The Lorn essay and video came about because I had come to appreciate Lorn in a new light. I don’t know why but when I finished reading Gardens this last time something just clicked. In Western tonal music, there is a thing called resolution where you’ll have a note or chord that is dissonant – it makes you feel bad – and by adding just one very particular note this dissonance is resolved and you get this kind of sense of satisfaction. And that’s what happened with Lorn. That note played and her story was resolved, for me at least. But I was actually looking for this resolution for another character though, and I didn’t get it. I’m talking about Ganoes Paran and he’s a character that I don’t quite know how to feel about. So instead of a careful analysis of character, this video will be more of a list of loosely connected thoughts. I’m not going to dip too deeply into the text, however, I will say that this video will have no spoilers beyond Gardens of the Moon and the prologue of Deadhouse Gates. If you’ve just finished Gardens but are for some reason keen on watching this video, just read the first three or so pages of Deadhouse Gates, though I suspect that if you do so, you won’t be coming back to this video for a while.
As I said, this video falls short of a real analysis of a character because I don’t really come to any hard and fast conclusions. Going back to the music analogy, this character has not been resolved for me. Now, I’m a lifelong reader who has enjoyed the fantasy genre in the past. While reading something, I generally know what I like and how I feel though I don’t always understand what’s going on under the hood. That is, what the author is doing to lead my experience of their book. So when I feel this way about a character it normally means that I either missed some details or that I don’t have a good understanding of the character. But a recent video by another booktuber got me thinking about Ganoes again and I wanted to share some thoughts and where maybe I begin to have the hint of an idea about what’s going on with him. That said, I’d be absolutely thrilled if you told me your interpretation of Ganoes Paran. As I said in my Malazan Reader Tag video, I’ve started this channel because I’m trying to appreciate other people’s points of view and to have conversations about these books. Now, bear with me because I need to set up a little groundwork so that I can talk about Ganoes in a very roundabout way.
So, A Critical Dragon did a video not too long ago in which he describes how certain kinds of characters are often used in fantasy novels. I recommend you check out his video – it’s linked with a timestamp here. For now, I’ll poorly summarize what he’s talking about around the 3-minute mark though I’ll be haphazardly inserting my own extrapolations as I do so. Accordingly, any mistakes are my own.
Speaking very generally, a lot of fantasy novels use a wide-eyed and typically young (and male) character as an entry point to the series and setting. As the series goes on, the character essentially levels up until they are potent enough to take care of whatever problem is at the heart of the novel, whether that’s a dark lord, a war, or some kind of nefarious plot. Now the use of this kind of character has certain benefits and effects on the reader. Because this character is inexperienced at the start, we as readers will get to share their perspective as they come to better know the wider world into which they have taken their first steps. It’s a fairly efficient way to provide backstory and it helps us empathize with this character because we’re right there with them, feeling overwhelmed by everything we’re learning as well as by the enormity of the crisis. Now, as this character progresses through the story they get more capable and experienced, and this kind of personal journey has two effects – it continues to build our connection with the character because just as they’re getting more confident in what they can do and how they relate to the world around them, we’re also getting more comfortable in our own knowledge of the setting and the story as it unfolds. The second effect is that we see the character earning their later prowess by overcoming challenges and adversity. It’s an overused tool, but it works. This second effect, this feeling of earning, is the one I’ll be talking about and you’ve probably already thought of several examples of this kind of character, but Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy is about as efficient a use of this technique as I can think of. He starts as a farm boy who has no real stake or connection with the Galactic Civil War. He is taken from his isolated home and begins learning the mysterious ways of the Force. In the first movie and the first half of the second, we see him struggle to use the Force even as he begins to take a greater part in the fight against the Empire. And then, on Dagobah, we see him truly tested as Yoda tries to teach him. Yoga, in fact, tells him that he has failed at least some aspect of his training. After he abandons this training to save his friends, our gut understanding of him as a character and our assessment of his then-developed abilities is in absolutely perfect lockstep with what we see in his duel with Darth Vader. We see him using the new skills he’s learned but we also quickly see him get overwhelmed which again perfectly fits with our expectations though perhaps not our hopes. And his loss is the rightful outcome. Consider if he had won by out-Jedi-ing Darth Vader. That would lead us to believe that either Darth Vader was not as formidable an antagonist as we’d been led to believe or we’d begin to question whether Luke had really earned the level of mastery he’d displayed. For a great example of this sort of technique used ineffectively, consider Rey at the end of the Force Awakens. She had no training and yet she trounces the movie’s big bad. I can’t speak for everyone, but that distanced me from a character I otherwise really wanted to like and it also made me never really worry about Kyle Ren as a villain after that.
Enough of that tangent though, let’s talk Malazan. So I can’t quite recall how I felt about him the first time I read the series, but Ganoes Paran has always stood out to me as a strange character in each re-read. I’m not sure what to make of him. I should say upfront that while I don’t dislike the character, it might seem that way because I am frustrated by him. My feelings aside though, I do think there is something deeper going on with this character. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.
Let’s start with talking about his story in very broad terms. A young, noble boy encounters a world-weary soldier and boldly tells him that he wants to grow up to be a soldier himself. This soldier explains that his profession is the choice of last resort. Undaunted, the boy goes on to officer training school and is stationed as a lieutenant in a relatively quiet and maybe even desirable posting. Then Paran’s life is flipped turned upside down when a fishing village is massacred, Adjunct Lorn is sent to investigate, and Paran is asked to assist the Adjunct. He’s secretly assigned to a quest by the Adjunct and officially sent back to officer training school as a cover. Two years later, Paran, now a Captain, is assigned to take command of the Bridgeburners. He’s then knifed to death, gets better, and becomes the tool of Oponn. He also begins what could charitably be called a romance with a mage who is killed only a very short time later. He next learns of her death as well as Adjunct Lorn’s plans to kill off the Bridgeburners. So he travels to stop the Adjunct, his brand new best friend dies, and some other stuff happens to him that isn’t really all that important to him as an individual but vital to the story arcs in both this book and the series in general. He finally gets to Darujistan, reconnects with and somehow grudgingly earns the respect of his troops, and then sets off to find Lorn.
That’s his story in a nutshell. If he was meant to be the generic protagonist of a fantasy book, he’s failed miserably. Most of his significant actions are by complete accident, such as his fighting off the Hound of Shadow and then later rescuing the slain Hounds of Shadow from Dragnipur. Or his actions take place in his head as the playing out of thoughts and emotions. Come to think of it, he’s actually very similar to Thomas Covenant from Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane. Also, strangely, he’s like Forrest Gump for similar reasons.
But let’s turn back to Paran and the prologue. He’s a young noble boy then watching a riot that’s in the process of becoming a massacre. He’s chided by Whiskeyjack who basically tells him that he must feel lucky that he – a noble – doesn’t have to worry about that kind of thing. And Paran turns around and tells him that he wants to be a soldier. I’m going a little off-topic here but this scene really bothers me, or maybe it’s better to say that it makes me pause to wonder what I’m supposed to do with it. While we’re mostly told about the burning of the Mouse Quarter as it related to the mages involved, I suspect that there were many more soldiers involved. And Paran wants to be one of them! Imagine a young boy in a nicer part of Warsaw on January 18, 1943. He’s watching soldiers march into the Jewish Ghetto and saying “you know, I’d look good in an SS uniform…” It’s an unfair comparison to make, I know, but I think it’s apt. And again, I don’t know what to make of this scene or of how he’s both obsessed with following the latest news about warfare in Seven Cities and yet also mistakenly thinks that what he’s smelling is a bunch of dead pigs. I think the only conclusion I feel comfortable to draw is that Paran is not being set up as a moral compass for us to follow.
Now I mentioned that second way this kind of protagonist can be used. Specifically, I referenced Luke Skywalker’s journey as a character and I think that’s a useful framework for the purpose of comparison. Paran is no aw-shucks farm boy sitting on the sidelines who’s gradually drawn into the great conflict of his day. He’s a noble who takes a morbid interest in warfare – which in all fairness is not at all unusual for young boys – and then uses his privilege to become a soldier and alienates his family in the process. He’s then handed a super secret assignment. When we next see him, he’s a captain of the bestest, baddest group of soldiers of all time. By the end of the book, he’s reflecting on how he may have magic powers and also has a new anti-magic sword. And he hasn’t earned any of it. At least not in the way that Luke had.
And we’re told in a few different ways that Paran hasn’t earned any of it. His former captain dismisses him as a stuck up noble… which he is. While Adjunct Lorn decides to use him for her future plans, she, nonetheless, turns to the nameless captain and asks for his assessment of the “nobility’s present inroads on the Imperial command structure.” When you consider the prologue of the next novel, Lorn taking an interest in this subject is downright ominous. He’s then sent back to officer school which maybe is like Dagobah, but we don’t get to see him overcome or struggle through any challenges. When we next see him he’s a captain who’s been assigned to the Bridgeburners whose last several officers have died due to varying degrees of unnatural causes. Somehow, with just a few words in a single exchange, he manages to make some inroads of earning the respect of these shell-shocked and cynical soldiers. At this point, he’s basically a walking fantasy cliche. And I think he’s meant to stand out to us this way.
I have an example that I think illustrates this fairly well. It’s actually from my essay on Adjunct Lorn but I didn’t include it in the video because I didn’t feel like it really contributed anything there. In it, Paran is thinking deep thoughts while on his way to Darujistan. His friend Toc has just died, he’s been saved by Anomander Rake, and has also escaped Dragnipur at this point. He’s reflecting on something Adjunct Lorn had said:
“Just another hunt for certainty. […] He recalled discussing this with Adjunct Lorn, at a time when neither had been compelled by the outside world. Just another hunt for certainty, she’d said, in a voice brittle and cynical […] For such words to have come from a woman no older than him, Paran suspected then, as he did now, that her particular view had been no more than an easy, lazy mimicry of Empress Laseen’s. But Laseen had a right to it and Lorn did not. At least, in Paran’s mind. If anyone had a right to world-weary cynicism, it was the Empress of the Malazan Empire. Truly had the Adjunct made herself Laseen’s extension. But at what cost?” (p. 349)
As I said in a previous video, I think the cost Lorn pays in becoming the Adjunct is quite clear. And I also disagree with Paran’s rather dismissive assessment of Lorn. I think that by subverting her own morality to work another’s will, Lorn had indeed come by her “world-weary cynicism” honestly. And I think his thoughts here are well-juxtaposed with what we’re shown is playing out within Adjunct Lorn at the same time. From the start, it’s Paran that seems to be rife with world-weariness and cynicism. When Lorn chides him as being young in the first chapter, he reacts petulantly. He basically says I’m not young anymore because I just spent a few hours wading through gore. Now I’m not saying that such an experience wouldn’t have a profound effect on someone – I’ve certainly never had to do it which is probably why I’ve never bothered to grow up – but consider who he is talking to. Of course, we learn more about Lorn’s past later – and she certainly had to grow up fast – but we also come to learn that Lorn is basically Laseen’s personal mage killer and we can only speculate as to how much blood is on her hands. Sure, he’s lost people he cares about but we as readers know that he’s nowhere close to Lorn on this. Again, it could just me be, but I don’t think he’s earned the right to judge Lorn here or to act in the cynical way that he criticizes Lorn for.
But, nonetheless, I think the character works for me despite his not having paid his dues because he ultimately fails in his personal quest. He comes upon Lorn only seconds before she dies from her wounds. He’s just moments too late to even attempt what he set out to do hundreds of pages ago. He didn’t earn his abilities or his attitudes, but he also didn’t earn the big hero payoff moment that he was looking for. The end of his character arc is not satisfying but it also doesn’t leave us feeling discontent.
And unfortunately, that’s almost all that I can make of him. As I said before, I’d love for you to share your thoughts on the character especially if it’s to tell me that I’m wrong. Or post a video about it. If I can do it, anyone can.
But I have one more shower thought to communicate. Do you know what could have happened with Paran in Gardens? Instead of the superhuman Blues intercepting the Adjunct as she attacks Crokus, it could have been Paran. He’d jump out just as she’s about to strike the fatal blow. He’d tell Crokus to let him handle this. There’d be some witty back and forth between Paran and his old boss. She’d say something like “you should have stayed in Unta” and Paran would go “I guess I found some certainty after all” or something like that. He’d then either defeat her in the course of an action-packed duel or he’d be outmatched by her prowess but then manage to win by some trick or, more likely in his case, sheer luck. Essentially, he’d save Crokus the way Anomander Rake had saved him; the entire book is basically setting the stage for him to have this epic fight where we’d finally see Oponn’s sword matched against the Adjunct’s otataral sword. And it would have been a terrible ending. He hadn’t earned his skill and we as readers would feel like he didn’t deserve the win. It wouldn’t be satisfying as a reading experience and, speaking for myself, it wouldn’t interest me enough to think too deeply about it.