I received the book a couple of days ago and started reading, but only an handful of pages since I’m busy these days and there are the Olympic games to watch too.

The attempt at an analysis is solely about the very first page (or two), the letter that blind Gallan writes to Fisher kel Tath. You can find this letter and Erikson’s introduction on Tor.com.

This page encapsulates a lot of what I like in Erikson’s approach to writing. In just a couple of pages it packs lots of meaning and themes, it’s resolute and straight to the point, it makes you think of this but shadowy intending that, it defies rhetoric while playing with it, it’s sophisticated but honest, contains subtle but deliberate contradictions, it’s playful and defiant, it knows its place while challenging it, it’s wild but wise, and it’s also deliciously metalinguistic, playing with the frames that contain it. The very basic aspect is that it defies the kind of analysis I can make, and that’s the reason why I’ll try.

The first thing that one could notice is the fictitious writer of the letter, blind Gallan. He’s the implied writer of this prequel trilogy, like Bilbo was for The Hobbit, or Croaker, the annalist of the Black Company. The main Malazan series also had its own fictitious writer, Fisher kel Tath, and Gallan writes this letter to him, even if it’s obviously meant as a message to the reader. You can already see this play on various levels: in and out of the “frame” of the story, between Erikson the real writer and his creation, and both these points being reflected on a third one, represented by readers in general, the “audience” that makes it happen. Erikson likes this type of interplay, I LOVE it, while a writer like Martin would never use it, as it’s a violation of the sanctity of the tale. A tabu.

But it’s not just a game, as this pattern has within itself one of the truths of things, so interesting to explore, but while treading very carefully. Erikson has this wildly challenging and defiant style in everything he writes. He’d go right at the edge of the chasm and dance on it, or play with the edge of the blade. Whenever he makes a statement, you get an inner voice that suggests the opposite. It’s both the bold step forward and the hesitation. Which is for me the only prerequisite: violate all rules, if you want, but do this with motive.

The first legitimate question that leaps out of the page, and then “recurs”, in a loop through this letter, is how it is possible that Gallan knows Fisher kel Tath and so can write a letter that addresses him. This prequel trilogy is set some (hundred of) thousands years BEFORE the main Malazan series. Gallan lived at that time, so Fisher kel Tath is some guy who lived thousands of years after. How do you answer this? These timeline issues are extremely deliberate and the territory that Erikson decided to play with and defy.

A first guess could be that, due to the quirky ways of the Malazan world, Fisher could have been already around at the time of Gallan, and so they knew each other. Though this hypothesis is contradicted by the direct intent at the end of the letter. Another guess could be that Fisher is like an abstract spirit of the writing that encompasses the breath of the story. A symbol more than a fixed entity. Though I’m sure that no one would like this one. A third guess could be that Gallan is a simple invention of Fisher, who “impersonated” an historical figure (since we know Gallan existed “for real” at that time) and attributed the book to him, maybe out of spite, or maybe because he needed a double.

No matter, this is not as important because what matters is how these considerations feed the true purpose. Erikson overthrew the scenario. In the “real world” Erikson, the writer, wrote first the main Malazan series. This prequel trilogy is written after. So in the real order of creation, what came before actually came after (hello Scott Bakker). Gallan is indeed a creation of Fisher/Erikson. And knowing all the discussions that happened on the internet about the timeline inconsistencies and mistakes (to which I fear I’ve contributed) Erikson boldly refers (and challenge) them:

Remember well this tale I tell, Fisher kel Tath. Should you err, the list-makers will eat you alive.

The list-makers are obviously us, the readers (but not only, Erikson is never simplistic and “singular”, and for singular I redirect you again to this letter). Readers that would eat Erikson alive if the story he writes has holes and inconsistencies when compared to the details written in the main (and preceding in order of writing) series. So Gallan’s warning to Fisher, from the past toward the future, is the warning (more than warning, an “awareness”) of today’s Erikson to himself, to the present and back in time. The main Malazan series is written, so he’s in a curious inverted situation of having to make the past “dependent” on the future. Knowing Erikson (the writer), it’s not surprising that he didn’t accept to bow his head to the rules, instead of screwing with them:

Do I look like a man who would kneel?

That for me is the arrogant, defiant claim of an incredibly humble man. I respect Erikson so much because he shows so well that humble doesn’t mean weak. The strength of all he writes comes from that. Knowing his place, but never stepping back. It’s the sure foothold you ought to give yourself, but that is not certainty. It’s the only path that is virtuous.

I see this letter like a change of grip on the story. Erikson declared his terms, and now he’ll play his game. After going through a cycle of questions and contradictory considerations, he’s now surer of himself, and ready to go:

The table is crowded, the feast unending. Join me upon it, amidst the wretched scatter and heaps. The audience is hungry and its hunger is endless. And for that, we are thankful. And if I spoke of sacrifices, I lied.

The letter opens by questioning “memory” and “invention”. All these questions about the correct “order” of things is again the recurring theme of the interplay between the main series and prequel, and the questions that this prequel is supposed to answer: the foundation myth, the cosmology (or better, the cosmoGoNy). All of this reflecting in the process of “remembering”, as the way to create the story. As if the stories are out there. As if they simply need to be lifted out of the dust that submerges them (into consciousness), and that they only arrive to a writer as gifts, a writer who’s not truly responsible of them, or less responsible than what he may believe.

So again the call from Gallan to Fisher, to “remember this tale”.

…and you ask why I love reading Erikson and why he’s unsurpassed?

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