Mark Reads ‘Daja’s Book’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of Daja’s Book, Daja’s friends help her stand up to Polyam, and everyone stands up to Yarrun. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Circle of Magic.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of bullying, homophobia, ableism

I love this. I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS. I expect that a lot of you aren’t surprised that I’d latch on to Daja and what’s happening in this book specifically, since it covers a number of issues that are quite personal to me. Pierce treats these scenes with care, but she also makes them downright entertaining. I mean… the Discipline kids shutting down Polyam? Everyone ganging up on Yarrun??? IT’S A DREAM COME TRUE.

Trader Polyam

It’s very difficult for me not to see my own experience with homophobia within Daja’s interactions with Polyam. I think that for the most part, there’s been a lot of progress in terms of acceptance for gay/queer folks in specific contexts. It’s important that I say that because I don’t like giving the illusion that acceptance has happened, as if we passed a finish line and then, YAY, NO MORE BIGOTRY. We’re not even remotely close to that point. It’s just about to be 2015 for me (at the time of writing this, of course), and I’m still on the receiving end of homophobia. In the Castro. THE LITERAL GAYEST PART OF THE CITY.

The point I’m trying to make is that I have a very specific relationship with that form of oppression, but that doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory for everyone else. You’re not necessarily exempt from homophobia while living in a large, metropolitan city. But I also know that not everyone who considers themselves gay or queer went through some hellish experience when they came out or were outed. For me, though? It was very much like the Trader’s complete and total rejection of Daja, and I mean that in practically every way. Granted, no one donned a ton of paint on their body to withstand my filthy gay cooties, but I had people in my life who would stop and pray before and after talking to me because… well, I suppose they thought that it a communicable disease? I know, I know. It seems absurd, but that’s the unfortunately reality.

And Tamora Pierce does duck away from portraying this same style of prejudice in Polyam! Polyam becomes qunsuanen specifically so she can HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH DAJA. That’s it. She has to go through ten days of prayers and purification just so that she can be accepted back into her caravan. Meanwhile, there’s no hope for Daja. Christ, I was so crushed by this part:

Daja stared at Polyam, thinking she had been stupid to believe it would matter, to speak face-to-face with a Trader again. It was stupid to think her banishment from the world she had lived in most of her life would pinch less if she could pretend she was a Trader just for an hour or two.

Again, I know what this is like. I believed that my ostracism from my hometown and the friends I used to have would sting less if I could pretend I was straight. I remember that I used to be very concerned about assimilation, at least in terms of presenting myself in a way that made it hard to tell if I was gay. (I’ve since abandoned that NO ONE IS SURPRISED) But I learned the hard way that this ultimately doesn’t matter. Plus, it just makes you unhappy! It’s not easy to have to stop being flamboyant or to take note of your hand gestures or to not speak with a certain style of voice. In the end, these people don’t care. There is a separate set of rules that they get to live by, and nothing you do will ever satisfy them. The hypocrisy is plain as day, and that’s what is so horrifying and frustrating about this situation with Daja. All of Daja’s friends see it, and what I’m thankful for is this:

At that moment, Daja thought, she would cheerfully die for any of her three friends, who defended her without being asked.

I get asked a lot what people can do to be a good ally. This. Defend people who are marginalized and bullied WITHOUT BEING ASKED TO. Obviously, that’s a very general piece of advice, but I think this is a fine example. These kids recognized the power imbalance between Daja and Polyam, and they immediately tipped the scales in Daja’s favor. They made demands to Polyam so that she’d not only get a taste of her own medicine, but that she’d have to stop insulting and demeaning Daja. Yes, it’s a temporary solution, and they’re not dismantling the whole system with their actions. But sometimes, the small things matter.

Yarrun Firetamer

More like Yarrun BIGOTFACE.

Okay, before we get into Yarrun’s awful attitude, can I just state that I love how this scene is all of the major characters (minus Frostpine) just hanging out and shit-talking Yarrun??? I like ensemble casts by default, and Pierce handles this group of characters so well. We’re at a point in this series of books where we’re familiar enough with each of them to understand how they speak and how they speak to one another. So it’s really satisfying to me to read this section and be able to hear their voices in my head.

When it comes to Yarrun’s interaction with the group, I was thrilled to see Pierce completely dismantle academic gatekeeping. Look, y’all, I never got to finish college. (Which is still my favorite thing to tell students after lectures I’ve been giving. THE LOOK ON THEIR FACES IS PRICELESS.) I long ago accepted that people would look down on me because I didn’t jump through a specific set of hoops for my own education. That’s not to say that college is worthless or that it isn’t hard work or that education gained through that method is pointless. No, my point (and what Pierce addresses here) is that it’s unfair and absurd to claim that one specific form of education and learning is the only way a person can gain wisdom and knowledge. For a personal example, I often interact with people who feel like my own experience with racism and homophobia does not make me qualified to speak on such things because I didn’t go to school for them. While that’s probably a lot more extreme than what happens to these kids, I think it’s important to note that there are a myriad of reasons why someone might not perform well under a rigid system like the one Yarrun learned and taught under. It’s ableist and classist. What about learning disabilities? What about people who are neuroatypical? What about people – like myself!!! – who cannot afford college? Why is there no room in the system for them?

You can see a number of these issues present in Yarrun’s methodology. He tells Sandry that a noble shouldn’t be sullying herself with weaving. He tells Briar he is wasting his time with the burn salve, not because it’s a true waste of time, but because it implies that Yarrun is not the sole solution to any fires. But when Daja is able to create a Great Square of King Zuhayar the Magnificent without any of the university-mandated runes or protective circles (!!!!), he flips out. HORRIBLY SO.

“This – this isn’t magic!” He pointed at the forge with a trembling hand. “I don’t know what it is, but even you Living Circle mages understand there is a proper way to do things, and a Great Square made in fire is not it!”

Except Daja totally just did it? So shut your face, Yarrun. She can clearly do things through instinct that took you years to learn. (Again, I’m drawn back to the idea that experience is a powerful educational device, one that is consistently devalued in our society.) And seriously, you can tell that Yarrun is more concerned about the restrictive process of university schooling than anything else:

“Of course it will restrict them!” cried Yarrun, lunging to his feet. Lark’s handkerchief fell into the dirt. “Without order to their learning, how will they be tested? How evaluated, how licensed? How will they teach? Even the mages of the Living Circle meet proper requirements to be granted journeyman status and then an initiate’s robe!”

It’s one hoop to jump through after another. What’s even more ridiculous is that Yarrun is so ignorant that he doesn’t know that NIKO JUST INSTATED A BUNCH OF RULES ON THEM. They live in a house that’s literally called Discipline. Yes, their schooling is irregular, and it’s not like it’s without flaws. But come on, they’ve just started their education. Why are you so obsessed with licensing and testing now? They’ve got years before they get there! I know why, of course. Yarrun believes the world should heed to and meet his standards and no one else’s.

I can’t wait for Rosethorn to eventually destroy him.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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