Ave, and welcome back to the Kage Baker Company Reread! Today Stefan, your humble Literature Preservation Specialist Grade One, will be covering chapters 2, 3, and 4 of In the Garden of Iden for your delectation and amusement.
You can find the reread’s introduction (including the reading order we’ll be following) here, and the index of previous posts here. Please be aware that sections of this reread will contain spoilers for the entire series. I am doing my best to avoid major spoilers in the chapter summaries, but my commentary and the comments section will include discussion of the series’ broader plot and references to story arcs and events from the end of the series. Gentle reader, you have been warned.
Summary: Mendoza recounts her early youth, growing up in poverty with her parents and siblings in a small village near Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She doesn’t recall her original name or her date of birth, nor the name of the village. Her parents were very concerned with being seen as racially pure white Christians.
One day in 1541, a group of seemingly wealthy people approaches the family’s home and offers to hire one of the children as a servant. The group’s apparent leader, a red-haired woman, claims she is doing this as an act of charity for the repose of her recently deceased husband’s soul, whose name she gives as “Don Miguel de Mendes y Mendoza.” She promises the child will receive “food and clothing, a virtuous Catholic upbringing, and a suitable marriage portion arranged when she comes of age.” She also swears she is “neither Judaizer nor Morisco” and offers Mendoza’s mother a purse of gold.
The woman chooses a red-haired child, “only four or five” years old. As they ride off, the woman explains that the girl is not to be a servant; instead, she is to be married to a “mighty lord” and live in luxury as a noblewoman. They take her to a remote, empty house where she is fed, given a room of her own, and then mostly ignored or given conflicting stories about her fate.
Eventually, she learns her husband-to-be has recently arrived, but in the room where he is supposedly resting, she only finds a figure of a man braided out of sheaves of wheat, “like the play figures folk put up to decorate their houses at harvest time and burned later.”
Just when the girl realizes she has been taken by witches (or maybe, she thinks, secret Jews) the Inquisition shows up to apprehend her captors. She runs into the Inquisitor’s arms, believing she has been rescued, but they take her and lock her in a dungeon, where she receives no food for uncounted days because her “mother” (the red-haired woman Mendoza, who captured her) is supposed to pay for it.
Eventually a short, stocky man who looks Biscayan visits her in her cell and gets her story. Her anger both amuses and impresses him. He places something behind her ear that makes her feel better, then takes her to a room where she is interrogated by a priest (Fray Valdeolitas) and an inquisitor. She explains that her name isn’t Mendoza and that the woman named Mendoza is a witch. The inquisitor believes her captors were practicing witchcraft and planning to sacrifice the child, while the priest explains the Holy Office “does not concern itself with superstitions” and is more interested in proving that the child is secretly Jewish.
During a break, the Biscayan pours something from a flask into her first real meal in days, saying it’ll make her strong. He says they’re torturing the woman Mendoza, but the girl just shrugs, saying she is a “bad woman.” Later, they show her the torture room, then leave her in a small room with a realistic crucifix. She hallucinates that Jesus is speaking to her. He tells her that He is suffering for her sins, and that she sinned in “the Garden.” When her interrogators return and resume questioning her, she has started to believe that she could maybe be a Jew.
Afterwards, instead of returning her to her cell, the Biscayan takes her through a secret passage to a brilliantly lit room, where he speaks with a man in a white surcoat in a language the girl doesn’t understand. This man restrains her and shaves her head. The girl, thinking she is about to be tortured, screams and promises to confess, but all he does is examine her skull and take a blood sample. When the Biscayan returns, he explains to the girl (who he now addresses for the first time as Mendoza) what she can expect from the Inquisition. Even if she escapes, she is bound for a life of poverty, and eventually old age, disease, and death.
But the Biscayan offers her an alternative: work for a “learned doctor” who can cure her of old age and death if she agrees to work for him “saving things and people from time,” just like he does. When Mendoza agrees, the Biscayan informs a guard that the girl has died under questioning, then tags and stamps her.
She is taken in an elevator to a vast underground cavern full of incomprehensible technology and people in silver clothes, where she meets three other children with shaved heads like her. In the flying ship that takes all of them to “Terra Australis,” Mendoza hears the story of Blue Sky Boy and King Time.
These chapters depict Mendoza’s personal “prehistory” and seem to be shrouded in just as much mystery, partly due to the lack of written records and partly due to Mendoza’s spotty memory of certain details of her pre-Company life.
We don’t know the name of the village where Mendoza was born, but we know it’s close to Santiago de Compostela and probably on the pilgrimage route between that city and Cape Finisterre, given that she’s familiar with the cockle shells pilgrims traditionally pinned to their hats. (You can reduce the possibilities significantly with all this information, but the village doesn’t feature in the rest of the series so I’m just going with “unnamed Galician hamlet west of Santiago de Compostela.”)
We also don’t know Mendoza’s exact age at this point, but we learn later in the series that the Company can only work the immortality process on young children, maximum age five and ideally younger. Based on how verbal Mendoza is in these chapters, you’d guess she’s towards the older end of the scale, and Mendoza confirms (when riding away from her family in Chapter One) that she was “four or five” years old at the time.
And then there’s her original, pre-Mendoza name, which she has somehow forgotten. I can buy that she wouldn’t know the name of her village or even her parents’ names at this age, but I’ve always found it improbable that she can’t recall her own given name. Younger children are usually already well aware of their own names by this point.
There are a few possible explanations for this. For one, Mendoza is writing her journal several centuries later (as far as her subjective perception of time goes), after the events portrayed in Mendoza in Hollywood and possibly much later, depending on how long she waited to start her diary during her imprisonment in Back Way Back. By that point, those early childhood years may be nothing but a vague memory for her.
Maybe more pertinent: even though it’s described in a rather understated way here, Mendoza experiences some serious psychological trauma in these chapters. She’s essentially sold away to strangers by her family (“One less mouth to feed without the expense of a funeral!”), then finds out that her supposed benefactors are actually planning to use her as a human sacrifice, and then gets thrown in a dungeon, starved, and if not subjected, at least exposed to the Inquisition’s interrogation methods.
And lest we forget: the Company, in the person of Joseph, isn’t exactly subtle in its recruitment efforts either. Asking a young child who’s already out of her mind with fear to make a life-changing decision like this one is ethically questionable to say the least, and that’s not even taking into account that Mendoza was strapped to a chair to have her head shaved and blood drawn. It really creeps me out that Joseph doesn’t undo her restraints until he’s done describing all the horrors she can expect from mortal life.
It’s not that hard to imagine that all of this could cause a young child to block that entire phase of her life from memory. But the point is that it clearly hasn’t. She remembers and describes everything in vivid detail. She even identifies Spanish accents from regions far from her own, which is hard to imagine from a young child who doesn’t even know the name of her own village.
Be that as it may, by the end of these chapters the nameless girl has become Mendoza—and what must it have done to her young psyche, knowing she got stuck with the name of the woman who took her from her family and planned to burn her alive?
Still, even this very young, very disoriented Mendoza already shows flashes of her, um, distinctive adult personality: quick to anger, not very empathetic, cynical, direct to the point of being abrasive. She makes sure to ask whether she’ll get a bed of her own to sleep in. Rather than saying thank you, she questions why a lord would want to marry a pauper girl like her. In the dungeons of the Inquisition, she sustains her anger for a remarkably long time (even yelling at Joseph and demanding food the first time he sees her in her cell) before finally succumbing to fear. Later, when Joseph tells Mendoza about Dr. Zeus, she immediately questions the “magician” part of his story, making Joseph change it to “Doctor.” Finally, maybe the most meaningful example: when Mendoza sees the fear in the other children Dr. Zeus is rescuing, she eyes them in disgust and even yells at one of them to be quiet.
On a separate note, it’s interesting to watch Kage Baker lay the groundwork for the rest of the novel in these early chapters. The story of the incident with the giant censer during Katharine of Aragon’s journey to England to marry Henry VIII foreshadows the major role played by the religious strife in 16th Century England later in the story, especially for poor Nicholas Harpole. You have to love Mendoza’s wry coda to that story: “This shows that one ought to pay attention to omens.” (By the way, I was unable to find other references to this story, but that’s probably due to my poor Google-fu.)
Another example of this nifty foreshadowing: when Mendoza’s captors describe where she’ll live after she marries the great lord she’s been promised, “the most beautiful palace of Argentoro” sounds somewhat similar to the New World One Company base where Mendoza will end up at the end of the novel, complete with white marble, Indian servants, and monkeys. She’s also told her supposed husband-to-be will strike her with “thunderbolts” (traditionally one of Zeus’ weapons) if she wakes him up.
And finally, the motif of the garden pops up more than once in these chapters. She is promised an actual, I-kid-you-not rose garden in that same description of the (entirely fictional) Argentoro palace. In the picture book she looks through in the underground Company base, there were children “watching other children play games. Children in gardens growing flowers.” And of course, when she hallucinates her conversation with Christ, she learns that she is inherently evil because of a sin committed in another garden. It’s easy to see how Mendoza, five years old and terrified beyond belief, already begins to associate plants with both freedom and safety.
(That hallucination scene is interesting, by the way: Christ shows some of Joseph’s mannerisms and speech patterns, then pulls a red inquisitor robe around Himself when stepping off the cross. Is this an early example of the Company’s deep psychological conditioning of its operatives? In the end, it’s more plausible that this is just a hallucination. After all, little Mendoza is already half out of her mind with fear at this point and really doesn’t need more theatrics to be convinced.)
These chapters also contain the first example of the Dr. Zeus origin myth, which will pop up in different forms throughout the series. These are different from the factual descriptions we get in what feels like almost every story and novel in the series, e.g. the one in
the Prologue Chapter One. The origin myths are attempts to frame the “real” story in a way that makes sense for the Company’s young recruits. In this case, the unnamed Company operative tells Mendoza about Blue Sky Boy, the “king of all the thunderstorms” with a “spear made of lightning” who defeated mean old King Time—clearly references to Zeus and Cronus/Kronos.
In the end, I think the most important point in these chapters is the early formation of Mendoza’s character, with the successive betrayals by her family, her captors, the inquisition, and finally the less-than-ideal early treatment by the Company, which also reinforces what was broadly hinted at in Chapter One: Dr. Zeus isn’t necessarily the most humane of employers.
And that’s it for this week! Please join us again next week, when we’ll cover Chapters 5 and 6.
Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. You can find him on Twitter, and his website is Far Beyond Reality.