A College of Magics (was Re: The Princess Bride (was Re: McKillip))

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Wed Sep 5 17:35:37 EDT 2001

I finally retitled it.  It still has spoilers.  I still should go upstairs
and stop reading email.

On Wed, 5 Sep 2001 20:25:25 +0100, Dorian E. Gray wrote:

>Melissa said (re "A College of Magics")...

>> This time, I figured out almost immediately that it was supposed to be early
>> 20th century, with the references to cars, trains, and King Edward of
>> England (though it's possible that it's a different Edward, I think the
>> combination of hints implies that this at least follows our own world's
>> history).
>I assumed that it was...well, whichever one it would be - Edward VII?
>(I'm not immensely up on such things.)

Probably.  Edward VIII is, I think, the one who stepped down to marry his
sweet divorcee.  And Edward VI is the tragic son of Henry VIII.  But I'm not
British and I can barely keep track of all forty-odd American presidents, so
what do I know?

>> I also realized that I'd read the book longer ago than I'd first
>> thought, because none of the historical elements had meant anything to me at
>> that time.  It's only in the last three years or so that I've read anything
>> that gave me a context for that historical period.
>Ah.  Yes, I can see how not being familiar with that particular period
>could lead to confusion.  Having discovered Sayers, and E. F. Benson's
>Lucia books, in my teens (not to mention having a long-standing
>interest in historical fashion), I wouldn't have suffered from this
>handicap even if I'd first read the book as a teenager.  <frowns
>thoughtfully>  I'm not sure it would have confused me all that much if
>I'd read it earlier, either; I read "The Prisoner of Zenda", Sherlock
>Holmes, and assorted other fiction from earlier ages from about ten or
>so, and simply asked my parents about the bits I didn't understand.

I have great gaping holes in my historical knowledge that are continually
being filled.  Sometimes I'll know all about some period without ever having
connected it to the rest of history.  For example, I knew about the Regency
period for the longest time before I realized that it was called this
because George III had gone off his nut and that he was the same King George
the American colonies had rebelled against.  It makes for interesting
epiphanies sometimes.

>> The other reason, which I came up with after finishing the book, was that
>> the parts of the book that stuck with me the first time were all related to
>> Galazon and Faris's thwarted betrothal to King Julian.  (Also the surprise
>> ending, but that didn't have any bearing on my sense of what era the story
>> belongs to.) And those bits all seem to belong to an earlier time than the
>> rest of the book.  The idea that Brinker could negotiate such a thing and
>> have it work seemed archaic by contrast to the university and the trains and
>> the educational model.  Maybe if I'd read _The Prisoner of Zenda_ it would
>> make more sense, but even that book takes place in the late 19th century, so
>> maybe not.  At any rate, that's why I was confused.
>Yes, I agree that those parts of the book are very Ruritanian, and do
>seem to belong to a slightly earlier era...but I can also imagine that
>a teeny-tiny Balkan state like that would be, well, a bit "backward"
>compared to the rest of the world, so it seemed reasonable to me that
>Brinker was coming over all feudal or whatever.  Faris has a more
>cosmopolitan mindset because she's been away to more modern climes,
>but Brinker would be completely a product of his culture, which is a
>good fifty years behind Western Europe.  At least, that's how I looked
>at it!

I agree.  Thinking about it now, it all makes sense, but the first time it
just didn't register.  Like I said, I learn about things in unrelated
chunks, and it's sometimes a surprise to realize that certain historical
eras coexisted.  I think Galazon and Aravill were sort of hanging between
the two periods--they had access to the knowledge of the wider world, but
still kept a lot of their older customs.

It was actually *because* Brinker seemed so modern that I found his
betrothal scheme astonishing.  Sure, he's not got the cosmopolitan polish,
but he's very aware of everything that goes on around him and he's at least
traveled within the duchies.  Given that, I thought it was odd that it even
occurred to him.  (I also wondered that he would risk King Julian gaining a
male heir, when he was so close to ruling Aravill as things stood.)  As a
character, Brinker is very complex.  I kept forgetting whether or not I was
supposed to hate him.  He's bad, but not unredeemedly so like Menary is.

Fun book.  I wish I could love it, but I just like it a whole lot.  Caroline
Stevermer and I have very different ideas about satisfactory romances, but
this is still a wonderfully enjoyable book.

Melissa Proffitt
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