We Are Facing Zapranoth and Chup’s Pledging

April 21, 2013

Chapter 7 tells of the Free Folk’s ascent to Som’s cliffside fortress. Rolf and Gray have more or less perfected their airships, but they’re hardly the best tactical devices. I found Gray’s explanation of why the West was not going to use the djinn to manufacture a supply of technological invasion materiel a bit weak. Even if the djinn is in mortal danger in the coming battle, I don’t see why they shouldn’t make the best use of its skills beforehand. If the djinn could make a dozen Elephants and a helicopter gunship or two, the West’s advantage would be utterly overwhelming. Such tanks and aircraft are known to work in this post-apocalyptic world—even if fifth-generation fighter interceptors might not.

The upshot is that they are stuck at the technological level of helium balloons. This makes for a pretty neat scene as Rolf and Gray are managing the ascent. I have to say though, even knowing how the book ends, I find the Free Folk’s plan pretty far fetched. Yet they make it to the top and overcome the first round of guardsmen—who they know to behead and separate from their collars.

The defenses get into motion, and then Gray reveals the objects that contain the lives of the powerful demons Yiggul and Kion—the second and third mightiest under Som’s command. The demons are brought up short. It appears that demons are unable to harm someone who is holding their life object, so long as the holder’s attention is focused on the object and the process of destroying it. The two enemies are destroyed, each in a way that matches what Gray is doing to ruin the soul container. Gray uses some incantations as he pares down Yiggul’s plant and melts Kion’s bauble. I wonder how much commonality there was between the two spells he used. Do the same mystic words work, if you slot in the right demon’s name in the correct location? Or is there a special incantation for each one, which a wizard might tease out, once he has the monster’s life in his hands?

This is, in my opinion, the best part of the entire trilogy. The notion of demons hiding their essences in inanimate objects is not especially original. But the way the monsters are put to death, ripping apart or burning down as their soul jars are destroyed, was just amazing. There are more things that I wonder about in this scene. Is the form a demon’s death takes unique, part of that demon’s makeup? Or maybe the manner in which a demon’s physical form is destroyed is just determined by the shape and composition of its soul jar. Actually, the two may not be entirely different; different demons may have natural affinities different classes of objects. (We learn in the next chapter that Zapranoth’s power appears to have a particular affinity for hair.)

This is not Saberhagen’s most polished writing, but the events described are too fascinating for me to forget. Since the very first time I read this, I have wished I could incorporate the idea into some fantasy creation of my own. I read another four and a half books in this setting, and every time a demon appeared, I was hoping that the heroes would recover its soul object and put it to death like that.

Demons like Yiggul and Kion must be uncommon, with just two or three of them allocated to a sizable region of North America. They are known by name—and not merely to demonologiists. Of course, it’s hard to know what that means, quantitatively; and people’s perceptions of how notorious real-world people and events are turn out to be extremely unreliable. (Donald Rumsfeld famously had no idea which members of Al Qaeda regular members of the American public had heard of. People can be really bad at estimating renown; estimating it falls afoul of several simultaneous cognitive biases.) So I don’t typically trust authors to show sensible levels of notoriety for people or events. (Agatha Christie was especially bad in this regard, I think.)

Gray can drive off or slay all the vassal demons of the Black Mountains. The wizard does not, however, possess the life force of Zapranoth. That Demon Lord has just zoomed up his pit, passing Chup and Charmian, whose most recent adventures are the subject of chapter 8.

As the demons rush past the pair in the pit, Chup remembers how much he hates those purely evil entities. He’s spent most of this book playing multiple angles, but the passing of the demons—the great Lord Zapranoth, in particular—evidently convinces him that, whoever he eventually allies with, it will not be the East. Chup tells himself, now and back in chapter 6, that he doesn’t want to turn Charmian over to the things at the bottom of the pit because it’s contrary to his forthright, warrior nature. That certainly seems to be part of it, but he also has an unaccountable soft spot for his off-and-on wife, and I keep wondering why.

Charmian, naturally, turns out to be just about the vilest human character in the whole story. (Zapranoth is worse, and, honestly Som probably is too, although I don’t know if the viceroy counts as human.) We eventually learn why she recognizes Zapranoth’s lair, but somehow, the foreshadowing of her returning memory didn’t really work that well for me. I get that her recollections didn’t come abruptly rushing back. They came gradually, triggered by her second visit to the demon pit, but somehow the returning memories don’t seem to flow the way they really should. It’s hard to put my finger on what bothers me about this, but it just doesn’t feel right.

However, once they were fully returned, the princess’s memories were eerily fascinating to read . After she sacrifices her sister and Zapranoth strokes her hair with his darkly glowing hand, Charmian runs after her father Ekuman, and I did like the fact that he was evidently terrified that the ritual had not gone correctly—since that would probably make his own life forfeit.

I also really like the end of the chapter. Chup and Charmian are trapped on a secluded ledge, with the long cleft below them. Then a little furry animal delivers a personal invitation from Draffut, Lord of Beasts. I have to wonder: what kind of animal is it? A squirrel? A pika? Saberhagen rarely identifies the animals in his trilogy. Soldiers are mounted on “riding beasts,” and they transport cargo on “load beasts.” Are they horses? Oxen? The Silent People who feature so prominently in The Broken Lands are never called owls, or even described in sufficient detail to identify them as such. I suppose Saberhagen wanted to distance Ardeh’s world from our own; we don’t know whether the creatures the characters encounter are like ones we could see today, or whether they are distorted somehow, by magic or mutation, or genetically engineered chimeras first bred in another age. The gargantuan centipedes are an exception to Saberhagen’s vagueness on this point, but those monsters are already quite unlike, in size if nothing else, the lesser poisonous arthropods of our own time.

Of course, Chup needs to hitch a ride on a valkyrie, which will only pick up men wearing the collars. Unless, Chup has ascertained, the wearer has actually been beheaded. (I think that there was more discussion of this point in some earlier scenes in the original version of the novel, but that they were trimmed for the omnibus edition.) So they’ve got a collar from a dead guardsmen, and if Chup’s headless body looks to the helicopter like it belongs with the metal ring, it will be Chup who gets ferried away to be healed and put back together. That’s definitely an unpleasant prospect, especially when the beheading needs to be completed by the untrustworthy and not very competent Charmian, and Saberhagen does a good job of conveying the resolve and apprehension Chup feels in the last moments before his wife decapitates him.

We will pick up next week with two more chapters, including Chup’s visit to the Lake of Life.


8 Responses to “We Are Facing Zapranoth and Chup’s Pledging”

  1. “If the djinn could make a dozen Elephants and a helicopter gunship or two…”

    Are you fucking serious? Your way of questioning the lack of technology in the plot is to ask why this army in this medieval-plus-a-bit-of-magic world, which struggled to put together some blimps or something with a tech-spirit’s aid in order to ascend a steep cliff…is to suggest that they could have had a marvelous advantage if only the tech-Djinn could have manufactured some Blackhawks (who’s going to fly them! You?) or nuclear tanks for the battle itself?

    A more reasonable request would have been a single gatling gun, or a Browning M-1 if you want to get fancy, but, you know, whatever, I guess. Maybe toss in a few AC-130 Specters and an F-22 also, if someone has some advanced manufacturing base and the equivalent of 150 million in early 21st century US Currency lying around… Rolf’s good with technology. I’m sure he’l figure it out almost as quickly as those ‘couple of attack helicopters.’ Oh, wait. You actually brought that up, above, apparently restraining yourself because you’re not sure the avionics would function after The Change. Very sensible.

    PS – I’m not sure it’s appropriate to call any fighters after the 3rd generation ‘interceptors.’ Air superiority matchups haven’t worked out as expected, and though the newer planes do take some steps back in that (miscalculated) direction (i.e. long range missile attacks that may finally be effective), we usually call them just ‘fighters’ or ‘fighter-bombers’ or whatever, at this point.

    • (excuse me: I meant to type ‘Browning M2’ above. Specifically, this is the simple but functional 90 year old heavy machine gun design NATO still uses that I was thinking of:


      If you were actually to thought-experiment with how to fight Som’s guard, just one of these, with its the size and power (and speed of automatic fire), would clear the field pretty quickly, and leave holes in men’s body difficult for even a lake of life to fill. Aim one at Sarah, standing off in the distance, and someone else is done…no attack helicopters necessary. They’re quite accurate to 1500 meters or so, if you have some way to lock them down)

  2. “(Donald Rumsfeld famously had no idea which members of Al Qaeda regular members of the American public had heard of….”

    Sigh….famously? Making a few bizarre estimations of what’s widely known on our own, are we? …You could have at least provided a link, since, you know, I’ve never heard of this incident but it sounds interesting…

    • …you know, instead of digressing into name dropping…Agatha Christie…? What/why?

      Weirdest post ever. …Halfway done.

    • Buzz Says:

      It was famous enough to be all over the news (and the late-night comedy shows) for about two weeks that Rumsfeld thought that most Americans would be able to rattle off the names of at least a half a dozen important figures in Al Qaeda beyond Osama bin Laden. The duration of the whole thing was stretched out by the defense secretary’s insistence on defending this monumentally stupid claim. Him saying that certainly got way more attention that the actual arrests of mid-level Al Qaeda officers that Rumsfeld was expecting to be such a big deal.

      Honestly, I tried to find a link to a discussion of the story, but locating a news item about one particular stupid thing Donald Rumsfeld did as defense secretary is beyond my Google-fu. Any search I did was swamped, with a mixture of stories about his other dumb exploits and conspiratorial ideations. The closest I could find to what I was looking for was this.

      • I can see how that would leave an impression on you if you watched the late night shows that week, but…you’ll also note that the fact you couldn’t find a single link on the internet…do I have to finish…

        Thank you for the link, however–definitely one of the better Onion bits I’ve seen in a while. Probably much more entertaining than when he actually held power, when there would have been something fundamentally irritating about reading it, as well, knowing he was still out there, making the world worse and too arrogant to see it.

        • Buzz Says:

          Yeah, it occurred to me as well that the article would have seemed a lot less funny at the time it was written.

  3. For what it’s worth, I am also generally curious about the lifeforms that show up in this world (I suspect Draffut’s messenger in this scene [“Chchchchchchup-chup-chupchupchupchupchup high-lord-draffut-bids-you-come’] may resemble a mutated marmot more than anything else), there’s enough detail in the original ‘Book of Swords’ (i.e. the first three) as well as the ‘Empire’ trilogy to know that ‘load-beasts’ and ‘riding beasts’ are not, say, donkeys and horses, respectively. Riding beasts, for example, seem to have some sort of (not really described) hardened claws/paws rather than hoofs (see, for example, Doon’s party’s entrance to Indosuaros’s castle for a suggestion along these lines, early in ‘The 2nd Book of Swords’).

    Maybe I’m not getting the point of quasi-live-blogging this, but you don’t seem to be getting at a lot of central aspects of this book, tying together themes and ironies and character developments and plot-threads, as well as the power of certain scenes and characters; to some extent–in other words, I feel that central aspects of the story and its architecture (‘he shifted on his chair and lo, was very manlike once again’) are being dropped while miscellany is focused on. To some exent, this may be a matter of the old telling vs. showing, saw–I know what you’re talking about when you mention Chup’s character and decisions, but other than vague, example-less assertions of Charmian’s vileness, you’re not showing much of the power of these characters to the reader, and the same holds true for story, world and plot. Maybe this just isn’t what you’re going for, but in that case, I’m not sure what you *do* want to examine here…

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