Welcome to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll continue our coverage of Crack’d Pot Trail.
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Crack’d Pot Trail Part Seven
Mister Must butchers Calap Roud, and Flicker refuses to not share the details, calling it “cowardice to turn away” as both reader and writer, to shift to description of landscape or to another character, one not involved in butchering a fellow being, a “creature of time… with past, present, and future.” Brash Phluster quietly tells Flicker that was a “vicious” move he pulled, and when Flicker says he felt like a cornered mouse, Brash scoffs, calling him a “serpent in our midst” instead. When Brash implies he could have ratted Flicker out, Flicker wonders if Brash really wants Flicker to continue his tale of “all the other lovers” that woman had. Brash answers that tactic wouldn’t work a second time, but Flicker asks if Brash is willing to risk his life on that assumption. Brash changes the subject, telling Flicker Purse Snippet is upset about how Flicker turned her story on Calap and that she also feels guilty herself. When Brash adds Purse won’t be forgiving any more, Flicker agrees. Tulgord Vise calls on Brash to sing, and when Brash points out they’ve already eaten, Tiny answers that maybe they want dessert too. Flea contradicts Tiny (much to everyone’s surprise), saying he’s feeling more than a little “bunged up” thanks to all the people (“bad poets”) he’s eaten. They talk him into it though and call on Brash again. When Brash gives the title as “Night of the Assassin,” Arpo Relent points out knights can’t be assassins, and explains to them the old D & D character types/weapons usage chart. Brash starts singing about Kalam climbing the toilet toward where Laseen sits dreaming up “new ways of torture.” When Vise complains, Brash argues “that’s the whole point,” saying how everyone always talks about the high born and heroes but never mentions normal bodily functions, so he’s reminding the audience that Laseen is human too. Vise tells him everyone knows she’s human and nobody wants to hear about those details. Tiny says Brash can continue, but “no more natural bodily functions.” Unfortunately, it’s “part of the story,” and so the audience is treated to Kalam climbing up the privy hole as Laseen “strains” and drops a “grenado,” which Kalam dodges. He then climbs “into a pink cavernnnnn” and “did carve his name on her wallll.” Silence ensued. Sellup shows up.
Flicker tells us Sellup has looked better. He muses on how for the adoring fan, an undead/immortal poet would be a blessing: “more songs, more epics, an unending stream of blather and ponce for all eternity.” They continue on, putting the horror aside in an “unceasing search for normality… in the assembly of proper motions, the swing of legs… the breath goes in and the breath goes out.” He imagines an observer seeing them and thinking nothing out of the ordinary, and advises his audience to walk their own neighborhood and imagine “all that you do not see, all that might hide behind the normal moment with its normal details. Do this and you will come to understand the poet’s game.” Thus ends to 24th day.
After dinner, Sardic Thew, the Host, announces that it appears they might make the landing within a week and suggests that perhaps therefore “our terrible ordeal is over,” since it seems to him that “a few days of hunger,” isn’t that awful a price to pay. Tiny (amongst others) doesn’t see the point, and Apto seems all too willing to accept that it now becomes “murder” if things continue as they have been. Brash points out it’s been murder all along, even if Apto and those others whose heads are not “on the chopping block” pretend otherwise. Apto interrupts to say none of the poets will be getting his vote, as “there’s nothing more deflating as actually getting to know the damned poets I’m supposed to be judging.” This is too much for Brash, who cries for people to kill him, and then when nobody moves or speaks, he runs off. Steck merely says Brash won’t go far, then adds that he agrees with the Host; there’s no need to keep killing the poets. Purse though says she is owed a story and Flicker agrees, saying however that he plans on giving them the end of Calap’s tale first. He asks if Purse can wait another day. She replies that if he’s thinking of outlasting her, she requires another vow that he will satisfy her before they reach the Great Descent. He promises. Steck says he knows the story already so he’ll head off and get Nifty and “his ladies.” When Vise mocks his “sudden compassion,” Steck answers, “If I am the only one here capable of possessing guilt, then so be it.”
Flicker muses on the word “guilt”:
Such an unpleasant word, no doubt invented by some pious meddler with snout pricked to the air… A man… (since no woman was ever so mad as to invent such a concept, and to this day for most women the whole notion of guilt is as alien to them as flicking droplets after a piss… ) a man then, likely looking on in outrage and horror (at a woman… ) all indignation was transformed into that maelstrom of flagellation, spite, envy, malice, and harsh judgment we have come to call guilt…
In accusing, the accuser seeks to crush the accused, who in turn has been conditioned to cringe and squirm… and misery must result. Abject self-immolation, depression, the wearing of ugliness itself. While the accuser stands. .. in the ecstasy of the righteous.
And then there’s a cat. There’s always a cat.
Flicker picks up Calap Roud’s story with the Imass showing the Fenn warrior the hut he can sleep in. And by “sleep,” he doesn’t mean, “sleep.” Arpo objects to that “nastiness” he says Flicker is “obsessed with.” He argues, “Such tales are unseemly. They twist and poison the minds of listeners.” And he points to Roud’s death as an example of how “all it took was a hint of something.” The Well Knight goes on about the “Worm of Corruption” that lies in every body that must be removed before death. Apto interrupts, “Because the poor man talked about corruption?” and then wonders if “all poets [were] filled with such corrupting worms.” Apto says of course, the poets “but revel in degraded versions, fallen mockeries” sex this and sex that. When he brings the Lady of Beneficence into it, saying she will turn her back on corrupt thoughts, Apto wonders if her back is “sweetly rounded and inviting.” That’s a step too far though and in a clash of too-similar sounding names, Arpo jumps Apto and tries to choke him. But as Flicker says, “critics are notoriously difficult to snare, even with their own words. They slip and sidle, prance and dither… such snarky homunculi [created by] artists themselves… [who] slap tighter out gods from whatever is at hand only to eagerly grovel at its misshapen feet (or hoofs), slavering are adoration to hide our true thoughts, which are generally venal.” And so Apto slips aside and Arpo knocks himself out by hitting his head on the boulder Apto had been resting against. After a few moments discussion on whether or not he’ll come to again (with the incumbent risk to Apto if he does), Tiny tells Flicker to get on with the story.
I like Flicker’s refusal as an “author” to turn away from the ugly details of what is happening, as well from the harsh reality of death, of how he/Erikson forces us to consider if we are indeed just sacks of meat in the end, “little different” from “any other large animal.” Of how death is an end of time, of a past/present/future. And also how he offers up these choices at the end as an author would, discussing shifts in point of view, of focus, the sorts of decisions any author must make in moments of death, pain, ugliness, etc. This is also one of those echoes of the novels, as it brings up the idea of one of the series’ key words: “witness.”
So as amiable as Flicker may have appeared early on, or as much as we are wont to trust him, as an intimate first-person tends to evoke trust in the reader to some extent at least, his manipulation of story to kill Roud (and how’s that for a metaphor about the “power’ or “danger” of story) shows us a different side we might perhaps consider. As does Brash’s labeling him a “serpent” here. And Flicker’s subsequent threat to do the same to Brash.
And no, I think risking anything on Tiny Chanter’s self-control is a bit much to ask of anyone.
The self-aware nature of this tale rears its head with the old Arpo playing Dungeon Master: “Knights can’t be assassins, wizards can’t be weapons masters, and mendics got to use clubs and maces. Everyone knows that.”
I suppose we’re back to authorial choices with Brash’s song. Count me in the group of readers that doesn’t really need details on the privy (especially this level of detail).
The dead just don’t stay quiet in these books, do they?
That’s a nice bit of insight Flicker has in the way we tend to hide/bury our horrors in the everyday normality—the mundanity of evil, so to speak.
Flicker keeps reminding us that he may not be the most reliable of narrators, as when he tells us Tiny grinned “greasily,” then admits Tiny is actually “Most fastidious… I elected to add the grisly detail. Of course, there is nothing manipulative in this” If he doesn’t tell us the truth in these details, what else is he “enhancing” or omitting? And if he is telling the truth here, how sly, to make us think if he’s telling us this here, we must be able to trust that he’s not being overly manipulative elsewhere. Crafty bugger.
So this is what finally break Brash—the idea he won’t get Apto’s vote. You just never know.
So after Brash’s focus on bodily functions, Arpo gets upset about yet another authorial decision—the inclusion of a sex scene, though Arpo interrupts before the sex can actually get detailed, with his rant on how poets sully the act, with all this “Her hand grasping his this” and “his finger up her that.” Too much earthly detail for the “Holy Union.” (imagine him living in the world of the internet—either his head would explode or he’d be addicted).
Apto, being a critic, knows just the right buttons to push, and also is ready when Arpo snaps, slipping away as critics, Flicker tells us, are wont to do, leaving Apto to end up “Alive but senseless,” which as Apto notes means things are “essentially unchanged.”
So as we move into the last third of the novella, not only are the numbers of our group reduced, but note how on edge they’re shown to be, with blow ups and stalking off and attacks, both physical and otherwise. Things are definitely teetering, which would seem to be leading toward, well, something…
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.