My strategic reading of Garth Nix's Clariel, the prequel to his bestselling Abhorsen Trilogy, is nearing the end. My purpose in this particular reading is to discover the ways in which Nix makes his reluctant and less-than-likable title character compelling. To that end, this post and its predecessors contain discussions of numerous plot points. Those who have not read Clariel may not wish to continue reading this post.
*Discussion of Plot Material Ahead*
If your still with me, today's post will move my analysis up to the end of chapter twenty-two (Clariel's first meeting with her grandfather). The two previous posts can be found here and here. My previous post ran to the end of chapter nineteen (Clariel's escape from the prison hole).
14. Once Clariel is out of Belisaere, the narrative loses some strength until her arrival at Hillfair. The reason for this is that it presents Clariel with her first real opportunity to get away. By now, Clariel constant chime of "the Forest, the Forest, the Forest" is getting more than a little wearisome. Has she really failed to grow after all that she's experienced? The answer is only a partial "yes". Nix allows Clariel to run away, but has her reject taking Aziminil with her and forces her to return quickly with the authorialy thin excuse of saving Bel from Dingos in a cultivated area (nota bene: the only wild dogs I am familiar with are coyotes, so maybe this is a much, much more likely scenerio in Nix's native Australia). Nix attempts to save this wobbly passage in three ways. First, he gives Clariel the real choice to leave Aziminil behind and thus demonstrating one self-imposed limit to her desire to go back to the Forest. The second is her contrived for the author but real for the character choice not to abandon Bel to the wild dogs. This sets a second significant limit on Clariel's desire to go back to the Forest. The third is that Nix offers us a concrete insight into Clariel's desire for independence: she doesn't want to become "one of those girls". The first two points bind Clariel to the action of the story in ways that are rooted in her character as opposed to her circumstances (she hasn't read Sartre yet, evidently). The third point helps to further humanize Clariel by making her choices increasingly intelligible to the reader. In doing so, Clariel becomes less of a proxy for the reader to experience Nix's imagined world and more of a distinct character within her own right. The fact that this process is still barely getting underway some 230 pages into the book is a gutsy authorial decision.
15. As Clariel arrives at Hillfair, we find her being bound further by human obligations. Nix has Clariel affirm her need to have friends like Bel; a big step for her. Though Clariel hasn't seen it yet, she has far more in common in terms of temperament and interest with her extended family than she did with her nuclear family (a nice bit of writing on Nix's part). By meeting her mother's kin, Clariel is also forced to continue her reevaluation of her mother, thus deepening our understanding of Clariel and her family while also while also offering opportunities for Clariel to grow as a character. The end product of this is to begin to strengthen Clariel's revenge motive and drag her further toward the "call to adventure".
16. This leads us to one of the real tricks that Nix uses to make Clariel work. When we meet Tyriel, Clariel's grandfather, we discover him to be a much more complex and capable man than we've been led to believe. As with Meyer's Bella Swan (yes, I went there), the real trick to getting readers to invest in novels with "thin" or "unlikable" main characters is to allow the reader to use the main character as a way to access the "world" until such time as the protagonist has had enough experiences to grow into a complex character while covering the protagonist's "thin" or "unlikable" period(whether that's a portion of the story or the entire story) by surrounding them with plenty of compelling secondary characters and interesting locations.