F is for Fitz, for FitzChivalry, for Farseer, for friendship, and of course for The Fool. If you don’t know, please go and have a quick read of three trilogies by Robin Hobb (Farseer, Liveships, and Tawny Man), then come back here (oh, fine, read the Rain Wilds Chronicles as well, while you’re at it, what’s another four books between friends… I’ll wait). Otherwise you’d be missing out. Plus, there may be spoilers.
You’d be missing out on knowing and understanding what I consider to be the best-written friendship in literature. No, I don’t mean just in epic fantasy. In literature. Ok, maybe that’s overdoing it a bit – after all, I haven’t even read more than two gazillonths of what’s out there. (Do you think you know one that’s better? Let me know in the comments… but have you read those three trilogies I mentioned?!?) Personally, I can’t think how any friendship of which anyone has ever written could compare. I set no boundaries on my adoration for this friendship. None at all. Do you understand me?
I set no boundaries on my love. None at all. Do you understand me?
— The Fool, in The Golden Fool
Here’s your chance to go away if you don’t want to read any spoilers… [cue elevator music while you scroll down].
The reason I say it’s the best friendship ever written is that it is not really a romance, nor a bromance, nor yet is it entirely platonic. (Well, one of the reasons. I can see I’m making myself very clear here.) I suppose it has a lot to do with the question of the Fool’s gender, an issue that is never fully answered*. It is exactly that lack of a definition of what the Fool is that leaves the nature of his/her/its friendship with Fitz open to the reader’s interpretation. Fitz and the Fool, Catalyst and Beloved… it’s a complicated relationship, to say the least. Fitz has a brilliant mind, but he can be thick as a plank at times. Yet you can’t entirely blame him for wanting to define what the Fool is and what their frienship is, or could be.
You are confusing plumbing and love again.
— The Fool, in Assassin’s Quest
Had the Fool’s gender ever been fully revealed by Robin Hobb, I doubt my memory of it would be as positive, or my joy at re-reading the series as great (I do hope this won’t be revealed when the next book comes out later this year). If you’ve read all three trilogies, I’m sure you’re aware that the Fool’s appearance and persona as he presents it in the Six Duchies (i.e. the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies), changes significantly, though not completely, when she (I don’t think there’s a way of doing this without mixing pronouns) becomes Amber, the mysterious carver of beads (I’ll never forget that “OMG!” moment when it finally clicked after so many hints). The Fool is a masterful actor and can slip into any role without much effort. The only thing the reader knows for sure is that the passion with which the Fool fights for what he believes is the destiny that is best for the world, is unfeigned and constant.
As a White, he is not the same as a human, although he appears much like a somewhat feminine man, or a somewhat masculine woman. Unlike Fitz, the Fool considers “plumbing” to be unimportant, often teasing Fitz about his fixation with it and about wanting to know the Fool’s gender. Only towards the end of Ship of Destiny do we get to see an expression of Amber’s love (however that is defined) for Fitz, when she carves Fitz’s features onto the Paragon, including the earring that is laden with such meaning throughout the series. My interpretation is that she is choosing between carrying out what she believes is her duty as a White Prophet, to guide the “wheel” of the world into a better rut, and giving in to her love for Fitz. She is very young for her kind, but always chooses the former, yet a part of her is always considering the “what ifs” of the latter.
Love isn’t just about feeling sure of the other person, knowing what he would give up for you. It’s knowing with certainty what you are willing to surrender for his sake. Make no mistake; each partner gives up something. Individual dreams are surrendered for a shared one.
— Amber, in Assassin’s Quest
Later, as the Tawny Man and Lord Golden, he is more mature, but being reunited with his Catalyst also brings back the dilemma. Fitz is also more mature and seems more willing to accept the friendship without fully understanding it.
Beloved, I have missed your company.
— Fitz, in The Golden Fool
The friendship even endures after Fitz carries the naked, unconscious Fool to safety in Fool’s Fate. Does he find out the Fool’s gender (or lack thereof)? You would have to assume so. Yet he has the class not go blabbering about it to the reader, nor even to reveal it tactfully. I sincerely hope Robin Hobb’s upcoming trilogy, The Fitz and the Fool, will continue not to spoil my ignorance in this matter*. Sometimes, not knowing can be more delicious than knowing.
I have waited patiently for many a sequel to finally be published. I have cursed George R. R. Martin for making excuse after excuse and delaying publication of a book that was supposedly “almost finished” for years. (At least now he has the TV series to prod him along to finish the books in time.) I have lamented Robert Jordan’s passing and fretted to find out whether his epic series would ever be completed. Never have I anticipated any book anywhere near as much as the next in the story of the Fitz and the Fool, The Fool’s Assassin.
* Update: See my post “Thank you, Robin Hobb!” for the great answer the author gave me when I told her I was hoping she wouldn’t reveal the Fool’s gender in the upcoming books…