Bas-Lag Reading Project: The Scar- Part Two: Salt
It’s been almost a week now since my first post. As I mentioned earlier, I should finish The Scar by tomorrow. And I’ll finish my postings over the next two weeks. Baring anything interesting happening. Now, onto my post.
The second part of The Scar is devoted, by and large, to orienting the reader to the city of Armada and the hints of something bigger going on, of some conspiracy. This second aspect I will deal with in part three.
“Salt” refers to Salt, the language of the pirates and, by default, the lingua franca of Armada. I use italics when referring to the floating pirate city because that is the standard when discussing ships. And that is what Armada really is, a city ship, a city composed of pirated and pirate ships.
Mieville’s use of the name, armada, comes from what it is, an armada of ships. Now, he could have chosen any other name for a collection of ships, but Fleet, Flotilla, Squadron, etc. really does not have the same emotive power as Armada.
There are two reasons, I think why Mieville decided to work with pirates for this novel. For one thing, pirates have been, for most of human history, among the most democratic groups of people. A ship’s captain ruled only by the sufferance of the crew. If the captain lost the confidence of the crew, he was out- either demoted or killed. Compared to the harshness of organized navy life, being a pirate is a good alternative. And the second reason is that pirates are cool.
Armada, I think, challenges and interrogates the idea of pirates as democratic. Can the direct democracy of the ship be applied to a city state, like Armada? Depends where in the city one lives.
The city is divided into a number of autonomous districts called ridings. The most important and dominate is Garwater, led by the “benevolent autocrats” called the Lovers. Their rule is by the whipping post, a traditional maritime punishment. Other important ridings include Dry Fall (led by the vampir called the Brucolac), Curhouse, Clockhouse, Jhour, etc.
Bellis is an unwilling citizen/ subject of Garwater. She is assigned to work in the great library of Armada called Grand Gears Library (located in Clockhouse). For much of the first third of the section, she is highly depressed and resentful. It is here that perhaps the most emotionally powerful defense of New Crobuzon is mounted by Bellis during her dinner with Johannes. Here, Bellis reveals why she loves her city despite the fact that it is for most people a shit hole, a nightmare. And it is here where Johannes turns the tables on her and argues for Armada and the people who will find a better life with the pirates rather than with either New Crobuzon or Nova Esperium.
Despite Bellis’s recognition that she needs to know more about her city, she still desires to go home, that Armada will never be home. In this, she meets an ally in Silas Fennec, or Simon Fench. Silas is in many ways just like her, except that he is a spy who seemingly cannot abide to remain in one place too long. The two bond over their love of their city (and desire to protect it from the grindylow of the Gengris (which will come later).
In addition to Silas, Bellis interacts with Shekel, the cabin boy. Living with Tanner Sack and in love with the older Angevine, Shekel goes to Bellis in the hopes that she can help teach him how to read. This is, perhaps, the most touching and human part of the narrative. It allows Mieville to explore the beauty and mystery of reading from the perspective of one who has been illiterate for the first seventeen or eighteen years of one’s life. This humanizes Bellis and paints her in a far more sympathetic light. And Shekel continues to act as the “wonderment” perspective. The scene of Shekel in the children’s section, alone, discovering the power of words is just amazing.
And for Tanner, this section explores his speedy adaptation to the city has he commits himself to Garwater and Armada. He does this by further Remaking himself into an amphibious being. This places him into a liminal and powerful position. As well as conveniently giving him a role to play later on in the book.
The section is really all about Armada. Giving texture, substance, and experience of the pirate city. But it also has one powerful ending as Bellis discovers what the Lovers are planning to do. . .