The Doom Appointed

Renunciation and sacrifice; Joy Chant and the doom appointed.

Joy Chant’s first Fantasy novel is Red moon and Black Mountain, the end of the house of Kendreth      (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1970).   This is what she has to say about the quest theme in Fantasy;

“…… the duty of characters in a Quest is not action, but suffering.  They respond to events, they may precipitate them, but they do not form them, for they are undergoing an ordeal, a testing and a judgement, and much of the dramatic tension arises from that fact.  Their struggle refines or destroys them, but it does not essentially change them.” Red moon and Black Mountain, p 211

This hint of passivity or fatalism, of the individual predoomed to fulfil a certain role in events, dominates Chant’s early work.  Indeed, her characters in the first two novels seem even more pressured by the force of circumstance than Tolkien’s.  The reader is less aware of their having any real choice in the matter, despite explicit statements from Chant that they have.  Kiron, for example, makes much of the value of Oliver’s commitment (he is using Oliver’s adopted name);

“…… someone like you, Li’vanh, someone who offers himself freely and without need, who has everything to lose and nothing to gain – he is immeasurably stronger.” Red moon and Black Mountain, p 215

Oliver is never wholly convinced of this, and his own reflections just before his battle with Fendarl are far more fatalistic;

“He had talked himself into complete stillness; what would be would be, and there was no more for him to do but play his part.” Red moon and Black Mountain, p 215

Chant here references “…the motifs of struggle and doom latent in all nurtured by our North European culture and Judaeo-Christian beliefs …” Chant, “Niggle and Numenor”, Children’s Literature in Education 19   (Winter 1975) 161-171. p 168.

  1. Wyrd, fate, the doom appointed, can dehumanise characters in Fantasy fiction; an extreme example of this is Penny in Red moon and black mountain, whose blue eyes make her “the doom appointed” for the evil Kunnil-Bannoth, (120-123) but who is indeed totally passive and dependent here and throughout the book.  She truly is unchanged by her experience.  Yet despite Chant’s assertion, her other characters are changed – caused to grow in awareness and strength – by their experiences, as in fact are Tolkien’s.  All the Hobbits “grow”, even Bilbo … “…you are not the hobbit that you were”. (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or there and back again 3rd Edition (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966) p 233-234.)

Merry and Pippin even become physically taller. (J. R. R. Tolkien, The return of the King; being the third part of the Lord of the             Rings, 2nd Edition (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966) p 233-234.)  Sam grows enough to carry Frodo physically and morally to success and to govern the Shire; Frodo grows beyond Middle-Earth entirely. (The return of the King. P218-219, p 377; p 309) In Chant’s works, Oliver, Mor’anh, Rahike and to a lesser extent Nicholas and Mairilek, are plainly wiser, more mature, more aware of themselves and others, more firmly settled into and in control of their own identities, at the end of their stories.

Religion, organised and personal, as the understructure of morality, is of supreme importance throughout Chant’s work.  There is a perceptible shift, however, from book to book, in the manner of its presentation and expression; and this runs parallel to the shift in Chant’s handling of character and maturation.  In Red moon and black mountain there is a superfluity of supernatural vehicles; the High Gods, who are equivalent to Jehovah and the Archangels; the Star-Born and their Magic; the Wild Magic; the Earth Magic; the Mother Goddess; Vir’Vachel her daughter; Iranani the Dancing Boy and other Gods of the Khentors (and of other peoples too); the Niamhurh (elves); the Terhaimurh (sea-sprites); the Borderer, a kind of nature-spirit-cum-Father Christmas figure reminiscent of Tom Bombadil and Borrobil.  (Tom Bombadil: The fellowship of the Ring; Chapters 6 and 7 of Book 1.) (William Croft Dickinson, Borrobil London: Croft, 1944); a moon-Goddess linked with the white moon, an evil power linked with the red Moon and a race of talking Eagles allied to the Star-Born. Chant abandons much of this machinery in the next book.

In The grey mane of morning, (1977) the Gods of the Khentors are powerfully present, but there is no cluttering up of the symbolism with other belief-systems.  Kem’nanh, the chief God of the Khentors, appears in a physical embodiment on one occasion, and is expressly the guiding force of Mor’anh’s life throughout, but there is no sense of a multitude of spiritual and magic forces pressing in on the human action and working out in a vastly complex interweaving of strands and plans.  The Moon Goddess Nadiv, guide of Mor’anh’s sister Nai, is a supportive influence, confirming Mor’anh in his sense of destiny.

When Voiha wakes (1983), the third novel, presents a community with a strongly organised religion and individuals to whom faith in the Gods is a natural part of life. But in this book the Gods do not appear directly, and the struggles for moral direction and purpose, the struggles for identity, are wholly internalised.  The religious sense of right and wrong is a strong factor in the struggle, and the wider sense of the need or demands of society and other individuals interlinks with the personal.  Yet there is a refining away of the outer trappings of Otherworld or High Fantasy so extreme as to lead to the question – how far is this book a Fantasy at all?

Turning now to Red moon and Black Mountain; a Fantasy of great power and beauty, carrying embodied in its symbols and incidents and characters a deep moral and spiritual meaning.  The crux of the novel is Oliver’s commitment to the cause of good;

“But the oracle said only ‘by the young tiger shall your death come’.  So more enchantments he made, with more hard-won power, and armoured himself against all that is under sun or moon, against every creature of Khendiol, and went again to the oracle – but this time it was silent.  So he can be slain by no creature of Khendiol.  None of you could face him; do not try.  It would be useless.”

And Li’vanh [Oliver] was taken from the world, and for him all grew still.  The talk went on, but he no longer heard.  He felt himself to be the pivot of a vast wheel, the focus of the attention of the universe.  He stood alone, face to face with a knowledge he did not want, hearing the beginning of a call he wished to flee.

“The young tiger.  No creature of Khendiol.”  And then another voice.  “A warrior in ten thousand”.

No, he thought.  No.  No!

But he had heard, and he knew, and was alone in a moment grown deep and ringing, as if echoing to a great gong-note.  He did not see the Council; he did not hear the voices.  He saw only the choice before him and heard only the unmistakeable summons.

He stood up.

“Kiron!” he said loudly, interrupting in a voice hardly his own.

“I am no creature of Khendiol, and men call me the Young Tiger.  I think”, he said, his throat grown tight and dry, “that this fight is mine”. (187)

This is the point where identity and morality cross.  There are many other references that may be listed here as parallel moments of commitment, symbolic of an increase in stature and ability, a growth to maturity;

Frodo; “I will take the Ring.” (The fellowship of the Ring, p 284)

Tenar; “I will come with you.” (Ursula K Le Guin, The tombs of Atuan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974) 122.)

Gilgamesh; “…I will go as best I can to find Utnapishtim…” (H K Sandars (Editor), The epic of Gilgamesh Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964 p 94.)

Gawain; “I wyl to đe chapel, for chance đat may falle” (J. R. R. Tolkien and E V Gordon (Editors), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 2nd Edition revised by Norman Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967) line 2132.

 

Ged; “Master; I go hunting.” (Ursula K Le Guin, A wizard of Earthsea Harmondsworth: Penguin 1971 p146.)

Beowulf; “…cwaeo, he guocyning ofer swanrade secean wolde…” (Fr. Klaeber (Editor), Beowulf, 3rd Edition. Boston: D C Heath and Co, 1950 lines 199-200.)

The adventures that befall Oliver embody in symbolic form and on a contracted time-scale the progress of an adolescent through a crucial period in the development of self-awareness and self-confidence.  His being snatched away from Earth into Khendiol stands for his departure from the secure conditions of childhood, his entry into an unknown region where he can scarcely remember his parents or his home or any of the familiar features of his life.  His training in weapons and warfare stands for the internal re-equipping of the self to cope with the demands of adulthood.  The combat with Fendarl, like Ged’s with Yevaud and the Shadow, symbolises his coming to terms with weaknesses – here represented by fear – and negative or potentially evil impulses – here embodied in Fendarl himself – within his own psyche.  The return to our world, preceded by a clear recalling of his parents on the night before the battle, signifies a re-emergence into normal life, but on new terms.  Bettelheim shows that this pattern is common in folk-tales that are concerned with the adolescent experience;

“…… this development is fraught with dangers; an adolescent must leave the security of childhood, which is represented by getting lost in the dangerous forest; learnt to face up to his violent tendencies and anxieties, symbolised by encounters with wild animals or dragons; get to know himself, which is implied in meeting strange figures and experiences.” (Bruno Bettelheim, The uses of enchantment; the meaning and importance of fairy tales (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978 p 226.)

 

Having passed through all these stages, Oliver is oppressed with a sense of loss, of failure mingled with the success.  He feels cheated and despairing;

“The ache of loss became a pain and tears burned his eyes.  Yet in his shame and grief there was a seed of anger, for it seemed to him that in some way he could not understand he had been cheated.  He had been ready to make an offering of his fear, and maybe even of his life; but something had been taken which he had not offered, something which could not be regained and would be missed forever.  He felt an oppression, as if part of his life had ended.

So he went at last to his rest, wherein lay the only healing for him.  But the thing which he had lost he never did regain, though what it was he never would have said.  Perhaps it was his youth.  For Li-Vanh was one who had looked upon the darkness in his own heart, and he must henceforth live his life in the knowledge of that darkness and in the fear of himself.” (234)

This seems a pessimistic conclusion, but is a clear example of the syndrome described by Neumann, whereby each emergence into a new stage of life is characterised by a sense of loss, even of abandonment and betrayal, for the growing individual. (Erich Neumann, The great mother, an analysis of the archetype, 2nd Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972 p 67.)

At this stage in the story it seems that Oliver has suffered for others but has gained little for himself that is worth the suffering and loss.

Chant, however, allows a relief and a transcendence to enter the story in a coda in which the Christian ideology behind it comes more clearly to the fore and through which one is made forcefully aware that there is a deep significance in the fact that the novel begins with the word “Easter”. (13) Oliver goes on to take a step which only his mature, tempered self would have the strength to take, and the Christian story of death and rebirth is acted out within a context of the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Vir’Vachel, Earth-Goddess daughter of The Mother, is angered by the destruction of the natural world that results from the war of the Star-Born and their allies, against Fendarl.  She demands reparation in the form of the sacrifice of a young man from each of the wandering tribes of the Khentorei, Oliver’s adopted people.  This means that fifty youths will die, and one likely candidate is Oliver’s foster-brother Mnorh, an especially gifted and beautiful boy. (254-261)

Oliver, meanwhile, is tormented by his sense of no longer belonging in Khendiol, now that his task is fulfilled, and puzzled as to how he is to get home.  His brother and sister have already been returned by the God Iranani who called them into Khendiol; he is told he must find his own way back. (256) The shock of realising how the pattern of events is shaping, is even greater for him than the original realisation that it was his Quest to meet Fendarl in battle. “…… someone had to go, and he could not stay.”  “He knew that he was not being called to this; that even the High Lords did not ask it of him.  But it was there to be done by someone.” (Italics mine) (262-263) On the surface this is still rather fatalistic, as if Oliver is being manipulated into the only possible position to solve the problem.  Then Chant makes it clear that this is a conscious act of a mature individual; Oliver, having decided to offer himself as the required sacrifice, reflects;

“He would do it.  Whether from defiance, or love of his people, he did not know, but he would do it.  He would do more than had been required of him; and spent and weary though he was, somehow that made him the winner.” (264)

This is not fear of the self, but mastery of the self and triumph over the fear of death.  The echoes are not only of Ged’s victory, but of the Christian original that inspires Chant here.  The three most relevant quotations from the words of Christ are probably these;

“Whoever tries to gain his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.” (John X, 39)

“The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them.” (John XV, 13)

“The Father loves me, because I am willing to give up my life, in order that I may receive it back again.  No-one takes my life away from me.  I give it up of my own free will.  I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it back.” (John X, 17-18)

 

Here Chant has come via the Christian tradition to a conclusion about self-hood and growth that is in essence the same as that to which Le Guin came within the Taoist system.  Both assert that there is a – perhaps paradoxical – sense in which the commitment of the self to something outside the self is at once the means of achieving self-knowledge and a sign that this step into maturity has taken place.  Autonomy is linked with duty and responsibility; on his way to death, Oliver thinks – “No one was compelling him to do this.  He could go back, and let the other die.  The choice was his.” (271) In fact there is no real choice for the newly matured, caring, self-denying Oliver; he “cannot” allow the others to suffer. Yet his own strength of will is what has brought him to this deliberate renunciation of his will.

Oliver is clearly here a Christ-like figure, and also recalls the Young King, the Corn-King sacrificed for the people. (James George Frazer, The golden bough; a study in magic and religion London: MacMillan, 1957.  See; Chapter xxiv – The killing of the divine king; Chapters xxix-xxxv – Adonis and Attis: Chapter’s xxxix-xl – Osiris.)

In some systems of belief, rituals have consciously embodied the subconscious parallels between the emergence into adulthood, and the dying into rebirth and new life.  Young people on the brink of adulthood undergo ritual seclusion and re-emergence in token that the old self has died and the new, mature person has been born. (Frank Waters, The book of the Hopi (New York: Viking Press, 1963) p 24; p 137-153.)

The final scenes of the book bring out the significance for Oliver himself of all that he has undergone to win self-knowledge and strength.  In a brief time spent with the God Iranani, before returning to his own world, Oliver learns what he has gained as well as what he has lost;

“All that you have lost shall be restored, and all that you have gained remain untouched.”

Then Oliver met his eyes steadfastly, and said “Young Lord, your words are gracious.  But I have gained knowledge that will not leave me, and I know that you speak your truths too easily.  There is something I have lost which you cannot restore, and that is innocence.”

There was an appreciative leap of laughter in the young one’s eyes, but he answer gravely, ‘And have men sunk so far, that the best they can hope for is innocence?  Do they no longer strive for virtue?  For virtue lies not in ignorance of evil, but in resistance to it.’

Oliver bowed his head.  ‘And what have I gained?’ he asked.

‘What does silver gain in the fire, and iron in the forging?’ (275)

Chant can hardly claim that Oliver’s Quest and achievement have not essentially changed him.  The God’s words proclaim that he has changed, by growing into greater strength and knowledge.  Insofar as a fictional character may be said to have a “future” when the end of the work is at hand, Oliver has a bright one.  Chant implies that he goes back into the world especially blessed and prepared for the adult life he is entering upon.  Iranani promises him “…… new life, and heart to enjoy it.” (275) So confident is Oliver that he refuses the drink that will bring forgetfulness, realising that the pain of loss is outweighed by the joy of gain.  He walks clear-eyed back into his own world; “There was no return.  He had come through a door which only opened one way.” (277) This is the door out of childhood.  Beneath the exciting adventure story that lies on the surface of this subtle and complex work, are levels of encouragement for the adolescent reader that may well help more than a little; for Joy Chant has the power to inspire and uplift, without overt preaching or moralising.  She has presented in action Bettelheim’s statement; “The only way to come into one’s own is through one’s own doing.” (Uses of Enchantment, 140)

The external, moral problem of the operation of good and evil impulses in society is presented by Chant according to the traditional Fantasy mode described by Mobley and Branham in the articles discussed in Chapter 1 of this thesis.  [49] Moral abstractions are personified and concretised; conflict in war is the conflict of principles.  Fendarl is dehumanised, impersonal like Tolkien’s Sauron; he is the principle of evil as it operates at this point in the history of Khendiol.  Chant, like Tolkien, carries over into her sub-creation some of the traditional figures of Judaeo-Christian mythology under other names.  Lucifer, called by Tolkien, Melkor and then, in his fallen state, Morgoth, appears in Khendiol as Ranid, He Whose Name Is Taken Away.  Marenkalion the Defender, who stand against Ranid, is Michael the Archangel.  How far this specifically Christian underlaying will be comprehensible to readers is impossible to ascertain.  What is certain is that Chant makes Oliver clearly aware of it, clearly aware of the nature of the Allegiance he claims;

“And in a single moment of rending horror he knew whom it was he saw.  Fendarl’s master; the great enemy; He Whose Name Is Taken Away, that Prince of Heaven whom he had always called Lucifer, Star of the Morning.” (230)

So Chant suggests that the battles the adolescent fights within the self – that self-signified in Oliver’s case by the whole world of Khendiol – are the same moral battles all individuals and societies fight, however private and unique they may seem to each new soul that learns to fight them.

In, The grey mane of morning, (1977) Chant again takes up this theme of the struggle of individuals and societies for identity, purpose, and moral direction.  The novel records events in the early history of one of the tribes of the plains people, the Khentors, who in Red Moon and black mountain became Oliver’s adopted people.  Mor’anh, the hero of the second novel, is priest and Lord’s son of the tribe called the Alnei.  He is destined to lead his people into new way of living and of relating to other peoples; and to the Khentors of later times, the Hurnei who adopt Oliver, he is a great hero of legend and his very name is used as an exclamation or oath.  Besides being priest, Mor’anh is Har’enh of the God Kem’nanh, protector of the tribe – he is the one to whom the God speaks.  Later in the book, he is told by Kem’nanh that he is the God’s own son, begotten by him in human form upon his mother, the priestess Ranuvai.   The pattern of Mor’anh’s life is the pattern described by Lord Raglan in 1934 as the typical pattern for the traditional hero. (Fitzroy Richard Somerset, Fourth Baron Raglan, “The hero of tradition” in; Alan Dundes, The study of folklore Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-            Hall, 1965 142-157.) He does not, in the course of the story, pass through all the twenty-two stages elaborated by Raglan, but as the story ends in his young manhood and with his triumph, this is not possible.  Those points to which he does conform, or nearly conform, are:

  1. Mother; Raglan says the hero’s mother is a Royal virgin; Mor’anh’s is

Priestess of the Moon Goddess and wife to the chief of the tribe.

  1. His father is a king; Mor’anh’s earthly “father” is chief.

4 & 5.  He is reputed to be the son of a god and the circumstances of his conception are unusual.  Mor’anh’s fathering by a stranger to the tribe was against custom; and the stranger is later identified as the god.

  1. He is reared in a far country.  Mor’anh grows up in the tribe but makes an unprecedented journey to a far country where he broadens his ideas and strengthens himself.
  2. He returns to his kingdom.  Mor’anh’s return is of great significance to his people.
  3. He wins a victory.  Mor’anh frees his people from the Kalnat.
  4. He marries – though Mor’anh breaks the rule by marrying a humble girl who loves him, not a princess.
  5. He becomes king – Mor’anh succeeds his father as chief.

This gives Mor’anh a score of nine out of the twenty-two points, which is a fair correspondence when Raglan can apply only nine to Elijah, eleven to Apollo, twelve to Joseph, and only sixteen even to King Arthur (148-150).  Mor’anh is one of the hero-figures who appear in the legends of all peoples, carrying with them the story of their people’s growth to a sense of collective identity or nationhood.  Chant is concerned to present clearly the inner growth of the hero to an understanding of his own identity and to a confidence in his own powers; but this is inextricably bound up with the crucial point in the history of his people which it is his main task, as chief, to oversee.  The public commitment is the private growth.  Identity and morality again cross – the question; “Who am I?” cannot effectively be answered without the related question; “What ought I to do?”.

Mor’anh’s story is a story of enormous changes coming to a society that has been static for longer than any of its members can recall.  “Years past reckoning had it been so, for generation upon generation beyond the reach of memory.” (21) Mor’anh’s divine awareness is the catalyst for the changes, his insight and broader vision carrying the people into areas of behaviour that have never seemed to them before to be possible, desirable, or necessary.  The good and the evil aspects of their nomad life have always been accepted without question.  Mor’anh is slightly out of step with this from the beginning; “Right from the womb it seemed the Gods had marked him: ……” (22) His closest friend Hran knows quite well that “……Mor’anh’s mind could go where Hran’s could never follow; …….” (22) But Mor’anh is not spared the necessity for growth and development within himself; he has to mature to the point at which he can wield his full powers confidently and lead the tribe assertively, in order to carry out his purpose.  For example, while the annual tribute paid to the Kalnat troubles Mor’anh, while he thinks about it more questioningly than the rest of the tribe, still his anger and his desire for action are not aroused until the custom inflicts a personal injury upon him.  When his beloved sister Nai is taken forcibly by a Kalnat man for a concubine, the turning-point comes for man and tribe;

“In a silent passion of range and grief, he closed himself in the Inner Tent of the God.  There he beat at Kem’nanh’s ear with his fury and his pain, storming at the great God until far into the night, crying out against his loss, until the smothered hatred in his heart seared him with agony, and from his bitterness was pressed a cold desire for revenge.” (39)

This personal agony is the motive force of social and economic revolution.  All previous tributes, even previous thefts of women, have been accepted fatalistically by the tribe as just part of life’s pattern.  Awe of the Kalnat induces fear and the strong desire to avoid trouble.  Other individuals in the tribe cannot comprehend Mor’anh’s ability and desire to attempt to reshape destiny.  As Mor’anh’s obsession leads them further and further from the traditional ways, beginning to turn a hunting people into a fighting nation, his father protests;

“‘I want my tribe safe, my people safe,’ whispered Ilna.  ‘I want the world as I have always known it.’” (143)

Mor’anh’s changing awareness is changing everything that his people had believed to be immutable.

In Red moon and Black Mountain, everything that happened to Oliver, in the sense of apparently external events, could be interpreted on another level as symbolising subconscious growth and change actually taking place in the “real” world.  In the case of Mor’anh, Chant employs a mixture of this symbolic, folkloristic method of presenting her hero’s maturation, and a more naturalistic mode.  Two of the signs of Mor’anh’s increased maturity are his meeting face to face the God Kem’nanh; and his long journey into Lelarik of the Cities, a journey which requires him to develop new skills none of his people has ever needed before.  So unimaginable to the Alnei are the lands beyond the Great Plains that a tremendous degree of courage and self-confidence, of belief in the purpose he holds, are necessary to Mor’anh before he can achieve this feat.  And from this newly-grown individuality and decisiveness come generations of development.  Mor’anh wins for his people not only the short-term benefit of better arms to fight the Kalnat, but a whole new growth of trading and cultural exchange between themselves and the people of Jemaluth.  All this is straightforward narrative, character revealed by action.  By contrast, the confrontation with the God is pure myth, heavy with symbolism pertaining to self-knowledge and awareness and maturity.  In facing Kem’nanh (Chapter 21) Mor’anh is facing the truth about his own nature, as Ged did in the Eastreach (Wizard, 198) and Frodo on Mount Doom. (RotK 223-225) He is learning both his true individual identity and the purposes that are possible to or incumbent upon that identity.  Like Ged and Oliver, he learns at once who he is and what he is supposed to do – and the inextricable link between those two;

“For you were not born of desire but will, and by design, and the design was not mine …… because the Alnei and the Khentorei need a lord at this time who is more than just a man.  …… It is the wild magic I put into your hands: power over winds, and over beasts, and the spirits of men, and much besides. ……  The Wild Magicians will need strong spirits. …… That is why I put my blood into the Alnei, whom I have chosen to bear this burden.  You will be first among the Tribes, Lords of the Plain; and every man of the Alnei so long as the Tribe endures, shall call himself the Son of Mor’anh.” (167-168)

Mor’anh’s chosen, divine nature concentrates into itself an extreme example of how personal identity and group or public or moral identity cross.  To know one’s father is to know something about oneself, one’s own nature.  To be told one’s capabilities, to have it suggested that one can and should carry out certain difficult and dangerous tasks which will benefit others, is to gain an even clearer picture of who and what one is.  To find that one is really of noble or divine birth is a common motif in fairy-tale and folk-tale, and signifies coming into confident awareness of one’s own identity and to adult status.  Bettelheim cites the example of The Goose Girl, whose true identity was concealed for a long time but who came triumphantly into her rightful place in society; this signifies, he suggests, the achieving of a sense of the autonomous self. (137-143) Here as in the case of Mor’anh, the public, social, status identity – princess – is expressive of the integration or maturity of the private self.  Mor’anh is the Lord, the chosen one; the chosen one is Mor’anh.  His growth and his people’s development into a new stage of social evolution are bound together.  Unlike the other hero-figures we have studied, Mor’anh does not experience a single stark moment of realisation and commitment; Chant presents a more naturalistic process of gradual maturing, with the shocking experience of Nai’s abduction and the supernatural encounter with Kem’nanh woven into it.  In her next novel, which is still technically a fantasy in many aspects of its structure and form, she carries this naturalism further still.

When Voiha wakes (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983)  is set in the land of Halilak, a country within Chant’s invented world of Khendiol.  To this extent at least the work must be classified as a Fantasy; and its further characteristic of embedding in its events and in the relationships between its characters much that is symbolic of philosophical and moral questions, confirms this view.  Yet there are profound differences between this and Chant’s earlier work, which must be examined before considering the similarities of theme and idea.

These profound differences might be summed up in a shorthand way by saying that When Voiha wakes resembles the work of Ursula Le Guin, while the two earlier novels more closely resemble the work of Tolkien.  More specifically, in the adult novels of Le Guin, which are classified as Science Fiction, there is very little use of the outer trappings of that genre – hardware such as space vehicles and their motive power, and futuristic scientific achievements are kept to a minimum.  Within the genre, Le Guin chooses to concentrate on relationships and social structure; the pressure on the individual of the constraints of her or his particular society.  This is exactly what Chant does in her third fantasy novel.  It could be argued that both women could equally well have made this sort of exploration within a naturalistic setting; the Fantasy element is not strictly irreducible.  It is pared to a minimum.  Chant’s two earlier books employ magic and supernatural motifs and devices as does Tolkien; there is more evidence of the relationship of their writings to fairy and folk-tale, and other early literary forms that do not rely on realism, such as Romance.

Yet Chant retains in When Voiha Wakes, her interest in identity, self-awareness, and the challenge of society – and the form which that interest takes in this third novel is such that she does derive one great benefit from retaining the Fantasy format.  She can establish exactly the kind of society she needs in order to throw into relief the question of gender and identity; how important a strand in the weaving  of the self-image it may be, that a particular society sets a particular value on certain qualities in its male and female members.  The question could have been explored within a realistic novel set in contemporary Britain; but Halilak is a Matriarchy, and many of Chant’s points are made simply through the fact of that inversion.  There are matriarchies in our real world; but the Fantasist’s power to shape her sub-creation exactly as is necessary to the theme of the fiction, works for Chant through When Voiha wakes to establish in clear polarisation the gender questions she is concerned with.

Other points of difference in this novel as compared with its predecessors are the elimination of direct manifestations of the supernatural; and the far greater age of the protagonists.  Rahike is twenty-eight and a mother; her lover Mairilek is twenty-four.  Romantic love is an important element in the story.  Yet Chant is still concerned with change and growth, acknowledging that the turbulence of adolescence is not by any means the last trial of our identity or our moral allegiance.  And although the Gods are not physically present, they are still in evidence – in female manifestations; Iranani the Dancer is Karinane in Halilak – and the pressure to do good according to an inward sense of right is very strong.  Morality and identity cross for Rahike as for Ged, Oliver and Mor’anh.  She too has to consider the demands and needs of the society in which she finds herself.  There is none of the dramatic fatalism of Oliver’s situation, no splendid moment of commitment to a noble cause.  There is no sense of a sudden and irreversible turning-point in the history of the nation such as Mor’anh’s career embodies.  But there is the possibility of change in the pattern of society in Rahike’s own land of Naramethe, of a shift in the structure of the world as her people have always accepted it, and because this is bound up with the pattern of her personal life it is she who has to be the first of her people to accept the novelty, to embrace it rather than turning away in fear.  And to do this, even though it brings her personal sorrow, Rahike has to take a step into greater maturity.

She would have considered herself mature enough at the opening of the story.  In this land ruled by women, Rahike is among the leaders of society, a skilled administrator who has been appointed Young Mistress and will succeed the Mistress as ruler at the latter’s death.  She has a fine house and beloved little daughter.  She acquires a handsome young lover – there are no marriages, for the men live apart in the Men’s Town – and seems to have everything she could wish for.  But she falls deeply in love with young Mairilek, and he with her.  So he confides to her his love and great gift for music; and this leads her into the area of novelty and the forbidden.  Music has no status or official recognition in Naramethe, and Mairilek is seen as a useless and possibly even dangerous character by the other men and by many of the women.  He does not fit into the traditional pattern of his society, and no-one knows what to do with him.  Before they become lovers, even Rahike reflects;

“The Craft-Laws were men’s mysteries, and no affair of hers, but she knew music was not a craft.  And a man must be a craftsman.  Such a passion as Mairilek’s was folly: was worse: was dishonourable; and she saw the justice of the low esteem he suffered.” (23)

Here Mairilek’s uniqueness, his individuality, are seen to have no scope for expression within the confines of his society.  This has happened to characters in Chant’s earlier work, but always to women.  In’serrina the Enchantress was not allowed to remain an Enchantress when she married a man who was not of the Starborn; duty involved conformity even at the cost of self-fulfilment (Red Moon and Black Mountain).  Runi, a young girl of the Alnei, is rejected by her people and becomes bitter and spiteful because she will not marry and subordinate her will to a husband’s.  There is simply no place for an unmarried woman of mature age within the tribal structure (The Grey Mane of Morning).  All the heroes we have mentioned – Ged, Frodo, Oliver, Mor’anh, Gawain – have acceded to the need and ideals of society, but in the sense of bringing to that society the gift of their strongly developed selves, not in the sense of giving up individuality.  They have helped society to grow in and with their own growth.  Rahike is to do this too; and to help Mairilek overcome the constraints as In’serrina and Runi could not.  The nature of male/female roles in When Voiha Wakes, so that it is the man who is supposed to be contented with the limited role assigned him by society, helps to point up more strongly Chant’s ideas about the potential constrictions any society may place on the individuals within it.  In extreme cases there may be no scope for true individuation at all.  “He can only choose from what is offered.  What real choice has he?” asks Rahike when she has come to see the truth about Mairilek’s situation. (126) Other women cannot accept this insight; Rahike has taken a major step in learning to see what life must be like for an oppressed group within a society.  Her own position of power and authority is great enough to enable her to manipulate events to her own benefit.  She might have called upon the sacred names of custom and tradition in order to bind Mairilek to her.  But it is she who has the courage to go against custom, encouraging the timid young man to take the enormously daring step of leaving Naramethe to join a group of wandering musicians whose Master will foster his great talent.  This is done at tremendous costs to herself; she is expecting Mairilek’s child – though he would never have known of his paternity, as the mystery of conception is one of the facts kept from the men by the women.  Yet he would have shared and enhanced her joy in the child.  She loses a great deal by this self-sacrificial act;

“The road that led him from her was also the road that led to his craft-brothers, and to the glory that belonged to him.  He would walk lightly again.  Already he had the love that would heal him, console him for what he had lost.  Maybe he would never love another woman, but he would have what he had always loved most.  While she: she knew she was maimed. ……For her spring was over, and the time of flowering would never come again.” (167-8)

In Rahike’s story Chant has remained true to her own idea of the Quest Fantasy as “…… an ordeal, a testing and a judgement.” (Niggle and Numenor, 19) But with the reduction of the externalising, folkloristic techniques of the two earlier books, she has moved into an area into which she never took Oliver or Mor’anh; the everyday, the ambivalent, the undramatic.  It is the closing phrase of this novel that is most telling; “Her heart rose, and she pushed it down: learning the lesson he had learned as a small boy: enduring reality.” (168)

 

Advertisements