thendara house, book one, chapter one

Things I promised I’d do four months ago: start this review!

Thendara House (1983) by Marion Zimmer Bradley — and! According to this note right here in the beginning, also a woman called Jacqueline Lichtenberg, who wrote half of it only for Bradley to rewrite those chapters. Hm. Apparently it was her idea to follow Jaelle among the Terrans.

For those of you following along, this is the DAW Fantasy paperback edition, first printing September 1983, orange-bordered cover with Magda and Jaelle back-to-back surrounded by columns and, weirdly, mountains.

Part One is called Conflicting Oaths, and Chapter One is titled Magdalen Lorne. Magda is still very much Terran at this point, one might infer. We find out that she was born on this planet, at Caer Donn, “where the Terrans had built their first spaceport” (9). Magda’s come to resign, but it isn’t that easy: her new boss is an old friend, Cholayna Ares, to whom it is apparently news that Magda and Peter Haldane are divorced. Somehow there is no shoe-drop moment when Cholayna realizes Peter married Magda’s new best friend shortly thereafter — what a wasted opportunity! Instead of accepting Magda’s resignation, Cholayna persuades her to go inactive for the half-year (not six-month) duration of her housebound time, a time when the Renunciates keep their novices within the confines of the Guild House.

The way Magda sees this is thoroughly Darkovan: she views Cholayna as attempting to capitalize upon an old acquaintanceship. She’s never known real friendship before this, she thinks; “[u]ntil I met Jaelle, and knew what it was to have a friend I’d fight for and die for if I must” (13). How many of us can say the same of our friends? Should we be asking that question? Do we live in a society where it’s no longer appropriate or necessary?

Magda also reminds us that she took the oath freely, that instead of being sworn to secrecy, she elected to remain with the part as one of them, and to take up her housebound time just as soon as she could be got back to Thendara. “For a woman, the penalty is only that the lie must become truth; a woman may not enjoy the freedoms of the Oath without first renouncing the safety and protection of the laws specially protecting women” (13).

This calls to mind many of the changes brought about by second-wave feminism. Women bargained for their freedoms. For the right to earn a wage alongside a man, a woman relinquished the expectation that she would be fed, clothed, and housed simply because she was a wife. Regarding the custody of her children in a divorce, I’ll draw from Leighton E Stamps (http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/courtrv/cr38-4/CR38-4Stamps.pdf): where once women were given preferential treatment, fathers’ rights in their children began to be considered by courts — joint custody took off in the 1970s, about parallel to the development of this book. These days, “chivalrous” men tend to come off as oily and overbearing; they will do what they suppose are the correct favors for women, only to find that they haven’t considered the woman’s actual will or desire in the matter. And they’ll get pretty shirty about how well they meant, too.

Consider, however, that for all feminism has done, it has far to go when it comes to the actual protection of women. Think how many rapes go unreported for fear of maltreatment at the hands of police; think how many prosecutions die in progress, how many more fail at trial. Unless we can demonstrate that we have kept to certain social bounds, we become the only victims whose fault it is we were violated.

A Renunciate can carry a knife. A Renunciate has other women watching her back. A Renunciate is trained so well in self-defense that when it comes to any violation of her person, it’s kill or be killed. I wonder if the second wave realized what it would take, to still be safe while taking our freedom. I wonder why women aren’t all raised as Renunciates in this respect.

Even in the far future, there are double standards when it comes to (cis)gender. Cholayna is surprised to find a woman “going over the wall” — abandoning your own culture for the culture you’ve been studying, or the one you’ve adopted. Magda’s a pioneer in this respect, too. But Cholayna turns it around: since the Renunciates want to integrate with the Terrans, get some of their own trained to work among the Terrans, why should Magda not help by determining who would be best to start off?

Which is about the only reason Magda doesn’t quit on the spot.

She chooses to go to the Guild House as a Darkovan, not a Terran. “[She] briefly debated going back to her old quarters to retrieve a few cherished possessions. No. They would be of no use to her in the Guild House, and would only proclaim her Terran” (17). She throws away her identity badge. She has done everything but renounce her Terran citizenship, and she very nearly did that!

She also chooses not to attend the freemate wedding of Jaelle and Peter. I had to stop and reword there, because I initially thought “wedding of Jaelle to Peter” before realizing that, no, that would feel wrong, marrying one to another in that context as if she were leaving one family to cleave to another. Jaelle is doing this because she loves Peter. She is keeping the Oath as best she can.

So. “[T]he marriage had been broken before [Magda] had ever known Jaelle. And yet somehow she felt she could not endure their newlywed happiness” (17). I find that utterly natural. Then too she is leaving her best friend in her place. Both of them are facing the unknown. They’re trading lives, and they might have some inkling of what it entails, but that is all they can have. An inkling. No sure knowledge of what is to come.

Thus concludeth Chapter One. Talk to me! Any of this mean anything to you?

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