Places

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In one way Buried Giant presents a fairly straightforward quest plot, where the story happens in episodes strung together by travel to exotic places where we meet strange people and wandering monsters who are sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, and sometimes concerned with something else entirely. We have a Briton and a Saxon village, a dangerous bridge, a monastery, a dungeon, a wild, travel by boats, a ruin filled by strange children, and a waste with a dragon in it. Finally there is an island paradise, or undying land at any rate. These are all tropes, and even approaching cliche status. How did these places compare with your expectations of how a quest should proceed? What about other authors' visions of quests?

Comments

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    Where in England or Britain do any of us think it was set? The terrain didn't make much sense to me at all, either in southern or northern regions (my guess would be southern or possibly eastern, if only because that's where most of the Saxons were to be found).

    I wish he had not tried to set it in England at all, but instead had just made up a quasi-dark-ages-Britain country as context.

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    I think it's meant to be set somewhere from Midlands to South West. But I agree, the geography doesn't match anything actually in that area. But then again, the book's not about "realism" as "allegory", so I don't much mind. This book is set in England in much the same way the Odyssey is set in the Mediterranean.

    As for the quest stations, they weren't "procedural" obstacles to be overcome. I read them as the motivations for the exploration. So we have The Unwelcoming Home (original village), the Threshold (bridge), Grief (the ruined villa), the Concrete Reminder of War (monastery), the Dissolution of Mind (pixie boat), and so on.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    I think it's meant to be set somewhere from Midlands to South West. But I agree, the geography doesn't match anything actually in that area. But then again, the book's not about "realism" as "allegory", so I don't much mind. This book is set in England in much the same way the Odyssey is set in the Mediterranean.

    That's an interesting suggestion. But isn't part of the idea that the quest starts and ends in the known, but explores weird and wonderful unknown places in the middle. So the Odyssey starts at Troy and ends at Ithaca - I know people try to do maps of the eastern Med to pick out other highlights, though it wouldn't bother me if this was not at all feasible. But the fact that Odysseus reenters the known world of Greece and faces the known challenge of all those suitors seems to me part of the point. Here, we begin, wander about, and end in the unknown.

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    The specific locational elements were vague, but that didn't bother me. I assumed we were moving somewhat vaguely from east to west, perhaps in southern Yorkshire or thereabouts. Some of the specifics didn't ring true to me, like the monastery and its tunnels that was built from a fort which would make it like a trap. Seemed a bit nonsensical, really. Also, mention of Saxon soldiers, like they had an army in the modern sense.

    I also had a hard time reconciling the boatman. Sure, I suppose he's modeled after Charon, but why is he in England? England has it's own mythological cycles. In the end I assumed he was probably an 'angel' rather than Charon. Perhaps he was inspired by Cirdan the Boatmen of Middle Earth, rather than Charon. Or whoever it was who took Arthur to the Isle of Avalon.

    But, I didnt really dwell on any of this too much. Mythology often doesn't make sense in the conventional way.

    I really would like someone to explain the end to me, though. The wife, I guess, passes into the west, while Axl hangs back because he's nervous? Why? What's the symbology here? I couldn't quite parse it.

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    @Apocryphal said:

    I really would like someone to explain the end to me, though. The wife, I guess, passes into the west, while Axl hangs back because he's nervous? Why? What's the symbology here? I couldn't quite parse it.

    Beatrice dies of cancer; Axl continues to live. But their love is sufficiently strong that they will remember each other in the afterlife, when Axl eventually dies. They'll remember their love, even if they don't remember all the events in their past, a fact that bring solace to both.

    At least, that's my interpretation.

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    edited September 8

    @Apocryphal said:
    I also had a hard time reconciling the boatman. Sure, I suppose he's modeled after Charon, but why is he in England? England has it's own mythological cycles. In the end I assumed he was probably an 'angel' rather than Charon. Perhaps he was inspired by Cirdan the Boatmen of Middle Earth, rather than Charon. Or whoever it was who took Arthur to the Isle of Avalon.

    It was queens who carried Arthur's body away, either three or six depending on the telling. There's a rather nice Welsh version (but in English, not the Welsh language) at
    https://www.abctales.com/story/ieuancilgwri/death-arthur-sailing-avalon-marw-arthur
    which includes the line
    Those eyes catch me and I hear, finally, 'Memory' will not be lost.
    ("Those" probably refers to Arthur's, but in context could equally refer to the queens').
    Now, that could be suggestive in terms of Buried Giant but the whole tenor and tone of the boat departure is so different that, at least to me, I don't think Ishiguro was drawing on this.

    I really would like someone to explain the end to me, though. The wife, I guess, passes into the west, while Axl hangs back because he's nervous? Why? What's the symbology here? I couldn't quite parse it.

    A kind of doomed romance? Axl feels that Beatrice is worthy (in a way never specified) but he is not? She seems to feel the same thing the other way around - maybe her point of view was him going and her staying, but as readers we were never treated to that? Is Axl's constant use of "princess" for her a pet name or an actual description? If actual description, maybe he feels that only royalty get to go to the island?

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    > @NeilNjae said:
    > (Quote)
    > Beatrice dies of cancer; Axl continues to live. But their love is sufficiently strong that they will remember each other in the afterlife, when Axl eventually dies. They'll remember their love, even if they don't remember all the events in their past, a fact that bring solace to both.
    >
    > At least, that's my interpretation.

    This would support the idea that the whole story is a metaphor for reliving that shared life on one’s death bed. It’s plausible to me as a grand narrative frame, anyway.
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    @NeilNjae said:
    As for the quest stations, they weren't "procedural" obstacles to be overcome. I read them as the motivations for the exploration. So we have The Unwelcoming Home (original village), the Threshold (bridge), Grief (the ruined villa), the Concrete Reminder of War (monastery), the Dissolution of Mind (pixie boat), and so on.

    I think this suits many Arthurian quests quite well: They occur in some Land Perilous, and are not well located in time.

    @RichardAbbott said:
    But isn't part of the idea that the quest starts and ends in the known, but explores weird and wonderful unknown places in the middle. So the Odyssey starts at Troy and ends at Ithaca - I know people try to do maps of the eastern Med to pick out other highlights, though it wouldn't bother me if this was not at all feasible. But the fact that Odysseus reenters the known world of Greece and faces the known challenge of all those suitors seems to me part of the point. Here, we begin, wander about, and end in the unknown.

    Those are stories for kings, who are interested in dominating space. This story is about dominating time (seeking perpetuity), and as far as I know there is not many stories about a Time-Ruling-Emperor, whereas there are many about World-Ruling-Emperors. Of course there are Time-Bandits.

    @Apocryphal said:
    Mythology often doesn't make sense in the conventional way.

    I really would like someone to explain the end to me, though. The wife, I guess, passes into the west, while Axl hangs back because he's nervous? Why? What's the symbology here? I couldn't quite parse it.

    Not an explanation, but the quest ends in parting (forgetting is to death), like LOTR, and so the telling is about what remains (memory is to life). This is related to a yearning for perpetual life, which is not seen here in this world because of death is not a given communal experience, although it is a communal event. However through fantasy it might be shared. This related to what @RichardAbbott said:

    Those eyes catch me and I hear, finally, 'Memory' will not be lost.
    ("Those" probably refers to Arthur's, but in context could equally refer to the queens').
    Now, that could be suggestive in terms of Buried Giant but the whole tenor and tone of the boat departure is so different that, at least to me, I don't think Ishiguro was drawing on this.

    I agree that there is not much direct influence, but maybe a structural affinity.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    This would support the idea that the whole story is a metaphor for reliving that shared life on one’s death bed. It’s plausible to me as a grand narrative frame, anyway.

    I strongly suspect that Ishiguro wrote the book with more than one possible interpretation.

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Not an explanation, but the quest ends in parting (forgetting is to death), like LOTR, and so the telling is about what remains (memory is to life). This is related to a yearning for perpetual life, which is not seen here in this world because of death is not a given communal experience, although it is a communal event. However through fantasy it might be shared.

    Yet Axl remains, with his memory returning. Is he the only one left who was there at the start of Arthur's great project (of genocide and propaganda) to keep the Britons "safe"? Is he now the one fated to watch it undone?

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    I got no sense of place or time or anything. It the Grimdark Ages and it all must be bitter and sophisticated.

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