Duncton Silence (slight spoilers)

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Tony Bass

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Nov 8, 1994, 8:03:54 AM11/8/94
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Following Duncton Chronicles is the Book of Silence, the three books

_Duncton Tales
_Duncton Rising_
_Duncton Stone_

by William Horwood. The Fontana paperbacks look to be a little shorter
than the Chronicles; the shortest, the _Tales_, is barely six hundred
pages long.

Where the Chronicles told of the age-old schism between Stone and Word,
the Book of Silence covers much more recent sectarian differences and
heresies. All hinges on the turning point in _Duncton Found_, so that
what comes after must be different in kind. Perhaps a shade of
disappointment is inevitable, but I find the sequel more than
satisfactory, with many splendid scenes and moments and reflections, and
would by no means forgo it.

There is a rather more obtrusive framing device, though easily
ignorable, of an initially unidentified narrator outside the story
talking directly to the reader. I am not keen but see the reasons to so
connect the narrative to the human world. Perhaps I feel no need of
assistance to make that connection. On the net, nobody knows you are a
mole.

The great significance of the coming of the Stone Mole is not in
question, but responses vary. The Newborn moles are concerned that some
of the texts telling of that time are dangerous for moles to see, or
even blasphemous.

"Now, the truth of Tryfan was that he was _but_ mole - he was prone
to violence in his younger days, he allowed himself to follow his
heart, he was impetuous, he made mistakes. Whilst Spindle, as good a
mole as ever lived, _was_ inclined to scribe down inconsequential
things or, when he felt inclined, to report the flaws he saw in
Tryfan as well as the virtues. The reverent Cuddesdon too was not
without fault, and in his later scribings expressed his deep doubts
about his faith in the Stone openly - a fact which to many moles
since who have sought to find a way towards the Silence has been a
comfort and solace at their darkest times of trial, for if such a
holy mole as he had doubts, then their own doubts did not seem quite
as bad ..."

[...]

"When I pointed out to Wesley that moles study to be scholars that
they may learn to discern truth, and that truth is not achieved by
denying that even the great moles of the past made mistakes or
themselves had doubts, he replied in all seriousness that not all
moles were capable of such training, and these lesser moles needed
protecting for their own good. By 'protecting' he meant that
libraries should be censored and, in certain circumstances, texts
should be destroyed."

Can it be right to censor? Can fighting ever be justified? Perhaps the
narrative has an agenda, but it is by no means all on one side.

The Master Librarian at Duncton speaks with an assistant regarding the
Deputy Master,

"Mole, you know why I made him Deputy Master, and not yourself?"

"I can only guess, Master. I have only the comfort of guessing."

Sturne, a thickset mole with a craggy face flecked with white fur,
lowered his head a little.

"Guess," said Stour.

"He is a greater scholar than I, Master, that's for sure. A
brilliant scholar perhaps."

"Guess," said Stour again.

"He is younger than I and energetic. Such a mole may be needed for
succession."

Stour stared at him. "Guess again, mole. Speak what is in your heart."

"The better to watch him," growled Sturne.

The faintest of smiles lit Stour's face. "And why did you stay on
and suffer the taunts and plaints? Eh, mole? You who -"

Sturne whispered, "Guess, Master. Forgive me, but _you_ guess now."

Stour looked at where Sturne's great paw rested on the text at which
he had been working, and then at the great Collection of texts of
which he had been Keeper so long.

"You did it for love of these texts," said Stour softly. "Only for
that."

"They have been a comfort, Master," said Sturne, much moved. He was
quite unable to look at the Master.

Thus _Duncton Tales_ sets the scene and prepares for the journeying to
the great Convocation at Caer Caradoc. Much of the narrative is
Privet's. She arrives at Duncton early in the book, but keeps a low
snout and says little of her past, which only gradually becomes known.
One Part tells some of the story of the mysterious Rooster. One chapter
links to the past by telling of the mole who at first says of herself
only,

"Call me 'Shame'," she said. "I am the guilt of mole. Where is an
end to the shadows that follow me?"

These were her words, and in them was a truth for all the moles who
heard her. For guilt at what they and theirs had done was truly
theirs as well, and endless seemed the shadows that followed each of
them.

It is notable that much new material is introduced that is entirely
consistent with the Chronicles and yet nowhere implied by or foreseeable
from them. Rare the sequel that achieves this.

"But want to delve," [...] "Feel the delving need."

"Tell me about this need, mole," whispered Gaunt.

"Like my paws know something's there waiting to be made."

"Something?"

"Shape. Sound. In the walls. In the roofs. In the soil."

"And the rocks, mole? Do you feel the need in the rocks?"

The story is continuous through _Duncton Rising_, towards the end of
which comes the long foreshadowed Convocation. But as Whillan finds,

The Convocation had not started as he imagined it might, and he was
beginning to think it would not continue, or even end, in any way he
could predict. Thripp had not been what Whillan expected, and now
the Newborn ritual was not either, and he felt his world was under an
attack he might not be able to resist.

And then, after the Convocation, _Duncton Stone_, whose part headings are

Wildenhope
Strivings
Dissenters
Quail Paramount
Book of Silence

to a resolution rather mixed in some ways and yet with rightness.

Here is part of a prayer for Longest Night,

Eternal Stone,
Be with us this most holy night
And teach us to renew our love
Of friends, of kin, of life;
Lead us out of the darkness
Into thy eternal Light,
Eternal Stone,
Be with us now.

There is no simple equation or encoding, but I think that some mixed and
unsatisfactory aspects of the modern Christian church are reflected in
the narrative, in the way that any author draws on experience.

I have under-represented in the quoting the descriptive narrative of
countryside, moor and crag and field and down, all readable. It is
really well written.

Perhaps some of the virtue of these histories is that in the reduced,
not simpler, world of moledom the essential aspects of Life can shine
more clearly.

Tony Bass

--
# Tony Bass Tel: +44 473 645305
# MLB 3/19, BT Laboratories e-mail: a...@saltfarm.bt.co.uk
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# Opinions are my own

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