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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Sharing Knife, theme

In the first post in this series, I attempted to set the stage, including some description of the two types of people in these books. A later post, on the subject of ground (unique to these books) is here. A later post, on religion in the books, is here.The final post in the series, on how I found illustrations of important Christian ideas in the books, whether Bujold intended them or not, is here.

In this one, I'll discuss the theme of the four books.

That theme is that Lakewalkers and farmers should, even must, get along, and respect each other and interact more. Does this have political overtones? Probably, but the idea could be applied to many pairs of cultures, religions, ethnic groups. Bujold has said that ". . . if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, F&SF [Fantasy and Science Fiction stories] are fantasies of political agency." (See here.)

Most obviously, this theme is set forth explicitly in action at the end of the second volume. Dag's mother insists that Dag is not really married to Fawn. She demands that he abandon her, and a council of Lakewalkers, from that particular area, is called to deal with the matter. When Dag sees that half of the council is going to agree with his mother, and believes that they are doing so out of prejudice, he declares that he is going to leave the camp with Fawn, and does. In part, this is out of protest, but Dag has also had conversations with the captain of the Lakewalker patrol, and with the most important healer, and told them that he believes that farmers and Lakewalkers are too distant from each other. Dag's mother is not receptive to such an argument, but the captain and the healer see that it has merit. The third and fourth volumes describe how Dag and Fawn connect with farmers and Lakewalkers, and how they get at least a few of these to see that Dag's vision is correct.

Why does Dag feel as strongly as he does about Fawn, his farmer wife?

One reason is because he sees Fawn as a woman with great ability. She cannot sense and manipulate ground, except that the bit of Dag's ground in her marriage cord tells her whether he is alive or not. Although she lacks this special ability, found in Lakewalkers, she has great courage, an ability to grasp what needs to be done, and can understand and articulate the heart of important issues. She is a loving wife, and a hard-working companion. Fawn is involved in each of the four malice kills described in the books. She personally killed the first one. The story of how Dag threw Fawn his sharing knife, and she killed that malice, the Glassforge malice, guided Dag's aunt, and patrol captain, Mari to throw her knife to Dirla, who killed the second malice in these stories, the Bonemarsh malice. After that malice was killed, Fawn sensed, from miles away, that Dag was in deep trouble, and rescued Dag and several other Lakewalkers, including an important healer, from the aftereffects of the encounter with the second one, acting in a way that no Lakewalker had understood how to do, namely using a sharing knife on Dag's leg. In the third encounter, she was nearby when Rase, working under Dag's leadership, killed a young malice. In the fourth encounter, she encouraged her brother, Whit, to make the actual kill, and crafted the weapon that did the killing. That weapon included a sharing knife, already made and primed by Lakewalkers.

If Fawn is so capable, in spite of her short stature, her youth, and her lack of groundsense, there must be other farmers who also have great ability.

Another reason for Dag's pursuit of a better relationship is that Dag sees farmer abilities as equivalent to the Lakewalker's ability to manipulate ground. In the first book, Dag and Fawn watch glassblowers in action. Dag examines the ground of a bowl that a farmer craftsman has made, and finds that its ground is well made, even though the farmer is not aware of ground. Later, he describes farmer commerce -- ordering goods from hundreds of miles away, and paying for them with coin minted by remote towns -- as a sort of farmer magic.

Also, Dag is afraid that, if farmers aren't taught about malices, and ground, and sharing knives, a malice will emerge close to a large farmer town, and, in enslaving a large group of farmers, gain energy, ground and knowledge that will make it impossible to destroy. But, if they are taught what to look for, and how to react to malice threats, most of the townspeople could escape, and they could warn Lakewalkers early, so that the malice can be killed. This argument resonates most clearly with Lakewalkers.

I believe that Bujold wants us to see that Dag's most important reason for trying to begin a fusion of the two groups is that Dag sees their common humanity. He understands and respects the farmers he has grown to know. He sees their hurts as worth as much care as Lakewalker injuries, and believes that their medical needs cannot be ignored, as they have been. In spite of prohibitions against explaining ground, and sharing knives, to farmers, he begins to do just that, in part so that farmers won't see Lakewalkers as cannibals or ghouls.

In all this, Fawn supports him. There are farmer prejudices against Lakewalkers, too, and she tries to combat those. The two of them have begun to achieve their vision by the end of the books. The last scene takes place in the home that Dag and Fawn share with Fawn's brother, Whit, and his wife, Berry. Dag has become a healer of all who come to him, using his ability to manipulate ground to repair their injuries. He does not always succeed, but usually does. Barr, who entered in the third book as a self-centered, immature Lakewalker, comes to them. He confesses that he had a fling with a farmer girl, and that he has discovered that the result was a daughter. The girl's mother doesn't want anything to do with Barr. Barr is disturbed, and seeks advice from Dag and Fawn. They tell him to not give up on the possibility of helping out his daughter, and Barr is eased by that. Then Fawn's infant daughter, also a half-breed, the future of the two cultures, must be cared for, by both her parents, as Barr observes.

Bujold doesn't sugar-coat the difficulty of getting along with people of a different culture. She indicates that doing so must be done on a one-on-one basis, and that both groups must make changes in their way of thinking. I think she has hit the nail on the head.

Thanks for reading.

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