Monthly Archives: June 2021

Deconstruction Roundup for June 25, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is moving fairly quickly into the “cynicism” part of the various stages of grief.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are staring at things that have no business happening in the climate of your region and are wondering when, if ever, we will be able to get the political will to mitigate the disaster already underway.)

Pawn of Prophecy: The Fellowship Finally Assembles

Last time, because Brill was found to be spying on the farm (and because Garion was having pantsfeels about Zubrette, who he only had those feelings about because she’s the only girl near his age on this farm, inexplicably), with his pouch of red Angarak gold, Polgara and Belgarath decided its time to move Garion elsewhere. Durnik the smith invited himself along as Polgara’s escort, because he couldn’t let an old man, a woman, and a child go off on a dangerous journey without a man to protect them. And, although the narrative hasn’t confirmed this obviously for us, because he has pantsfeels for Polgara, and in Sendaria, on Faldor’s farm, men with pantsfeels express their desires by assuming authority and control over the women they’re being horny about.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapters Six and Seven: Content Notes: racism, sexism, sexual stereotypes

We start chapter six with the realization from Garion that traveling at night is terrible, and he really just wants to sleep. When Belgarath says it’s time to leave the main road, Durnik questions the wisdom of it, citing robbers and thieves in these parts and the lack of moon as reasons not to do it. He’s overruled, of course, with Belgarath saying they don’t need to worry about robbers, the lack of moon is good to ditch pursuers and travel unseen, since “Murgo gold can buy most secrets.” Which seems like an assertion without proof. So far, we’ve had Belgarath swap a coin, and Brill clearly seems to have been bribed. Also, I presume that Faldor’s smoked his were paid for in Angarak gold, as well, as it seems unlikely that the Murgo who bought them would go to the trouble of currency exchange. So that would also potentially be an issue, but there’s no explicitly stated reason or proof to Belgarath’s assertion. This would be an excellent time for someone to say “You know, you talk an awful lot of shit about the Angaraks, Mister Wolf. Do you have any proof, or is this all just racism?” But that won’t happen, because it’s an established fact of this world that Angaraks are evil, because their god is evil.

The unexpected appearance of a huge man in their way is too much for Garion to handle rationally, running on fumes that he is, and he bolts into the woods. After knocking himself silly on a low hanging branch, another person brings him back to the camp where the others are sitting around a fire. Polgara scolds Garion for running off, Belgarath suggests it was a good instinct, and then dismisses Garion’s concern that these people are robbers before there are introductions all around. Nobody, of course, is treating Garion’s entirely valid concerns about this. He hasn’t been given any useful information about what the future holds, and who they’re going to meet, and what the plan is. He’s also had to leave the only place he’s called home, and he’s exhausted from all the walking. Most kids I know would not be in rational thought mode in those situations. Plus, as introductions happen, it becomes clear to Garion that the two newcomers know Wolf and Pol by other names.

The fact that Aunt Pol might not be whom he had always thought she was was very disturbing. One of the foundation stones of his life had just disappeared.

Just like Faldor’s farm, so that’s two pillars of Garion’s life that have just disappeared, and the world outside is looking particularly scary at this point. But all he gets is a scolding because he didn’t listen to Polgara while in an altered state of mind and their friends had to go retrieve him. Let’s get these introductions over with.

“My large friend there is Barak,” Wolf went on. “He’s useful to have around when there’s trouble. As you can see, he’s not a Sendar, but a Cherek from Val Alorn.”
Garion had never seen a Cherek before, and the fearful tales of their prowess in battle became suddenly quite believable in the presence of the towering Barak.
“And I,” the small man said with one hand on his chest, “am called Silk—not much of a name, I’ll admit, but it suits me—and I’m from Boktor in Drasnia. I’m a juggler and an acrobat.”
“And also a thief and a spy,” Barak rumbled good-naturedly.
“We all have our faults,” Silk admitted blandly, scratching at his scraggly whiskers.

Silk’s face is repeatedly described as rat-like or weasel-like or otherwise unpleasant, sometimes in just by characters, but usually by the narrative, and Silk also does a lot of the subterfuge and less upright parts of their mission, so Barak’s description of him is apt.

Also, since everyone seems to be so distinctly different as to make it obvious where they come from, that seems like something that would be taught to a young child, such that Garion could look at Barak and tell the reader why he thinks they are what they are. Because Arends are also large, so there must be some other thing that distinguishes them from each other. But we don’t get that information, even though it is apparently obvious. At least our party seems to be more balanced now, as we have a fighter (Durnik), a barbarian (Barak), two wizards (Belgarath and Polgara), and a rogue (Silk). Garion might qualify as a sorcerer at this point. What they’re really missing is a healer.

The plan to evade pursuit and detection is to pose as a wagon party and head toward a nearby town to try and deal away their turnips, then collect a new cargo there to move to the next stop on their destination. Pol is unhappy about how slowly this plan moves, but Belgarath believes stealth is more important than speed at this point. To that end, he asks Barak to change from his armor into something that will blend better and not smell like armor. Barak grudgingly acquiesces and Silk take the opportunity to needle him about his hairy chest, suggesting that someone in his line dallied with a bear, in the same way that Barak razzed Silk that his face is what made Garion suspicious of both of them. They, too, seem to be a comedy duo, the strong serious one and the nimble quick dissembling one. The rest of the chapter is everyone clambering into the turnip wagons and setting off, with Garion sleeping until they pass through a village, which gives Garion the opportunity to overhear the plan of alternate locations to track if the first guess isn’t right. All still without mentioning what the thing is that’s been stolen.

The only redeeming feature to this chapter is that it’s short. Chapter Seven starts with more travelogue, or farmers that stop to watch them and villages where the children run with the wagons but the inhabitants are only interested if they’re stopping. “The ground was hard and cold, but the exciting sense of being on some great adventure helped Garion to endure the discomfort,” the narrative says. And then it rains, and “The adventure was growing less exciting.” While all of this boring travel is still boring, it does serve the purpose of pointing out that not all aspects of a story are going to be high action, and the disillusionment of the protagonist is kind of nice to see, as someone who recognizes the cycle of “new and exciting possibilities give way to a reality that is almost always both duller and crueler” in their own life.

The rain and slowness is really getting to Polgara, so she asks why this particular method and speed.

“Why wagoneers?” she demanded. “There are faster ways to travel—a wealthy family in a proper carriage, for instance, or Imperial messengers on good horses—either way would have put us in Darine by now.”
“And left a trail in the memories of all these simple people we’ve passed so wide that even a Thull could follow it,” Wolf explained patiently. “Brill has long since reported our departure to his employers. Every Murgo in Sendaria’s looking for us by now.”
“Why are we hiding from the Murgos, Mister Wolf?” Garion asked, hesitant to interrupt, but impelled by curiosity to try and penetrate the mystery behind their flight. “Aren’t they just merchants—like the Tolnedrans and the Drasnians?”
“The Murgos have no real interest in trade,” Wolf explained. “Nadraks are merchants, but the Murgos are warriors. The Murgos pose as merchants for the same reason we pose as wagoneers—so that they can move about more or less undetected. If you simply assumed that all Murgos are spies, you wouldn’t be too far from the truth.”
“Haven’t you anything better to do than ask all these questions?” Aunt Pol asked.
“Not really,” Garion said, and then instantly knew that he’d made a mistake.
“Good,” she said. “In the back of Barak’s wagon you’ll find the dirty dishes from this morning’s meal. You’ll also find a bucket. Fetch the bucket and run to that stream ahead for water, then return to Barak’s wagon and wash the dishes.”
“In cold water?” he objected.
Now, Garion,” she said firmly.
Grumbling, he climbed down off the slowly moving wagon.

Cocowhat by depizan

Every. Single. Time. Garion asks questions, good questions, and Polgara sends him off to do chores of some sort. It’s like she doesn’t want Garion to have any information at all, even though he’s picked up somewhere that Tolnedrans and Drasnians are merchant races. Firedrake mentioned a relevant passage that says Garion’s ignorance is a deliberate decision by Polgara, but as genesistrine pointed out, “innocent” should not mean “can’t tie one’s own shoelaces.” At this point, it should be obvious that they are in some form of danger, and that means Garion should be equipped with the tools to be able to assess and react appropriately to the danger in front of him, whether that’s by lying, running, or fighting. Yet, Polgara continues to insist that he can’t learn any of these things or participate in conversations. She’s putting him in more danger. At this point, there has to be a reason why she’s doing this, and if it isn’t made clear by the time we get done with this series, there will be annoyance. There aren’t even any hints about why she would need to do this.

(I can read between the lines and suggest that Pol wants an innocent because Garion is the Rivan King’s son and needs to be pure and innocent so the Orb of Aldur will accept him and the preservation of the Orb can continue. With the Orb stolen, that complicates things, of course, but Pol seems assured she can keep Garion sufficiently innocent for when they recover it. The problem is that thing entire speculation relies on indirect statements from the text, remembering the relevant Prologue passages and making an assumption that if something could be played according to trope, it will be. The author could help us out a lot by providing some confirmation here.)

Furthermore, that cocowhat is for me wondering why there are any Murgos allowed outside of Angarak at all. If what Wolf says is true, that they’re not really merchants, but spies, almost to a person, then the other kingdoms have less than zero incentive to allow any Murgo over their borders. Their goods could be traded at the border and then shipped further in using reliable and trustworthy persons, and that would prevent both the proliferation of Angarak coin (apparently not to be trusted) and Murgos (also apparently not to be trusted) in kingdoms that want neither of them. If all Murgos are spies, and it’s super easy to tell who they are because of their dark skin and scarred faces, then there should be no Murgos outside of Angarak. The people who should be the spies or the people we’re not sure about but who seem to have legitimate business on the regular so we can’t bar them so easily are the Nadraks. First you send merchants, then you send spies.

This entire sequence would work a whole lot better if we had an interjection from the chronicler here, or some event that reminded us that our narrator is unreliable or that Wolf is unreliable, to give us some necessary doubt about whether his pronouncements are the truth or whether he’s being a bigot and everything he says needs to be viewed with that lens in mind.

After this, the plot has them reach the city of Darine, and Garion gets excited again about the prospect of being in an actual city and the new experiences that will be inside. Once he’s inside, though,

From the hillside Darine had looked quite splendid, but Garion found it much less so as they clattered through the wet streets. The buildings all seemed the same with a kind of self-important aloofness about them, age the streets were littered and dirty. The salt tang of the sea was tainted here with the smell of dead fish, and the faces of the people hurrying along were grim and unfriendly. Garion’s first excitement began to fade.

Before we continue with Garion’s next question, we should back up a touch and show you the straight-up bribery that happens in front of Garion at the gates of the city without him making any comment on it. After Silk introduces himself as “Ambar of Kotu”, a “poor Drasnian merchant”,

“We’re obliged to inspect your wagons,” the watchman said. “It’ll take some time, I’m afraid.”
“And a wet time at that,” Silk said, squinting up into the rain. “It’d be much more pleasant to devote the time to wetting one’s inside in some friendly tavern.”
“That’s difficult when one doesn’t have much money,” the watchman suggested hopefully.
“I’d be more than pleased if you’d accept some small token of friendship from me to aid you in your wetting,” Silk offered.
“You’re most kind,” the watchman replied with a slight bow.
Some coins changed hands, and the wagons moved on into the city uninspected.

And then Garion has his paragraph about how up close, Darine and its people don’t seem quite as grand.

“Why are the people all so unhappy?” he asked Mister Wolf.
“They have a stern and demanding God,” Wolf replied.
“Which God is that?” Garion asked.
“Money,” Wolf said. “Money’s a worse God than Torak himself.”
“Don’t fill the boy’s head with nonsense,” Aunt Pol said. “The people aren’t really unhappy, Garion. They’re just all in a hurry. They have important affairs to attend to and they’re afraid they’ll be late. That’s all.”
“I don’t think I’d like to live here,” Garion said. “It seems like a bleak, unfriendly kind of place.” He sighed. “Sometimes I wish I were back at Faldor’s farm.”
“There are worse places than Faldor’s,” Wolf agreed.

They’re both right, Belgarath and Polgara. He’s right that money is a demanding god, although it’s being spoken in the context that the farm life has (or the itinerant one he had) is far superior to being in a city and chasing cash. Polgara is correct that most of the people are in a hurry, although there should be a little more cognizance that their hurry is probably “encouraged” by their employers, who are almost assuredly underpaying them for the purposes of their own profits and agendas. And they don’t really have any recourse to get better conditions, because these are monarchies or other systems of government that basically say “these people get to get rich, the rest of you get screwed instead.”
Silk leads them to the selected inn, and we continue to realize that Aunt Pol is always just like this, rather than being specifically the way she is toward Garion. At least she’s self-aware enough to recognize that she’s not any good at raising children. (Do we need to add “after all this time and opportunity” on the end of this?)

“It’s a suitable place,” Silk announced as he came back to the wagons after speaking at some length with the innkeeper. “The kitchen seems clean, and I didn’t see any bugs when I inspected the sleeping chambers.”
“I’ll inspect it,” Aunt Pol said, climbing down from the wagon.
“As you wish, great lady,” Silk said with a polite bow.
Aunt Pol’s inspection took much longer than Silk’s, and it was nearly dark when she returned to the courtyard. “Adequate,” she sniffed, “but only barely.”
“It’s not as if we planned to settle in for the winter, Pol,” Wold said. “At most, we’ll only be here a few days.”
She ignored that. “I’ve ordered hot water sent up to our chambers,” she announced. “I’ll take the boy up and wash him while you and the others see to the wagons and horses. Come along, Garion.” And she turned and went back into the inn.
Garion wished fervently that they would all stop referring to him as the boy. He did, after all, he reflected, have a name, and it was not that difficult a name to remember. He was gloomily convinced that even if he lived to have a long grey beard, they would still speak of him as the boy.
[…there is seeing to the animals, wagons, and dinner, which isn’t great but is better than the turnips they’ve been living off of on the road…]
After they had eaten, the men loitered over their ale pots, and Aunt Pol’s face registered her disapproval. “Garion and I are going up to bed now,” she said to them. “Try not to fall down too many times when you come up.”
Wolf, Barak, and Silk laughed at that, but Durnik, Garion thought, looked a bit shamefaced.

So Zubrette’s hat was to be a sexy temptress who lies as easily as she breathes and Polgara’s hat appears to be that she is openly contemptuous of just about everyone and everything because there is nothing in this world that can meet her standards and she generally disapproves of everything. So far all the named women are two-dimensional, which bodes ill for any other women that we are going to meet later.

Despite Polgara’s negativity about the men drinking, the narrative doesn’t mention anyone coming to bed drunk, and Wolf and Silk are off early in the morning to do business. Garion tries to get himself invited along, but nobody bites, and so he instead has a conversation with Durnik about how strange everything is. Durnik, being a simple man (who it is becoming much clearer is very much in love with Polgara, validating early Garion’s belief that Polgara and Durnik should marry), says “It’s probably better for simple folk such as you and I not to ask too many questions, but to keep our eyes and ears open.”, which, y’know, seems like good advice if what Garion wants is to avoid being given additional chores by Polgara every time he asks a question, but doesn’t actually do anything at all toward getting him in a position to understand everything that he’s going to be asked to do.

Garion, being a smart boy, realizes that he’s alone in the presence of another adult who might have a clue about his origins, and asks Durnik what he knows.

“Durnik,” Garion asked, “did you know my parents?”
“No,” Durnik said. “The first time I saw you, you were a baby in Mistress Pol’s arms.”
“What was she like then?”
“She seemed angry,” Durnik said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite so angry. She talked with Faldor for a while and then went to work in the kitchen—you know Faldor. He never turned anyone away in his whole life. At first she was just a helper, but that didn’t last too long. Our old cook was getting fat and lazy, and she finally went off to live with her youngest daughter. After that, Mistress Pol ran the kitchen.”
“She was a lot younger then, wasn’t she?”
“No,” Durnik said thoughtfully. “Mistress Pol never changes. She looks exactly the same now as she did that first day.”
I’m sur eit only seems that way,” Garion said. “Everybody gets older.”
“Not Mistress Pol,” Durnik said.

Which, of course, is a clue to the reader that Aunt Pol is not what she appears to be, and that she might be one of those time-untouched sorcerers. Again, it’s sufficiently obvious to a trope-informed reader that we’re really doing this for Garion’s sake, since he doesn’t have the benefit of knowing the prologue. But if we were really doing this for Garion’s sake, I feel like we should be trying harder to maintain the dramatic irony and only pull back to the wider narrative arc once Garion knows the information that irrefutably makes this more than a story about a farm boy.

Also, it goes unremarked-upon that Polgara was very angry when she came to the farm (a trait that she seems to have retained out of the resentment of having to raise Garion), but also there’s this “our cook was getting fat and lazy, so we were all happy when she retired to the countryside,” which, um, I know that running a kitchen is not actually a thing where you mostly give orders to everyone and enjoy seeing them all work underneath you, but what, exactly, qualifies as “lazy” cooking when you’re feeding an entire farm’s worth of people several meals a day, plus or minus trifles, bread, and other such things that might be needed throughout the day? And how does this get traced back to the head of the kitchen being lazy? Wouldn’t it be far more likely that some underling would be found to be at fault and not working hard enough to meet impossible standards, and they would be dismissed instead? It doesn’t ring true to me that any cook who could successfully pull off the feeding of Faldor’s farm on a daily basis would be anywhere near a definition of lazy. Plus, I would have thought that the idea of a fat cook is a benefit, not a detriment, because that means the cook is probably tasting, sampling, and otherwise making sure the food is correctly prepared. (Also, running a kitchen when 90% of the labor required has to be done by hand, and the other 10% has to be done by hand to get the fuel so the ovens can run would presumably mean that if there’s mass being added to the cook, it’s probably musculature.) All of this is to say, I can believe the cook getting old and a replacement being needed for her, because she’s slowing down too much to be able to keep up with the demands of the kitchen (which would be perfectly fine for her to then retire with her youngest daughter), and it’s possible that all of the time she’s spent building muscle is no longer being maintained as muscle because she’s slowed down to the point where she can’t keep up with the pace of the kitchen, but “fat” and “lazy” are both pejoratives that say something about the speaker rather than about the cook. Now, since we know Durnik has the hots for Polgara, is this an intentional author choice to show Durnik’s prejudice in favor of Polgara? Almost assuredly not, but it would be a good author that made those words as a deliberate choice to hint at the reader that Durnik’s perspective is not as neutral as he claims it to be or that Garion thinks it is.

Speaking of the plot, it turns out that Darine has no trace of the thief, so they’ll have to go to Muros. Which means they have to dump the turnip wagons and haul something else so they don’t appear particularly memorable to any following Murgos. Garion asks to accompany Silk on his quest to dump the turnips, and Aunt Pol agrees, thinking it won’t do any harm and will allow her to get some errands done.

Whereupon Silk cheerfully explains to Garion the business of doing business. We find out that Garion may not have been taught his numbers all that well, nor currency exchange rates, as when Silk lays out that a hundredweight of turnips will sell for a Drasnian silver coin (which is apparently close enough to a Tolnedran silver coin, the imperial, for the exercise), but their merchant will try to buy it from them for only half of that at most, Garion has trouble computing that their thirty hundredweight will net them fifteen silver coins, which, at least if they’re Tolnedran, will result in three gold coins (gold crowns), setting the current exchange rate at five imperials to one crown. (Gold, of course, is preferable to silver, because fewer coins means less weight to carry around.)

Silk also tells Garion that they bought the turnips for five imperials, which makes Garion unhappy that the farmer gets five, the middle-person gets fifteen, and the merchant gets thirty. Silk shrugs and says that’s capitalism for you (although not in those words). Silk also mentions there’s going to be a lot of lying between himself and the merchant, and that it’s customary to do so, and that no matter what Silk says, nor what attention the merchant pays to him, Garion should not show surprise, because supposedly, flattering the child is supposed to help the merchant gain an advantage.

“You’re going to lie?” Garion was shocked.
“It’s expected,” Silk said. “He’ll lie too. The one of us who lies the best will get the better of the bargain.”
“It all seems terribly involved,” Garion said.
“It’s a game,” Silk said, his ferretlike face breaking into a grin. “A very exciting game that’s played all over the world. Good players get rich and bad players don’t.”
“Are you a good player?” Garion asked.
“One of the best,” Silk replied modestly. “Let’s go in.”

I’m not sure I can effectively articulate my contempt for Silk’s attitude here, but I also live in a society where treating all of this as a game has resulted in disparities of wealth of the kind that Silk might be able to imagine, and would probably approve of, even though the ugly underside of all of this is that the farmers get screwed while the merchants and nobles play this game.
I think this also touches a nerve because there’s so much evidence around in this time, almost thirty years after publication, that the people who are obscenely wealthy do treat money and the livelihoods of others as if it were a game, because after a certain point of wealth, it’s just numbers to keep score with, rather than any sort of material improvement of someone’s life, and those numbers could be used to make the lives of others materially better, if only there were the will to do so among those that have bought their way into government.

I have a feeling that soviet-style communism would be really popular among the farmers and creators of the products that the merchants then sell at profit all around the world. Yes, even though this is being written in a time before the Great Politics Mess-Up. Belgarath seems to be the person most opposed to this capitalist reality, but I suspect he would be able to exist outside of it if he wanted to.

They go into the merchant’s house, and the scenario plays out exactly as Silk described it beforehand, but Garion is smart enough to play his role and to notice when Silk and the merchant start waving their hands around as they talk, and then eventually, the business is concluded without there appearing to have been any deal struck verbally. Garion points this out, Silk says there was plenty of conversation going on if Garion was paying attention, and Garion mentions that he saw the hands moving, but didn’t know what to make of it.

“That’s how we spoke,” Silk explained. “It’s a separate language my countrymen devised thousands of years ago. It’s called the secret language, and it’s much faster than the spoken one. It also permits us to speak in the presence of strangers without being overheard. An adept can conduct business while discussing the weather, if he chooses.”
“Will you teach it to me?” Garion asked, fascinated.
“It takes a long time to learn,” Silk told him.
“Isn’t the trip to Muros likely to take a long time?” Garion suggested.
Silk shrugged. “As you wish,” he said. “It won’t be easy, but it’ll help pass the time, I suppose.”

Silk is a better parent than Polgara is, although that’s not a high bar to clear, but when Polgara was suggesting that hanging out with him wouldn’t do any harm, I think that’s pretty much the opposite of what’s going to happen here, because not only is Garion going to learn a whole lot about the “game” of capitalism, he’s going to learn the secret language of the capitalists themselves. If there was anything that was going to wreck that perfect innocence of the farmboy and teach him all sorts of bad habits, I would say this would be the thing that would do it, much more than hanging out with Wolf in houses of vice. But, of course, I’m also someone who might have a critical perspective with regard to unchecked capitalism.

The remainder of the chapter involves Silk going to another merchant to try and get a contract to move goods with the wagons to the place where they’re trying to go. This is complicated by the presence of a Murgo at the merchants, but unlike the two previous Murgos, while this one is still scarred on the face, he’s actually got a name! (It’s Asharak of Rak Goska.) Less good for the protagonists, he also knows Ambar of Kotu on sight and has some indelicate questions for him, like why he’s still alive despite having a very large bounty for his head.

Silk laughed easily. “A minor understanding, Asharak,” he said. “I was merely investigating the extent of Tolnedran intelligence gathering activities in your kingdom. I took some chances I probably shouldn’t have, and the Tolnedrans found out what I was up to. The charges they leveled at me were fabrications.”
“How did you manage to escape?” Asharak asked. “The soldiers of King Taur Urgas nearly dismantled the kingdom searching for you.”
“I chanced to meet a Thullish lady of high station,” Silk said. “I managed to prevail upon her to smuggle me across the border into Mishrak ac Thull.”
“Ah,” Asharak said, smiling briefly. “Thullish ladies are notoriously easy to prevail upon.”
“But most demanding,” Silk said. “They expect full repayment for any favors. I found it more difficult to escape from her than I did from Cthol Murgos.”
“Do you still perform such services for your government?” Asharak asked casually.
“They won’t even talk to me,” Silk said with a gloomy expression. “Ambar the spice merchant is valuable to them, but Ambar the poor wagoneer is quite another thing.”
“Of course,” Asharak said, and his tone indicated that he obviously did not believe what he was told.

This is very bro talk, bro, let me tell you about my exploits, bro, and it is presumably just as much a game as the merchant talk is, because Asharak doesn’t believe a word of it and Silk has no inclination to tell him anything like the truth. Which makes it an interesting choice that the two of them apparently agree that Thull women are easy enough to seduce and have a voracious appetite for sex. And, if I recall correctly, the Thulls are also dark-skinned, so what we have here is a stereotype about sexually insatiable women of color, but who are also clingy and want to make sure any man they’ve caught stays with them. This book is doing its very best to make us all hate it.

Right after this exchange between Asharak and Silk, Asharak looks casually at Garion, and Garion knows without knowing why that Asharak is the cloaked man on the horse that he’s been seeing all his life (the one that doesn’t cast any shadow), which probably explains why this Murgo has a name and more than just a bit part in the story. It also allows the reader to partake in some dramatic irony, as Silk confidently says that he knows that Asharak is up to something, and Asharak knows he’s up to something, but unless their paths cross, they’ll stay out of each other’s way and not interfere, because they’re “professionals.” Now might be a good time for Garion to mention that he thinks the two of them might be crossing paths again sometime soon, but he doesn’t mention it at all.

Silk also complains that the merchant that gives him a contract to move hams from one place to another should have offered ten silver nobles, not seven, and when Garion asks about why he insisted on Tolnedran coins instead of Sendarian ones, Silk says they’re purer silver, so the coins are worth more, and the chapter ends with Silk starting his instruction in the secret language to Garion as they roll out of Darine. I’m sure someone somewhere has measured the relative purity of the silver in the coins and then published it. I would assume whichever country ranked lowest on that list has their own report that ranks someone else lowest, and so forth. Although, in this world, it seems like there would be an agreement among the non-Angaraks to always rank Angarak coin as being of the least purity and value, since they’re predisposed to hate all the people that might worship Torak.

Having spent a little time mostly so that Garion can have some new experiences and meet the Murgo who he believes is the one that’s been pursuing him all this time, we’ll go back on the road for next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for June 18, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is trying to run ahead of the many possible things that will be coming due to them soon enough.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are engaged in necessary conversations with others about risk tolerance and how quickly or slowly to move in the direction of returning toward the new normal.)

Pawn of Prophecy: A Hasty Departure

Last time, Garion hit puberty, we found out that in addition to being illiterate, he had no ability to swim, and Garion shared his first kiss (and likely several more) with Zubrette in exchange for sweets stolen from the kitchen. Oh, and there was another Murgo, who wanted to do business with Faldor, who refused him, to the shrieks of his daughter and the sniffs of her husband.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter Five: Content Notes: ableism

This chapter starts with the return of Wolf to the farm, after what we are told is a five year absence. The storyteller is not nearly as happy and boisterous as he was before, and desires to talk to Aunt Pol. Garion warns him that Aunt Pol is not in a good mood, but Wolf says that they’ll have to chance it. After he makes a gesture in the air that Polgara understands but Garion doesn’t, Polgara sends Garion out to collect carrots while they talk.

Eavesdropping, of course, was not a nice habit and was considered the worst sort of bad manners in Sendaria, but Garion had long ago concluded that whenever he was sent away, the conversation was bound to be very interesting and would probably concern him rather intimately. He had wrestled briefly with his conscience about it; but, since he really saw no harm in the practice—as long as he didn’t repeat anything he heard—conscience had lost to curiosity.

I find it interesting that this is framed as curiosity versus manners, when for the last four chapters, Polgara has been deliberately withholding information from Garion and sending him out of the room at every point in time where she has to discuss something that might concern him. He’s of the age where he might need to be present, or it might be time to talk to him about certain things, rather than continuing to believe that if he doesn’t hear about it, he won’t conceive of the idea on his own.

The first part of the conversation between Belgarath and Polgara is about Belgarath needing to follow something’s trail, which I think we’re supposed to be able to read between the lines as a suggestion that perhaps the Orb of Aldur has been stolen, with the pathway the unnamed entity is taking designed to get him into Angarak country as fast as possible. And that the theft happened four weeks ago. This is, again, the object that has a very specific hatred for people with evil intent, and therefore I wonder about how this thief has survived for four weeks. And, we also remember, the first Rivan King set the Orb into a sword supposedly so massive that only he could draw and wield it, so if the orb has been stolen, it’s by someone who hasn’t been toasted by the orb out of spite and who can also lug the giant sword that it’s been set into (or who could break it). This would be a very special person, indeed.

But since the Orb itself is not mentioned by name, we’re not sure that’s what happened. Polgara says that if Belgarath wants her help on this, they’ll have to take Garion along. She mentions the Murgo who came at “last Erastide” and who was asking all the wrong questions. When Belgarath suggests that they move Garion to be with friends, Polgara shuts that idea down and says Garion is the most safe with her, even if they’re deep in enemy territory.

“Last spring I caught him in the barn with a girl about his own age. As I said, he needs watching.”
Wolf laughed then, a rich, merry sound. “Is that all?” he said. “You worry too much about such things.”
“How would you like it if we returned and found him married and about to become a father?” Aunt Pol demanded acidly. “He’d make an excellent farmer, and what matter if we’d all have to wait a hundred years for the circumstances to be right again?”
“Surely it hasn’t gone that far. They’re only children.”
“You’re blind, Old Wolf,” Aunt Pol said. “This is backcountry Sendaria, and the boy’s been raised to do the proper and honorable thing. The girl’s a bright-eyed little minx who’s maturing much too rapidly for my comfort. Right now charming little Zubrette is a far greater danger than any Murgo could ever be. Either the boy goes along, or I won’t go either. You have your responsibilities, and I have mine.”
“There’s no time to argue,” Wolf said. “If it has to be this way, then so be it.”

Pol has the right of it. Because one of those things that isn’t present in most generic fantasy kingdoms is effective birth control. Mind you, there’s still a prodigious amount of shade being thrown on Zubrette here, as Aunt Pol is making her out to be a shameless hussy who is trying to get pregnant by Garion (or possibly anybody else on the farm).

The other, more charitable interpretation that is utterly unsupported by the narrative, Polgara, or anybody else, is that Zubrette is a girl who is trying to act like an older woman without understanding the full consequences of any of the things she’s doing. Because, up to this point, if there’s been any discipline enforced on her, it appears to have been something done by Polgara to her to try and get her to back off of Garion, rather than consequences that teach her about why being someone who can lie so easily is bad for her, or the standardish generic fantasy kingdom idea (deeply rooted in patriarchal and misogynist religions of Terra) that a woman’s value is in her virginity and marriageability and therefore Zubrette should not be putting herself in such a situation where her most valuable treasure might be stolen from her or put in doubt in any sort of way. But, the good thing is that after this chapter, we won’t have to deal with the narrative (or the chronicler, or Polgara) making Zubrette out to be the worst ever. I’m sure there will be plenty of other women for the narrative to be hostile to in the future.

Having decided they have to go, Polgara goes to Faldor and apologizes that she has to go because of a family emergency, and that no, she will not be coming back. Garion notices the new farmer, Brill, eavesdropping in the same way that he is on this particular conversation between Polgara and Faldor, and

To observe the unsavory Brill duplicating his own seemingly harmless pastime, however, made Garion quite uncomfortable—even slightly ashamed of himself.

Which, y’know, that’s the right kind of self-awareness that a child of fourteen might have about how what he’s been doing might be perceived by others. I still feel like Garion’s more than earned the need to eavesdrop on Polgara in all of her conversations, even if he gets chased off by Polgara every time she spots him doing so.

The plot continues with Wolf telling a story to the crowd about a people that aren’t in existence any more, the Marags, who had a whole bunch of gold in their kingdom, which brought them to the attention of their neighbors, and with that attention came war.

The pretext for the war was the lamentable fact that the Marags were cannibals. While this habit is distasteful to civilized men, had there not been gold in Maragor it might have been overlooked.

I have some questions about this statement, myself. Not “they discovered gold, and therefore their neighbors descended on them to kill them,” not even “their neighbors used a flimsy pretext to justify their war,” because as a USian, my history, and even the history at the time of writing, was littered with (and potentially had ongoing) wars over resources being fought at the flimsiest of pretexts. No, the thing that gets me is that Wolf said the pretext chosen to fight the war was true. Which, being Belgarath, he probably knows from experience rather than rumor, and he passes off cannibalism as something that civilized folks look down upon, but that otherwise isn’t a thing to worry about. Makes me wonder what kind of world we are in. And also whether the Marags were light or dark skinned.

Plus, the point of the story isn’t about the Marags as cannibals, it’s about the ghosts of the Marags that still haunt their land and that drive people who try to take their gold to their deaths over fear. Which happens to all but one of the would-be thieves over seeing things that Wolf isn’t describing. The last one, who isn’t afraid of ghosts, gets himself surrounded and then devoured by the ghosts, because not being afraid of ghosts is apparently not a protection against them when you’re stealing cursed gold from them. Which is a pretty grisly tale to tell for the evening entertainment. Durnik gets to play straight man this time, having a complete confusion about how incorporeal beings are able to eat human flesh, which apparently sets him up for the joke.

Durnik the smith, who was sitting nearby, had a perplexed expression on his plain face. Finally he spoke, “I would not question the truth of your story for the world,” he said to Wolf, struggling with the words, “but if they ate him—the ghosts, I mean—where did it go? I mean—if ghosts are insubstantial, as all men say they are, they don’t have stomachs, do they? And what would they bite with?”
Wolf’s face grew sly and mysterious. He raised one finger, as if he were about to make some cryptic reply to Durnik’s puzzled question, and then he suddenly began to laugh.
Durnik looked annoyed at first, and then, rather sheepishly, he too began to laugh. Slowly, the laughter spread as they all began to understand the joke.
“An excellent jest, old friend,” Faldor said, laughing as hard as the others. “And one from which much instruction may be gained. Greed is bad, but fear is worse, and the world is dangerous enough without cluttering it with imaginary hobgoblins.” Trust Faldor to twist a good story into a moralistic sermon of some kind.
“True enough, good Faldor,” Wolf said more seriously, “but there are things in this world which can’t be explained away or dismissed with laughter.”
Brill, seated near the fire, dad not joined in the laughter. “I’ve never seen a ghost,” he said sourly, “not ever met anyone who has, and I for one don’t believe in any kind of magic or sorcery or such childishness.” And he stood up and stamped out of the hall almost as if the story had been a kind of personal insult.

And Faldor shows his simple farmer self again.

That said, I don’t actually get the joke, either, and I feel like Faldor’s moralistic interpretation is bolted on so as to give an explanation as to why everyone is laughing that isn’t “look at the person trying to take the allegory as a literal truth,” or “look at the person trying to make sense out of what is clearly meant to be just a story,” which would be very cruel for Belgarath to do, but given that his Wolf persona is just that, an act, perhaps the mask slipped a touch and we got to see more of the real Belgarath there than we were supposed to.

Oh, and spoiler: the story was told so as to be a personal insult to Brill. Whether intentionally or not, we don’t know, but the narrative suggests it wasn’t intentional. Brill’s behavior finally gets Garion to tell Polgara about the eavesdrop Brill did, which makes Belgarath want to give Brill a personal visit. Brill’s quarters, according to Garion, look like someone was trying to leave in a hurry, and so, after Belgarath examines the space, takes them to the stables, where Brill threatens Wolf with a short sword, Garion steps in front of him and tries to attack Brill with his knife, but rather than die from an ill-thought action, Durnik appears and uses an ox yoke to beat the sword out of Brill’s hands then knock him flat before chiding Garion that the knife he made for him was not meant to be used that way. At which point Wolf seizes Brill’s pouch full of gold as proof that he’s not a simple farmer, and Polgara arrives on the scene.

“Did you—?” she left it hanging.
“No, He drew a sword, but Durnik happened to be nearby and knocked the belligerence out of him. The intervention was timely. Your cub here was about to do battle. That little dagger of his is a pretty thing, but not really much of a match for a sword.”
Aunt Pol turned on Garion, her eyes ablaze. Garion prudently stepped back out of reach.
“There’s no time for that,” Wolf said, retrieving the tankard he had set down before leaving the kitchen. “Brill had a pouchful of good red Angarak gold. The Murgos have set eyes to watching this place.
[…Belgarath tells Polgara to get packing, and Durnik to give them cover and time to get away before Brill or anyone else comes after them…]
“Someone else is going to have to do that,” Durnik said slowly. “I’m not sure what this is all about, but I am sure that there’s danger involved in it. It appears that I’ll have to go with you—at least until I’ve gotten you safely away from here.”
Aunt Pol suddenly laughed. “You, Durnik? You mean to protect us?”
He drew himself up. “I’m sorry, Mistress Pol,” he said. “I will not permit you to go unescorted.”
Will not permit?” she said incredulously.
“Very well,” Wolf said, a sly look on his face.
“Have you totally taken leave of your senses?” Aunt Pol demanded, turning on him.
“Durnik’s shown himself to be a useful man,” Wolf said. “If nothing else, he’ll give me someone to talk with along the way. Your tongue’s grown sharper with the years, Pol, and I don’t relish the idea of a hundred leagues or more with nothing but abuse for companionship.”
“I see you’ve finally slipped into your dotage, Old Wolf,” she said acidly.
“That’s exactly the sort of thing I meant,” Wolf replied blandly. “Now gather a few necessary things, and let’s be away from here. The night’s passing rapidly.”

And so everyone grabs their stuff and heads out, Garion with a passing thought for how terrible it will be that Doroon and Zubrette will almost surely get together now, and one more for the fact that he’s leaving the one place that he’s actually known all of his life. And that is the end of Chapter Five.

I feel for Durnik here. Much like Garion, he’s stepped into something that he doesn’t actually know the full import of, and he’s willingly putting himself in danger insisting he accompany people who are far stronger than him, not that he knows that. Where I feel less sympathetic to him is where he’s doing it for the most terribly patriarchal reason that he can come up with: he feels he is entitled to escort Polgara and that he can keep her safe from the dangers of the road. Because that way, there’s at least an able-bodied man traveling with them to fend off danger that a child, an old man, and a woman would fall prey to. Faldor, if he knew, would probably approve heartily of Durnik’s actions here and think it the height of proper gentlemanly chivalry.

That said, since Zubrette is no longer going to be the target for the narrative’s scorn, I have a feeling it is going to fall to Polgara to pick up the slack and start doing or insisting on things that are feminine-coded and that the men (and boy) are going to complain are unnecessary or bizarre.

With the adventure underway, we’ll pause here and get back into it next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for June 11, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is drafting together a presentation they submitted on a lark, only to find it got accepted.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are going to have to make what peace is possible with the idea that some people just won’t do the thing that is beneficial to them and others for reasons that are incomprehensible enough as to sound insane.)

Pawn of Prophecy: Time Skip

Last time, little Garion and Belgarath had a small adventure in the next village over, which resulted in Garion showcasing that he could lie extremely well for a nine year-old, so much so that it was a matter of concern for both Belgarath and Polgara. The presence of Torak’s people so close by sent Belgarath away for what he thought would be a multi-year journey, carrying a penny intended for Garion that both Belgarath and Polgara have suspicions about, given that it has Torak’s likeness and there’s already a prohibition in place about Torak’s name being spoken.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter Four : Content Notes: Near-drowning, child abuse, sexism, puberty

Since it’s a multi-year journey, the narrative skips forward in time, telling us about the time that’s running past, stopping long enough to tell us a little bit about puberty striking all of the children.

As he grew, the other children grew as well—all except for Doroon, who seemed doomed to be short and skinny all his life. Rundorig sprouted like a young tree and was soon almost as big as any man on the farm. Zubrette, of course, did not grow so tall, but she developed in other ways which the boys began to find interesting.

One wonders what kind of terror Zubrette will be able to get up to, once she’s developed into a body that she can use to her advantage in addition to all the other assets that she’s already been gifted with by the narrative. And also, since the four of them are going to be talking again in their idle time,, it appears whatever prohibition put on Zubrette by Polgara has expired.

The narrative continues with a story of a build raft with a tendency to fall apart, which is does on Garion, who has not been taught how to swim at his nearly-fourteen age, and so he ends up splashing down in the water as the raft disintegrates, then trying to get his way back up to the surface, only to bash his head on the log he was trying to grab, and then eventually Durnik hauls him out of the water, “turned him over and stepped on him several times to force the water out of his lungs.” Once he can talk again, Garion calls off Durnik, and then gets chewed out mightily by Polgara for nearly drowning.

Cocowhat by depizan

Excuse me, you’re going to tell me that a boy on a farm with a pond (and friends) hasn’t been taught how to swim? Especially with the high likelihood that cooling off in some water somewhere is one of the best ways to beat the heat in Sendaria. But probably also because Garion wouldn’t be the first child to try and almost drown themselves in the water, and so as a matter of making sure that you have healthy children who can grow up to be healthy workers, the kids get taught how to swim. Or, at least, I would assume the boys do. Zubrette might be the one who doesn’t get taught how to swim, because she’s going to be expected to marry a nice boy and never have to do anything near the water ever. Perhaps it is my own upbringing coloring things, but I learned very early on how to swim, once I was old enough to be trusted in the water and able to figure it out. With adult supervision and people close enough by for me to haul me out of the water if it became an issue. And Garion seems like the kind of kid that when Rundorig and Doroon are learning how to swim, he’ll be nearby and learning, too, and doing his very best to hide it from Polgara.

The actual reason this scene is here is all during this misfortune, Garion sees the man on the horse again, and this time realizes that neither man nor horse cast any sort of shadow, and then, after it’s done, when he wants to tell Polgara about the shadowless man, the voice in his head says it’s not time for that.

Briefly Garion considered telling her about the strange, shadowless figure that had watched his struggles in the pond, but the dry voice in his mind that sometimes spoke to him told him that this was not the time for that. He seemed to know somehow that the business between him and the man on the black horse was something very private, and that the time would inevitably come when they would face each other in some kind of contest of will or deed. To speak of it now to Aunt Pol would involve her in the matter, and he did not want that. He was not sure exactly why, but he did know that the dark figure was an enemy, and though that thought was a bit frightening, it was also exciting. There was no question that Aunt Pol could deal with this stranger, but if she did, Garion knew that he would lose something very personal and for some reason very important. And so he said nothing.

So the man in black seems to be present at a lot of places where bad things are happening or people get hurt, but Garion’s not going to tell his aunt about it because the voice in his head says not to. The fact that there’s a voice in his head helping him with some things also seems like the kind of thing to mention to his Aunt Pol, along with the shadowless man in black. On the other hand, Aunt Pol has so far been pretty consistently bad at handling issues with Garion in ways that are age appropriate and that make it more likely for him to trust his Aunt. She’s very much of the opinion that the only way to keep Garion safe is to prevent him from having any sort of contact with the outside world at all (cult!) so that nothing can hurt him. Which, of course, isn’t going to work. It seems like Garion would have had a better job being raised as one of Farmer Faldor’s, or by someone else on the farm. They’d probably do a better job of making him feel normal and not weird at all.

On cue, after this near drowning incident,

That marked the end of Garion’s freedom. Aunt Pol confined him to the scullery. He grew to know every dent and scratch on every pot in the kitchen intimately. He once estimated gloomily that he washed each one twenty-one times a week. In a seeming orgy of messiness, Aunt Pol suddenly could not even boil water without dirtying at least three or four pans, and Garion had to scrub every one. He hated it and began to think quite seriously of running away.

Yep, the thirteen, nearly-fourteen year-old kid is seriously thinking about running away because he’s been Mother Gotheled. There’s still a little time here and there, as the seasons change and the other kids are pulled more inside for the cold season, where Garion goes to sit with Zubrette and Doroon and listen to Doroon talk about things. Which is where they discover that Garion has a birthmark – a white spot on his right hand, perfectly circular. Having had it brought to his attention, Garion asks Aunt Pol about it, presumably because she’s the only source he has about his family, even though she’s repeatedly proven herself to be untrustworthy about any answer that she can give.

She looked up from where she was brushing her long, dark hair. “It’s nothing to worry about,” she told him.
“I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “I just wondered what it was. Zubrette and Doroon think it’s a birthmark. Is that what it is?”
“Something like that,” she said.
“Did either of my parents have the same kind of mark?”
“Your father did. It’s been in the family a long time.”
A sudden strange thought occurred to Garion. Without knowing why, he reached out with the hand and touched the white lock at his Aunt’s brow. “Is it like that white place in your hair?” he asked.
[…touching the two white spots together seems to open a window in Garion’s mind, where he can see all sorts of things that don’t make sense to him, including his own face and that of Mister Wolf, but the one thing that does make sense is “a knowledge of an unearthly, inhuman power, the certainty of an unconquerable will.”…]
Aunt Pol moved her head away almost absently. “Don’t do that, Garion,” she said, and the window in his mind shut.
[…Garion, of course, is curious, but Polgara brushes him off again…]
After that not even Garion himself saw the mark on his own palm very often. There suddenly seemed to be all kinds of dirty jobs for him to do which kept not only his hands, but the rest of him as well, very dirty.

Polgara deflects and denies and finds other things for Garion to do and otherwise keeps him from learning anything at all, even though something interesting just happened with him and his aunt. She is terrible at raising children, even if she’s somewhat self-aware that she’s terrible at raising children. There are more than enough families around, surely she could have fostered Garion out for a bit or otherwise had him work with other families and learn things to keep him and his curiosity busy. After all, if he’s being trained, in theory, to work on this farm, he should probably have some idea of what he might want to do when he gets old enough to join the working crews. It’s a wonder that Garion is going to turn out heroic in any way at all, given how little reason he has to with his Aunt raising him.

The plot moves forward to the festival of Erastide, the festival of the seven gods joining hands and creating the world. And here, our narrator gives us a little look into Farmer Faldor’s life and again wants to situate him as a good, benevolent, and pious man.

The most important holiday in Sendaria—and indeed in the rest of the kingdoms of the west—was Erastide. It commemorated that day, eons before, when the seven Gods joined hands to create the world with a single word. The festival of Erastide took place in midwinter, and, because there was little to do on a farm like Faldor’s at that season, it had by custom become a splendid two-week celebration with feasts and gifts and decorations in the dining hall and little pageants honoring the Gods. These last, of course, were a reflection of Faldor’s piety. Faldor, though he was a good, simple, man, had no illusions about how widely his sentiments were shared by others on the farm. He thought, however, that some outward show of devotional activity was in keeping with the season; and, because he was such a good master, the people on his farm chose to humor him.

So Faldor is a simple, good, pious man who is in charge of people, benevolent to them, and doesn’t try to impose his own beliefs on them and holds no illusions about how much the others believe or practice. If he were in our context, I’d say he’s is a model Christian, at least according to the way that the foundational writings talk about how one is supposed to be a Christian.

That said, if Faldor talks about all the gods, does that mean he has a small shrine and pageant to Torak as well, or is it really six out of seven, because Torak is the evil one who doesn’t deserve any sort of worship except from the evil dark-skinned people he already has?

And, of course, because Faldor is such a simple, good, pious man, he has trouble with the person that his daughter married.

It was also at this season, unfortunately, that Faldor’s married daughter, Anhelda, and her husband, Eilbrig, made their customary annual visit to remain on speaking terms with her father. Anhelda had no intention of endangering her inheritance rights by seeming inattention. Her visits, however, were a trial to Faldor, who looked upon his daughter’s somewhat overdressed and supercilious husband, a minor functionary in a commercial house in the capital city of Sendar, with scarcely concealed contempt.
Their arrival, however, marked the beginning of the Erastide festival at Faldor’s farm; so, while no one cared for them personally, their appearance was always greeted with a certain enthusiasm.

So the simple, good, pious man has trouble with the person who dresses in the capital’s fashion and works in capitalism, money, and mercantilism, rather than being simple, plain, and working the land like a Real Man does. There’s more of that USian pastoral fantasy there, the attitude that looks down on “city boys” who make their living in ways other than physical exertion, tilling soil and being self-sufficient. The thing that isn’t said, and that I want to know about, is whose decision it was for Anhelda to marry the man. Did she fall in love with him and decide to marry him against her wishes? (Or because she got pregnant by him?) If that were the case, I feel like she wouldn’t have a leg to stand on about her inheritance rights, because Faldor could very easily disown her because of her choice. If Faldor was the one who arranged for her marriage, is he sour because he thought this person was going to be a good honest conservative-leaning farmer and instead has become some sort of liberal instead? We can guess at these things, but all we get told is that Faldor hates his son-in-law’s dress and profession, and that because Faldor doesn’t like them, nobody else does, either.

Garion, this year, is having a complete mope about the festival because he’s still not allowed out from under Polgara’s thumb, so he doesn’t get to enjoy it with his friends, and the weather outside has been terrible, so he doesn’t even get to enjoy the snow.

Aunt Pol, however, was not impressed, and her attitude was firmly unsympathetic. She routinely checked his brow with her hands for the signs of fever and then dosed him with the foulest-tasting tonic she could concoct. Garion was careful after that to mope in private and to sigh less audibly. That dry, secret part of his mind informed him matter-of-factly that he was being ridiculous, but Garion chose not to listen. The voice in his mind was much older and wiser than he, but it seemed determined to take all the fun out of life.

Ah, yes, and now both Aunt Pol and the voice in Garion’s head are arrayed against him and his inability to have fun. I’m not really surprised that things have lost their luster for Garion, since his freedom has been so severely curtailed and his world has been so strongly collapsed on him. There are a lot of holidays that don’t have any shine any more for me, because for a good long time, they were obligations rather than celebrations, and there was more worry about whether or not the consequences of putting on a happy face would break me or whether I’d make it through to the next thing. They have to come back to being things to celebrate again, and to some degree, being able to do that involves being able to not celebrate them at all, if so desired.

The easiest way of getting Garion out of his funk would be to at least lengthen the leash he’s on so that he can have some freedom and feel like he has choice and the ability to make his own decisions. That would mean exposing him to risk, of course, and Polgara doesn’t seem very inclined to let him do that. She doesn’t have a choice, though, when a Murgo (still described as scarred, mailed, and with his sword prominently on display) and five Thulls appear at the farm’s gates, with the hope of purchasing hams from Faldor’s smokehouse. Faldor, instead, invites them to his table, because there is to be no business done on Erastide. His daughter and her husband, of course, are boggling at Faldor’s refusal.

“Father,” Anhelda snapped, “don’t be foolish. This noble merchant has come a long way to do business.”
“Not on Erastide,” Faldor said stubbornly, his long face firm.
“In the city of Sendar,” Eilbrig said in his rather high-pitched, nasal voice, “we do not let such sentimentality interfere with business.”
“This is not the city of Sendar,” Faldor said flatly. “This is Faldor’s farm, and on Faldor’s farm we do not work and conduct no business on Erastide.”
“Father,” Anhelda protested, “the noble merchant has gold. Gold, father, gold!”
[…Faldor refuses, but invites the Murgo to join them in celebrations. The unnamed Murgo says they don’t celebrate this holiday where he’s from and that he’s quite willing to take his business elsewhere, to Anhelda’s distress…]
“I know my neighbors,” Faldor said quietly. “Your luck today will be small, I fear. The observance of the day is a firm tradition in the area.”
The Murgo thought for a moment. “It may be as you say,” he said finally. “I’ll accept your invitation, provided that we can do business as early as possible tomorrow.”
Faldor bowed. “I’ll place myself at your service at first light tomorrow if you so desire.”
“Done, then,” the Murgo said, climbing down from his wagon.

And, of course, during the dinner, Anheda and her husband try to chat up the Murgo, only to find he’s not actually interested in them coming to visit, nor is he here out of any sense but duty. Our chronicler has put some effort into making sure we know where his loyalties are regarding which person he wants his readers to emulate, so of course the daughter is going to turn out to be whiny about the prospect of lost business (which Faldor doesn’t have to care about – he’s run a self-sufficient farm for more than long enough at this point) and the husband is going to be looking down his nose at the provincial farmer and his insistence on clinging to antiquated traditions rather than adopting the cosmopolitan attitudes of the city of Sendar around business and trade and making money. (And he has a nasal voice, too.) Of course, we’ve also already been told to be suspicious of Angarak money, even in small denominations, so it probably feels like the intended effect is that Anheld and her husband are so greedy that they’re willing to accept Angarak money in addition to breaking the Erastide business prohibition. (Which Garion correctly notes doesn’t apply to the kitchen at all.)

The Murgo asks after the old storyteller, but gets nowhere, and mentions a Rundorig that a countryman of his met years ago, but when the actual Rundorig is pointed out to him, he says it’s not the person described to him. The Murgo (still unnamed) compliments the cook, and Polgara and he have some nearly hostile words about how magical her kitchen is. After the food, there is a simple pageant of the creation of the world, and there is a Torak, so I guess there’s a shrine to him somewhere, too. The Murgo and the Thulls are apparently terrified, or at least averting their eyes, to this representation of him (which would make sense if he’s the kind of god who likes putting people’s eyes out if they look at him too long.)

Gifts are given, and Garion gets a knife of his own from Faldor as a “nearly made it to manhood” gift. In testing the edge of it, Garion cuts his finger and needs it to be stitched up. The business is done the next day and the Murgo and Thulls (still unnamed) leave, and Anhelda and Eilbrig follow suit a few days after that. One of the farmhands leaves the main compound to start a new life as a married man, and a new person that Garion definitely doesn’t like takes over that spot. Not that it matters, because apparently puberty has finally hit for all of them.

The boy, however, had other things to occupy his mind during that spring and summer. Though he had until then considered her to be more an inconvenience than a genuine playmate, quite suddenly he began to notice Zubrette. He had always known that she was pretty, but until that particular season the fact had been unimportant, and he had much preferred the company of Rundorig and Doroon. Now matters had changed. He noticed that the two other boys had also begun to pay more attention to her as well, and for the first time he began to feel the stirrings of jealousy.
Zubrette, of course, flirted outrageously with all three of them, and positively glowed when they glared at each other in her presence. Rundorig’s duties in the fields kept him away most of the time, but Doroon was a serious worry to Garion. He became quite nervous and frequently found excuses to go about the compound to make certain that Doroon and Zubrette were not alone together.
His own campaign was charmingly simple—he resorted to bribery. Zubrette, like all little girls, was fond of sweets, and Garion had access to the entire kitchen. In a short period of time they had worked out an arrangement. Garion would steal sweets from the kitchen for his sunny-haired playmate, and in return she would let him kiss her. Things might have gone further if Aunt Pol had not caught them in the midst of such an exchange one bright summer afternoon in the seclusion of the hay barn.
“That’s quite enough of that,” she announced firmly from the doorway.
Garion jumped guiltily away from Zubrette.
“I’ve got something in my eye,” Zubrette lied quickly. “Garion was trying to get it out for me.”
Garion stood blushing furiously.
“Really?” Aunt Pol said. “How interesting. Come with me, Garion.”
“I—” he started.
Now, Garion.”
And that was the end of that. Garion’s time thereafter was totally occupied in the kitchen, and Aunt Pol’s eyes seemed to be on him every moment. He mooned about a great deal and worried desperately about Doroon, who now appeared hatefully smug, but Aunt Pol remained watchful, and Garion remained in the kitchen.

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s the end of chapter four, by the way, with Polgara shutting down what’s going on in the most visible, soul-crushing way possible for Garion, who apparently only has Zubrette as a potential partner for his pubescent desires. I can think of many better ways that Polgara could have handled it, but we’ve already firmly established that Polgara does not care whether or not Garion trusts her or thinks of her as a good person or otherwise wants to do anything with her at all once he manages to get away from her long enough to flee.

Also, to my count so far, we haven’t had a named woman who had had a redeeming quality to her. Polgara seems sociopathic, or is at least dangerously incompetent at raising her nephew, Anhelda is impious and greedy, and Zubrette is apparently an amoral flirt who delights in toying with the boys’ feelings.

Which brings me back around to the improbability that Zubrette is the only girl that Garion’s newfound puberty is going to be interested in. That itself builds on the improbability that Zubrette is really the only girl on the farm that’s anywhere near Garion’s age and thus the only acceptable target for all three of the boys’ affections. I would have thought that with the way that Zubrette was responsible for Doroon’s broken arm would have made him hesitant about her, and how Zubrette ran away and lied to the point where she pissed off Aunt Pol would have put her in the dangerous category for Garion. Rundorig is the only one of the three who doesn’t have an immediate reason to be suspicious of Zubrette, since it doesn’t look like she’s changed in any way for the better in the intervening time.

More practically, Garion has basically been under arrest in the kitchen for a lot of this time, which means he presumably has gotten to know the other women who are Polgara’s assistants. They seem like much more likely targets for Garion, assuming there are some in there that are anywhere close to his age (and there should be.)

Even more practically than that, Zubrette is presumably supposed to be someone’s wife some day, and with the way that Farmer Faldor is so aggravated by his daughter’s marriage, I would expect him to be leaning a bit harder on Zubrette’s parents about making sure they’ve raised their daughter correctly and properly so that she’ll be a good wife. And maybe they are, and Zubrette’s lying to them with the same ease they she’s lying to everyone else, and her parents believe her lies. Or maybe her parents are teaching her to behave this way so that she can catch the eye of someone really high up and get rid of any of her competitors for whomever she says get eyes on. The narrative is fast to condemn Zubrette for toying with the hearts of the boys and for her ease of lying, but there isn’t any amount of the narrative telling us how Zubrette’s behavior stacks up against Sendarian values or the opinions of her parents. We’re just supposed to take on face value that Zubrette is bad and all her actions are or will be bad, because she sounds like a bad, wicked, tease of a girl to the reader raised in or around specific ideas about womens’ virtues and how to guard them. And also that she has enough liberty to go around and get herself in situations where she will trade kisses for sweets. Which I would have assumed would have created a gigantic scandal for Zubrette in itself.

So, once again, having been caught trying to live his life like any normal child (or at least some facsimile thereof), Garion gets grounded again. But since he’s coming into his manhood, now must be the right time for him to set off on his hero’s journey. That will probably get underway next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for June 4, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who wishes a happy birthday to someone important to them.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are still unconvinced that there’s a long-term plan in place for your workplace on how to keep everyone safe.)

Pawn of Prophecy: ADVENTURE!

Last time, we saw a prologue where a good made a rookie mistake and empowered an artifact with both power and a soul, someone stole the artifact and then got toasted by it because it didn’t care for what they wanted to do with it, the artifact got stolen back, and everyone settled in to wait for the next attempt to steal it. Then chapter one was all about small-town values and the fact that Polgara the Sorceress should be nowhere near children, and probably not near adults, either, because she is a terror when she’s not putting on a socially acceptable attitude.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapters 2 and 3: Content Notes: conservatism, spanking, child abuse, terrible parenting all around

Chapter 2 opens with the arrival of the storyteller. No, he doesn’t have a name, he dresses in nomadic and stained clothing, he’s itinerant but “was always welcome”, and most important to the reader for figuring out that he’s a lot older than he looks and most likely Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara’s father,

his features provided no clue to his background. He did not resemble Arend nor Cherek, Algar nor Drasnian, Rican nor Tolendran, but seemed to derive from some racial stock long since forgotten. His eyes were a deep and merry blue, forever young and forever full of mischief.

And he’s white-haired, since, y’know, old, but I have a sneaking suspicion in his younger years, the cover art is going to render him blonde so that he can be a proper Aryan übermensch for us to recognize the inherent superiority of.

But rather than being a stalwart example of a good man for Garion to follow in the example of, this wandering storyteller is in the vein of the trickster god, and along with his apparently magical ability to imitate the voices of all the men in the story, and to make the sounds of the animals, and the rain and snow, we’re told he exchanges all of this for “a few meals, a few tankards of ale, and a warm spot in the hay barn, in which to sleep.” Right before, that is, we learn about what else the storyteller takes while he’s here, and who he’s corrupting in the process.

Between the storyteller and Aunt Pol there seemed to be a sort of hidden recognition. She had always viewed his coming with a kind of wry acceptance, knowing, it seemed, that the ultimate treasures of her kitchen were not safe so long as he lurked in the vicinity. Loaves and cakes had a way of disappearing when he was around, and his quick knife, always ready, could neatly divest the most carefully prepared goose of a pair of drumsticks and a generous slab of breast-meat with three swift slices when her back was turned. She called him “Old Wolf,” and his appearance at the gate of Faldor’s farm marked the resumption of a contest which had obviously been going on for years. He flattered her outrageously even as he stole from her. Offered cookies or dark brown bread, he would politely refuse and then steal half a plateful before the platter had moved out of his reach. Her beer pantry and wine cellar might as well have been delivered into his hands immediately upon his appearance at the gate. He seemed to delight in pilferage, and if she watched him with steely eye, he found quite easily a dozen confederates willing to sack her kitchen in exchange for a single story.
Lamentably, among his most able pupils was the boy Garion. Often, driven to distraction by the necessity of watching at once an old thief and a fledgling one, Aunt Pol would arm herself with a broom and drive them both from her kitchen with hard words and resounding blows. And the old storyteller, laughing, would flee with the boy to some secluded place where they would feast on the fruits of their pilferage and the old man, tasting frequently from a flagon of stolen wine or beer, would regale his student with stories out of the dim past.

Which is to say, he’s a force of chaos who more than eats and drinks his fee paid by stories. And, at least according to Aunt Pol, he’s teaching all of his bad habits and skills to Garion, who is worryingly good at them. As if her strict upbringing is doing plenty to encourage Garion to learn those skills and use them on her so that there is at least a little fun around what has become even more boring to him, I’m sure, with the lack of friends and the restrictions on what words he can say.

I also think that Belgarath can find those dozen confederates without any trouble because they’re looking for an excuse to disrupt her kitchen and to steal a win from her that they would not otherwise be able to achieve by themselves. Or that would get them in trouble with the Farmer for disrupting her kitchen. Or that she would track down and do whatever it was she did to Zubrette to them. Since the storyteller appears to be the only person who can regularly steal and tease and flatter Polgara and get away with it, a lot of people are going to back the storyteller over her.

The plot advances by Faldor asking for a story of the beginnings, which the storyteller obliges, and then tells a new variation on the story that he’s been telling for quite some time, with more detail than usual, which turns out to be that the version being told is one reserved for the presence of kings, which comes with this footnote in the text,

Several shorter, less formal versions of the story existed, similar to the adaptation used here in the Prologue. Even The Book of Alorn was said to be an abridgement of a much older document

Which, I suppose, is supposed to remind us that the book we are reading is to be viewed with a lens that this is a person writing down this story, and so there is a metatextual element involved. The choices of words, the opinions expressed, all of those elements that would normally be the province of the omniscient narrator and accepted as the facts of the world are instead imbued into the person writing the book in-universe that we are reading. Which means they may not be a reliable narrator at all. Which means we should keep an eye out for their biases and their editorials and conceive of what the story might look like from an alternate perspective, or what the unbiased facts might be that are being shaded and colored to give us this story. To pull that idea off, though, you need a more aware narrator, or for the reader to be more aware of the narrative voice. Adding the intermediary and calling attention to them is something where I then expect to be able to see the hand of that intermediary all throughout, and I have a feeling that’s not going to be the case.

Finally Faldor cleared his throat and rose, his bench scraping loudly on the wooden floor. “You have done us much honor tonight, my old friend,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “This is an event we will remember all our lives. You have told us a kingly story, not usually wasted on ordinary people.”
The old man grinned then, his blue eyes twinkling. “I haven’t consorted with many kings of late, Faldor.” He laughed. “The all seem to be too busy to listen to the old tales, and a story must be told from time to time if it’s not to be lost—besides, who knows these days where a king might be hiding?”
They all laughed at that and began to push back their benches, for it was growing late and time for those who must be up with the first light of the sun to seek their beds.

Oooh, foreshadowing.

That said, while I realize that this storyteller is a force of chaos (as befits being seven thousand years old) and doesn’t care about what stories he tells or to whom, I feel like there is an equal possibility that Faldor would react with horror to being told this version of the story, if the “it’s only told in the presence of kings” part of it carried significant penalties to anyone who was hearing or telling it not in the presence of kings. Or of anyone who wasn’t authorized to know it having knowledge of it, even in fragments. It’s not hard to imagine that there could be forbidden knowledge in any sort of fantasy kingdom, to go along with things like forbidden magics, forbidden colors, and the like. Things reserved to kings tend to be dearly protected. And I think the laughter is supposed to be about “right, there’s some sort of king in this group of farmers, get real,” so we’re clearly not supposed to be worried that the king of Sendar is going to come riding in seeking information about the storyteller who keeps telling forbidden tales, and then setting Faldor’s farm on fire with everyone inside to make sure the tale didn’t go anywhere.

The storyteller asks Garion to light his way to bed. Garion asks him why the story isn’t finished, and the storyteller says that it’s because the climactic final battle hasn’t happened yet, and suggests quite strongly that it’s not just a story and there will be a time where Garion is going to have to do some great and noble thing. Even though at the moment, Garion is nine. And that Garion may not have a choice about whether he’s going to do the great and noble thing, or at least have the opportunity to do so, even if he would rather stay in the comfortable and familiar world where he knows what is possible and what is not possible. So, having been obliquely told of his destiny and yet more that things are not what they appear to be on Faldor’s farm, with Garion “feeling very hardheaded and practical like any good Sendar” about his insistence that the story is just a story, because it is otherwise entirely improbable that a person would live to seven thousand years of age (what a concept to have to wrap your head around at nine), Chapter Two finishes.

Chapter Three opens with Old Wolf saying that he’s going to head to Upper Gralt, asking if there’s something he can do or purchase for Aunt Pol while he’s away. She grudgingly admits she could use some spices from a Tolnedran merchant that’s in the village, at which point Belgarath sets to convincing Polgara to take Garion with him on the trip. (Yes, yes, I know we’re not supposed to know it’s them, or at least that we haven’t been explicitly told it’s them, but i’s been telegraphed pretty hard at this point.)

“He’s picking up enough bad habits on his own,” Aunt Pol said tartly. “I’d prefer his not having expert instruction.”
“Why, Mistress Pol,” the old man objected, stealing a cruller almost absently, “you do me an injustice. Besides, a change’ll do the boy good—broaden his horizons, you might say.”
“His horizons are quite broad enough, thank you,” she said.
Garion’s heart sank.
“Still,” she continued, “at least I can count on him not to forget my spices altogether or to become so fuddled with ale that he confuses peppercorns with cloves or cinnamon with nutmeg. Very well, take the boy along, but mind, I don’t want you taking him into any low or disreputable places.”
“Mistress Pol!” the old man said, feigning shock. “Would I frequent such places?”
“I know you too well, Old Wolf,” she said dryly. “You take to vice and corruption as naturally as a duck takes to a pond. If I hear you’ve taken the boy into any unsavory place, you and I will have words.”
“Then I’ll have to make sure that you don’t hear of anything like that, won’t I?”
Aunt Pol gave him a hard look. “I’ll see which spices I need,” she said.
“And I’ll borrow a horse and cart from Faldor,” the old man said, stealing another cruller.

They’re a comedy duo, I swear, and Polgara has the role of the straight person. Except I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to take her seriousness seriously, since she’s been set up as the kind of person who would say something like that and mean every word of it. Even though she also pretty well knows that if Belgarath gets the opportunity to show Garion a little vice, he will.

Here’s the thing, and I say this with the absolute sincerity of someone raised in a place where they were trying to instill specific values, values they believed were counter to the culture that they saw “out there” and wanted me to be strong against, in an environment that was supposed to be charmingly provincial and a great place to raise children because of all of that insularity you could grant them from the world outside: the plan didn’t work. Even before I could physically move myself to somewhere that was less restrictive and where I would have a freer hand to be able to explore and understand things, I was already straining at the boundaries that were in place and trying to find useful ways of subverting them and keeping that subversion hidden. For the most part, I learned the hard way that OPSEC is extremely easy to break and very hard to maintain, and that no child or teenager is ever as stealthy as they think they are. (My older, wiser self has a corollary: “unless their circumstances are such that their literal lives and health (mental and physical) depend on being able to maintain the façade sufficiently well until they can, in fact, get the fuck out.” I am glad it was never life or death for me, but I recognize that privilege is not extended to others.) So, when you read about certain fundamentalist strains, recognize that the idea of keeping the children isolated and from everyone else and under someone’s control until they successfully become too tightly integrated to leave is a feature, not a bug. Garion is being raised in a cult, although one wonders exactly how much the rest of Faldor’s farm are people who believe in the values of the cult and how many of them are unwilling to cross Polgara.

Now, I didn’t go through a phase where I tried to do everything that was forbidden to me in straight-up rebellion because I did recognize that some things are, in fact, quite dangerous to do, even once, and some things that I watched the effects on other people and went “Eh” about, but at least some of my poorer life choices have come about because I hadn’t the relevant experience beforehand to know my position and to recognize bad signs early on enough to get out, the sorts of things that you’re supposed to learn when it’s low-stakes and the consequences aren’t going to be terrible if you screw it up completely. The kinds of things that give you stories, but that also help you figure out where your core strength is and what things you will not bend on.

Now, Garion is nine. It is unlikely that he would understand the fullness of any vice he were exposed to, nor would he want to participate in it. But he certainly should get age-appropriate explanations for things that he observes and comments on in the world, because trying to pretend they don’t exist or completely forbidding someone from understanding or learning about a thing is pretty well a good way of making sure that thing becomes very interesting. The Streisand Effect might not have been as widely popularly known at the time, but the principles behind it still hold up pretty well, especially with children. And while we’re not supposed to trust Belgarath, either, because he’s an anarchic ball of chaos set in opposition to Polgara’s iron fist of order, Polgara needs to understand that Garion needs a little bit of good chaos to help him avoid haring off in the direction of very bad chaos when he finally gets the opportunity.

Plot-wise, as they are on the road to the village, Garion asks why the storyteller doesn’t have a name, and is corrected that the storyteller has many names, and that Garion might pick up some additional ones before he’s done with life. Which makes Garion ask if he can call the storyteller Mister Wolf, which the storyteller likes a lot. And also, that means Garion gets a story, this one from “those gloomy, unending centuries of the Arendish civil wars.”

“Why are the Arends like that?” Garion asked after a particularly grim tale.
“The Arends are very noble,” Wold said, lounging back on the seat of the cart with te reins held negligently in his hand. “Nobility’s a trait that’s not always trustworthy, since it sometimes causes men to do things for obscure reasons.”
“Rundorig’s an Arend,” Garion said. “He sometimes seems to be—well, not too quick of thought, if you know what I mean.”
“It’s the effect of all that nobility,” Wolf said. “Arends spend so much time concentrating on being noble that they don’t have time to think of other things.”

We’re really laying it on thick here, I see, about how everywhere other than the farm is a terrible place and all the other people are inferior.

The villagers, of course, were all too important to pay any attention to an old man and a small boy in a farm cart. The women wore gowns and high-pointed hats, and the men wore doublets and soft velvet caps. Their expressions seemed haughty, and they looked with obvious disdain at the few farmers in town who respectfully stood aside to let them pass.

Really, really thick.

“We shouldn’t have any trouble making acquaintances,” he said. “There are places where one can buy food.”
Buy food? Garion had never heard of such a thing before. Anyone who appeared at Faldor’s gate at mealtime was invited to the table as a matter of course. The world of the villagers was obviously very different from the world of Faldor’s farm. “But I don’t have any money,” he objected.
“I’ve got enough for us both,” Wolf assured him, stopping their horse before a large, low building with a sign bearing a picture of a cluster of grapes hanging just above its door. There were words on the sign, but of course Garion could not read them.
“What do the words say, Mister Wolf?” he asked.
“They say that food and drink can be bought inside,” Wold told him, getting down from the cart.
“It must be a fine thing to be able to read,” Garion said wistfully.
The old man looked at him, seeemingly surprised. “You can’t read, boy?” he asked incredulously.
“I’ve never found anyone to teach me,” Garion said. “Faldor reads, I think, but no one else at the farm knows how.”
“Nonsense,” Wold snorted. “I’ll speak to your Aunt about it. She’s been neglecting her responsibility. She should have taught you years ago.”
“Can Aunt Pol read?” Garion asked, stunned.
“Of course she can,” Wolf said, leading the way into the tavern. “She says she finds little advantage in it, but she and I had that particular argument out many years ago.” The old man seemed quite upset by Garion’s lack of education.

And then there’s this.

Look, if you’re going to try and raise someone in a cult where they’re basically cut off from everywhere else in the world until they’ve been trained to do their destiny, you don’t teach them how to read until you have to, because reading tends to beget reading, and you never know when someone is going to show up with a book or some other thing that might put ideas in the kid’s head. And most of the other farmers, other than Faldor, don’t need to know how to read, because it’s not important for their jobs, and so their spouses probably don’t, either, and neither will their children. It’s not like Polgara has had to try particularly hard to stop Garion from being taught how to read or discovering things to read. That said,

Cocowhat by depizan

at Aunt Pol supposedly saying she hasn’t found any advantage in reading, even though she’s the kitchen head and therefore probably someone who has to handle suppy orders, money, knowing what spices she has, and where they’re located on the rack, and a whole bunch of other things that she would otherwise be hard-pressed to be able to do well for Farmer Faldor if she wasn’t literate. On the third hand, as has been pointed out, your idyllic rural American farm life is also stereotypically the kind that has no need for learnin’, and especially not that city learnin’ stuff, past the point of being able to do your job and possibly follow along in the church services.

And, frankly, I’m coming closer and closer to the conclusion that this work is a parody of generic fantasy kingdoms and their stories, even though the authors definitely didn’t set out to write one:

“We’ve a bit of joint left,” the man said, pointing at a spit resting to one side of the fire pit. “Roasted only day before yesterday. And meat porridge fresh yesterday morning, and bread no more than a week old.”
“Very well,” Wolf said, sitting down. “And I’ll have a pot of your best ale and milk for the boy.”
“Milk?” Garion protested.
“Milk.” Wolf said firmly.

Milk, huh? While that might not bat an eye for a modern audience raised that children need milk of some sort, the requirements to keep milk fresh and drinkable are fairly significant, unless we’re supposed to believe that the milk for Garion comes very fresh from whatever beast is providing it. It would be easier, I think, for a tavern to have a supply of small beer available for those who don’t want to or aren’t allowed to drink anything stronger. Or even some amount of water, although the way the bread is described as being no more than a week old makes me concerned about the safety of the other food on offer and whether or not it would be a good idea to try and get any water from them. But of course it’s milk, because milk is what the reader expects a nine year-old boy to be drinking.

After a terse exchange where Garion asks why someone is sleeping and Belgarath provides an age-appropriate explanation that the drunk does not want to be helped and that he has occasionally been drunk himself, because he thought it was an appropriate state to be in, we get the results about the food.

The roast was dry and overdone, the meat porridge was thin and watery, abs the bread was stale, but Garion was too hungry to notice. He carefully cleaned his plate as he had been taught, then sat as Mister Wolf lingered over a second pot of ale.
“Quite splendid,” he said, more to be saying something than out of any real conviction. All in all he found that Upper Gralt did not live up to his expectations.
“Adequate.” Wolf shrugged. “Village taverns are much the same the world over. I’ve seldom seen one I’d hurry to revisit. Shall we go?”

This, to some degree, would play well into Polgara’s plan to keep Garion secluded. If everything Garion thought would be exciting about the outer world turns out to be boring, then he doesn’t really have much reason to venture out or want to leave.

Also, even though it’s implied that the food is bad, we see Garion doing what he’s been taught and eating it all anyway (and “clean your plate”, i.e. eat all the food on it, even if you don’t like it, is very much one of the things that gets told to children by adults in less good methods of parenting, rather than suggesting enjoying enough to know whether it’s liked nor not, or even perhaps understanding that a nine year-old child might have developed preferences, and then choosing to respect those preferences as much as can be safely done) so that’s yet more of those values I wouldn’t blink at in a child of the time when the book was written but I do look odd at in this supposed fantasy world. It really does seem like an unintentional parody, like whomever the in-universe author / storyteller is trying to create a tale of nobility, adventure, and good manners and proper beliefs and it’s getting in the way of being able to tell the story convincingly.

The plot goes forward to the spice merchant that the trip was for, but when the old wolf spots two “swarthy, thick-bodied men in short tunics”, he shifts into srs bzns mode, explaining these two dark men are Thulls, who tend to carry stuff for Murgos, who are southern Angaraks that have taken up trade and commerce. Upon entering the shop, Belgarath has transformed himself into a harmless-looking and perhaps slightly doddering old man. The man already at the spice counter, “a dark, burly man wearing a chain-mail shirt and a short sword belted to his waist” tells the Tolnedran to help them instead of continuing with his order, since it will take time and he prefers not to be rushed. Also,

His cheekbones were high, and there were several savage-looking scars on his face. His eyes looked curiously angular, and his voice was harsh and thickly accented.

so if your Scary Foreigner alarms weren’t going off by the two outside, then they should be now, according to the narrator. The Murgo asks Garion his name, and

Until that moment, in his entire life, Garion had been an honest and truthful boy, but Wolf’s manner had opened before his eyes an entire world of deception and subterfuge. Somewhere in the back of his mind he seemed to hear a warning voice, a dry, calm voice advising him that the situation was dangerous and that he should take steps to protect himself. He hesitated an instant before telling his first deliberate lie. He allowed his mouth to drop open and his face to assume an expression of vacant-headed stupidity. “Rundorig, your Honor,” he mumbled.
“An Arendish name,” the Murgo said, his eyes narrowing even more. “You don’t look life an Arend.”
Garion gaped at him.
“Are you an Arend, Rundorig?” the Murgo pressed.
Garion frowned as if struggling with a thought while his mind raced. The dry voice suggested several alternatives.
“My father was,” he said finally, “but my mother’s a Sendar, and people say I favor her.”
“You say was,” the Murgo said quickly. “Is your father dead, then?”
Garion nodded foolishly. “A tree he was cutting fell on him,” he lied. “It was a long time ago.”
The Murgo suddenly seemed to lose interest. “Here’s a copper penny for you, boy,” he said, indifferently tossing a small coin on the floor at Garion’s feet. “It has the likeness of the God Torak stamped on it. Perhaps it will bring you luck—or at least more wit.”
Wolf stooped quickly and retrieved the coin, but the coin he handed to Garion was a common Sendarian penny.
“Thank the good man, Rundorig,” he wheezed.
“My thanks, your Honor,” Garion said, concealing the penny tightly in his fist.

Potential disaster averted, the two leave with the spices, and Wolf praises Garion for doing a convincing act, even though it was dangerous to do so. Garion explains he was only following Wolf’s lead, and asks him why he swapped the coin out (twice) and is told that Angarak money is sometimes not what it seems to be, that he doesn’t trust Angaraks and definitely not Murgos, and that it is better for Garion not to ever have anything that has the likeness of Torak on it at all. And they both immediately retreat to the farm at Wolf’s insistence, with Garion lulled to sleep with stories about his parents. He walks up enough to hear a conversation between Belgarath and Polgara.

“There was a Murgo in town—at your spice merchant’s. He asked questions and he tried to give the boy an Angarak penny.”
“In Upper Gralt? Are you certain he was only a Murgo?”
“It’s impossible to tell. Not even I can distinguish between Murgo and Grolim with any certainty.”
“What happened to the coin?”
“I was quick enough to get it. I gave the boy a Sendarian penny instead. If our Murgo was a Grolim, we’ll let him follow me. I’m sure I can give him several months of entertainment.”
[…Belgarath says he’s going to have to go on a trip that will likely last for several years. Polgara says she’s going to miss him, and he laughs at her supposed sentimentality…]
“You know what I mean. I’m not suited for this task you and the others have given me. What do I know about the raising of small boys?”
“You’re doing well,” Wolf said. “Keep the boy close, and don’t let his nature drive you into hysterics. Be careful; he lies like a champion.”
“Garion?” Her voice was shocked.
“He lied to the Murgo so well that even I was impressed.”
“Garion?”
“He’s also started asking questions about his parents,” Wolf said. “How much have you told him?”
“Very little. Only that they’re dead.”
“Let’s leave it at that for now. There’s no point in telling him things he isn’t old enough to cope with yet.”

At which point Garion drifts off to sleep, and when he wakes up, Wolf is gone, and that’s the end of Chapter Three.

And so, the supremely honest boy tells a completely convincing lie, assisted by a voice in the back of his head, which we are supposed to believe is both shocking to Aunt Pol and the narrator. And that apparently is good enough to fool someone who might be on an espionage mission of some sort. As opposed to say, having picked up the fine art of fabrication from having been around Zubrette enough and learned what makes a convincing lie to adults and what doesn’t. Since we’ve already thrown enough shade on her as the Evil Girl, and since she’s apparently already been frightened off by Polgara, she would be a great scapegoat for the narrative to pin Garion’s skill at lying on. And if the narrative were leaning in a little harder into the idea of “this is the account being scribed, as put together from the various sources we have about it, and our bias is definitely showing,” rather than pretending to be an objective narrator, throwing shade on Zubrette at this point would help establish that the reader has to be careful about what they’re reading, because the narrator isn’t going to help them with objectivity.

At this early point in the narrative, I think throwing objectivity out the window and relishing in writing someone who is trying so very hard to make sure that they wrote a positive account of Our Heroes that they slide into parody and pastiche would improve the story considerably.

More next week.