Tuck, Danner, and Tarpy trudged back to their tent, each immersed deep in his own thoughts, and Tuck’s entry into his diary that night took longer than usual.
Someone I imagine him writing a lot of angsty poetry in it, all about life being pain. Seriously, why does this diary exist? It plays no part in the plot, and we never see what Tuck is writing in it. Why do we have to hear about it at all?
Oh right… because it’s important to the plot of the sequels.
If I recall correctly, McKiernan originally wrote the Silver Call books as a sequel to Lord of the Rings. You know, that sequel Tolkien never wrote because the story was OVER and didn’t need a sequel. Very predictably, the Tolkien estate shot him down like a fat duck on the first day of hunting season. So he changed the names, kept all the details pretty much the same, and then wrote The Iron Call trilogy as backstory.
See, the annoyingly twerpy hero of the Silver Call duology – who is basically Frodo minus the common sense, charm or brains – is only included on the epic quest to reclaim Moria Kraggen-Cor because he had practically memorized the extended journal that Tuck left behind. Without the journal, he had no reason to be involved in the story. So McKiernan had no choice but to keep mentioning that OH YES, Tuck totally had a journal that he put ALL the information in and it’s very important.
So their squad ends up doing a middle-of-the-night shift, which allows them to sit around engaging in exposition.
“Why now?” asked Tarpy. “I mean, well, after four thousand years, why does Modru threaten now?”
Because after four thousand years, he’s really bored and world conquest seemed like a fun thing to do. Seriously, is there some designated time when villains are allowed to attack? I mean, is there some sort of limit on how long you’re allowed to try to threaten the Forces of Good?
So since we’ve only seen Vulgs as minions of evil, it’s time for us to find out about the others. Arbin infodumps us about Rucks, Hloks and Ogrus… which are ALL THE BADDIES from Lord of the Rings:
- Rucks = your garden-variety orcs.
- Hloks = Uruk-hai with less cool backstory.
- Ogrus = basic big dumb trolls who never talk.
Except in a bit of lacking imagination, apparently these knockoffs are all the same creature, except they come in three different sizes. Because why bother creating actual species when you can just say “they’re all the same except some are bigger”? Come up with five million different names for each species, sure. But don’t bother differentiating them!
Danner scoffs at the idea that Ogrus could be twice the size of humans, because apparently humans look ridiculously huge to Wobbits.
“Why, that’d make the Ogru the greatest creature on the land.”
“Except for Dragons,” chipped in Tuck, “but none of those have been seen for five hundred years or so – or so they say.”
Just ask Bilbo. Ever since The Hobbit… sorry, wrong story again. Wow, I wonder why I keep making that mistake when this story doesn’t resemble Lord of the Rings at ALL.
“You’re forgetting one Dragon that’s been seen recently,” smiled Arbin.
“What do you mean?” spoke up Tarpy, puzzled. “What Dragon has been seen recently?” He appealed to the others with outstretched hands, palms up.
“The Dragon Star!” shouted Arbin in glee, having lured Tarpy into his word trap.
… that was completely unfunny in every way imaginable. My eyes are actually burning from the lack of wit. I made a sort of pathetic whining noise at that “word trap.”
Also, who openly gestures to other people for clarification on what ONE person said? I mean, do they usually leave Tarpy out of the loop?
“Now there’s a thing folks will talk about for ages to come,” said Delber, a fair-haired young buccan from Wigge, “the Dragon Star.”
Yeah, they never mention it again in the series, except in its part in the whole ending-the-world thing. Also, weirdly enough the Wobbits seem to be the only people who actually noticed it except the Forces of Evil. We never hear about its bad effects on the Elves, the Dwarves, the humans… anybody, really.
Delber was talking about the great flaming star
Its other name was…. ELTON JOHN.
For weeks before, its light could be seen, appearing at sunset, and it burned through the night. Night after night it grew brighter and larger, plunging through the star-studded sky.
Wait, in one sentence it’s talking about what happened BEFORE it appeared… and the second sentence is about how it looked when it actually got there.
And its fiery tail, called “Dragon’s Breath” by some, and “Dragon’s Flame” by others, grew longer and longer.
Either would make sense for a comet called “The Dragon Star,” but…. why did they call it that? I mean, what’s draconic about it? I guess they just had a cool name rattling around and decided to give it to the comet.
An awful portent it was, for the hairy stars had presaged dire events since the world began.
- The other stars tried to get them to shave, but they refused!
- No, I can’t remember another “dire event” presaged by a comet in this series, and it includes fun stuff like an ISLAND being destroyed, the impending apocalypse, Gyphon almost conquering the universe, etc.
- There’s one other comet in The Eye of the Hunter, but there weren’t any major “dire” events in that story. In fact, the comet doesn’t have anything to do with the plot at all, except that it was prophesied that the Big Bad Showdown would happen when it showed up.
- In fact, that last comet presaged a GOOD event since it led to the birth of the guy who SAVES THE WORLD.
On it came, rising each night, inexorably sweeping closer.
And then the unthinkable happened: it brought out a vacuum cleaner!
But night was its true Realm, for then it silently clove the splangled sky,
And then folk noted that it seemed to be changing course, shifting, for slowly its tail swung behind till it no longer could be seen,as if the DragonStar had turned and was hurtling directly for Mithgar.
And… this didn’t seem strange to anybody? I mean, celestial bodies DON’T REALLY CHANGE COURSE unless something makes them do so. Why are there never astronomers in Ye Olde Fantasie Worlde? Especially since there’s never anything better for elves to do?
So the Wobbits reacted pretty much like paranoiacs and Luddites did to the Millennium Bug years ago – they dug shelters, got charms, and everybody decided that this was the end of the world.
Amazingly, the impending apocalypse didn’t really change their day-to-day life… yeah, I know you need to keep buying toilet paper and everything, but I would expect a little more PANIC if the world really were about to end.
And then the last night to live arrived, but in spite of the impending death of the world,
I’m sorry, but that line is kinda funny. He makes it sound like a thunderstorm.
So anyway, we get a detail about how the Dragon Star went right overhead along with accompanying meteorites, and chunks of it even broke off and landed… somewhere. We only hear about one particular piece in Book 3, and it landed far away from the Bosky, so I guess there are radioactive meteorite chunks lying somewhere in the woods. Interesting for a high fantasy.
But that’s not all! Because …
… one huge one went down up north.You know, the area where the Big Bad is currently living while he tries to conquer the whole world. I’m sure it has no significance to the plot.
People wept and cried out in fear, and some swooned while others drank in the taverns.
Yes, I guess if civilization is about to be wiped out by a direction-changing comet, you might as well expire while soaked in sweet liquor.
But most simply sat and watched and waited, with their arms around their buccarans or dammias, or about their sires and dams, or their buccoes and dammsels, or granthers and grandams, or uncles, aunts, cousins, or other relatives or friends, for they knew nought else to do.
Not to mention their in-laws, or their cousins-once-removed, or that drunken guy who used to be married to Aunt Mabel but she ran off with the postman, or that kid who isn’t actually a relative but he spends so much time here that we might as well…
Seriously, do we need a rundown of every single family relationship they can have? We get it! We get it! People have families!
And after that hype… the Dragon Star just… goes by. Seriously, it doesn’t crash or anything, just passed by and the planet… whatever planet this is on… just passed through its tail. Yep, in normal situations that has no effect whatsoever, but since this is a fantasy story, it makes the entire sky BLOOD-RED, a plague breaks out for no legit reason, and causes assorted weird shit to happen.
Milk soured, cows went dry,
But if the cows are dry, how can their milk go sour?
crops failed, hens stopped laying,
I’m questioning how they survived the next year.
dogs barked without reason,
So not unusual, then?
and once it rained without letup for eight days.
Sounds like my house at Christmastime.
It was said that two-headed calves and sheep without eyes were born, and some claimed to see snakes roll like hoops.
I can see why the first two would freak people the hell out, although obviously this is fake or else the animals would be paraded around as examples… but why is the last one scary? It’s more… comical.
Many believed thatall of these strange things were the doings of the Dragon Star. Others said, “Rubbish! Most of these happenings are ordinary events; we’ve seen ’em before. And some o’ these stories are just wild tales. Only afew things might be laid at the feet of the Dragon Star.”
Yeah, the red sky, plague, freakish weather, mutant animals and mass deaths are PERFECTLY NORMAL! You’re all so dumb to assume that this isn’t just business as usual!
So eventually everything goes back to normal, and amazingly nobody has starved to death despite the lack of any crops, milk, eggs or any slaughtered animals. It would be an event talked about for generation upon generation, until it, too, joined the other epic tales and legends told ’round the hearth. Uhhhhh… no. It’s a freak astronomical event. Epic stories usually have central heroes, villains, hugely dramatic narrative events…. not just random weird crap that started up and went away over a small area. It’s like talking about the epic tale of Hurricane Katrina.
So then some pirate-talking guy named Dilby starts reminiscing about it, and about what a drama queen his grandmother is. “And she said, ‘No good’ll come of this, Dilbs,’ – she always called me Dilbs – ‘mark my words. It means the death of the High King, or something else just as bad, or worse.'”
So… is she suggesting that every forty years or so, there are giant Comets Of Doom, plagues, freakish mutations and so on? Because unless the High King is an elf, he’s probably gonna die eventually.
“And I said, ‘What could be worse, Granny?’ And her face went all ashy and her voice all hollow, and she said, ‘The Doom of Mithgar.'”
This has gone past foreshadowing, and right into beating the readers with whatever’s coming next.
So then we’re launched into a really dumb discussion about how drumroll maybe she was RIGHT, since something bad is happening. You know, like the endless winter, plagues, the invasion by the Forces of Generic Evil… stuff like that.
Some random idiot called Arbin suggests that maybe it was sent from Adon (and who the hell is he?) as a warning. For some reason, this pisses off Danner.
“Why not say it was sent by Modru? Or even by bloody Gyphon, Himself?”
… and they are? I mean, I know that Modru is the Big Bad, but who is Gyphon? I know I explained earlier what he is, but that was just ME. The book has still not explained who or what Gyphon is in the cosmology of this world. What is he?!
Gyphon, not “gryphon.”
So Arbin gets pissed at Danner, and yells, “Don’t look down your crusty beak at me!” Oh yuck. Did we need that? Ew. “Everyone knows about sendings and omens. Plagues are sendings of Gyphon, the Great Evil. If not from Gyphon, then plagues come from His servant Modru, the Enemy in Gron.”
Wait, they just got whacked by a giant plague, in addition to random mutations, crop failures, and other fun shit. Yet he also thinks the Dragon Star, which CAUSED these things, was sent by the NICE god instead of the bad one?! Arbin really IS dumb.
I’d also like to mention that elsewhere in the series, we learn that Modru is not a god, or even a demigod. He is an evil wizard. Not sure how he can “send” plagues so casually.
And wait, he’s also not the evillest of evil things? Who is this Gyphon?
Again, he’s the off-brand copy of Morgoth. Really? Ripping off Sauron wasn’t enough? We needed a copy of Sauron’s boss and the ultimate evil bastard of Middle-Earth?
“And as to omens, well just look the next time you see a flight of birds, for they tell of fortunes, sometimes good, sometimes bad. So you see, Mr. Wise Danner, the Dragon Star could well have been a sending of Adon.”
Assuming that Adon hates them all and wants them to die. There’s a pretty big difference between a flock of birds and a PLAGUE-BEARING COMET OF DEATH.
So then Danner throws a bitchfit and argues that Arbin would try to tell the future from a bird Danner had scared off a branch, and he makes a pretty decent point: “Answer me this, too: If Adon wanted to say something, why wouldn’t He just come right out and say it plain? Why would He cast it in runes that nobody can read? Sendings! Omens! Faugh!” Well, he has a point. But on the other hand, a bird scared off by a person can still be considered a warning, depending on what their intentions are.
And just to be pissy, in ancient times they did have soothsayers who would interpret the flights of birds, when they weren’t gutting the wildlife.
And why do they use the capitalized “He” to refer to Adon? I guess it’s being used because Christians traditionally used capitalization to refer to God in pronouns, buuuuutttttt… if you’re talking about one god of several, using the pronoun to emphasize the speshulness doesn’t make sense. And it can get confusing.
Since Danner actually made a good point, Arbin and Danner are ready to start boxing Wobbit-style, which probably involves thumb-wrestling and lots of crying. So Tuck steps between them, stopping any semi-interesting stuff before it starts. “Hold on, now, and save your fighting for Modru.” He turned to Danner and placed a hand on his forearm and said, “Squabble with Vulgs, not Warrows.” Tuck was later beaten up, wedgied and stuffed in the Thornwall by both Arbin and Danner for being an annoying little twerp.
Then Tarpy spends a whole paragraph talking about how some shit is symbolic and some isn’t. DEEEEEEEP.
Then they spend all night standing around doing nothing much. Just prior to mid of night, they rode down the long black tunnel of thorns to their posts, greeting the squad there with Halloos and Hai-rois and Ai-oi, where you been? Have you bitten any Vulgs lately? What’s the news from Modru? and other such banter. Yeah, apparently the Thornwalkers are all idiots. What do those noises even mean? Ai-oi?
So they…. sit there. And sit there some more. Nothing happens for HOURS.
And then… after a whole chapter of talking and cooking and doing ABSOLUTELY JACK-SHIT, something finally happens! Dilby comes riding back and gallops past the barrier over the river. This… seems really stupid. Not only can horses slip on the ice… but that means that the baddies could easily swim in whenever it ISN’T frozen.
Also… it seems really, really dangerous to treat a frozen river like a road. See, ice cracks. You can fall in. How about putting a BRIDGE over it?
I’m obviously giving this too much thought.
“A rider comes!” Dilby cried. “At speed! Sounds like a horse, not a pony. Let me in!”
“The last time THIS happened, it was my mother-in-law! Quick, plug it up!”
So a horse comes galloping up with a human rider on his back.
On it came, growing louder, until a black foam-flecked steed, ridden by a haggard Man, burst into the firelight to thunder to a halt at the barrier.
“Now, who ordered the pepperoni and who ordered onions and sausage? And you little bastards better have a tip ready, because it’s freezing out here!”
No, it’s a messenger from the High King and he’s announcing that a war is breaking out. This would be a little more dramatic if McKiernan hadn’t basically told us as much earlier in the chapter that people are being evacuated from the nearest castle… because of the war. But since the Wobbits are very easily distracted, they’ve apparently forgotten all this.
“Your mission?” called down Patrel.
… Patrel’s not too bright, is he? Uh, there’s a messenger who just told them that war is breaking out. I’m pretty sure that’s his mission – a messenger bringing a message, GET IT?
“Ai! Modru gathers his Horde to fall upon Challerain Keep,” cried the messenger, his horse curvetting, “and I am sent to muster this Land, for all must answer to the call if the Realm is to brave the coming storm.”
I’m still not clear what the politics of this world are. I mean, does the High King just rule this one country or a whole bunch of countries (as the title would suggest)? Does he rule all the races in it, or the humans only? Because we later find out the dwarves and elves have their own kings, and they don’t seem to be subjects of the High King. Are the Warrows his subjects? Are they his allies? Just how is this monarchy set up?
But if he only rules one country and the others don’t have to obey him…. how come he’s called the High King? Does he smoke a lot of pot?
So they let the messenger in, and the guy starts riding into the place. And since apparently “We’re at war, Modru’s about to attack Challerain Keep and we’re all about to be destroyed” isn’t enough information for Patrel, he asks what the news is. Hey idiot, he just TOLD you!