Book: The warrior who carried life - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: The warrior who carried life
Saturday, 05 February 2005 at 08:35 pm
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Author: Geoff Ryman

Details: (c) 1985 Geoff Ryman; Pub Bantam Books 1987; ISBN 0-553-26344-7

Verdict: Um, woah. Or perhaps: I can't sum up The warrior who carried life in one sentence.

Reasons for reading it: It's just about the right length for a return train journey to Edinburgh.

How it came into my hands: Birthday present from rysmiel.

The warrior who carried life is somewhat like absolutely typical fantasy: an apparently ordinary young woman turns out to have amazing powers of sorcery and sets off on a quest to save the world, fights monsters, finds love and the McGuffin and so on. But it's also somewhat unlike typical fantasy. It's not that it does anything I can put my finger on that breaks the conventions of the genre, but it's original in ways I'm finding hard to define.

I think tWwCL is almost into imaginary mythology territory. I had a very strong sense I was reading a parable or something that was making a point; one of the blurbs describes it as a 'fable', and for once I think the blurb got it right. But if there is meant to be a Message I'm not at all sure what it is. Regardless, the pshat makes a good story, which is the main thing I require of a book. TWwCL is doing interesting things with gender, and seriously weird stuff with theology; I think it has something of a take on suffering and good and evil, except I'm not entirely sure I understand its position.

The background is quite odd. A large part of the plot is pretty explicitly based on the Christian story of the Fall, but there's a whole load of religious elements which are not any Christianity I know. I'm not sure if these are completely made up fantasy religion, or if they're from some other religion(s) I know nothing about blended in with Christianity, of in fact if the other bits are from the really esoteric side of Christianity and I'm just not recognizing them as such. Some of it sounds vaguely Eastern, stuff about words having double meanings and things containing their opposite, but nothing I know well enough to recognize. My theory is that the setting is meant to be the far future, where people have a distant memory of the Christian mythos but as an ancient, possibly prehistoric religion rather than a current one. Likewise the culture and political setup; it's not quite the standard faux-Mediaeval not-quite Europe of this sort of genre, but for most practical purposes it's not that different. There are some big mountains in it which felt more Himalayas than Alps, but that's a wild guess.

The other thing that's unusual about tWwCL is that the language is very matter-of-fact and almost flat. There's nothing of the high-blown prose and emphasis on emotion that I would normally expect from the genre, but it is extremely effective. I felt very much engaged with the characters and the emotional as well as plot-based drama, but the prose is the complete opposite of manipulative in that respect. Also, there's a very touching love story running through the plot, which completely avoids the True Love cliches or really even saying anything about how amazing and passionate the relationship is. It just presents the characters interacting and leaves the reader to form their own impressions.

I think darcydodo would get on with tWwCL. Also, rysmiel, do you think this might be the book to convince misia there might be something to fantasy?


Moooood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Tuuuuune: Massive Attack: Teardrop on the fire
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:February 7th, 2005 03:12 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:12 am (rysmiel's time)
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It has been a long time since I read it, but in terms of what it is mythologically echoing off, I thought the Gilgamesh story was clearly important.

Thank you for bearing with it despite the appalling cover on that edition; I thought you would find it worth reading, and I sympathise with your being at a bit of a loss to describe it - nothing Ryman writes is like anything else, really, including anything else by Ryman. I'd be tempted to give a blanket recommendation save that some, notably The Unconquered Country, goes a long way in the direction of horror.

Interesting thought about misia and I will bear her in mind next time a copy turns up.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:February 8th, 2005 03:37 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 11:37 am (rysmiel's time)
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The Warrior who Carried Life being a short little book and also happening to fit the mood I was in yesterday, I reread it last night in order better to address your points. Some of what lies below may be considered spoilers, on a story-shape and theme level.


And it really is very Gilgamesh, I had forgotten the explicit inclusion of Keekamis' story in Cara's world, and even that only covers the second half of the story. As I recall it - and I'm not actually sure how many steps removed the image I have in my head of the Gilgamesh story is from the original, both because I was a small kid when I first read it and because there are several different fictional redactions or stories playing off it that I have read since and that stick with me - the first half is basically Gilgamesh meeting Enkidu and them going off to have adventures and fight monsters and so forth, which I think story-shape-wise maps onto Cara meeting Stef and joining the Warrior Angels in order to get to Galu gro Galo. The second half, in which Gilgamesh goes seeking the herb of immortality after being deeply upset by Enkidu's death, is close to the story of Keekamis as Cara's world has it, and fits pretty well onto the search for the flower part of Warrior who Carried Life. As I recall the serpent stealing the herb while Gilgamesh slept is no act of malice, the point seems more to remind Gilgamesh of the limits of mortal humanity and incidentally to provide a Just-So Story for snakes shedding their skins and appearing to be rejuvenated thereby; whether the snake in Gilgamesh is actually in some way a precursor of the serpent in Eden, or whether connecting the Gilgamesh story to Eden the way Warrior who Carried Life does is entirely Ryman's invention, I have no idea.

The thing that strikes me as explicit in this retelling and as implicit in the Gilgamesh story now that I think of it is the way in which it's about maturing, in that IIRC Gilgamesh is fighting and slaying his way through opposition in the first half, but talks his way past the scorpion-men on the way to the herb of immortality in the second part of the story, and that the end of the story is about acknowledging one's own mortality; and I really liked the way the ending of Warrior who Carried Life had the principals coming to terms with the limitations that are inherent in their existence.

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livredor: bookies
From:livredor
Date:February 8th, 2005 05:41 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 06:41 pm (livredor's time)
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This is very wonderful, thank you! I really like this connection with Gilgamesh as you've explained it here. I also did have a very strong sense that The Warrior folds into two halves, that the story is transformed into something different after the encounter with Galu.

Does your theory have an explanation for where the Wordy Beast comes from? Because that was a major thread I couldn't fit into any mythology I'm aware of.

I'm still turning over in my mind the things The Warrior is doing with mortality and human limitations, and in some sense morality. I see what you mean about the ending, that makes sense. And I think your ideas about the connection to Gilgamesh and the general mythological theme of it not being right for humans to aspire to immortality is helpful in sorting out my response to that stuff.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:February 8th, 2005 06:03 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 02:03 pm (rysmiel's time)
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I am not aware of the Wordy Beast having an external source, though now that I think about it the conversations Caro and Stef have with it remind me in a weirdly sideways way of Aslan.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:February 9th, 2005 11:46 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 12:46 pm (livredor's time)
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Thank you for bearing with it despite the appalling cover on that edition
Well, the thing about the cover is that it would very likely have put me off the book if I'd just happened to come across it, say in a bookshop. But your recommendation far outweighs any negative impression I might get from a bad cover.

Also, the cover is a fairly close representation of a scene that actually happens in the book, namely Cara's vision at the Well. Showing almost any other part of the book would be a huge spoiler, though admittedly only of something that happens only a couple of chapters in.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:February 9th, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 12:34 pm (rysmiel's time)
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I am now failing utterly to find an online image of the cover of the UK edition I have, which is really rather good; the image is by Dave McKean, it has a sort of stylised warrior-in-armour figure fading out of shadows and leaves in the centre, atop which is a profile of a female head in the same white as, and contiguous with, the surrounding cover, and there's a serpent sort of coiled across the whole thing, green and scaly in most of it but skeletal where atop the female head. Which I think very much captures the feel of the book. You're absolutely right that it would be hard to do a literal representation of any scene that would not be a spoiler - come to think of it, that's truer for Ryman's work in general than for any other writer I can think of offhand.
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