Fire and Hemlock again (LONG, and With Spoilers!)

Dorian E. Gray israfel at
Fri May 21 13:30:50 EDT 2004

Hallie said...
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> > spoiler space...
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> > I now
> > think that in fact, Laurel was holding to the bargain and is annoyed
> > because
> > she's being forced into a position where it's no longer possible for
> > her to
> > "leave Polly alone".  And *that's* what breaks the contract and makes it
> > possible for Polly to remember Tom.
> Not sure that that's the only reason why Laurel's annoyed, or that it's
> the one thing that breaks the contract.  Part of it is surely just that
> Laurel's the queen of the roost - she doesn't want *any* signs of
> initiative from her underlings.  (With some reason, admittedly, as Leroy
> messes things up for her so by trying to kill Tom!)

Okay, you're probably right there.  *One* of the reasons she's annoyed.
But...if Laurel had not been forced into a position where she was no longer
leaving Polly alone, would/could Polly have remembered Tom?  What else might
have broken that particular contract?  Would *just* the book have done it?
I'm personally inclined to think not, though of course it's pretty much
impossible to say for sure.

> > the only way to save him is to deny him all aid, and the only way to do
> > that
> > is to take away the one thing that he was absolutely positive was truly
> > his - Polly's support.  And given that he probably now realises that he
> > gave
> > Polly his soul when he gave her the picture, he has even more reason to
> > think/hope that she will support him.
> Not so sure about the giving of the soul bit - can you convince me?

Hm.  This is, to be honest, a bit gut-feeling-ish.

But...well, first of all there's the bit where Polly decides (and Tom
agrees) that the heroes are on a quest for the Obah Cypt.  But neither of
them knows what it is.

Then there's Tom's two stories in the anthology, both about the Obah Cypt -
in one, the Obah Cypt keeps turning up in odd places and getting its owner
in trouble until the Queen orders it burned (and now that I think of it,
that may be a reference to Laurel and the tithe to hell).  In the other,
it's an evil thing, but no-one ever sees it or knows what it is.  It's a bit
tenuous, I admit, but much of those descriptions could be applied to a soul.

Then there's the fact that whatever about the other pictures that Tom got
that he shouldn't have, Laurel never takes the Fire & Hemlock picture back -
as Granny says, "it must have been his to give, and he gave it you".  And
then Polly opens the back of the picture to find the bit of Tom's hair, and
she recognises it as the Obah Cypt.  And Polly's gift, don't forget, is
knowing things.

I do think that that picture - the Obah Cypt - does somehow hold Tom's soul,
but I admit the textual evidence I've just provided is sort of slim.  (Two
more even smaller bits - when they're first trying to decide what an Obah
Cypt is, they suggest that it may be a receptacle for something
exceptionally valuable; and Polly thinks when reading Tom's stories in the
anthology that he seems to have become obsessed with the Obah Cypt.)  You
could, I'll grant, take all those bits and come up with a completely
different interpretation of what the picture/Obah Cypt is.  But I think it's
some important part - perhaps the most important part - of Tom's self, and
"soul" seems to me to be the best word for it.

Anyone want to show us their interpretation?
> >
> > I'm also noticing now that Morton does not reach for any support when
> > they're in the pool.  It's not just that he knows that Laurel will not
> > support him, because she's not truly his (quite the reverse, in
> > fact!).  He
> > knows that all he has to do is stand still and wait for Tom to doom
> > himself.
> Yeah, and he surely comes to understand the rules of this contest, as
> does Seb, right?  And they know that Tom and his friends don't.

Oh yes, I think Morton does, absolutely, understand the terms of the
contest, just like Seb.  They've both had an awful lot of exposure to Laurel
and her thought processes, after all (Morton even more than Seb), which
Polly and the quartet haven't.

> > I think now that what she does is not cut herself loose from
> > him,
> > or him from her.  All she does is free him.  Opens the cage.  Leaves it
> > up
> > to him - and he has, for a long time, been leaning on her.  Holding her
> > as
> > his hope.  She forces him to grow up and stand on his own two feet, in a
> > way.
> But how - other than the nasty bit of spying - has Polly been keeping
> Tom caged?  If anything, he might have been seen as caging her by
> 'using' her, which he (again painfully) had to renounce by going off to
> Australia, acting as if she was just too young, etc.

I think that Tom sort of made her cage him - or made his own cage and gave
her the key - when he began to cling to her.  He felt that she was his only
hope, and by clinging to her, caged himself.  What Polly does is she
renounces that, breaks the cage he made, refuses to be his hope any more.
Gives him back the key to the cage and forces him to use it.  He bound
himself to her, and she undid the bonds.  (This is a bit hard to explain,
but I hope you see what I'm getting at.)
> >
> > The second reason I came up with was that it suits Laurel - if she can't
> > damn Tom, at least he's now going to be utterly miserable (and after
> > all,
> > she doesn't much mind losing Morton; she still has Seb).  That still
> > seems
> > to make a certain amount of sense.  Tom and Morton, and to a lesser
> > extent
> > Seb and Polly, have major stakes in this nasty little game.  It's not
> > that
> > important to Laurel; no matter what happens just now, she'll still have
> > her
> > consort.
> Don't agree with that one!  I think Tom was pretty universally
> acknowledged to be the most difficult and therefore the most valuable
> life of any of them.  And Laurel wants only the best for herself, right?

Well, yes, she does.  And she says that "Morton needs a strong life".  And I
do think that this is a minor reason and it should probably have gone at the
bottom of the list.  But Tom isn't Laurel's only choice, just her best one.
She *can* make do with someone else.  And I also see her as a
dog-in-the-manger type.  If *she* can't have Tom, no-one else is going to
get any good out of him, including himself.

> > And this one, I think is the killer.  On this one, I think I was dead
> > in the
> > black.  Tom, due probably to all that Laurel influence in his early
> > years,
> > has never really got the idea that he can do things on his own.
> > Throughout
> > the book, he does things with Polly's help - he doesn't even start the
> > quartet without consulting her, and after that, he sticks quite closely
> > to
> > the other members of the quartet.  Even when the final showdown starts,
> > he
> > consults Polly and the rest of the quartet.  He really doesn't ever
> > seem to
> > have relied upon himself.  Until, at the point when it counts like it
> > never
> > did before, he's forced to.
> Well, except for getting away from Laurel, which was huge, surely?  In
> fact, it says it in the end - the horse was 'all the wild strength he
> had summoned up to get loose from Laurel.'  I'm not sure I think this is
> just dissmissable as irrelevant quite so readily.

Ye-es.  But getting free from Laurel the first time was not as big a thing
as this.  It *didn't* count as much, first because at that time I don't
think he knew what he would be ultimately in for, and second because I don't
think he knew that Laurel's men never get entirely free (look at Thomas the
Rhymer).  It would have felt to him less important than this situation,
because his soul wasn't (as far as he knew) then on the line, and it would
have been easier for him to do, because Laurel knew then that she could reel
him back in later.  I think.  And as I said further on, I suspect it was his
music that gave him the impetus first time around to tear away from Laurel.

> > He saves himself not so much for himself,
> > but
> > because somewhere deep inside, even after her renunciation, he knows
> > she'll
> > be upset if he doesn't take the chance she's given him.
> Nice point - and it surely matches *her* development into a hero - as
> she goes off saying the reasons which aren't the ones why she's trying
> to rescue Tom, and then says something about its being the only way to
> stop murder being done.

Yes, and then afterwards he mirrors that by *not* saying all the things that
Seb would have said to try to make her stay with him.

> Although, well, it is important to be able to
> fight for yourself also, isn't it?  And I still think Tom can.

Oh, he *can* - he proves that by doing it when it finally counts.  But I
don't think he knew he could until then.

> But
> ringing all kinds of Maree bells now - with her being the tough little
> fighter who is SO selfless when push comes to shove, that she ends up
> costing someone else a huge desire.  Not that it doesn't make for a
> better story. :)

I'll save that one for a different discussion. :-)

> > But Tom did not renounce Polly, and has no wish to.  And
> > by
> > setting him free, Polly has granted him free choice, and he chooses her.
> > And Laurel, I think, can't do anything about it because their seeing one
> > another now has less to do with Polly's choice than it has to do with
> > Tom's.
> Oh, but that would have been too simple - Tom *always* wanted to be with
> Polly - I don't think Polly could have evaded Laurel's rules just by
> having Tom choose.

No, no, I wasn't saying that it was only now that Tom decided he wanted to
be with Polly - though I do hope he wasn't thinking in terms of romantic
relationships when she was younger!  But one way or another, he *has* always
loved her and I wasn't saying otherwise.  Just that now, he can finally make
a truly free choice, and he makes the choice he's always wanted to make.

Just as Polly loves Tom, and always has.  But she has already repudiated
him - or apparently so; as I said, there's more than one meaning behind "I
never want to see you again".  So whether or not they now get to be together
is down to his choice.  Polly may well live in fear for the rest of her
life, that Laurel will somehow get Tom back, in fact.

> > I.e. if their guess that they can circumvent Laurel by living in their
> > "fantasy world" is incorrect, then they must be free to be together in
> > the
> > real world.  And I think Tom's free choice has weight here, too.
> This is what I've said I see as the logic part - the way you can't have
> an immovable object and an irresistible force in the same system -
> Laurel's 'system' (or chilly rules) collapse because of the logical
> incompatibility of Tom and Polly not being able to be together anywhere
> *and* not being able to be together nowhere.


> None of it's remotely like wanderings!  In fact, make that 2 !s

Well, I'm glad it made sense to someone besides me. :-)

Until the sky falls on our heads...

Dorian E. Gray
israfel at

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
-Wm. Shakespeare, "Macbeth".

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