“Lemma the Librarian – Hard Truths”


Published: February 17, 2018


This is, I think, the linchpin of the series’ whole arc. “The Choosing One” is where the plot swings towards the second half, but it doesn’t really come up again for a while longer (and also I don’t like that story). Lemma’s journey towards being a better and more self-aware person, meanwhile, has been advancing and will continue to advance; and this is the moment that journey becomes impossible for her to ignore. (Mostly because a dragon makes it thus, but hey, we’re in a fantasy universe.)

@midorikonton says in her author’s notes that readers were unclear on whether the dragon is telling the truth about Lemma always having wanted deep down to be under someone else’s power. Well, death of the author and all that, but I can’t imagine how this is up for debate. Lemma has been fantasizing about being controlled since literally the first time she stopped being controlled, way back in “Of Potions and Pimples”. On a more meta level, the way Narrator-Lemma protests about not wanting it is identical to the way she protests about not being a violent pyromaniac. And, of course, it’s just more interesting for the dragon to fuck with its prey via terrible, unbearable truth than just through garden-variety magical coercion, no different than a big scaly Lord Brinksmoor.

So the dragon is telling the truth: the “lie to warm her” is the idea that it might have forced her to feel this way, which is a lie (and certainly, erm, warms her). Lemma’s been moving towards this revelation for several stories now, and now she has to deal with this new self-knowledge. It’s going to be much more interesting than Hragulf’s rules: rather than just being unable to resist, for plot convenience, Lemma now has to decide for herself just what she wants and what’s important to her. Buckle up.

When The Fuck Are We? 🤷

We’re on a desert island somewhere. Based on evidence from the last story, we’re probably in the Atlantic; based on evidence from the next story, we’re possibly in the Med. Based on the evidence from this story alone, we could be almost literally anywhere. I’m going to call it “an islet off the west coast of Iberia” but that’s even less firm than the usual guessing in this series.

Talking about accents and the Greco/Poeno Sea Peoples last time got me thinking about language. The Lemmaverse runs on translation convention pretty hard; the very first story mentioned that Lemma and Iason speak “Tin Islander” with different accents, but from then on there’s no mention of different languages.

I’ve been referring to the inhabitants of the Tin Islands as “Celtic” generically, but of course they would have thought of themselves as members of some particular tribe or other, and would have spoken different dialects or even languages as one moves around the islands*. Not even to mention the fact that Mercia and Thumbria should have a totally different set of languages – Germanic Angle, probably.

The Med has similar problems. Despite the fact that it had a vastly smaller population, the lack of adequate communications or modern governmental styles meant that it had orders of magnitude more linguistic diversity in the past than the present**. The Greeks and Phoenicians had colonies across the length of it, which would provide some familiarity to monster- and book-hunting tourists, but get inland a couple of miles and everyone will speak a different language – and different languages again depending on which colony you’re striking out from. 

Of course, Lemma can’t be ordered to get on her knees and obey if she doesn’t understand what being said, so this is all kinda academic. If you held a gun to my head, I’d guess that in the Tin Islands Lemma and Iason are speaking some sort of Brythonic trading linga franca, and in the Inner Sea they’re doing the same with Greco-Semitic Sea Peoplese, but really let’s be honest. Everyone’s speaking English. 😉

(And as for the dragon? My feeling is it’s speaking Lemurian, since it knows what Lemma’s mother tongue is; alternately, way back in the first story, Lemma uses “Old Lemurian” to call out a book, and the combinations of a possibly-extra-magical old speech and a dangerous but truth-telling dragon make me think of Earthsea. So maybe Old Lemurian, instead.) 

*On the other hand, the places that would most plausibly have completely different languages entirely are Yri and Alba; they never actually visit the latter and in the former spend all of their time dealing with the Fair Folk, who by long tradition can speak whatever languages they want.

**The good communications and centralizing, assimilative government of the Romans meant that late Antiquity probably was also a low point on linguistic diversity, which rose again even as the population fell after Rome’s collapse. My guess is that you’d see a similar (if less pronounced) pattern before and after the Bronze Age Collapse.

Next time: Time gets all muddled, and not in the usual way for this series.

Fuck, Earthsea is where I got the dragon from! If always wondered where that idea got into my head, and I read the original Earthsea trilogy when I was like 10.

But yeah, I’ve always liked this idea of a twist on the “dragon as deceiver” concept from frex The Silmarillion–dragons are in some sense *made* of lies, so telling a lie would be like a human cutting out a lump of flesh. They *eat* lies by presenting truth.

I’ll be honest, I stopped worrying about language because it was too much of a pain in the ass. Greco-Semitic Sea People Trade Tongue works for me. That or Lemma learned a language spell.