Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Blue Sword
When I was in high school, one of my friends and I argued back and forth for years over which Robin McKinley book was better, The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown. For people who don't know what I'm talking about, these are two books in the same series, The Hero and the Crown being the prequel to The Blue Sword. I always argued for The Blue Sword, while Erin always argued the opposite. I think eventually we decided it all came down to which book we had read first, which was a satisfactory answer, but now I think there might be more to it than that on my part.

I've been leading my ESL class through a series of discussions about The Joy Luck Club. Most of our discussions center around biculturalism, cultural exchange, the different views a person might have coming to a new country, as opposed to growing up there, etc. (If anyone out there cares, the reading guides can be found here and here.) Over the weekend, I was siezed by a sudden desire to read The Blue Sword, and in doing so, I started seeing some interesting parallels.

The main character of The Blue Sword, Harry, is a young woman who gets kidnapped (sort of) into the desert society of the native people in the country she has recently moved to. Being a fantasy book, it of course turns out that she has a great-grandmother who was of royal blood in this society, she is now destined for greatness, etc, etc, and of course that heritage awakens natural linguistic and sword-wielding talents, which conveniently aid the plot in moving forward faster. Plot predictability aside, I think the thing that makes me find this book more interesting than its prequel is all the cultural comparisons that get made. Harry spends a lot of time mulling the difficulties of being a bridge between two disparate cultures, and just in general wandering around making interesting outsider-looking-in observations.

As much as I love learning new languages, I think the biggest reason I am now addicted to foreign travel is this opportunity to observe and be surrounded by another culture. There's so much out there to see, discover, learn, experience! For all that I once thought I'd live in North Carolina my whole life and never want to leave, apparently some part of my mind recognized this fascination early on, and has been influencing my tastes in reading matter longer than I thought.

(Now that I'm thinking about it, and can see my bookshelf, I realize that several of my favorites from middle/high school have similar themes: Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, to name a few. The last two have the added bonus of starring a linguist as the main character.)

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