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Meta:Narrators and Inconsistencies

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(This page is adapted from Look Who's Talking! Some Principles, the introductory page to the "Cracks" section of Mark A. Mandel's Cracks and Shards] website, posted to The Lyorn Records by the author. The author retains all rights in the text, permitting reuse and so forth under the GNU Free Documentation License. Page references are to the original paperback or mass market editions; see list. --Mark Mandel 03:11, 3 Sep 2005 (UTC))

There is said to be a proverb among spymasters: "Intelligence is only as good as its source." Usually this is not a concern to the reader of a novel, unless it's a spy or detective story (although there's a fair bit of the latter in the Vlad novels). But when we're trying to resolve inconsistencies, the source of our data becomes supremely important.

Brusts, pluralEdit

First of all, we have at least two Steven Brusts to deal with:

Brust the authorEdit

One is the author whose books reviewers review and we buy, and to whom publishers pay royalties. He writes of Paarfi as his creation [TPG 487].

Brust the translatorEdit

Then there is the translator who interviews Paarfi [FHYA 548-553], thus becoming a character in the world of the books written by Brust the author.

Brust the interviewerEdit

There seems to be a third Brust as well — Vlad Taltos says in Athyra [Ath 9]:

Some fool kept paying me to tell him about my life; I never knew why. But the money was good. And he was able to convince me no one would hear about it.

However, the interviewer may be the "translator" Brust in another guise. (Athyra, in which Vlad mentions this encounter to Savn, is the first book that he doesn't narrate in the first person.) When the reader first hears about the Houses, in Jhereg [Jrg 3], Vlad explains in passing that

each Dragaeran House bears the name of one of our native creatures

"Our native creatures", in contrast to the creatures of your world, stranger. This is a slightly jarring note (see note), an implicit recognition that Vlad is addressing someone from a different place, where jhereg and teckla are unknown; but it is not so jarring on the third page of the first book as it would have been, say, five tales into Vlad's saga. How does it fit in with Dragaera, treated as a real place?

Well, Dragaeran sorcery can contact other planes of reality, parallel universes [Yen 206]. As we start to learn about Dragaera from Vlad, we assume that we are the stranger he is talking to. But really he is talking to Brust the interviewer, who (I assume) has come to visit Dragaera from another plane and/or another time: our world. And it must be at least partly by convincing Vlad of his alien origin that the interviewer can make him feel confident that Vlad's life story, as he is telling it, will never become known on Dragaera.

The interviewer doesn't necessarily stick around in Vlad's life:

But here, I've left you, you odd, shiny contraption with presumed ears at both ends, confused about who and what I am, and generally what I'm on about. Okay. I'll let you confused a little while longer, and if you don't trust me to clear everything up, then you can go hang. I've been paid. [Drg 15-16]

Presumably this "odd metal box" [Drg 286] is a machine that takes his words to Brust the interviewer: either a recorder or a transmitter, or both.

Vlad speaks directly to his listener at least four other times:

...odd as it may seem to you who have listened to me so patiently and so well, I really don't like pain. [Yen 117, as Norathar discovers her background] I speak these words, I don't know how it's going to turn out... [Yen 209, at the very end]
A lot of my best wit is shared with no one except Loiosh and you, so I hope you appreciate it; he usually doesn't. [Iss 202]
Sorry to drag you along for all of this, but, as I say, those were my thoughts at that moment, and if I had to live through them, you have to as well. Deal with it.
   Ummm ... would you be mad at me if, after all of this buildup, nothing much happens? Heh. Don't worry about it. Stuff happens.
[Iss 229]

The first of these quotations suggests, though not conclusively, that the listener is with Vlad in person at the time.

Brust and PaarfiEdit

And then there's the question of who's creating what. Look at the delicious little exchange in which Brust the "translator" is upset with Paarfi because Devera doesn't appear anywhere in Five Hundred Years After [FHYA 550]:

Brust: Huh? But I told you--
Paarfi: It would have been inappropriate, not to mention dishonest, to have simply "put" her somewhere when, in fact, I was able to learn nothing of where she may have appeared or, indeed, whether she appeared at all.
Brust: (Inaudible)
Paarfi: I beg your pardon?
Brust: Nothing.

So the translator has been telling the historian/author what he wants in the book? Heh.

(Note that this conversation, printed in the afterword, could be said to be the appearance of Devera in FHYA.)

The narrators within the booksEdit

The first five Vlad novels (Jhereg through Phoenix; see the list), as well as Dragon, which falls among them in the chronology of Vlad's life, are told in the first person.

While Vlad is out in the sticks on the run from the Organization, we see his tale through others' eyes. Athyra is told mostly from Savn's point of view and partly from Rocza's, and is framed by a Prologue and Epilogue in an impersonal view focused on a small group that includes Vlad and the catatonic Savn. We hear most of the events in Orca from Kiera, who is telling them to Cawti, but there are also parts that she keeps from Cawti but shares with us. In turn, much of what Kiera has to tell consists of Vlad's experiences as told to her!

In Issola, back among some of his old friends and acquaintances, Vlad regains his narrative voice.

Paarfi's authorial voice is inescapable through all the POV (point of view) shifts in the Khaavren books, especially since he delights in pointing them out to us. And Brokedown Palace maintains a third-person narration through several POV's (mostly Miklós's), with intervals of legend and tall tale that sound like the village storyteller... or Noish-pa speaking to young Vlad, although some of them couldn't be literally so.

Clouds of witnessEdit

Neither Vlad nor Paarfi is a perfect witness. Paarfi writes his historical novels on the basis of records and interviews, plus some of his own invention, which he says he limits to details such as manner of expression; but Brust the author has his doubts [TPG 487-488]. Vlad, despite his effective information network, is as fallible as anyone, and has much shorter experience and memory than any adult Dragaeran. For instance, he refers in passing [Phx 75] to "the Lyorn Daro, Countess of Whitecrest", who is certainly the same as the Tiassa Daro, Countess of Whitecrest, that Khaavren married. Evidently Vlad has made the same mistake as Khaavren initially did, taking the colors of Daro's clothing as an indication of her House rather than of her personal taste [FHYA 260-261].

What Vlad knew and when he knew it becomes particularly twisty in Dragon, which interweaves three timelines and is told (by Vlad to the metal box) at a point in his life considerably before its position in the sequence of publication (after Orca). Vlad tells us that he suspects someone is messing with his memories [Drg 15]:

I woke up one morning remembering something I'd forgotten the day before. I'd been having a one-sided conversation with a metal box, much as I'm doing now [...] but then, the morning after I finished, I realized what I'd forgotten, and my first thought was that someone had been playing with my memories. [...] My third thought was to consider, if someone was repressing my memories, who that someone had to be.
That was then, and it illustrates what a tricky thing memory is: I had forgotten something important that had happened just days before, yet now, more than three years later, I remember waking up and talking to Loiosh about it.

This is right at the start of the first chapter of Dragon, "Memory Is Like a Watchacallit". I have a hunch that Brust is simultaneously looking back to patch some cracks and looking forward to set up for more plot further along in the series.

The premise, or the toolboxEdit

I say all this in order to set up a premise for this discussion of cracks in the Dragaeran tales: Brust the author has a number of means at his disposal for creating and explaining apparent inconsistencies, as do we for doing so on his behalf. Different characters see things different ways, and stories change as they are retold. A prime example of this is the encounter on the Pepperfields, as seen (1) by Khaavren and friends (as told by Paarfi [TPG 364-375]) and (2) by Fenarr and his companions (legend filtered through thirty or forty generations of Easterners [BP 1-3]).

If I can save the consistency of the stories by reasonable recourse to this multitude of characters and Brusts, I would rather do so than blame the author for slipping. It's more fun. Besides, when dealing with an author this good, we owe him the courtesy of preferring to believe that if it's difficult to work something out, then he meant it to be so.


"Our native creatures": As it turns out, this jarring note is literally alien:

Date: Tue, 03 Mar 1998 09:25:23 -0700
From: Steven Brust
You may be interested in how it came to be that the line "all of the houses ..." came to be. I never wrote that. Jhereg was my first novel, and I was as nervous as first novelists usually are. My editor (Terri Windling, who is a wonderful editor) put that line in with a note that said something like, "rephrase this in your own words." In other words, do something that would get that information across. But I was too intimidated, so I just left it in as is, and have bitterly regretted it ever since. My own fault.

That seems to knock my argument into a cocked hat, but it doesn't really. It takes away one piece of supporting evidence for Brust the interviewer, but it doesn't introduce any evidence against it; and we still have the other cases of direct address, and the enabling evidence of interplanar contact and Brust the translator and interviewer. And since Brust the author hasn't said anything to contradict my analysis, I'll stand by it.

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