Episode 30: The Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix (with Amanda McLoughlin)

Emma is joined by podcasting extraordinaire Amanda McLoughlin (Multitude Productions, Spirits, Join the Party) to discuss one of the most underrated fantasy trilogies ever, The Old Kingdom by Garth Nix. They discuss the three books (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) and their different experiences reading them: Amanda as a child, and Emma listening to Tim Curry narrate them while on her recent honeymoon. Both agree that they are tremendous novels- listen to find out why, and to find out about one of the world's oldest grapes. Plus: the Black Book of Bibliomancy, pronunciation of fantasy names, necromancers, Egyptian Afterlife, music & magic, badass librarians and messenger bags, Neil Gaiman, Descartes, #marriagegoals, and "Glacier: a Fragrance by Tim Curry."

Amanda is the co-host of Spirits and founder of Multitude Productions. Check out Multitude's website for podcasting resources, and to hire her as a podcasting consultant! Follow her on Twitter @shessomickey

To read the interview between Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Sommelier Jordan Salcito about "Natural Wines", click here.

Content warning: discussion of suicide and depression. If you are struggling, please seek help and call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit their website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Episode Transcript


Emma: Hello and welcome to Pairing, a podcast where we pair wine with Art and Pop Culture. I am your host, Emma Sherr-Ziarko, and I am so excited about so many things for this episode! First off, it's our thirtieth episode! Holy smokes! Next episode is our one year anniversary! Can you believe it? The second thing I'm excited about is that this week's episode is with podcaster extraordinaire Amanda McLoughlin. We are discussing the Old Kingdom Trilogy, -AKA Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, by Garth Nix, which, I believe, is one of the most underrated fantasy series ever. There are very few spoilers in this one, so I recommend listening even if- nay especially if- you haven't read the series yet. Amanda grew up with these books and I just read them recently, so it's a very fun discussion.

Amanda is such a talented and kind member of the podcasting community. You may know her from such podcasts as Spirits, Join the Party, and Waystation, or maybe from the podcasting collective she founded: Multitude! Multitude is such an amazing resource to podcasters everywhere, so if you have a podcast or you're thinking about starting a podcast check out multitude.productions, there's a link in the show notes. They have so many amazing resources on their website and you can even hire them for consultations.

This actually leads me to the third exciting thing, which is that we are working on getting transcripts for all of our episodes. Finally! Thanks to the resources on Multitude's website, I finally figured out how to get transcripts up and running for Pairing. So we now have a full transcript of Episode One. From here on out we'll be working backwards, so the transcript for this episode will be posted very soon, if not today, then in the next couple days- forgive me, as you listen to this, I'm traveling, probably on a plane working on that very transcript. We're very excited to hopefully make Pairing more accessible to a wider audience. So thank you to Amanda and Multitude for your expertise.

The fourth thing I'm excited about is that we just posted our first mini-episode on our Patreon! This one is free for the public so that everyone can check it out and see what it's all about. This month's topic was difficult food and wine pairings. So if you want to learn what wine to pair with sweet and spicy foods, give it a listen! These mini episodes will range from deeper wine education, to episodes  about topics we couldn't get to on the show itself, to history rants from Winston. From here on out they will be available just for our $15 and up patrons. And, for $15 a month, not only will you get more Pairing you'll be thanked as a Producer in each episode, alongside our Advanced Producer Mara Zobrist. And hey, speaking of Patreon, we want to thank our newest patron, Allison Tuuri. Alison, Mara, and all of our patrons are braver than Sabriel and smarter than Lirael. So if you would like to join them or just check out this free mini-episode, visit us at patreon.com/pairingpodcast.

I also just wanted to say thank you to all of you who have been reaching out via email and social media these past few weeks. We love hearing from you, we love that you're sharing pairing with your friends,- heh, sharing pairing- and we love seeing some new reviews on Apple Podcasts. We are so, so grateful for all the love we've been getting these past few weeks and we're sending it right back atcha.

One small warning before we dive in: we do briefly discuss suicide and depression in this episode. If you are struggling, I encourage you to seek help and call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  

Without further ado, (opening chord) here is Episode 30: The Old Kingdom Trilogy, with Amanda McLoughlin.

(opening music)

Emma: I am absolutely thrilled to have here with me the amazing podcast goddess person, (Amanda laughs) Amanda McLoughlin-

Amanda: Hello, that's me!

Emma: (simultaneous) -of Spirits, Join the Party and many other wonderful projects. Hi Amanda!

Amanda:  Hi! I am very happy to be here. I think I've been talking to you since before you started this show about how much I want to talk about Sabriel and the rest of the Old Kingdom Trilogy. Series.

Emma: Yeah, I think when we recorded the Tolkien episode for Spirits, we were talking about it already and it just took me a... an embarrassingly long time to finish the books, but I just finished them all on my honeymoon. And so I have a very fond feeling in my heart for them.

Amanda: Yes!

Emma: And wanted to- and wanted to strike while the iron is hot. So to speak

Amanda: Uh, can we talk for a second about how great it is to read on vacation.

Emma: Yes. Oh my God. It's so great. And I actually, I listened to all of them on... on Audible.

Amanda: Oh, nice.

Emma: Yeah, and Tim Curry narrates (Intake of breath from Amanda) the- the Trilogy.

Amanda: (simultaneous) I knew this but have to listen.

Emma: It's so good. I mean, you can, you can imagine that he just is the most amazing -one of the most amazing performers in general- but, also, like specifically for these books, I feel like he was perfect. The right amount of like dark and

Amanda: Gravitas.

Emma: Yeah, exactly. Like he brought gravitas, he brought humor, he brought like weirdness, and it was really, really good.

Amanda: That's amazing. I really love reading on vacation not just as like a chance to sit down and do one thing and read uninterrupted which I rarely get in my daily life.

Emma: (crosstalk) Yes. Yes. (laughs)

Amanda: But also, I form really strong memories of where I read the thing.

Emma: Absolutely

Amanda: So like I read a bunch of Tana French, like, Irish detective mystery novels

Emma: Uh-huh.

Amanda: on vacation in Peru

Emma: Ooooooh!

Amanda: and like every time I see the name of one of those books or their cover, I remember, like, the, you know, restaurant I was sitting in, or the hostel or whatever.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: So anyway, I really love doing this. I'm glad that you brought such great books on your honeymoon and I hope that they, they measured up.

Emma: Me too. They really, really did. And so the reason why it took me so long to, to finally finish them is that I read/listened to Sabriel (pronounced SAY-briel) or Sabriel (pronounced SAH-briel) . -he- Tim Curry says SAH-briel.

Amanda: Yes, I also looked that up on Garth Nix- the author's website

Emma: Uh-huh.

Amanda: He's Australian.

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, which-

Amanda: And so he says SAH-briel, LEE-riel, CLAH-riel,

Emma: Right. And I- that was so surprising to me because I was like, looking into, like, doing a little bit of research for this, and I was like wait, he's Australian? But this, this world feels so grounded in, like, England.

Amanda: I don't know his, like, growing up story.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: I know that he served in the Australian Army

Emma: Okay.

Amanda: and I think lives in Australia now?

Emma: Okay. He could be... have lived in England or be of English descent in some-

Amanda: Right.

Emma: -manner or capacity.

Amanda: But it's very Arthurian for sure

Emma: (simultaneous) It is! It is for sure. So, yeah, so maybe we should talk about the, the kind of premise of of the books? Because, I mean, I think a bunch of people are familiar with the books, but maybe not quite as many as some of the other things I've touched upon like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. etc.

Amanda: Well, it's my personal mission in life to make sure that everybody who's aware of fantasy books has read Sabriel.

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: So, that's

Emma: (simultaneous) Spread the word, Amanda! (laughs)

Amanda: Yeah, yeah. I, I mean I basically mention it every five  episodes on Spirits.

Emma: Yep.

Amanda: And to this day, we'll get tweets from people every so often being like, "Oh my God! I never knew anyone else knew about those books." (Emma laughs) So it's very exciting.

Emma: Amazing.

Amanda: Do you want to take a stab at it or should I?

Emma: Why don't you, you get started, and then I am gonna jump in maybe with some of my own thoughts and some, some wine pairing things that I've thought of.

Amanda: Heck yeah. So Sabriel is a Necromancer, meaning that she can communicate with, and bind, and kind of reckon with the spirits of the Dead, both here in life, and in the realm of death, which takes the form of a river that kind of passes through eight different Gates and has nine different parts.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: But she's a special kind of necromancer called an "Abhorsen." Her dad is, when we open up the first book.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And that is the person and the sacred bloodline, basically, charged with protecting this realm, the Old Kingdom, which is the name of the series, from the dead because the unruly dead always want to crawl back to life and they're always trying to get back. They can possess people's bodies. There are these like powerful entities, the Greater Dead, that can take their own forms in life and wreak havoc. So the, the Abhorsen- so, Sabriel's dad and later Sabriel-

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: uses a set of seven bells to bind and to control the dead.

Emma: Oh, yeah, and I wanted- oh, I meant to make a list of- do you think you can think of the bells off the top of your head? I'm trying to- I don't think I can think of all of them off the top of my head. I know that

Amanda: I brought up Wikipedia in case I forgot but

Emma: (simultaneous) Amazing.

Amanda: yes, I have all seven. (laughs)

Emma: Okay amazing! Great. I remember the first one is Ranna and that's- and that's the Sleepy Bell.

Amanda: The Sleepy Bell! Yes.

Emma: Yes. (laughs) As I like to call it.

Amanda: So yeah. The, the bells have different sizes, they go from very very small, the size of a matchbox to, so almost the size of your hand. And Sabriel wears them across her chest in, like, a bandolier

Emma: (simultaneous)yeah.

Amanda: that looks almost like I would picture- I don't know like anything you wear across your chest like a messenger bag, but instead

Emma: Yeah!

Amanda: on the front, the bells hang

Emma: It's like a way more badass messenger bag.

Amanda: It really is and if the bell sounds it has an effect on the world.

Emma: Hmmm.

Amanda: They are like magical and, you know, items themselves and they have real power. So, the Abhorsen wields them in a particular way. Like they can use different figurations, like configurations of swinging them and ringing them, different patterns... Sometimes ring them together to do like an especially dangerous but effective move, but the bells want to sound on their own

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: like the bells are like driven to act, and that was one of the moments I remember really grabbing me when I first read Sabriel. And I thought like, oh, wow, this is not like a magician with a wand and the wand is inert unless it's used

Emma: (simultaneous) yeah.

Amanda: You know, by the wielder. These are, I don't know, in communication with the magic in the world around them, and they have their own wills. So yes, there is Ranna the Sleeper, there's Mosrael the Waker- so that,

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: that brings whoever is ringing the bell further into death, but it brings the person that listens to it, or the spirit, into life.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: So there's Kibeth the Walker, which can make the dead move

Emma: Mm-hmm

Amanda: or force them to, like, walk according to what you want them to do. So the Abhorsen can be like, "Hey go" and then use Kibeth to send the Dead Further into death.

Emma: Right

Amanda: Dyrim (pronounces DEE-rim) or Dyrim (pronounced DIE-rim) the Speaker can either take away or give speech to the Dead.

Emma: Mmm-hmm.

Amanda:  Belgaer? (pronounced bell-JEER) Belgaer? (pronounced bell-GAY-ar) I don't know how to pronounce it. [crosstalk]

Emma: Tim Curry says Bele- Be-le-GUY-er?. I think he says?

Amanda: Bel-GUY-er? Yeah, that makes sense.

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, yeah, something like that.

Amanda: B-E-L-G-A-E-R.

Emma: Uh-huh

Amanda: This is bringing back so many embarrassing memories of me in like elementary, middle, high school, and college (Emma laughs) when I would find myself saying out loud for the first time words I had read as a child, or had only there, you know,  heretofore read and this is bringing it all back.

Emma: I have, I have a really embarrassing story, that's not exactly like that, but... In... I think it was like my sophomore year of high school, I was doing a project on Descartes.

Amanda: Oh, yeah.

Emma: And I took Spanish, and I spoke Spanish, and I never heard of this guy before, and, so I- as I gave my presentation on him, I called him des-CAR-tes.

Amanda: I mean, that's how it looks!

Emma: Right?!? Right?!?

Amanda: Yeah!

Emma: And, uh, and my- I remember my teacher was super nice about it, but, like, afterwards he was like, "And yes, day-CART..." And I was like, awwww.

Amanda: (simultaneous) Awwww.

Emma: Womp womp.

Amanda: Yeah, I was in high school debate club, like speech and debate, and we would have to quote like moral philosophers and people-

Emma: Amazing.

Amanda: -and so I learned just from the people around me how to pronounce like, you know, Sartre, and Nietzsche

Emma: (simultaneous)Uh-huh, yes.

Amanda: You know, and I'm sure I'm saying them all wrong right now,

Emma: (simultaneous)Right. Ri-ri-right.

Amanda: But yeah, I was always very sure to have someone else to say the name before I said it or else I'd be very embarrassed.

Emma: Yes. Yes, no I always have difficulty with both French and German pronunciation. And, I'm just like I'm just gonna say something and hope it's right. You know.

Amanda: Yeah  with French just pronounce the first half, you're probably good.

Emma: (laughing) Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly! (Amanda laughs) Just, just leave out the last half. (laughs)

Amanda: I've actually been watching a lot of anime recently,

Emma: Uh-huh.

Amanda: and sometimes I'll do it dubbed if I'm like, cleaning, or cooking and listening at the same time.

Emma: (simultaneous) Sure, sure.

Amanda: Which I know is like, you know, I don't know, passe.

Emma: You gotta do what you gotta do.

Amanda: I appreciate that in a language that is, like, transliterated into English the way it sounds.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Most of the time, you know, the the transliterations match up really well with how the characters are speaking

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: in Japanese, so I'm always like,  oh thank god there's no, like, French, we skip over the last four letters because

Emma: Right. R-r-r-right. Yeah. (laughs)

Amanda: So yeah, these final three Bells, so Belgaer the Thinker-

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: -restores or removes memory.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: So this is important because as, as, as soon as you die, it's sort of like, you know, atrophy, and you start losing aspects of yourself: your memories, your personality. So, if the, um, you know, Abhorsen in question is going to step into death and try to speak to someone that recently died, for example, like Sabriel does in one of the first scenes in the book

Emma: Uh-huh.

Amanda: you might need to use this Bell to help the Spirit of the Dead remember how they were killed, or what they were doing when they died.

Emma: So cool.

Amanda: And then the final two are sort of the ones with the most air time, apart from Ranna, I think,

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: which, you know ,sends, sends the one that hears it into sleep.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: But Saraneth the Binder.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: So this controls the dead directly and, like, binds the dead to your will. So using Saraneth with Kibeth, for example, would bind the dead to your will and then make them walk further into death.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And then Astarael? (as-tah-RAIL) A-STAIR-riel?

Emma: Uh, a-STAR-a-hel, I think he says? Or a-STA-rye-EL?

Amanda: A-STA-rye-EL sounds right.

Emma: It's funny, because this is, this I- we're coming from the opposite experience of, like, I only listened to it and so (Amanda laughs) I have no idea what- how they're spelled. And so, and you having read it. I mean, they're, they're made up words and so

Amanda: Right.

Emma: And so obviously it can be, it can be whatever, but I think, I think he said a-STAR-a-hel, or a-STA-rye-EL

Amanda:  It looks like"Rafael" so "a-STA-rye-EL" sounds right.

Emma: (simultaneous) Rafael? Okay, so Astarael, Astarael.

Amanda: These have like, lived in my head for like 18 years, or something, so it's so funny

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Amanda:  So Astarael is the most dangerous Bell. It's the Weeper, the Sorrowful, so it doesn't just send those that hear it far into to death, but also the ringer.

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: So you only ever use it when you're in a serious circumstance. And we do get to see it used in these books where the the ringer knows that they're going to have to sacrifice themselves, potentially, because once you go that far into death, it is very hard to get back.

Emma:  Very hard to get back. Awesome. So thank you, thank you for going through all of those. That was a good refresher for me as well. This is one of the things that I was thinking of, and... I love the rules of magic in this-

Amanda: Oh, yeah.

Emma: -series, and its really interesting... And we can talk a little, maybe later, about, like, the difference between Charter Magic and Free Magic, which I find fascinating. But part of what I love about the whole concept of the Bells is- I love anything that involves music in...

Amanda: Oh, yeah.

Emma: -in magic, and I kind of think that music is maybe the closest thing to magic that we have in this world in- in many ways, it's quite magical to me. And so, like, to think about, like, the different Bells coming together and, like, the different tones and everything and, like, dissonant chords, and etc, etc.  Like, that, I just I just love that.

Amanda: Yeah, and I know that the word "frequency" is a little bit-

Emma: (simultaneous)Yes.

Amanda: -like hippy dippy, like, "oh, like you're vibrating on different frequencies, man."

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, no totally. (laughs)

Amanda: But in this case, like, you know, a sound can affect the world physically-

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: -in a way that is not evident, you know, like, like to, to the seeing eye, or whatever.

Emma: (simultaneous) Right, right. Yeah.

Amanda: So this, I like, I just really love physical systems of magic or magic that feels really grounded in, like you said, rules and systems.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: So for this  one, like, Nix has said in interviews, -the, the author-

Emma: (simultaneous) Mm-hmm.

Amanda: That he really wanted to think of a different way of, like, governing magic. And so thinking about instruments that magic wielders could use, bells came to mind, because he read somewhere that Bells had names, like in churches, they would name the bell.

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: And he was  like, oh wait, no that's interesting. And that was kind of his jumping off point.

Emma: Yeah. That's super cool. And, and that leads me to, to one thing that I wanted to talk about, which is there... It does seem like Nix pulls from so many different, like, traditions and mythologies. And so, I'd heard of the series before but what really inspired me to start reading it was listening to the Apirits episode about the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the concept of Egyptian Afterlife.

Amanda: Yeah.

Emma: And, kind of, that similarity of going through... I forget is, if it's nine different stages in the Egyptian afterlife or not. I'm fuzzy on the details there. But, but this idea of like you have different, like, gates to go through in Death. And I thought that was super super interesting and actually inspired the wine that I am drinking tonight.

Amanda: Tell me all about it.

Emma: Yeah, so I thought, I think you'll find this, this kind of cool. So this is a dry Moscatel. So Moscatel is the grape from Malaga in Spain, so kind of that southern tip of Spain. And, it's very unusual to find a dry Moscatel because they're normally either made into sweet wine or Sherry. So they're,

Amanda: Mm-hmm.

Emma: they're used in Sherry production. And so, they make Sherry in Jerez just to the Northeast, and, and that's where you find most Moscatel. But Moscatel happens to be one of the- I'm act- I'm going to quote my boss, Brett Zimmerman, Master Sommelier who did this write-up about this wine, and he said that: "this is one of the world's only remaining ancient- meaning genetically uncrossed- grapes used for commercial production",

Amanda: Ooh!

Emma: which is super cool. And it's so old that we think that it actually originated from Alexandria in Egypt. And I was like-

Amanda: Hot damn!

Emma: -that is so freaking cool. I have never heard of Egyptian wine before, like, I'm, of course, obviously, they must have made wine, or, I'm sure they still make wine there. I just don't know anything about it. And I was like, this is super cool. And so, I'd been planning to, to drink this wine or another Moscatel for this episode because I was like, I want, I want to make this connection. So

Amanda:  That is amazing. I was really proud of myself because I just happened to have wine at home titled "Wall of Sound."

Emma: Oh my God!, (simultaneous)That is perfect!

Amanda: (simultaneous) That's the name of the wine, and I was like, damn, not only is there a wall in this series that's very significant-

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah!

Amanda: there's also a lot of sounds!

Emma: Yes!

Amanda: But that, that sounds amazing. I love that kind of idea of like tracing the, the providence back so far,

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah. Yes.

Amanda: but also the fact that it's originated somewhere else, and yet, you know, everything about grapes, as I've learned from Pairing,

Emma: Right.

Amanda: has to do with exactly where it is and when it is.

Emma: Exactly.

Amanda: And that's also very true of the magic and the kind of, like, world-building-

Emma: (simultaneous) Mm-hmm.

Amanda: -in these novels, because we are, like, we inherited a system. Like, Sabriel, and her generation, and the readers coming in at this moment in time. There is, like, an ancient history of the politics and magic and Death and the governance thereof in this Kingdom. There's like 2,000 years of history

Emma: Yeah!

Amanda: that throughout the series we get to see different pockets of which is so cool.

Emma: It is really cool. And that is one of the things that I, that I love about the book is, like, as, as you get into, like, the latter half of Lirael and Abhorsen, the third book, you learn so much more about the history of the world that... I loved because, because for the first- for Sabriel I was like, oh, this is really cool, I really like the the mythology, and the world-building behind this, but I don't really understand, like, how this came to be?

Amanda: Right.

Emma: And I love that, that he addressed it. And

Amanda: Yeah, and there have been novels since published. So these are the three that I think of-

Emma: Right.

Amanda:  -I call it just the, the trilogy, just reflexively, because growing up, that's when I read them, as when they were just coming out. But there have since been two more books published: one is called Clariel- or I guess Cl-CLAH-riel?

Emma: Cl- CLAH-rye-el? Or something, I [crosstalk]

Amanda: I don't know.

Emma: Who knows!

Amanda: There we go.

Emma: We'll get Tim Curry to, to tell us.

Amanda: But that, that takes place five or six hundred years before Sabriel.

Emma: Ri- Oh! Cool!

Amanda: And I was like, oh my God, you're gonna throw a prequel at me? Like, no thank you. I just,

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: I felt kind of weird about it but reading it, it is, again, like putting us right there in this moment that informs where Sabriel starts.

Emma: Oh, that's so cool.

Amanda: So Sabriel is kind of living in like a... unstable Kingdom. So she is being schooled in the, sort of, like, normal part of the world where their magic really is hard to use. It's not within this kind of Old Kingdom.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: But she has to go back to kind of help govern things and to step in in a crisis. Her dad is missing, the Dead are around,

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: there are no more Charter Stones, which we'll get to in a moment, I'm sure.

Emma: Right. Yes.

Amanda: But, in Clariel, the Charter is in full bloom.

Emma: (simultaneous)Huuuuuuuuh. Huh.

Amanda: `There are Charter Stones everywhere, magic is strong, the tr- it's like, in the kind of apex of this tradition of like governance of magic and building systems and infrastructure and aqueducts to protect people against the more unruly forms of magic, but people are complacent.

Emma: Huh.

Amanda: And they are starting not to really care about the safeguards put in place for them.

Emma: Huh.

Amanda: So it is super easy to, kind of, trace that line between then and now.

Emma: Oooh. Okay, I'm really excited because I haven't read Clari- CLAIR-iel or CLAH-riel. (laughter) I haven't read it yet, but I'm super excited. Maybe I'll start it after we're done here.

Amanda: Oooh. You should. I am, I'm halfway.

Emma: I don't know- I wonder if it's on Audible.

Amanda: Probably.

Emma: Probably.

Amanda: Um, but, yeah, so the, the Charter I think would probably be useful to explain here.

Emma: (simultaneous) Yes! Yes.

Amanda: -so the, the Charter is like a... Never-ending matrix. So you can kind of commune with it. It's like the source of magic it's , it's, you know, golden, it's pure, it is lawful, and you can kind of reach into it to pull out whatever you need, like plugging into an electrical socket. If you know the, the forms, if you've been baptized in the Charter, and have that kind of, like, fundamental connection to it. Then there is this idea of Free Magic-

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Magic that is outside of the Charter, that's unbound.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And they say in Clariel, actually in a section I just read, that Free Magic isn't inherently evil. It's just unfocused and unbound.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And so you can tell that this is a society that was like, this force is out there and we are going to regulate it, so carefully, like freaking Bitcoin or something, you know, or, or like, a  mining, like mining a natural resource in a town or a, a principality where they can control the entire means of production, because it is powerful stuff and they have figured out, you know, established channels through which you can access it.

Emma: Right. And this was something that was really interesting and confusing to me at the same time while reading the books is, like, the whole concept that, you know, when you hear "Free Magic," like that ,that sounds like a good thing. Right? It's free, it's like freedom is something that we associate

Amanda: Right.

Emma: as a good thing, and Charter magic is a little bit, like... That's a very specific thing, and like, makes me think of, like, Oh, writing up a charter, you know, and so for a while I was like, Huh, that's interesting that like, Free Magic is- at the time, I was like- bad. But you're right. It's not inherently evil, it's just untamed. And I think that my favorite example, obviously, of a Free Magic being is Mogget,

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Emma: the Free Magic creature that has been bound in the form of a little White Cat, and his destiny is to serve the Abhorsen, and has been doing so for... A long time. A long time.

Amanda: Yeah. We're not sure how long but it's very long.

Emma: It's a very long time.

Amanda: Yeah.

Emma: And... I am not gonna say much more about him because there- the tension between- or the tension throughout the books, is like, is he going to be good? 'Cause at any point if he gets-

Amanda: Is he good or bad? Yeah.

Emma: Yeah. Is he good or bad? Because if he becomes unbound- like, we do see him in his kind of, like, Free Magic form a couple times, and it's very scary. But then he's back into his little white cat form, and it's like, oh, he's so cute! Also being a cat person and a cat owner, there were so many points, like, listening to the book, and... And Tim Curry does an especially good job voicing Mogget. I think he definitely has the most fun with Mogget.

Amanda: I'm gonna have to find clips of this. It's so good.

Emma: It's really fun. And there were just moments where I was like, oh my god, that is such a perfect, like, Cat thing to say, (Amanda laughs) or, like, a Cat thing to do, and it's like, I just love the idea of, like, this Free Magic, not good not evil creature, just kind of like untamed, but bound. Like, that very much is a metaphor for me for, like, domesticating cats.

Amanda: Yeah. That's ah- that's so funny. (laughs) Little lions.

Emma: Yeah, exactly. They are. They're- they're essentially, you know, free magic creatures who could be good or evil.

Amanda: But I'm, I'm getting super excited sitting here because, um, A, we're talking about this and I love it.

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Amanda: But B, I mean so Sabriel, when we meet her, is just finishing her, like, last year of, of like, finishing school. So, you know,

Emma: (simultaneous) Mm-hmm.

Amanda: High School age, roughly, and-

Emma: Right, and in- it's in Ancelstierre, right?

Amanda: Yes, in the non-Old Kingdom- the New Kingdom, if you will- where, like, we are muggles, we do not  have magic, there's electricity.

Emma: Exactly, exactly. It very much feels like, I don't know like Nineteen...

Amanda: Like steampunk twenties, maybe?

Emma: Y-yeah, something like that.

Amanda: Yeah, but she and so that like, I guess era, or aura, rather, of... schoolishness?-

Emma: (simultaneous) Mmmm. Mm-hmm.

Amanda: really pervades. The second book Lirael seems like it's not very related, at first, but it's my favorite, I think.

Emma: I think it's mine too.

Amanda: It's set in a library with a librarian, but like, the most badass form of librarian who is basically like a guard against, you know, the evils and creatures that lurk in the archive. But that is all about somebody testing the boundaries that have been articulated to her, but don't really make sense. And, and the whole role of the Abhorsen is, like, this person is our last line of defense.

Emma: (simultaneous)Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Like, they have just enough of necromancy, they have just enough of Free Magic, they have just enough control over things that the Charter would otherwise take care of for everybody else.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And they you know, they have to have somebody that's like, you know just close enough to the edge to defend them. But throughout all of these books there is a tension between, you know, who decided these rules. Are they right? And you know, what do I do if they're not enough? So, you're absolutely right. You know, what you said earlier that the, the Charter like, why does it have to be so set in stone, literally, like

Emma: (simultaneous) Literally, yeah. (laughs)

Amanda: why is Free Magic bad? And the fact is, it's dangerous, and like freedom is dangerous.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: So it's especially, you know, it's going to be different reading this in 2018 than it was in 2000 when I originally came across them,

Emma: (simultaneous)For sure, for sure.

Amanda: But that's a really fascinating kind of lens to have if anyone's going to go check out the books, which I hope you do after listening.

Emma: I definitely hope you do. That just reminds me of the reason why it took me so long to finish the books is that I read Sabriel and then when I realized that Lirael was like not from Sabriel's perspective, I was like, oh, but I'm gonna miss Sabriel!

Amanda: I fou- I thought that at the end of every single book, where I was like, oh, I'm gonna miss this character though! And, it's true. And we do see people again,

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: but you're right that it's not Sabriel and you're like, ah damn it, come on, wait, I want to know what happens!

Emma: Totally, and, and so we see Sabriel and in the other books, but like, as an adult and... And I agree that Lirael definitely is my favorite of the three. The way that Nix crafts that storyline I think is really brilliant, and, like, jumping through time a little bit, and having it from, from a couple different perspectives, and... My favorite part is when- this is like, small spoilers, but not really spoilers, I think- because you get the book from Lirael and Sammoth's  perspectives.

Amanda: Yeah.

Emma: And for a while they're separate and then they come together and what I really like is when they come together, you still get both of their perspectives.

Amanda: Exactly.

Emma: And I I love that, because it would be easy to kind of like- and both of their perspectives at once, you know, it's not like one chapter from Lirael's perspective and one chapter from Sammoth's perspective, it's, it's both of them kind of simultaneously

Amanda: And they come from very different worlds. So, kind of seeing the other through their own eyes is really useful and funny because, like, we've been so kind of immersed in each of their perspectives that when they come together, you're like, oh my god, wait, these people, you know, they do have confusion over, you know, basic words and concepts because, because they come from such different backgrounds.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: So, it's it's really cool. And like I said, you know jumping throughout time like these books cover fully I think 1500 years of time

Emma: Wow. (simultaneous) Yeah.

Amanda: in this, in this Kingdom. Lots of different characters every book has, you know, a different or multiple storytellers, and it is all so good.

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah!

Amanda: And and so necessary, which I really appreciate like... It truly is the story of a world and the different people inhabiting it at different periods of time, which I don't think, I wouldn't, like, identify that as something I particularly like, I'm very story driven. I liked, you know, following Harry through seven years of schooling

Emma: Right.

Amanda: But this just feels like the world is so different and if it wasn't so different if it wasn't so unique, if it wasn't so worth learning about, I could see how it would work, potentially.

Emma: (simultaneous) Right.

Amanda: But all of Nix's books, and I've read three of his series, so not all, but quite a number.

Emma: Uh-huh.

Amanda: They're all so distinct, and like, in technicolor in my brain because they just feel so real.

Emma: They, they really do and I think that's what- you put it very eloquently in that like this is a story of building a world and we happen to follow certain characters through it, while, you know, like, something like Harry Potter is more about telling the story of this, essentially, one character and the, and the people around him, and the world kind of fits itself around his story. And I think there is a distinction in, in that approach and, and I'm not saying one is better than the other but I, I think that Garth Nix's approach... I've seen that in- from other authors and it's much less compelling.

Amanda: Mmm...

Emma: These books are utterly compelling, and just really draw you in and... That was just my, my, my two cents.

Amanda: Yeah. Like, I picture Harry Potter as like, you know, you're a character like chopping your way through the jungle, you know, like the world unfolds itself as Harry navigates it and,

Emma: (simultaneous) Yes.

Amanda: Yes, there are other perspectives and different chapters as we get the, you know, further into series

Emma: Sure, sure.

Amanda: But for the most part we learn things when Harry does, or when Harry is about to. But this really is- I'm like forming a thesis as we're talking here, but it really does feel like, you know, the Old Kingdom series is about people navigating systems, and like, people figuring out the business of, like, making and governing a world. We see Kings, you know, we talk to people that, that make these rules... We are like starting out this journey in the, you know, perspective of the person charged with protecting the world from the Dead.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And it is so big, like, all of the, all of the problems really could be world-ending and it's not exhausting because the pacing is excellent. And you know it doesn't feel like there's no hope at any point

Emma: (simultaneous) No.

Amanda: except when it's supposed to and then you're like, oh no wait, there's hope! And it's very, it's very good!

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, yeah, yeah! (laughs) Yeah.

Amanda: But yeah, it's just like, especially now, I don't know, I just, sometimes I, you know, I think like, is this, is this futile? You know, like is this whole experiment of like self-governance, right, or of coexisting with eight billion people on the planet, or of, you know, trying our best to live an ethical life, like, are any of these things, are they even possible? They're so hard! Like, why are they so hard? But, but seeing people here, you know, face a problem that could so easily end everything and say, all right, well, how am I going to rebuild or revise the systems behind me to make a new system in front of me?

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: I don't know. I love systems thinking and that-

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah, yeah!

Amanda: -to me is such a such a good thing to immerse myself in.

Emma: Absolutely. And so I just wanted to, to mention a couple things but one of the things is that... So we talked a little bit about Sabriel (SAH-briel) and- or SAY-briel, however, you say it- and her being the Abhorsen, or becoming the Abhorsen, and just how intense that is to be thrust into that

Amanda: Mm-hmm

Emma: like immediately as a child, but then there's also these people called the Clayr. And they are basically clairvoyant,

Amanda: Mm-hmm.

Emma: I guess, I guess you would say. They can, they can see through time, they can see the future, sort of, somewhat. And, and so that is where we find Lirael living. And you know, we encounter the Clayr in Sabriel- in the first book- but we really get a lot of them in the second book because Lirael is one of them, but she doesn't feel- she doesn't have the Sight, and so she feels left out, and that's why she starts working in the library, which I absolutely love the Library.

Amanda: Oh my goodness. It's so good. Yeah,

Emma: (simultaneous) It's so good.

Amanda: Lirael is I think 13 when we meet her?

Emma: I think so, yeah.

Amanda: 12 or 13? And everyone else around her... It's sort of like, you know, you wake up one day and you have suddenly developed this clairvoyant ability that everybody else has. And it's a bunch of predominantly women living in a, like, big city carved in the inside of a mountain, with like a giant kind of spiral staircase and then many little inner staircases that lead, you know, up and down to the various, like, gardens and cafeterias and libraries and all that stuff. And this was so... Like, I just fantasized about this when I was little, and I wrote lots of novels that were set in like a very, you know, very pale imitation of-

Emma: Right

Amanda: of the Clayr's Mountain. But Lirael is older than most people, and doesn't have the Sight, and feels so out of place. She looks different to everybody else. Her mom is not there. She's being raised by like an aunt that kind of hates her. And, you know-

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah. Or, at least she perceives her as hating her.

Amanda: Right, there's not a lot of warmth and Lirael doesn't feel a lot of belonging, you know, whether she's- she sort of has a mix of being, you know, ostracized a bit, but also ostracizing herself out of, out of fear of you know, recognizing the fact that she doesn't belong she kind of isolates. And so she finds some belonging working in the library, which, like I was saying earlier, like, there are large parties of armed Librarians, like, roaming around this Library.

Emma: Oh my god!

Amanda: She's issued a dagger when she gets her like waistcoat.

Emma: Yes!

Amanda: The head Librarian like has a sword in her office, like a real sword, unsheathed on her desk. So, the whole idea is like this society is again, like more than a thousand years old. There's all kinds of, it's like a museum / archive / like militia kind of all-in-one.

Emma: Yeah

Amanda: And only experts can navigate it. So Lirael immediately just like hungers for knowledge and starts knocking down the rules presented, you know to her.

Emma: Yep

Amanda: Which is so funny too, because librarians you think of as only enforcing rules in the sort of pop culture imagining of them.

Emma: (simultaneous) Right.

Amanda: But in this case, she's like no, I am a conqueror of knowledge. Also, I'm bored. Also, I'm better than what they think I am, and, like, here we go.

Emma: (simultaneous, laughing) Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Which I feel like I can relate to so hard, even though I, at least as a child and teenager and young adult, was very much a rule follower, but like the idea of living in this amazing library, like badass library, that is a life goal for sure.

Amanda: It is so cool. And I also identified with Lirael a lot. Like, Sabriel was amazing, but I didn't feel brave as a kid and Sabriel definitively is.

Emma: Oh, she's so brave.

Amanda: And yeah, and just seeing Lirael... I also felt out of place, you know, like I also felt kind of bored in school and would really revel in books, specifically, but also in libraries. Like walking into a library, I felt like okay, this is one place where I know where I'm going. I know how to navigate it, like, literally and, kind of, figuratively and there's always going to be more... I might find my brethren here. And so it was just perfect and-

Emma: Amazing.

Amanda: -of course I want to find that, like, The Black Book of Bibliomancy, which is something that is exists in this novel, and I wrote down because I just loved it so much.

Emma: That's amazing. Bibliomancy! I love it! And so- just one thing I wanted to mention about this this place where they live- it's called the Glacier, isn't it?

Amanda: Yes.

Emma: And, and so there's, there's at least parts of it that are very icy and cold. And so that made me think of something that I've mentioned before on the podcast but haven't really gotten into very much but, Ice Wine, or Eiswein-

Amanda: Ooh!

Emma: -in German- that's one German word that I can pronounce, which is pretty much what it sounds like, it's, it's a sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes, from grapes that, like, froze on the vine

Amanda: Ooh.

Emma: And so they can, they can make wine and kind of colder climates, as long as you're okay with it being much sweeter. And so my favorite is- they make Ice Wine in Canada- and one of my favorites is called Inniskillin. And so the- which is just a fun word to say-

Amanda: It really is.

Emma: Yeah, Inniskillin from Ontario. So that's just my little recommendation, if you'd like to try some Eiswein while reading about Lirael's time with the Clayr in the Glacier .

Amanda: That sounds incredible. I love it so much.

Emma: Yes. Also Tim Curry, he's, he, he doesn't  say GLAY-sherr, he says GLAY-see-ah.

(Amanda and Emma laugh)

Amanda: That sounds like a perfume.

Emma: Yeah, right? "Glacier. By Tim Curry."

Amanda: Amazing.

Emma: Yeah. (laughs) I love it. So yes, so that's, so that's another whole subset world that we see in Lirael, and I'm trying to think what else... And then there, I guess there's like the Kingdom itself we spend some time-

Amanda: Yeah. So-

Emma: -with, with the royalty.

Amanda: We do. And kind of the three, like, stakeholders here in the, again, like, kind of world ruling and and determining that goes on in the Old Kingdom are the Abhorsen, the Clayr, and then the Royals.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And also this class called the Wall Builders who we get to know a little more.

Emma: Right. Right. Right, right, right.

Amanda: But we do get to see in Lirael and in Abhorsen, the kind of three groups come together and figure out what they're doing, what their specialties are. It doesn't feel quite as as fated- fated with a T-

Emma: Right, yes (laughs)

Amanda: like, uh, like the end of Sorcerer's Stone where you're like, okay, well you needed the items do the thing.

Emma: (simultaneous)Right.

Amanda: Or like Chamber of Secrets: okay, you had a pass like one two, three. -I love Harry Potter, by the way. I don't mean to pick on it.

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah, oh!

Amanda: It's just like the thing that comes to mind though.

Emma: Oh, ee all love Harry Potter here.

Amanda: So there, there are ways in which the, like, different people have to be in the same place, different items have to be around, that is a little bit D&D-y.

Emma: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Where like, okay, here's a door. You must unlock it. Oh wait, I have a key. Thank goodness. But also, it's like, you, you discover why that has to be at the same moment that you see it happening.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And so as we kind of get to like... You know, there are things foretold in Prophecy that happen in these books, and like, prophetic pronouncements, and problems that get reckoned with. And there is a way for that to appear really... like trite?

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: Like, there are nursery rhymes that end up being kind of true, you know, but in this case, again, like, it feels so, like, grounded, and it has such gravitas... That we have like actual real, flawed but amazing people who navigate these kinds of problems and like, only one a generation, you know, will navigate a thing like this, and it happens to be the people we're following, but it just feels so earned to me.

Emma: Absolutely. Yeah, there's nothing in the books that feels unearned, or like, out of place, even though there's a lot of kind of anachronistic elements.

Amanda: Right.

Emma:  Like every, every time we,  come back to Ancelstierre and, and like, there are cars, I'm like, what?! This isn't the

Amanda:  What?!

Emma: That's not the- that's not in this world! But it doesn't feel, it doesn't feel out of place. It just feels... Like, some of my favorite scenes are- not to give things away- diplomacy between the royals that we see in the Old Kingdom- they kind of have to come and-

Amanda: Interact with, yeah.

Emma: -interact with the, kind of, State of Ancelstierre, and that I thought was really cool and it literally is different worlds coming together

Amanda: And another example of how physical this magic is, where, like, machine-made items degrade as you get closer to and cross into the Old Kingdom, so-

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah. That's right- paper will dissolve.

Amanda: Right. I mentioned that my wine  is called Wall of Sound because there is the Wall.

Emma: Yeah!

Amanda: It is a stone, and also a magic wall, that separates the Old Kingdom from Ancelstierre- which I did not know how to pronounce until right now.

Emma: That's how- that's, again- that's how Tim Curry says it. (laughs)

Amanda: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That makes total sense. In my head I was going like,  an- an-KELL-stee-AIR? Or like, an-KELL-STEER?

Emma: It could be!

Amanda: Anyway. But it's, it's like, it's spelled, it is physical. It is manned with like a No-Man's Land of like World War II-style battlements. And in some of the first pages of the whole series we see Sabriel cross  this. And she, you know, knows what to do because she is of both worlds: grew up a little bit in the Old Kingdom and then was schooled in, you know, in the New Kingdom, but she has to talk to these soldiers, some of whom are like, yeah, it's weird that our telegrams don't work, who knows! You know?

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: And then, and then like go home at the end of the day. Others of which know a little bit more, and either they remember or they, you know, were from the Old Kingdom or something else.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And so to see like paper fall apart, you know, as it crosses the border, or man-made clothes, or, whatever. Like, the soldiers guns jam and so they use bayonets

Emma: Right.

Amanda: And it just felt so, like, cool to, kind of, see that adaptation of people who don't fully understand what they're doing, but they know enough to like adapt in the moment. I don't know. It's just it's pretty cool.

Emma: Absolutely and and so sort of talking about how- speaking of mythological elements that Garth Nix pulls from, I definitely see a correlation between the Egyptian afterlife and his- the world of the Dead, and... wiIth this to me, the Wall is very iconic of, kind of, a more kind of Celtic tradition.

Amanda: Sure.

Emma: There is often, you know, you have to cross a wall to go into the fairy land and the Wall here reminded me a lot of Stardust, which I don't know if you've read or seen, by Neil Gaiman. Highly recommend it, if you have not.

Amanda: That's the one that I have not read. I'm looking at my bookshelf right now.

Emma: It's, it's very different from his other books, because his other books are much darker. This, this one is much more fun. It's kind of like, it's kind of like an adult fairy tale. It's very Princess Bride-y in tone.

Amanda: Oh, cool.

Emma: I also love the movie which came out... It's with Claire Danes... Oh God, what's his name? He plays, he plays Daredevil now.

Amanda: Oh, yeah.

Emma: Charlie something. -Hey there, Emma from the future here! Isn't it fun how I'm getting old and always forgetting stuff? The Charlie I'm thinking of here is Charlie Cox. Sorry Charlie.

Amanda: Matt Murdock.

Emma: Yeah, Matt Murdock! (laughs) Matt Murdock, is in it. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer- Michelle Pfeiffer is so amazing in it. She, she steals the show. So anyway, I highly recommend that but there is, similarly, a wall there that like you cross it and, depending on where you're coming from, bad things will happen, or you just have to be careful what you bring with you across the wall. So that's very much a- and I'm not sure, probably I feel like Neil Gaiman probably wrote that around the same time, like early 2000s.

Amanda: It feels mid 90s, early aughts. [crosstalk]

Emma: Oh, really? Okay. Okay, so maybe a little bit a little bit after.

Amanda: No, no- I'm saying it feels, like, of a moment.

Emma: Yes, yes!

Amanda: I don't know which came first, but, uh-

Emma: Yeah, I don't know which came first but they're very, they're very, very different. But like that, kind of, trope of the wall and the wall dividing- which again in 2018?

Amanda: Different.

Emma: Yes, but the correlation, or what we associate now with the Wall is not necessarily... A good thing. But I like this kind of fascination with, like, a magical barrier between like our Muggle World and the Magical World. And-

Amanda: Yeah, and this is like the most extreme form of the fact that this is like a, a Charter, and a rulebook laid down upon the land the physically and in law that, sort of, carves out a way for humans to exist in a world that includes magic.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: So there are these things called Charter Stones, where, like big boulders- like think Stonehenge- that are placed almost like signal repeaters in a, in a like telephone line. So like these little there's a like cell phone towers, you know,

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: of service turned (Emma laughs) into the Charter. So they are, they are things that make the Charter present, they are imbued with Charter magic, they keep the dead away. And what Sabriel is dealing with early in the first book is a broken Charter Stone

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: And even from the beginning we don't really know what that means because we're learning this world. But when I went back to reread it, I like had a full body shiver. It's like,

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah!

Amanda: It's like oh god, no! Like this is... It's like a flooded power plant or like an abandoned mall.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And just like, oh no, life used to be here, and now it's not! And they are placed all over the land, and they were pla- I mean, they're not placed there by nature, like, they were placed there by people and government, that you know, when the Charter was made realized that it had to like be like a fine net, you know, just anchored all over the land. And the Wall is like a giant Charter Stone,

Emma: Mm-hmm

Amanda: and it is meant to keep magic in, to keep the Dead out, and as you get further away from it and with no more Charter Stones in Ancelstierre, that's why magic stops working.

Emma: Right. I love it. I love kind of, like, the science behind it. You know, it's almost like it... It is one of the systems of magic, I think, with the most rules in a way that like are very clear and defined and understandable.

Amanda: Yeah. It's like- it's like communication, you know where there's this whole, like, ether of like millions of words you could be using at any given time, and you pull down the ones that you need and then that makes stuff happen.

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: You know spell-casting is not like you don't need chemicals to do. You just kind of do a combination of motions with your hands and words with your mouth and stuff in your brain. And then you pull down the marks, which are these like little conduits, into specific actions

Emma: Yeah

Amanda: that together make a spell. And we do get to see especially in Lirael, as Lirael learns more advanced magic, to do stuff like break into rooms she's not supposed to go into, and eventually to summon a friend.

Emma: Yes. (simultaneous) Yes!

Amanda: She has to do really advanced spell-casting. But if- this is all... I realized we kind of started out with the, to me, the defining aspect of these books, which is that Death is a river.

Emma: Yeah!

Amanda: And the Charter is like plunking yourself down in the middle of the river

Emma: (simultaneous)Mm-hmm

Amanda: and being like no, I will not move!

Emma: Yeah!

Amanda: And using literal stones to, like, stake your claim. And so, you know, we start out, again, very early on seeing Sabriel go into Death. And that is what I remember and what I describe the most when I describe these books to people, is that Death is running, it is flowing, it's pulling us along, it is always there, it is always, you know, there's a destination and we know that, eventually, we are all going toward it.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And that is just such an image, especially that Sabriel can walk in and out of it. And when you go into Death, you- the temptation is to be, like, swept along with it because the natural state of things is like toward entropy, toward Death, like, to pull you away.

Emma: (simultaneous)Right. Right.

Amanda: And all of humanity, again, like, humanity is staking a claim and sitting yourself down and saying, like, no I will not, you know, fall prey to, like, our most base instincts. And it's- it's a little more complex than that, a little more beautiful... You know, the tagline of Goldenhand, which is the, one of the more recent books in the series, is: "Everything and Everyone Has a Time to Die." And that is, like, the, the point. Like, the, the Abhorsen is there to sort of enforce that binary between Life and Death.

Emma: Yeah, which is really funny because- and they deal with this, they deal with this in the book as well- but the idea of being a Necromancer, again, that's something that carries... a very negative connotation

Amanda: Right

Emma: in, in our current society, like, that's someone who can raise the Dead. But the Abhorsen is a special kind of Necromancer who keeps the Dead dead. And, like you were saying earlier, like, we're thrown into this book immediately with this young girl, basically, whose job it is to keep the Dead at bay. And it's like, holy smokes! That's high-stakes like right from the start! And yeah, she's like, incredibly, unthinkably brave to just accept that that is what she has to do. Because they don't know where her father is, and so she has to do it, and it's just like, whoo!

Amanda: Yeah, it's not even her job yet.

Emma: No!

Amanda: She's like finishing school and like, hanging out, and being a prefect, you know, and just like chillin', and she's going to start her adult job, you know when she gets home presumably.

Emma: Yeah.  

Amanda: But unfortunately, you know, duty calls, and there's a lot in this book about, like, what our- what the point is, and you know, do you, do you accept the the duty that's handed to you by your parents, by your bloodline, by your circumstances, and what do you do, if you don't fit that? But Sabriel is like, she fits it, and she is ready to take up the mantle when it is, like, thrust upon her. She is like- my one note that I started out my, like,  little note document with-

Emma: Yeah

Amanda: -is that Sabriel is a not-grown woman, dealing with a grown woman's problems.

Emma: For sure

Amanda: She deals with a dead rabbit in the first chapter, which is like sad, as a kid,

Emma: (simultaneous) Oh god, yes, that's such a- augh!

Amanda: And then a dead body before page 70!

Emma: Yeah, yeah!

Amanda: Like really serious stuff! But Sabriel's attitude is very much, like, don't know if I'm going to do it perfectly, but I'm going to do it because I'm the one that's here. And that to me... Part of becoming an adult that I didn't really realize when I was a kid is, you know, is just carrying on. And it's not like, Waah I don't want to kind of carrying on, but like awful shit happens to people everyday, you know,

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah.

Amanda: or things are serious in your life that are going on, that you can't control, that you can't make better. And also, there is like the... the joys, and sorrows, and necessities of daily life. And there's a lot of joy in that. Like, I love kind of all the tasks of keeping my household running, you know? And like the routine of doing my laundry and, you know, just, just those little things that that are involved in maintaining a life. But that's also not always fun. So, I don't know, like, that's, that's kind of the lens that I brought to it reading it now at 26 versus when I first did.

Emma: Yeah. Absolutely. I guess the the closest thing that I had- though I wasn't, I wasn't super young when I saw it for the first time- but I feel like watching Buffy is kind of a similar thing? Like Buff-

Amanda: Yeah! Absolutely!.

Emma: Like, Buffy is a very similar role to Sabriel, to, to-

Amanda: Yeah.

Emma: Like, being the Slayer is kind of like being the Abhorsen. You're, you're literally keeping- you're making sure that the Dead stay dead, essentially. And to have to do that, you know, when you're like 15, 16 years old is incredible and frightening and, and something that, like, is- like you were saying, like, fun to fantasize about, to a certain extent, like being "the Chosen One" and like, having that kind of power. But, like, yeah, if push came to shove, like, I think I'd be happier to just be here in my routine, and, you know, have my cats, and hope they don't turn into Free Magic Spirits

(Both laugh)

Amanda: But I don't know, like, we, we get multiple examples of this in the series, you know, like we... Again, the, the protagonist we start with is someone who accepts her duty,

Emma: Mm-hmm

Amanda: and if there was like a, a network comedy about Sabriel, like, going to Community College (Emma laughs) and dealing with the Dead I would a hundred percent watch it.

Emma: (simultaneous) Yeah. Oh my god, yes!

Amanda: But instead, the book is like two weeks long, you know? And we see her kind of at a crisis point, necessarily.

Emma: Right.

Amanda: But there are- there's a character in Lirael who was born into a destiny that they did not want, and they do not fit in, and they have to figure out how to deal with it.

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: Same with Clariel: forced into a role that she didn't ask for and doesn't want to do, and we see how she deals with that. So to be like, again, reading this- this is ostensibly a YA novel- and there are, there are so many moments in here that, that treat, like, learning and youth with dignity,

Emma: Mmmm. Mm-hmm

Amanda: and that show  you lots of- lots of ways to cope with things that are really big.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: So like in Sabriel, you know, she summons the spirit of her deceased mother, in Death. And she needs to ask a question that's very timely, but also kind of mentions that she first summoned her mom when she got her first period.

Emma: (simultaneous)Oh I forgot that!

Amanda: And she didn't have anyone to explain it to her, and like, who among us hasn't needed divine guidance when our bodies rebel?

Emma: (simultaneous)Yeah! Right! Right!

Amanda: Lirael talks about suicide!

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And it's a serious, for real, but not glorifying, mention of suicide in a YA fantasy book from the early Aughts. Like, I needed that as a kid!

Emma: It does so very thoughtfully, I think. You know, like,

Amanda: Yeah

Emma: not, not casually, and not just using it as a device. I really liked how Nix approached that and handled that and handled her depression,

Amanda: Yeah

Emma: kind of at the beginning of the book.

Amanda: And there's just so much about like the the mundane. I mean, this is what literature is, right? Like it tells a story, but it also talks about the human experience. And I love magic, and I love fantasy, and I love adventure, and these are all really, really good in these books, but there is also, like, this just... I don't know how to even how to like summarize it but like a fundamental... empathy for human beings, and, and the, the fates that were born into.

Emma: I think that's a, that's a really good way to put it. Absolutely. But one last little wine thing that I thought of in, kind of, like this Charter versus free Magic....dialectic here,

Amanda: Oh, yeah.

Emma: There's, there's sort of... I see a sort of equivalency in-  in the wine world right now, there's all this hype about quote-unquote "Natural Wines", which-

Amanda: Uh-oh sounds fake!

Emma: Little bit! Little bit. It's not it's not that it's fake, it's that it doesn't really mean anything.

-Hey there, future Emma again! I just wanted to share here that I love that Amanda used the word "fake" here to describe "Natural Wines."  If you want to learn more about the whole Natural wine fad, check out this interview between Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Jordan Salcito. There's a link in the show notes. You'll see what I'm talking about.-

To say that a wine is "Natural," like, it doesn't mean anything.

Amanda:  I don't know it grew in dirt? What? (laughs)

Emma: Yeah! Yeah, exactly like to that extent, all wine is "natural". You know, what they're trying to say is that... I heard someone say like, oh the legal definition is that there has to be then, like, 10 parts or less per million added sulfites, or something- I forget the exact number. I was like, okay, but my... Like, my boss, who's a Master Somm, he's like, this is, this is not a real thing. But, you know, in theory "Natural Wine" sounds like a good thing, just like "Free Magic" sounds like a good thing.

Amanda: Hmmmm... (simultaneous) Yeah.

Emma: But, in a similar way, like, sure, there are wines that are quote-unquote "Natural," like, basically, like, limited intervention, like natural yeasts,

Amanda: Sure

Emma: low or no added sulfites, etc, etc. Like things like that that make it more quote-unquote "Natural" than others. But it's, it's, it's hard to, like, codify exactly what that means. And I think there are wines that are made like that that are really, really good, and wines that, I just, like, they taste terrible, and you know... You want a certain amount of rules and science- which I think, kind of, being like the Charter -in winemaking, in order for the wine to, like, taste good, and be able to last for a long time.

Amanda: Right.

Emma: Because if you're, if you're not adding- the whole sulfite thing, like lots of people say, oh I get a headache from wine, it's because of the sulfites,  my line is: there's more sulfites in dried fruit, in orange juice (Amanda laughs) like, like it's really probably not sulfites that bothers people.

Amanda: I really love the web series "It's Alive" from Bon Appetit.

Emma: Uh-huh! (laughs)

Amanda: So it's this Chef who does fermented products.

Emma: Uh-huh.

Amanda: So he'll teach you how to make like kimchi, and miso,

Emma: (simultaneous) Awesome!

Amanda: and kombucha, and all kinds of things that deal with fermentation.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: And so, I love it a lot because it's like,  all food is death, man!

Emma: Yeah! (laughs)

Amanda: All food is a continuum from like, is currently alive and breathing / planted into the ground, to you know, is wine that's 85 years old and has been like aged,

Emma: (simultaneous) Right

Amanda: and is all the better for it. And like, everything is a continuum. If you wanted to eat, like, the most natural wine, you could like crunch it grapeseed, maybe?

Emma: Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: You know? But like, everything else is, is a conversation and it's a continuum.

Emma: Absolutely.

Amanda: And we get to choose what's important to us. We get to choose where we want and, and like, to kind of dance along that spectrum in the stuff that we consume that we make, and in life. And, I don't know, like, at, at the end of the day, if I'm gonna think about one thing or scene, or image from Sabriel, it's really that image of Death as a river.

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: And different kinds of water too. Like, the first one is a waterfall.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: The second one is a whirlpool.

Emma: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: The third one is like a big flat, kind of, plain of water, that are actually really dangerous. There's like a vertical river that runs up and down.

Emma: Oh yeah, that's right! Yeah.

Amanda: And it's just so, it's so much like the, it is the opposite of, you know, you close your eyes and there's nothing. Or, you close your eyes and it's the world like it was, but better. It's just, it's so much more interesting. It's a process. There are steps. You can go backward and forward. And I was lucky enough not to deal with, you know, profound grief as a kid, but I imagine that for anyone dealing with loss, you know, regardless of your age, and regardless of the the particular kind, that this would be really valuable, because this, this whole book is about, you know, Life, Death, negotiating that balance, going backward and forward, and figuring out, you know, how to live and how to die in peace.

Emma: Yeah, and, and so I would say, yes... This sounds kind of lame because I feel like this is an overarching theme of a lot of novels and, and etc. -Oh! I've got, I've got my little Mogget here.

Amanda: Awww.

Emma: My little, my little Queen. She's my studio manager, so she's just checking in.

Amanda: So cute.

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: She actually is sound dampening, because she's so furry.

Emma: Yeah, exactly! She's so fluffy! (laughs) And... But, but I do think that one of the overarching themes is Balance. And, you know, like whether it's between Life and Death, Free Magic, Charter Magic, the Old Kingdom, Ancelstierre, family- you know, there's... I'm not saying that's like the the main theme of the book or anything,

Amanda: Sure.

Emma: but I do see that, and I love the kind of balance between the unfettered magic, and the very, very strict magic, and, kind of, the way they interact. And there are certain characters that you see in the book that embody that, and, and then that... That just makes me think of, that's one of the first rules of wine is that balance is, is the most important thing

Amanda: Mm-hmm

Emma: to a great wine, is, you know... You don't want it to be too sweet, you don't want it to be too bitter, you don't want it to be too high in alcohol, you don't want it to be too acidic. So, I see that and, and those who are expert craftsmen in- or crafts-women- or craftspeople- in wine know how to make that balance. And I think that Garth Nix really conveys that expertly.

Amanda: That's really lovely. Ah, I love it, and I love too that we get to see characters from, like, 13 to you know, their sort of late 40s.

Emma: Yeah!

Amanda: And to see their interior lives, and like, I, like, as a youngish woman, you know, like negotiating adolescence originally, and now, you know, young adulthood,

Emma: Yeah.

Amanda: it's easy for me to look ahead and be like, the rest of life is whatever! You know and like, this is, this is the time! And to listen to that kind of Pop Culture narrative, but I love that we get to see, you know, complex, interesting, like ever-evolving vibrant lives at various ages. And there's also just a great marriage that we get to see depicted in Lirael and Abhorsen which I really appreciate.

Emma: Yes!

Amanda: With a, a super- two, two people who are... not the same, but who make it work, and have their own lives and missions, which I appreciate as a, you know, person who intends to be a working spouse, and partner, and parent.

Emma: As someone who just recently got married-

Amanda: There you go!

Emma: -this marriage that you're speaking of, it is very much like yeah, those are...

Amanda: Marriage goals?

Emma: Marriage goals! Hashtag, yep. (both laugh)

Amanda:  I love it. Well, I yeah, I- who can't use a little balance, these days?

Emma: Absolutely.

Amanda: So I love that observation. And yeah, I hope that those listening give these books a shot.

Emma: Yes!  

Amanda: I hope that I am I am doing my best to evangelize for them in the world. They're so worth reading, so, let us know your thoughts and I'm looking forward to hearing what people think.

Emma: Yes, please do, please share at pairingpodcast. And if you're, if you're reading the books for the first time or listening to them- let me know what you think of Tim Curry as the narrator-

Amanda: Live-tweet, like, every Chapter

Emma: Live-tweet every Chapter!

Amanda: This is the amount of information I want on your Sabriel experience.

Emma: Absolutely. So Amanda, thank you so much for being here and sharing all of your amazing thoughts on these books. Is there anything that you would like to plug?

Amanda: My absolute pleasure. This is the most that I've been able to talk about these books at a stretch and I so appreciate it. So, I'm on Twitter at shessomickey, and definitely, like I said, tell me every minute detail of your Old Kingdom experience. I'm also a full-time podcaster now!

Emma: Woo-hoo!

Amanda: So I made a company called Multitude, and it is all about balance, and containing worlds, and doing all kinds of things as a person, as podcasters, as podcast consultants. So you can learn about the shows that we make and the services that we provide. We also make a whole lot of resources for anyone who is like a creative person online trying to make a living at multitude.productions.

Emma: Amanda is amazing, and she truly is my spirit guide

Amanda: Awwww.

Emma: in, in the podcast world.

Amanda: Thank you.

Emma: Thank you so much. Yes. Listen to Spirits. Listen, subscribe to Spirits, Waystation, Join the Party. They're all incredible. They give me so much joy every, every time, every week that they come out.

Amanda: Thank you. And there's a good, sort of, like, River of Death in Join the Party, which is our storytelling and role-playing podcast where we play Dungeons & Dragons. I am a lesbian skater-teen, assassin, elf, and there is a very good death-y-type river in one of our story arcs that I think y'all would enjoy.

Emma: Yes, and you also have a companion, not entirely like one of Lirael's companions, but sort of like,

Amanda: I do!

Emma: Sort of like.

Amanda: I do. I have a little acolyte.

Emma: Yes.

Amanda: And she is very good.

Emma: Well, Amanda, thank you so much. This was such a pleasure- we'll have to, we'll have to find another time to talk more about this, because I could talk more about these books for-

Amanda: We must do a follow-up for Clariel and Goldenhand.

Emma: Yes! Once I have read them,

Amanda: Yes.

Emma: I will, I will be in touch, and we will make... Episode 2!

Amanda: Spoilercast, Episode 2, Old Kingdom. Love it.

Emma: Thank you so much!

(outro music begins)

Amanda: My pleasure!


Emma: Pairing was created, produced, hosted, and edited by Emma Sherr-Ziarko, with music and audio recording by Winston Shaw, and Logo Artwork by Darcy Zimmerman and Katie Huey.

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Thank you so much for listening. ‘Til next time: read, drink, and be merry.