Phyllis Eisenstein discussion

July, 1980. “My God!” said the Duchess, “Take your hand off my knee!”
Phyllis Eisenstein‘s Born to Exile. Reported by David Lenander.
Dainis Bisenieks told us about Randall Garrett’s book of pastiches, Takeoff! He moved onto Silverlock, by John Myers Myers, which he explained was of a certain type of which Poul Anderson’s Dancer from Atlantis is another example. We observed that the Thomas Covenant books partake of the device of a misfit finding an appropriate world to live in, as do such others as Witch World and Two To Conquer. This prompted Dainis to observe that the hero of Two to Conquer is, truly, a royal bastard, in both senses. Cathy Parlin mentioned that The Tolkien Fellowship newsletter, The Westmarch Chronicle reported on the forthcoming Allen & Unwin book, Unfinished Tales, which will have about 400 pages. We wondered when the U.S. edition would appear.
Cathy opened the discussion of Born to Exile by complaining of the “blah” love scenes. She had tried reading these out loud, which Dainis agreed was “always a good test.” In Cathy’s judgement, Eisenstein shows a good knowledge of medieval detail, especially of material culture, but that the characters are too 20th century for their context. I thought that Eisenstein’s anthropology comes through in the last story, where the society was developed more convincingly as something quite different from our 20th century culture. Perhaps the emphasis on material culture in the earlier stories of the book indicate that Eisenstein is more of an archeologist than a social anthropologist, though I have no idea what sort of anthropologist she really is.
Cathy complained that she could appreciate the different sections of Exile as short stories, but that they do not convincingly add up to a novel. At that, I thought, Exile has an awfully truncated air about it in the way the story breaks off, so suddenly without finishing any of the sub-plot lines. Among these unfinished plots we numbered the love relationship with Solinde, the story of the friendly dwarf, the relationship of the hero to his family (revenge?), the importance/meaning of the ancient, ruined castle which is apparently somehow the foundation of the family power (how?), the development of the hero’s apparently greater powers than the rest of his family (mutation?). We further discussed the love relationship with Solinde, whom Cathy characterized as “straight out of a gothic novel.” We agreed that it was quite unlikely that our hero would have resisted going back to visit Solinde, and that he probably needs to do so-something almost bound to result in disillusionment at this point-before he will be able to enter into and deal with other love relationships.
Ruth Berman arrived late and we turned to her to ask what it was that had impressed her about this book that most of us had judged inferior to Sorcerer’s Son. Ruth agreed that the latter was a better book, and explained that what had intrigued her about Born To Exile was the way the young hero turns out to be a long lost prince (as in so many stories) but this doesn’t mean anything-everyone in his family is a prince, and there are hundreds. Furthermore, his long lost heritage is of no help to him in his hopes to marry a princess.
I was impressed by the ending of the first story, the way the dwarf saves him was a happy surprise, and worked very well.
Dainis told of a recent advertizement in the New Yorker for pocelain figures of LOTR characters. From the picture he described them as “slick, detailed, not bad.” Aragorn is in a tunic with one of thse exaggerated wide leather belts. Dainis continued with an entertaining exposition on this remarkably durable style, which has run through countless historical motion pictures from the silent film to taday, not only in films of the European middle ages and Renaissance, but also in films of Jason and the Argonauts, and other such classical subjects, and Biblical films, as well. We concluded that one of these figurines would make a perfect mathom.
Dainis also referred to the Book of Weird (originally published as The Glass Harmonica) by Barb Nicole Byfield, which is a very funny large format illustrated encyclopedia of clichés of fantasy and Romance. The text under the entry for Wizards is especially priceless.
We concluded by discussing style, and someone (Ruth? Dainis?) quoted the sentence I have headed this report with, which is an example of the sort of sentence articles on writing prescribe to grab the reader’s attention immediately-its advantage as a hook is that it combines the subjects of religion, nobility and sex with dialogue-all things people like to read about. [Of course today such a sentence is so passé as to be scarcely effective in parody, though I suppose that there are still plenty of published stories and novels which begin with such tried and true clichés].