Saturday, January 10, 2015

Nix's Clariel and the Call to Adventure (Cont.): The Platypus Reads CCLXXXI

A new semester has started at school and I have finished Nix's Clariel.  As a reminder, my purpose in reading this book is to see how Garth Nix is able to craft a compelling novel with a heroine who consistently does everything she can to avoid the Call of Adventure.  Prior entries in the series can be found here, here, and here.

*Plot Relevant Material Discussed Ahead*

17. By adding Mogget to the mix, Nix finally presents us with a character who can beat Clariel at her own game.  As an incredibly powerful Free Magic creature who has been humiliatingly bound to serve its enemies, Mogget's grievances are deeper and his determination stronger than Clariel's.  As Mogget's plot unfolds, we are able to see the real consequences of Clariel's approach to life: this is what she is becoming, a harmless-looking but incredibly dangerous villain.

18. All story thrives on conflict.  One of the things that makes Clariel work as a novel is that Clariel's opposition to the "call to adventure" plays out in such a way that it generates conflict(man versus man or man versus fate?) and thus story.  Clariel may consistently choose to do wrong, but she does in fact choose to do something and that moves the story along, even if it's in a tragic direction.  The most important example of this is Clariel's scheme to rescue Aunt Lemmin using three Free Magic creatures and a Necromancer's sword, which makes the book a near-tragedy.

19. One of the nice ironies that underlies Clariel and keeps the story at a certain level of sophistication(and thus interest) is that Clariel assumes that everyone is like her: shirking their duties and endeavoring to live only for their own pleasure.  Even as her own justice intuitions force her to turn aside from going to the Forest, she assumes that no one else is capable or willing to make the same sacrifice she is making.  This lack of self-irony reaches its peak when Clariel willingly binds the Free Magic creatures, denying them their autonomy and freedom, to serve her needs.

20. Characters need to grow to be compelling.  When Clariel loses her access to the Charter, she realizes for the first time that her actions have consequences, that she might be and have always been responsible for her own destiny.  She doesn't have enough time to process this realization until the penultimate moment when she chooses to sacrifice her life to stop Mogget's plot.  This elventh-hour turn, much like Prince Hamlet's, transforms Clariel from Villain back to tragic hero.  This sense of completion, even though there is still an aura of doom that hangs over the epilogue, gives the novel a satisfying conclusion by allowing us to see Clariel grow up and perhaps earn a little of our respect.  Tragedies thrive on taking noble characters and watching them go bad (i.e. MacBeth).  Clariel isn't a noble Character, so if she hadn't redeemed herself, it would be hard to accept the novel as her tragedy, and not a tragedy for all of the likable side-characters and the kingdom.  In that case, Bel would be the real hero of the story.  In some ways, he still is.  Nix is wise not to let us see too much of Bel, since his increasingly noble character would quickly draw the reader's interest away from Clariel.

So there you have it: twenty ways I was able to identify that Garth Nix makes Clariel work in spite of its unlikely and often(though not always) unlikable heroine.  The read itself was enjoyable, though the story flailed for a bit once Clariel left Belisaere.  It's piqued my interest enough to want to pick up the entire Abhorsen Trilogy at some point.  When I do, expect to see my thoughts and reactions posted here at The Platypus of Truth.


Joi said...

I look forward to your thoughts on the Abhorsen trilogy; they are some of my favorite YA fantasy of the last 2 decades.

James said...

Yeah, that's what I keep hearing. Is there anything in particular I should be looking out for when I make my trek through the books?