Clare B. Dunkle

Background Notes about In the Coils of the Snake

By Clare B. Dunkle. New York: Henry Holt, 2005.

Bavarian forest

The unifying theme of The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy is prejudice, taken from different angles in the different books. This book deals with the ways in which prejudice can cloud the thinking of political leaders, influencing their decisions and causing them to endanger the welfare of their people. Prejudice on a personal level is ugly, but prejudice at the national level can be fatal for an entire population.

The goblin King, Catspaw, and the elf lord, Nir, have had very little experience with one another's races because their people have been separated for two hundred years. What experience the two men have had has been good: Catspaw has grown up with several elves and elf crosses, and Nir has learned of a raid in which the goblins behaved with what he believed was ungoblinlike compassion. Nevertheless, these two leaders dislike each other from the very beginning of their interaction, and only minutes into their first meeting, they are quarrelling and goading one another. Catspaw, taunting Nir with that elf's weakness, baits the lord into offering a bride that Catspaw does not want, and Nir, wishing to draw blood in return, demands to see the goblin King's captives, setting into motion events that will drastically destabilize the peace between their people.

Neither leader is stupid or ignorant. Nevertheless, they both cling to their warped viewpoints of the other, using differences of custom, temperament, and appearance to reinforce their bigoted notions. Whenever a confusing situation arises, each leader ascribes the worst possible motives to his rival: thus, Catspaw is convinced that Nir has deliberately and underhandedly attacked his mother, Kate, while Nir is sure that Catspaw is a pervert capable of abusing the goblin King's own teenage fiancée, Miranda.

While neither leader is as evil as his rival suspects, both men are morally much worse than they would like to imagine themselves. As they carry on their guilty intrigues, Catspaw and Nir are eager to blame each other for their own decisions and for the even more unfortunate results. Both are positive that the other is plotting a political assassination, and as time goes on and the diplomatic situation decays, this wild idea becomes a reality.

Part of my intent in this trilogy is that, in this final volume, the reader experience for himself or herself irrational feelings of prejudice and then face the discomfort of having those feelings fairly challenged. Various episodes in the first two volumes have been designed with this result in mind. Hopefully, the reader will begin this third volume feeling like something of an expert on my imaginary races—and not just an expert, but a bit of an unconscious bigot, as well.

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