“In the Lost Lands”
Amazons! edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, 1979
“You can buy anything you might desire from Gray Alys. But it is better not to.”
In this story, Martin takes on the theme of “be careful what you wish for” but approaches it with a slight twist. No cackling evil fairy or cranky genie making things appear out of thin air here; rather, Gray Alys is a woods witch who has to put in some actual work to make things happen.
The story is also unusual in Martin’s choice of main character—Gray Alys herself. Why exactly Grey Alys serves as a procurer of favors, magical objects, etc. isn’t clear in the story, but it doesn’t seem that she particularly enjoys doing so. This creates almost a chicken-egg dichotomy: does she dislike selling her magical favor because things always turn out bad, or do things always turn out bad because she dislikes selling her magical favor? Martin doesn’t tell us, and that’s fine.
In the particular wish-granting incident of “Lost Lands,” Gray Alys is approached by a knight, Jerais, in service to the Lady Melange (ha). Melange wants to learn to shape-shift, and Jerais wants her to not learn to shape-shift, so Jerais pays Alys for Melange’s favor, then for his own—that Alys fail to help Melange. The lady seems to think that sending Jerais will prevent the inevitable blowback that Alys’ wishes always cause; she’s very wrong. Alys recognizes that what Jerais is asking for isn’t what he really wants, and when he asks if he’ll “have what [he] ask[s],” she replies, “You shall have what you want.” That’s not the same thing, and should have been a warning bell for Jerais, but Jerais isn’t particularly bright, and he’s arrogant, to boot.
Jerais—and the other male character, Boyce—is an interesting study in stereotypical maleness. Jerais doesn’t want Melange to learn to shape-shift because “I know what is good for her, better than she knows herself.” He’s smug, he’s full of himself, and he’s condescending regarding his lady, a woman he claims to be in love with. Alys recognizes immediately that what he really wants isn’t to protect Melange from herself, it’s to be the only one she loves: “You have been one lover among many, but you wanted more. You wanted all. You knew you stood second in her affections. I have changed that.” So Jerais is in the “friendzone” and seeks magical help to make Melange love him and only him because that’s not gross in any way. Alys giving him what he actually wants instead of what he verbally asked for is an interesting way of turning the tables; Alys knows what he wants better than he knows himself and gives him what he wants, and it turns out to be horrifying.
In order to give Melange what she wants, Alys has to find a werewolf and steal his skin. She sends out word that she’s seeking a werewolf, and a few weeks later, Boyce shows up at her door, telling her he knows where she can find a werewolf. Boyce is a different kind of stereotypical; if Jerais is the friendzoned protector who knows better than you, Boyce is the sexy predator. He is the werewolf he promises Alys, and he has every intention of taking her out into the lost lands and killing her. Alys isn’t dumb, of course, and uses her own magical artifacts to shape-shift into a silver-taloned bird and half kill him. Only half, because she needs him to be whole and a wolf when she skins him for his pelt.
“You wereama beautiful, Gray Alys. I watched you fly for a long time before I realized what it meant and began to run. It was hard to tear my eyes from you. I knew you were the doom of me, but still I could not look away. So beautiful. All smoke and silver, with fire in your eyes. The last time, as I watched you swoop toward me, I was almost glad. Better to perish at the hands of she who is so terrible and fine, I thought, than by some dirty little swordsman with his sharpened silver stick.”
When Boyce realizes what’s about to happen to him, he switches from smooth, self-assured predator to “you’re not like other girls.” He tries to convince Alys not to kill him by promising not to kill her because she’s a shape-shifter and thus the only one who can really understand him. He even throws in a bit of “too pretty to die.” He talks about the other women he’s been with and says that they meant nothing because they didn’t truly understand him the way Alys understands him. He wants her to run away with him so they can be predators together. Like Jerais, he’s hoist on his own petard; he lived as a predator with no concern for human life and every intention of murdering Alys for the fun of it, and he dies at the hand of another shape-shifter, pleading for his life as those he’s murdered likely did.
Martin works in quite a bit of humanity into Alys, as well. She doesn’t want to hurt people, but she gives them what they ask for, and they ask for stupid, harmful things. She tries to talk Jerais out of his and Melange’s bargain. She has sex with Boyce to try to ease the pain of what she has to do (her pain, not his pain), and then hides in her wagon while she waits for him to change into a wolf for the second time rather than facing his fear and rage.
There’s one last warning in the last two paragraphs of “In the Lost Lands.” Jerais brings Melange the wolfskin, and she’s upset because she’s aware of what it is and the limitations it places on her shapeshifting, but she uses it anyway. She has the chance to refuse, to turn away from her wish, to recognize that this is a really bad idea. There’s also some implication that Melange had been sleeping with Boyce, that she knows he was a werewolf and recognizes the pelt when it’s brought to her. If that’s the case, it makes her choice to bind the skin to her and wear it even more horrifying. And Jerais gets his wish, as well; Melange marries him, but he “sits beside a madwoman in the great hall by day, and locks his doors by night in terror of his wife’s hot red eyes, and does not hunt anymore, or laugh, or lust.”
Next week I’m taking a short break, but I’ll be back the week after with Dreamsongs Vol. 2. The last chunk of volume one is horror, and while I enjoy reading horror, I’m not particularly good with analyzing it.
Happy American Thanksgiving!