Today, in our reading of Beautyand the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey, we learn what dangers lie in the wood for Bella on her trek to find poachers with Eric and about a manipulative force that sheds a new light on everything.
Clad in Sebastian’s old hunting clothes, Bella accompanies Eric into the woods and to the valleys were the dwarves mine and humans struggle to eke an existence out of the rough land. They spot the poacher, and Eric tells Bella to follow at a distance, but the poacher is one step ahead of Eric. His partner attacks Bella, and after stabbing him with a quarrel, Bella races away in terror and soon becomes lost. Eric finds her later and praises her for her good reflexes and her aid, which allowed him to kill the two poachers easily.
Reader Comments: Lackey repeatedly uses the term “friendly” or some variant in this section with regard to how Eric interacts with Bella. I assume she’s trying to ensure that we readers don’t infer that Eric is the love interest instead of Sebastian.
Writer Comments: One of the things I have always appreciated about Lackey’s heroines is that they tend to respond with a greater level or realism than most to distressing events. Yes, Bella stabs a man, but she is not swept up by the waves of heroism and thus spared the emotional trauma of being a part of killing or of meeting her own likely death. She acts with swift, unwavering decisiveness and reacts with natural fear, guilt, and horror.
The next morning, Godmother Elena reaches Bella through the mirror. She explains to her about the Tradition, a willful but unintelligent force that manipulates people into acting out stories already told. The magical energies from the Tradition can build up until they bring a horrible end. But with Bella aware of the Tradition and her developing abilities to see magic, the godmother hopes she can escape the worst of her potential fates. Since the Tradition is trying to make Bella reenact the story of Beauty and the Beast, Godmother Elena believe the Tradition will do everything in its power to keep Bella from changing into a werewolf and that, as a result, Bella need not be locked up that night. In fact, Godmother Elena fears more that Sebastian will react worst in Bella is near. She had Bella put down the iron gate at the end of her wing as extra protection.
Reader Comments: So this is where it really starts getting interesting. In a way, the Tradition gives Lackey a device to strengthen the will of her heroine. Not only is Lackey complicating the book’s plot, but she’s also playing with her readers. In a way, she’s saying, “Yes, I know you’re expecting this to go the way of Beauty and the Beast, but it might not. Bella will make her own choices in this tale.”
Writer Comments: The Tradition is Lackey’s biggest twist from the original legend thus far. It gives her greater freedom to twist and turn the narrative. An element of surprise, so long as it makes sense within the rules of a fictional world, is a nice change and keeps a story fresh.
Eric begins teaching Bella how to shoot a crossbow, fight with a knife, and ride a real horse over the few days of the full moon while Sebastian spends every night howling as if he were sobbing. Armed with the knowledge of the Tradition, Bella narrowly escapes its influence. She feels more and more comfortable and warm toward Eric as he teacher her. On the second evening, he confesses how hard it was growing up as the unacknowledged illegitimate son of the duke and how hard he had to fight for a place. Bella finds herself drawn in and beginning to contemplate a relationship with Eric, but just in time, she realizes that the good girl falling for the sympathetic rake is exactly the sort of tale the Tradition might want her to get caught up in. Such tales rarely end with the rake truly changing his ways. More often than not, the good girl ends up pregnant and alone. Bella sidesteps Eric’s subtle seduction and the Tradition’s manipulation by throwing herself into the role of Abel, the boy Eric made her into when they rode out against the poachers. Eric’s surprise and disbelief at her refusal is all the proof Bella needs that he really was trying to maneuver her into bed.
Reader Comments: Phew, I’m glad she’s still free for Sebastian, even though I’m a little less certain Lackey will take this story in the direction I’m hoping. I also feel a bit more satisfaction that Eric is not as great a guy as he’s portrayed himself as in recent chapters.
Writer Comments: I love how Lackey keeps reminding us of Sebastian’s inner turmoil, or at least I presume that that is her intent. Whenever Sebastian howls as a wolf, Lackey never fails to let us glimpse his tormented spirit. From this alone, he maintains sympathy beyond anyone else. Eric, for all his smiles and kind gestures of late, cannot quite reach that depth of sympathy. Beyond this, the fact that Bella has spent most of her time on the page in Eric’s company lately adds another level, for not only is Sebastian cursed, without apparent hope, and clearly lonely and half lost, the one potential bright spot in his life, Bella, has spent her days with his illegitimate brother while he, according to Godmother Elena, tries very hard not to develop affectionate feelings for Bella in fear that the Tradition would use them to bring harm to them both. The hero should always be exceptionally sympathetic, and Lackey does a good job with Sebastian, even in her more subtle ways.
Thank you for joining me for these chapters of Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey. Join me next Monday as we near the end of the tale and on Wednesdays and Fridays for further forays into the speculative and life.