here, that child killing there, and glide blithely by the other violence (if we do). In other words, I’m not necessarily starting with the premise that this is “worse” than what we’ve seen prior.

I also start with the premise that if you are writing a book about the human condition, and does anyone doubt by now that is what has been happening here, then it’s kind of hard, if not impossible to have violence not be part of it. And truly horrific violence at that (again, there’s that weird what-makes-it-truly-horrific question—why can’t we be equally horrified by the “plain old” deaths?). That’s not to say every book needs violence, as that isn’t every book’s intent (though I’d say authors still have some responsibility since even if it isn’t, they still are presenting a particular view—you don’t get off the hook for cheap deaths by saying, it’s just entertainment in my book). But if violence is part of it, than a chunk of me, a large chunk of me, thinks it’s incumbent upon the author to show it in its true light—to be graphic, to evoke revulsion and anger. Because that is the response we should have, both in the created world and the world it mirrors. If anyone in the real world killed as too many characters do, with killing a nonchalant act, a repercussion-less act, an often “fun” act, we wouldn’t trumpet them or thrill over them; we’d lock them the hell up in the deepest, most secure spot we have because we’d see them as the psychopaths they are.

So it’s hard for me to get too upset over graphic violence in general, because it is part of parcel of our mirrored world. Similarly, I also can’t get too upset over some “particularly” horrid act an author comes up with, because no matter what you make up, it can’t be “worse” than the reality. It’s akin to Margaret Atwood’s statement about The Handmaid’s Tale—she didn’t put anything in there that hadn’t been done somewhere in history. One need only read the news to see examples of socialized rape or maiming.

The Walking Dead episode, in my view, wasn’t depicting violence as part of the human condition, wasn’t mirroring the things humans do to each other. It wasn’t meant to horrify; it was merely meant to surprise. It wasn’t saying anything.

And saying something is another reason I am disturbed by what happens to Hetan but not by the authorial choice of depicting it. Because this violence, all the violence, is in a context of saying something. And that something (again, in my view—I haven’t gotten Steven’s “This is exactly what I’m doing” manifesto) is exactly the opposite of an authorial view that would allow for gratuitous violence—it is the never-out-of-earshot plea for the twin concepts of Compassion and Empathy, the concepts that so permeate this series that you simply cannot read any act of violence without them being bound to that plea.

I find the violence different as well because it has repercussions. And those repercussions last more than a perfunctory five minutes. The violence haunts these people, as it should. As it should haunt us as well.

I’ll try to make the distinction one last time and then shut up. When I see that event in The Walking Dead, I simply wonder how that girl could do such a thing. When I read what happens to Hetan, or to a host of others in this series, I wonder first how could he/she/they do such things, and then also, how could we do such things to each other. And that is all the difference in the world to me.

Ok, apologies for the length, the disjointed nature, the muddiness of this. I’ll try and clarify further in comments.

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for

Steven Erikson
1. StevenErikson
So, while I’m sure I’ll find some time to weigh in on this discussion thread, it’s occurred to me to put some thoughts down now, to which you can object, pick apart, or otherwise mull over now that we’ve reached this point in the reread.

I think it’s already been touched on by a few readers, but the details relating to the hobbling are not invented out of the blue. There is plenty of evidence for hobbling and other forms of similarly debilitating torture, prehistorically, historically and of course in our present age.

The question that arises is: why did I have to drag you all through such a horrific event? There are so many ways to answer this, I almost don’t know where to start. I suppose we can begin with dispensing with the notion that ‘Fantasy’ as I write it, is escapist literature. It isn’t. For me, the ‘fantasy’ world is a simulacra, a curious reflection of our real world, and the thing that binds the two is the human condition. I would think that, after almost nine complete novels, this much should be readily evident by now. I use the invented universe to talk about this one, and no, I don’t think this is particularly unique or in any way exceptional (even in novels where writers have clearly not consciously considered the relationship between the invented world of their fiction and the real world in which they live, they all end up saying something about that relationship, even when they don’t mean to. This is one of the topics I find myself addressing more and more at cons and other public venues where we talk about the genre: the proliferation of gratuitous violence not just in recent Fantasy fiction, but on film and in television, where heroes assume a pathological indifference to those they kill or to those who die as an indirect consequence to their actions, and the way in which these ‘fictions’ are both a reflection and a potential affirmation of a kind of acceptable sociopathy in modern society – but this topic deserves much more space than I’ll be providing here, so we’ll move on).

Last evening I had a conversation with my wife on our topic here, and the online discussion it would soon initiate. She has not read the novel, so I gave a brief description of the scene, and explained to her how the discussions on the TOR Re-read have already included comments indicating readers’ revulsion, rejection, dismissal and/or anger at the scene in question. Coincidentally, she had earlier that day been listening to a CBC radio program discussing Joseph Boyden’s novel, The Orenda, in which scenes of torture (between First Nation tribes at around the time of first contact) were written in graphic, unblinking detail. These descriptions of torture proved controversial (perhaps for the same reasons the hobbling in Dust of Dreams are, but not entirely so, as Boyden happens to be First Nations himself, and by virtue of tackling home-grown inhumanity was clearly bucking against the romanticisation of First Nation peoples in a general sense, but doing so with the intent of unifying all peoples, regardless of culture or origin, into a commonality of the human condition – and upon every level imaginable to me, Boyden’s courage leaves mine in the dust).

In any case, my wife responded with something like this: ‘when you come upon a scene like that, you read it, and you read it for every victim of torture in the world today, and no matter how horrified, or appalled, or disgusted you feel, nothing you are experiencing, in the reading of those scenes, can compare to what the victims of torture felt and will feel. And that is why you read it. You don’t turn away, or hide your eyes. You read it, because the truth, and those very real victims out there in our own world, deserve no less.’

Hmm. And that’s why I wrote it, too.

But this brings me to a few comments I’ve noted already, in which the term ‘gratuitous’ was used to describe the hobbling scene and its aftermath. That is a term I object to in every possible way. In fact, even the label thrown so casually (lazily?) at me (and that scene in particular) leaves me incensed. If you consider the above position, and take note of the flat, reportorial style I use in recounting the event, there is nothing gratuitous in there. Nothing at all. I wrote out what needed to be there, to make explicit and unambiguous what was going on. In terms of psychic distance, I pulled right back, as far as I could go, until the voice ceased to be mine, ceased to ‘belong’ to a narrator. All of this is the opposite of gratuitous, and leads me to wonder if those who readily use that label, even understand what it means.

Gratuitous violence revels in details, often under the guise of ‘being realistic,’ but betrays its delight in the telling. It is violence recounted without purpose beyond the spectacle itself. The language begins to gush, redolent with excitement. The psychic distance rushes inward, invites you into the glory of mayhem, of pain and suffering, of the most base emotions of vengeance, malice, and the hunger for destruction. I could offer plenty of examples of gratuitous violence in popular fiction and film and television, but really, I can’t be bothered. It’s out there, and it’s legion.

As always, an author seeks a covenant with the reader. It begins, from the author’s point of view, with a promise, and that promise is implicit in the opening scenes of any work, or series. It would be hard to argue that I was in any way coy or ambiguous with the opening chapters of Gardens of the Moon, the first novel in the Malazan series. But that promise, if left to stand alone, unbound to any guiding purpose or intent, unbound to any deliberate thematic position, would indeed have arrived in the coldest of tones, from which all manner of gratuitous shit could be expected to follow. We’re now nine books into the series, and the discussion of themes reappear again and again in this re-read, with considerable unity in the recognition of those themes; and it is that recognition that underscores the rest of my promise in this covenant I seek with you. The language of redemption is compassion. Compassion is all about understanding, and understanding is all about seeing, clear-eyed, all the things we would, perhaps, rather not see.

And to be clear here, ‘seeing’ is all we’re doing. I suspect that very few of us here has experienced torture, of the kind that debilitates with purpose (no-one who has survived sole-beating can ever again walk without experiencing pain, and, yes, they are out there, in our world, right now). Our experience is vicarious but then, that is what reading novels is all about.

The hobbling of Hetan was no direct repudiation of the Noble Savage (been there and done that in House of Chains). It was about social control, maintenance of the status quo, and above all, about ritual recognition (and damnation) of the ‘Other.’ It was about the mental process by which we collectively and individually engage in the mental exercise of dehumanizing the ‘One Who Does Not Belong.’ But as concepts these are all very well, and if left abstract they serve little purpose but to elicit the knowing nod and perhaps a sorrowful shake of the head.

That’s not good enough.

So, back to the covenant: recoil in horror with this scene. I did. But keep your eyes on the page. Read it through, but not for me. Don’t for an instant read it through for my sake.

Torture is going on right now. People are being maimed. Some will die. Others will live with pain and trauma for the rest of their lives. And if you’re at all like me, you feel helpless to do anything about it. But one thing you do have a choice over: you can turn away. Cover your eyes. You can cry out: “I didn’t agree to this!” You can even, with indignation, get angry with me and say: “Why did you do this to me?” You can, above all, dismiss the whole thing as trivial – it’s just a fantasy novel, after all, written by someone most people have never heard of and never will.

The hobbling of Hetan is the nadir of the human condition. Sometimes, just seeing such a nadir reminds us of how far we still have to go, in this age of waterboarding and the sustained vilification of the ‘Other,’ and while such acts of violence are in all likelihood very distant from us readers here, they exist, as a chapter in the history of our own civilization, our own culture, and future books recounting the history of our present, will note us with clinical clarity, as nations in which torture was both condoned and conducted.

What a miserable truth to leave behind.

I didn’t write that scene for you. I wrote it for them. And I ask the same of you. Read it for them. As my wife said, whatever we feel is as nothing compared to what the victims have, and will, go through. And in the grand scheme of things, our brief disquiet seems, to me now as it did then, a most pathetic cry in this vast wilderness.

Go well. I will look in on the discussion when able.

Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
Hetan's scene here is hard. Very hard. As Amanda says, it is a POV scene and so there is no turning away, no casual glancing. We see everything that Hetan does.
Anger. Anger at the Barghast, anger at Tool for the decisions that led directly to this event. And, as Amanda says, anger at Hetan herself and the mechanisms of culture that result in her state.
Of course, these are also reflections of anger at the state of our own world and the events that transpire here. Torture is something that only bad guys do, right? The "good guys" don't do that, that's what all the movies and television of our youth seemed to say. As we've seen, people who think of themselves as the good guys can fall all too rapidly down the slopes of the ends justifying the means.
So, all that surrounds and permeates the scenes with Hetan.
What I didn't find was any anger at Steven. As Bill says, writing about the human condition in all its myriad insane paths will invariably show these things. But, it wasn't shown just for the sly amusement that we sometimes find. Not gratuitous, not at all.
Chris Hawks
3. SaltManZ
Thanks, Amanda, Bill, and Steven, for your thoughts on this. Amanda in particular impressed with her very thoughtful response. (And of course, anything SE writes is gold IMHO.)

My own thoughts are more mundane (I have never claimed to be a particularly deep thinker) but here they are anyway:

First off, I almost feel we (the rereaders) did Amanda a disservice from the opening pages of DoD with our veiled (or not so veiled!) hints at the disturbing scene to come. It was easy to see Amanda's dread building through the last handful of Barghast chapters, which obviously sapped much of her enjoyment. The clues and foreshadowing are certainly there, and are particularly obvious to a rereader, but I confess to not really "seeing it coming" (as it were) the first time through. I was shocked—but I was also blindsided, and I think that knowing that something's coming ahead of time, and knowing exactly when (Chapter 15, everybody!) and having to knowingly watch as events proceed on their way to the inevitable, horrifying culmination makes it worse.

Having said that, kudos all around to and all involved for handling this the way it was.

Having said that, as a rereader I got caught up in the horror of anticipation myself, only to find the actual event itself not as bad as I remember. Certainly it's still terrible to contemplate, but my memory of the thing in question is worse than the depiction itself (herein lies the power of the written word!) As Steven notes, it is not "gratuitous" in that there is no lovingly-detailed description; the actual physical mutilation happens in the span of couple blade-quick sentences (and if you're not paying attention, you could miss it entirely, as I confess almost happened to me on the reread.) The actual act of rape is itself never directly depicted (though we're in Hetan's head during) and the occurrence of successive violations is only related after the fact. Most of the text is devoted to the politics surrounding The Event, though of course its shadow hangs over everything surrounding the Barghast.

So I was surprised to find that the actual depiction of Hetan's hobbling and rape "wasn't actually that bad". And then I immediately felt like a horrible person for thinking that any depiction of such a thing could be "not that bad." ("Acceptable levels of misery and suffering! Who the fuck thinks any level is acceptable!") Because of course it's horrible even to contemplate.
Kerwin Miller
4. tamyrlink
For me it was a hard scene to read. Mainly because I really liked Hetan's character. I've always had a thing for strong and competent female characters and when I see one brought low like this it pains me. But thats just part of the reading experience. Everything you read isn't going to be sunshine and daisies. I have loved that SE isnt shy about adding such realism to his story. It makes me cringe and sometimes recoil, but thats part of the experience. That's how you know youve read a good book.
5. Cecrow
I've read and enjoyed this novel and the entire series, and occasionally follow the re-read. I like to examine authorial style and guess at intent when it's not too obtuse for me, so this is interesting. I remember after the depiction of Hetan's ordeal, I noted there had been a gradual ramping up in intensity of rape scenes over the course of the series. Among other instances there was Karsa's acts in House of Chains; there was Reaper's Gale; and now there was this, where each scene was worse than the one before. I can't escape or avoid the observation of that rising intensity and what it might suggest would happen if the series been two or three books longer. I'm tempted just to leave that as a thought, but my answer would be: this must have been an acclimatizing of the reader's sensibilities. Suppose Hetan's maiming had occurred in House of Chains or earlier, would we have the same trust in the author's intentions of "going there" that we do when it occurs in the ninth book? I think he knew he had our trust at this point (as demonstrated by everyone's thought-through reactions above), or as much as he was going to earn, and so could pull back the veil where we had been sheltered before.
Nadine L.
6. travyl
I agree with a lot of what SaltManZ said above @3.
I'm glad I read this book before the re-read reached it, because our "hints" were bound to give you a sense of foreboding chapers before the acutal event.
I was crushed already with what happend with Tool and Toc. It's hard to admit, but when I first read this chaper, I was so thoroughly
focused on Tool, that it still is the more crushing thing to me (despite it not being physically violent). - We were forwarned: if Tool dies, Hetan will suffer, but I focused on the people who might prevent the worst (her brother, Bakal - or even Tool, who after all hadn't moved on to his deserved after live, but was forced to live on.)
So when it finally happend it was hard to read - but it wasn't drawn out and I was able to keep focused on the fact that someone might (please) end it and give Hetan at least some peace.

I highly respect what Amanda said above about beeing disrespectful if she'd skiped the scene. And that for I'm not sure if it's good the re-read made a separate post for it - especially the reasoning behind it: giving people the choice to not be confronted again with what happend here.
7. devilsadvocate
As a first time reader and loving the opportunity to better enjoy the experience of this series, the re-read has been fantastic. But as was mentioned above, the foreshadowing in the re-read really set me up for knowing what was coming. Even with that it was a sad scene. At the risk of being sexist in some way (I am really not trying to be sexist) I think that women will generally react differently to rape then men.

Personally, I was more disturbed at Hetan's acceptance of her fate which seems to be a by-product of the indoctination of the society in which she lives. That was what saddened me the most. Oh what a better world we would live in, if certain societies didn't institutionalize the abuse and mistreatment of women. Grim horrors like rape and mutiliation to simple basic rights like driving, divorce, clothing choice and the right to vote all are withheld based on archaic "customs" developed of course by men.

Not much point to the above text other than aligning the events in the story to the world we live in.

In Donaldson's Gap series, Thermopyle's mind control of Morn that stripped her of free will and allowed him to rape/abuse her was also hard to get through, especially since it lasted for much longer than I imagine Hetan's plight will.

We Humans (whether in fiction or real life) are capable of wonders and atrocities. We cannot get better and tip the scale more towards wonders if we don't shine the light on the atrocities.

Sorry about the lack of organization of the above, I am not a great writer but I wanted to get these thoughts down.
8. worrywort
I may have said this already a few weeks ago, but I think it's one of the most important scenes in the entirety of the series. I guess my initial take on it was an indictment of patriarchy -- that social infrastructure that inherently values males over females. Its perpetrators are men, women, and the children who learn it from them, and its victims are likewise men, women, and children (not necessarily in equal measure at the individual level, of course, but it damages everyone involved at the macro level, a cancer on the social fabric).

I see also an indictment of "rape culture" -- a worldwide scourge that nevertheless is often met with rolled eyes and heads in the sand, just the most dismissive non-reflective denialism. But also just this last week, there was a pretty awesome trending Tweet called #Rapecultureiswhen (some good examples here: ), and Jimmy Carter suggesting that the single biggest social problem in the world right now is the subjugation and abuse of women. On the other hand, we have major and minor cities with huge neglected rape kit backlogs, we have untold numbers of Steubenville-like cases that don't get coverage, we have (in the US, but also pretty recently in Spain) major backslides in reproductive rights, and all of that just the tip of the iceberg above the surface.

Obviously none of that is to discount the fact that patriarchy is only one of many forms that life devaluation manifests, but it's a subset that has sweeping and diverse illustrations in "modern" societies, let alone those w/ less light shined on them, and undeniably throughout the past. SE above clearly illustrates the umbrella of Defaults vs "Others" and the tortures people are willing to inflict on those Others for their Otherness, but I found value in these scenes in how they gave time, space, and energy to a "women's issue" like rape -- already inherently devalued in favor of a "men's issue" like conducting war (not least of all in Fantasy) -- and not only took it seriously, but made it an equal part of the tapestry of what you might call human rights/human dignity issues where it belongs.
9. BDG
First I'd like to say how much I've enjoyed the series and how much I respect SE for written it, I honestly think it's one of the best pieces of fiction I've read in my relatively short life. I'll also fess up to the use of 'gratuitous', and clearly not the word I thought it meant (or maybe the rape scene was become so distorted in my mind as to become gratuitous in nature...I honestly don't know but with both not really the author’s fault).

That being said I was one of the ones who said they disliked this scene because of a couple reason I am sure (if going by my track record) are not a nearly thought out as I thought. Both aren't really accusations of SE but rather of a wider social environment that the works take place in. One is the depiction of tribal peoples as 'savage', as SE pointed out not the point of this scene. This not something new in the work and also not something the should really matter because particularly everyone and every type of civilization has been shown to 'savage' in some way. But yet it persists. Some the readers have, and I might be over reading into this and please if I am point it out, I'm not afraid to be wrong and I won't be as bullheaded as before, decided to, perhaps unconsciously, connect the behavior of the White Face Barghast with tribal life. This itself is part of larger idea that tribal people or the descended of tribal peoples to either be perfect, stupid Noble Savages in tuned with nature or simple terrible, stupid Savages that are murderous and deserve extinction. Again I don't think this is what SE wrote, nor do I think he has ever once been close to this depiction. Some may thing I am over-reacting and that's a fair statement, I am not a spokes person for First Nation peoples and I highly doubt many of them would agree with me on the subject. But this scene, even if it’s not intended to, even if has the best intentions (and I believe it was, much more so than most author’s, let alone fantasy author’s, SE truly attempts to cut through all the crap and connect with the audience as human before anything else and I have grown to appreciate it greatly), plays into the idea of tribal life=savage. So the Barghast behaviour has never been a problem for me but rather the reaction to it that has bothered me so much.

And secondly and most importantly the social, serialized, normalized rape of Hetan. For the most part I've enjoyed this series because it does something great fiction often makes us do, it forces us to bear witness to the suffering of others. To look at it long and hard, and if not to understand the pain to at least partially understand that it happens and continues to happen. I often said I understood the scene but clearly I didn't. I thought the scene was the final nail in the coffin of cultural relativism, made to the echo the scenes of social madness in BH and MT. In being wrong it shows me a bit of my privilege as a male, I would have never thought it was a scene railing against the idea of the 'other' in the sense that why would Hetan be the other. But yes it clearly does do that. But for openness sake I'll lay the problems I had with scene before reading SE’s comment above: 'does fiction need another strong woman to be torn done and made a thing by society for simply being attached to male power? Fiction is not only a place to reflect upon reality but also a place of possibilities, and while I highly doubt SE hadn't thought about it but does a rape victim need to read through that scene? A torture victim? I understand the difference between SE depiction and the dime a dozen 'grimdark' depiction of rape (he often treats as it should be treated rather than for shock) there is the still the question did this scene truly need to be done to highlight the savagery of the Barghast?'

I wrote that last part before reading the comments as I wanted to organize my thoughts and then went back and read through the existing comments. Obviously I was quite wrong, and that makes me quite happy.
March Hare
10. Mircea
Urgh, I just wrote a long post and my computer crashed without allowing me to save a copy. I thought that went out of style with the 90s Here goes again! Hi! I've been lurking in the re-read from the beginning, although I admit I skipped the last Esslemont book.

I hate the Hetan arc. It haunts me. I still get literal panic attacks when it comes to mind, three years after the first (and so far last!) time I read the book - heartbeat through the roof, cold sweats, tunnel vision, shaking, the works. Maybe I should try reading it again and hope that, like for the commenter above, it's not that bad this time.

On the other hand, things like this should never be 'not that bad.'

There's three main reasons I hate this arc:

1) It's a grueling story, illustrating the pinnacle of human cruelty. In addition, it's well-written and believable. Stomach-turning, too. But that's probably exactly the effect Mr. Erikson was aiming for, so I tip my hat to him. I don't doubt for a second that cruelty like this exists in our world. And that fact is probably why I should never try to become president of a country with a nuclear arms programme. Ctr+Alt+Del anyone?

2) It doesn't just destroy Hetan as a person, in the moment, it destroys Hetan retrospectively, as a character. Hetan was given to us as strong, fearless, joyful and slightly devil-may-care. There's no way a woman like that can spring from a culture that makes it a point of traditional pride for women (with the full support and enjoyment of the men) to hobble any woman who oversteps her place. A culture like that breeds women like the other Barghast women in the story - fearful, conniving, and continuously (and sensibly) aware of their political position.

And she the daughter of a chieftain. She would know the danger a woman under the protection of a powerful man would be in if that power should fall. And I don't believe she'd have forgotten that, not even in the new baby glow.

Instead of the best the Barghast culture has to offer, Hetan deteriorates in this book into a culturally out-of-touch simpleton without any sense of self-preservation.

I don't think the story has built up the capital to pull that off. IMO, DoD gratuitously warps and sacrifices the Barghast culture and the character of Hetan be able to make a non-gratuitous point on human evil. The story hurts, but it hurts more for me because it throws 6 books worth of backstory out of the window. Sure, that helps with the 'aargh, I didn't see that coming' shock factor, but it made me feel as aggressive about this scene as Bill does about that Walking Dead shock scene. And I didn't even think of the Barghast as noble savages to begin with.

(And whoever suggested "Maybe Hetan raped Kruppe, you never know with a culture like that" is welcome to come over to my house, hang his coat on a nonexistent coat hanger and help me put up some paintings on invisible nails. Or at least, I didn't see anything to hang that story on, so there's a great talent for interior decorating either way.)

3) It's the ultimate in awfulness you can visit on a single person. (The Snake's the ultimate in awfulness you can visit on a group of people, IMO.) But it's also the 569th rape of a woman in tMBotF (but who's counting). Yes, women get raped in the real world. Yes, women get raped in astounding numbers. But guess what also happens? MEN get raped in the real world. Often in astounding numbers. By women, and by other men. And especially in situations of war, crisis, poverty, slavery, or just power differential - which happens to describe 99% of tMBotF.

I haven't exactly kept track, but I think around 90% of female viewpoint characters get sexually assaulted at some point, and a large swath of the female background characters. If I recall correctly, Bottle gets dream-raped by the Eres'al but isn't all that bothered and one other man becomes the victim of sexual assault, and he's a bad guy anyway.

I'm sick and tired of authors using women being raped a shorthand for 'look how awful the world is.' And Erikson does this better than anyone else, with more compassion and empathy than any author I know - his different women deal with things in different ways, because they're different people. Some bounce back, some stay broken. Great. But I'm officially sick of it that none of the men are subjected to the same, even though in the real world they are. Imagine if Karsa had been Karsina - you bet people would've found interesting sexual torments to visit on her on that interminable chained-to-a-cart-and-shipped-halfway-across-the-world arc. Even if she was twice their size and eight times as strong. And most of the male viewpoint characters find themselves in situations that would be insta-rape for women, and nobody even worries about it, even though statistically speaking they should have.

Of course, because of cultural sensitivity or general squeamishness or gods-know-what, there are no explicit instances of loving gay male sex in the books. Within those constraints, it would be horrible to include male-on-male rape, especially in any remotely realistic frequencies - you don't want to suggest the only time men touch each other it's with hate. But it still sucks. By all means be realistic about rape. Even if just to illustrate that the world is grim. But then please BE REALISTIC about rape.

I don't know if rape of women is so attractive as a story element because 'women are beautiful and helpless' so it packs an extra punch, or because Steven Erikson is worried that imagining the violation of men in the same way breaks his or our capacity to see them as strong and awesome. But I've had it. The world IS grim, and in some ways way more grim than tMBOtF dares to be. My annoyance at the trope has found its apex in the Hetan arc, and I haven't stopped having had it since.

Still, tMBotF is my favourite book series and Steven Erikson the writer with the best insight into people. I still don't know if I can ever re-read DoD, so I hope I can re-read the entire series, skip that one, and still understand tCG when the time comes for a re-read.
Ryan Dick
11. Wilbur
I wanted to contribute how this chapter affected me, before I actually read the author's thoughts or those of the other commentators. So my comments are just my response to my reading this chapter some months ago.

Of all the reading I have done in four decades plus of life, this chapter has to be the most shocking thing I ever read. It was unexpected, it was brutal, it was relentless.

And I think that for me, the worst part was that Hetan became an active participant in her own rapes because of her feeling of failure. And indeed, outside of divine intervention, her failure is complete.

Furthermore, because I have identified with and empathized with Hetan in the past, the scene became even more personal for me. I could understand what Hetan did and didn't do before the hobbling, and as a result, I could understand what she did and didn't do after the hobbling. And that was chilling, to see how it could be me.

At the same time, this chapter made me think deeply about the topics of violence, rape, compassion, etc. So while I have read a lot of books and short stories that disgusted me for their content, or at least parts of them until I threw them down, they didn't make me think about Truth with a capital "T". This book, as much as a downer as it was, did.

So thank you, Steven Erikson, for writing this terrible chapter.
12. CalmOgre
Long time lurker here, though I have been lazy and neglected to actually re-read the books along with this series.

In general, I agree with Cecrow (@5) that this event did not represent a severe break with the rest of the series. We have seen rape* before, and the events generally been increasing in intensity as the series went along. The communal (for lack of a better term) aspects of this event are new, and are what makes it so hard to deal with in my opinion, as elucidated nicely by Amanda.

That being said, the chief emotion that I recall having upon reading this section was anger. Anger at the Barghast for having these customs and following through on them yes, but mostly anger at Tool. The precariousness of his family's situation was obvious to all involved; he and Hetan even have 1-2 conversations about it earlier IIRC. But he still makes choices that clearly (in my eyes) place his own moral superiority/cleanliness above the physical safety and well-being of his family. I have incredible difficutly respecting someone who acts that way. I must confess that the accompanying conversation between Tool and Toc at Hood's Gate gave me a small amount of satisfaction as a result (although I still was mostly saddened by that encounter).

The second main emotion that I recall was severe disquiet/anxiety. The hobbiling is best seen as the culmination of a witch hunt, as SE stated in his initial post. As anyone who has spent a decent amount of time online knows, there is nothing that greater Internet culture enjoys more than a witch hunt. Combine that with the horrible language used against women online (on Twitter, YouTube, forums, etc)...and well, it doesn't give one a whole lot of hope for humanity. Which I must imagine was part of the purpose of the scene.

*On the subject, I can't really say that I agree with you Mircea. There really isn't that much rape in the series. Seren, Stonny, Hetan, and Janath have viewpoint sections and are raped. And no man is raped. But Tattersail, Sorry/Aspalar, Lorn, Tavore, Felisin, Lostara, Minala, Picker, Smiles, Scillara, Brukhalian, Challice, Faradan Sort, Hellian, Samar Dev, Shurq Ellale, Sinter, Kisswhere, Yan Tovis all have viewpoint sections (ok, I'm cheating with Tavore but she counts in spirit) and are not raped IIRC. And those are just the ones who I could name in 10-15 minutes. Several work as prostitutes under questionable circumstances true, but even then it would be difficult to draw paralells between that type of situation and what happens with Hetan.
That being said, you are completely right about the Kruppe/Hetan situation. Kruppe was not raped, he merely publicly protested a bit becasue he's Kruppe.
Rajesh Vaidya
13. Buddhacat
Just a quick correction, CalmOgre: Men do get raped - Udinaas by Menandore, Trull Sengar by the Eresal, Bottle by Eresal (may be.)
14. Mr. Glum
One of the first adult books I tried to read was Jurassic Park. I liked dinosaurs and science, so seemed like a good bet for a young reader curious about the larger section of the library. Then in the first few pages you get this absolutely gratuitous (hope I'm using it correctly) description of the wounds inflicted on a dock worker, and the thing that really got my fifth grade mind was the saliva dripping from these lacerations. Yeah I straight up passed out at the kitchen table from seeing it. Though my parents took that book away, it was the first realistic death a book had shown me, a death that wasn't honorable or just a bad guy, and not one that was glossed over. Just one death that was pointless and brutal. For someone starting to experience the world in a grown body, having that experience of the pointlessness and brutality of violence was instructive of the actual preciousness of life.

As an aside, I suppose that is an indictment of the thriller genre, the deaths in Jurassic Park are tame in comparison.

In terms of Malazan and this chapter, yes it is terrible and brutal, but not because of the cheap descriptions readers are subjected to in so many third rate thrillers, sci-fi, and fantasy, by many authors that should damn well know better. (Looking at you, covenant.) The scene hits me because it is very intimate. Every laugh isn't written out, but damnit you hear every laugh, from people you were supposed to be able to trust. Not going to go further in those thoughts.

In closing, I hope that reading this chapter makes everyone seroiusly think about questioning of cultural norms, about the idea of punishment and 'others,' and about writing that isn't cheap. And I hope everyone seriously thinks about what rape culture means.
15. Estel
The reactions to this DoD scene from the MBotF readers community seem excessive to me considering the circumstances of its portrayal.

Consider the build up to this scene. Consider what Hetan's background has been prior to this event. She has been a warrior of the Barghast, a wife, a mother. She (and thus the reader) is aware of Barghast customs and knows what her (and her children's) fate is likely to be if her husband is killed, which is the reason for her tragically accepting the hobbling and subsequent abuse as punishment for her failure i.e. in not being able to protect those that she loved. That emotion from her is what is most tragic and horrifying out of the entire scene IMO.

As opposed to this scene, the scene of Felisin the younger's abduction (inspite of the existence of several powerful well wishers) and subsequent abuse and mutiliation at the hands of Bidithal in HoC, to which she (a child) reacts with such heartbreaking silence (knowing that her patron i.e. Sha'ik who is Felisin needs Bidithal) is much much worse IMO. Knowing how Felisin the younger had gone through such rape and abuse earlier, before being taken under the protection of Sha'ik who is Felisin, and knowing how she had to endure this again (and that too mutely) simply because of the political expediency surrounding Sha'ik' s position as leader of the rebellion, makes the circumstances around it a lot more difficult to digest. If I were asked to compare, I would say that it would be akin to making Hetan relive all of the abuse meted out to her in this chapter while Tool is still alive and attending a war briefing somwhere in the camp, by sending her back in time.

Considered from that perspective, the only distinction between these scenes which could make Hetan's worse, is that one happens on-stage with SE taking us through it while the other happens off-stage with SE only hinting at it. Thus, it stands to reason that those readers who feel shocked or disgusted by the Hetan chapters from DoD and consider them to be the nadir of the books, simply do so because they are made to witness this through her PoV. That to me feels rather shallow, since both these crimes exist (in the universe of the books) whether they have occurred on-stage as part of the SE's words or off-stage as part of the reader's imagination.

Personally, I have always felt that these chapters are typical SE, in terms of their being able to perfectly demonstrate the horrors of a society based on a complete absence of compassion, and hence, absolutely demand such graphic exposition.
16. BDG
To be made witness and to know, or understand, a crime exist are two very different things. I mostly agree with you, my own disagreement of the scene was because I thought it was the continuation of SE long-running rebuke against cultural relativism and thus questioned the need to sacrifice another strong, powerful woman to prove a point about the grimness of the world. But I really don't have a problem, nor do I call these people shallow who turn away in the sight of violence because knowing a thing can happen is much different that watching it happen. I don't know you or your profession so I am not sure if you are familiar with violence or not (let alone something like hobbling) but I'd argue that is wholely natural reaction to become upset at this scene. I've seen in my young life, two men stabbed or 'recovering' from being stabbed rather at the same corner store and another young man die from a gun shot wound, along with fights and beats. I wish I hadn't. This might be fiction but that fact this is happens in the real world means for some people who read this scene it is all to real, so lets not chasize those people for being angry at what they see.

That's not to say to forget unseen crimes, one of the biggest themes of the series, a point SE makes above, is to bare witness for the sake of the victim rather than your own sense of morality. I agree that we shouldn't hold Felisin the Younger crime as somehow lower but I don't think making the distinction between 'shallow' and 'deep' is really helping the situation either.
Meg K
17. KittenSwarm
@6 travyl
I think it's good to have a separate post and doesn't detract from the point of witnessing the scene at all. This post has more comments than the chapter post at the moment, so clearly people want to discuss this event in particular. It also leaves the chapter post open to talk about the other events of the chapter, which are substantial events.
In addition there are likely people following this reread that are survivors of sexual assault. Separating these events for discussing allows anyone who may feel triggered or does not wish to read in depth discussion of this part to not view this part while leaving the chapter 15 section a safe space.

I'll agree as a first time reader that the foreshadowing was very pointed out in the reread and maybe ratcheted up my dread and tension during this book. I'm not sure if that made the section more potent for me because it was a horriffic breaking of that tension. The horror comes from the "camera not cutting away" as we are used to, for almost hovering in the scene as these events happen, unable to act or do anything but "witness".

I really appreciate your post here where you go into these events, SE. Thank you for taking the time to participate in discussing this section. I did note that the language you used for the scene wasn't sensationalist and that you moved through the events and a pace, not lingering on lurid descriptions. That choice and crafting makes the scene not gratuitous, as you say. It's not some gory and lurid shock scene. It's here for a purpose, and reading your comment is helping me sort out my feelings toward the scene.

Mostly I was angry. Not angry at you for writing it, or at having to read it. I was angry for Hetan. I was angry that I felt powerless and couldn't make it stop for her. I was worked up and crying, almost sick that there wasn't anything I could do as a reader for this fictional character. I wanted nothing more than to step in and save her, and I knew I couldn't. I wanted Cafal to reach her, only when he gets there he is now waiting 3 more days. The women in the hut are no doubt inflicting more horrors on Hetan offscreen.

I was angry that this happens in our world, where neighbors and friends, people you trust, can inflict these horrors. That all it takes is, as SE said, "othering". That people in the community often turn against a rape victim in favor of their attacker because they don't want to believe or witness that. That they will "other" and shame after the fact so that they don't have to acknowledge it occured.

And I cried for Hetan, that she put this blame on herself. That the culture she lived in made that mindset possible.
Meg K
18. KittenSwarm
@13 Buhddacat
That is something I do appreciate in the series, that rape isn't exclusively depicted as only occuring to women and that Udinaas' rape isn't treated lightly. It is treated as just that, a rape. It isn't a joke or punchline.
That being said the rapes committed against the women are violent or traumatic in a way those against the men aren't, which still makes me uncomfortable. Not that I wish equal trauma against the men in the series, just that there's a difference in the circumstances, depiction, and aftermath.

@15 Estel
You are right in that the actual events that occur to Felesin Younger are horrific and equally deserve outrage.

But I agree with @16 BDG. The perspective and immersion in this section are meant to provoke just the reaction that readers are experiencing. The anger and outrage readers express at the scene is a natural result. What I appreciate is that it not only provokes anger and outrage for it's own sake, but to examine our reactions, past events in the series, the purpose of the scene, and the themes of the series. I'm still processing many of my thoughts and reactions to it, and I'm sure I will be for a while.
19. Suqleg
My View here may be simplistic but it really comes down to one thing with me. Would I rather an authour show me great horrors which lead to great redemption/revenge/reader discussion/and emotional connection and or development. Or I can let them leave me to my own imagination which would never be brave enough to come up with this and never providing the true contrast required for one to over come this thing.
I choose the kick in the gonads every time.
20. Tufty
I have no idea how I feel about this scene. I read it the first time I read DoD, and avoided re-reading it until now. I still have no idea how to feel about it.

The first time I read it I was thinking along similar lines to how SE describes his wife's reaction, above. But a lot of what devilsadvocate and Mircea have said here resonates with me, too.

I don't feel like the scene shouldn't be in the book, I don't feel like it is 'wrong' to include it. But there seems to be nothing redeeming in these characters at all at this point, and that makes the whole setup and execution just too bleak for me. I suppose I'm satisfied with having read it the once and am perfectly happy with not revulsing myself by reading it again.
Tabby Alleman
21. Tabbyfl55
I don't know how much value this contribution has, but it's a perspective no other comment-poster has shared, so I'll throw it in the ring for what it's worth.

When I first saw the earlier hints about "the event" that would be handled carefully in a separate post and we should avoid talking about in the meantime, I was clueless and curious about which event that could be. So I went to the spoiler thread and when I finally found the post that said "the hobbling of Hetan", I verrrry slowly said, "ohhhhh yeahhhhhh."

I had completely forgotten about it. In the huge 2-book volume that is DoD/tCG, it didn't rate that highly on my list of memorably significant events.

Deliberately without going back and re-reading the chapter, and therefore posting from the perspective of one who last read it about a year ago, I remember thinking the violence didn't seem any more shocking or graphic than a lot of other instances in the series. I recall the main impact of the scene on me being that it was the triumph of petty, jealous, bad people over a relatively "good" character, who was cherished by an even more relatively "good" character. In short, my reaction to this scene was along the lines of: "oh, poor Tool." Quickly followed by "I hope the kids get away."

If I have any criticism of the scene at all, it's that I recall not being convinced by what was presented that Hetan, knowing what was surely coming, wouldn't have at least tried to get the hell out of there, if only for her children's sake.
March Hare
22. Mircea
@CalmOgre (#12),I think you and I may use very different definitions of sexual assault or sexual coercion.

My bad, the Malazan army is pretty good about it. Most armies in tMBotF are, which is actually unlikely, statistically speaking. I'd imagine that high-ranking female military leaders (Tavore, Krughava, couple like them) would mostly be immune to actual threats of sexual violence. I can't recall exact instances of their enemies thinking "Once I get my hands on her I'll do something sexually violent until she dies" vs "Once I get my hands on him I'll do something nonsexually violent until he dies", but can't seem to recall any even imagined threat of sexual violence aimed at a male character.

Sorry/Apsalar gets at least one scene where random dudes go "Yum, she looks rapeable ... Whoops, she's half an assassin-god! Our bad." And I think several of the other badass women get the same. Of course, they can shake off the situations with ease, and it's played for laughs, but just because the intended victims happen to be badass doesn't mean it's not an example of(threatened) sexual assault. I seem to recall people giving out a couple of warnings about Masan Gilani like that as well - "Don't try, she'll just beat you off with her pinky finger" instead of "Jeez, you're a pig for even suggesting that and you know it."

Scillara and Felisin Younger get Bidithal. He victimizes a lot more girls as well. Definite sexual violence in my book.

Brukhalian is a man.

Challice - can't exactly remember the storyline. Marital rape? Lots of "I'll use your body to keep my henchfellows happy" threats.

Felisin Elder gets Beneth. Just because she comes back after he rapes/beats her doesn't mean it's not sexual violence.

Yan Tovis - Didn't Brullyg fantasize about everything he'd do to her?

Karsa jokes about raping Samar Dev all the time, right?

Can't remember much about the other ones.

I think there was more in the backstories. And there's a key storyline in Forge of Darkness.

And nobody has designs like that on pretty young lads like Crokus or kids like Harllo, not even fleetingly.

I'd like to compare Hetan's hobbling to Trull's shorning. To me, this is almost exactly the same event: a protracted, ritualized humiliation and murder, designed to not just completely destroy the individual but also his/her memory, legacy and standing within the tribe, invoked on people who are powerful but not powerful enough to protect themselves after a greater protector falls away. Probably invoked especially on powerful people, though I seemed to get the idea from some of the DoD Barghast chapters that some people consider hobbling an interesting sport to amuse oneself with on slow days.

The Edur seem almost lackadaisical about it by leaving Trull alive and physically intact, until you recall that breaking crucifixion victims' legs was considered a mercy, because they'd suffocate quickly instead of dying of thirst. Or maybe he'd have drowned first - not widely known as a pleasant way to go either, althought at least it's quick.

Still, not even a hint of sexual humiliation. Not even someone thinking 'At least/what a pity Trull would be spared the (insert something creative) part. Guess being the brother of the Emperor has its advantages.'

That difference is what troubles me.

And we know the Edur aren't above sexual violence - Rhulad/Mayen and Mayen/Feather Witch. (Props for including woman-on-woman sexual violence.)

And I'm not even talking about the 'and of course all the men were forced to watched while their women were raped to death and then strangled with their wives' intestines' background stuff.

For me, sexual violence against women is a constant undercurrent in these books.

When men get raped (I forgot all about Trull - sorry Trull), it's for reproductive purposes. See also the Tenescowri. When women get raped, it's for cruelty, humiliation or power.

@Estel (#15)
I think the Bidithal storyline is very disturbing as well. I agree with the commenter above. What makes it 'better' (more tolerable to read without puking my guts out) than the Hetan story is that I think Hetan is the only person we see break and embrace her torture - Felisin finds the mental strength to make something out of that abuse, to protect Sha'ik. If Hetan had died under the same kind of tortue either mentally exhausted at the unfairness (basically the kind of breaking Toc did) or thinking curses at her torturers, the scene wouldn't have hurt as much for me.

But she breaks. She's convinced she deserves it. That doesn't let up either. She doesn't even get to keep her internal sense of who she is. And while I fully believe that this is a realistic response to the situation, it would be a realistic response to some of the other situations as well, including some of the men's. Of course that may just be my personal ick, but that juxtaposition of total disintegration of self and sexual violence freaks me out.
Brian R
23. Mayhem

I'm glad you brought up Trull's Shorning - I was going to comment using the same thing.
The whole idea in both cases is very much a nasty vituperative comeuppance at one who was percieved as better than the perpetrators. But there appears to be a difference in aim.

In Trull's case, it is a radical treatment of the One who is Different - through all his passages we can see he thinks differently to most of the other Edur, and to his credit, is willing to say so. The problem Trull has is that he doesn't know how to hold his tongue when he should, so he effectively outcasts himself. The Shorning is a very very personal casting out, of one who was viewed as betraying the family, betraying the lord, and betraying the tribe (in that order). And his punishment is equally savage - once shaved, sorcery is used to scar some of his features, almost to remove any trace that might make him appear an Edur, let alone a Hiroth. But it is an External casting out, a driving away from the group to die, akin to the classic christian excommunication.

Hetan on the other hand suffers a very public Internal disgrace - ignoring the physical mutilation for a moment, most of the procedure is to dehumanise her, and to drag her down from one of the high to the lowest of the low. The mutilation is almost more to simplify and speed the process rather than as a form of torture. It appears to me almost symbolic, the far greater torture being that of the mind and soul. And her fall is a result of jealousy, of envy over position, over historical freedoms and leniency, and at heart because Hetan and Tool had attempted to alter Barghast Culture, which threatened those in power in the tribe. Where it differs from Trull is in that it is a deeply personal triumph for the perpetrator, as much as loss for the recipient, while Trull suffers a deeply personal loss, but the perpetrators excise him from their memory, he no longer exists. Hetan must live for the hobbling to be truly effective - it is a public victory, a warning to potential challengers, and a continuous trophy of a victory ... such as might have been the traditional mug made from the skull of an enemy, or more appropriately, the displaying of live prisoners in cages from the city walls until they rot.
David Ball has a great example in his short story The Scroll, of the entertainment derived by a Moorish prince by his complete and total mastery over the life of a prisoner, and the mental anguish that ensues.

The punishment here is sexual in nature, but I wonder if that is related to the Barghast as a people - Hetan was known to be extremely promiscuous prior to partnering with Tool and her mother was implied to be very similar - I'm pretty sure I remember a line about the women having to settle down after pregnancy though I can't find it at the moment. I suspect there might be a whole lot of underlying double standards going on as well.
24. CalmOgre
@Mircea (#22)
There is a lot of sexual violence in the books; I never meant to contradict that. My objection was with your statement that "90% of the female viewpoint characters get sexually assaulted". I think that's very much an overstatement.

I meant Felisin the Elder only in my original post, although I forgot that Bidithal also targeted Scillara. Though I would argue that Bidithal's female circumsicion obsession is inherently different than the other instances of sexual violence. It was more the product of a truly monstruous total worldview than an expression of dominance over/rejection of an individual.

I meant Krughava, not Brukhalian. I confused my Mortal-Swords-of-animalistic-war-gods. I hate it when I do that ;).

I feel that showing people thinking about rape is different than actually portraying the rape itself. It does contribute to the undercurrent that you speak of, but in a more minor way.

I always interpeted Karsa's comments to Samar as much more "You know you want this"-style arrogance than a desire to commit rape. He seemed to loose his taste for that in book 4. In a similar vein, I saw a lot of the comments about Masan et al. as more along the lines of "Woah, she's hot" than anything else. They had a bit of an edge to them, but the speakers were mostly active duty military who wouldn't know verbal tact if it fell on their head.
25. BDG
@ 21...WAIT your reaction was 'poor Tool'...WHY? I'm legitmatily curious. How could that possible be your reaction? Tool failed, in my eyes anyways, as a partner and father when he decided to put his own high morality above the safey of his family, and I'm pretty sure he knew what was going to happen to them and still saw fit to do what he did. It's just hard to imagine that your first thought was 'poor Tool, now your wife is going to raped to death, your child killed because you decided your own sense of morality was worth more than the safety than your love ones.' I didn't really want to talk about Tool because this post is meant for Hetan and the reaction to her situation but this comment made my face do things it doesn't usually do.

As for the extent of rape in the series, me not being a women I don't really have to worry about it in the same sense (that sense being there isn't a huge overarching culture of not only denying proper response to rape but activily attacking the victim for being raped) so I guess my opinion is secondary to women, and related experts on the subject but when one of the principle characters (Karsa) is in fact an known rapist and is agressivily sexual I think we could stop and look at amount of rape in MBotF that used to characterize people rather than an examination of rape. I for one think SE is much better at than many fantasy authors (of the top of my head Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V Brett) at showing the reality of rape for both the rapist and the victim, not so much that I think he cladproof from criticism on the subject but enough to confidentaly safe he isn't asbent mindly using it for shock value.
26. parabola
@Mircea — not trying to in any way diminish your points, but there is Sheb and Nappet as an occurrence of potential male-on-male sexual violence.
Sean H
27. PorusReign
When I read the section on Hetan, when it first came out, I was totally immersed in the character and story. Everything I felt was about the injustice and unfairness and the horror of what was happening to a character(s) I cared about. A no stage did I consider whether or not this topic, in such detail, should or should not be written about. I like to think, although I was shocked and surprised, it was in keeping with the world, therefore, the question didn’t arise.
As this segment of the re-read approached I felt the unrest and anticipation of the group. My own instinct was that the section was okay to be written, but I was not eloquent enough to explain, even to myself, why.

After reading the brave and compassionate response from Amanda, the raw, stripped bare position of SE and his wife and the measured arguments of my fellow re-readers my thoughts are a little clearer.

Every storyteller or artist must find truth and tell truth as best they can. Often this will be joy and happiness other times it will be pain. In music, art and literature this is the same. The artist seeks to find the courage and the expression to fulfill this truth.
It is their purpose in creating.
Every audience member must seek the truth in those works, to distinguish it from fraud. Sometimes it will create joy and happiness other times it will be pain.

Through books, art and music we glimpse parts of existence beyond ourselves. We find hope amidst pain, and, from the comfort of our own lives we can know how others are not so fortunate.

Our choice is to see or look away.

But we can only see when we are ready.

I read this passage five years ago and only now, with the help of this re-read, has something finally dropped in. Things that happen to ‘Others’, things that I have no influence over, will keep happening as long as I look away.

If authors like SE don’t keep writing sections like this it becomes easier and easier to look away.
28. Hadrian
Or rather, it's human nature to be drawn to this. Hence the term "gape-ers delay." But a passage in a book can impart much more of a lasting effect on a reader teasing the mind for years.

Here’s an open drop box with Teramar in it:
Tabby Alleman
29. Tabbyfl55
@25: why were my thoughts and concerns for Tool? I didn't see his failure as a result of his arrogance. Again, I'm not re-reading, so my memory of this section is about a year old, but as I recall he tried -- passionately -- to turn the Barghast from this course, and failing that, he tried to get Hetan and the kids out of crazy town. But Hetan wasn't having it, and in his understanding and compassion for what Hetan's culture and heritage meant to her, he capitulated to her.

I didn't see Tool's failure as being a result of his high morality. His morality was what drove him to try to turn the Barghast from their current path. His failure was a result of his understanding that the Barghast were what they were and it was just too much to ask them to change, and so he accepted the path to self-destruction. He's kind of a Christ-figure, actually, now that I think about it. Sacrificing himself, and unfortunately his family, in a last ditch effort to get the Barghast to change themselves when he could not convince them to change.

Again, this is just how I remember reading it a year ago.
30. BDG
I've never been big on Christ-figures, your more useful alive than dead. So that might be my reason for my angrish reaction. I always don't put a lot of faith in an individual to change a culture, as important and figure head in the change sure but it takes a lot bodies on the ground and a lot of political will to actually change a society and I doubt a person as old as Tool would be so navie as to believe that him dying would possible change the White Face Barghast. Also I don't think his morality was his failure but rather putting his sense of morality above his family and that, for me, is Tool's great failure. But I'm also in the same boat as you, and you know how memories work, the tweak things over time to reflect the emotions you felt at the time.
Tabby Alleman
31. Tabbyfl55
Incredible! Two people reading the exact same words, and then a year later remembering different things from them? How is it possible???

32. Jordanes
Just to add to one of the threads here, there are other examples of male-on-male sexual violence and the threat of sexual violence in the series. Most notably, the Letherii Chancellor (whose name escapes me now) in Reaper's Gale abuses young men and boys (though it is never shown, but it is described in pretty horrifically how he delights in it). In the same book, Sirryn Kanar was going to rape an escaping male soldier, before the man fended him off with a dagger.
Meg K
33. KittenSwarm
I still find it weighted that rape comes up as a) something that happens not uncommonly to our female "main" characters to inflict trauma, b) as something that happens to a few male "main" characters for the purpose of reproduction, or c) performed or attempted by characters we are clearly supposed to not like. Karsa even fits in here since he's intentionally not sympathetic until he goes on his journey.

It just is dealt with differently. Better than in all other fantasy series that include sexual assault, but... it's just hard to articulate. Still lopsided? Still portrayed unevenly in circumstance and effect?
shirley thistlewood
34. twoodmom
@Moderator: If you feel this may offend, please delete it. Offense is not my intention. I am intrigued by BDG's moral emphasis on the family.
@BDG I am not sure about RL or about the effects on families of a member's "heroic" actions, but in fiction written by English speaking authors, characters who put their undertaken duty ahead of their own or their family's safety or prosperity are the "good" guys. (I am not talking about the trope where villains directly threaten loved ones to compel the hero to take some particular action.) Hetan did not free Tool of his obligations as leader of the Barghast as he hinted he wished. When should obligation to family outweigh other duty?
Katharine Duckett
37. Katharine
@twoodmom Moderator here: what are you trying to white out? Let me know and I can change it. Thanks!
38. BDG
I'll answer this two fold but after let's stay on topic, this thread is about Hetan after all.

How many people would you willing sacrifice to perform your 'undertaken duty'? If it more than zero you're doing it wrong. Saving lives is not a fucking numbers game every single life is important so my problem isn't he decided to do its he decided to do fully knowing what would happen afterwards. He let his innocent children be brutally murderd and his wife raped on the off chance the the Barghast might change their clearly deeply dugged cultural practices. So tell me how many life would you wager on duty again?

Which brings me to my second point, that was a supremely naive action by a 100000 year old man who is apart of a race that literally turned itself undead to commit to a genocidal act of war. We should've known better
Sydo Zandstra
39. Fiddler
Most of what I think has already been said, and I have no time for a long post now. But I have a few points I'd like to address that I haven't seen mentioned above.

Amanda wrote that one of the things that upset her about the hobbling is how women seemed loving to participate in it so much, instead of joining ranks in 'a female sisterhood' (I'm paraphrasing here).

Mild spoilers next. I haven't whited them out, because they are mild, and this isn't a plot thread. But both are directly related to this discussion.

In one of the next chapters, we get told why the women act like that, when one of them is asked. She answers that each woman does so, because it isn't her that's being hobbled, but somebody else. That says a lot about the place of women in Barghast culture. Remember that Hetan seemed an exception to the general Barghast woman, and maybe that caused her being hated by the other women even more.

We also get thoughts from Cafal, reflecting on how Tool wanted to banish such traditions, and that they happen with each change of leadership in a tribe. The fact that Tool stopped this from happening when he took over leadership after Humbrall Taur died, made this outburst become more violent than usual, according to him.
Tricia Irish
40. Tektonica
Thank you Steven, and thanks to your wife as well. Indeed this still goes on in "our" world, and we should not look away.

At no point did I feel that this shouldn't have been written. I was totally in the story on my first read, alone, and felt the pain, and failures of both cultures, and individuals in this event and the decisions leading up to it. It is not at all gratuitous, even though it certainly packs a visceral, emotional punch.

Good discussions here. Thanks Bill and Amanda for creating this particular thread. Thanks all for your input.
Bill Capossere
41. Billcap
What a great, thoughtful discussion. I’ll say that if anyone wonders why those who keep “harping” about diversity do so, this discussion is a great example of just that—how different voices/perspectives can awaken us to other ways of seeing, other ways of understanding, and can provoke us to different considerations in the future. Even if we’re not in full agreement, an awakened sensitivity and heightened thoughtfulness can never be a bad result.

Mircea—I especially am enjoying your insights into this. And even as I bridle sometimes as what I consider hyperbole (90% suffer sexual assault), the mere fact that even if you don’t think that literally true, it has a “gut truth” to it for you makes me consider things more fully and in a different light, even as in my head I’m performing some of the same “but . . . “ call-ups as some of the responses already have.

I’m wondering what people think about this topic beyond this particular scene or series. Do you find violence has been increasing in fantasy fiction lately and what do you think about its presentation? I know personally, I’ve found myself more often lately being turned off by what appears to me to be violence and graphic detail for the sake of violence and graphic detail.
Yotam Ben-Arye
42. Anomander_Purake
@Billcap: I haven't actually read any new fantasy books in the last couple of years except tMBotF, but let me dredge an old one up - what about the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant? Within a chapter or two, the main character manages to rape a young girl who is nothing but nice towards him. As far as I can remember, not much is said about his actions later on in the first novel; it's considered as a mere error in his ways, made in a state of confusion. This question has bothered me ever since - how could this book be so popular? I hated it from the rape scene onwards, and never read it through to the end.

And if we're considering the increase of violence in all forms of media, shouldn't we bring up Game of Thrones? It's a common belief shared by many that the TV show manages to sell only because of its overuse of violence, rape, graphic sex, and whatnot. And while it's been a while since I've read Martin's books, I don't remember them as being so crude and blood/sex-thirsty.
Bill Capossere
43. Billcap
I actually had meant to bring up Covenant earlier. That act of his actually resonates throughout the series. Though I can see why people who stop there might have issues with it as that first book doesn't quite deal with it as fully (I think because it is so centered on his lack of feeling, his numbness and disbelief). That length of time is something I actually appreciate as the way it haunts not just the victim and Covenant but ripples outward, and then does so for huge periods of time (forever in some instances for characters) is much more true
Ryan Dick
44. Wilbur

Billcap is correct, the rape that Thomas Covenant commits in the opening of the book echoes throughout the first three books, and the ripples of effect are significant to The Land, the characters, and the plot.

As a literary work, the Covenant rape was (to me) eye-opening and groundbreaking, as this was not a common theme or action in books I was reading at the time.

The effect it had for me was to color my perception of Thomas Covenant, a do-nothing character as the non-believer. Since I didn't like his do-nothing, unbelieving attitude anyways, it further distanced me from him and those books. While I recognized them as well-written and important, I didn't really like them.

The difference for me with Hetan was that she was a character I had grown to like and identify with, unlike a young girl we don't know at the beginning of the Covenant works. Therefore the impact was far, far greater.
45. BDG
To answer Bill's first question, I'll yes I have most def noticed a increase of violence (and rape) in fantasy for the sake of itself or as an example of an underlining cynical philosophy. It's honestly hard sometimes to take the books seriously because of there source (middle-age white guys who I doubt have dealt with much violence in there life) and the overall the lacking of understanding of how violence works on people in real life and how it works on a larger level.

I think this partially because of modern's fiction extreme focus on character (which could be argued that it is an extension of Western Cultures empathize of the individual) and how everything has to be connected to if you want to charactize a highly violent person who'll have them kill someone but rarely does it look at violence as a social-wide phenomenon so it in a sense only exists to highlight the character but glosses over the larger overarching culture (which is why rape as a characterization tool is so problematic, especially when you take into account that fiction plays a large role in how culture defines things).

I think one of the reasons MBotF is more successful at engaging these types of topics is because it engages them on both a character level but also at a thematic level that allows SE to look at something at both 'street-level' view but also at the larger picture. But yeah, those are my complex feelings on the continued trend of 'grimdark' material in fantasy.
Yotam Ben-Arye
46. Anomander_Purake
I am going to further voice my opinions here, since I don't want this thread to die out :)

First of all, @Mircea from way back: while I whole-heartedly agree with what you said, I would like to publicly mull over the question of why certain atrocities are depicted in fantasy books and in tMBotF in particular, and some are not. To start with, as far as I can remember there HAD been homosexual relations depicted within the books (several bi and lesbian encounters come to mind, and there is that one soldier in the Malazan army who is known all around to be gay), so technically, there COULD have been non-hetersexual rape scenes in the book had the author wanted to include them. The question stands: why aren't they depicted?
The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that certain subjects of adverse human behavior are considered "okay" enough to be written about in fantasy - for instance, the rape of women and psychopathy - while others are considered "off-limit" - for instance, the rape of men and pedophilia. Why is that? All are prominent psychopathological phenomenons existing in our society, after all, perhaps even in equal prevalence. If you consider the question from a wholly rational point of view, who would you (as an adult) rather be in the room with, a psychopath or a pedophile? The pedophile would certainly disgust me, but would pose no threat to my life and well-being in the way a psychopath, one devoid of all empathy, would. So the answer seems to lie in that deep-rooted reaction of disgust - a man raping a man is disgusting and revulsing, while a man raping a woman is less so... or is it?

Secondly, I would like to offer another explanation as to why the rape of Hetan had been more disturbing to us readers, as opposed to several cases of rape read about before in this series. Women (and men) who have been raped can repond in very different ways, many of which are fully understandable and even applauded as "normal" behavior, be it a state of depression, anxiety, a thirst for vengeance, a decision to do whatever one can to ensure there are no further victims of rape, etc. But there is one response which exists as well, and which is far more horrifying than others: one in which the victim sympathizes with the perpetrator, and believes her rape is justified. This is more or less the case here: Hetan genuinely believes, at least in small part, that her punishment is justified. We, as readers, are left thoroughly alienated from her, because we believe the exact opposite, that something terrible had been done to her, which should not have happened. Is is possible that this clash of beliefs is what makes us feel so betrayed by her character? Above all, though, we have to remember that there ARE rape victims out there who believe they have suffered justly for inproper behavior, real or imagined (for instance, a woman who believes she had acted in a "slutty" way, and thus "got what she dessrved"). The author is merely presenting us with a real-world phenomenon, albeit a very troubling one. And is it not our role in this reading of the book to witness, eyes opened wide?

Wow.... sorry for the long post. I would love to hear all your thoughts on the matter.
Steven Halter
47. stevenhalter
Anomander_Purake@46:I don't, offhand, recall any male-male rapes, but for pedophila/child abuse, recall the story of Felisin younger and Bidithal.

The clash of beliefs from us against what Hetan's is thinking is indeed a source of conflict as we read the scene. Sorrow and anger for the twisting of her mind and the reflected twisting of the whole Barghast culture.
Tabby Alleman
48. Tabbyfl55
I've gotten very good, both with books and movies/tv/etc, now that I think about it, at "tuning out" when violent stuff is happening. I read every word/watch every scene with eyes wide open. I'm not saying I turn my brain off or skim over it. But I have an inner voice that kicks in and reminds me that this is only fiction, and isn't really happening. I get all of the details with none of the emotional impact.

Thus my earlier post about not finding the hobbling scene particularly troubling or even memorable.

Do I have to remember, above all, that there are real rape victims out there when I read a scene like this? I see no reason why I have to. Does it help them, or anyone for that matter, if I do? Is every reader of the series now expected to become an activist?

Does my inner voice desensitize me to real violence? I'm happy to report it does not. When I hear about real incidents like Central Park and the India gang-rape, I'm as troubled and affected as anyone else. I just have this insulation against fictional violence. And it's only violence... I laugh at the humor; I got claustrophobic during The Bonehunters, and I get chills at the triumphs, and blurry eyed at the sappy happy stuff. I'm pretty content with this arrangement as a consumer. I'd recommend it to anyone who can find it.

Incidentally, for a fantasy book with both homosexual rape and pedophilia, there's "The Winged Assassin" by Catherine Cooke, and I recall really liking it. I didn't find her treatment of the aforementioned subjects gratuitous, and the only thought I remember having on the matter was "Wow! This author is f'n BRAVE!".
49. BDG
I don't know what's the point of fiction (and even moreso with scenes like this) if it does not remind us of the wider world? For your simply enjoyment? Doesn't that, I don't know seem cold? Overly selfish even? I doubt you are to be honest but I think the point of this scene IS to remember rape victims are out there, and some might read this book and the empathy for not only Hetan but those outside of the text that experienced the same horrific act. I'd honestly be very worried if I tuned-out my reaction to the violence, reminds me a little to much of some dopeboys I know but I highly doubt you are in fact a dopeboy.
Tabby Alleman
50. Tabbyfl55
Well, I don't know about the author's intention, or anybody else's intentions, but when I buy and read fiction...frankly, yeah, it's simply for my enjoyment. NPR reminds me of the wider world, so I don't need fiction for that.

Maybe I'm not describing my approach to fiction richly enough, because it doesn't feel cold or selfish to me, so maybe there's more to it that I'm leaving out. Amanda and other commenters have talked about having physical reactions (feeling sick, panic attacks, etc) to this section of the book. I just don't allow myself to have such unpleasant reactions, just by reminding myself "it isn't real".

I guess it could be considered selfish if I were able to help somebody else in some way by feeling sick or panicky, and withheld that help because I didn't want to feel that way. But I don't see how it helps or hurts anybody else if I don't, so I don't think it's cold or selfish. Just a little self-preservation technique, like thinking happy thoughts when you want to strangle somebody.
51. CurtH
I'm surprised that no one has brought up female genital mutilation, which is very real in our world and which is generally performed on girls with the active consent of their mothers.
52. Tarcanus
I'm with Tabby @50 on this one.

I'm reading fantasy, it's not real. It's horrifying for the character, but it isn't real.

When it comes to the actual mutilation that still occurs in the world today - that is what makes me sick - because it's real and happening.
Bill Capossere
53. Billcap
So I'm curious what folks thought of Estaral's explanation of why women engage so freely in the hobbling of other women. Any thoughts on this? Does it cast the act in a different light for anyone? Change any perspectives on the Barghast?
Sydo Zandstra
54. Fiddler
Bill, it didn't to me. But I have posted about that often enough.

From the stuff we read about them in MoI, combined with how SE writes tragedy, they were a ticking timebomb for me ever since they showed up in Reaper's Gale.

On a side note, this whole discussion reminded me of the Huttu genocide on Tutsis in Ruanda, a massacre that has been Remembered publicly lately. Reading back then on how (educated) Huttu women were the most fanatic killers there struck me. I always remember that when reading the Hobbling part.
55. Tufty
So I'm curious what folks thought of Estaral's explanation of why women engage so freely in the hobbling of other women. Any thoughts on this? Does it cast the act in a different light for anyone? Change any perspectives on the Barghast?
I find it's a plausible explanation. But even if it makes sense and is what Estaral believes, that doesn't mean that all Barghast women believe the same thing, nor that any real-world women in parallel circumstances believe the same thing.

I've never been in that situation, so I can't know. But my gut says that in a culture like the Barghast there are probably lots of different reasonings that different women would have for continuing their torturous social rituals... and probably also women who don't think about the reason at all.
Brian R
56. Mayhem
All I'll say to that is in human societies, it is most often the older members of a group who are most intent on maintaining the status quo. And not always for obvious or logical reasons.

There is a story doing the rounds that relates a psychology experiment on monkeys, as shown by the image here
It appears that the original research may have been made up by the authors of a self help book in the 90s, but the underlying concepts are reasonably sound when extrapolated to human behaviour.

People can start a particular means of behaviour, and that can continue within a group for so long that no one presently in the group even knows why any more, it is simply a tradition. And over time Tradition becomes more certain than any law - at least a dozen cultures I know of have a proverb along the lines of The Nail That Sticks Up Gets Hammered Down. I've seen it evolve first hand in small groups - student committees are a good example due to the rapid generational turnover of the positions as students graduate out of university, yet many bizarre traditions continued, and I knew exactly who started each and why (usually while drunk), while the present committee members had no idea of who those people were or why it was still something that needed to be done.

In the situation here, we have an extremely nasty punishment, but the punishment is almost a side show to a dehumanising process of establishing and maintaining power within a group. And here we have a mixture of traditions ... some for males to establish and demonstrate dominance, and very different ones for females to do the same.
The idea that you would embrace something to avoid it happening to you ... well, dozens of tales of war or genocide over the last thirty years show the same thing. Rwanda, Serbia, Cambodia, even Haiti, Liberia and Somalia.
When a state fails, society fails. And as it goes down, it isn't anarchy that replaces it, rather it is nearly always despotism and tyranny.

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