The Lions of Al Rassan (in part assumes you've read it...)
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And as I don't think this one will be made a group read anytime soon I at last decided to talk about it anyway, if someone is interested.
Thoughts that I've had includes -
Does the gender, or the worldview, of the reader have any impact on how you read the story?
The tale could appear very different depending on if you identify with Jehane or with any of the male characters. Or?
I've seen reviews describing the tale as a story love triangle, and that is not how I read it; to me it's a story where pride and honour, a sense of "obligation" (?), forces friends to, in the end, try to kill each other.
Thus it discuss the question of how, where and why you place your loyalties, and how the decisions that you make don't stand by their own - unavoidably they are affected by the choices of people you have no influence over.
To what amount are my interpretation influenced by my knowledge of the history of the Iberian peninsula?
All the way I knew the Jaddites (christians) would (re)conquer the peninsula; that was what happened in the "real" world. In the real world this also was closely accompanied by the rise of the Inquisition, and I had a hard time dealing with the Jaddites because of that.
Because of that I also felt that the future was not for Jehane and Ammar - I spent a lot of time preparing mentally for a really sad ending, and was kind of... let down when Kay chose the gentle way. In reality there where very few places where "infidels" could make a living during the high middle ages...
The characters feels real and true, but are they?
The epilogue felt nice, in a way - you wanted to know who of the male protagonists survived - but it also poses some problems. Some of them are very common in modern lit. I'm thinking of the "was strong and influential but is now a everyday person" theme - how individuals handle change in status and ability to affect the world around them. In the epilogue Ammar seems content with the life he has, but could he, really? That would in a way be extraordinary, as most people have trouble finding themeselves deprived of power.
The text hints at his wish to be "only a poet", but losing power is not an easy thing, psychologically. In his situation most people would react wuth bitterness. Does Kay imply that his love towards Jehane has outweighted this (normal) reaction?
Maybe I should let this be, allow the book to be just that - a book, written for entertainment. But part of why I read is to get trains of thought in motion - brain gymnastics. And this read provided ample amounts of that!
Any thoughts, anyone?
I thought someone would have posted something for you by now. I like your thoughts, but just started re-reading Lions because you've enthused about it so much recently. It's been years since I last read it. So I can't remember too much yet to respond, but I'm keeping your questions/thoughts in mind while I read and will be happy to discuss with you once I've read more of the book.
Hope to hear from you when you've finished rereading it (and I hope you found it worth the effort...)!
I'm very glad that you enjoyed it Busifer, and now I really want to dig this book out again.
More than a week after finishing the book it still haunts my mind...
I'm so glad you've talked about this book so much Busifer and inspired me to read it again, it is just such a wonderful story and I enjoyed it as much if not more the second time around. Now I want to read all Kay's stories again (after Elantris)!
I certainly don't see Lions as a love triangle story, but more about love of country, faith, honour as you say. I found I identified with Alvar the most, not sure of anything, questioning almost everything, finding nothing black and white. Jehane, Rodrigo and Ammar are such powerful, assertive heroes, so sure of their convictions. And yet with all their power and assertiveness, they still end up victims of their allegiances which I found compelling, perhaps that's part of their tragedy.
As for the characters feeling real and true, yes I think that's a great part of Kay's gift as a writer, but they're also so much bigger than life, almost unbelievably prescient at times, strong, self-sacrificing. I think I'd have liked to see a little more weakness in all three of them, but then would they have been the heroes Kay wanted them to be?
I questioned Ammar's life too, I think he would be missing the power, but at the same time there was always his killing the last Khalif and King Almalik I haunting him. I would think he would be very happy to put that finally behind him and perhaps live a quiet life with no question of him ever being asked to do such an act again.
And the joy of writing your own world is that you can sometimes right the wrongs in our real world. So I can understand Kay giving Jehane and Ammar a good life in the end rather than living a life of constant persecution. We have enough people all over the world being persecuted, tortured and murdered, I think it's a relief to have some hope in a story, fantasy or not. Maybe that's the only place it will ever actually happen.
I agree that one of the nice things with writing a fictional story is the ability to make a happy ending :-) And I'm glad he did, because now I will be able to reread the book, and that is such a gift. Or at least I feel that way! I've already planned the reread for the first two weeks in June when we are going to Spain, to a part of the country which is the equivalent of the small Jaddite part that never became incorporated in Al-Rassan.
It feels kind of appropriate.
Unlike you I never felt Jehane to be too much a heroine - or this is my interpretation of what you are writing... To me it was easy to identify with her, maybe because I lived a single life for a very long time and because I could identify with her relationship with her father? I really don't know. But I think one of the big achievements of Kays' is that he manages to write up different characters, each of them a full individual.
If Kay uses this novel to discuss something, which I'm not sure he does, I think it's to which extent you can control your life - that in part we are victims of circumstances and that our loyalites of convictions not always guide us through in the way we would like them to.
Personally I'm not sure how my own choices would have been had I been in the situations of Ammar, Jehane, Rodrigo or Alvar respectively, and in that way Kay succeeds in exposing the duality of humankind - that we are not true good or true evil, only individuals trying to do what we feel are right, however it turns out in the end.
That is wonderful that you're going to Spain, and taking Lions with you to read, awesome, so much history there!! :D
I guess I felt Jehane to be heroic because of her actions, she didn't flinch in times of danger, she acted resolutely and treated people despite differences of political opinion, faith or personality. I couldn't help but admire her for that. Anyone who has that much strength of commitment to the betterment of humanity is admirable in my opinion, and I guess, to me, that makes her a hero. You're right though, Kay is very talented in making his characters multi-faceted, realistic. He's an amazing writer, no doubt about it.
The victims of circumstance is a very strong leitmotif throughout the book isn't it? And maybe that's what makes this such a compelling story. I think we all like to believe that we do have our life somewhat in control and then something happens and we realize it's a complete fallacy. There are always outside forces dictating what will happen. And again the talent of Kay, making us think what would we do in any of those character's places? I never cease to be profoundly grateful to be living in Canada and enjoying the amazing life it offers. Living somewhere where there is so much terror, strife, poverty, depravity, who knows what our choices in life would be then. I think it's very good to read books (even if they are fantasy) that make us think about these things.
It's interesting to be reading Elantris right after Lions of Al-Rassan, both full of political intrigue, etc. I find myself making comparisons.
But - I grew up in a family where kids where allowed to participate in the discussion, plus I have some extensive knowledge of the workings of politics. That's all. Really.
Anyway, yes, when you define hero in that way I agree with you - she is definitey a hero kind of person! When I think of the concept "hero" it is someone who is flawless, strong and goodhearted - that I didn't agree with you was because I feel that all the main characters have some "flaw" - they are all wondering what to do, having fits of feeling insecure, etc. Or at least they had the way I read the book!
And like you I'm grateful to live in a country where it is possible to enjoy the good sides of life. When reading the book I at numerous times thought "I could not fit in in their world, there's no place for a woman like me there", and I kept thinking of how I would have managed in a world like that (depressing pictures all the way...). That I still liked, or appreciated, the world and most of the people inhabiting it is a major feat by the author.
Or so I think.
To make a discussion of victimization, so to say, so compelling! In my experience, books discussing things are often weak in characterization and world building, the idea taking over... and this is not the case with The Lions... :-)
It is VERY interesting to be reading Elantris so soon after finishing The Lions of Al-Rassan! I have found myself making more than one comparision, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.
I'm thinking that while Elantris is a more kind of a classic work of fantasy, likely to be enjoyed by those reading fantasy, The Lions... is more a mainstreamed book, as genres go, and could be enjoyed by anyone?
I mean really, if Ammar was already disillusioned about all this war stuff and wanted to go somewhere and write poems anyway, why not leave before you are forced to kill your friend?
Still I enjoyed it. Here's my review:
It's said that Belmonte is based on El Cid; could be interesting to read as background...
But regarding the I mean really, if Ammar was already disillusioned about all this war stuff... I can only say that, yes, it puzzled me during my reread - in many ways it was so obvious he had a choice of doing anything but what he ended up doing. But in some ways I felt it consistent with his morals, and the point being made was, to my mind at least, that there's bad guys on every side and so there IS no good side to choose.
In that case you can choose NOT to choose - to become an ordinary person. But that hadn't made for much of a story, had it? ;-)
Please explain to me how Jehane could fall in love with him.
Edited to add: this sounds really harsh. Maybe Alex is going too far, but I really didn't like the guy.
Some of the things I particularly liked: the trepanning scene; the hilarious "short sword" episode; Velaz' death; the shadow puppets; the echoing of the leaders praying for the same things; the three wine glasses left outside. One thing I truly hated was the beginning of the epilog, which I felt jerked me around, trying to make me believe the wrong thing, which didn't fit at all. I complained about this over on brightweavings, and he responded that it was in line with the theme of unclear identity that pervades the book. I see his point, but I still hate that one bit.
I don't see Ammar as admirable, but neither do I see him as an opportunistic villain. He is a deeply conflicted character, struggling to decide where to give his allegiance. Rodrigo took up service with (I can't remember the eastern king's name) only because he had been exiled, and he was apparently just waiting for an opportunity to resume his place, although we see him being conflicted about that as well. Everybody is unsettled, except the zealots. Perhaps Kay is saying that surety is both difficult and dangerous in such an uncertain world.
My point about Ammar being a bad guy was it just didn't jive to have a woman like Jehane fall for him. He only became "conflicted" later on when he no longer was able to influence events himself. He had finally gotten himself in the position to run the place with Almalik II, and he was summarily dismissed. It was only at that point that he saw the handwriting on the wall, realized that one king was as bad as another and just wanted out. If he had gone with that and left before killing Rodrigo, he would have redeemed himself. As it was, he was just a jerk. To me it wasn't tragic, just contrived to have the big killing confrontation at the end.
Again, why did Jehane want to be with him? If she did love both men, why didn't she even one time have a conversation with Ammar about his options? She was supposed to be "strong;" why didn't she try to do something to forestall this stupid testosterone-induced posturing? She was such a ninny.
I also believe that it was his sense of pride that forbade him from taking up on Rodrigo's offer - I view Ammar as an individual totally driven by personal pride, and the story partly tells what happen to those people; sometimes it's better to leave pride behind, for the sake of life and living.
In this case I think one have to consider the setting from a culture/history perspective - when I first read this book I thought "I would NEVER want/would be able to live in this land and time, being the woman I am". This is in part an historical novel, and at the time described most people /and women in particular/ had no worth other than as subservient pawns. Think the original greek concept of democracy, which only involved persons of certain economical means, and gender; we still think of it as genuine and all-compassing, but in reality it wasn't.
The characters are, in many ways, victims of their time. The interesting thing is that while some of us think that kind of thing is dated, in reality it isn't - as I percieve it this is how most societies operate, but on a level hidden to us; we believe we are emancipated and free to choose. But are we?
As to how Jehane could fall in love with Ammar - need love be rational? Liking might be, but love is another thing. They just happened on each other at the right time.
People all around us do incredibly stupid things, and we still like or love them. Kay is good at capturing that, or so I think.
But when all is said and done, this is just a book ;-)
I agree about them being of their time. This is precisely why it was a stretch for a Jew like Jehane to fall for either a Christian or a Muslim. They each treated her people like dirt; it would take an extraordinary man, of a different type, to catch her eye.
If Ammar had done the Casablanca thing--hey baby, this is the way I am, I have to go fight this losing cause, you can't be a part of it, stay and minister to your people, we'll always have Ragossa--then her love would make sense. If he had actually been changed by the experience of meeting and loving his "enemies" and refused to fight anymore before he ended up killing his friend (someone she also loved), it would have made sense. But to go off into the war, kill his friend and then retire to the country with the girl, that said girl would have nothing whatever to say about it--that stretched credulity no matter what the timeframe.
Thanks for recommending the book, Busifer. I must have gotten something out of it to still be debating it 3 days later!
While I agree that what you say stands to reason love doesn't always have to be reasonable or logic, eh? Maybe that's why I'm ready to accept the premises, hehe!
How could Jehane NOT fall in love with Ammar? He's just so damn sexy! ;-)
But at the same time I can see that he in some ways are an unpleasant man. Right now I don't remember the name of the silk merchant (shame on me!) but in the opening chapter he kills one of this mans' servants only because he was sloppy with information... Not nice.
It also makes sense because I think there is a kind of connection between the writings of UKL and Kay - they have different writing styles, but their main themes are not that far separated...
While reading Lions... I never thought of arthurian myth but while reading Fionavar I suddenly thought "wow, he used this Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere-trio in Lions and I never noticed"! One of the differences being that he in Lions merged Lancelot with Diarmuid and created Ammar, instead of having two characters.
Somehow I'd like to elaborate on the symbolic "one on one before the battle-fight" he uses in both works, but I don't know what to say yet. Maybe if I think about more about it...?
While it was compulsory I never studied literature while at school (I read as much or more than today but thought the area pseudo) and so am not trained to look for these things but now I think it is interesting how the same devices can be used to tell different stories :-)
It is also interesting to see how an author uses basically the same devices again and again. In my opinion Kay pulls it off - not everyone else do!
I used to think of this as something painters did - painting the same scene/motif again and again and again - but now I'm beginning to think that some authors actually uses different topics and different themes to explore the same basic idea(s). So now I'm off trying to uncover these basic concepts re other authors; there are some that are easily seen (LeGuin and her emancipation themes) but what lies under them?!
So now you all know what I've been doing instead of reading/posting to threads like "I cut my finger on a piece of paper" ;-)
I made the connection between Ammar and Diarmuid, Busifer, but never even thought of the similarities of the two battles! I think that such a practice/convention works on (at least) two levels because it WAS done, a sort of 'see who the gods favor before the battle' thing, but it also allows a writer to concentrate the battle in main characters rather than trying to put all of it into a large, full battle scene. The single combat brings the conflict home by embodying it in familiar characters. I think it allows the reader to feel the battle more instead of being overwhelmed by it.
And I will, respectfully, have to disagree on the point you made, littlegeek, about Ammar not bowing out before the fight with Rodrigo. I don't think either of them COULD have bowed out beforehand, though both were hoping it wouldn't come to that. It is obvious they both love their cultures and want to see them surive. Ammar speaks to that when Rodrigo makes him the offer and says, 'It will be the Muwardis or the Horsemen. No one can dance that dance between fires,' and Ammar responds with 'I have to try.' (Sorry for the inaccuracy, I'm doing this from memory). They are both trying to stave off the death of their world as it has been, and in the end both failing, which happens so often in life. I will admit to an obvious bias on the subject, though.
I haven't gotten to read UKL's Left Hand of Darkness yet, but I did see similarities, personality-wise, between Ammar and another character, Arithon from Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow Series. That association probable greatly influenced my first impression and opinion of him.
1) He's smacking us in the face by, just before a miraculous victory, turning the book's most interesting romance into a terrible tragedy.
2) He's telling us a couple things about Diarmuid: he's capable of being serious, and very capable when he is serious; and in spite of how fun-loving and in love with Sharra he is, he's willing to sacrifice himself to contribute to a victory (or do you think he expected to survive?)
3) We know that Diarmuid was familiar with the Arthurian legends, so I have to think that he was aware that he was freeing Arthur from dying before the main battle. This was necessary to the mechanics of the plot and the idea that Arthur had paid the price.
1) We knew the two men, both flawed but paragons of their cultures, would have to fight eventually. The whole book led up to it, in spite of several characters' efforts to prevent it. They had refused to fight one another in Ragosa, but could refuse no longer. As Ammar said, he could not join Rodrigo because of his history.
2) It gives us the view of Jehane and Miranda standing together while their men fought to the death. This was a particularly poignant image for me.
3) The proposal was made by Yazir, if I remember correctly. He might have figured that he had a chance to deal a serious blow to the Esperanans, but if Ammar lost it would remove a bone of contention between Yazir and the Muwardis.
There are probably numerous other things going on in both scenes. Can anyone add to these lists? That might help us gain a clearer picture of why he uses this scenario twice.
BTW, another thing he does more than once is have one of the participants in a duel throw his shield like a frisbee (the other was Quzman in Arbonne). What's up with that?
But in some cases I'd argue that the author, in this case GGK, is in love with a certain detail and hopes his readers will bear with him using it twice? ;-)
The last battle was, in every way, the weakest part of the whole triology. And while previous books esatblished that while Diarmuid was very capable indeed if only he wanted to I thought it improbable that any man would walk into death the way he did. He could be excused for not forseeing that he actually would lose this battle. But - the battle in itself was only symbolic and had nothing to do with the final outcome. And torn between the love of your life and a symbolic fight, fought for reasons of entertainment of the troops, I hope most sane men would chose love.
Sorry. Hopelessly romantic, here.
I have read an interview (?) where GGK states that he wanted to avoid this event but found no way around it.
And - So, Arthur has paid the price. He was freed. And what then? He, Lancelot and Jennifer (and Taliesin) sailed away. To what? To no longer exist, to vanish, or to an eternal threesome? This felt very unbelievable.
But what I belive is going on here is mainly a systematic remake of the arthurian myth - all other plotlines are expendable.
All in all I see Fionavar as an academic exercise in high/epic fantasy, with emphasis on exercise - it's not really a story the classic way; it's more like a lab experiment.
Jim > could you please elaborate on your second point? I did not percieve this the same way as you did and am curious! Agree with items 1 & 3 - this is exactly how I think of it.
However, to me this battle is an image of how religious/nationalistic conflicts at one point stops being about persons or single items and start to work on a level stripped of individuals, stripped of thought/afterthought. As they fight it becomes more and more difficult to tell Ammar & Rodrigo apart, they are like /lack proper english word, sorry/ figures cut out of black cardboard /thinking shadow theatre here/. This works as a symbol of how this kind of conflict deprives people of the right/opportunity to choose their own destiny.
When rereading this part it is very clear from whose point it is being told but the first time around I had no idea and thus the symbolism became even stronger.
BTW - I agree with Stargazer on the use of single combat scenes as plot devices - they make for a better story!
Edited for spelling...
My favorite part of the scene, though, is the fact that, at the beginning of the battle, it is Husari who is crying, as if expressing what the two women cannot (yet) allow themselves to express.
This scene was, in my mind, only done to allow for the two fighters to become shadows, silhouettes; a way of enabling the metaphor of which I wrote earlier. But when you retell the sequence, Jim, and when you, Stargazer, elaborate on it I realise I missed a detail and an opportunity to reflect.
Thanks to both of you for pointing this out.
BTW, I meant to say last night that I agree with a lot of what you said about Fionavar. I think he was trying to do several things, but the working out of the Arthurian themes just took over, particularly down the stretch.
As you said, it's entertaining to think what comes next after Art, Gwen, and Lance sail off into the sunset. Do they enjoy a permanent menage a trois, in a place where such things are not wrong? (Interesting similarity/contrast to Lions here, where both Rodrigo and Jehane wonder whether it is wrong to love two, but don't try to make it work).
The idea of Fionavar as a lab experiment is very appealing. Or maybe it's GGK's dissertation, which he had to get out of his system (after helping to finish The Silmarillion) before he could really start writing his own books. Even with all its flaws, I find a lot to like: Matt and the dwarves, Ivor, and the pacifistic giants. Doesn't hold a candle to Lions, tho.
Yes, I think that's where the similarities really hit me. In both instances we are left with ambiguities; in Lions as they stop at wondering, even if they do it aloud to each other (but not until they know there's no turning back) - in Fionavar they just sail off into obscurity, all three of them, without ever mentioning the problem.
Re: msg #41 I'm furiously trying to get what you are hinting at. The only two instances I can think of in this context is Diarmuid fighting the evil war leader and dying, and Darien sacrificing himself as a mean to end the existence of Maugrim. And as I don't think that the first case was a true sacrifice I am left with the last - the Darien/Maugrim scene. Which in my mind felt very... I don't know. It was one of those scenes that felt unbelievable. Had this been a movie had I almost certainly laughed at the implausibility in that moment.
But somehow I keep thinking that you're after something else entirely, something I seems to have missed or where I don't have made the right connection?
I still find Ammar not taking up Rodrigo's offer the weakest spot.
This is, in my view, the only point were idea and story trumps character in Lions. IMHO he wanted to convey the idea that surety is not always a good thing, that no one and no thing is black or white, and that individuals gets trapped and misled by their ideals and/or pride, and that when the stakes are high enough what you or I want or think or need personally no longer matters, on a political level.
I think if Ammar had been a pragmatist he would had taken the offer, because deep down he knew that the Jaddites would win this, eventually, and this was by far the safest road for him (if any road is safe in war...), not least because he would not risk having to try to kill a friend. I'm also very certain that was the motivating factor for Rodrigo when making the offer.
This was the point of no return. Of course, after he returned to Ragosa he could had sneaked over the mountains, to Ferreires or Batiara or wherever, but this was not really an option - he knew he would have to go to Cartada, and then the road was set and sealed. Because how could he had turned down Yasir promoting him to ka'id? It would had earned him an execution, his and Jehanes. At that point I don't think that was a possibility, for him. Or so I hope ;-)
What disappoints me is how Jehane vanishes from the storyline. It's not as bad as with Sharra, in Fionavar 3/The Darkest Road, but during the symbolic last battle she fades out, never to have a viewpoint of her own again. We get to see that she ended up having a good enough life, eventually, but she has been the character holding the story together throughout, and that should had made her worthy of having a last word, at least. As is she is just another woman, mute to the world while the men talks.
Can't take away the way I feel for this book, though. I love it.
Interesting I find the fight scene at the end one of the strongest, I am not a big one for fight scenes but that one get's to me every time, whether it is because it is from the view point of the women watching.
I think that it would be quite likely that the women would be allowed to stand together. From what I can gather from my history reading many medieval battles were relatively small, and there were 'traditions' such as the heralds - at Agincourt it was scandelous that the French killed the English pages and support people, while it was equally scandelous that the English killed the French prisoners of war.
Or so I think.
Thanks for your aditional insights into this fine book. I too found Jehane's dimishing role toward the end to be disappointing. She really held everything together, and it seemed to unravel a bit. Perhaps intentionally so, but I don't think so. Sometimes Mr. Kay can be such a... guy.
Yes. You just don't want to be a woman in one of his tales.
Rereading this thread made me decide to reread A song for Arbonne, and this is as true in that book as it is in Lions.
I'm trying not to be judgemental. UKL herself manages this in Powers, the third Annals of the western shore book, and she's a known feminist... and if she got license, why shouldn't he have it?
(Actually I can think of multiple reasons, but I still love his books.)
Kay's women are still written pretty strong considering this is the fantasy genre, not known for its strong women. Jehane fights sexism and is a doctor, Miranda runs the farm completely because Rodrigo is always away. I know in the Fionavar trilogy the women didn't impress me as much, it's been ages since I read them, so I can't remember very well at all. I agree that Jehane kinda fizzles out at the end of Lions, but maybe that's just because she's gotten older, peace has been established, she's content.
I guess whatever we find lacking in the characters is saved by good writing. I enjoy Kay's writing tremendously. Before I logged onto LT this morning I was on Abe Books to see if I could find a copy of The Song for Arbonne. It's the one book of Kay's I don't have, and it's not printed anymore. I let a friend borrow it and never got it back. Luckily Abe Books has plenty available.
But Tigana, doesn't Tigana have a strong female character or two? It's been ages since I read it either. I have to read both Arbonne and Tigana again.
My personal opinion (and you know how unique and valuable those are) is that his stories could be deepened by looking more at the effects of some aspects of the societies he depicts. However, I understand his caution: writers who focus on issues rarely create memorable characters or stories. Even so great a writer as LeGuin, who I think does as well as anyone at including social themes in excellent novels, loses control of her material on occasion, as in The Word for World is Forest and to some extene in Tehanu. Rocking the boat certainly puts one on a slippery slope.
Also I think Kay, in some of his best books, are very strong on issues. Lions is very much about religion versus belief, politics versus the need of the individual, control versus no control at all... etcetera. He uses strong characterisations to show his thoughts on these issues, and to me he is a very skilled spinner of tales. But at heart he is not writing action or heroic or formulaic swineherd or romantic tales but books that makes us (me, at least!) think. Even if he uses all of these aforementioned gimmicks, at one point or another.
(BTW UKL herself has said she's almost ashamed at how transparent The Word for World is Forest is.)