The Queen of Attolia
Please note–this does contain spoilers for QoA! In order to do the kind of in-depth analysis I wanted to, they were kind of unavoidable.
There’s only one myth in QoA, but it’s a very important one. Also, it is my favorite. It’s like the best parts of Beauty and the Beast and Persephone! And Horreon is awesome, and Hespira is amazingly cool and I always giggle at the plants and the temple. I…maybe love it a little bit too much. But that’s okay, because, as I said, it’s very important to the rest of the story.
So. The Story of Hespira, which is told to the magus and, more incidentally, Gen, by Eddis.* The magus requests it as a way to avoid Gen’s bitterness and, well, whining.
The first thing I noticed is the fact that Horreon is both god and man** like Eugenides-the-god. With Horreon this is because he is directly the son of a blacksmith and Meridite, and Eugenides this is because he’s the Earth’s son and, at the same time, the adopted son of the woodman and his wife. So both characters have a foot in both worlds.
There’s also an interesting double echo of Vulcan and Hades–the Hades bit comes out with the cave and the shape of Hespira’s part of the story. The Vulcan bit comes out with the blacksmithing and the ugliness, and the complicated relationship with his mother.
As in the myths in The Thief, the gods both trick others and are tricked. Meridite tricks Hespira into coming with her, semi-successfully, and Horreon also tricks Hespira by pulling them forward in time. On the other hand, Hespira doesn’t fall into Meridite’s trap and her mother successfully tricks Meridite into letting Hespira go (though this doesn’t quite work out as planned).
There’s also the thread of gifts balanced with sorrow and vice-versa. Hespira’s mother manages to win her daughter back, but she ultimately loses her. Horreon’s joy in Hespira is somewhat diminished by his guilt over his deception of her. Meridite tries to give a gift to her son but finds that her deception strains her relationship with him.
Another thread I picked up from both the earlier myths and the books is the idea that boldness and bravery are something that please the gods and are usually rewarded. It’s not so much piety, at least not in the way that we usually think of it. Neither is it brashness, or else why would Moira warn Gen about offending the gods? It’s something between the two, almost a stepping out in faith that I find really interesting.
There’s still a contrast set up between the oral Eddisian tradition and the magus’s more scholarly experience. As he says, “He was used to the dry records of scholarship without the voice of the storyteller shaping and changing the words to suit an audience and a particular view of the world. He’d heard Eugenides tell his stories, but hadn’t realized the Thief’s interpretations were more than a personal aberration.” There’s also the point about alternative endings–Eddis has chosen a relatively happy one, while Gen points out that in other versions, Hespira’s mother loses her mind and wanders around the mountain looking for her daughter. (Oh, depressed Gen.)
But let’s hone in for a moment. As the magus notes, the storyteller can shape and change the story to suit an audience. Here, Eddis’s audience is the magus and Eugenides. The story is about falling in love with–not quite a monster, but close–and choosing them. It’s about leaving behind home and family for romantic love. Now, I’m not sure what point we’re at in terms of Gen’s plans and Eddis’s knowledge of them, but I can’t help wondering how much of this particular telling of this particular story is Eddis giving Gen her blessing. Or if it’s a way to comfort herself, to tell herself that Irene could be Horreon, and not the monster she looks like. (This is further strengthened by the fact that later in the book, Eddis says that she feels like Hespira’s mother.)
To me, the parallels between Horreon and Hespira and Gen and Irene are the most important part of the whole myth. There’s an actual echo of language here: “‘I chose,’ Hespira said again, and Horreon believed her,” and “‘Do you believe me?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I love you.’ And she believed him.” (Incidentally, I’m all now mushified inside. Awwww.)
You could say that Hespira and Horreon are kind of a gender reversed Gen and Irene, except that I would argue it’s not quite that simple. It seems to me that one of the strengths of this myth is it he fact that they are both Hespira and both Horreon, just as they are both Beauty and both the Beast (see this brilliant discussion!).
In a book about finding love where you never meant to, and about the choices we make, to choose our path and to choose our faith, the story of Horreon and Hespira is both an echo and a foreshadowing.
* This is a total side note, but by the end of Conspiracy, I have no idea how to refer to anyone. Maybe just go with first names?
** Because I’m Orthodox, this has all kinds of theological resonances to it, which I’m not intending at all.