Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pomp and Ceremony

The royal coach of Lord Azzur
by Iain McCaig (from Livingstone, 1983)
 We were given Friday afternoon off early at my workplace, so we could all go home and witness The Wedding. As a result I spent Friday afternoon sitting on the sofa watching the TV with my daughter, fielding a variety of questions concerning royalty and ceremony. Although a 'small r' republican from the Antipodes, I found myself rather guiltily enjoying the whole spectacle, and was struck by two things.

Firstly, horse-drawn carriages and coaches! How cool do they look? (Especially compared to the fleet of tacky sponsored minivans that followed them into the palace grounds.) This brought to mind the royal coach of Lord Azzur that attempts to run you down as you wander the streets of Port Blacksand in City of Thieves (Livingstone, 1983). Iain McCaig's picture of the ornate golden vehicle inspired four further thoughts:
  • Being covered and enclosed means surely it's a coach and not a carriage, which is what it is described as in the text.
  • The two horses are either mutants with extra pairs of legs, or Iain McCaig was drawing them (a bit unconvincingly I feel) in motion.
  • If you are foolish and unlucky enough to be trampled by the horses, the book tells you "the carriage races out of view and you set off west again, hoping that you will have another opportunity to meet the infamous Lord Azzur" (Livingstone, 1983, ref#155), which is a premise that sadly was never acted upon.
  • If Lord Azzur ever married anybody, it would have to be the Serpent Queen!

Secondly, all the glittering pageantry brought to mind Iain Banks' (1998) excellent Culture science-fiction novel Inversions. Inversions contains the two intertwined yet separate narratives of a bodyguard and a doctor (both alien Special Circumstances agents) who have infiltrated a medieval-tech world recovering from a recent cataclysmic disaster. The alien doctor's tale is especially interesting as she presents herself as an antipodean exile from the distant (but still in-planet) land of Drezen, engaged in the service of King Quience of Haspide. Drezen, we learn from no less an authority than Quience himself, is "where their brains seem to suffer from being upside-down all the time. Obviously all is topsy-turvy there, and the women think it fit to tell their lords and masters what is what" (Banks, 1998, p. 162).

The quote I wanted to mention however, is the following one, and it is something I always try to keep in mind when forced to endure or enjoy spectacles such as The Wedding:

Our return to Haspide was accomplished with all the usual pomp and ceremony. There were feasts and ceremonies and investitures and triumphal parades through newly built gates and dignified processions under specially commissioned arches and long speeches by self-important officials and elaborate gift-givings and formal conferments of old and new awards and titles and decorations and any manner of other business, all of it wearying but all of it, I was assured by the Doctor, (somewhat to my surprise), necessary in the sense that this sort of participatory ritual and use of shared symbols helped to cement our society together. If anything, the Doctor said, Drezen could have done with more of this sort of thing. 

(Banks, 1998, p.302, bold emphasis by me)


Banks, I. (1998). Inversions. London: Orbit.

Livingstone, I. (1983). City of Thieves. London: Puffin Books.

1 comment:

  1. I too consider myself a bit of republican with a small 'r' (quite an important distinction to make where I come from!). But I do enjoy a bit of pageantry too - which I think is possible without giving much of a damn about the royals themselves. I hope that, like the current queen, I never really learn the first thing about Will and Kate's private life or opinions. Just let them get on with smiling, nodding and shaking at the right times and that'll be fine by me. Even though I've just described myself as a bit of republican, I can't help thinking that having a president would be even worse though. Imagine someone like Tony Blair ending up as titular head of state...