Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles: The Enigma of Francis Crawford

Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles: The Enigma of Francis Crawford

by Scott Richardson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826220813
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication date: 06/28/2016
Pages: 269
Sales rank: 700,189
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Scott Richardson is a Professor of Classics in the Languages and Cultures Department at St. John’s University.

Richardson was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1956. He graduated from Harvard University in 1978 with a degree in classics (summa cum laude) and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Stanford University in 1984, with a dissertation on the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Icelandic Njáls saga. He joined the faculty of St. John’s University in Minnesota in the fall of 1984 and has been there ever since. His principal areas of teaching and research are ancient epic, Greek drama, medieval and modern Scandinavia, Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, narrative theory, and most recently Dorothy Dunnett. As a member of the languages and cultures department, he teaches Greek and Latin at all levels and an array of literature courses, most notably Great Books and seminars on Joyce and Dostoevsky. He is the author of a book, The Homeric Narrator (1990), and a number of articles on Homer, some of which involve extensive analyses of modern novels.

His fascination with Dorothy Dunnett began in 2002 with a present from a student, Dunnett’s first novel, The Game of Kings, which got under his skin immediately. After reading all fifteen of her historical novels, Richardson decided that Dunnett deserved a place on the list of a hundred books his students in Great Books purchase to form the core of their high-quality personal libraries. When he assigned The Game of Kings for the first time, he looked around for scholarly work about Dunnett and found a few articles and a guide to historical and literary references, but no book-length literary studies. So he decided to write the book he wished he could have read, an analysis of Dunnett’s first series, the Lymond Chronicles. He is a member of the Dorothy Dunnett Society, an impressive group of intelligent readers around the world.

Richardson lives with his wife in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and occupies his free time playing bridge, attending the theater and cinema, and traveling as often as possible to the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

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THE NARRATOR OF the Lymond Chronicles is an expert puzzle master in part by allowing us to perceive Lymond almost solely from the outside. He remains one of the few prominent characters of whose head we rarely get an inside view. Like everyone else in the story, we readers can surmise his thoughts, feelings, attitudes, knowledge, and state of mind only from his actions and his words, uneasy signposts themselves since the wily hero frequently uses both actions and words to throw people off the scent. We nevertheless refuse to give up, no matter how frustrating the object of our investigation continues to be, because the narrative pull of the central question compels us to work through the complications and paradoxes and to endeavor to distinguish appearance from reality. Some characters at times throw up their hands in despair at ever making headway in this enterprise, but the readers are committed to getting to the bottom of Lymond's character.

Will Scott as Reader

The first novel, The Game of Kings, provides us with a clear image of the reader's activity, setbacks, and occasional triumphs. One important function of Lymond's aspiring sidekick, Will Scott, is to serve as a reflection of the readers as we confront the conundrum of Lymond and try to sort him out. This function of a sidekick is replicated to some extent in subsequent novels but nowhere as emphatically as in The Game of Kings. In the vagaries of Will's adulation, disgust, misconceptions, and insights, Dunnett offers us a vivid picture of our own shifting views and impressions throughout the Chronicles.

Out of a rebellious instinct Will leaves the gentrified comfort of his establishment family to join a man he sees as a kindred spirit, a sort of Robin Hood whose full purpose he does not fully grasp but whose status as outsider appeals to him. He is the first in a series of characters who would like to be Lymond if they could but who must make do with trying to impress him or, in the case of defective characters, to outmaneuver him. He enters the camp unbidden, and when Lymond asks why he has come, declares, "Because I admire you" and explains, "You've chosen a life of vice, and have been consistent and reliable and thorough and successful in carrying it out" (GK 40).

By now we readers have been charmed by Lymond's wit and effrontery, yet we have also witnessed the robbery and burning at Midculter and cannot be certain whether Lymond deserves the admiration we feel inclined to give him. Will falls under his spell and, on his command, shoots an arrow at Oyster Charlie. Like us, Will assumes that he has killed him and is surprised that he has not (GK 42). Like us, he is surprised that Lymond has known all along who he is (GK 43). At this point we might not fully share in Will's naive hero worship, but the vacillation in his assessment of his leader as the narrative progresses will very much reflect our own. Will, functioning as our own eyes and ears, frequently observes and listens, and along with him we struggle to get straight whether we are dealing with a champion worthy of our praise or a gadabout intent simply on causing trouble.

Dunnett makes frequent use of the strategy of enlisting a character's point of view to describe a scene, taking advantage of his or her restricted knowledge and awareness to render the account ambiguous, hazy, or mysterious, and it is often Lymond who baffles the focalizing character and thereby the readers. Will is not alone in playing this role, but he is the dominant figure in the introductory novel who watches his hero with curiosity and bafflement, and we seem to be asked throughout to accept his judgment of the moment; concur with his horror, outrage, or admiration; and share his ambivalence as he alternates between devotion and repulsion, loyalty and betrayal. Lymond defies the readers' expectations of a romantic or chivalric hero who might be misunderstood by outsiders and slandered by the wicked but is known to be virtuous and high-minded by those in the inner circle who can peer into his mind and fathom his true intent. If we hope that his new adherent, intelligent and noble, can help us decide just what to think of our hero, we are disappointed to find that Will is similarly incapable of arriving at a definitive verdict. We accompany him on his obstacle-strewn path toward an understanding of who and what Lymond is.

At the end of The Game of Kings we, along with Will, have gained sufficient assurance that Lymond has not murdered his sister or betrayed his country, so we cheer Will on as he wins the vindicating papers from Thomas Palmer. Yet we cannot arrive complacently at a firm, clear picture of Lymond's essential being, nor can we dismiss the indications throughout of impulses and a mentality that go beyond impishness and verge on cruelty. We need all six novels to come to terms with the nature of Lymond, and even then we are left feeling uneasy and not completely satisfied with our comprehension. The search for the hero's full and complex nature — as incomplete and somewhat frustrating as that search might ultimately be — is, to my mind, our primary goal throughout the Chronicles, even more than solving the many puzzles and mysteries or finding out what happens to the characters. Will Scott serves as a vivid model for the readers as he strives to solve the paradox of Lymond.

In their first foray together, Lymond takes Will straight into the English stronghold at Annan to search for Jonathan Crouch. We have no idea why. "'Are they expecting you,' asked Scott, 'at Annan?'" (GK 45). The reply is ambiguous and unhelpful. Will receives the bare bones of a plan, and when the two of them are being led through the streets of Annan by the captain of the guard, "Scott wondered, with an interest nearly academic, how Lymond was going to extract them from this" (GK 47) — a line which, if we substitute "the reader" for "Scott," could be used innumerable times in each book as Lymond, with or without his men, gets into serious jams that appear to leave him with no means of escape. Instead of getting a clear description of a crucial stage in the incursion, we hear only a hazy account that reflects Will's nebulous state of mind: "The events which followed were always to have for Will Scott of Kincurd the curious, narcotic quality of a bout of fever" (GK 49).

Lymond is masterful in dealing with Lord Wharton and Matthew Lennox, acting witty and confident, and in the end he bids them a sarcastic farewell. We expect a quick exit now that the damage has been done. No model of chivalry, Lymond surprises his squire, along with the readers, with this apparently gratuitous act of torture: "But the final paraph, the flourish which in time Scott was to recognize as habitual, was still to come. ... The helmet, dull now with black heat, fell accurately on young Wharton's brow, and the boy, his eyes staring, gave, behind the gag, an unpleasant choked scream" (GK 53).

The paragraph on their departure takes on the hurried, fragmented, foggy quality that mirrors the stunned mind of the attendant. Complacent especially in his own participation, Will mentally summarizes the successful adventure with a brief pause over the unsavory finale: "If the thought of the flaming helmet stuck unpleasantly on his mind, he dismissed it" (GK 54). In the heat of victory, Will can overlook that unnecessary flourish, but as he comes to see such a flourish as habitual, he will not be able to dismiss it so easily. It belongs to Lymond's repertoire every bit as much as the witty banter, facility with weapons, and artful deception.

Along with Will we learn of Lymond's strategy bit by bit. Will bluntly asks Turkey Mat the key question of the plot, "Why is he back?" (GK 97), and gets the partial answer about seeing some people, Crouch among them, but we do not yet learn any more about Crouch's significance. When Will asks why Lymond wants John, Master of Maxwell, in his debt, we hear only that he is important and that Will "should recognize an opening for smothered mate" (GK 100), a chess reference that divulges the attitude of the leader toward his plot as a complex game with human pieces, but no more. The assault on a wagon train seems a sudden impulse, but Turkey Mat assures Will that Lymond planned it days ago (GK 102).

We assume with Will that his rebellious violation of Lymond's explicit prohibition of forcing Hume Castle (GK 102) will catch his master off guard, but Lymond has foreseen Will's move and has a flamboyant Spanish masquerade prepared as a follow-up, a disguise that Will does not see through at first any more than the readers do (GK 111–16). Will feels punished by Lymond, both physically and spiritually, and must consider how to respond. He chooses to acknowledge his apprenticeship and resolves to learn well enough "one day to be able to play without the gift of a pawn" (GK 119). He is Dr. Watson to Lymond's Sherlock Holmes, and all of us readers are also Dr. Watsons.

Dunnett's most notorious narrative strategy is to keep the readers in the dark for long stretches about solutions to puzzles that have been explicitly posed or, frequently, that are not even recognized as puzzles until late in the game. First-time readers might go quite far into The Game of Kings before asking themselves the key question about the plot: What exactly is Lymond's objective in returning to Scotland? Jonathan Crouch's name appears in the title of part one and in the narrative itself as though incidentally, without our fully realizing his importance to Lymond's plan and purpose.

Finally Johnnie Bullo asks Crouch, now in Lymond's camp, whether he was in Princess Mary's household in 1542, a question we do not fully understand, and when Crouch answers yes, Will says what the readers are thinking: "Well, go on. We can't bear the suspense" (GK 169). We are now treated to a conversation that gives us a good clue to Lymond's intentions: to find the man who can clear his name. When Lymond returns, he takes Will through a Socratic catechism to work out the implication that the man he is searching for is not Crouch but rather Gideon Somerville or Samuel Harvey (GK 171–72).

The Lymond that Will knows is the one we know. For a long time he appears to have no human frailties: "To the men exposed to his rule Lymond never appeared ill: he was never tired; he was never worried, or pained, or disappointed, or passionately angry. If he rested, he did so alone; if he slept, he took good care to sleep apart. '— I sometimes doubt if he's human,' said Will, speaking his thoughts aloud" (GK 173–74).

Only now do we learn from Johnnie how he came to be injured and found unconscious near Boghall. Will asks with surprise whether Lymond was hit. Johnnie answers, "Very humanly. By a stone" (GK 174). But upon Lymond's return no one mentions the mortal slip. Johnnie says, "Lymond, you see, is omnipotent, as you were saying" (GK 174). Along with Will we start to see signs of hidden vulnerability that bring the demigod down to human size, and we are now prepared for the three-dimensional picture of what looked like James Bond perfection and insouciance. We all have a long way to go before appreciating his complexities and determining his moral worth, but this moment of revelation serves as a turning point.

At the Ostrich Will gets another in a series of surprises. Lymond asks him up to a room, where Will assumes, as we do, that there will be some sort of sexual activity, but instead Will is introduced to the Master of Maxwell. Only three months of Lymond's company (and 178 pages) give Will the aplomb to maintain his composure and to recall what we have all forgotten: Lymond's casual mention a month earlier of Maxwell as a key figure (GK 100). The ensuing conversation enlightens Will and the readers about unknown events in the recent past and Lymond's previously undisclosed strategy. The plot of the novel is gradually becoming clearer as Will begins to learn some of Lymond's secrets and follow the logic of his actions. He has firmly gained his position as Lymond's right-hand man, trusted now with plans concealed from the rest, even taking on his hero's bearing. On looking at him at one point, Johnnie remarks, "Man, for a minute I thought it was your chief, except it's a different sort of sneer" (GK 199).

Before long, however, Will sickeningly realizes how little he has delved into Lymond's mentality. He watches with horror as Lymond brutally whips Lang Cleg for a transgression, and Will cannot sleep after that. He then confronts Lymond with what he has heard about his callous endangerment of the blind young woman, Christian Stewart, after Lymond shot his own brother. Having been at Boghall ourselves, we might not fully view the Christian episode in quite so disgraceful a light, although Will's summary sticks to thefacts, which do sound shoddy. But we too assume that Richard Crawford was wounded by his brother, and Lymond does nothing here to dispel what we will only much later see to be a false construction of events on both counts. "'I thought it was that,' observed the Master. 'You object, do you?'" (GK 208). After hearing Lymond's defense of his dealings with the blind girl, even though it sounds rather specious to our ears, we cannot be certain that we are on firm ground with our opprobrium. "To separate truth from sophistry was almost beyond Scott's tired brain. ... [H]e said, 'I can't understand how you could do it,' and the voice was the voice of an upset boy" (GK 209–10).

So often throughout the Chronicles we will be mouthing Will's words. Just when we think we have Lymond's principles and moral code sorted and catalogued in our Watson brains, Lymond will surprise us with an apparent, and sometimes an actual, act of cruelty, wantonness, gratuitous violence, sexual depravity, or despair. His reply to Will also answers the readers, who wonder the same: "You can't understand how I could do it? ... I'm damned if I'm going to meet you stumbling about with a candle inside my pia mater. For one thing, you would find it harsh on the nerves" (GK 210). Lymond articulates both his strong repulsion for any attempt to peer into the workings of his mind and his recognition that whatever his inner nature consists of, it is too rocky a road for neophytes to attempt to traverse. Our journey with Lymond through the course of six novels will indeed prove harsh on our nerves as we continue to learn more about his mental landscape. Perhaps by the end we will no longer have the innocence and the black-and-white vision of the world that Will betrays in his exuberant youth. We hope to eventually have the stamina to join Lymond in his struggle to come to grips with himself, with all his paradoxes, ambivalences, and entanglements.

When shown George Douglas's letter demanding an exchange of Will for Harvey, who might be key to Lymond's rehabilitation, Will cannot be sure whether to believe in Lymond or fear him, as the Master himself acknowledges: "And now where are we? It's difficult, isn't it, to know whom to trust? Fide et diffide, in fact: and that is the moral of this little story" (GK 211). At this moment of ambiguity and uncertainty, Will is asked to put his faith in Lymond, to trust him with his life. Has he been correct in serving as this man's disciple and getting his moral as well as physical training from him? Or is he a pawn in the game of an immoral profligate who will think nothing of sacrificing him for the sake of personal victory? "I'll help all I can," says the sleep-deprived acolyte (GK 211). At this point we cannot tell what sort of man Will has promised to help. Is this the hero of our dreams, or have we been duped?

It will not be long before Will betrays his mentor, as certain of his treachery then as he is certain of his virtue now, but just before the halfway point of the novel he delivers to his distrustful father a grand defense of the man he admires, crediting him with his own improvements and asserting Lymond's devotion to justice and loyalty (GK 246–48). Walter Scott refutes each plank in his son's tirade, recounts Lymond's act of treason at the time of the Battle of Solway Moss (which we and Will have already heard and are still not sure what to do with), and adds the new detail of Lymond's role in blowing up the convent. He is interrupted before putting the finishing touch on this condemnation: the death of Lymond's sister, Eloise Crawford, in the explosion, a crime we will learn about only later, to our uncomfortable consternation. Even now we are again thrown off our high horse and do not know how to react to Lymond's reproach of Will for his clandestine meeting with his father and to his demand for unyielding loyalty: "Either you keep the oath you so dashingly pronounced last year, or I deal with you accordingly" (GK 254). Will reasserts his devotion, but his faith, like ours, has been shaken.


Excerpted from "Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles"
by .
Copyright © 2016 The Curators of the University of Missouri.
Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

List of Abbreviations xi

Introduction 1

Part I The Fractured Hero 7

Chapter 1 The Sidekick 11

Chapter 2 The Double 29

Chapter 3 Family Complications 69

Part II Espionage 101

Chapter 4 The Spy Novel 109

Chapter 5 Concealment 131

Chapter 6 Theater 145

Part III Games 171

Chapter 7 Games in the Novels 177

Chapter 8 The Narrator's Games 209

Conclusion 233

Notes 237

Bibliography 249

Index 253

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