Chapter 6:

Before we begin this chapter proper, I’d like to reiterate something that while no doubt I’ve mentioned before, I’d still like to say again.

I LOATHE soapboxing, regardless of what the topic is. I don’t care whether you’re arguing for or against anything, be it racism, feminism, atheism, the benefits of religion, how we should save the planet, the moment an author gets on the soapboax, I start hating the book. It’s stupid, it’s insulting, and I’m not going to sit there while the author puts his or her position up on a big billboard and talks to me like a five-year-old. It warps the characters, it warps the story, it warps the setting just so that someone can get off on enlightening the world on how stupid we all are and how we should come into the light of the author.

I’m sorry, but if I wanted to join your crazy political sect, I’d have asked for a pamphlet, not a novel. Can the message be true? Why not? But does it need to be rammed down my throat, all the while having the author talk down to me? No. You want a message, fine, but let me make up my mind about it instead of giggling in the background and making all your stupid atheists or misogynsitic bastards or blatant white men narrow their shifty eyes and twirl their evil handlebar mustaches.

In any case, it’s been three days since Romilly ran away from home, and it’s snowing and there’s a storm brewing. Now would be a nice time for her to have died from thirst and exposure, abandoned by her horse which threw her off when it got hungry and thirsty and realised she wasn’t going to let it process its basic bodily functions, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Still, she has enough of a brain to realise that she has to seek shelter, and off she goes on her mechano-horse. What? Of course it’s not a real horse! It doesn’t eat, it doesn’t drink, it doesn’t tire, and it doesn’t shit. So much for her talk-to-animals magic.

In any case, Romilly starts thinking while caught out in the middle of a storm without cover. Yes, really. It’s not really that unbelievable, considering that we’ve been asked to accept that her wounds from, y’know, her evil father thrashing her repeatedly with a whip are not to be mentioned again. So her plan is to head to the Towers where Ryuven is being trained in his magic, or she can head to Nevarsin on the way, winter there and then go on. But that’s not all! In the spirit of the story, though, we can’t pass five pages without another feminist diatribe:

Surely in Nevarsin she could seek to find work somewhere as a hawkmaster’s apprentice, or with some blacksmith or horsekeeper as a stableboy—for she had no intention of revealing herself as a girl. She had seldom been away from her own home, where even the kitchen-girls and washerwomen were treated kindly and properly supervised by Domna Luciella, but the very was they reacted to this treatment told her how rare it was, and one of the women, who had worked as a tavern wench for years, had told many stories of the treatment she was apt to receive. Romilly did not doubt her own ability to care for herself and to keep unwelcome hands off her; but even the lowest stable boy was paid more than any cook-woman or tavern maid, and Romilly had few skills to lift her above the lowest scullery-maid’s tasks. (Pg. 490-491)

Again, is it true? Debatable, there are different points of view and I’m not going to go into them. Does it impress me with the originality when there have been echoes from the 1950s pulp fantasy magazines all the way to the present time of the very same thoughts, repeated over and over ad nauseum? No.

In any case, it’s getting really cold, and there’s about half a page of description of how cold it is that the scenery’s changed. So she comes along a small homestead, and hoping to find shelter there, knocks on the door. An old woman bids her come in and stable her horse out back, which Romilly does, and the next two pages are spent on description of Romilly making herself comfortable, warming herself by the fire, cooking porridge for herself and the old woman, etc, etc, so I really won’t bother going into it. She goes to sleep, and when she wakes up there’s a loud banging at the door.

Apparently, it’s the old woman’s grandson, a young man by the name of Rory. He’s cordial at first, thanking Romilly for helping his granny and inviting her into their home. Of course, Romilly’s first attempt at disguising herself as a boy is perfect and neither Rory nor his grandma suspect that she might actually be a girl. And here I am, taking slow bite after bite out of my wonderfully delicious sandwich.

The first sign that all’s not right, though, is when Romilly says she has to tend to her horse:

“You have a horse?” A look almost of greed lighted Rory’s face. “I have always wanted a horse; but they are not for the likes of me! You must indeed have been brought up in a Great House.” (Pg. 497)

In any case, Romilly goes out to the stables, notices her panties are icky and realises she’s had her period and does something about it:

There was an old-fashioned outhouse inside the byre, and she went into it; as she was readjusting her clothing, she paused, dismayed, at the bloodstains lining her underwear; because of the storm she had lost track of the days. When I thought to pass myself off as a man, she said to herself wryly, I had forgotten certain very important points which I must remember. She had never thought it would be simple, to remember to pitch her voice at its deepest level and to remember to move with the free stride for which Luciella and her governess hd (no typo on my part here. ANOTHER spelling error.) always reproved her, but she had forgotten the inexorable rhythms of female biology which could have betrayed her more than any of this. (Pg. 497)

I’ll give the author credit; let it not be said I’m unfair. she’s put more thought into this matter than most do. However, it’s still not enough to convince me, especially since this is her first try. At the very least, people you’ve travelled with some time will notice you’ve never shaved or pissed with them, and it’ll be a struggle to remember to keep up appearances all the time, especially the walking. Don’t believe me? Go out and notice the difference between how men and women walk, in a variety of strides. “Free stride”? Old suspension of disbelief is empty, and the versimilitude bank’s hit the bottom of the barrel.

But hey, this is Romilly of the magical breasts that inflate and deflate at will.

Whatever the case, Romilly’s about to return to the homestead when she overhears the evvvil Rory and grandmama planning to dispose of her and loot the body:

Rory’s voice was sullen. “You know how long I have wished for a horse, and while I dwell here at the world’s end, I shall never have a better chance. If this is a runaway bastard from somewhere, he’ll never be missed. Why, did you see his cloak—in all my years I have never even had a chance at such a cloak, and the brooch in it alone would pay a healer to come all the way from Nevarsin to cure your joint-aches! As for your debt to him, well, he had lodging and fire the night—it was not all kindliness on his part. And I can cut his throat quick as a puff of wind, and he’ll never have the time to be afeared.” (Pg. 498)

You see, extrapolating the current trend of characterisation we have currently, the world of Darkover can be divided into two kinds of people:

1) The people who agree with Romilly’s beliefs and let her do what she wants, who are good and display every sort of virtue.
2) The people who don’t agree with Romilly’s beliefs and don’t let her do what she wants, who are evil, disfigured and stupid.

The latter category can be further subdivided into two parts:

1) Men, who are evil and oppressive for no good reason except they are men and that’s what men in Darkover do—form a whole bloody cult with an invisible overmind that stamps “oppress women” on absolutely everything they do, or
2) Women, who have been brainwashed or are just too evil or stupid to grasp the glory and enlightenment of Romilly’s beliefs.

1. Know-it-all.

“First, you must be convinced of your own self-importance, and you must be under the delusion that everyone else is an idiot except for you. It helps to be a college student, so you should all do just fine.”

2. Spoiled

“Second, you must be obsessed with your own rights and freedoms, have a sense of undeserved entitlement, and suffer from a disease called ‘I-can-do-whatever-the-f***-I-want-becau
se-I’m-convinced-that-there’re-absolutely-no-consequences-for-any-of-my-actions’.”

It would really be nice, not just in this novel but in the genre as a whole, to have more characters whose viewpoint differs from the protagonist’s, yet is not portrayed as fat, evil, or stupid. And maybe, just maybe, they might have a legitimate point. I can see why this doesn’t happen more often—lowest common denominator readers don’t like to be confused as to who to root for, and thus we get displays of black and white morality, but it would really be nice.

Just sayin’.

Anyways, Romilly’s terrified, and plans to collect her stuff and get the hell out at the earliest notice. Unfortunately (for her, not for me) Rory notices her as he’s sitting on a bench, and asks her to help him with his boots. Of course, he’s not very adept at hiding his dagger, and Romilly realises he’s planning to cut her throat while she bends over.

What does she do? Why, she bends over, pretends to help him, then when she has both hands on his boot, sends his knee crashing into his jaw so hard that he loses his teeth.

Yes, really:

Romilly acted without thought; she pushed hard on the leg with the boot, sending it up so that Rory’s knee slammed into his chin, with a loud crack. The bench went over backward, with Rory tangled in it, and she scrambled to her feet and ran for the door, snatching up her cloak as she ran. She fumbled at the latch-string, her heart pounding, hearing Rory curse and shout behind her. A quick glance told her; his mouth was bleeding, etiher the blow had knocked out a tooth or cut his lip. (Pg. 499)

Exercise in physical possibility:

-Sit down on a chair.
-Pretend there’s someone in front of you, and bend forward enough to be able to reach his or her imaginary neck with your imaginary knife.
-Now, lift your knee as high as you can until you feel the reflexive strain of the muscles which join your hip to your thigh. Pretty low, innit? It gets lower the further forward you bend.
-Figure out how low you actually need to bend before you can actually impact your chin with your knee with some force. Hint: it’s very low.
-Now take into account this is a slip of a girl dealing with a huge hulking brute.
-Laugh.

Sorry, suspension of disbelief’s rather strained. In any case, there’s a little struggle, and wallah! Rommily is gurl! How didz I not see dat cumming hyuk hyuk!

She was swiftly through the door and tried to thrust it shut with shoulder (this is not a typo on my part), but he wrestled it open behind her and then he was on her. She did not see the knife; perhaps he had dropped it, perhaps he meant to use only his huge hands closing around her throat; then his eyes widened as he saw the ripped tunic and he tore it all the way down.

“By the Burden! Tits like a very cow! A girl, huh?” He grabbed Romilly’s hand, which was clawing at his eyes, and held her immobile; then whirled her about and marched her back into the little kitchen.

“Hey, there! Granny! Look what I found, after all? Hell’s own waste to hurt her—haven’t I been after a wife these four years, and not a copper for a bride price, and now one comes to my very door!” (Pg. 499)

Uhh…all right. Not to mention the “getting back into the kitchen” bit. You know, I sort of wish Romilly HAD been a man. Then she’d have died there and then, and I wouldn’t have to sit through this crap. But no, she gets saved by virtue only of what’s on her chest and between her legs.

Death or forced servitude? Hard choice, really. Which do you think is the better one? Essentially Rory wants to force Romilly to be his wife, and tells her to go into the kitchen and make him a sammich:

He said, contented, “ I think we will suit well enough when we are used to each other; and we need only share a bed, a meal and a fireside, and we will be as lawful wedded as if Lord Storn himself had locked the catenas on our arms like gentlefolk! I will build up the fire in the inner room where there is a bed, and you can get about cooking a meal for us to share. There is flour in the sacks, and can you make a loaf with blackfruit? I do like a good fruity bread, and I’ve had nothing but nut-porridge for forty days and more!” (Pg. 500)

Essentially, Romilly is to cook, clean and take care of Granny. For the rest of her life. She isn’t very enthused by that, and resolves to escape at the first opportunity. Of course, we can’t have the amazing heroine sullied by the touch of a vile, disgusting and misogynistic MAN, so she uses the excuse of being on her period to not have to fuck Rory. Which, to tell the truth, is pretty clever and lucky of her. Oh well.

In any case, Rory leaves the room to get the bloody fire going, which leaves Romilly alone with Grandma. Grandma asks her name, Romilly gives a false one, and they have a chat which goes on to reveal that Grandma is a stupid and brainwashed sympathiser of the patriarchy:

“I—I—I will gladly wed your grandson—” and she thought the words would choke her.

“And well you should,” said the old woman, “He is a good kind man, and he will use you well and never beat you unless you really deserve it.”

Romilly gulped; at least that she would never have had to fear from Dom Garris. “B-but,” she said, pretending to be embarrassed, which was not difficult, “He will be angry with me if he tries to share my bed this night, for my-my cycles are on me, and I am bleeding…”

“Ah, well,” said the old lady, “You did well to tell me; men are funny that way, he might well have beaten you for it; my man used to thump me well if I did not tell him well before the time, so he could keep away or sleep with the dairy-maid—ah, yes, once I was well off, I had a dairy-maid and a cook-wench at one time, and now look at me. But with a woman’s care, I will grow better soon, and Rory will not have to cook porridge and bake bread, which is no work for a man. Look at what a fine man you are getting, he never scorned to wash and even turn his old Granny in her bed, or bring her food, or even empty my chamberpot.” (Pg. 501-502)

She thinks this life will make me well off; so long as I have a man for a husband, I need ask no better than to drudge about barn and byre and kitchen, waiting hand and foot on a bedridden old woman, so long as I have the name of wife. She shivered as she thought, perhaps some women would truly think themselves well off…” (Pg. 502)

Like a hawk on a block, chained, hooded and dumb, in exchange for being fed and cherished, guarded preciously as a prize possession…

Oh, Preciosa, and that was what I would have brought to you…she thought, and was fiercely glad she had freed the hawk. At least she would never be Darren’s possession. She could have kept it clear with her conscience to keep Preciosa herself—the hawk had returned to her of its own free will, out of love, after being allowed to fly free. She would never return to Darren. (Pg. 503)

A few stupidities I’d like to point out before we continue with the shithole that is this book. Number one: so Romilly doesn’t think her ability to affect and influence the minds of animals has anything to do with the fact that her stupid bird returned to her? Number two: I laugh and spit on this so-called “love” displayed by Romilly to her hawk, which as Lenka can attest to, was nothing of the sort. Number three: apparently, it’s all right that the bird returned to her to enslave itself, as it did it of its own free will. However, this doesn’t apply to women who choose “enslavement” of their own free will—no, they’ve been deluded, brainwashed, too stupid to fend for themselves, and Romilly rubbishes their choices.

The hypocrisy of it all.

And of course, “men are evil, marriage is an evil institution designed to trap and enslave women, blah blah”, and here I am chewing on my delicious sandwich and surfing the web for radfem philosophies. This crap continues for the next few pages, with Romilly musing through the whole proceedings about how unfair marriage is to women and so forth, and Grandma continues to be brainwashed and stupid:

“Let you sleep on the inside of the bed, my girl; do you think I don’t know you would run away if you could? You don’t know you are well off; but when you are Rory’s wife you will not wish to run away.” (Pg. 505)

Three days pass, and Romilly continues in her attempt to fool Rory and Grandma into believing she’s resigned to her fate. For some reason, we get a completely out-of-place soapbox on the wonders of contraception:

If she was ever to pass herself off as a boy—and she was more resolved than ever that she would not travel as a woman in these mountains—she must find some better way of concealing this personal necessity. She had heard gossip about the woman soldiers, the Sisterhood of the Sword, who were pledged never to wear women’s gowns nor to let their hair grow. She had never seen one, only heard gossip, but it was rumoured that they knew of a herb which would keep women from bleeding at their cycles, and she wished she knew their secret! She had learned something of herb-lore for doctoring animals, and she knew of herb-medicines which would bring a cow or bitch—or, for that matter— a woman into the fertile cycles, but none to suppress it, though there was a drug which would keep a bitch, briefly, from going into heat when it was convenient to breed her. Was that what they used? (Pg. 506)

The problem here is that the great MZB is trying too hard to push too much ground at once. Limyaael quote here:

“Make your peace with not expressing all the facets of your attitudes in one story. You may be writing feminist fantasy, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get to touch on abortion, lesbian rights, the destruction of the patriarchy, pornography, rape, battered wives, feminist publishing, feminist art, the intersection of race and sexism, and many, many other issues of the feminist movement both in the past and today. The only exception might be if you were actually writing about a feminist movement taking place in another world, and I’ve never seen that done. Usually, it’s just the heroine and one or two other female characters, or a small group like witches, struggling to improve their positions, not a whole group.

Bottom line: Don’t make the story a kitchen sink for all the facets of your beliefs. The more time you spend on preaching, the less time you spend on building a world and plot that will make people welcome your message instead of sniffing in disgust at it and going away. If you want to write about a heroine escaping an abusive relationship, then write about that, without having her somehow discover every feminist issue under the sun.”

It’s one of the problems of Touched by Venom . The author of THAT novel went over-the-top on every single thing she could think of to make it “deep” and “meaningful”, and thus we get feminism, homosexuality, bestiality, how religion is evil and the noble savages good, child abuse, drug usage, science!!! and a whole load of other shit which wasn’t seriously explored, but rather just used to preach the author’s views on said issues in a perfectly stupid manner, turning every single antagonist into a two-dimesional caricarture, and making me think of the alternate viewpoints that might have been.

Bets that we’ll get a rant on how abortion is good before we get to the end of the novel? Anyone?

It’s now the fourth day, and Rory desclares he wants to consummate their so-called marriage that night. We pore through three pages of waffling until Rory’s about to force himself on Romilly, and she pulls off the old kick-him-in-the-nuts-and-run-away schtick:

Romilly’s qualms were gone. She managed to draw away just a little, then shot out her foot in the hardest kick she had ever given. It landed directly on target, and Rory, with a howl of pain, rolled off the bed, shrieking with fury and outrage, his hands clutched spasmodically between his legs. (Pg. 509)

Been there, done that. Now what would be new and interesting would be if someone decided to kick a woman in the vulva, which supposedly is more painful than kicking a man in the testicles. I’ve seen youtube videos of such accidents in women’s sports, and the unfortunate victims didn’t look too comfortable. In any case, Romilly snatches up what she can and runs out to the stables and her horse, and gallops away into the night.

But not before we get this last bit:

No; she would seek the Tower, and training of her laran. She told herself, all the old tales of heroism and quests always begin with the hero having to overcome many trials. Now I am the hero—why is the hero always a man?—of my own quest, and I have passed the first trial. (Pg. 511)

All protagonists in all myths across all cultures are always male. This is a product of the Patriarchy™.

And I close the book and step away slowly. Chapter end.

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Comment

  1. Nate Winchester on 19 February 2010, 23:35 said:

    -Now take into account this is a slip of a girl dealing with a huge hulking brute.

    Not only that but, depending on certain factors, he might have a bit of a gut too which would further hinder her escape attempt. About the only way I could figure it working is if Rory was a sculpted adonis who stretched regularly.

    She was swiftly through the door and tried to thrust it shut with shoulder (this is not a typo on my part), but he wrestled it open behind her and then he was on her.

    Setting aside modern building regulations… I’m pretty darn sure that primitive doors opened interior to the house so that the occupants could barricade themselves for protection if necessary. Exterior swinging doors (like our public establishments have today) would just be an invitation for you to get trapped inside your own home.

    Not to mention the “getting back into the kitchen” bit.

    Also, if these people are truly poor, shouldn’t they just have a one-room…

    “…once I was well off, I had a dairy-maid and a cook-wench at one time, and now look at me…”

    Oh. Well… did the book at least try to make clear that it was an old, rundown house?

    I will build up the fire in the inner room where there is a bed, and you can get about cooking a meal for us to share.

    Yes, leave the girl you just kidnapped alone to prepare your food. I’m sure she won’t poison you at all.

    Limyaael quote here:

    Needz moar linking referencz! XD

  2. Tolly on 20 February 2010, 01:54 said:

    facepalm More arguements for my never, ever reading ‘feminist’ fantasy.

    I know entirely too many people like this in my daily life, I don’t need my books telling me to stop enjoying cooking too, dammit.

  3. Danielle on 20 February 2010, 18:51 said:

    Some problems I saw….

    1. Yes, I have to admit MZB put more thought into the whole period thing than most authors do. But Romilly is what, fifteen? Most young teenage girls get cramps about a day before they start their periods; it’s how they know to stock up on feminine products and chocolate. Many women who get cramps don’t stop getting cramps until they have children. Admittedly, not all women get them, but most of the women I know do, so shouldn’t that at least be taken into consideration?

    2. What does Rory want more—a wife or a horse? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to kill Romilly, take her horse, sell her brooch and use the money for himself and his grandmother instead of keep her around, break her psychologically and risk having her run away at her first opportunity?

    3. A growing number of people—both men and women—are turning against abortion. While this doesn’t represent all people, there are some women who consider themselves feminists and don’t believe abortion is essential to women’s rights. It would be nice if MZB would at least consider representing this view.

    4. I’m no medical expert, but I’ve heard of at least one case where a woman’s birth control pills cause blood clots that cause problems later on. In one, the clots made their way to her lungs, which made it difficult for her to breathe and caused her to have a stroke. Shouldn’t MZB acknowledge that birth control can lead to health problems?

  4. ZeeZee on 20 February 2010, 18:56 said:

    What’s wrong with porridge? It’s a perfectly good food.

  5. Danielle on 20 February 2010, 19:08 said:

    @ ZeeZee:

    Especially with brown sugar. Or dried cranberries.

  6. Kyllorac on 20 February 2010, 21:57 said:

    I like mine with light cream and honey.

    /porridge

    Been there, done that. Now what would be new and interesting would be if someone decided to kick a woman in the vulva, which supposedly is more painful than kicking a man in the testicles. I’ve seen youtube videos of such accidents in women’s sports, and the unfortunate victims didn’t look too comfortable.

    As one who has fallen several times on various beam-like structures with no inconsiderable amount of force, I can confirm that it hurts like hell to be hit down there. Regardless of sex, there’s an artery and several veins down there that, if you hit hard enough, you can burst, leading to internal bleeding. I did that once when I was six by falling on a bumper while playing in a junkyard. I was lucky enough not to burst the artery, but I did burst a couple veins. Waddling the half mile back home didn’t help any, either, though luckily the bleeding stopped pretty quickly.

    So yeah. A kick down below does not cripple/severely injure only men.

  7. Anonymous45 on 20 February 2010, 23:48 said:

    You didn’t explain what the problem with Romilly’s horse is?

  8. ProserpinaFC on 22 February 2010, 11:56 said:

    The grandmother’s dialogue was some of the most groan-inducing mess I’ve heard in a long time.

    I’ve listened to my grandmother talk about growing up. She is 90-years-old. Black American. Southern. Baptist Christian. I can see where she enabled stupid men and where she stood up for herself. She always wanted to own her own business, but just never had the confidence. She trusted local Greek men to have stabler businesses than Black men, but she certainly didn’t hate her people. She went to church, respected the pastor, laughed at women who dithered around the pastor, trusted her brothers to help her out, moved out on her own, raised her boys, disapproved of her boys marry White women, always took in her many-colored grandchildren for the holidays, straightened kinky hair, didn’t know what to do with White girl’s hair, hated my locked hair, ate chittlings, collared greens and pork feet… and bought food I could stomach, too, like tofu. :)

    I would rather see characterization like this, of a generation gap, of a culture gap, than see this mess. Someone needs to read Joy Luck Club. Even Pride and Prejudice!!

  9. Kyllorac on 22 February 2010, 22:29 said:

    Joy Luck Club is excellent and so very accurate.

  10. Danielle on 23 February 2010, 12:43 said:

    Or, if you don’t like to read, just go to a retirement home and talk to the elderly! You’ll learn so much, and the residents will be thrilled to have someone listen to them. It’s a win-win!