Monday, February 6, 2017

SPOILERS: The Faceless Man.

SPOILERS: The Faceless Man.

So, I've just finished reading THE HANGING TREE, the latest (sixth) book in Ben Aaronovitch's THE RIVERS OF LONDON series. And one scene in it blew me away.

The high point of this book comes when Peter Grant, the hero, suddenly realizes that the person he's chatting with about classic cars is The Faceless Man, the sociopath villain of the series, whose path has crossed with the heroes' repeatedly without their being able to capture or even identify him.

Much mayhew ensues, during which the hero is barely able to make his escape.

After the villain has absconded (in the best series villain manner), now that his cover is blown they search his house.

Turns out he's not only a psychopathic killer, he's a Tolkien fan.

On his shelves they find such works as

. . . the Old Straight Track by Alfred Watkins and
The Real Middle Earth: Magic and Mystery
in the Dark Ages which confirmed that [The
Faceless Man] was an enormous Tolkien nerd.
As if the five or six different editions of The
Lord of the Rings and the signed first edition
of The Hobbit wasn't enough proof. He
hadn't neglected the other Inklings, though
-- C. S. Lewis had a shelf. And he didn't
have any objections to YA either, judging
by the collection of Susan Cooper's The
Dark Is Rising sequence, again first editions,
but these ones far too well read to be worth
much, beside similarly worn copies of The
Owl Service and the rest of Alan Garner's books

It wasn't exactly screaming 'power mad
psychopath', although it was possible that
he was modern enough to keep all his
vices on a USB stick.*


The thing I haven't been able to decide is how much of this is window dressing (Aaronovitch is great at filling his stories with references which firmly ground them in the present day) and how much of it is significant to the character. It's as if Dr. Petrie discovered that Fu Manchu was an admirer of the Sherlock Holmes stories and had in his lair a full set of the original issues of THE STRAND in which they first appeared. The author's saying something here, but what?

The only hints I've picked up on so far to help us decide what to make of all this are that The Faceless Man elsewhere named the Dark Ages as his favorite period of English history, and seems to favor an image of Merrie Olde England, unlike the modern multi-cultural multi-ethnic London Peter Grant inhabits. Doubtless we'll find out more about the Faceless Man's plans and motivations in later books.

So, it may be significant that all the authors mentioned in the preceding passage are English**

One other clue might be the single book about Tolkien specifically identified by name: THE REAL MIDDLE EARTH: MAGIC AND MYSTERY IN THE DARK AGES by Brian Bates (hc 2002, tp 2004). At first I was puzzled as to why, out of all the many, many books about Tolkien, Aaronovitch chose out Bates' for special mention. I'm inclined to think that we're to conclude it's the real world/Dark Age Britain element that drew The Faceless Man's attention. But I'm certainly open to suggestion as to why this book rather than one of the more well-known books on Tolkien's work.

In the meantime, I'll be processing the idea of someone using 'Tolkien fan' as a characterization point for an arch-villain in what's clearly not a Tolkien-bashing sort of way. A down side of his cultural ubiquity, I'd say. We'll see if subsequent revelations circle back to this detail at some point.

--John R.
current (re) reading: MIDNIGHT RIOT (Rivers of London, Book One)




*elsewhere they examine his daughter's books:
"an interesting collection of books. Lots of YA
in the American "drown the sister" school of
social realism, plus various Malorie Blackmans,
Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the
Castle and Land of Laughs by Jonathan Howard.
--I hadn't heard of Blackmans before (but then I am somewhat outside her target audience), but it's noticeable that all these authors are Americans.

**(though Lewis self-identified as Irish, he usually 'passes' as English in the eyes of his readers and those who write about his work)


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