Neighbors are suspicious. Yoharie has moved in with his settlement money and his blended family. The Witticombes have a mapping methodology for catch-phrasing and rumor-mongering. Trevor Royce has a website for fans of The Totem-Maker, and another for conspiracy theorists. Jeremiah Hibbler, watch captain, suspects too, that his good buddies have turned against him . . . perhaps even Beatty the dog.
A story of the surveillance society.
Trevor Royce on discovering The Totem-Maker
As you all know, I started out going chapter by chapter, in depth, and after that, character by character. I haven’t got around yet to weighing the book critically. This post is the first in a new series.
I talked a little about how I got started. I never liked seeing first-person narratives in fantasy. The voice isn’t majestic; it doesn’t come down from on high . . . that’s what, for me (pardon the pun), it comes down to. And of course, fantasy is meant to tackle heroic-sized themes. It’s not about someone’s interior monologue, his neuroses. If you were Homer (for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll accept the bard’s existence at face value), singing the Iliad, you were not going to have Achilles saying to himself, “I hate Agamemnon. What a jerk!” The point was all in the framing of these events in monumental terms: the conflicts of gods, not men.
But that’s the way it is, with something you don’t expect to like, and end up loving. I’ve dedicated a whole blog to The Totem-Maker, so I think everyone knows how I feel. I’ve organized the pilgrimage to St. John, two years now. (Thanks to Edgar for letting me take over!) So I admit it . . . The Totem-Maker actually gains heroic status from the fact the narrator never has a gender or a name. And to make this device plausible, one can see why Southey (who, for the public record, hasn’t got a gender either. See my post, “Who is Southey?” for more on the controversy!), chose first-person. It would be hard, through all the hero’s adventures, to maintain that mystery. It would be somewhat affected, even, if the narrator, rather than acceding to the name of “Outcast”, had to be continually referred to as “the outcast”—or a series of other epithets. And there are only a handful of occasions when the character is named by the others even this.
So let’s go to an excerpt, from the start of chapter three, “Winter Alone”:
As no one came this way, I had time enough; I could…and of necessity, I did, draw near the fire, ladle water from the boiling pot, and hold this steaming basin at my peril under the blanket, sitting very still. In that way, I whiled my hours thinking, taking myself round the toll-house, listing for myself all I might do for my greater comfort.
I was no hand at weaving, had I known, even, how to fashion a loom. If traders crossed this pass, I would offer for their rugs, if rugs they carried…what? I asked myself. What can I make or do of value? I can trap, and so have skins. And had the stock the old toll-keeper had left behind him.
But it was not the time for shearing. Selling would be unwise. I calculated that the earth here would be meagre and gravel-sewn. But winter-hardened or no, still one could chip at soil as at a stone wall. Each day my trench another fingernail’s depth, until perhaps in a month, I would begin to lay there the fire’s ashes. Sift the pebbles, and salvage the dust. And in the spring, I might lay seed, hardy dock, in the barest patch of fair humus. The roots would prime the ground for the next season.
Then, would I demand the toll; and then, would I tender it back for goods, which I had no right to do?