Casey: [00:00:04] Hello, I’m Casey Blair, the programming director for Fourth Street Fantasy and we are here for the 2021 virtual panel, Choosing What Matters: Concepts of Heroism in The Curse of Chalion. With panelists Stella Evans, Max Gladstone, Marissa Lingen, Paul Weimer, and Patricia C. Wrede.
[00:00:19] Today’s panel prompt is, “In The Curse of Chalion, by Minneapolis-based writer Lois McMaster Bujold, the god sent many unknowing people on the path to save the world, but only Cazaril stays the course and arrives able to do what’s needed. It isn’t extraordinary ability required of him but extraordinary commitment to compassion. His training takes the shape of moments of unfailingly continually choosing compassion as those acts build in scale of difficulty and significance. For the 20th anniversary of The Curse of Chalion’s publication, let’s discuss how Bujold pulls this off. How does she make this journey of disparate moments that are not quote unquote, “action packed,” so compelling? And why does this model of heroism and fantasy matter?
[00:01:03] So we’re going to let the panelists take it away for a while first, and then they will be back with us on Sunday, June 20th at 11am Central for a live Q&A during the con. So without further ado, let’s turn this over to today’s moderator, Max Gladstone.
Max: [00:01:19] Hello, everyone. My name is Max Gladstone. I’m the author of The Empress of Forever and the Craft sequence novels and also coauthor with Amal El-Mohtar of This is How You Lose the Time War. And I’m really excited to be talking about The Curse of Chalion today and about the special shapes of heroism and of godhood and grace in Curse of Chalion. It’s one of my favorite fantasy novels.
[00:01:19] Let’s go down the line and I would really appreciate it if all the other panelists would introduce themselves, and then we can start the conversation. From left to right. I’m just going to start. Pat, would you care to?
Patricia: [00:01:57] Okay, yeah. I think we’re all in different orders.
Max: [00:02:00] Ah yes, okay. Well, fair enough.
Patricia: [00:02:04] You’re gonna have to call by name. I’m Patricia C. Wrede and I have the the honor of having The Curse of Chalion partially dedicated to me. Cazaril came out of a letter game, which I went and found. So we can talk about that later.
[00:02:26] I’ve been friends with Lois since the early 1980s before she was published and before she moved to Minneapolis, when she was still in Ohio, and I’m really looking forward to this. This is gonna be fun.
Max: [00:02:45] Then I see Marissa next.
Marissa: [00:02:48] I am Marissa Lingen. I am another Minneapolis writer. I do heaps and gobs of short science fiction and fantasy, and I’ve recently branched out into poetry and essays for my sins. I’m also a friend of Lois’s and have enjoyed her work for longer than I’ve known her. That’s me.
Max: [00:03:12] And then I see Stella next.
Stella: [00:03:13] Hi, I’m Stella Evans. I am a physician in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I write essays about disability these days and parenting with a disability, both parenting a child with one and being a parent with one. And I have loved Lois’s work since before I ever met her and became a friend. And I am so excited to talk about community and how we are interwoven, grace, the choices we make, integrity, and how all of this plays into the themes in The Curse of Chalion.
Max: [00:04:12] And then I see Paul, last, but by no means least.
Paul: [00:04:17] Hi, I’m Paul Weimer. I’m a fan writer, also based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve been reading Lois’ work since the late ‘90s when I decided to start reading all the Hugo winners and like what is this? Who is this Miles Vorkosigan character and then when the Chalian and sequels came, I started reading those because like, oh, she’s branching into fantasy, not realizing she had written The Spirit Ring, I’d missed that and been devouring her work avidly ever since.
Max: [00:04:54] I’ve only had the pleasure, I believe, of meeting her one time. I was backstage for my first Campbell nomination. And I had a general sense that one wasn’t supposed to go cornering people and fan gushing at them. But I just couldn’t resist it. I had no other way. Hi, I love your books, and then I disappeared into a corner.
[00:05:15] There’s so much to talk about here in terms of the structure of the story. It’s slow unfolding of themes. I’d also be really interested if we have time before we break for questions in talking about how Chalian in general and Curse specifically fits into her larger body of work. But I’d love actually to kick it off if you’re okay, talking a little bit about the sort of history of the project, Patricia, and without the letter game. I think that’d be a wonderful way to begin.
Patricia: [00:05:45] Okay, well, the letter game is a game played mostly by writers or would be writers, but anybody can do it in which the correspondence. The only rule for it is you pick a character, you decide on a character, and one person kicks it off by writing a letter as that person, as their character. And ideally, you’re not supposed to talk about the plot in advance or what’s happening because you’re exchanging letters. You’re not in the same place. And I again, ideally, the first letter starts off with some sort of very generic salutation so that the other person has the maximum ability to make up a new character. So one of the letter games that I know of started “Haste to the Queen!” There’s danger! And the letter game that Caroline and I played started, “Dear cousin” which gave the relationship but not the gender.
[00:07:02] And at this particular, this was in the late ‘90s, the file that I have on my computer that has the remains of the game is dated 1998. And we only got three letters into it. I started and she sent back a letter, and I sent her a letter. We ran into a bit of a problem with it, because first off, our working styles are extremely different. Lois has difficulty in, I don’t think she’s ever really truly collaborated. She’s tried a couple of times, but it just doesn’t work for her partly because she is very much a burst writer. When she gets an idea in her teeth, she can do 10,000 words in a week in this massive push to get stuff done. And when she has that, that’s how she wants to write. She wants to sit down every day and write massive amounts of words. And if you’re exchanging letters, you have to wait for the other person to answer. And that doesn’t work so well. The other problem that we had was that both of us are very much accustomed to discussing our work with the other person which is not something you can do with the letter game.
[00:08:41] But what happened was we got we got three letters into this thing. I had written the third one and she came back to me and she basically said I have this problem I made up this character and I want to write about him but this is too slow. And I said okay, oh go for it. Go. Go play.
[00:09:06] We had sort of started with this because she had been talking sort of vaguely about maybe doing something more fantasy than… She’d done The Spirit Ring but doing something else. And she was a little worried about it. And I said we’ll do a letter game that’s fantasy and you’ll get a taste of it and see if you really did like it. Come on, it’ll be fun. And it lasted three all of three letters before she took the bit between her teeth and the next thing we know we have The Curse of Chalion.
[00:09:41] It’s very different from the background that was beginning. The letter game was just beginning to develop. And I don’t remember whether this was in the middle of her Spanish history—I think it was at the end of her, she’d just finished the Spanish history class, which had kind of occupied all of her brain cells. And she wanted to get back into working with the writing and such. And this was where all of this sort of came from. But the character that she picked for the letter game, she said she wanted to do something different. She wanted to do an older gentleman who was not particularly, action-adventure kind of. But who was… he was the secretary to the Duchess. I believe we had established that. And his name was Verno di Hasti in the letter game. And he had just been sent somewhere with as a courier with a bunch of letters from the duchess to somebody and that’s really all the background that we had in the letter game.
[00:11:20] But for Lois, the character always comes first. And is the most important thing. It is about the characters. And it was the character of this kind of, quiet little secretary to the Duchess, who had been sent off on this mission, that was who she wanted to write about. And the rest of it was shaped by that and by the Spanish history class that she had just taken.
Max: [00:12:02] That’s wonderful. And then so Caz came out of that and he—
Patricia: [00:12:05] That’s where. Well, yeah. Caz came out of the letter game. He was the Secretary and didn’t have much in the way of background. But my character was young and problematic, and Verno was lecturing him about not getting too involved in swordfights, and duels and so on. It would have been I would dearly love to find out where that was planning on going but it was never going to be.
Max: [00:12:43] That really segues us pretty well, I think, into this question of heroism and sort of action and what does that look like within both the world The Curse of Chalion and within Bujold’s larger body of work. You mentioned that she was interested with Caz maybe getting away from a more action-adventure archetype. And it struck me reading the Vorkosigan books also when I was a teenager, how interesting it was to have this swashbuckling, extremely adventurous space operatic series with a main character who is uniquely physically unsuited for participating in a kind of run down corridors and shoot at people adventure.
[00:13:33] But Curse of Chalion is stepping even further away from the kind of traditional action plot and we find—. Well, Marissa, looks like you have something that you want to say.
Marissa: [00:13:45] Well, I guess one of the things that I found interesting about it is that there is a physicality of Caz’s heroism, that I think is very much informed by his disability. That I was struck by how much of his heroism is a heroism of endurance, that is learned by his physical disability and is learned in his physical disability in the course of this book. That Caz, several of his acts of heroism are sheer physical stubbornness that he as a disabled man has had to acquire, that several of us as disabled people know very well having to acquire.
[00:14:36] And the first time I read this book, I was not myself disabled. And I found it fascinating rereading it as a disabled person. And having that flash of recognition of, ah, this is a person who knows what it is not to dart forward with the point of the sword at exactly the right moment. You know, not to have the strength of his arm, but just to hang on by his fingernails, and not let go.
Stella: [00:15:09] And yet, at the same time, there’s an element of, if you’ll forgive the levity, been there, done that, got the T shirt. Where there’s very much the pre-book implication that why yes, in fact, he was a spy. Why yes, the little anecdotes he tells. Why yes, in fact, he did have knives to his throat. Why yes, in fact, he did have all of these very hair-raising adventures, when he was physically able. That also built some of that mental endurance that allowed him, that shaped the mental endurance, as well as the philosophy of integrity that he brought with him into this book.
[00:16:12] And I do have a little tiny quibble with the panel description of this being a building scale of sacrifices. Because, he discusses lying there on the fortress roof, starving. They’re all eating rats. And I’m like, so that so these are these are building sacrifices?
Max: [00:16:36] It’s kind of hard to go up from there.
Stella: [00:16:41] But—
Patricia: [00:16:43] To the best of my recollection, that was part of what fascinated Lois about the character to begin with was having somebody in a boring job, being a secretary, who had a very adventurous past that nobody really knew about. And, wasn’t that part of his present?
Stella: [00:17:13] I have a terrible time with names these days. But there’s a story about an unadventurous man with a very adventurous, imaginary set of lives.
Max: [00:17:25] Walter Mitty?
Paul: [00:17:25] Walter Mitty.
Stella: [00:17:26] Yes. It’s almost a mirror image of that, yes?
Patricia: [00:17:29] Yes.
Paul: [00:17:32] Yep. And a little bit more liberty. I’m also thinking of the ‘90s sitcom Mr. Belvedere, where Mr. Belvedere clearly has had this wonderful adventurous life before and now he’s just a butler, although he had all these adventures. You look at him like, really, you did? And Cazaril has been broken down and become a secretary but he has this past behind him. And he’s been transformed, almost like through the chrysalis and the crucible of all he’s gone through into a different kind of heroism. From the I am the man of action and love and adventure to a man of where the most most adventurous thing he can do and it’s the most important thing to do is to persist and endure and keep going forward.
Max: [00:18:21] When you say that, Paul, I’m, gosh, something just slipped away from me. I’m reminded of the, if any of you have seen the Danny Kaye film, The Court Jester.
Paul: [00:18:35] Yes.
Max: [00:18:37] Danny Kaye has been hypnotized into being the great Giacomo. “I never walk when I can run. I never flee when I can fight.” And you do get a little bit of a sense that that’s something that Caz might have been like back when he was back when he was younger, and a little bit more impetuous. But it’s really cool.
[00:18:58] One thing that really struck me reading the book for the first time, lo these many years ago was Caz as somebody in a setting in which a certain sort of action heroism is possible, who’s also sort of older and has survived it. He was a much older fantasy character than I was used to reading, having about the same time having just come off of inundating myself with Robert Jordan novels. There are tons of extremely potent 19 year olds running around saving the world and having sword fights on the back of dirigibles and everything. Just the raw fact of one of those, of someone, of a fantasy person having survived to, I’m in my memory pegging Caz in his mid-40s or something, which seems.
Paul: [00:19:44] He’s 35, isn’t he?
Many: [00:19:44] 35.
Max: [00:19:44] 35. Okay, yeah. So there you go, which felt enormously old to me at 20.
Stella: [00:19:53] Although someone on this panel has godchildren who described Cazaril as having an old, so.
Marissa: [00:20:00] Yeah.
Max: [00:20:00] Oh.
Marissa: [00:20:01] That was striking to me on this reread that I’ve seen people now talking about how we need more new adult science fiction and fantasy. And I look at these people and I think what you’re complaining about is that it is not being marketed as new adult. So much of science fiction and fantasy is written as new adult, but it is not being specifically tied up with a bow as new adult, because Caz as 35 was much older than a lot of fantasy protagonists. Strikingly old, and he’s not even particularly notably middle aged by our standards. If a 35-year-old says, “Well, now that I’m middle aged,” people will argue with him.
Max: [00:20:47] That’s true. I mean, if I was to say that. On the flip side, I’ve lived much more sheltered life than Cazaril, having never been, I don’t know, suspended by my fingernails from a battlement and so on and so forth. So I imagine that does put a little bit extra mileage on but yeah. It’s interesting. This may get us a little far, though, I think it’s relevant enough. So let’s follow that a bit.
[00:21:16] When I hear the sort of new adult question, Marissa, it strikes me the distinction between, a fantasy, the life of a destined or chosen by fate to be the protagonist sort of 19 year old in a medieval fantasy milieu versus the existence of somebody who’s, I don’t know, just come out of college and doesn’t have any idea what they’re going to do in the world, doesn’t really have much of a place for them. That sort of rootlessness and confusion, which in a way, even though Caz is an older character, really struck me about him at the beginning of this novel. This is a man who is trying to figure out what the next stage of his life is going to be like, what do I do with the rest of it? He’s trying to figure out where he fits into the community in a way that felt extremely relatable to me as somebody who is starting to ask those questions and not finding any great answers for them myself in my early 20s. Much more relatable in a way than somebody like, I don’t know, Rand al’Thor, again, to bring the Robert Jordan comparison.
Stella: [00:22:24] I think he’s written very realistically in that Lois has written this older character who actually has prefrontal activation. Right? He’s thinking about the consequences of each act and choosing his act most of the time, intentionally, and acknowledging I can’t control what happens next, really, just what I’m doing. And even at the times, when he’s knocked back to a place where he has nothing. The coins have run out. He’s got feet, that are wrapped in rags. He’s got a back that’s been laid open. He’s got a bald head, because they’ve all been shaved for lice or whatever. He’s still looking at the next level up in terms of psychological development.
[00:23:31] Well, okay, but at least the slavers are feeding us. So let’s make human connection. Okay, if I can get to, I don’t have food, and I don’t have shelter, but if I can get to this place, I will be guaranteed of at least a few nights food and shelter. And that’s the mark of a mature character. And we don’t, even in writers that are writing mature characters, we’re not really seeing a lot of that.
Marissa: [00:24:04] I also think that there’s a really interesting distinction that I enjoy a lot between being chosen by fate and being chosen by the daughter of spring. And on some level, being chosen by the bastard as well. That when a character in extruded fantasy product has been chosen by fate, it’s a much larger groundswell and it can be going wherever it wants to go. And the character often doesn’t have to do anything in particular about it. But the daughter of spring makes choices and leaves choices for Caz. And those choices are very clear and with specific ends and with specific openings, and I liked the ideas and the thoughts that those produced about, not fate, per se. The individuality of these gods, the shape of this world was much different. And the thinking of what the gods in it was much different as a result. That it was a much clearer set of thoughts about what does it mean to have your actions shaped by the world around you and the powers that run it? And what does that leave you for your choices?
[00:25:33] I like the way that Lois has done the gods in this world as a result. And it looks to me after this many years down the line, like she likes the bastard best. And I can’t blame her. You know, I can’t. But on the other hand, I’m kind of glad that she didn’t start with him, because I’m not sure she would have gotten anywhere else if she had.
Patricia: [00:25:57] I witnessed—
Paul: [00:25:57] We have more—
Patricia: [00:26:00] Sorry, go ahead.
Paul: [00:26:01] We’d end up with more Penric than anything else, but I’m glad she came to Penric last as it were.
Stella: [00:26:08] Oh, no, more Penric.
Paul: [00:26:10] Yeah, but we wouldn’t have Caz and Ista, although Ista really is aligned with the bastard, too. But.
Patricia: [00:26:17] Yeah, I don’t think it’s so much that she’s fondest of the bastard. As that the bastard is the only one of the gods who has active agents in the world, easily. The bastard is the god who, the chaos demons belong to the bastard. None of the other gods have that kind of agency. They have to work through individuals, but they can’t give an individual a demon and then manipulate things that way. Because they don’t have demons.
[cross talk 00:26:53]
Max: [00:26:53] I also find the bastard extremely relatable. And I wonder if there’s something about that. That you’re running around giving people demons and sort of watching what happens and occasionally cackling.
Stella: [00:27:10] This idea that these gods have all this power, and yet, they can only act when someone gives up their will and says, okay, act through me is just this beautiful symmetry in this book. It’s just such genius.
Max: [00:27:34] I absolutely agree. And for all the fantasies and fantasy-related product out there that touches on Christian theological territory. I find this vision maybe even the most compelling. There’s this, you brought the word grace up, Stella, and I mentioned it also. And you know, without turning this into, you know, theology and theodicy discussion, I think that these books do effectively present the numinous realm, in a relationship with the tellurian world, in a relationship with the physical world that’s not purely instrumental. That’s not purely about the magic system. We hear those words so often in discussing the structure of fantasy. It really feels like there is a theological project at work here. It’s almost Augustinian, the desire to make room in your own self or not to be able to act except within the light.
[00:29:01] Yeah, go ahead, Stella.
Stella: [00:29:04] Like a bastard child. Yeah, pun intentional. But rather than wandering into theology, I love, as well, that it’s not just here is the temple and the god you know, is all powerful and here is the temple. It’s all the details worked into daily life. And that detail is part of what compels Cazaril down this path. He is actually devout in his theology.
Patricia: [00:29:45] It’s kind of hard not to be in this world—
Stella: [00:29:47] Where everyone gets a miracle.
Patricia: [00:29:50] Where it happens, and often enough that—
Marissa: [00:29:53] Yes, but you see people not being devout early, in the first scene. In the very first meeting. You see the other people saying I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to deal with this corpse. This can be your problem. Oh, you’re gonna deal with it for me, grand. So you know it seems like it would be hard not to be devout but people manage it apparently.
Patricia: [00:30:17] You can be devout and still not want to deal with the corpse that has been taken by death magic, that is like verboten and evil and worse than—
Stella: [00:30:29] Of course, then they [unclear 00:30:30] to beat the dude in the road that you just gave an offering to.
Patricia: [00:30:30] Yeah. Well, the gods in this world are not interested in morality in the same way that our religions are. They are interested in great souls. And great souls are not necessarily moral souls. That’s part of the background of these books is it is about great souls. And there’s a distinction there that I think Lois can explain it, but I have trouble grasping, but that’s basically it.
[00:31:11] In the third book, The Autumn, the one about the sun. Horse River is a great soul that went wrong and refuses to go to the gods and eventually, is sundered by his own doing. But part of the whole point of that book is that the gods trying to repossess this great soul and the great soul basically saying, screw you, I’m not doing that. And getting away.
Paul: [00:31:43] Right, and that brings me to something I found interesting on this reread. I didn’t catch the first time. The whole idea that there were many Cazarils being set in motion, but the Cazaril that we know is the only one that succeeded, the only one that persisted, the only one that followed through. Sure there is there’s plenty of devout people in this world. Lots of people set onto this path because, except for the bastard, the gods don’t have a very good hook on what the people can do. Only Cazaril in the end is the one that actually follows through to the end to break the curse. Lots have set out, only one ultimately reaches the finish line.
Stella: [00:32:21] Does anybody besides me get this image of the gods playing Plinko with people?
Max: [00:32:34] It does feel like that, right? And this, to me, gets at the heart of this issue of heroism. What does it look like? How it really feels like sets it apart in this book. We have Cazaril’s endurance, Cazaril’s willingness to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep connecting to people and continue, I don’t know, being human and invested in the lives of the humans around him. Even as forces are driving him through this great… You could almost call it a sort of… It’s like a Stations of the Cross project. He’s sort of being a winnowed away toward a particular kind of momentary sainthood.
Patricia: [00:33:20] He’s not being driven. He’s choosing. That’s the point.
Max: [00:33:23] Yes.
Stella: [00:33:26] But his… he has other choices.
Patricia: [00:33:31] Yes, otherwise the choice would be meaningless.
Stella: [00:33:33] But you get you get the sense, or at least I, it’s my thought, as I read this book, I get the sense as I read this book. That he… there is no other choice. If he’s going to act as himself. He looks, he sees them and to be Cazaril, to be himself. Is he tempted, a little, but…
Max: [00:33:33] Now, I find this really, really fascinating still and then to Marissa. I see your hand there.
Stella: [00:34:12] –His self and his core values don’t allow him to—
Max: [00:34:16] That’s it. You were mentioning earlier Pat, how clearly the character sort of comes into focus for Bujold as she’s starting to write and now that’s the gateway to the entire thing. And like Stella, I had this feeling that Cazaril is… While Cazaril is doing incredibly hard things and is wandering through, sort of working through the world making choices moment by moment, and he’s not being… there’s no finger on the scale. Nevertheless, the choices are always consistent with his own character in this way that makes a really nice chord in my head and my heart with the ways that this book is dealing with notions of free will and divine action in the world.
[00:34:59] Anyway, Marissa.
Marissa: [00:35:00] So what is not guaranteed, for me, is that it will be enough.
Max: [00:35:04] Yes.
Stella: [00:35:06] Correct.
Marissa: [00:35:06] He is heroic in his endurance. He is heroic in the morality of his choices and the greatness of his choices. And we are not guaranteed that that is going to be enough. And so one of the things that interests me about the idea of the gods trying again and again, is that that implies to me that elsewhere in Chalion, there are the next Cazarils going through their prior ordeals. And I asked myself, are they less heroic because they won’t face this final ordeal? Because they won’t have to. They won’t be this hero, because they don’t have to save the House of Chalion. Will they—
Patricia: [00:35:55] The gods in Lois’s universe are parsimonious. If they shape someone into a saint, they’ll find something for them to do.
Marissa: [00:36:04] Yes, they’ll have some other—
Patricia: [00:36:05] They won’t have this, they won’t have this curse to raise, but they will find something to do.
Marissa: [00:36:13] I think we know because no one is ever guaranteed that it will be enough. So we know that there is some next Cazaril who has gone through one or two of their trials by the end of this book.
Stella: [00:36:24] And that’s exactly right. That’s what creates so much tension around the wedding. And the day after, when you see that the curse remains.
Paul: [00:36:35] Spreads, even. He completely gets the idea wrong and spreads it. I know. I know. We’re spoiling, I apologize to listeners.
Patricia: [00:36:44] It’s 20 years old.
Max: [00:36:46] This is the celebration of the 20th anniversary panel. I think this is not hopefully… I’m sorry for any of you out there who were expecting this to be the no spoilers version.
Stella: [00:36:58] I do see this journey as, for all of these 1000s of protocols Cazarils as a pilgrimage that the gods are offering these choices to become great souls.
Patricia: [00:37:12] Yes.
Stella: [00:37:12] Not necessarily, to be sufficient to be a savior, but to become great souls and to act with integrity. To be true to who they are. Whatever that is.
Paul: [00:37:30] Or whatever challenges the gods put in their path, which won’t be this challenge because Cazaril has completed this challenge. But there will be others. I mean, look at Ista, who comes out of this curse and then winds up and [unclear 00:37:45] getting wrapped up and other challenges.
Marissa: [00:37:48] Yeah, yeah, she’s our proof. Yes, exactly. She’s our proof of concept. She couldn’t do this bit, but she has another. I’m thinking now it’s not incumbent upon us to complete the work, but neither can we refrain from it.
Max: [00:38:02] Yeah. Now the world does not exactly lack for challenges.
Patricia: [00:38:07] To say the least.
Max: [00:38:08] For curses to be lifted, you know.
[00:38:15] I remember being struck also by how Caz, in spite of the final unfolding of the curse, Caz is never sort of walking along thinking, ah, great. I’ve now clocked two out of the however, challenges and… Every attempt that is made in the narrative and this book anyway, to think about gods, curses, magic, whatever, in that fashion, goes horribly, horribly wrong. And even Cazaril’s own attempt to use magic or use the intervention of the gods instrumentally, even in this very specific way that people are acknowledged to do in the book doesn’t end up working the way that that he thinks. There’s a sort of side door through which strangeness for grace or surprise enters
[00:39:10] And you bring up also, the wedding, Caz’s own attempt to try to game out how the magic or the gods should function backfires on him horribly. It does exactly the thing that he’s hoping isn’t going to happen.
Paul: [00:39:29] So yeah, it basically happens twice. First, he tries to sacrifice himself so a demon will save Iselle and that fails. And then he tries he game out the wedding, I’ll marry Iselle off and that will take the curse off of her and that failed. So when he’s trying to fight against the system, or trying to manipulate the system in a way that a lot of extruded fantasy protagonists in fantasy would have you do like, oh, I have to work the magic system. That completely fails both times. It’s only one thing works and continues the way he’s been shaped to that he actually succeeds.
Stella: [00:40:03] Very Gandhi-esque, right?
Paul: [00:40:05] Yeah.
Max: [00:40:08] And it’s also athwart the way we usually talk about sort of basic story structure. Basic action or thriller plot story structure, Caz has things that he wants to accomplish, but almost everything he tries to do in order to accomplish them either fails or backfires, or makes the situation dramatically worse. Not in a way that undermines his own competence as a character, because it’s a to curse. These are gods. This is not something that is within his compass as a human actor to foresee or to control. And yet, through all of his actions, all of his attempts, however much they fall apart on him, he nevertheless gets where he needs to go. He accomplishes the thing that he needs to do.
[00:41:07] Which also strikes me as the sort of moment that grace comes in. There’s that analogy of the cup, right, that comes up in the menagerie. There needs to be a space for the divine to enter into the affairs of the world. And he sort of is making that space even as he is frequently and repeatedly failing to actually do anything that… He’s pushing the story forward all the time, but he’s failing to advance the plot in a traditional fantasy sense.
Patricia: [00:41:38] That’s because for Lois, it’s all about the character, not about the plot, not about the structure. Not about anything except the character. That is the heart and soul of every story she’s ever written. It’s how she approaches things. I mean, when we talk about her plots and things, I’ll say, well, they could do this. And she’ll say, no, he wouldn’t. And that’s the end of it. It’s like, it doesn’t matter what kinds of cool plot ideas I throw out. If they wouldn’t do it, they wouldn’t do it. It has to be consistent with the character. And half the time, the problem that I have is that I don’t know the characters yet. Because, she knows them from the start of the story down to the ground. She has an intuition of exactly what they’re like and how they’re going to behave. And she can tell when you say, well, why doesn’t he go and [unclear 00:42:36]down? No, he wouldn’t do it? He just, he wouldn’t. It wouldn’t happen. I may not know why… by the time I’ve read the whole book, when she’s written the whole book, it’s obvious. But at the time it’s working its way through the writing process, when there’s only three chapters. It’s not obvious at all, but she knows.
Casey: [00:43:02] We have about five minutes remaining, if you want to start doing final thoughts and wrapping up.
Max: [00:43:07] Yeah, that’s great. I mean, that’s in the way of a wonderful merging of the threads, there. The question of character, destiny, fate, action. I’m struck often by the thought of the way the author’s role in the story parallels, the action of some divinity or other, or creates this kind of proxy for it.
[00:43:34] Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about final thoughts. Is there anything that anyone would really like to pull the focus on that we haven’t been discussing, so far? Any aspect of it?
Patricia: [00:43:45] I think I just gave mine.
Marissa: [00:43:47] My perfect characterization in this book that isn’t Cazaril, that is heroic, that we haven’t talked about, is the divine of the bastard. And his partner, that I love those two characters so much. And the shape of their ending is so heartbreaking. And yet I believe in them. And I believe in their continued quiet heroism together. I love those two, and I had forgotten them completely until this reread. So I got to discover them all over again. So yay. I just wanted to mention them since we had talked only about Caz’s heroism, and not about the support of some of the other heroic characters in the book.
Max: [00:44:30] That’s a very good point. Thank you.
Stella: [00:44:35] I had some thoughts about safety, as it pertains to this book. Cazaril wants safety and he wants to narrow his world. And everything he does, he’s trying to narrow his safety zones, not expand them. He keeps… this is just a repeated theme throughout this book, and yet these women, primarily, burst into his life, the Daughter of Spring, and Iselle, and Beatrice, and the Duchess, not Duchess, I can’t remember the name for it. The provincara. And they force him to step to the edge of his safety zone. Because when we protect others, when we advocate for others, when others are part of the community. We advocate, we fight, we protect twice as fiercely as we would for ourselves. And through knowing them, through being in relationship with them, he becomes more himself than ever. And he expands his safety zone. And his integrity doubles.
[00:45:59] And this, in the end, is what makes him the Cazaril that makes the choices we know. It’s the women characters in the book.
Paul: [00:46:13] I like that a lot. The networking of him into this web of female characters, into this court that basically starts with the transformation of Cazaril from action hero to enduring hero starts when he’s walking from that coast to the court. And it’s completed when he finally accepts his role within that court, and how he supports them. And they support him and together, they are stronger and form a community. It takes a village to lift a curse in the end.
Max: [00:46:50] Yeah, I mean, I also see it as a sort of grail quest in a way even though it’s not explicitly figured as that. Just turning around that central metaphor of the cup, again, this is about preparing Cazaril, ultimately, to accept a wound or to recognize a wound that he’s been carrying, and that the [crosstalk 00:47:10].
Paul: [00:47:10] The tumor, yeah. And eventually, the destruction of that tumor, that wound, is what ends the curse.
Max: [00:47:20] Literally by being pierced.
Paul: [00:47:24] Literally by being pierced, yes. Exactly.
Max: [00:47:27] So—
Stella: [00:47:30] I keep thinking of that quote by Rumi and again, bad with words today, but, “This is how the light comes in.” Right? The wound in your heart is how the light enters it.
Max: [00:47:30] That’s wonderful. I think that’s a great place to resolve here and move to questions. Thank you all so much.
Casey: [00:47:53] All right, awesome. Thank you panelists for joining us. And thank you everyone who has tuned in for virtual Fourth Street ’21. Take care and we hope to see you at the con next year.