Kerstin's Sense of Direction and Sensibility - or, Geography and the Hero's Journey

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Abgeschickt von Birgit (Kerstin zitierend) am 12 Maerz, 2005 um 18:29:47:

Hier also Kerstin's wunderbare Abhandlung über Geography and the Hero's Journey:

"I have never commanded a force before...but I've studied geography and I know my chess." (p. 497)
Lymond on his qualifications for being a mercenary leader.

This has always been among my favourite lines. It brings to mind the scene right at the beginning of GoK, at the end of the first chapter, which also links chess with geography, when the perspective opens out from the "local" point of view in Scotland to present a panorama of the situation across Europe, "poised delicately over a brand-new board" (GoK p. 31), waiting for the first moves in a new game.

But Lymond is certainly not the only one perceiving a link between chess and geography. It is a theme that you can come across again and again at the time. Take, for example, this marvellous description of Christopher Marlowe's play Tambourlaine: " A great game of chess with kings and conquerors for the pieces and the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum for the board."

Chess again. And Ortelius's wonderful atlas. Chess and geography. Chess and maps.

Now if chess is undoubtedly an important theme recurring again and again troughout the LC (btw, has anyone ever made a comprehensive study of all the different ways in which the chess theme is employed in the LC?), how about geography?

Think maps. Think navigation. Think journeys - both real journeys and voyages and metaphorical ones. All connected ultimately, and inevitably, with the sea, with its special significance for the Dunnett hero (thinking of Birgit's architectural space theory, which has Lymond often feeling cornered/trapped in rooms/enclosed spaces, could it have to do with a feeling of space, and freedom, at sea? There is the reference to the "open sea" in the famous last line of CM. - Though the galley slave business would certainly seem to contradict that...And then there is that quote in RC that seems to indicate that it is the loneliness at sea that is the attraction: "The sea demands a man who knows the sea and respects it. A man who is prepared to be lonely" (RC, p.249). And as long as we are with the sea theme, dare I mention the recurring water imagery for Lymond that has been pointed out on this reread?

Anyway, back to the geographical theme. I hardly need to mention the sheer geographical scope of the LC. Not just the places we visit. The sense of exitement, the feeling that the whole world has become a game board for a man with talent, a skilled player - doesn't that just encapsulate the essence of the Renaissance, with its ever widening view of the world? "There is no land uninhabitable or sea unnavigable. They made the whole world hang in the air". A world in which (almost) everything seems possible. A world, so to speak, in which a man might just know that the unicorn's horn is really the tusk of a narwhal, but which holds still enough wonder to make the existence of a mythical being like the unicorn entirely plausible...And while the LC stay firmly within the bounds of the ancient known world (but travelling the lenght and breadth of it), further, more exotic, new places are certainly hinted at (the ultimate goal of the Muscovy Company is Cathay, and de Villegagnon's expedition to Brazil is mentioned).

As for maps and charts and navigation, you don't need to look hard to find those in the LC! There's Nicolas de Nicolay, the "French King's Cosmographer" (and note the term is not geographer or hydrographer, but cosmographer - a much more encompassing claim: the aim is not just the discovery and mapping of hitherto unknown corners of the world, but to provide an understanding of the entire cosmos and a man's place in it; a "world view" in fact), and Diccon Chancellor, charting the previously unknown North-East passage, and the Lindsay Rutter, which is so fortuitous in saving little Queen Mary of Scots. And John Dee, furthering the science of navigation with his calculations and mathematical studies. Even Pierre de Gilles, with his dissections and anatomical studies, is really just mapping the inner workings of the animals he studies - charting the unknown just like the geographers and cartographers do.

And to come back once again to Lymond's facetious remark about knowledge of chess and geography being prerequisites for a successful soldier for a moment, there is of course more than just a kernel of truth in it. Accurate geographical data was, and is, of utmost importance for a military campaign. Maps were often of immense value and kept secret - Lymond says: "Espionage and maps...are natural bedfellows" (RC p. 240)

There are of course countless journeys and voyages in the LC. From the rootless wanderings of the mercenaries in GoK (for whom "home" is only a series of abandoned and isolated, dilapidated towers), via the travelling court of Henri II in QP (where the inherent rootlessness of the court finds its reflection in the restless, licentious lifestyle of its courtiers), to the driven Odyssee of Lymond and his companions round the Mediterranean in PiF. Even the Knights Hospitallers have really only just found a new foothold on Malta (and a rather precarious one, too, for the next few years at least) after being driven first out of Jerusalem, then Cyprus, and then Rhodes.

And amongst all the journeys and voyages in the LC, real and metaphorical, there are two main currents. The journey of discovery, ever outwardly expanding, introducing us to an ever greater playing field, in parallel with Lymond's increasing status and responsibilities, juxtaposed with the journey "home", the search for a place of rest and belonging, bot in a very real sense and metaphorically (yes, the Odyssee theme which has been discussed repeatedly on this reread, together with the idea of "home", so I don't need to recap the details here - not that it's making this post noticeably shorter <g>...). Is it those two currents moving in opposite directions that is tearing Lymond apart? It is not only in the geographical sense that Lymond is furthest away from "home" in Russia. And it is, of course, Chancellor the *pilot* who guides Lymond back on his path towards "home" (both literally and metaphorically, by extending his friendship and drawing Lymond back into the companionship of equals) from the frozen wastes of Russia. And Birgit's/Pat's wonderful idea on the aptly named Nicholas Chancellor as another "guide" to set Lymond on his path fits right in here as well.

Of course, we do get this Odyssey, this journey "home" twice: once in GoK, where Lymond finds his home at the end of the book in the arms of Sybilla (and isn't it ironic how fragile and treacherous this supposed safe haven turns out to be?), with his name and reputation restored, and then again on a much grander scale over the entire arc of the LC - another parallel, if you like, to the scene in the opening chapter of GoK I spoke of before (local vs. global view): first the scenario is played out in Scotland, and then again on a much larger playing field: microcosm and macrocosm, so to speak. Or, to take another approach, picking up on the theatre and acting metaphors in which GoK abounds, GoK as the dress rehearsal for the grand spectacle of the LC <g>? Though, come to think of it, that isn't exactly a million miles removed from the microcosm v macrocosm argument either.

And it seems so very appropriate that a figure like John Dee, who is one the one hand so rooted in "mundane" science, like mathematics and navigation, while on the other known for his metaphysical pursuits, like astrology (even if that was regarded as a proper science closely linked to mathematics and astronomy) and his search for a spiritual truth, should provide one of the main links between the "real" journeys (in his capacity as adviser to the Muscovy Company and through his involvement in the art of navigation) and the metaphorical ones. After all, his horoscopes are nothing else but attempts to chart a person's inner being and their path in life. Lymond's answer, with which he repudiates John Dee's probing into his mind and his destiny, confirms this link between astrology and navigation: "For these excursions, I make my own sea-charts".

This is Lymond rebelling against the predetermined path/destiny set out for him (remember that the Dame de Doubtance, who tries to push Lymond towards a predetermined destiny, is also the first astrologer to cast his horoscope) - asserting his free will against a perceived predestination. Like astrologers, who want to eliminate the element of uncertainty from a person's journey through life by mapping out their destiny, navigators want to eliminate uncertainty from their journeys, and have their path set out clearly before them by means of charts; and both look to the stars to do this. Both astrologers and navigators use the perceived order in the heavens ("th'erratic starres hearkening harmony" is Lymond's drunken but poetic invocation of the Pythagorean concept of cosmology in GoK) to impose some sort of order onto the world.

Hmmm, I'm just remembering Lymond's impassioned outcry from the dell scene: "I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hand". And here I thought that particular thread only started when the DdD comes into play. Arrgh, I certainly didn't mean to drift into a free will v determinism debate here...

Anyway, it is certainly no coincidence that the very last sentence of the Chronicles picks up the theme of maps, and charts and navigation, and even the stars again: "We have reached the open sea, with some charts; and the firmament..."
And, to take up another previous discussion again, it provides another clue that Lymond's home lies in the body and person of Philippa. Compare the joyful sentence with the rather defeated and lonely "I am tired of journeys. It is time I arrived somewhere" (CM, p.555) just a few pages before. A tiny change of pronoun, a huge change of direction. Here we have Lymond, together with Philippa, ready to set out on another journey.

Apologies for this rather muddled and rambling collection of incoherent thoughts. I'm not even entirely sure any of this makes sense, and a large part of this has been said before by others much better than I can anyway. Of course, this complex of ideas and connotations with the associated imagery was prevalent at the time, and is therefore exactly what you would expect to see in those books, and I'm not even arguing that there is a coherent development of a theme here, but it is fun to follow the trail of this imagery and see where it leads you. As Lymond says in RC, "Something comes out of every voyage", so hopefully, this has not been an entirely fruitless exercise <g>



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