“It doesn’t make him a saint, but it also doesn’t make him an irredeemable character… except that he’s never going to get the guidance he needs to redeem himself, because not even the Queen stands up to this jerkass. That both pisses me off and strikes me as tragic, because everybody knows about it but nobody does anything. Nobody says anything to Bors. Nobody even tries to stop Bors. Just marry off his daughters and remove them from his victim pool once the damage is already done and leave Bors thinking that of course he’s a good husband and father, because nobody ever argues with him.”
Thank you, Hat, for your wonderful comments. They’ve done horrible things to my inspiration for days — by which I mean, of course, that they’ve made me take a step back from my story, look around and really think about what my characters are doing … and what they’re not doing.
(Oh, by the way — in case you’re wondering, “What is this crazy blogger talking about?”, this post is in response to a series of comments by Hat and Andavri on Daughters Will Love Like You Do. To quickly summarize several very detailed and very lovely comments, they were each debating just how much of an asshat Bors is, whether his actions can be justified or mitigated or … oh, just read their comments, they say it much better than I can! ;))
Think, then type. It’s a useful method of operation, and one I ought to apply more often. But, ahem, anyway. Just why do Bors’s friends and neighbors let him get away with abusing his wife and daughters to the point where his wife is having a breakdown, and his daughters are on the road to hating him forever?
Well … I hate to say it, but I don’t think I can completely answer that question.
I say that because the fact is, I think that question is one of the deeper, harder-to-answer ones about human nature itself. I mean, it covers everything from, “Why didn’t the neighbors call the cops when they heard the kids screaming before one of them ended up dead?” to “Why did approximately seventy million Germans (the pre-war population) allow Hitler to get away with slaughtering millions upon millions of other people?” Hell, there’s even a name for it in psychology — the bystander effect. And all those very smart people with fancy white lab coats and lots of letters after their names don’t know exactly why it is that lots of people can watch a horrible thing happen and not do anything about it.
But a halfway-decent writer or blogger can’t just say, “Eh, it’s human nature, people suck, what do you want me to do it?” and expect to get away with it. I think — er, I hope — that we’re allowed to use the bystander effect to explain part of it, but not all of it. Because though characters in stories and blogs are supposed to lifelike, they’re not actually alive. They’re realistic but not real. We can see into their heads in a way that we obviously can’t see into the head of someone who turns the other way while another person gets pickpocketed or mugged or worse.
So the writer has to know, what’s going on inside those heads? Why isn’t anyone in Albion stepping in for Claire and her daughters and telling Bors where he can get off?
A Quick Note about the Origins of Albion
And when I say “the origins of Albion,” I mean their origins in my head, not the story.
I know I’ve mentioned this a couple of different places on my blog, but Albion is the product of another series of stories that I’m currently … eh, on hiatus from, because my Muse doesn’t like them at the moment. Bors and Lynn are characters from those stories. And Bors is just as bad, if not worse, in those stories.
But for those stories, I know why nobody else is interfering — it’s because these stories take place in the actual Middle Ages (or at least they do in part. It’s complicated). And back then, your wife or your daughter or your underage son was your property — you could do whatever the heck you wanted to them, and nobody would care. You could beat your wife or your daughter black-and-blue and nobody could say boo at you, because you were just “disciplining” them.
And another thing — I would bet some serious money that, back then, people would look at the end product of the way Bors raised his daughter and, say, the way Arthur raised his daughter, and say that Bors did a better job. Jessie in the stories is hotheaded, she isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, she’s just as intelligent as any of the guys and refuses to be left behind to worry about them when she could go adventuring. She chases the guy she wants instead of waiting for him to come to her — heck, half the time she’s rescuing him! Oh, and she’ll toss some battle magic at you if she gets pissed enough. Whereas Lynn in the stories is meek, gentle. She doesn’t speak unless spoken to, she keeps her opinions to herself. She plays the damsel in distress very well (at least at the beginning of the stories — by the end, Lynn has changed a lot). She’s obedient and good at the housewifely arts. She’ll be a perfect mouse to any husband who wants to take her, where Jessie is comparatively a firebrand. I imagine most medieval guys would go for a Lynn over a Jessie in a heartbeat — unless, of course, they were the type who would enjoy “breaking” Jess. (I wouldn’t recommend that as a hobby — they’d probably get fried by one of Jess’s electric-magic-orbs if they tried.) But, yeah, Bors I think would totally win parenting points for completely breaking Lynn’s spirit, as opposed to allowing that spirit to grow uncurbed.
But Albion isn’t sixth-century Britain — it’s Albion. So how come nobody says anything to Bors?
It’s About the Individuals
Subtitle kinda says it all.
Because the “people of Albion” aren’t a monolith, they aren’t a homogenous group. They’re individuals, or at least I try to make them into individuals. So I’m going to go through some of the individuals involved and explain why they haven’t said anything to Bors about the way he’s treating his wife and children. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to keep the analysis to the noble and royal adults of Albion. I’ve got a couple reasons for this …
- First of all, adults are adults. Tommy, Will, Jessie, Leona, Lamorak, Galahad — they were kids themselves when a lot of the worst damage was being done to Claire, Lynn and the other girls. I don’t think you can reasonably expect kids to fully understand this kind of emotional abuse, still less to call out an adult when they’re perpetrating it! I’m also going to lump Mordred and Dindrane into this heading, at least for now — they are, after all, only four years older than the Tommy-Will-Jessie-Lynn-Lamorak crew. And once they got back from Camford and were fully “adults,” Bors started shedding daughters at an alarming rate — they haven’t really been in a position to see what’s going on since they were in a position to do something about it. Of course, this could change once Evette and Lionel get to be of an age where Dindrane can start arranging play-dates between them and Nimue and Gawaine and Agravaine, but for now, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
- I really, really doubt that a merchant or, God forbid, a peasant would have the courage to call Bors an abuser. He’s a nobleman, a pompous one, and I think he would treat a commoner who dared to call him out on his child-rearing tactics the same way he would treat a wife or daughter who protested his treatment of them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that commoners don’t want to call Bors out — we saw Richard Ferreira dying to say something to him — but they have pretty good reasons for keeping quiet. Besides, I doubt that a lot of peasants and merchants have even met Bors, story-wise.
Ok, enough blather — onto my pathetic excuses for my characters. We’ll start at the top.
Arthur Pendragon: Ok, he’s the King, he could glare and put on his best King-voice and say, “Bors, knock it off and start treating your family better” and he’d probably have to do it. So why doesn’t Arthur say anything? I think a big part of his reticence is that he is the King. People listen to what he has to say and will often trust his judgment over their own. Even though his authority is, in theory, boundless, he doesn’t want to overstep his bounds. He doesn’t want to turn into a despot, and to him, that means at the very least backing off and letting people raise their kids the way they want to — as long as the kids aren’t in danger of losing life or limb, that is.
Secondly, there are political reasons for him keeping quiet. Bors is and has been his most trustworthy general for a long time, even before Lot had his stroke. I mean, Bors has never participated in or looked the other way for a cold-blooded murder. Especially now that things in Glasonland are heating up, Arthur cannot afford to be pissing Bors off. Honestly, I think he could be the type to take his toys and go home if he got annoyed enough.
Lastly, I think — and I’ll probably be using this excuse a lot, for most of the guys — it’s very easy for him to rationalize away just how bad things are with Claire and the girls. I imagine Arthur’s relationship, if you could call it that, with most of the girls is that of Jessie’s father. His interaction with them would be limited to poking his head in Jessie’s bedroom doors, saying the medieval equivalent of, “Who wants to go out for ice cream?” and then trying to survive the mob little girls shouting, “ME! ME! ME!” He would see that the de Ganis girls are quiet and well-behaved, and shut his eyes to anything else if he really wanted to.
Alison Pendragon: She’s the Queen, but I think she’s just as diffident of using her queenly power as Arthur is of using his kingly power — if for different reasons. Alison was born a commoner, and part of her still feels as if she’s an imposter. She’s not supposed to be placed so far above all of them. I mean, any nobility at all would have been a good match for her, a spectacular match would have been an heir to a household marrying her … marrying Arthur, at least in terms of blood, is so far out of her league, she’s not even sure she’s playing the same game any more. So she hesitates before she says anything to Bors, or to any nobleman or -woman, simply because part of her still feels as if she’s talking to her social superiors.
There’s also the Glasonlander upbringing; in Glasonland, women are still seen for the most part as property, they’re supposed to be meek and dutiful and submissive. Alison wasn’t raised that way because she’s an only child, and her father was both ambitious and older when he had her. He wanted her to get the best education and training, and he wanted her to know how to manage her money and the businesses if he should die before she married. He wanted her to be able to hold her own against both competitive merchants and backstabbing (minor) nobility. So Alison is trying to be a smart lady and a gracious lady and a genteel lady and a good mother and a Queen to make Arthur proud all at once. And sometimes these roles conflict, or seem to conflict.
And finally, Alison has tried to help over the years, but subtly. She’s tried to make the Pendragon castle a bit of a second home and an escape for the de Ganis girls. She’s encouraged the friendship between Jessie and Lynn and Clarice for that purpose — she’s been trying to give the girls some kind of space to grow into the women they want to be, not the doormats Bors wants them to be.
Lancelot du Lac: I think one word sums up what keeps Lancelot quiet: family. Bors is his cousin. Sometimes, you let a lot of things go under the rug for the sake of keeping family harmony. Lancelot in particular puts up with a lot from Bors to keep Bors quiet.
There are also political reasons — Lancelot knows enough of politics to be aware that the Gwynedds and Orkneys are growing closer and closer together and more and more allied. Lance is best friends with the King, and that will buoy the du Lacs for a long time (especially since Will is best friends with Tommy), but it won’t last forever. They need alliances. Lance also sees that Bors is the one getting left behind in the land- and wealth- and power-grabbing of all the other families, and Lancelot is too soft-hearted not to help him out. In his eyes, no doubt he’s helping the girls by staying on Bors’s good side and helping him out politically. The more land and wealth and power Bors has, the better dowries and better futures he can secure for his daughters.
Besides, with Leona for a mother, what are the odds that the second generation of de Ganis women are going to be as put-upon as the first?
Guinevere du Lac: Guinevere’s got two choices here: either tell Bors exactly what’s on her mind and have him cut off all contact between the younger generation of the two families, or keep quiet and have a hope of saving the girls by teaching them to stand up for themselves. Besides, I’m sure many family dinners have taught Guinevere that trying to talk sense into Bors is like trying to talk to a brick wall. It’s just not going to work. So she consciously models another way of being a lady to the girls, and hopes that they pay attention.
And when things get really bad — like with Claire — she doesn’t even bother bothering with Bors at all, but goes straight to someone who she thinks can help.
Pellinore Gwynedd: Pellinore actually has said something to Bors — or rather, he kicked Bors out of his office when Bors tried to draw up a legal document “gifting” Angelique to the nunnery. Angelique was all of three days old at the time. The problem, of course, was that what Pellinore said didn’t do much good — and it was something, I’d imagine, more along the lines of, “Are you out of your mind?!” rather than a well-reasoned, well-thought-out argument. He and Bors haven’t spoken at length since that day, and Pellinore doesn’t know Claire or the girls very well.
Eilwen Gwynedd: Eilwen is the hardest, if only because I’ve barely done anything with her. So her whole character is still a bit mysterious to me. I think I’ll have to lean on her Glasonlander upbringing, and the fact that she’s a rather shy and quiet woman to explain this for me — she’s certainly not my pick for “Most Likely to Rip Bors a New One.” Lastly, I don’t think she knows the de Ganis girls very well. There’s a sizable age difference between Dindrane and Lynn, and another sizable one between Angelique and the twins.
Accolon le Fay: He’s easy. Before he was killed and zombified, he was a peasant who’d probably never even met Claire or the girls. Afterward, he was a social outcast who only saw them when they were at royal functions — when everyone’s on their best behavior anyway. How’s he even going to realize that anything is wrong?
Morgan le Fay: I imagine, before she ran away with Accolon and blew a raspberry at society at large, that she didn’t know Claire or the girls very well. She was always close to Jessie and knew Lynn distantly, but not well enough to realize that something was wrong — she knew Lynn’s father well enough to rationalize any nervousness or jumpiness Lynn might have had in her presence just to her being a witch. Also, those gatherings where Morgan might have gotten to know Claire better and realize something was wrong on that end were the sorts of gatherings — imagine lots of embroidery and gossip and talk about babies — that Morgan would rather stick a fork in her eye than attend. So that’s that.
And afterward, of course, she was a social outcast and even less likely to see something wrong. But she also had some time to do some thinking. And when Guinevere came to her and said that Claire needed help … well, who jumped right in to help? 🙂
Lot Orkney: I really can’t see him caring. Yes, he loves Garnet very much and wouldn’t treat her the way Bors treats his daughters, but Lot is a very pragmatic soul. What advantage comes to him from pissing off his co-general to help some wife and some children who he really doesn’t know well? Not a lot (unless Bors really does pack up his toys and go home — and I don’t know if Lot would really want that. What with there being two of them and all, Lot could contrive to get all of the praise for successful operations, and none of the blame if things went wrong. Or at least he thought so). Also, I can easily see him just shrugging it off as “none of his business” and going on with life. And of course, now he’s not in a position to be helping anybody.
Morgause Orkney: … Look at the way she treats her own daughter. I think that’s ’nuff said. 😉
So those are my excuses. Are any of them any good? 😉