itsnotmymind (itsnotmymind) wrote,

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The Riddle-Master Trilogy: Raederle

Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy is my favorite fantasy trilogy. Don't get me wrong: I love The Lord of the Rings. But I found parts of the book to drag terribly. While the Riddle-Master Trilogy has a few confusing, hard-to-read sections, it never got as dull as, say, The Road to Isengard (Nothing happens in that chapter!). And on an emotional level, the McKillip's trilogy spoke to me completely, in a very personal way.

So I will write meta on this trilogy. I I know it is unlikely that anyone will read it or understand it. But this is a public livejournal - who knows who could stumble upon it.

I want to write about Raederle.

Raederle is the most significant female character in the trilogy. Indeed, she is the narrator of the second book, Heir of Sea and Fire. I once saw someone online describe her as the "protagonist" of Heir of Sea and Fire. I disagree. The meat of book is the relationship between Morgon and Deth. True, they rarely appear, and only have one scene together, but that scene is the climax of Heir of Sea and Fire, with Raederle only an observer. Even when they are not present, their choices drive the plot and are the focus of much of the discussion of the other characters.

So Raederle is less the heroine, and more the love interest. Yet her role in the story is far more interesting than the average love interest.

Is Raederle a feminist character? Her role as love interest, spending the first book absent and the second two following Morgon, is a stereotypical one, and I wouldn't say she subverts the role. Yet Raederle is a real, complex person - her goals are her own. And as I will outline below some of the ways in which Raederle's story addresses sexist stereotypes in unusual ways.

From the beginning, there are a lot of aspects of Raederle's character that are discouraging from a feminist perspective. We are first introduced to the concept of Raederle as a prize. It is Deth who first mentions her, that she is Morgon’s for winning a riddle game as much as Peven’s crown. I’m quite certain she isn’t even mentioned before this. Not an auspicious start for a believable relationship between a male character and a fully realized female character.

Furthermore, Raederle is often described as "the second most beautiful woman in the three portions of An". She's famous for her beauty. In another book, Raederle could just be the beautiful prize won by our clever hero.

Lastly, Morgon knows Raederle because he is "good friends" with her brother, Rood. Having a male character marry the sister of his best male friend is often an obnoxious way of channeling a slashy relationship into a het one—the male/male relationship remains dominant but platonic, while the romantic relationship between the one friend and the sister is secondary, and usually is treated as natural simply because the men are such good friends. There’s no need for the author to do much work on it. Hi, Harry and Ginny, I’m looking at you. There’s probably some historical truth to it—men married off their female relatives to men they liked, after all. Even today, an attachment to one family member can often lead to attachment to another. But if you are trying to portray a sexual relationship based on intense love, relaying primarily on the man’s relationship to the woman’s brother as explanation is going to be extremely unconvincing.

Despite these unreassuring signs, Morgon/Raederle works for me. We even don’t get a scene with Morgon and Raederle together until late in the second book, but still I am sold on their love.

One reason why Raederle-as-prize works is because of the fantasy context of the series. Patricia McKillip sells me on a different world, not only physically but emotionally. The magic characters possess is more an expression of their emotional selves than a set of roleplaying game rules. We learn that Mathom promised Raederle not out of disregard for her agency but because he knew from dreaming that the she would love the winner of Peven’s crown. That doesn’t happen in real life, but in this world it is believable.

And while Morgon and Rood are friends, their relationship is clearly different from - and in fact of secondary importance to - his relationship with Raederle. In the interactions between Morgon and Rood, we see that they are quite good friends affectionate relationship. But Morgon's relationship with Raederle is different.

A telling moment between Morgon and Rood is when Morgon is wondering whether Raederle could live on a farm. Rood is immediately dismissive: “Of course Raederle can’t live on a farm. She is the second most beautiful woman in the three portions of An”. This is a sign that Rood doesn’t understand Morgon’s world, not really.

Rood and Morgon's brother Eliard are very different in their attitude towards Hed, but they are alike in one way: they don’t understand Morgon. They love him, but they do not understand.

Morgon’s feelings for Raederle are not in any way a substitute for a relationship between him and Rood. I would find it very difficult to slash Morgon and Rood, because I can’t see it from either side. And yet, I find their friendship very believable.

As for Morgon and Raederle's relationship:

Part of what helps sell them for me is that I don’t know that we are supposed to think Morgon’s madly in love with her, in the usual sense. Marrying her wasn't originally one of his goals. He didn’t know that he would win her if he got that crown. He doesn’t think about her before Deth mentions her…not because he doesn’t love her, but because he wasn’t really thinking about marrying her.

We finally meet Readerle in Heir of Sea and Fire, and see her perspective on their relationship. We see that she loves Morgon, the farmer’s son who put shells to her ears. And as with Morgon, she loves him, yet there is no indication that she had hoped to marry him before she learned that he won the crown. Her love for him isn’t just about sex, or marriage, or partnership…it could be all those things, but it goes deeper than that. Had he married some woman in Hed and she waited forever for someone to win the riddle game, she would have loved him all the same.

And at the end of that first chapter, when Raederle cries for Morgon's loss, she's not crying for lost chances. She’s not crying for her lost future. She’s crying for the pain of someone she loved. Her life is not over with Morgon dead. She doesn’t even think of that. She’s going to go to Caithnard to tell Rood. She’s devastated for Morgon, not herself. There's nothing wrong with crying for oneself or for one's future when a loved one dies - I think it is a very normal part of grief, and in many stories, true and fictional, I have found it absolutely wrenching. But I think, for selling me on the love between these two people who knew each other so briefly, Raederle’s simple grief for someone she loved is far deeper and meaningful than a woman grieving the love of her life would be.

And there are Morgon's last words in the entire trilogy: “I’ll live in the wastes. Once every hundred years you will shine out of the sea and I’ll come to you, or I will draw you into the winds with my harping…”

I know I mentioned in a previous post that I loved Morgol/Deth as a teenager because they had what seemed to me a mature relationship: they didn’t have to be together all the time. In fact, they were mostly apart - fulfilling their respective duties. And I think Patricia McKillip agrees with me, because here, we see that Raederle and Morgon don’t have to be together, either. That they love each other is enough, to keep them going on their separate adventures. To my eyes, this is a deep, deep bond. I almost wrote, “even deeper than love”, but this is what love is, isn’t it? Not the adolescent neediness, not the fear that if you look away for two minutes it will be gone, not the desire to have your loved one always with you, but this. This depth that will always bring you back to each other, but can survive no matter how far you fly away.

One of my favorite moments between Morgon and Raederle happens in the first scene that they appear in together, in Heir of Sea and Fire. Morgon, haunted by his experiences, tells Raederle that he needed to see her: the legend of An, “something very beautiful”, the “great treasure of the three portions”. It is, of course, a classic sexist moment. The beautiful woman who provides motivation and comfort to the morally tarnished man. In a sexist story, this would be a given. In a feminist story, the woman would reject it self-righteously.

Raederle does neither. Instead, she simply breaks that myth - for him. She tells him that she would play that role, be “mute” and “beautiful”, for him and for no other man. That she loves him enough that she would play that myth. That she would play that sexist role for him, if it were possible.

But of course it is not. Raederle has already discovered that she has power from a dark heritage. Morgon's fantasy of her is a lie. And she “will do anything but lie to” him.

I love this moment. I love Raederle's highly unfeminist declaration that she would pretend to be a sexist ideal out of love - but ultimately she can't, because she loves him too much to lie to him. That she values her love for Morgon over resisting sexism - but has to reject sexism out of love for him.

I also am taken with this exchange:

“What have you ever done in your life to make me have anything but respect for you?”
“I’ve never done anything in my life.”

I argued above that Raederle is not the protagonist of this book. And here is a highlight of why: she’s never done anything in her life (except give Morgon truth…). And this is not a character arc. There is no arc about Raederle doing something in her life. Raederle, throughout the book, is driven by love, not driven by feelings of powerlessness or ambition. And it's not only her love. The whole realm is grieving. The whole realm is in danger. Raederle does not travel alone. That someone she loved died horribly is not a grief that she tries to claim for herself alone - indeed, in this very scene she’s pushing Morgon to go see his sister Tristan. Three women/girls go after Morgon: His love interest, his sister, and Lyra, a relationship without category. Down to earth Lyra - McKillip’s protagonists are complicated, but she and they truly value what is simple.

So Raederle not doing anything is simple fact. It’s not a sign of weakness, or passivity. It's not that Raederle is incapable of doing anything, and she does try to do stuff when she needs to. It's just not her purpose. Raederle is a love interest, - yet she doesn't exist just for the hero.
Tags: patricia mckillip, the riddle-master trilogy

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