My strategic reading of Garth Nix's Clariel continues. My goal with this reading is to find out how Nix creates an interesting novel with a heroine who persistently refuses the "call to adventure". To this end, I've been taking notes as I read and sharing them here. Those who have not read Clariel may not wish to continue reading as I do mention major plot points in my remarks.
*Dr. Song Says: Spoilers!*
The last post ended with Clariel's first lesson at the house of Magister Kargrin. This post will run to the end of chapter nineteen or Clariel's escape from the prison hole.
7. A reluctant hero often draws the wrong conclusion from valuable information since their focus is in the wrong place. Nix manages to use Clariel's wrong conclusions in a way that still keeps her headed toward the "the call to adventure". She consistently fails to realize that the threats posed by Kilp and Aziminil threaten any chance she has of living as a boarderer and will continue posing such threats until they are completely wiped out. Even then, it may not be possible for Clariel to ever become a boarderer. While Clariel fails to fully realize these things until it's almost too late, her determination to use Kargrin and the others to get what she wants ends up pushing her in the right direction without violating Clariel's character as Nix has constructed it.
8. If the hero recognizes a similarity or link between themselves and the villain, then this will be a powerful inducement to take up the call. In Clariel, this link paradoxically means that Clariel by agreeing to confront the villain is one step closet to getting what she wants since after the confrontation produces a link between the two she must be evacuated from Belisaere before Aziminil can find her.
9. Nix uses small "wins," such as finding the colorful fish in Aziminil's hut, to keep the reader feeling that positive gains are being made in the story even when things seem to be going all wrong.
10. It's interesting that Clariel doesn't show any sentiments associated with actual people (in this case, to her parents) until page 148. That's a long time for a character to remain unconnected to teh characters around them. When we finally do see Clariel show some sentiment, however, it's much more powerful and just a little show of affection goes a long way toward making her a more sympathetic character.
11. Much of the middle section of the book seems to be about Clariel learning to find strength in her extended family to make up for the weakness of her nuclear family. Clariel becomes more human as she realizes that she is not alone and others share her pressures and problems and are willing to help (i.e. Bel, Gully, and Kargrin). This also begins to turn her toward taking up "the call to adventure," but her interaction with Aziminil taints this desire and keeps up the tension. Even Hamlet has to take up the "call to adventure" by Act V. A reluctant hero cannot always be reluctant. Keeping the reader's interest in a reluctant hero is one problem, but negotiating the hero's transformation from reluctant hero to hero is another. Nix seems to be coming at that transformation is small steps so that when it happens (even if it's a day late and a dollar short) the transformation is believable in terms of the character, her journey, and her world.
12. Throwing characters at a reluctant hero is a great way to railroad them into taking up the call. This is because it's very hard for anyone to avoid forming any positive relationship at all with anyone around them. At some point, the hero is going to feel obligated by some sort of relationship with someone to do something. As long as that someone is tied in to the main plot, you have a motive for Prince Hamlet to act. Nix uses the Academy as a way to force Clariel to develop the relationships (however tenuous) that will ultimately force her into action. Even her meeting with Aronzo, who she has reason to hate, help drag her in to the main plot.
13. Kill off some characters. Nix does a good job of misdirecting the reader from the fact that he's about to kill off Clariel's family. The suddenness and injustice of their deaths, gives Clariel a wonderful vengeance motive and also allows her to realize that she cared about them far more than she thought. This has the duel effect of continuing Clariel's humanization process and also giving her another personal investment in defeating Kilp and restoring order to Belisaere. The final effect of this is that by page 227, Nix has foreced Clariel to accept the "call to adventure" and made her feel that she no longer deserves to go back to the forest.