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The following analysis of THE CRYSTAL CROWN was sent to Brenda by Andrew C. Kursar. With Mr. Kursar's permission, we've reproduced it here.

Crystal Crown Analysis

THE CRYSTAL CROWN, is, mainly, very well-formed WRT Robert A. Heinlein's "Three Stories." Heinlein once said, or wrote, that all stories could be described by three simple themes: Boy Meets Girl (obv.), The Little Tailor (underdog triumphs), and The Man Who Learned Better (personal growth). We have Melayne for BMG, Xerlanthor for TLT, and Liras' initial, well, limpness, (well, he is) for TMWLB. What makes TCC so well-formed, however, is the way that these three support each other through the tale's telling. We begin with Liras as TMWLB, Sandcomber as amanuesis to the Godhead and Xalan's injury as the wound the Prince must take unto himself (metaphorically speaking; the assay of the Crown being the trial) to receive dominion over the land. (Gil n' Enki, anybody? Let's all go Fisherking?)

In Liras' case it's more of a moral acceptance than a physical wounding, the admission that harm to Xalan was his fault, but the end result is still the Tarotic Death-That-Is-Not-Death, the utter transformation of identity, which is supposed to be terrifying from the Fool's point of view. But Liras does embark upon his inner journey, learning the ways of and limits upon his celestial power and authority. Fortunately, his Master is both kind and wise and his errors are not met with immediate and graphic punishment (kind); he's left to learn the consequences himself (wise), the kind of lesson that really sinks deep (I.E., he doesn't lapidate the Director of was it ports or roads? yes, I am doing all this from memory alone, I wasn't kidding, I can't find my copy, but IWBTC, IRIAAA).

At the same time, we're receiving warning of just How Mighty Is The Giant through the Cayd reports of Xerlanthor's evil works (TLT), and threats of (gasp!) matrimony (BMG). I've gotta tell you how much I liked the form of Liras' final acceptance of his next transformation (King becomes Emperor); it's just about the most category-violating BMG passage I've ever seen in heroic fiction – "It's an unusual skill, for a King." "And my bride keeps goats," I said, swinging the shovel to my shoulder jauntily. "What an interesting couple we'll make!" Oh my, that's classic. Totally alien to both the old school bash n' brutalize thickneck barbarian cliche and the post-new wave No-Man-Can-Understand-Womyn paradigm. Marvelously original; my happy compliments to you.

Anyway, from there we progress to TMWLB as TLT (with intimations that no equivalent growth is happening on the BMG side) until Liras finally meets the Foe and conquers him (with, I must mention, another delightfully original treatment of the Journey To The Underworld along the way, in which for once the Hero keeps a civil, nay courtly, tongue in his head, instead of the usual brash defiance and resultant Deific Drubbing (ho-hum, booor-ing) and thus learns again that Death Is But Another Door, even for his loved ones, only this time without the common-run moaning and groaning and weeping and wailing, blech). That's actually the scene which reminds me the most of "The Lathe Of Heaven." I don't know why. I'm thinking of the very end of the film version, too, when I say that.

Huzzah, we win, and all Liras can think of is Melayne. Now it's TMWLB as BMG, and when Liras returns to the capitol, he has become the Marlboro Man, husky and busky and cool in control of the physical world. The reunion scene, BTW, is the third of my favorites (temporal rank, not ordinal. Or is that cardinal). Liras has become a true romantic hero, leaping tall boatrails in a single bound to reach the arms of his beloved. Sigh. Now he's really got the Kennedy Charter.

But he's due a major shock;
His world his wife and in-laws rock.
Her uncle is a real Miss Thing,
Threatening him with some bow-string.
Here's a stab and then a bash;
Melbras is dead in just a flash –
Unless your aim is suicide,
Don't beat up Tsormelezok's bride!
Poor Melayne is quite the Cayd;
Of a Witch she's most afraid.
She's not just like Sahai, his cat –
Should he squish her really flat?
(Heh. Sorry.)

Out he goes to have a think
(And perhaps a good stiff drink).
Then he turns unto his God –
Will his God give him the nod?
In no way and in no form;
No longer is he oh so gorm—
Less; he'll have to just make do
And hope that somehow they'll get through
Their marital discord together;
Bad times they will have to weather.
Very soon they meet again;
Will he peek into her brain?
Sure he will; he is the King;
That's his day job, it's his thing.
(do whatcha wanna do, unh unh)

The happy truth will quite suprise him –
Sweet Melayne does not despise him!
It's not so much that she's contrarian;
Just that she was raised Barbarian.
And now that he has killed to win 'er –
Time to go and get some dinner!
(Seafood, salad, soup and flan –
What did you expect? He's Shan!)
Joy is earned, his heart unburned
Because his love's at last returned.
Only one thing left to do;
Go and tell the God, "Thank you!"

Axes buried, fences mended
And all my babble now is ended.

Exeunt alles, dancing merrilie.

Ahem. Got Rush's "Roll The Bones" playing on the stereo. Pardon my attack of light opera. Old complaint. Too much Greasy Wagon as a child. Urrp.

A top-notch coming-of-age tale, too.

Anyway, that's the argh! LitCrit! look at why I liked TCC so much when I first read it. And the second time. And the third, and so on, and so on. . . . I can still recall the glee I felt, BTW, when I found the next two Liras books a few years later. I mean I can actually call up the feeling and relive the experience and have that pleasure all over again. I don't think, also, that I would have bought TCC when I first found it if it hadn't had the Walter Velez cover illo. I much prefer it to the one on your site, but that's just aesthetic quibbling. I'm disfond of Impressionism and non-representational art as a general rule; the cleaner the lines, the more I like it. So DKS doesn't cut much mustard with me these days either. Whoops, drifting again.

I think the a reason that TCC has stayed a perennial fave has to do with the fact that I've grown more and more gender-politicized over the years, and Liras' progress over the course of his maturity is rather the reverse of all this "beat the macho out of the man to make him a kinder, gentler bastard, suffer for the sins of your brothers, y-chromosome scum!" crap-crud that Whoreywood and the Lifetime Channel have been spewing throughout the course of my maturity. Par' me. I think that may also have a bit to do with why TCC didn't get anywhere near the notice and praise it should have – published in 1984; it's the story of a boy-man, a very much pop- (or gender-, or rad-, or whatever prefix you prefer to distinguish it from real, i.e. equity feminism) feminized male character, who, by the end of his story, has changed from a gentle, reclusive, nebbishy nice guy to a ruthless patriarchal authority figure, ordering immediate executions without a single qualm, and even worse, his brutal murdering masculinity wins the girl in the end (shock! horror! dismayed bemusement!).
Hey, it's a theory.

For the series as a whole, the concept of the Realm Beneath is a real stand-out piece of genius. Right up there in the Slow Glass penthouse. "You think of the Shan King as a denizen (or was it 'resident') of the Realm Beneath!" There's a whole generation's worth of analytic value in the idea. I love it.

Turning to recent news, a reader on the West Coast was particularly pleased with how Brenda Clough opened The Door To Elfland in her latest novel, How Like A God. Where many authors wait far too long to present that magic moment when an alien light shines through, Clough cracks the portal wide within the first few pages. And that light is bipolar, changing from a warm Narnian superheroic sunlight to a creepuscular Carrion Comfort corpse-glow and back again with almost every beam. The pacing is quick, the writing breakneck, the humor dry and very witty.

That magic moment when All Becomes Different is one of the most addictive characteristics of the SF&F genre; it's simultaneously more poweful and harder to control when done in the familiar modern-day world, as opposed to fantastic realms of the past and high-tech worlds of the future. We expect it in those settings; when the true strangeness of the story comes, it must fight to be noticed. If not handled carefully on Main Street, USA, it becomes a blaring siren, a nuclear flare, a cometary impact – disastrous. Clough's assured mastery highlights only what she wishes, and the book is particularly noteworthy because of it.
Highly recommended.

All my best to you and yours,

Andrew C. Kursar

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©1998 Andrew C. Kursar. Reprinted by permision. Last modified 15 March 1999