Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stroke of Midnight and Elsie--chapters 4

 In our last chapter, Merry Gentry finally grew a spine and developed a plot.

It takes about a paragraph for her to lose the former.

Look, I get that Andais is psychotic, sadistic and a very bad leader, and that she'll kill people on a whim. But everything about her is so overwhelmingly negative that we (when we have fucks to give) want Merry to stand up to her, challenge her, and get rid of her. That's part of why the last chapter felt surprisingly energetic--Merry's going to do what we've wanted her to do for several books: Stand up to her Aunt.

Now I swallowed the words because if she planned on blaming me for the deaths, even indirectly, I was sunk. Not only would I not be having the police to help me solve the crime, I would most likely be bleeding before I left this room. There is a saying in the Unseelie Court, “You visit the queen at your peril.” What sense of misguided justice had made me forget that?


And she bows to Andais, thus perfectly encapsulating everything that's wrong with Merry's character: She submits to stupid shit and refuses to stand her ground and follow through when it matters. She's the lesser of two evils, not the bastion of good that LKH wants her to be.

We waste a few minutes establishing that the Queen doesn't know who the fuck Beatrice, the dead fairy, is. 

 I realized that she was trying to pick a fight with me. She’d never done that before.


We then spend another few paragraphs obsessing over Merry's lipstick, and how it's smeared across Frost's face.

THEN the Queen asks how a reporter could go wandering around the Sithen when she's got spells on it.

Uh...because he's a reporter. They do that. It's like trying to herd kittens. It doesn't work and it'll end with claws on your shin.

So FINALLY Merry asks for the cops. Incoherantly, because she's so frightened of her aunt that she gets hysterical.

Consistancy. It does not work that way. Merry makes a big show of having steel only to collapse at the first twitch from her Aunt. It's a good portrayal of an abusive victim but that is NOT how Merry is being played at any given time. When she's not with Andais she's the steel-and-whipcord iron plated Riply-esque Bitch LKH wants her to be...and when she's with Andais she's limp and floppy.

Except when she has to stand up to Andais. You know. Like she did in the last book. When she knocked the Queen down to her knees.

Merry gets the Queen to agree to having both the cops and the press involved in the investigation in VERY short order. Mostly so that we can move on to the Queen obsessing over why Barinthus never tried to make a king out of her son the way he's trying to make one out of Merry.

“I have not liked many things of late. Answer the question, Kingmaker. I know that if my brother, Essus, had been willing, you would have had him kill me and put himself on the throne. But he would not slay his own sister. He would not have that sin on his heart. Still, you thought he would be a better king than I a queen, didn’t you?”
Why would a non-Christian immortal, magical being with active, tangible Gods use "sin" in their every-day vocabulary? The Sidhe, as we are reminded over and over and over again, do not have a human (by which LKH means white anglo saxon protestant) sense of morality. So why would she refer to her own murder as a "sin"? That's a very specific theological concept. These things were not raised WASP the way their author was. They would not immediately think of fratricide as a sin. A crime, treason, a grave wrong, a blood debit, maybe, but not a sin.

It's just really out of place is what I'm saying.

So the Queen keeps asking Barinthus why Cel was ignored in favor of Merry when Cel even asked Barinthus to kill his mom for him. And Barinthus finally says it plain:

Barinthus answered her, blood flowing from his mouth. “You are a better queen than Cel will ever be a king.”

The Queen thinks about this for a second, then drops the punishment:
 The sound came with her words. “Meredith, you will do nothing with Barinthus that will chance you being pregnant by him. Nothing, is that clear?”
And given how Merry obsessed over not getting to give any of her men oral sex in the last book, I'm betting this is the entire reason we had that previous scene. It can't be Merry defying her Aunt and giving anybody she wants a BJ, oh, no. It has to be because the Queen made her do it.

Everybody files out of the room and the chapter ends.

On to Elsie.

And guys? This is about to get disturbing. Character development is a completely foreign concept to this author. The character traits someone has are the character traits they're going to have later. They MIGHT be migitated a little so that they're "better" after they're Saved True Christians, but most of the really nasty shit continues on throughout the series. Most of the dangerous, negative traits displayed by the male characters will continue after they Get Saved, and will be portrayed as positive traits from then on out.

Elsie's dad continues to ignore her for a week over the stage-fright episode. Today, however, he's being nice to her. This is called "intermittent re-enforcement" and it's a very, VERY powerful manipulation tool. It's the principle behind most gambling set-ups, addictive games and abusive relationships. If an individual receives positive outcomes in intermittent cycles, they become more likely to remain in a negative situation. It enforces a belief that if they continue to try hard, things will improve. They'll hit a winning streak. They'll stop being abused.

In this case, Elsie has been punished by a withdrawal of affection. Now, for no reason whatsoever, she's getting it back. Dad is talking to her and being nice. I've been in a couple of abusive relationships where I became afraid of my abuser's kindness. It was a warning sign that they were softening me up and that bad shit would soon go down. I preferred meanness and cruelty, because at least that could be predicted and managed. But Elsie is eight, and she doesn't have the coping skills of a (then) twenty three year old. So she walks into the dining room and sits down next to her daddy, all excited about breakfast.

And then the boom comes down.

"Elsie, will you have some meat?" asked her grandfather. 
"No," said her father, answering for her; "once a day is as often as a child of her age ought to eat meat; she may have it at dinner, but never for breakfast or tea."
..."If you please, papa, I had rather have some of those hot cakes," said Elsie, timidly, as her father laid a slice of bread upon her plate. 
"No," said he decidedly; "I don't approve of hot bread for children; you must eat the cold." Then to a servant who was setting down a cup of coffee beside the little girl's plate, "Take that away, Pomp, and bring Miss Elsie a tumbler of milk. Or would you prefer water, Elsie?" 
"Milk, if you please, papa," she replied with a little sigh; for she was extremely fond of coffee, and it was something of a trial to give it up. Her father put a spoonful of stewed fruit upon her plate, and as Pompey set down a tumbler of rich milk beside it, said, "Now you have your breakfast before you, Elsie. Children in England are not allowed to eat butter until they are ten or eleven years of age, and I think it an excellent plan, to make them grow up rosy and healthy. I have neglected my little girl too long, but I intend to begin to take good care of her now," he added, with a smile, and laying his hand for an instant upon her head.

He's restricting her food, exerting control over one of the few areas of pleasure and choice Elsie gets. Admittedly some of it sounds like good advice (Who the fuck gives a kid coffee?) but it's not being presented to Elsie as a change for the better. It's presented as a control from Dad. And no one else has to follow these rules. It isolates Elsie from her age group yet again. She's singled out for special, perceptively negative treatment, and that makes her a fine target for the other kids.

The next paragraph is absolutely heartbreaking:

The slight caress and the few kind words were quite enough to reconcile Elsie to the rather meagre fare, and she ate it with a happy heart. But the meagre fare became a constant thing, while the caresses and kind words were not; and though she submitted without a murmur, she could not help sometimes looking with longing eyes at the coffee and hot buttered rolls, of which she was very fond. But she tried to be contented, saying to herself, "Papa knows best, and I ought to be satisfied with whatever he gives me."

And that is how intermittent re-enforcement works. She got positive imput the first time she ate the designated breakfast, so she'll continue to eat the designated breakfast in the hope that maybe, someday, her obediance will please her father into loving her again.

Guys, obediance as a method of gaining love and acceptance DOES NOT WORK. If someone is healthy, they'll love and accept you reguardless. Obeying to earn the love of someone overwhelmingly negative towards you simply leaves you open to abuse and GREATLY lessens the odds of you seeking help or leaving the relationship. Abusers will actively work to enforce a culture of instant obediance simply because it makes seeking your own health (IE LEAVING) the ultimate, unthinkable disobedience. If you want to get specific, in the modern target audience--homeschooled Christian girls--it will foster an attitude best expressed in the Stay at Home Daughters Movement. Going to college and getting their own life is presented as the ultimate disobedience and will result in the loss of the only love-source--their fathers--that they know. (There is no emphasis whatsoever on a mother-daughter relationship in these fundamentalist circles) That they can develop other sources of positive input once they leave the home, and that these sources will be far, far healthier, is never, ever presented. Instead, they are told that no one will ever love or accept them out there. Thus you have thirty year old women staying at home under their father's control, running his businesses for him and usually helping to raise the last of their younger siblings. Marrige to an equally controlling male is the only acceptable way to leave the home. And because they've been raised to believe that love is something to be earned through obedience--that only good children get to be truely loved--they will do everything in their own power to follow the rules.

And yes, the other kids--mostly Arthur--tease Elsie about the simple meals. Finally he teases her to the point of tears in her father's hearing. He decides to send for her, excusing her from lessons for the day. She's scared of what Dad will do to her, with very good reason--every encounter with Horace has been overwhelmingly negative for her.

And once again, we start with a positive:

He held out his hand as she entered, saying with a smile, "Come here, daughter."

It was the first time he had called her that, and it sent a thrill of joy to her heart.
And then go directly to the controlling negative, and holy shit is it a doozy:

"You have been crying," he said, in a slightly reproving tone. "I am afraid you do a great deal more of that than is good for you. It is a very babyish habit, and you must try to break yourself of it."
Abusers like to control the outward expressions of emotion of their victims. Unless they're an absolute sadist, and few of them are ever really sadistic, tears or negative emotion from the victim makes them feel incredibly guilty. They react in many different ways--explosions, further punishments, extravagant expressions of remorse and generocity--but it all has the same end: making the negative emotions go away. The other reason is someone is more likely to reject the abuser when they're experiencing negative emotion. It's just like the pain of burning your hand makes you take your hand off the stove, the pain of being with an abuser will make you want to leave them. Repressing the emotions goes a pretty long way towards deadening them.

This repression is bad for an adult. It has horrific consequences in a child. I'm saying "negative emotion" instead of anger or sadness because negative emotion is expressed by feeling anger or feeling sad. You can actively feel neither and still be experiancing powerfully negative emotion. Negative emotion has to be expressed. If it is not allowed to pass through "good" mental channels--ie, anger, crying--then it will create a new channel, which is usually self destructive. ELSIE IS EIGHT YEARS OLD. She's been told over and over by her only sources of positive imput that anger is not a safe way to express negative emotion. Anger on her part gets a lot of negative feedback, so she's repressed it, and turned most of it inward onto herself, something fueled and created by her religious beliefs. She cannot be angry at the adults in her life, but she can be angry at herself for sinning. But she still has one release valve: It's safe for her to cry. Which is why she cries every. single. chapter. She has every right to be angry for this situation. She's abused, neglected, extremely isolated. But anger isn't safe, so she cries helplessly instead. With the negative emotion expressed, the pressure is off and she can go back to being whatever passes for happy in Elsie's world.

But now Dad is saying that she can't cry. The last good, healthy channel for negative emotion has just been blocked off.

I lived for several years in a situation where it was unsafe for me to cry, where any attempts to express negative emotion got immediately ridiculed and lectured. If I tried to leave the room I would be followed. If I went into my room on my own, I would be heard crying and be interrupted. This was when my self-injury issues skyrocketed out of control.

This book is a manual for child abuse, and it's still being marketed today to isolated, sad, emotionally neglected little girls as an example for their own behavior.

Dad then follows this psychological nuke up with another positive--he's taking her to see the Travillas! And we're going to stop there. There's a lot left in this chapter but I think that's enough overwhelmingly disturbing shit for one day.


  1. I'm so glad to see another entry.

    I'm just waiting for Elsie to slaughter people from recessed rage but I'm sure that won't happen.

  2. I never thought I'd say this, but the Merry book is looking damn near healthy by comparison. The Elsie book makes me want to pick up an ice axe and go a-huntin' anyone who would force this poison on a child.

  3. I have to agree with Duamuteffe. Elise is completely F'ed up and I'm disturbed that people enforce it's message as a good thing