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The Naming, Alison Croggon

July 26, 2020

IMG_4108The Naming (also published as The Gift) is Book One of Alison Croggon’s Pellinor series. I first read about this series at Café Society and enjoyed the first volume very much. It’s quite Tolkien-derivative, but that can be a good thing, as the first few Shannara novels by Terry Brooks demonstrated.

As in The Lord of the Rings, the bad guy is a failed necromancer. In this series he is called the Nameless and he has some ghoulish minions called Hulls: “the king rejected his Name, because then he could also reject death. But with the gift of death, he cast away also the knowledge of those who die, and found his heart was empty, a pain sharper than any that he had known. For he was not of the immortals, and had not the right to deathlessness. He looked out on the world, and his eye was dark. He sought then the dominion of all on the earth and the destruction of all that rebuked him with its beauty, and he challenged the Law of the Balance, and overthrew it. And then, with massed armies and Black Sorcerers—those corrupt Bards that we call Hulls—he marched on the lovely citadel of Afinil, and cast down its fair towers and darkened the mere, so the moon no longer bathed there and the stars fled its lifeless face. Then began the Great Silence, when the Song was no longer heard in the wide lands of Annar.”

The Hulls, we learn later, “do not die in the ordinary way, but with this difference from the Nameless One: they can be killed. No one knows what happens to them afterward. They have bodies like ours, but after several lifetimes they become abhorrent to behold, although they can disguise themselves as we can and pass for mortals.” So they’re like Tolkien’s nine pale kings.

All of these explanations are for the benefit of the main character, Maerad, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been rescued from slavery and is starting to find out how to use her gift (and work towards her naming) with the help of Cadvan, a Bard. What happens to them gives the story its focus and its interest.

As a person who has always enjoyed dressing up for occasions like dinner and the theater (in the Before times) I liked what a woman says to Maerad about dressing for a dinner she must attend: “It is good to dress in fair clothes to dine with friends….It honors your host, if you are a guest; and your guest, if you are a host. And both adorn the feast, and so celebrate the gifts of the world.”

Instead of Ents, in this fantasy world we have Elemental Spirits, the Elidhu. Maerad–who turns out to be the Chosen one who will save Annar from the depredations of the Nameless and the Hulls–has Elemental blood, which makes her very special indeed. One of the Elementals that Maerad meets, Ardina, protects a village hidden away for time out of mind in a deep forest, reminiscent of Galadriel and Lothlorien.

Cadvan is a good teacher and knows many paths through the wilderness of Annar. He tells Maerad wistfully that he “must go forth along dark roads, instead of lingering in the fair places of the world,” sounding very much like Aragorn. But when we learn that in his youth he “had been studying the Black Arts, thinking as one does, when one is young and foolish, that I could take no harm from being merely interested,” we see that Cadvan also has some of the attributes of Saruman. However, he is not the only one. There is another Bard who has gone farther, allying himself with the Hulls. Cadvan explains to Maerad that this character “seeks rather to use the Dark to his own ends, and to make himself the seat of absolute power.” So there’s a Saruman who repented and chose to be a good guy and a Saruman who did not repent—and we know how his story will turn out.

At the end of The Naming, Maerad accepts her name and her destiny and is set on her path to save the world. It’s a grand adventure, one that is no less absorbing for its derivative aspects.


13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2020 2:11 am

    I question the whole ‘chosen one’ meme. It is appropriate for very few.

    Tolkien, Catholic, got away with it because of the depth of his creation and its novelty – he was basing it on Christianity, sort of.

    The others get farther and farther away from the source to their peril.

    I choose myself – and then I do the work of creation. Or not. There is much in ‘the blood,’ but a lot of it is as real as the aether.

    But I understand the appeal, and it simplifies things: if you believe someone is the chosen one, you don’t have to work out how to follow them – it’s been predetermined, and we can get on with the story. Unless you’re NOT the chosen one.

    • July 27, 2020 11:01 am

      I did toss off the bit about how Maerad “turns out to be the Chosen one” but Calmgrove has responded in a more serious way and I think her best point in response to this particular novel is that in “fairytales the idea is to allow the listener or reader to empathise with the protagonist, to appreciate the difficult decisions they usually have to make.” That’s part of what I was trying to say about Maerad and Cadvan–both of them have to find ways to live up to the roles other characters expect them to play.
      This is an important part of the hero’s realization, isn’t it? That you’re just living your ordinary life and then an extraordinary threat arises and you realize that you are the only one who can lead the charge to defeat it. We need someone like that right now.

      • July 27, 2020 1:55 pm

        THAT I’m fine with. What I object to is when the characters spend their time trying to find the one ‘ordained by the gods’ by something silly like birth and ‘lineage.’ They’re fine in old stories – the ancients had little in the way of physics, sociology, psychology, or epidemiology, and had to find ways to survive a very capricious world – so they deified those who seemed to do so well.

        And we know that good nutrition, education, and other privileges of the children of rulers did let them grow up with special skills and healthier bodies – and a whole host of negatives such as being more likely to be poisoned by their relatives, or being made to marry their cousins.

        It’s a well-worn trope. It is passé.

        Fairytales are odd. What in the world is the point of Hansel and Gretel? But I liked them as a child, and don’t care for the modern versions on TV – which are used to sell things to grownups. To each her own there.

        Then again, humans are less than a generation away from our ancestors in many ways, including the way some of them respond to the current crises. Scary, eh?

  2. July 26, 2020 6:50 am

    Much of epic or so-called high fantasy is predicated on a sense of Fate or Destiny, with predictions and prophecies about someone (a Chosen One, if you like) who will bring about changes to a world order. The term Chosen One was used humorously of Harry Potter, and Lyra’s propehecied role in the worlds of His Dark Materials was specifically hidden from her.

    Two things come out of what to me still smacks a bit of predestination. The first is that classic fantasy has its roots in mythology, as has religion (if you like, religion is mythology saddled with prescribed morals), with elements of legend, folklore and fairytale adding to the mix.

    The second aspect that occurs to me is that the goal may be predetermined in such narratives (fantasy, religion, fairytale, it’s all the same) but the way and the manner you get to it is not. Mistakes, missteps, rogue events — they all imperil the protagonist and make their journey a hazardous journey, often stretching over trilogies or a sequence of seven books.

    Like fairytales the idea is to allow the listener or reader to empathise with the protagonist, to appreciate the difficult decisions they usually have to make, to vicariously experience their thoughts and actions, to interact with the archetypes they meet along the way. A basic human morality is the crucial ingredient, particularly an all-encompassing and ultimately unselfish love.

    I write all this as a sort of response to Alicia’s thoughts above, not to necessarily disagree but to express my belief that the Chosen One trope is actually one we have to internalise — because that’s all we can cling to, the idea that we each exist here for a purpose, even it we don’t know what it is. It may not have a basis in reality, of course, but quite often it’s all we have to give meaning to our existence.

    Sorry for this extended response, I should have got it ready for a post — I may yet do so! 🙂

    • July 26, 2020 7:28 am

      And I forgot to add that you’ve conveyed the essence of this first instalment really well, as I remember from my reading of this a few years ago.

      • July 27, 2020 11:06 am

        Thanks! As I note in my response to Alicia, I think what you say about fairytales applies most specifically to this novel. We have to find a way to empathize with Maerad, ordinary humans that we are.
        The idea that we exist for a purpose doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t have free will.
        And…now I’m hearing the song from Avenue Q in my head:
        It’s that little flame
        That lights a fire
        Under your ass
        It keeps you going strong
        Like a car with
        A full tank of gas

  3. July 26, 2020 7:43 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jeanne. I went back and read the other three volumes as well and had as much pleasure as I did the first time round.

    • July 27, 2020 11:07 am

      I’m reading the second one now. It’s nice to have a series to immerse myself in!

  4. July 27, 2020 7:52 am

    I feel like I read this a long long time ago, but as I’m reading your review, nothing about it sounds familiar at all (except in the ways it’s Tolkieny). It sounds like one of those books you’d have to be in a very particular mood for — like pinging a very specific pleasure center. 😛

    • July 27, 2020 11:09 am

      It’s definitely pinging my escapism pleasure center.
      Also, from thinking about what Calmgrove said, I think it’s fulfilling my longing for a hero–for someone–anyone–to arise from the ashes of our nation and stop what the evil winterking is doing.

  5. July 28, 2020 9:06 am

    I wish I could read the full review, but the book sounds interesting enough that I don’t want to be spoiled! 🙂

    • July 30, 2020 1:58 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts about spoilers. Because of them, I made a new page for the top of the blog to tell readers what my policy is about spoilers here at NNP.

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