Lyonesse - 3: Conflicts

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3. Which conflicts drive the plot of Suldrun's Garden?
Unlike many fantasy novels, Lyonesse lacks a Big Bad Evil Guy whose machinations drive the plot forward. Which conflict, if any, do you see as the driving force in the novel? Is there more than one? Do we describe the characters as good and evil? If not, do they instead represent another force?

Comments

  • 2

    There's no big baddie, but there are lots of petty villains...Trewas, Brother Umphred, Carfilhiot, Murgen, and King Casimir. They have human motivations, and to an extent relatable, but they're definitely nasty pieces of work. That said, much of their opposition to Aillas and Dhrun feels more like general bad luck, almost an elemental force, than directed.

    The force of the novel though isn't so much these obstacles and desires as the tragedy of the death of Princess Suldrun. That's the heart of it, and exposes the notion that it's a malicious world.

  • 2
    edited January 3

    It's the pettiness of the villains that makes their villainy more immediate. An ogre rapes a preteen girl and eats a child. That's told in an off-hand way. The little petty nastiness, on the other hand, is lovingly detailed. That's what humans are all about.

    And tragedy is tightly intertwined with comedy throughout.

  • 1

    I was struck by the lack of any sort of driving force and, indeed, the lack of any real plot at all. This isn't a novel where people go and do things: it's a novel where random things are done to people. Most of the viewpoint characters spent most of their time being subject to random, uncaring unkindness.

    What do the hostile characters represent? Mainly, they're the forces of self-interest mixed with lack of empathy. That's a simpler and more believable evil than the world-destroying mastermind of much fantasy.

  • 4

    Oh, there's definitely a plot, and I would say the plot was probably worked out by Vance in advance of writing. I suspect that a re-read will reveal a number of foreshadowing events and phrases. But the plot has many twists and turns, which can make it seem random to the first-time reader. In this way, it feels a little more like history than storytelling, I suppose. Subject to the whim of chance. I don't know if Vance did this, but in his writing of The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick consulted the I-ching to determine events. Something like that would certainly give a narrative this kind of feel.

    As for conflict, there are a few that are larger and driving the general plot. Casmir's attempts to form alliances so he can re-unite the Elder Isles under one kingdom is certainly one such conflict. It's hard to know who the antagonist is - early on, it seems to be everyone, perhaps even Lyonesse itself. Later, Aillas becomes the champion for the cause of independence.

    There are several wizardly conflicts, as well. Murgen vs. Tamurello, championed by Shimrod and Carfiliot (who, himself, is in conflict with Melancthe). Wizards and powerful (and therefore manipulative) people and their actions create waves. They are bound by rules but seem to always be breaking them.

    There's a bit of tension between Human and Fairie. The Fae are also bound by rules - often inscrutable and seemingly arbitrary, but having a certain logic, I suppose. The fae are, I think, less tempted to break their rules than the wizards, but love tempting humans into breaking them.

    So, underlying all of this is a conflict between order and chaos. Rules are made, but the temptation to break them is strong. Casmir strives for order under a single rule, but most of his efforts to bring this about backfire. His driving of Aillas away from Suldrun ultimately backfires - had he embraced him, he would have found in him exactly the son in law he wanted. Perhaps his grandson, Dhrun, will succeed where Casmir failed. Somehow I doubt it.

  • 1

    Like @NeilNjae, I found the book a bit formless and plotless - sort of meandering here and there without (to me) any overall sense of getting somewhere. Even at the end of the book I felt something like "was that what we were waiting for?". My sense was of a "slice of life" tale which by design simply dovetails into some extremely large plot which is essentially endless. That's cool for a game (or for real life) but in a novel I am conventional enough to expect beginning, middle and end...

  • 2

    Suldrun's Garden is part one of a trilogy, and so it's essentially the beginning of the story that continues in The Green Pearl and concludes in Madouc. So some of the sense of formlessness that affects some readers can be attributed to that. The plot of SG, nonetheless, focuses on the character of Aillas; most of the rest of the book can be seen as either ultimately supportive of that main plot (call it "the trials of Aillas") or setting up events in the next two books. That said, Vance is expansive or discursive or whatever else you want to call it that means he happily ranges away from the main plot to show us events from the rest of the Elder Isles. To a certain extent, he's doing the same thing that GRR Martin does in Game of Thrones: show us the world from the perspective of many different characters, although unlike Martin he doesn't really change his narrative voice.

  • 2

    In response to the main question of this thread, and moving forward from the notion that Suldrun's Garden is basically about Aillas as the hero, I'd argue that there is a "main bad guy" and it's King Casmir. He is responsible for the central tragedy that sets everything else in motion, and it is his machinations that drive events forward, right to the end of the trilogy.

  • 2

    On the other hand, it seems fair to me to say that the three books aren't that tightly plotted outside of the Aillas story. Take a look at the Epilogue to Suldrun's Garden and then read The Green Pearl: Most of the events implied by the Epilogue are almost nowhere in evidence in The Green Pearl, although some of it sort of shows up in Madouc, and the stuff about the green pearl of course figures heavily in the eponymous volume. In contrast, the Epilogue of The Green Pearl is far less specific about what is going to happen next; it simply promises us that Madouc will indeed be its subject.

  • 1
    > @Bill_White said:
    > ... I'd argue that there is a "main bad guy" and it's King Casmir. He is responsible for the central tragedy that sets everything else in motion, and it is his machinations that drive events forward, right to the end of the trilogy.

    I agree with this assessment. Initially he just appears as a rather remote and peremptory figure - but so are a lot of kings in this era/genre - but he steadily migrates into the position of being the main cause of problems, largely via his intransigent way of dealing with others.
  • 1

    Good points, @Bill_White . Welcome to the book club! If I'm right, I've listened to a few of your gaming sessions via podcast!

  • 2

    @Apocryphal Yes, you have! My brother and I are trying to find time in our schedules to do more Virtual Play!

  • 3

    @dr_mitch said:
    There's no big baddie

    Oh, I disagree. There are two: they're just drawn very differently to most Big Baddies, and that makes them appear less conspicuous.

    Casmir is the architect of most of trials, tribulations and tragedies that befall the heroes throughout the saga. His lust for seizing Evandig from Dahaut; his eagerness to wage war on Troicinet; his callous treatment of Suldrun and Aillas; his single-minded determination to uncover Dhrun's heritage... he is every bit the arch manipulator, schemer, warmonger and butcher. He is absolutely a Big Bad, but Vance takes care to make him sympathetic in many ways. I'd hesitate to call him evil, but he is certainly amoral.

    The other is Tamurello who, in league with Carfilhiot, is actively seeking to depose Murgen and wreck the edict. He is sly and capricious, working through many agents, but he's an arch enemy on a completely different scale to Casmir.

    Carfilhiot too, deserves recognition. He is pure, sadistic evil, as the final third of 'Suldrun' shows. In many ways he's far worse than Casmir, but unlike Casmir, he has no restraints, relying on the patronage of Tamurello and the walls of Tintzin Fyral to protect him. His comeuppance is worth the wait.

  • 1

    Tamurello is a bit of a dark horse. He's a baddie, for sure. It's not really clear he's all that big. Smaller than Murgen, anyway.

    Casmir is amoral, but unable to affect the world much, directly, though he creates lots of ripples that seem to magnify as they spread out. Again, he's hardly in the same league as a Morgoth or a Sauron, bent on the desctruction of all that is good. I have trouble with him as a 'big bad', too.

    Carfilhiot did not come across as even particularly evil, to me. He kidnaps the children as shields, but generally keeps them from harm until the very end. I really didn't get the 'pure, sadistic evil' vibe that others speak of.

  • 2

    By the same token, characters like Sauron fulfil the same role a serial killers in modern crime drama: they're so evil they're literally inhuman, so there's no need to reason with or about them; they just need defeating. The villains in Lyonesse, though, are human and so force us, as readers, to think about what "evil" is.

    Carfihiot is executed at the end. But Casmir, possibly the more evil (and certainly the more dangerous) is left in essentially the same position has when he started the book. A couple of schemes are defeated, but I can't see that he's any worse off then when he started.

    The lack of inhuman evil is one of the things I liked most about the book. The bad things in the world are people, as are the good things. To me, that sends a message that we can do something about the bad things: evil is not inherent in the world. If people had more connections or more empathy, the world would be better for all of us.

  • 2

    @Apocryphal said:

    Carfilhiot did not come across as even particularly evil, to me. He kidnaps the children as shields, but generally keeps them from harm until the very end. I really didn't get the 'pure, sadistic evil' vibe that others speak of.

    He pursues Glyneth with the sole intent of raping her, and has a whole dungeon in Tintzin Fyral given over to the exotic tortures and mutilations he imposes on those who displease him.

    Vance doesn't do Sauron-level baddies. All his baddies are human at the core, avaricious, duplicitous and generally rotten in their souls. But nevertheless, they are there.

  • 2

    Maybe the leaders of the Elder Isles tried to reform Sauron, and he did the Westernesse thing again? :open_mouth:

    Tolkien had Saruman and Gollum to fill the 'human bad guy' role. Sauron was more like Global Climate Change... B)

    Casmir was a sociopath. He had no empathy at all. Every one of Vance's Demon Princes was horribly evil, but all in different ways, for different reasons. Howard Alan Treesong was even sympathetic to an extent.

  • 2

    @Loz said:

    @Apocryphal said:

    Carfilhiot did not come across as even particularly evil, to me. He kidnaps the children as shields, but generally keeps them from harm until the very end. I really didn't get the 'pure, sadistic evil' vibe that others speak of.

    He pursues Glyneth with the sole intent of raping her, and has a whole dungeon in Tintzin Fyral given over to the exotic tortures and mutilations he imposes on those who displease him.

    Vance doesn't do Sauron-level baddies. All his baddies are human at the core, avaricious, duplicitous and generally rotten in their souls. But nevertheless, they are there.

    Right -- and the reason why Suldrun refuses to marry Carfilhiot is because she senses his sadistic nature (his [moral] 'emptiness').

    Carfilhiot also impales his enemies in the Evander Vale.

  • 1

    There really are two overaching storylines in the novels:
    (a) one involving the political struggle to unite and control the Elder Isles (Casamir versus Alais, etc.); and
    (b) one involving the magicians, and in particular Murgen's struggle to protect the Elder Islands from various supernatural threats.
    The two storylines interact -- especially through the character Shimrod -- but focus on different conflicts and have different stakes.

    (I've cut and pasted the above comment from one I made elsewhere, but I think it fits here.)

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    Do we describe the characters as good and evil?

    Unlike most of Vance's Dying Earth stories, I think that there pretty clearly is a divide between the 'good' characters (Aillas, Suldrun, Dhrun, Glynneth, Shimrod, Murgen, etc.) and the 'evil' characters (Casmir, Carfilhiot, Tamurello, Visbhume, etc.). And there are a few neither clearly 'good' nor 'evil' (e.g., Melancthe, most of the other kings of the Elder Islands). However, some of the 'evil' characters (e.g. Casmir) are complex and human.

    Overall I would say that the clear morality of the Lyonesse series is what distinguishes it the most from the Dying Earth stories.

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