Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Take another look at Philippa

In this interesting commentary I found I was given the opportunity to see Philippa through someone else's eyes. I do not necessarily agree with the assessment completely but the author makes a very interesting and valid point at the end. Let me know what you think and enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Wider Picture

In the opening chapters of The Game of Kings we are not only introduced to a majority of the most important characters of this and the following novels, but we are constantly being asked to focus on intricate and remote details while also needing to understand the wider world that was at play in Dunnett's background. Dunnett has the series open in 1547 and it goes without saying the 16th century was a tumultuous period for all parts of Europe - as it was "poised delicately over a brand-new board, wait[ing] for the opening gambit." [1]

I admit this with a fairly high degree of blushing (I am not a chess player), but it did take me some time to also realize many of Mrs. Dunnett's 'clues' were embedded in the titles and chapter headings that were all alluding to chess - known as the game of kings due to its level of skill, resemblance of military tactics and political maneuverings. One must not forget that Dunnett is also, at some level, writing an historical novel alongside her adventure. She is not simply using history as a convenient backdrop where her characters are airbrushed into scenes, but they are intricately woven and bound to the societal mores and dictates of the 16th century. Can we expect our hero to be anything more or less than the product of his time for all of his high learning and capabilities?

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

History will teach us that the political, social, educational and economic world was changing in the 16th century and new definitions were emerging for what it meant to be an 'in man' - one who is dashing and cosmopolitan. And while Lymond sneaks back into Scotland with dramatic and fresh Continental European flair, with an emerging Renaissance style and attitude, he is still wrapped up in a political climate that has not yet adjusted or moved forward. Henry VIII in England is dying, yet the idea of absolute monarchy has reached a high in England (reminding all staunch Parliamentarians how close to tyranny a monarchy can get) and he has made a last-ditch effort to bring Scotland into the fold. We are not yet arrived at the days of revolutions or civil wars that show monarchs to be less than divine, though it is certainly beginning to be questioned.

Linlithdow Palace where Mary of Guise gave birth to Mary Queen of Scots 
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

France sits across the Channel with her secured dynasty and tightly-controlled courtiers, laden with money, unencumbered by religious turmoil and happily ensconced within the arms of the Roman Catholic Church - a mighty foe, indeed. More troublesome is the closeness that continues to be fostered between France and Scotland. It has been a long relationship between the two nations that had its beginnings long before Edward I turned his conquering eye in that direction back in the late 13th century. And Mary of Guise, of an old and powerful French nobility, has managed to give Scotland a baby girl that will one day be ruler. Isn't it a happy coincidence that Henry VIII finally managed to get himself a son that could unite the two countries, eventually strong-arming France out of the island nation's immediate political sphere?

A young Edward VI - one might question how he felt about his prospective Catholic family. 
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without a doubt, Europe is a bit tetchy. We can realize the familial drama beginning with Lymond's arrival in Scotland would be a headache, but when we combine that with the wider world at the time we can better understand why Richard Crawford is less than pleased to see his younger brother. It is a time all over Europe when alliances are strained, trust is always in doubt, double-dealing is an art and familial bonds are only secure as long as it is prudent. France, Scotland and Spain are watching as England moves from tyrant to boy-king, the Holy Roman Emperor is bogged down with troubles at home and in the East while trying to keep a pulse on the new situation and France is about to make an alliance with a wealthy but teetering Italian family, the Medici. And Rome is up-in-arms because an alliance between Protestant England and any iffy Scotland would mean one more country succumbing to the wickedness outside the Catholic Church. It is enough to make a modern researcher dizzy, but to have lived through it must have raised someone's blood pressure.

Scottish Lowlands - the area hotly contested between the English and Scots during this period
(photo credit: worldisround.com)

The game of kings, indeed. One can fall into the lure of focusing on Lymond's course and behaviors and attempt to let the political backdrop become just a prop; but if we step back once in a while and realize the broader implications than the Lymond Chronicles can be an even bigger adventure. It is certainly possible to read and enjoy these books without all the background knowledge, but is much more fulfilling - in my mind - if we can achieve both a narrow and broad perspective.

Until next time..

1. Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings (New York: Vintage Books, 1997): 31.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Seriously - this time.

All right - let's just be honest with ourselves and admit that life just gets in the way of some of our goals and I'm ashamed to see how long I let this blog linger is obscurity. Lymond is still one of those characters I keep coming back to in all of my readings and I even think about the life he was leading while I go about my modern 21st-century tasks.

The courses I am taking in school, however, have better prepared me (I think) to go about reading the Lymond Chronicles and the prequel series. I have a much better grasp of the Classics and am beginning to delve into the world of the Roman Catholic empire that I think has its earliest life in the Councils of Nicea.

Mrs. Dunnett must have either had a fabulous education or one hell of a voracious appetite for knowledge of all kinds. Perhaps she had both. I can only envy her imagination and the scope of her knowledge. She leads us on a merry chase from beginning to end of all of her stories and what a truly awesome feat for any author to accomplish.

I have had many friends throw up their hands in frustration after the first book, perhaps making it to the second, but I almost pity that they won't ever experience the highs and lows and all the wonderful and awful human emotions that Mrs. Dunnett portrays. Perhaps the best part of her novels are the fact we can see ourselves in her characters - we are all flawed in some way. We may not suffer from a debilitating drug addiction like Lymond (and all his other questionable behavior) but very often humans are subject to some kind of obsessive behavior we must learn to control before it controls us.

That being said, I have a bad habit of comparing modern literary or movie characters to our beloved Lymond and the closest I seem to get, though he is not at all how Lymond is physically portrayed, is Don Draper from 'Mad Men' on AMC. He has the bad behavior and scathing temperament but deep emotional complexity that confounds followers. Like Lymond, we want to love Draper because of his physical and mental prowess but his naughty behaviors often make us cringe and wish our hero could be complete and worthy of sainthood. Could Dunnett be teaching us an ultimate life lesson? Trust not in princes, but an honest thief is worth his weight in gold?

Could we please seem some blonde hair and blue eyes on Laurence Olivier? Regardless, the face of Lymond for me, I think, will always be a bit obscure but one can try to get as close as he might have looked like.

Until we meet again (soon)...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Post Soon!

As the owner of this blog, I was very excited to have another chance to read The Lymond Chronicles and share that experience with anyone who wanted to join me. I had a brief spurt of posts, but also started graduate school around the same time. However, having just wrapped up my first semester and looking for some things to keep my mind working, I am returning to Lymond's world and will be posting here soon on the rest of Game of Kings and hopefully the next novels in the series.

Thank you for your patience!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Will Scott of Buccleuch

Simon Woods 
Role as Charles Bingley from 'Pride and Prejudice' 2005

Another one of my favorite characters we find in Game of Kings is Lymond's side-kick, one-time betrayer and ultimate savior (by the end of Kings at the very least), Will Scott of Buccleuch. He is young, brash, bold, very intelligent and hell bent on joining Lymond's misfits to prove something to himself and others. As the eldest, legitimate son of Sir Walter Scott, Will Scott certainly would have had much of the same education and warrior's background as Lymond but where they match each other in those arenas, I think from the outset Dunnett wanted these two men to have something ultimately dividing the two.

They are both young men, though for all of Lymond's handful of extra years there are eons of experience and hardship giving Lymond the rough edges, unappealing vices but the lightning quick mind Will Scott (and even the reader) have a hard time keeping up with. I feel Will Scott's role in Kings was a mirror of our, the reader's role: that of a confused interloper just trying to fight our way through.

From the beginning of their relationship, Lymond is dismissive, vindictive and derisive to Will Scott, constantly testing his loyalties and fortitude to live on the other side of the law and his father's displeasure just as the reader is struggling to find where we should fit Lymond into our own hearts. It is through their relationship that much of the story is eventually explained as time after time Will fumbles his way beside Lymond, constantly demanding an explanation for the Master's actions.

I always felt a kind of sorrow for Will Scott because I think he hungered to be the kind of master of men Lymond was, but he lacked the sometimes heart of steel needed. Maybe it was through some of Will's more temperate personality that helped guide Lymond through the worst of his moments, thereby making him one of those heroes that fade into the background but are no less important.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


"I am as I am, and so will I be; but how I am, none knoweth truly... disdain me not without desert! Forsake me not till I deserve, nor hate me till I offend."

This is, I believe, one of the many clues Dunnett begins embedding to give the reader some idea of our hero's deeper character once we are able to peel away the disdain, conceited and petulant behaviors, spitefulness and acidic tongue. But as it comes rather early in the overall story, I think we tend to forget about this first and rather tender view of Lymond. It is a fairly intimate moment between two strangers, but in it Lymond recognizes something in Christian Stewart worth respecting and admiring. Though he has suffered a blow to the head causing a momentary lapse in memory, his personality and intelligence shine through at a masterful level. 

There is quite a lot going on in this seemingly simple scene - things I completely glossed over while reading this the first couple of times. All of the characters are still new to us but there are some, like Lymond's brother Richard, that we are better able understand more immediately. Yet, Lymond is supposed to remain an enigma to the readers for the basically the entire series. By this point we've seen him as the leader of a merry band of misfits, a drunkard with a bit of a cruel streak, an able solider and an enlightened man born out of wealth and the highest education. No one in Scotland or England know where his allegiances lie at this point - we are given to understand he has taken bribes in one form or another from both - but we do know he is a wanted traitor in Scotland. He has taken part in skirmishes that are aiding the Scottish forces yet his own brother and Sir Walter Scott are as yet unconvinced. What he is doing at the bottom of Boghall Castle with a sizable lump in his head is a bit of a mystery, but this is where he encounters Christian Stewart and their relationship takes root. She will become an ally of Lymond, for reasons not quite clear at this point - but she is able to break down some of the barriers he has and remains one of the few women to do so in this series. 

This scene has become one of my favorites and not because I imagine it as a love at first encounter situation; mainly it is when we are finally introduced to a rarely seen softer side of our hero and it is with a quite unusual woman, brilliant in her own right.

 The verbal sparing begins with Lymond quoting from A Tale of Rauf Coilzear... (historically there is no other known manuscript except a 1572 version owned by the National Library of Scotland, but as the text belongs to a time period of medieval poetry the reader can assume Lymond will be familiar with it)
 ...'I am but ane mad man that thou hast here met'

Doing a bit of digging, I located an online text of this poem and have located the passage...

'I am bot ane mad man that thow hes heir met
I haue na myster to matche with maister full men
Fairand our feidelis Fewell to fet
And oft fylit my feit in money foul fen 
Gangand with laidis my gouerning to get
Thair is mony Carll in the countrie thow may nocht ken,
I sall hald that I have hecht, bot I be hard set 
To Wymond of Wardrop I wait fell weill quhen
Sa thruie I said, Rolland it is mine Intent
That nouther to Wymond nor Will
Thou sall hald no hecht till 
Quhill I have brocht the to fulfill
The Kings Commandment

I have also found a text that gives a bit of a summary of this medieval tale and helps us understand what is being said. This is a bit of a verbal clue from Lymond, because in the tale the Emperor Charlemagne tells an unsuspecting charcoal-burner that he is Wymond of the Wardrobe and is in the queen's service. Our confused hero Rauf doesn't know what Charlemagne looks like, and so accepts this story to be true. Christian could conceivably take the place of the ignorant Rauf because her lack of sight will always lead her to be ignorant of anyone's true identity and using the allusion to the name here could lead one to think Lymond is aware of his identity and is yet buying time to find a way out of his predicament. Is he also trying to convince Christian she should trust his allegiances are as they should be (by being Wymond of the queen's wardrobe) and so not to consider him an English spy?  

Christian now has her own opportunity and parries his thrust with one of her own from the medieval tale Roswall and Lillian in which a poor and bereft knight known as Dissawar shows up in Lillian's father's kingdom and wins her love. As Lillian is trying to discover the true identity of Dissawar she begs him to
 'cast away that name. 
Call  you Hector of Oliver, or as ye are fair enough, 
Sir Porteous, or else name you for the worthy Emedus; 
or call you for the brave and comely Predicase. 
Or, because I love you so well, let your name be Sir Liondale, 
or great Florent of Albanie if ye bear love for me, my heart! 
Or call you Lancelot du Lake for the sake of your true love, 
or the Knight of the Arms Green, for the love of your bright lady!'

It is here Lymond recognizes Christian's humor, intelligence and quick wit and his respect for her grows immensely when he recognizes he cannot hide behind allegorical and classical allusions to heroes long gone. When he then changes his tune and starts quoting from Sir Thomas Wyatt's works, I feel he is offering Christian an apology for using his games on her and also trying to tell her he will reveal in his own time who he truly is, but asking her for the grace to do so. 

If you have any thoughts to share on this little scene, please feel free to do so. This has been quite a learning experience for me!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sir Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch

Though it would probably seem best to start off this blog with a long and detailed post about our hero, I thought I would start off with one of my favorite characters in this series, Sir Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch.
Actor Kieth Michell portraying Henry VIII in the 1970 series  Six Wives of Henry VIII. 

From Dunnett's descriptions of Sir Walter Scott, I started envisioning this towering hulk of a man with a prominent jaw and overall strong features and naturally, red hair. He certainly has a very strong persona in her books and to be honest, I think if historical accuracy had not tied her hands with this character, Dunnett might have kept old 'Wat' around for much, if not all, of the series. 

He is one of the many real life individuals woven into the series and lived during the tumultuous and bitter period of the Rough Wooing (Henry VIII's persuasion tactics to get the baby Mary Queen of Scots as a bride for his son Edward), seeing much of the action as his lands were located in that murky area of the Lower Marches. Quite a few times he found himself at the displeasure of the Scottish Crown, but Dunnett portrays him in her novels as a fierce Scottish supporter, though not always in line with those who might have been sitting on the throne. And in that I think she has the right of things. 

He comes across the pages as a wildly passionate man, with a hot temper, quick wit and rough tongue ready to lay his life down for love of his family and native land. She merges Wat into her story as an opponent of Lymond (who at this point has been branded and accepted as a traitor in all corners of Europe) as he tries to discover the loyalties of Lymond's elder brother Richard before the enmity between England and Scotland erupt in all out war. In one of my favorite quotes, Wat is haranguing brother Richard over Lymond returning to Scotland and the current mess of war declaring 'and in between raids every landowner between Berwick and Fife is courting England like a pregnant scullery maid. God knows, I don't blame them. I've taken English money myself...', which immediately goes to show his sense of humor, but also that he is a realistic man. He knows the struggles all men up who have lands marching up and down the border between the two nations will face in the times ahead and he fully comprehends the need to 'promise food and horses and nonresistance...you do or don't lick their boots according to the thickness of your walls and the kind of conscience you have.' 

Very quickly, Dunnett sets Sir Wat up to be another hero in her story - maybe not a friend to our intended hero, but most certainly the kind of big, bluff and hardy hero Scotland sorely needed at that time. He is far-sighted, realistic and sharp. Having dealt with the English before, he therefore has knowledge Scotland could put to good use later on. Yes, Sir Walter Scott is one of my most favorite characters in this series and I think it might have been something Dunnett intended all along.