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Bewildering Stories

The Characters of Rhiannon’s World

Rachel Parsons

Response to Challenge 156

[Bewildering Stories] Three-quarters of the way through Rachel Parson’s “Nightmares,” we have to ask: Are all the male characters evil? Can you name any who aren’t seriously flawed in some way?

[Rachel Parsons] Everyone is seriously flawed in Daearu. I wouldn’t call Elfrod evil, and Heveydd is more deranged than evil. But all are seriously flawed. This universe is a gritty one. Daearu is lot like Dodge City, in the old Gunsmoke series, however. People come to Daearu to realize their destinies — it’s just not all black and white.

Obviously, the story is not necessarily anti-male: many — even most — of the female characters have serious shortcomings, as well. What faults has Rhiannon herself had to overcome?

All the female characters have serious flaws. Arianrhod gets amused by the handicaps of others — as she was bantering on her way to the jail with Rhiannon about what could happen to her if Arianrhod so chose, this is clear.

Gwennan, of course, had repressed her inner child, resulting in her eating her again and again.

Rhiannon’s main problem is lack of respect. It was her lack of respect for Graymulkin that resulted in her lack of clothing from the curse. (And I am so pleased you caught on to it being a metaphor for vulnerability. It is also a metaphor for lack of social status. It is also the cause of lack of respect, as many a person who has had to work naked can attest to.)

In The Gorgon, the original story, Rhiannon is a lot like the bitch/brat in Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, although I don’t think I consciously patterned her after that. She’d play cruel pranks on those less fortunate than her, simply because she could, and it was one occasion like that that made her run afoul of Graymulkin. Then she finds herself cast out, without clothes, therefore, without social status of any kind, and is on the street — now the one who can have cruelty perpetrated on her without penalty of any kind for the amusement of others.

The major part of the witch Greymulkin’s curse is that Rhiannon cannot wear clothes, no matter what the weather. Now, nudity is not pruriently exciting; rather it’s a sign of vulnerability. Do the characters of “Nightmares” seem to feel the same way, and do they treat Rhiannon accordingly?

I’m really pleased you caught on to the metaphor here. Rhiannon is vulnerable now, in a way that no one, except perhaps Rosalyn, can understand. And even she had more power as a prostitute than Rhiannon, as she would have to be paid before her clothes came off. (She could also conceal weapons; pretty handy when you are a whore on the mean streets of New Dyved, or for that matter, New York.)

Others respond in different ways. Some do not believe her curse, and think she is immodest, or still a prostitute, but others think of her cursed condition as a handicap. Gwennan certainly did. Others just don’t care, as it isn’t they who are in that condition.

Arianrhod promised Rhiannon an audience with Graymulkin, but it wasn’t until the fiasco of the ball that she fulfilled it. Women, for the most part, disdain Rhiannon — as they can’t imagine a similar fate happening to them. But it could happen to anyone, anyone who “disses” a witch, anyway.

Goewyn, in a story that is yet to be published, refers to her condition as her ‘indecency.’ Branwen, who in “Nightmares” is still mad, when she awakes from madness to find her friend queen and nude, is bewildered. Branwen is still the bitch that Rhiannon was.

Rhiannon’s vulnerability changes her, and in other stories, she comes to realize it has made her a better queen for it. Other noblewomen — like Arianrhod and Branwen — thinks she’s nuts to care so much for the lower classes (this is a recurrent theme). But she’s been there — the lowest of the low, so she has great empathy for them.

Parenthetically, he character of Rosalyn is one of those escalating characters (like R. Daneel Olivaw or Andy Sipowitch) and she isn’t as flawed as the others.

The men have more complicated responses. Bran takes advantage of her vulnerability and the lack of status an unclothed person has in his murder attempt. Manawyddan has lust for her, and some genuine love, but can’t let it stand in the way of his greed. Heveydd has gone delusional over it, as he is in denial (à la “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” but more seriously deranged.) Elfrod is embarrassed by it, but wants to stand by her. This, though, leads to overprotectiveness.

Some men simply think of her as obscene. In the scene in the restaurant where a man made an ‘ungallant’ comment directed toward Rhiannon it was originally a loud and rude question about the origin of a hair in his soup (based on a real comment by a real man in my experience.) I thought it probably too gross for publication which is why I changed it.

In upcoming stories, I introduce Hangowry and Amaethon, both flawed, but they love Rhiannon in their own way. Hangowry is patiently waiting for Rhiannon to stop vomiting at the thought of sex, and fought beside her during the war with the Terrans. But he is a lowly blacksmith, and she can’t love him because of his lowly status.

Amaethon was a platonic friend from childhood, who, when he learns of her curse, gets angry at any man who disrespects her. Including Arianrhod’s brother, who didn’t do anything but get fresh with Rhiannon, something she could handle herself by a swift kick where it hurts men worst. He loves her like a friend, and has some clue as to the identity of the one “who will love Rhiannon in her nakedness,” but refuses to divulge it.

Elfrod seems to be the ideal person to fulfill Greymulkin’s conditions for lifting her curse from Rhiannon. And yet Rhiannon hesitates rather than throw herself at him, so to speak. But does she really have a choice? Why must she hesitate?

He is seemingly ideal. Yet he is of her father’s cohort and marrying him is “like marrying your uncle.” Rhiannon wants love in a marriage, something she thought she was getting from Ferrell, in The Gorgon. She doesn’t want to throw herself at a man, because that was, in effect, what she did on a daily basis in New Dyved, when she hit the streets hard. She has to find her way, given her handicap, (Now, I’m doing it, like Gwennan).

Also, in other stories I’m writing, there are others that show up. In one of them, Amaethon is like a brother to her — he is a powerful mage, although that can’t lift the curse. Only the one who gives the curse can lift it. (Well, actually there is one other way, but Rhiannon has to choose between her own selfish desire to wear clothing and another’s curse — in The Accursed, not yet published.) But he can make her life complicated in his attempts to force men to respect her.

The name Greymulkin is practically identical to a name in the opening scene of Macbeth. What might the connections be?

There is a back story here, and it relates to the standing joke of the reference to Canada that Don was interested in. I originally explored the idea of other dimensions being where creative individuals get their ideas. The idea is this. The mind is a reflection of reality. So which reality is being reflected in fantasy? Not ours. But others.

Thus, literature in our world is mirrored in Rhiannon’s world, and Rosalyn, scared by reality, wants to read fantasies — which to us, in this dimension, would not be so.

Graymulkin is similar to the witch in Macbeth, perhaps is actually the witch that Shakespeare was picking up on. However, she is in a very different situation. She was driven from her home in New Dyved, but when her scion, Arianrhod came to be a princess of New Gwynedd, she came to live there.

From modest background, Graymulkin lives modestly, but does not like anyone to laugh at her hideousness, which Rhiannon did. She felt that she had to put up with this when she was younger, but perhaps sensing Rhiannon’s impending fall from grace in the New Dyved court, cursed her. (Or perhaps an enemy of Rhiannon’s put her up to it.) Anyway, Rhiannon deserved it.

Judging by “Nightmares,” what do you think the main outlines of Rhiannon’s future stories might be?

Love to hear readers or your ideas here myself. As long as it doesn’t compromise my vision or your esthetics, I’m open to anything.

Also, where are the comments from readers, or yourselves, about the challenges?

Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons

[Don] That last question is in itself a challenge. Alas, I expect no response. Aside from yourself, euhal allen and Thomas R., who has kindly sent a few messages, I doubt that even the authors — let alone the readers — are aware that the Challenges exist or that their purpose is to invite discussions, such as yours, as well as essays and informal replies. A pity.

However, I realize that despite my official disclaimer the Challenges must seem somewhat forbidding: they live up to their name by almost always asking serious and even difficult questions. I try to avoid questions that have obvious answers, but that doesn’t make communication any easier. Or perhaps it’s a cultural hang-up. In a French publication, the Challenges would be swamped with responses; but in America it’s rare to discuss ideas for what appears to be the sake of discussion: I think the general expectation is an obvious and almost literal pay-off.

Nonetheless, the Challenges are a lot of fun for me, and they’re a way of letting the writers know that their works have been read attentively. As I say elsewhere, I conceive of Bewildering Stories not as a museum or library but as a meeting place.

Copyright © 2005 by Don Webb

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