The best critiques come from the heart, and that’s why I so respected the discussion that was happening over at Pages and Pause Screen (iTunes podcast, here) about the 3rd book in the series. The best commentary opens discussion and makes us think about what we believe and have done. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds as if they love the series and this entry, though both critics certainly have their views on Bonnie and Clyde–Err…Lila and Erik. Lulu and Ally’s pithy banter prodded me into thought and even action this week.
SPOILERS GALORE FOR BOOKS 1-3! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Is Lila (and/ or Erik) crazy? Well, she’s certainly unhinged, on the loose, and with little to lose—a most dangerous combination. We can all go a crazy from trauma and chaos, and she and Erik have gone farther off the map than most. Lila, who has considered herself the ‘mother’ of miscreants and outcast children now has the weight of murdering thousands of children on her shoulders and has become trapped in a cycle of rage. We saw this begin with her descent into madness in book two, and that’s not a pit from which you easily climb. She has so much rage: from what Magnus did to her; from what a sham she’s starting to realize their marriage had been (a pleasant sham, mind you); from what she allowed herself to do to Menos–indeed, much of her anger is being deflected and the horror will return to her once the smoke has cleared in book four. When she, as Eod’s only ‘conscious’ royal must face the reality of her crimes against humanity. As for Erik, his demons have become mingled with Lila’s: his loathing and regret for having loved his kingfather so much as to endure Lila’s assault, his loathing of himself at having betrayed Magnus, his loathing for having been complicit to what Lila did to Menos.
A wisening scene occurs early on in book three where Sister Abagail (who needs a nun-investigative spin off series, amirite?) chastises the new bloodmates for their displays of carnality; a lust spurned on as much by self-hatred as it is by desire–passion nonetheless. The fugitives’ frustrations, too, have been compounded from being bloodmates: passions and tempers that might have startled only the neighbours before have become passions to shake the world, and it’s a cycle of negative emotion that feeds into itself. Consider how Morigan is influenced by the primality of the Wolf in many scenes, or even of how Magnus lost himself to his brother’s absolute debauchery. One cannot escape these spiritual-loops, easily or at all. Furthermore, Erik, who’s new to Immortality hasn’t learned the temperance necessary to walk in a world much too frail for himself. Both he and Lila are teetering dangerously close to losing their humanity altogether on the path of vengeance they walk. But they’ll find their way back…Probably 🙂
Oh, they will. And those of you who loathe them may just love them by the end. It’s not real love without the rollercoaster! I also think that it’s important (and this is something that Pages and Pause Screen and many other readers have picked up on) to show the nastiness of people, and not just their saintly traits. In book one and two we feel for Lila, she’s undeniably sympathetic. But then we see her ugliness, her ruthlessness, herself even turning physically monstrous at times and we feel betrayed by her as she has betrayed herself and her values.
We also feel this conflict when spending time with Lila’s conspirators in revolution, many of whom have firm judgments on who should live and die. For the ‘loyalists’ of Eod, Menos and its spawn have ever been enemies and what Lila did was horrible, though still an act of war no greater than what Gloriatrix intended to perpetrate on Eod. Here, we also see how sympathy is often a construct that favours the side of the feeler. Speaking of perceptions and judgements…
Is Lila a racist? I LOVED that they picked up on this! I mean, they’re sleuthing the shit outta these books and getting almost all the right clues. Short answer: yes. More complex answer: we all are xenophobic and uneasy of certain cultures and practices. This is especially true of Lila, though, who physically differs from her tribe, who believed herself as never truly Arhadian in values or spirit, and who we recall from even Morigan’s very first vision of her when she wandered the desert as being disdainful of her people. Throughout the ages, Lila (who has abandoned even her true name at this point) picks up the occasional Arhadian outcast, but her fear of facing her past, and, yes, her internal racism, keeps her from extending an olive branch or building any ties to what she sees as crude, violent and stupid people. When she rescues the occasional woman, who thereafter reveres her as a goddess, she’s fulfilling a saviour complex, which allows her to feel philanthropic and validated as being a ‘good’ person while still maintaining distance from any meaningful politics.
Again, and going back to the ugliness we all have inside: Lila has some really unpleasant characteristics. She remains in an aloof marriage that she willfully views as perfect. On some level she knows that she’s traded the rules of a society of men for the rules (and charm) of one man. And being an angry, independent woman, deep down Lila hates herself for having made her choices, for having become what she sees as weak. That’s why Erik works for her, because he’s hard in all the ways she needs him to be (physically, emotionally) while not too challenging of her wants (to which he capitulates entirely). Their relationship is quite carnal and simple and with none of the complications she and Magnus seemed to create between themselves. There are some cool moments of self-realization in the upcoming novels between all of these three—no ménage à trois, though, that would demean their entanglements.
Since the issue of race was brought up, have representations of Lila been whitewashed? Not intentionally, but that’s the answer we often hear when whitewashing occurs. The distinction between the swarthiness of the Arhadians and Lila’s unusual ‘paleness’ (comparatively) needs to be emphasized. She’s frequently described as tanned, caramel/ brown sugar in complexion with an amberness to her stare, hair and general beauty. She errs on the golden-brown/ yellow side of tawny. There’s a reason for her uncharacteristic Arhadian characteristics, a tie in her past that’s fundamental to one of the final orchestrations in the tale, and Lila (and others) will have to face that past amongst their many, many, screaming demons…Anyway, when I first commissioned the piece of Magnus and Lila (which was one of Leo’s earliest), I honestly didn’t give her complexion too much of a thought since her likeness had a resemblance to my mother. In subsequent renditions she’s become more and more tawny/ bronzy, including the glimpse of her first transformation into her ‘other’ skin.
Still, it’s not right. I’m a biracial child. I’ve had my fair share of racial intolerance cast my way. I can’t harp on about equality and diversity while turning a blind eye to the weeds in my garden. To that end, I’ll leave you with “Lila Reborn” and the image that will soon be swapped into her template in the glossary. I won’t pretend as if a faux pas wasn’t made, but here’s Lila as she’ll be characterized in any future iterations (not always with the scales, though; she only goes ‘snaky’ when it’s time to mess stuff up). Click to enlarge; it’s a really cool piece!
We can’t change the past, though we can certainly correct course for the future. Keep reading and taking apart the material; it really is a thrill to have that degree of dissection and discussion happening.
All my love,
P.S. Yes, P&PS, the series certainly needs a wiki at some point. Perhaps next summer’s project!