yotg discussion (spoilers)

Philip.Belben at pgen.com Philip.Belben at pgen.com
Tue Jan 9 13:15:06 EST 2001

Philip Belben [discussing language barriers and magic-noticing]:

Tanaqui in _the Spellcoats_ also complains that her brother is required by his
notions of reason to dismiss magic, and that its continued presence possibly
"damages his respect for his own mind". As with Nick, though, this is by no
means the primary perspective: Nick may mutter darkly about deniers, but there
isn't a textual revelation of "oh! Look! Magic!!" in there anywhere. Each of
these books is obvious in its fundamental acceptance of magic.

The Heathens and the Natives can talk for a reason: there's been plenty of
prior contact, and a hefty set of hints to the effect that the Heathens were
earlier Natives of the country. And, as you said, unity of language is given
as the common currency of the set of worlds in _Deep Secret_, which are
centred on the Empire of Koryfos.

+ Thomas Covenant - in these last, Donaldson builds a major part of
+ the plot on the fact that his hero spends most of two extremely verbose
+ trilogies denying the evidence of his senses.

nah. Covenant accepts the evidence of his senses, but is unsure as to
whether the evidence informs dream logic or actual worlds. So, while he can't
reject the input, he can have all the existential doubts there are as to
whether it's "Real". He's got to be difficult - I think the word Donaldson
uses to define his leper's coping strategy is "intransigence". Most of the
verbosity comes from what Sallyo criticised: an attempt to distance the
familiar by constantly quibbling with the evidence.

You can have something fundamentally different, but as Sallyo indicates, it
requires a LOT of effort to make the book tick if you don't use the easy
presets. Being subversive with the material you have is easier than making
from nothing something both strange and informative. With both _Dark Lord_
and _YotG_, DWJ has a rather generic fantasy universe into which to breathe
life, and the easiest way is to bring it back to what one of her worlds should
be by pulling the rabbits out of the hat where they've been hiding.

My unease is an unease with DWJ letting things be generic ever!

+ But neither of these easy ways around the language problem is necessary.
+ Jamie in Homeward Bounders actually has to sit down and learn the cattle
+ nomads' language - and DWJ works it into the story without taking up half
+ the book in misunderstandings.  And when Jamie and Helen find that neither
+ knows the cannibals' language, they have to make signs.

Each of those worlds are little backwater worlds. Their languages are not the
"language of the wider times" in which Helen is carefully schooled, and which
becomes damned useful once she is forced to go Traversing. This book does tell
us that English is the most-common of languages... but those bound to a home
have to have their own little warning systems. The cannibal world has a sign-
warning set by other travellers, but attempting to communicate with the natives
is futile! And Jamie learns nothing of "wider" use by learning a cattle-
herder's language.

What signs between Helen and Jamie and the cannibals? The language is
"oomera-woomera" and never decoded - and our two protagonists both speak

As far as LeGuin goes, Earthsea has One True Language, which the dragons speak
naturally and which men use for invocation. Human languages are Fallen from
that Adamic model (those 18th-Century presecriptive grammarians were looking
for the Original: in Earthsea, it's still a living language, because He Who
Raised the Islands is still there speaking it!). In _Tombs of Atuan_ there are
indeed a couple of linguistic pointers between human languages, but first Ged
has to point out to Tenar that she should call him Sparrowhawk in public and
should learn to buy fish not how to make bunnies come to her in trust, or know
that "tolk" is "stone" in the primal one-to-one objective language.

People do learn the magical words, but they also hunt for lost ones - not only
like the Master Namer, in dusty research, but in their own minds and among
living speakers of the language. Kuremkarmerruk is part of the "mechanics of
learning" which would have been really boring if replicated, but which are
given even more of a nod than Jamie-with-the-cattle-people. Those who have a
"feel" for dragons and the dragon-tongue make good mages, and can guess True
Names once they've got the fundamentals. Unlike non-magical languages, it's
instantly checkable for veracity too: "Chair, turn into a goat".

+ In short, I don't see why I should take it as read that the ambient magic
+ enables all talking creatures to speak the same language.

On the other hand, this is true. It is not reasonable. "Our" griffins speak
the expected language of the book because they were raised by Derk and Mara.
DWJ doesn't discuss at all why everyone seems to use this language. Mr Chesney
as cultural imperialist is certainly plausible, but there's no reason to
suppose that people from other lands don't start a speak-the-language spell
when arriving on the shores of "our" land. Just because the mechanics aren't
*explicit* doesn't mean that the book is faulty.

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