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Last Thursday Review: Locke & Key Small World

SPOILER WARNING: Be mindful, there may be spoilers here. Turn back if you are as eager to read this graphic novel without and poor knowledge of the content,

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Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

When I first stumbled on Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key in my local comic store, I wasn’t sure what to think, aside from the fact that the first couple of pages were interesting enough to warrant that I would spend my hard-earned money on it. At the time, going to school full-time for an undergraduate degree and working in a video store, I was rather tight about how I spent my little bit of cash.

But that day, I went home with a winner that would quite literally become one of the few collections that I was hooked on enough, at the time, to go out and buy immediately, no matter what was in my bank account or where I was working.

Now, in 2017, Hill and Rodriquez have tempted those who fell in love with the twisted history of Key House and Lovecraft, with another shiny hardcover, Locke and Key: Small World. As far as size goes, this column does feel quite short, clocking in at under 25 pages of comic. So, rather than a full size story, the reader is greater with what feels like a single issue of a comic, sweetened with a few extras (art, original script, adaptation views, and interviews). All in all, it barely sates the appetite for new content that fans of the series (such as myself) have been craving since the end of the original series. However, in the contained interview, Hill and Rodriguez promise that there are more stories to come entering around these characters, Key House, and Lovecraft. So far, this seems limited to some short stories and collections, with the speculation of another six arc story (no commitment to that as of yet, it seems to just be an idea.) They also promise that the long-awaited television series with IDW Entertainment is still on the table.

The story itself is currently self-contained, taking you through a single experience by some of the Locke ancestors. The art, as always, is beautifully rendered, the detail excellent and the colour vivid.

Despite this, I found that the story itself was somewhat lacking. As a current ‘stand alone’ tale, Small World is just that, small. Where previously readers were drawn in to Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey, and thrown right into the darkness within the first 5 pages of Welcome to LovecraftSmall World does not seem to lend itself to the same connection of character to reader. The Locke children seem quite cookie cutter. It seems as if a bit of connection was sacrificed in order to keep the story short and sweet. They are mapped on the page with care, but there seems to be pieces missing where the reader is supposed to feel for them. Each is most definitely individual, but aside from the stereotypical archetypes (the little lady, the trouble maker, the sage, and the fighter), there wasn’t much that seemed to make them a part of Locke and Key save for the fact that they are cast as part of the long line of Lockes to live in Keyhouse. At times, aside from the name and a double page decimated to introducing the readers to the new (or older) Locke family, it seems as if it could have been anyone waltzing across the page in the rolls.

The story, as said earlier, is linear. There are no flash backs, no flash forwards, and the whole tale seems to take place over perhaps the entirety of 3 hours, with very little fanfare, and even less exploitation of the previous dark atmosphere created by Hill and Rodriguez. The threat is quite mundane, only made a threat by the mishandling of a key. There is very little anxiety created by the monster that shows up, and the end is abrupt (though personally, I definitely grinned just a bit, because it was totally something that felt in tune with the level of threat created). Maybe this is because the family is not dealing , or has not yet dealt, with the true nature and breadth of what lies buried under Keyhouse, and as such the level of threat cannot reasonably be presented on the same scale.

There is one bit of the story that did have me perplexed, and that had to do with the previously established idea that one someone grows up in Keyhouse, they forget the magic of the keys, because the adult mind simply can’t handle what those keys mean. In this volume, three adults, all Locke’s, actively and knowingly engage in episodes with they key items. We know that Randell Locke, and even Ellie Whedon, forgot about the keys once they became adults (Ellie being a bit of an exception later on, as we learn that she has been manipulated). However, in this short story, not only do the adults know about the keys, but one actively created a new key as a ‘birthday present’ to teach his daughter how to manage a house, but another actively utilizes the Shadow Crown to tell stories. Now, there could be a reason for that, but I felt that the establishment that only the young could understand, use, and see the power of the keys was an integral part of those whole story, and that going back on it seems a little heavy-handed for such a finely crafted story.

All in all, Locke and Key Small World was a decent return to the world that Hill and Rodriguez built, and it could be a promising connection to another series in that same world. However, it does have its pitfalls. Value wise, it seemed a bit much to through such a small story into hardcover. I know it has been done before, but it seems like they are leaving the world and the story out there to float on its own, without any truly secure mooring. The beauty of the art fills in where the story falls flat, but there are holes that were overlooked. I hope that when Hill and Rodriguez return again to this generation of Locke’s, they will be able to bring back more of the thrill and imagination that existed in the original series.

3.5/5 for me, all things considered. Still feels right to have in on the shelf next to the other hardcover editions of the series. but, for something that was announced with a fair bit of hype in June 2016, it seems fairly scanty on the delivery.

Order Locke & Key Small World

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The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa and Adapting the Onryō for a Contemporary audience

UPDATE: It has recently come to my attention that this article has been added to a recommended reading list by  a couple of education programs, in relation to Drama and performance. If you are coming here from those sites and you have any questions, or if you are the library resources staff updating the links, please feel free to contact me at negrych @ gmail dot com. I always love talking with students and educators.

As a student, and as a Japanese historian, I have always been intrigued by the role that folklore and storytelling has played in Japanese culture. This is especially true when it comes to the Japanese traditional ghost story and contemporary Japanese horror; something about them always seems more rich, somehow, than our own North American tradition. Japan has always had a rich literary, theatrical, and cinematic relationship with its ghosts and its tales of horror; from Noh and Kabuki to the popular film and literature traditions of today, many of Japan’s traditional ghosts and spirits have been re-invented within the confines of our contemporary cultural understandings to reflect the shift in cultural and social perceptions of horror, tragedy, and the macabre. Fears of being set back on the karmic cycle have been largely replaced by fears of rampant technological advances (something which I investigated in-depth, and continue to be fascinated with), and key literary figures have been reshaped; where once the kuchi-sake-onna, or slit-mouthed woman, used to hold a fan to her face when meeting strangers, now she is depicted as wearing a medical face mask. However, one figure which remains a cultural constant is that of the onyrō, or vengeful spirit, a woman who was so wronged in life that she returned to torment those who caused her suffering. But how have the rampant and face-paced cultural and social changes reflected on the manifestation of these figures in popular culture? That is what I seek to explore in the following essay, which focuses on two popular manifestations of the Japanese onyrō.

The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa

One of my favourite stories is that of Lady Oiwa; I was introduced a few years ago to this particular folktale/kabuki play by a religious studies professor. Here was a folktale, a creation of history and popular culture so popular that it has inspired multiple recreations. Within it, a figure so tragic and so powerful that any who participate in a staging of her story, and especially those cast as lady Oiwa, would seek the place of her burial (which may or may not actually exist) to ask for her blessing to retell the story, or suffer their own tragedy (there is a series of accounts that tell of the misfortune that befell those who tried to stage the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan play without first asking her permission and blessing, and were met with a string of ‘Macbeth’ like bad luck). It is a tale of tragedy, betrayal, vengeance, and the problems that dishonourable behaviour can cause.

The ghost of oiwa

For those of you who have never encountered the tragic tale of Lady Oiwa and the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, the story goes a little something like this: There was a masterless samurai (Iemon)who had fallen on hard times, forced to make his living as an umbrella maker (historically true during the Edo period, when many samurai lost their livelihood due to the widespread peace created by unifying the country under Tokugawa Ieyasu.)  Oiwa was frail and weak after giving birth to her son, and was unable to help Iemon with the household; nevertheless, she did what any proper wife could do, she looked after their son and made sure that she was beautiful whenever Iemon came home, brushing her long silken black hair and being as dutiful a wife as she could be under the circumstances. However, because of Iemon’s failure, Oiwa’s father approaches him, and suggests that he dissolve the marriage bonds and allow Oiwa to return to her own family. Enraged, Iemon murders Oiwa’s father. There is more to this, a second story, wherein another man, Takuetsu,  accidentally murders his former master (in a tragic case of mistaken identity), and he and Iemon conspire to make it look like the second murdered man was the one who killed Oiwa’s father, and thus Iemon has succeeded in avenging that death and can continue to live as an honourable man, instead of the failure he has become.

Now, Iemon was a handsome fellow, and in his journeys he had caught the eye of a local lady of means, Oume, the grand-daughter of a prominent and successful man. In a scheme to separate Iemon from the more beautiful Oiwa, this woman and her family conspire to destroy Oiwa’s beauty; they do so by sending her poison disguised a facial cream, which immediately scars Oiwa’s beautiful face and causes her beautiful hair to come out in bloddy clumps. As a result Iemon, seeing his wife’s disfigurement, conspires to invalidate the marriage by having  Takuetsu rape Oiwa. In a strange break from his previously dishonourable behaviour, Takuetsu cannot bring himself to commit the act; instead, he forces Oiwa to look at her own reflection. Seeing what she has become, she grabs Iemon’s rusty and disused katana and tries to leave the home in order to avenge the wrong that has been committed against her, only to accidentally slit her own throat in the struggle. As a result, she dies cursing Iemon and those who conspired against her with her last breath. Coming home, Iemon wants to cover the death of his wife and hide the crimes committed against her, tries to hide it. Some versions of the story go on to say that the baby is also killed, and to cover his ‘new wife’, Iemon nails Oiwa and a servant to a door and tosses them in a river, declaiming them for having an affair.

With Oiwa out of the way, Iemon and Oume get hitched and plan to live happily ever after, or as happily as two despicable murdering individuals can plan to live. What all stories agree upon is that, after her death, Oiwa’s ghost returns to haunt Iemon, causing him to have horrible visions and resulting in him murdering Ouma and her grandfather. Did I mention that Iemon’s happy new union did not even manage to survive its first night? No matter how Iemon tries to escape, Oiwa always finds him, emerging from lanterns, long black hair matted, one side of her face horribly disfigured, and carrying their dead child. Eventually Iemon winds up at a monastery in an attempt to escape her vengeance, but even there Oiwa cannot be stopped, and eventually drives Iemon to madness and his death.

Adapting the Onryō:

The Evolution of the Edo Period Tale Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan in Hideo Nakata’s Adaptation of Ringu

When it comes to popular and enduring icons of onryō in Japanese kaidan, there is no idiom more accurate than the popular ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ From the early 19th century’s Lady Oiwa from the kabuki play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (東海道四谷怪談, 1825)1 to present day Sadako from Ringu (リング, 1998),2 no figure evokes more trepidation, fear, and anxiety than that of the vengeful female ghost, known in Japan as the onryō. However, over time there have been changes made to the nature of the behaviour and depiction of the onryō and the way in which vengeance is administered. At the same time, many aspects remain unchanged, and these are indicative of the deeper cultural concern with the kaidan. These differences and similarities are seen when examining Lady Oiwa, and Sadako Yamamura in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, a film adapted from the first novel of Koji Suzuki’s Ring Cycle series. Both of these tales gained widespread fame and attention, and thus ignited interest in the Japanese tale of the vengeful ghost across generations.3 These meeting and divergence points make it possible for the onryō to have as much of an impact in contemporary settings and for a contemporary audience as in earlier incarnations.

 

Lady OiwaGregory Barrett notes that in Japanese tales of revenge, the one seeking vengeance is typically a woman who has been wronged in some way.4 Despite the time between the original Kabuki play and Ringu, there is very little alteration in the nature of onryō‘s appearance and gender, save for a shift in age from adult to child. Furthermore, Lady Oiwa and Sadako are similarly dressed in flowing white garments, a colour understood to represent death in many Asian cultures; both women also have long black hair, and possess a physical beauty at odds with their manifestations as onryō. It is interesting that Sadako and Oiwa share in the loss of their hair, and the disfigurement of their faces.5 In most incarnations of Yotsuya Kaidan, the journey to vengeance begins which Lady Oiwa losing her hair; because she has been poisoned, when Oiwa attempts to prepare herself to act dutifully as Iemon’s wife “handfuls of raven black hair fell from her head.”6 Likewise, when Sadako’s body is found in the well beneath the cabin, her hair is still intact after a 40 years. However, as Reiko handles Sadako’s corpse Sadako’s hair peels away from the skull, leaving only putrefied flesh and bone. Yet, when Sadako’s spirit appears to exact her vengeance, her hair is still there, obscuring everything except a single protruding eye. This serves to make Sadako an unsettling figure of the unknown.

The second most notable similarity lays in the form of their betrayal. In both cases, there is a heavy association with water; after Oiwa’s body is found Iemon discards it, in order to escape his guilt. To so this “a wooden door was found and [Iemon] nailed a corpse on either side . . . cold-bloodedly, [Iemon] heaved the wooden door into the river.”7 Like Oiwa, Sadako is committed to a watery grave, trapped there and deprived on spiritual pacification which is due to the dead. Furthermore, both women were betrayed by those who were supposed to support and protect them; Iemon is a neglectful husband to Oiwa. He fails to take his responsibilities as husband seriously, instead choosing wealth and beauty over honour. This is furthered by the fact that Iemon is responsible for the murder of Oiwa’s father, which he committed in order to keep Oiwa as his wife.8

In Ringu, Sadako’s mother, Shizuko, commits suicide after being humiliated by reporters during a public display of her clairvoyant powers, jumping into the crater of Mt. Mihara; it was Shizuko’s ability to accurately predict the eruptions of Mt. Mihara that brought her to the attention of Dr. Ikuma, whose desire to display her psychic powers ultimately led Shizuko to take her own life. This same event also brought out Sadako’s powers, causing her to kill one of the reporters who claimed her mother’s powers to be fraudulent. After this, Dr. Ikuma becomes Sadako’s guardian; due to his fear of her, born from her own destructive supernatural powers, Ikuma throws her into a well, hoping that she will disappear forever, and becomes the catalyst for the creation of Sadako’s onryō.9 The film does not do much to establish Ikuma’s role in Sadako’s life, only that he abandoned his responsibility and was one of the catalysts for Sadako’s change into an onryō after her slow and gruesome death.

There are many differences between the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan and the adaptation of Ringu, reflecting the changes that have occurred in order to keep tales of vengeance and onryō appealing and unsettling. The most important of these changes occurs in the nature of the targets of the onryō‘s vengeance. While Lady Oiwa is a vengeful spirit who “would only torment the guilty and leave the innocent alone,”10 In contrast, Sadako is indiscriminate and takes after all those who come contact with the site of her betrayal, as she felt she had been betrayed by everyone with whom she had ever had contact with. This is a return to earlier Noh conventions, where ghosts bare vague grudges,11 and take their anger out on any bystander.12 In opposition, Lady Oiwa is focused on bringing pain and death only to those who were involved in her downfall and betrayal. Sadako’s unlimited anger is for the benefit of the audience, allowing them to experience fear and anxiety similar to older kaidan audiences. This also stops the audience from seeing Sadako as an avenging hero, and instead makes her a true threat in the minds of the audience.

Sadako from 1999's manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

Sadako from 1999’s
manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

The second difference between Oiwa and Sadako exists in the very nature of their character; while Oiwa has a voice, and is given means to express her feelings, Sadako is a silent haunter, with no voice or opinion. Not once is Sadako’s voice heard, and never is anything more than a ring of light seen from her point-of-view; in essence, she is the unknown. While flashbacks inform the audience of her history, all Sadako is given is a pattern of actions propelled by her unyielding thirst for retribution. This pattern serves to set her further apart from Lady Oiwa; Sadako is guilty of sinful actions, while Oiwa is sinless.13 The movie implies that Sadako is the product of a fantastical birth; there is speculation made throughout the film that Shizuko was lured down to the ocean by some unknown creature and the result of that relationship was Sadako who, as a result of this union, possessed psychic powers beyond that of her mother.14 The only blood on Lady Oiwa’s hands is her own,15 and suicide was glorified as an act of redemption.16 Sadako, on the other hand, has taken life other than her own; during a flashback, it is insinuated that she was responsible for the death of a reporter, and it is from this point that others truly begin to fear her abilities. Once again, this difference instills unease and fear in the audience, on a level reminiscent of the way Lady Oiwa’s onryō would have made the kabuki audience feel.

Sadako is almost a complete unknown in the film adaptation of Ringu, while Lady Oiwa is the polar opposite in almost all incarnations of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. The similarities that remain between them are the sake of convention, a reminder that at one time it was believed that such an avenger was given power for the sole sake of exacting vengeance for wrongs committed against them. The differences are created in order to evoke a similar feeling for the audience, one which leaves them uneasy and frightened. With modern society quickly becoming desensitized to violence and horror, the psychological Japanese film must adapt in order to instill the same anxiety as such onryō and kaidan instilled in the past. Ringu must also be evaluated as an adaptation in order to truly understand the evolution of kaidan; the film adaptation of Ringu and its depiction of Sadako is a completely different beast from what Koji Suzuki created in his novel. It is no secret that author Koji Suzuki’s novel is a much more in-depth study of modern adaptation of the Kaidan conventions, the evolution of the onryō as a vengeful spirit, and as a product of widespread cultural change.


 Footnotes:

1 This is the date for the first public performance of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan; however, the play itself is based on events which occurred in the 17th Century.
2 The original tale, Ring, was a novel written by Koji Suzuki in 1991. Subsequently it was adapted into a television film in 1995 (Ring: Kanzenban), a feature horror film in 1998 (Ringu) directed by Hideo Nakata, and finally into English (The Ring) in 2002. Additionally, it has spawned a series of sequels in the franchise.
3 Ringu‘s success is apparent in the fact that it has been adapted multiple times, in a variety of forms, and over a variety of cultures (American and South Korean). Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan‘s popularity is apparent due to the many adaptations and re-tellings it has been subjected to over the years since its initial debut as a Kabuki play; this includes customary visits to Lady Oiwa’s grave marker prior to any new adaptations being staged, multiple film and anime versions, and her popularity among figures of ghosts and women in ukiyo-e prints.
4 Gregory Barrett, “Vengeful Spirit” in Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989), 7.
5 In the case of Sadako, one never sees more of her face than a single, bloodshot eye, while Lady Oiwa is characterized by heavy scarring and disfigurement, a result of the poison she unknowingly ingested.
6 Arendie Herwig, “A Ghost at Yotsuya on the Tokaido” in Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004), 298.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., 297.
9 Here is where the film adaptations really differs from the novel; in the novel Dr. Ikuma becomes quite ill and is committed to a sanatorium, where he convinces a young doctor that his daughter, Sadako, must be killed because of her power. This leads the young doctor to pursue Sadako and, when subjected to her powers, to strangle her and throw her down a near-by well. However, when she was thrown down the well she was still alive, and her death came slowly as she tried to claw her way out. This death is what gave birth to the onryō, who had been wronged or abandoned by every individual with whom she had come in contact.
10 Barrett, 97.
11 Ibid., 99.
12 Ibid., 97.
13 Ibid., 101.
14 Again, this varies greatly from the novel; originally Sadako was the daughter of Shizuko and Dr. Ikuma, conceived during an illicit extra-martial affair.
15 Herwig, 298.
16 Edmond Rochedieu, Le Shintoïsme ( Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968), 184.

Works Cited

Barrett, Gregory. “Vengeful Spirit.” Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989. pp. 97–117.

Herwig, Arendie. “A Ghost Story at Yotsuya on the Tōkaidō.” Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004. pp. 297–299

Rochedieu, Edmond. Le Shintoisme. Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968.

 

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Enduring Foundation

Enduring Foundation

Aqueduct outside Spoleto, Italy. 2004.

A good story is like an enduring civic work; if it does not have a solid foundation, you spend all your time repairing the same structure. Caught in a perpetual cycle of repair, you are unable to move to the next project.

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February 26, 2013 · 10:33 am

Time and Fantasy: Musing on a Conference

On the 9th of February I not only had the pleasure of attending a conference that I had been excited about for month, but  the opportunity to present a paper of which I was quite proud.  To my joy this was A Conference of Ice and Fire, the first, and hopefully not last, conference organized by the English Student Society on my campus focused on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

The previous term the University had offered the first, and to my knowledge only, A Song of Ice and Fire focused class in Canada. Being a graduate student in History I was not allowed to take the course for academic credit, but that did not dissuade me. Despite the trepidation from my own department that I would be far too busy to handle my work load, excel in my courses, and audit another course, let alone do the assignments required, I forged ahead. To put it mildly, I had an absolute blast every Tuesday and Thursday from September to December getting ‘geek out’ with others like me.  To the amazement of a few unnamed individuals, it did not make any negative impact on the progress I was making with my own thesis.

As with most conferences ours had a guest of honour, a speaker of repute; this was Dr. Janice Bogstad from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Editor of sci-fi, Tolkien/LoTR collections,  she is a fascinating woman, and her experience within the sci-fi and fantasy, and comparative fields in literary studies is astounding. After a rousing morning of excellent papers, amazing conversation, and thought-provoking questions, Dr. Bogstad present us with a series of rather remarkable ideas regarding the concept of time in fantasy and in particular in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and the notions of sibling-hood.

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When she spoke of time in fantasy writing she brought up the works of David Eddings, one of the authors whose work I devoured as a teenager. I could not help but begin to think about how time works in his novels, especially pertaining to the Belgariad sage, and the joining books Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress.

In The Belgariad it would seem that time very rarely comes into focus from a flowing river of eternity. It is punctuated and measured only in prophecy and tragedy. This is especially true for Polgara, Belgarath, and the Gods.

The Gods very rarely seem to keep track of time in any nature, unless they are directly affected by tragedy or prophecy. Issa, the god of the Nyissans, does not note the passage of time, and is only brought reeling back into the flow when he comes to find out that the name of his beloved high priestess, Salmissra, had passed from one woman to another more times than a snake can shed its skin. For Mara, god of the Marags, time is a perpetual march of sadness, loneliness and misery after his ‘children’ were murdered by the Tolnedrans. The driving force behind the concept of in The Belgariad time is also rooted in the suffering of Torak  who sleeps endlessly, as if caught in a single long night until the prophecy wakes him.

For gods the idea of ceaseless and undocumented time is common place. For the continual existence of such figures time cannot flow as it does for mortals. But this way of measuring time can be juxtaposed onto Belgarath and his daughter Polgara. This notion is put forward in their respective off-shoots stories, where the two most timeless mortals within the mortal world condense their exceedingly long lives into manageable collections. Once again, time begins to slip away from the measurements that we have become accustomed to in our own world and in literature.

bigbelgBelgarath has refrained from writing out his history because it goes back beyond knowns records of the world. Belgarath is the first mortal to enter into the Vale of Aldur, and as a Disciple of Aldur and a user of the Will, the longest living one. He is, as his daughter Polgara calls him, the Old Wolf. When he enters the Vale seems time stop for him, held in a vacuum and unable to touch him. He spends years working at menial tasks without knowing that time has passed, isolated from the march of time. This is long before the War with Torak over the Orb of Aldur, the establishment of the Rivan king, and the splitting of Arendia. Belgarath only notes that time begins to move again in moments of tragedy; finding that the village of elderly people who helped him on his initial journey to the Vale has vanished, the death of his wife Poledra, and the death of his daughter Beldaran. Does Belgarath avoid time as much as possible outside of prophecy because it simply hurts too much to exist within it? As the Eternal Man, how does time make sense to him outside of prophecy and tragedy?

Polgara_595

The same if true for Polgara. However, as a woman who thrives on order and control, she does record the dates of major events, such as the death of her sister Beldaran, and the extinction of the Wacite Arend line. She, unlike Belgarath, has a direct connection to the flow of time, thought she does not always exist within those constrants. She too must watch those she grows to love, age and die, while not losing sight of her own will and passion. She must form those close connections within the span of the prophecy, or be the knife on which the world impales itself when the prophecy comes to fruition.

Prophecy, that tricky master or mistress, always has seems to have a plan waiting in the wings, and surfaces when a major split in time is on the verge of occurring. It surfaces and draws all of these figures back into the flow of mortal time; Mara learns that he is not alone, and that he does still has a child; Issa changes Salmissra into a snake, elongating her life and ensuring that he will be able to tell one high priestess from the next should he be called upon. Belgarath and Polgara journey with Barak, Silk, and Garion, all guided and measured by prophecy, who could only exist in the proper span of mortal time (arguably), with the right set of predetermined events unfolding.

The insight that we get from Belgarath and Polgara’s accounts help to explain some of the elements which Eddings incorporated in The Belgariad; we discover why Polgara is met with such awe and reverence whenever she presents herself, and why she must always appear in a certain fashion. They also explains why Belgarath has the need to run free and escape from the world; it has become difficult to form attachments when one knows they are eternal while others are merely ephemeral. However, Garion is their link to the mortal world, and he gives new meaning and flow to time.

Sibling relationships within these books are also interesting. The gods are brothers, raised and watched by father Ul and mother Universe, and yet they have their differences; the rifts and tragedies they experience give them a sense of time and yet do not bind them to exist within the constraints of the concept. Belgarath forges brotherhoods with those who come to the Vale of Aldur and become, like him, initiates of the Will and disciples of Aldur. Polgara must sacrifice her sister in order to set the prophecy of the orb in motion, and to ensure that Garion will one day meet his destiny, despite the fact that it will be centuries before he is born.

In contrast, Martin ensures that we have a grasp on the flow of time within his world, even if it is biased when it comes to key events. We know exactly when the War of the Ninepenny Kings occurred, the successions of knights who held the title of  Commander of the Kings Guards, and that Dunk the Tall rode as a hedge knight 89 years prior to the events in A Game of Thrones. Martin firmly cements his readers in a carefully constructed time-line with defined dates and orders, and yet those events that he leaves out are the more important.

These fantasy novels present one of the key problems that occurs in the study of history. What occurred directly before and directly after the most important events which we have recorded? What has been left out, and why? Is it absent because no one survived to speak of it, because no one had the heart to record it, or because it did not seem to be that important when it occurred? It is always a difficult question to navigate when looking into cause and effect in history, as often the small aspects are disregarded in favour of the larger picture.

Interested in the Books?

Belgariad Vol. 1

Belgariad Vol. 2

Polgara the Sorceress

Belgarath the Sorcerer

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