Choices

“What was the first book that made me feel like a grown up?” That was the question posted in the comments to my review of The Iron Knight. The same poster also made a comment that I’ll deal with later. But about that question…

The question is posed in an article in the Washington Pastime, and the article asks about the first time the reader felt an adult connection to a book.

People talk about reading big books, or using the adult section of the library for the first time. That wasn’t what came to my mind. I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time at about age 10, as someone else who posted did. I know I did not feel the same connection to the book that I did later–that’s why I kept re-reading it. What point in the 25+ times my perspective switched, I don’t know. Re-reading LOTR is bound up in my memories of growing up. It’s part of me.

The books where I think my perspective shifted are Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. When I first picked them up, only the first four or five had been published. I remember waiting forever for the last book. There are six in the series; The Game of Kings, Queens’ Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle, and finally Checkmate. The chess metaphor in the titles is deliberate, and yes, I kept a print copy when we weeded.

Lymond, whose full name is Francis Crawford, is the second son of the Lady Sybilla Crawford and her late husband, Baron Culter. He also a polyglot scholar, soldier, musician, master of disguises, nobleman—and accused outlaw. The Chronicles are historical fiction at their finest and most densely complex, roaming the mid-1500s from the Scottish Lowlands to the French court to the Ottoman Empire to Russia under Ivan the Terrible.

Lymond is a trickster, a wanderer, and a mercenary. There are also forces that are trying to maneuver him and that he spends his life and considerable gifts trying to outwit.

Ultimately, I found Lymond’s story to be about choice. There are two things that he wants. He wants his birthright–and he wants to be loved. He believes that because of all the things he has done, all the crimes he has committed, he is beyond redemption. And he believes that his chance at love, when it finally came, has come too late for him. When both his desires are finally within his reach, he has to make a choice. What does he choose? Why?

All of Lymond’s reasons for the choice he made were adult reasons. Nothing was simple. Nothing in the entire series was simple. The man he was at the beginning of the first book would have made a different choice than the man at the end. And then there’s Philippa. I think the other reason I marked this book specifically is because Philippa’s journey in the book is the one from girl to woman, and I followed her.

I thought The Iron King was also about choice. Ash chooses to become human. Ariella chooses to give her life for Ash. Not just to give him his chance at happiness, but also to give herself her one chance at an afterlife. Ariella lives on within Ash. In return, she gives him a piece of her Winter power, and possibly, a piece of her fey immortality.

Stories about choice always fascinate me. There’s an old episode of Doctor Who that kept running through my head as I read The Iron Knight. I think it’s applicable, but I’m not quite sure exactly how. It’s from the Peter Davison era, the episode was titled Enlightenment. Enlightenment is supposedly a jewel that is the prize for a space ship race. It’s not. Enlightenment is the choice about what to do with the jewel.  Enlightenment is always about the choice.

And speaking about choices. The poster’s other comment was “eventually you make the change to adult fiction”. To which my reply is balderdash! Or stronger words to the same effect. A good story is a good story is a good story. And good stories are always worth reading.

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