_The Thief_, with spoilers galore--extra long for your enjoyment

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Fri Mar 8 11:37:42 EST 2002


I've tried to snip this as much as I could, including our previous 
defenses against cheating which were not the things to which Melissa 
objected. I'm working from memory as my copy is still with Dorian. 
It's in a good home. :)


>spoiler space
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>more spoiler space because
>I don't know
>how much
>is
>really
>needed
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>HOWEVER.  This is NOT what I mean by cheating.  In my original post, rather
>than trust the spoiler space, I referred obliquely to something that the
>reader should have known, because Gen knew it, which was deliberately hidden
>from the reader.  Ros, who is obviously very smart, picked up on the same
>thing:
>
>>But what about Gen's taking the stone from the mage and hiding it in his
>>hair without telling the reader, allowing the reader to believe it's been
>>lost?  In omnisecent voice that would be fine, but in a first person that
>>strikes me as somehow selling the reader short.
>and
>>I'm still not convinced that having a narrator writing in first person
>>hiding his identity from the reader,  isn't a kind of cheating. I wasn't
>>only referring to Gen's identity, though--I didn't explain (because of
>>spoilers) that I meant it to apply also to the fact that Gen also had stolen
>>the stone a second time and had it safe all along. Even though I absolutely
>>loved the book--I do want to stress this--I can't help feeling that hiding
>>*that* piece of information from the reader when the book is written in
>>first person does strike me as...I'm not sure whether the word is cheating,
>>but I feel that it's doing something that's not fair to the reader.
>
>Exactly.
>
>I think there's adequate justification for Gen's hiding his identity from
>the reader; he's deep in character, there are moments when he *breaks*
>character which hint at his being something more (his unexpected ability at
>swordfighting, the fact that his name is Eugenides, his having written up
>his "history" and getting it planted in the archives for the magus and the
>king of Sounis to find).  In subsequent re-readings, these clues are fairly
>obvious.  A similar effect is found in Connie Willis's _Uncharted
>Territory_, where the narrator's gender is a mystery for the first 100
>pages.  (To avoid embedded spoilers, I will not reveal the truth here, so go
>read the book if you're interested.)  Willis does this to underline the
>ambiguity of Findriddy and Carson's relationship, and to strengthen the
>underlying theme of sexual seduction and courtship ritual, but also because
>it's a cool trick if you can pull it off.  I think Turner does this fairly
>well, but it does feel a little like a trick, even if it is justified.
>
>It's the issue of Hamiathes's Gift that I see as cheating, and I'll tell you
>why.  The structural climax of the novel happens at the moment that Gen
>reveals that he's had the stone the whole time everyone thought it was lost.
>In order for this to be the climax, *the reader can't know the truth*.  The
>reader has to be just as surprised as the magus and Sophos in order for the
>climax to retain its emotional impact.  In order to do this, Turner has to
>manipulate the first-person POV and take advantage of the reader's
>assumptions.


Well, I agree with Anita that Gen's having the Gift has much less 
emotional impact than the revelation of who he is.

>
>While it's true that Gen lies all the time, his deceptions all center on how
>he represents himself to others (and, due to the POV, to the reader).  But
>at no time does he misrepresent what he *perceives* and *actually does*.
>That is, he might lie about why he's doing something, but he won't hide that
>he's done it--up until the skirmish at the ford.  Here's the relevant
>paragraph:
>
>"The magus and I were nearly knee to knee, ahead of the others.  I dragged
>the reins of my horse over to one side, and it stumbled into the horse
>beside it.  I brushed shoulders with the magus for just a moment and then
>turned the horse on its haunches...." (p. 156)
>
>This is the moment at which he cuts the leather thong and takes the stone,
>but there's no mention of this key event.  Here's his later explanation of
>how he managed to get it:
>
>"As soon as I'd seen the riders attacking, I'd moved my horse, never far
>away from the magus's, until I could cut the thong around his neck with the
>penknife I'd stolen the first or second day out of prison.  He'd been too
>distracted to notice and had assumed later, as I'd known he would, that the
>thong had been sliced by a sword stroke and that the Gift had dropped into
>the stream." (p. 204)

Well, you have omitted an important clue - as soon as Gen gets up in 
the tree he says that he rebraided his hair - and in the only 
previous mention of doing his hair he said that the braid was useful 
for hiding small things he'd stolen.

>
>Yeah, the magus was distracted, but Gen sure wasn't.  And he definitely knew
>what he had done.  So why don't we get to see it--especially since we get to
>see everything else he's done?  Because that would have ruined the climactic
>moment.  Turner tries to justify this by including other thefts that also
>are never mentioned (i.e. the penknife and Ambiades's comb, the second time
>Gen takes it).  She also throws in an oblique reference that is only
>understood the second time, from the part where Gen has been worked over by
>Attolia's guards and is in a cell:  "I didn't want [the magus] to put his
>hand beneath my head and lift it....When he didn't notice the bump under my
>hair at the base of my skull, I gave up protesting" (p. 173)  The bump, of
>course, is the Gift.  But these justifications are iffy at best, given that
>the reader is given no reason to distrust Gen's perceptions (and his
>internal narrative to the reader) of physical events.  And the fact that Gen
>finally DOES tell us the true sequence of events, immediately after the
>surprise revelation, indicates that Turner knows full well that readers had
>no way of picking up on this beforehand, and would be going "Huh?" at that
>moment without the explanation.
>
>What's more, this is a manipulation of what readers expect from the
>first-person POV (something Ros noted above).  The assumption is that
>whatever lies the POV character may tell to other characters--and whatever
>lies other characters tell which go unquestioned by the POV--that narrator
>will not, at least, lie to the reader; if his internal narrative is flawed,
>there will be external evidence to clue the reader in to the discrepancy.
>Turner takes advantage of this to keep the secret up until she can reveal it
>to best advantage.  This isn't strictly cheating, but it's a manipulation
>writers can't get away with very often, because it destroys the reader's
>trust in the author's narrative choices.

Oh, dear - I disagree with this both because I think there IS a clue, and
because I think everything is a little less black-and-white than this.  I don't
think Gen *did* lie to the reader - he just didn't disclose the full truth (and
I see his theft of the Gift as really almost as dangerous to him as the
knowledge of his identity - if he's allowed repress one bit of information, why
not another?).  But more than that, I think it's that I'm not sure we 
should expect this particular narrative to be a certain way just 
because it's first-person.  I'm never going to manage to explain this 
as clearly as I want to, but it goes back to my feeling when we 
studied _Pride and Prejudice_ last year and read in a section on 
realism and comedy something about the "duplicitous narrative voice" 
in P&P.  I was a bit taken aback at first, but came to see what was 
being said.  And I think it relates very well to the narrative voice 
in _The Thief_, on a deeper level than "if Jane Austen can do it, why 
can't MWT?"  (Which I also feel, of course.)

Obviously, if at the end of the day a reader feels cheated, that's 
how he or she feels.  But I do still have a bit of a problem with a 
categorical statement that it IS cheating.

On the other hand - I agree totally with all the good things you have 
to say about it. :)


Hallie.


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