Monday, February 27, 2023

Scholomance chapter one


We owe much of the longevity and consistency of Clerkmanifesto to the welcome brevity of its posts. Publishing to a daily schedule leaves me with only rare moments of the high energy and ambition to launch into deeper ideas and discussions. As long as I have something to say and I have said it, I start looking for the exit. When the patient is cut open on the table, the clock is ticking. 

But the downside to all this philosophy of conservation of energy in writing is that occasionally I have things to talk about here that feel bigger. And I keep putting them off and putting them off, never having enough time or energy to do them justice, but likewise never being free of their steady, polite insistence that I perform a more radical surgery, so to speak.

And so it is with my desire to fully discuss here the trilogy of books by Naomi Novik known as The Scholomance. These are my favorite books that I have read in several years. And though, in the end, I may not have all that much to say about them beyond all the general gushing, I feel like I have a lot to say. And so it has been hard to begin.

Because of this, I have decided that instead of continuing to wait for the moment I am prepared to write a proper dissertation, I will just launch in, with no grand plan, and no preconceptions. And as soon as I've managed to say something about the books, well, great, I'm safely out again. And if there's more, well, there are other days for that.

Lots of other days.

These being my favorite books I have read in years brings me to the question "What makes a book a favorite of mine?"

I like entertaining stories. I like tone, verisimilitude, humor, and charm. I like good and evil because I believe in good and evil. I like romance. I like pretty writing. But I love when a book can bring in, and bring to life, commentary, ideas, and philosophy.

This last is the point I am keen to highlight as I first broach the idea of The Scholomance as a masterwork. Two authors deeply underwrite The Scholomance Trilogy; Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin. The main character of the Scholomance is even named Galadriel, from Lord of the Rings, which is both played in the book as a bit of annoying, self-aware cultural nonsense, while actually it is also, hidden in glaring plain sight, being straight up the book's conceit. Our Galadriel is actually a trilogy long play on one of the most striking and powerful moments in Tolkien's trilogy, when the great elf queen Galadriel is freely offered that which she long and greatly coveted and yet is wise enough to refuse it.

Our Galadriel is Galadriel. Nice trick.

And this glorious bit that lies at the heart and soul of The Lord of the Rings, that power corrupts, and perhaps even that our refusal of that power is what makes us most powerful, is broadened and played with in The Scholomance. I love bits like this that say something true about the grand human experiment and play them out on a fabulous stage.

As the Scholomance books progress through we come to the other idea, like as travelling between two magnificent beacons. We learn that The Scholomance is also a books length meditation on Le Guin's very short, strongly conceptual story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

But that is a discussion for another time. We see our patient is starting to wake up!

And so, until next time...

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