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The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #1)
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This is our Classic SF Book Discussion topic for November:


The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #1) by Tad Williams The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams


Mike Wilson | 113 comments Hello all! First thing first, I've never read this novel (i'm currently about 200 pages in as of right now.) Second, I have no idea what "discussion leader" entails but will do my best.
Ok with the excuses and pleasantries out of the way, let's talk Dragonbone Chair. As mentioned above i'm about 1/4 of the way into this novel and I thought I might of been in deep trouble about 150 pages in.
1. because I nominated this doorstop of a book and
2. because it starts off what I consider to be slow (I know some people like a bunch of world building but I do also like "something" happening as well)
For some reason the relationship between Simon and The Dr. reminded me of Disney Sword and The Stone relationship between Merlin and Newt. With that being said I'm really hopeful because after page 150 stuff does start happening and it has all the makings of a great fantasy novel.
Anybody else started yet? If so what's your first impressions?


message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 02, 2014 06:03AM) (new)

Mike wrote: "For some reason the relationship between Simon and The Dr. reminded me of Disney Sword and The Stone..."

I was thinking more Peter Sellers' "Being There", a clueless man wanders uncomprehending though halls of power. :)

Simon is a difficult (and unusual) protagonist given his exaggerated slacker personality, selective curiosity, and general non-heroic nature.

About a year and a half ago, I asked the group for suggestions on Where to Start with Tad Williams, and The Dragonbone Chair was the most common suggestion. It took a while, but I'm finally reading Tad Williams. :)


message 4: by Aleah (new)

Aleah (aleahmarie) I count this title as one of my favorites. I enjoyed the world building and am a complete sucker for the Bildungsroman. I went back and found my review from 2010:

"Simon is a kitchen boy in the sprawling and ancient stronghold of Hayholt. Happy, but too much a teenager to realize it, Simon spends the days avoiding chores, exploring his castle home and begging stories from his friend, Morgenes. What could this awkward 14-year-old have to do with an ancient battle, a dying king, and princes at war?

A standard coming-of-age story, the plot is still more engaging than most fantasy tales. What really makes this story shine is the way in which Tad Williams tells it. He is one of the most gifted writers of epic fantasy I've had the pleasure to come across in some time. The details of Simon's youth and subsequent adventures are intricate enough to satisfy any fantasy lover while an involving cast of characters leads the way.

A must read for fans of epic fantasy."


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Aleah wrote: "I ... am a complete sucker for the Bildungsroman...."

Bildungsroman is Binbiniqegabenik's younger brother? :)


message 6: by Aleah (new)

Aleah (aleahmarie) Quite possibly. :)


Greg Strandberg (gregstrandberg) Great book, definitely better for when you're a teen.


Sabrina Flynn Aleah wrote: The details of Simon's youth and subsequent adventures are intricate enough to satisfy any fantasy lover while an involving cast of characters leads the way.

This is one of the things I love about Tad Williams writing style and The Dragonbone Chair. Simon stays true to character as a gangly, clumsy 14 year old boy, and throughout the series, slowly but surely he matures into a man. It's a believable progression. Simon doesn't find some uber ring of power or get a week of sword fighting lessons and suddenly emerge as the most powerful fighter in the lands. He's just a normal seeming kid who is way over his head and trying to survive.

To me, Dragonbone Chair breaks a lot of fantasy cliches. True, it is slow to start and there are slow spots throughout the series, but one thing I always appreciate about Tad Williams is his ability to bring all the story threads together. And at the end of the series, you're always left going.. Ooooh!


message 9: by Aleah (new)

Aleah (aleahmarie) Sabrina wrote: "Simon doesn't find some uber ring of power or get a week of sword fighting lessons and suddenly emerge as the most powerful fighter in the lands. He's just a normal seeming kid who is way over his head and trying to survive."

Oh yes. One of things I remember particularly liking about this series are the fighting scenes. You can actually feel Simon's fear. There's one scene in particular where Simon is hanging onto a limb over a chasm and he's so scared he's about to wet himself. There's no sudden burst of bravado, he's just a terrified kid holding onto a branch -- knees knocking, the works. Finally, a fighting scene I can relate to!


message 10: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments Aleah wrote: "Sabrina wrote: "Simon doesn't find some uber ring of power or get a week of sword fighting lessons and suddenly emerge as the most powerful fighter in the lands. He's just a normal seeming kid who ..."

I agree with you Tad's characters are believable and Simon reminds me a little of Matthew Broderick's character in Ladyhawke.
Besides the slow start I am really enjoying the ride.


message 11: by Sabrina (last edited Nov 02, 2014 10:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sabrina Flynn Aleah wrote: There's one scene in particular where Simon is hanging onto a limb over a chasm and he's so scared he's about to wet himself. There's no sudden burst of bravado, he's just a terrified kid holding onto a branch -- knees knocking, the works. Finally, a fighting scene I can relate to!

So true, Aleah! And he's not paired with some awesome fighter, but tiny wise Binabik, which makes everything even more interesting.

I always find it amusing that most readers demand or are drawn to the strong, capable protagonist (and I'm often like this), but in reality, when you mention that you snowboard or rock climb, they gasp and say how dangerous that is.

Have others noticed that as readers, we generally expect more out of a protagonist than what is realistic?


Sabrina Flynn Mike wrote: I agree with you Tad's characters are believable and Simon reminds me a little of Matthew Broderick's character in Ladyhawke.

Oh, wow, I have not watched that movie in years. Used to be one of my favorites. Not sure it's going to hold up... LOL


message 13: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments I read this a long time ago and really enjoyed it. My main problem with the series was just that the last book (long and often split in two) had a) KKK references that didnt work for me and took me out of the fantasy world b) was very plot heavy/ action full - much more so than the first two books with less time for theme/ character development.

This was written at a time when heavily tolkein influenced fantasy was the norm and series' like Feists, Eddings and this drew very heavily on Tolkeins ideas. I did feel that there was plenty of original elements to this series on first reading and I am interested in revisiting it to see how it holds up today.

Some people have suggested that this was probably a big influence on GRRM for Game of Thrones.


message 14: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments A small wise troll and a lackadaisical kitchen boy on their way to save the day, can't wait to see how this plays out!


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

"Neither War nor Violent Death have anything uplifting about them, yet they are the candle to which Humanity flies again and again, as complacently as the lowly moth." - Morgenes


message 16: by Melissa (last edited Nov 04, 2014 10:24AM) (new) - added it

Melissa | 11 comments Approximately 500 pages to go in Pandora's Star, then Dragonbone Chair is next up!


Adrian G Hilder (adrianghilder) | 10 comments I'm half way through "The Stone of Farewell" now.
Tad Williams has taken immersive writing style to the extreme. You follow Simon and friends across every meadow, through every stream, up and down every mountain path. There are few places you can go in this novel without metaphor laced sentences on what the path is like, what the sky is like, how Simon and everyone around him feel about walking down the path while they reflect on stuff that's happened before and what they think is to come.

OK I exaggerate a bit and this may sound like I don't like these books. Truth is I really do think this is an all time classic series, you just need to pick it up when your ready for slow plot progression and heavy on the immersive experience writing.
You get a real bang of action before the Dragonbone Chair is over (It makes me feel cold remembering it now ;) ) and I suspect Tad Williams is conforming to the four part story structure rules, he is just spreading it over four large volumes so patience is required to get there.

I went off and read Steelheart by Brandon Saunderson as a break and for something faster paced before getting into The Stone of Farewell. This is the slowest book of the four.


message 18: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments Adrian wrote: "I'm half way through "The Stone of Farewell" now.
Tad Williams has taken immersive writing style to the extreme. You follow Simon and friends across every meadow, through every stream, up and down..."


I whole heartily agree about Williams's writing style, at times I'm like enough already let's get to some action! With that being said the story is a great one so far I'm about halfway in.


message 19: by Mike (last edited Nov 06, 2014 10:08AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments Tad Williams is most excellent at world building but does anyone else think his characters are somewhat lack lustered? His story is a solid one but I just don't feel "connected" to the characters in it. As of right now I most likely wouldn't read book two.


Michele | 274 comments I think that, while his characters are well defined and very realistic, because you see things often from Simon's POV it can be a bit...distancing? Because Simon is kind of clueless and also intimidated by nearly everyone, whether or not they are mean, it can be hard to connect to them. Except for Binabik, Simon is very much a lost puppy who half expects random kicks from any direction. And even Binabik, tiny as he is, comes across as a wise elder who doesn't always know what to do about Simon.

I think that if you can connect to Simon in some way, and trust that as he becomes more aware, more decisive - as he grows up - you will get more deeply drawn into the story and the other characters.

I actually find it fascinating when an author can do this, really make you feel just as lost and confused and scared and curious as the main character is. I think CJ Cherryh also did this well with her Fortress in the Eye of Time series.

That said, Williams does tend to have a bit of a formality to his writing, there's something of a remove that comes across - that this is most definitely a "story" being told to us, like a bard before an audience instead of an eyewitness witness video capturing it as it unfolds. Um...hard to describe. But if you can get into it, it's kind of magical.


message 21: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 06, 2014 06:34PM) (new)

Michele wrote: "Because Simon is kind of clueless and also intimidated by nearly everyone, whether or not they are mean, it can be hard to connect to them. Simon is very much a lost puppy who half expects random kicks from any direction...."

However, Simon is not being kicked (at least in the first half of the book). He thinks of Rachel as "the dragon"; she is his surrogate mother, and his complaints are of a kind with, "aw, mom, why do I have to clean my room?" and "aw, dad, why do I have to take out the garbage?"

Simon is exaggeratedly inept. Asked to stir a pot, he will spill the stew. Asked to fetch a tankard, he will pull down the whole shelf. Asked to sweep the hall, he will get distracted on the way and ignore the task. Like many teens, he views this as a, "why do these things happen to me?" instead of considering his own culpability.

Simon is often self-centered, and this is his least endearing trait.

In short, it's a spot on caricature of a teenager by his parents, the belief they are being persecuted by a vindictive universe. Wikipedia doesn't give the age of his kids, but in 1988 he was just 30, so it's doubtful he already had a teenager around.


message 22: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments G33z3r wrote: "Michele wrote: "Because Simon is kind of clueless and also intimidated by nearly everyone, whether or not they are mean, it can be hard to connect to them. Simon is very much a lost puppy who half ..."
I think Michele may be on to something as to why I'm struggling to connect with these characters. The novel has a feel of being told to us as a tale/story. You never really get into Simon's thoughts allowing for a disconnect. I kinda wish it was written with a few more POVs, it's really my only complaint as the tale is a good one.


Adrian G Hilder (adrianghilder) | 10 comments Michele wrote: "I think that, while his characters are well defined and very realistic, because you see things often from Simon's POV it can be a bit...distancing?
...
I think that if you can connect to Simon in some way, and trust that as he becomes more aware, more decisive - as he grows up - you will get more deeply drawn into the story and the other characters.
...
That said, Williams does tend to have a bit of a formality to his writing, there's something of a remove that comes across - that this is most definitely a "story" being told to us, like a bard before an audience instead of an eyewitness witness video capturing it as it unfolds. Um...hard to describe. But if you can get into it, it's kind of magical. "


Michele,
Yes I know where you are coming from here, it is hard to put into words. Despite everything that is so "immersive" about the writing there is an odd kind of barrier between the reader and what is going on. May be it is because some of the metaphors Tad comes out with are a bit weird and hard to apply the the scene being shown. That and the 15 year old boy point of view restricting how the reader gets to interpret what is going on.

The again I have the same issue when in parts of the story that are from Josua's point of view, which happens more in book 2.
Hard to explain, but I still want to finish the 4 book story even though my progress through it is slow.


Adrian G Hilder (adrianghilder) | 10 comments ... and all these years later Tad is back writing in Osten Ard.
http://www.tadwilliams.com/2014/04/fr...


message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 08, 2014 06:05PM) (new)

The Dragonbone Chair is one of those books that totally justifies my approach to proper names in Fantasy novels, which is to not try to even parse them. let alone pronounce them. There's a "long name that starts with a H" and a "medium name that starts with an Q", and I just won't try to talk about them with friends.

So I find it amusing that Williams put a pronunciation guide at the end of the book, in fact three of them, one for each language. Clearly he was going through his Tolkien phase.

Sure, Simon is easy to pronounce, and Binabik seems easy enough (as opposed to Binbiniqegabenik.) But then we have Heahferth, Miriamele, Isgrimnur, Ookequk, Da’ai Chikiza, Qantaqa, Hernystiri, Rimmerspakk, and Geloë. I don't see myself writing any Dragonbone filk rhymes with those.


message 26: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments G33z3r wrote: "The Dragonbone Chair is one of those books that totally justifies my approach to proper names in Fantasy novels, which is to not try to even parse them. let alone pronounce them. There..."

I almost spit my soda across the room when I read this!
Too funny!


message 27: by Adrian (last edited Nov 09, 2014 11:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adrian G Hilder (adrianghilder) | 10 comments G33z3r wrote: "The Dragonbone Chair is one of those books that totally justifies my approach to proper names in Fantasy novels, which is to not try to even parse them. let alone pronounce them. There..."

Ah yes the 27 pages of people and place names in several languages.
And just like Tolkien, piles of poetry and song that contribute nothing to plot progressing, and
little to character development and setting exposition.
I blame Tolkien for starting that ;)


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Adrian wrote: "And just like Tolkien, piles of poetry and song that contribute nothing to plot progressing, and little to character development and setting exposition...."

While poetry and song are not information-dense ways of providing exposition and character (see how politely I called them "filler" :), they do offer an alternative to the stock lecture, allow slipping in a few facts without spotlighting them, and add a sense of depth and texture to the world.

Example, CH 37, during the boat ride down the river, Marya sings a song about river boatmen (not the one about Mike Fink, King of the River :). It runs about a page and a half, and really just gives her a earthy (watery?) background linked firmly to Meremund.

On the other hand, in Ch 24 Simon sings a lengthy song about Jack Mundwode & Hruse collecting stars for crown. Unless those characters show up later in the novel, I have no idea what those two pages were about.


message 29: by Melissa (new) - added it

Melissa | 11 comments G33z3r wrote: "The Dragonbone Chair is one of those books that totally justifies my approach to proper names in Fantasy novels, which is to not try to even parse them. let alone pronounce them. There..."

This is how I read everything. My eyes recognize the names and places and feed that info to my brain. No reason to worry about they're pronounced. Speeds things up too!


message 30: by Lori (new)

Lori (loriann25) | 19 comments I'm really enjoying reading this book and I have already ordered the second in the series, but for some reason some of the places seem so familiar, the names in particular does Tad Williams write other stories set in the same worlds??


message 31: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Wilson | 113 comments G33z3r wrote: "Adrian wrote: "And just like Tolkien, piles of poetry and song that contribute nothing to plot progressing, and little to character development and setting exposition...."

While poetry and song ar..."


I have overall enjoyed this novel but I never understand why it is that some authors feel the need to add huge amounts of filler on a already dense novel.
The verdict is still out for me if I will read book 2.


message 32: by Aleah (new)

Aleah (aleahmarie) The "filler" has always been one of my favorite things about heroic fantasy. I want to know the intimate details of this new world I've found between the covers. Tad Williams does that beautifully in this series and I ate it up with a spoon. I can see how this wouldn't appeal to all readers, though. If it's not your thing then it's a lot of words to slough through. I recently read Abercrombie's Half a King. (Sorry, on my iPad so I can't link.) That story was all plot and little to no filler, I finished the book feeling as though I was missing something.


Adrian G Hilder (adrianghilder) | 10 comments Certainly, a book that is all plot and light on characterization and setting exposition is missing something essential. Especially in the fantasy genre.
I like it when an author mixes strong plot progression with the other stuff. So it feels real but I'm not kept waiting too long for things to happen.


message 34: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments I take the same approach to character names G33z3r. One persons filler is anothers atmosphere. I remember liking this when I read it first but not sure how it will fair in a reread.


Sarah Mankowski (sarahmankowski) | 246 comments Just started reading this one.


Sarah Mankowski (sarahmankowski) | 246 comments Melissa wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "The Dragonbone Chair is one of those books that totally justifies my approach to proper names in Fantasy novels, which is to not try to even parse them. let alone pronou..."

LOL. I hear you.


message 37: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments I have now reread the first 25%. I am having mixed feelings about the book. When I read the book first I was still a teenager, I read a lot and got through large books quickly. I was to an extent reliant on second hand book shops and libraries for my reading and I lived in quite a rural area so there was not as much of a selection than we have now with Amazon, ebay and loads of ways you can buy books affordably including ebooks. The genre has expanded and developed further from books such as LoTR etc. and Dragonbone chair probably played a part in the fields development.

For the first 15% the protagonist is basically an annoying, not very realistic (for the setting) teenager. He is dull and uninteresting and very passive. The only action that happens does so around him and doesnt involve him. It is about 20% through the book before the inciting incident happens that starts our hero off on a story narrative moving away from passive to active, to dull wallpaper to start developing a character arc of interest.

We basically have one main POV and then we get mini POV/ fly on the wall scenes to join the dots of the larger story that is coming together.

In terms of the main story it takes a very long time in coming together but in this time we get loads of world building, exposition, laying the foundations for the grander narrative of the story and character development. Whether or not you like the book will depend a lot on what sort of stories you like.

Although I got a bit impatient and skimmed some of the stuff I did feel that when the action did start I was much more immersed and cared much more about it than I otherwise would. Had I not read the books before and just got a sample from amazon I dont think I would have gone on to purchase the book but do feel, even on rereading it that it has been an enjoyable experience thus far. There are some excellent moments of plotting, dialogue and writing even if there are elements that work a little less well to older, more critical eyes than did so when I was a teen.


message 38: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments Pxxx (dont know his real name) the villain at times feels a bit cartoony - I might have enjoyed some elements of grey but still manages to exert a sinister presence that makes the scenes involving him seem far more compelling and unpredictable than those that don't.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Ben wrote: "Pxxx (dont know his real name) the villain at times feels a bit cartoony - ..."

You mean Wormtongue? :)


message 40: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments Pryrates (copied and pasted from a wiki article) - who I think is also known as Wormtongue. So yes


message 41: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 15, 2014 03:12PM) (new)

Well, I finished it! Strange that feels like an achievement. I can't remember the last time a book, even a really long one, took me anywhere's near this long to finish. Seriously, I started this almost a week before this discussion was scheduled to start, so it's almost been three weeks. Yikes!

It's not that I disliked it. But I seem to keep it at a distance, only rarely becoming really engaged with the plot. Simon's early quotidian activities are unexceptional, and on the rare occasions when he trips across something interesting, his fabled questioning curiosity seems to vanish. So while it became engaging in parts, the overall effect was rather detached. (And I can always find other things to do with free time when the book on top of my shelf doesn't mysteriously demand my attention -- especially during Football season.)

I did like the siege of Naglimund. There's nothing like a protracted engagement with siege engines and sappers & miners. (But where was the boiling oil? No fire arrows in Osten Ard?)

I also like the small skirmish in the northern snows, with the combatants having to slog through deep drifts in order to close to sword distance.


message 42: by Pickle (last edited Nov 16, 2014 01:21AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pickle | 92 comments i read the series and gave it to a charity shop right away, not for me. I think the fillers get worse as the books ebb along


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

Pickle wrote: "i read the series and gave it to a charity shop right away, not for me. I think the fillers get worse as the books ebb along"

I'm impressed with your dedication that you stuck with the entire lengthy trilogy before making up your mind about it.


message 44: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 18, 2014 05:22AM) (new)

Fowler's Modern English Usage defines a dead metaphor as having been "used so often that speaker and hearer have ceased to be aware that the words used are not literal." He then cautions that some unfortunate juxtaposition can jar a dormant metaphor back to life, such as "a virgin field pregnant with possibilities."

Sword and sorcery heroic fantasy imposes even more limitations on what metaphors an author can use.

Anachronistic expressions are right out. Jarnauga can't "drop a bombshell" on the Raed, and Isgrimnur can't "blow off steam", lest these metaphors suddenly sit up and shout, "I'm not dead yet!"

In a fantasy set in an alternate world, such as Middle Earth or Osten Ard, the characters can't refer to history, myth, or literature of our own world. Lluth can't meet his Waterloo, Haestan can't live a Spartan life, and Naglimund can't be the start of Armageddon.

I thought of all this when Josua said, "Elias has sown the dragon’s teeth." (According to classical Greek mythology, Cadmus sowed the earth with the dragon's teeth, from which sprang legions of fierce, armed warriors.) A tiny thing, to be sure, but such is the line of thought that expression kindled in me.


message 45: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments Re-reading the book has to me highlighted lots of flaws. I didnt utterly love it when I read it first time but am enjoying it less this time round. With many more distractions (book choice wise and otherwise) it will take me a while to get through it, and despite the many pleasures involved it will feel a bit like a slog.

I will probably skim a lot of the exposition, poems etc. as though they contribute to the overall immersion they also contribute hugely to the slog.


message 46: by A.L. (new) - added it

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 127 comments I might not get througgh this in time - but I'll try and pick it up soon. It's been on my TBR for ages.


Sarah Mankowski (sarahmankowski) | 246 comments I finished it, but only because I was forced to rest for a few days due to a knee injury.

I am pretty sure I would have enjoyed the novel more when I was younger. The cliches, reworking of familiar phrases and general wordiness was a bit trying.

Were so many introductory pages necessary to tell us that Simon was a hobbledehoy and unlikely hero?

Look, the story certainly had its moments, but they were often almost buried among the many pages of what I considered extraneous material. Personally, I think that less may have been more.


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