Damar Commentary Page

Main work 9 February 1998
{Some additions 3 July 2002}
Go to the Robin McKinley page.

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  • Timeline
  • Damar and India
  • Northerners
  • Religion
  • Mages
  • Similarities to God Stalk
  • Unanswered questions
    The clear Damar books are The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. Yes, you may have heard of a Damar trilogy, but that was a long time ago, no third book has been written, and McKinley hasn't admitted to working on any such book. So don't ask.

    Other Damar stories are "The Healer" and "The Stagman" from The Knot in the Grain, possibly the two stories after those, and "The Stone Fey" in Imaginary Lands. Deerskin mentions Aerin and Maur but is not otherwise connected. I don't know about Beauty; odd animal names might connect it, but not much else.

    {I have an idea Spindle's End may have mentioned the Damarian names as well, but I'm not certain.}

    Timeline of Damarian Events

  • In the misty past, possibly prehistoric Goriolo becomes a mage, probably somewhere in the area of Damar. Hero, Chapter 17: I've been a master mage since old Goriolo put the mark on me, and he could almost remember when the moon was first hung in the sky.
  • Some time later Luthe, Agsded, and Aerinha become his students. Hero, Chapter 2: "They named you for your mother." "Then she has to have been Damarian. Aerinha was Damarian." [I'm assuming that Aerin's name was derived from her mother being Aerinha, not copied from her mother being Aerin. I choose this partly because of my pet theory, but also so that I can distinguish the two women more easily.] [This may be wrong; Aerin's dream in the Lake, wherein she seems to see Agsded poisoning her mother, has Agsded referring to her as "Aerin". This increases my estimate of the chance that her mother was named Aerin. McKinley's magic is confusing enough that I don't think that scene provides certainty; Agsded may have been addressing the daughter as well. Or it's a nickname. I still like distinguishing them.] {I now think Aerin's mother was named Aerin, but I stick to calling her Aerinha instead of "Aerin's mother" everywhere.}
  • Some time after that Aerinha leaves Goriolo; she has learned enough to be immortal, but fled ere she was given the mage mark. My pet theory is that the Damarian legend of the goddess Aerinha was based somehow on Agsded's sister. There's little evidence apart from her being old, redheaded, and powerful. But Aerin does complain about the goddess teaching men how to forge swords, and her mother did lack complete confidence in her own gender. ["Immortal" is sometimes considered to mean immune from death; despite the etymological case for that, I'm using it to mean immune from old age and "death by natural causes", for lack of a better word. "Not quite mortal", which McKinley uses, is too damn long for me.] [Pet theory about Aerin's mother being the basis for the goddess actually comes from Liz Callaghan.]
  • Hero minus 2000 Maur, last of the Great Dragons, sleeps. Perhaps Agsded is responsible, since Damarian heroes had been killing them off so quickly. Goriolo may be dead by this time -- I think Goriolo was dead by Hero and I got a queasy feeling that Agsded was responsible.
  • Hero - ? "The Healer"; Lily and Sahath come to Luthe. Some years later presumably they return. Luthe had claimed to Lily that he was a healer; perhaps she taught him otherwise. {Expansion -- in Hero Luthe tells Aerin he is not a healer.}
  • Hero - 20 In case Luthe needed proof, Agsded finally catches his sister, either physically or in some mage-dream intrusion or something, and gives her a poison neither she nor Luthe can cure. She goes to Damar and marries the strongest kelar around, Arlbeth, and bears Aerin. Any chance she might have had at living longer fades as she realizes she didn't bear a son.
  • The Hero and the Crown Lots of stuff happens, which could use some commentary, but I won't bother right now. Aerin lands on her feet(!) several centuries in the future, and has some visions. The second one is clearly Harry in Sword; Tom and Leo and Ye Mysterious Hole in the Hill are unknown. The first vision may be of Lissla Lissar from Deerskin. It was my pet idea that Aerin was having visions for each time as Luthe dragged her back, only the order is wrong; Tom and Leo are probably later than Harry, and Deerskin should be before them in time, which would put the vision of her later if Aerin was going backwards. Maur's head drastically lowers Damarian property values, which is pretty impressive for a skull.
  • Hero + ? "The Stagman" Luthe starts meddling again and rescues Ruen. I don't think he was terribly satisfied by the results. Temporal placement is from the red stone around his neck.
  • Hero + 40? Tor croaks; Aerin presumably goes back to Luthe. I will assume that she goes on to magedom, because that makes me happy.
  • Hero + 300? Deerskin happens -- not in Damar. Ossin refers to Aerin killing Maur "a long time ago and very far away". But there are guns running around Damar 500 years after Maur, so we can't be too far ahead if this is in the same universe. I can live with the seven kingdoms being off in some fairy land of their own, with common literary elements (magus ex machina == Luthe; legend of Aerin) without being a real common universe. But if it is a common universe, Ossin falls around here. The people are much paler, so we know that it is very far away. (And if it is the same universe, I claim the Moonwoman is a mage, like Luthe, although presumably much younger and weaker.) {I don't know what I based that presumption on; it's not like Luthe does anything. And if she actually lives on the Moon that's be pretty impressive. Maybe there's some implication her origin is within historical memory, which I doubt for Luthe.}
  • Hero + 500: The Blue Sword Some two-bit Northern mage Thurra rallies the Northerners (who don't have much kelar) to invade Damar again; the Damarians don't have much kelar either, although both sides have enough to foil Homelander guns. Damar is a pathetic little piece of desert; one might think Maur won after all. Gonturan shapes Harry and Corlath's kelar to rearrange some more topography and drop a mountain on the Northern army. This being a romance, Harry gets to survive the effort with nothing more than total exhaustion. Aerin has a few discreet cameos; I prefer to believe that she's a shy 500 year old mage than that she's a weird ghost. Being legendary might make her shy. Of course, staying shy encourages the legend. Luthe doesn't do too much for a mage of his calibre. He still has the bloodstone, apparently. {Plus, Luthe gives reasons for being shy -- the whole telepathic sensitivity thing. There's no reason to believe he's unique in that respect; it could explain Agsded's and Aerin's shyness. It'd make Aerinha's marriage to Arlbeth impressive, although maybe the poison dulled her mind}

    Luthe in _Blue Sword_ does give the impression that Aerin is absent or dead. But she's certainly active somehow; perhaps she and Luthe just had a falling out. "Damnit! I can't stand a man who never leaves his valley!" "I was more mature at 20 than you'll ever be!"

    Damar and India

    In The Blue Sword the feel is very much of the British in India. (The book was inspired by Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King", about which I know nothing, unless I saw it on PBS a very long time ago.) {I did. I've also read it recently. I don't have any insights from it just now.} The big nasty mountains to the north help. Daria is a peninsula full of little brown people with orange trees in the south, Damar is a blob in the north, and the Northerners live in the Himalayas, which may explain a lot about their attitudes (see below). The Homelanders are British. Very British. I'm not sure if the description of plateaus and hills of Daria actually maps to real Indian geography.


    Hero + 700 Daria, Northern Range.

    "Huff. Everyone's going on about our magic, living in awe and fear of us, calling us demons. Of course we have kelar; you try living in these damn mountains without it. Half the time there's nothing to eat but your own spells. And that goes to explain our funny looks, too. You think alcohol's bad for developing infants, try raising them on kelar. There's a reason the stuff doesn't develop until puberty.

    So we keep on invading Damar. Our stupid ancestors decided to colonize the roof of the world; can you blame us if we want out? Not that we've had much luck. If I go down there to trade the peasants will scream and call me 'demon' just because I've got three eyes (two of them blind), a cock's comb, and more joints than I know what to do with. And a horse with sharp teeth. Stupid horse. Damn animals have a tenuous enough grasp on reality without making them carnivorous. So we invade. Only the damn Crown turns us, or that damn blue sword. I'd like to know what her problem is. Stupid Damarians don't even use her more than twice in 500 hundred years. If she wants a chick with kelar we can provide, but no, she has to go around helping demonphobic people drop mountains on us. I never got to meet either of my granddaddies because of her. It's a tough life when even a sword hates you.

    So, will I get to see a copy of this Weekly World News of yours?"

    {I still love this piece of mine. The slander of horses comes from Pratchett's Lords and Ladies.}

    On Damarian religion

    There's an odd thing about Hero and The Blue Sword, regarding religion. Sword, the first published book, has no mention of gods or any formal religion at all. The Meeldtar grants visions, but that's magic (or kelar) and Harry has visions of Aerin, but given Aerin's background those aren't necessarily the ghost of a dead ancestor. On the other hand the ancestor-worship/hero-cult which Corlath and Harry have for Aerin seems fairly heartfelt.

    {The mailing list re-read Sword together, at which point it was pointed out that Corlath in fact does mention priests, although I forget how. They still don't have a big role, though.}

    Hero does have gods, but they don't seem to matter. There are priests, who officiate at all the rituals and determine who gets to be the heir. There's mention of the Seven Perfect Gods, and Aerin mentions the God Who Isn't There. Oh, and Aerinha. But we never see anyone pray to them, or worry about them, or hope for aid against the Northerners from them, or take them all that seriously. There's Aerin's private god-name just mentioned and her own thoughts about being "The God that Climbs". Aerinha is mentioned very early on -- and never again after that; if you expected her to be revered like Aerin in Sword, tough. (Although if my theories are correct, that wouldn't have been effective anyway: Aerin's still alive in Harry's time; Aerinha was actually her mother, and dead shortly after her birth.) And as for the ceremonies, they seem to have more social than religious significance to the royals, like atheists or agnostics having their weddings in a church and being concerned that the wedding go right, without valuing the priests as more than necessary props.

    And there's no clue to an afterlife, a major component of most religions. Luthe says he almost thought Aerin was a ghost, so ghosts might be real, and there's disagreement on whether Aerin is alive and corporeal in Harry's time; but there's no mention of what, if anything, Damarians think happens to them when they die. The impression is that they just die, but some (like Maur) are more tenacious.

    On the other hand, the master mages seem like good standins for gods, at least in power. Agsded, who can play "demons" like puppets, makes a good devil, and Luthe sounds like the name of a light-god. If you heard the story from two removes and the words describing various relationships were changed you could easily buy that they were gods.

    On mages

    Let's not look at mages just yet. Let's look at Tor and his relatives. Damarian royals can make tangible illusions (Perlith's bouquet); walk unseen; mend broken items; make people love them, or at least marry them; learn swordplay without extensive practice; "bottle up Northern mischief"; and otherwise moderately protect Damar from Northern magic. If someone with these powers showed up today we'd be happy to consider them a fairly puissant mage.

    And as far as Luthe is concerned, they're almost beneath contempt. Presumably none of them holds a candle to Sahath from "The Healer", a true mage who taught his pupils words to burn the ocean and crack the earth asunder, yet who considers Luthe's power beyond his own comprehension. (Interesting chain: Goriolo to Luthe to Sahath to others.) Luthe is at least 2000 years old, and probably older. Agsded is to Maur as Maur is to vermin-drakes; he can also cause (presumably kelar-rich) Northern generals to do things without them noticing that their ideas aren't entirely their own. Agsded's tower has some odd relationship with time, to the order of centuries. Luthe rescues Aerin from those centuries. Agsded's death apparently wipes out the surka.

    Maur's skull flattens and desertifies at least several square miles. Gonturan, Harry, Corlath, and perhaps Aerin relocate a mountain range. I guess I haven't actually come up with a point in all this yet, except to make sure that people go "wow".

    Similarities to God Stalk

    "Aerin reminds me a lot of Jame, actually. Awkward, romantically oblivious, very powerful, a bit too impetuous at times, a systematic experimenter at one time, possessed of a powerful and evil uncle and a significant male named Tor-something who gets to run the country while the heroine gets to be menacing, a bit dangerous to be around. (I'm thinking of Aerin's army of animals.) Only I've done things backwards; Aerin reminds me of Jame in basic personality; what's then odd is all the other similarities just listed. Particularly Tor and Torisen. Jame's world is more power saturated. She does not have a Luthe, although I suppose one could try combining Marcarn and Kindrie (white-haired healer) and squinting."

    What I said on the Discussion site one time. Aerin did get married, as is the standard happy ending for fairy tales (although finding two loves, one of them at least a hundred times older than she is, is different.) Jame is nowhere near such a state, but the Kencyr series isn't moving quickly towards any ending (or at all.) Aerin's uncle didn't try to marry her; on the other hand, the attempt (well, the first one) probably wouldn't be counted against Gerridon, as it was expected that he marry his sister. He's done worse than rape or incest, at any rate. Aerin has way more pets. Jame has way more power, and more powerful items. One does not necessarily envy her in this. They both had less than happy childhoods, but in different ways. And the way Jame experiments on poor Gorgo and Aerin re-invents chemical engineering is really amusing. (I.e. the systematic experimentation they both do; delightful for a scientist type like me, but unexpected in the genre.)

    Unanswered Questions

    1. What is Aerin's status by Harry's time?
    2. What did Aerin have visions of when she was being dragged back through time?
    3. Why didn't Luthe meddle more directly to save Damar from Thurra's invasion?
    4. How old is Luthe, anyway?
    5. How old was Goriolo, and what happened to him?
    6. What's Gonturan's story, or Luthe's "long story" about how he traveled and acquired her?
    7. What does Gonturan do? Does she have lots of power, or does she mostly guide the power of the woman wielding her?
    8. Did all surka die when Agsded fell, even in Luthe's valley? And why? Was the royal plant of Damar somehow connected to Agsded? Or did he simply throw off a death-curse against the plant, so no one else could use it?
    9. What does the bloodstone do, exactly?
    10. Why doesn't Corlath have the Crown? {Actually, mention is made that the City may be protected by kelar. I'd guess the Crown is still sitting in the vault, and can protect at least the City, but not the other lands Corlath considers Damarian. Perhaps the Crown has weakened. Perhaps no one actually remembers how powerful it is, and Thurra would have had a nasty surprise of impotence if he hadn't been stopped.}
    11. Are the Northerners evil demons, or people pissed off at living in the Himalayas?

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