Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Speculating on Blindsprings

I recently stumbled on to a web comic called Blindsprings, after seeing a banner ad for it.  Let me take this time to recommend it to you.

Blindsprings is a comic that just went online back in October.  If you go to the website, you can see that not much has happened yet.  As such, it's hard to gauge just what the story is or where it's going.  So far though, surmising from the information available, I think this has the potential to be something really, truly great.  What is also exciting is being able to see the story develop from the beginning.

Plus, the artwork is beautiful.

this was the ad for it
Here's a non-spoilery description blurb of it:

The main heroine is a young girl named Tamaura.  She lives alone in the forest, where she attends to animals and plants trees and performs many other tasks for a shady group known as "the spirits".  It's a simple, idyllic kind of life.  One day she meets a young man named Harris, who has heard a fable of her and came to investigate the truth of it.  The two become friends, and after spending time with her, Harris decides to go off to a place called Kirkhall to study what is called Academic Magic.

The setting is not the standard "medieval" fantasy kind of setting, but something more like early Enlightenment era.  Really, not much of it has been revealed yet, so that's mostly a surmisation.  We are not even finished with the prologue.

Go read it.

After you've read it, come back here and let's talk about it.  There's not much of it (so far), so should be easy.

There are SPOILERS below.

At the moment, I really want to wild mass speculate as to what this comic is going to become and where the story is going.

On the first page, we are shown a clip of a conversation.
"One will be protected.  The other will be ours in tithe..."
"What are the terms?"
"Does it matter?  If you do not accept, the entire family will die out.  Save one, or save neither; either way, this contract will be fulfilled."
As we see later, this is descriptive of the situation of Tammy and her sister.  Her sister, clearly older, is in a comatose state lying against a tree, while Tammy is working for the spirits to fulfill a contract.  There are two ambiguities here.  The first, that has been noted by other readers, is which of the two sisters is the "tithe" and which is "protected"?  The second, that I haven't seen pointed out, is what does the author mean by "tithe"?  In English, this word literally means "one tenth".  However, due to common religious custom of giving "one tenth" or one's income to a church or synagogue, a "tithe" has come to take on the meaning of an offering or sacrifice.

So my first question is, is the sister to be given to the spirits in tithe having one-tenth of herself given to them, or is she being given as an offering?  Second question is, which of the sisters is which?  There are four cases here.

1) Tammy is tithe, tithe is a tenth.  In this case, Tammy's work in the forest represents that "tenth" she is to give.  She is preserved in a state of being 12 for the entire 300 years she is in the forest.  When she leaves, the rest of her life will be hers, and her sister will be better.

2) Sister is tithe, tithe is a tenth.  In this case, the coma is either finite in duration and will end when the full tithe of it is paid, or the coma is due to the spirits sapping off a "tenth" of the older sister's life force or mental activity or whatever, and will last for as long as Tammy is protected, or until the contract is fulfilled.  It is worth noting that Tammy is definitely being protected (whoever the tithe is), while her sister is lying comatose in the power of the spirits.

3) Sister is tithe, tithe is an offering.  This may be much as above.  The state the sister finds herself in is due to her status as an offering for the protection of Tammy.  Perhaps at the end of the Great Progression ceremony, Tammy's sister was to be formally sacrificed, and this would bestow Tammy with some kind of even more powerful protection enchantment.  Or maybe having the sister tied to the tree is all the spirits need from her, and after Tammy has worked out her contract she will be free to go with the protection.

4) Tammy is tithe, tithe is an offering.  This is the situation that I think most likely.  The older sister's coma is part of the protection being given her.  It extends until the fulfillment of Tammy's contract, at which point she is lead in the Great Progression to be sacrificed for the spirits.  Once she is given in this manner, the older sister will awaken.  What happens after this, there's no real way to know.

As stated, of these four, I think situation (4) is most likely.  At least it is what I am going with.  In the scene showing us Tammy's sister, it is clear that Tammy is working for the sake of her sister, trying to free her from her current state.  In later scenes with the spirits, it is clear that Tammy is trying to get out of the contract, and that her contract has a fulfillment condition.  It is an obligation on her, and she wants it over.  Tammy is working towards something, it has to do with freeing/healing her sister, and it requires her to perform 300 years of labor for the spirits of the forest.

Before answering this much further, it's also a curious question of how Tammy's sister finds herself in a magical sleep.  Was she already like this when her parents brought her there?  Or are the spirits putting her in this situation?  Does this coma represent part of the protection, or does it represent part of the recompense?  Or does it represent what the spirits were sought to help?

It is also worth asking, how did the two sisters find themselves in this situation.  What are they being protected from?

In the little bit of back story we've been given, I can say a couple of things.  Tamaura and her sister represent a special class of people.  In particular, they are "Orphic."  We haven't really been told what Orphic means in this context, but the actual word relates both to Orpheus from Greek mythology and to Orphism, a school of philosophical thought.  I personally think the former is the case.  Orpheus was a poet who could enchant wild beasts with the beauty of his singing and lyre playing.  His music was so melodious that he was able to walk straight through Hades itself, and the undead shades and guardians of the underworld stood aside for his beautiful playing.

Here's my speculation.  There are two "main" kinds of magic (at least).  There is the magic that Harris does, Academic Magic, which is based on mathematics, runes, and formulae which are specially engraved on to cards.  These runes and symbols represent complex mathematical expression which evoke the magical powers, and are called out of the card by reciting "Exordior", a Latin term meaning something like "begin speaking".

(Thinking on that, notice that Tammy's tattoo is clearly Academic.  It has the geometric patterns and lines and symbols.  I think this was inscribed on her by the Academic Mages in Kirkhall prior to her escape, and not by either the spirits or her family.  That is why Tammy brings it to Harris' attention and shames him by it.)

Then there is Orphic magic.  Orphic magic is what Tammy has, as represented in her ability to grow trees and fish and charm the wild animals.  It is connected to beauty, to simplicity, and to nature.  Tammy doesn't exert this magic: she sort of just is it.  It comes out of her, not by intricate design and manipulation; it just does.

These two types of magic are rivals to each other.

For instance, the lanterns being hung up are for the spirits.  They somehow provide the spirits with benefit, and the spirits are often seen carrying them.  Those lanterns are powered by Orphic magic.  The spirits seem to have associations with this sort of magic.  Notice, then, their contempt of Harris, calling him "Academist" and scowling about him.  They detest Academic Magic.

Tammy and her family originally resided in Kirkhall, 300 years ago.  We are told that something happened and she and her family had to be saved from "Harris' kind", retreating to the forest and the protection of the spirits.  She remarks on the mark on her arm, and asks Harris if he feels guilty about it.  Today, the story of her retreat is regarded as a fable, and the Mages in Kirkhall don't even believe in the existence of Orphics.

I think Tammy's family were a powerful line of Orphic mages.  Orphic magic is concerned with nature and beauty, and so seems an utter contrast to the geometric precision of Academic magic.  There was some sort of revolt or overthrow, and Orphics were branded (maybe literally) as outcast (see author comment here).  Tammy's family fled, and found the spirits, who needed the Orphic magics for their lanterns, and to care for their woods.  And so the deal was entered.

At the time the story opens, Orphic magic has been repressed for so long that most people regard it as superstition.  Harris alone doesn't, because Harris has seen the Orphic princess of the fable, and seen her perform it.  He has performed much study in to Orphism and its origins, and written academic papers on it, but most of these were dismissed as being from his imagination.

So Tammy and her sister, two Orphic princesses, are in the woods with the spirits, hiding from the Academists.  The Academists may have tried to take their lives, and certainly tried to enchant them.  The spirits live off of Orphic magic.  They have agreed to protect one sister and take the other as a tithe.  One of the sisters lies comatose under the base of a giant tree.  The other performs chores using her Orphic magic, trying to fulfill the terms of a contract in order to liberate her sister.

From all of this, I can't really draw a lot of conclusions, but here's some possibilities:

A) The older sister was cursed with some dark magic (or such like) before arriving, and the spirits are maintaining her.
B) The older sister is being leached of her Orphic powers by the spirits.
C) The older sister is under a benign magical slumber from the spirits.

From these we can construct some scenarios.

1A) The older sister had been cursed with some dark magic.  The spirits are able to keep her from dying, but doing this saps their energy.  Therefore they require Tammy (the tithe) to perform the maintenance of their forest for them (a "tenth").  Since she is an Orphic princess, she is able to do the same kind of magic as the spirits.  When the contract is fulfilled, Tammy will have done enough chores that the spirits can afford to use a large surge of magical energy to totally revive the older sister.  That would be probably the happiest scenario.

1A&B) Most like (1A) above, except also the spirits are needless jerks and sapping the "protected" one's power anyway.  Doesn't really seem to fit.  (Note that just 1 and B would make even less sense together.)

1C) The older sister was not cursed before arriving, but isn't being leached either, but rather was merely placed in a magical sleep as part of the protection, until Tammy can make good on her payment.

2B) The older sister was not cursed before arriving.  Her current state is caused by the spirits leaching away her power to strengthen themselves, and this is the tithe.  Tammy is protected by them.  But I don't know what the contract is in this case, though, so this possibility doesn't seem likely.

2A&B) Both sisters were cursed.  The older one is still comatose because the curse is still in effect.  Tammy is not comatose because she was protected from the curse's effects.  The tithe consists of the spirits taking away what is left of the older sister's power, to make up for what they spent to heal Tammy.  After Tammy performs enough services for them, they will consider it payment enough to also heal the sister.  (Notice that just 2 and A wouldn't make sense; 2 requires a situation like B.)

4A) Exactly the same as (1A) above, except the fulfillment of the contract and the Great Progression ends with Tamaura (the tithe) being sacrificed to the spirits.  The contract is part of the spirits purifying her to qualify as a better offering, having her run around innocently in a forst.  This is why the Spirit Queen chastises her when she seems depressed after Harris leaves.  This would have been kind of a bummer ending.

4B) Basically, the spirits are jerks.  The older sister is being leached, the younger is being worked, and this culminates in the sacrifice of the latter to grant some form or protection to the former.

4C) Tammy is being prepared and purified to be made an offering to the spirits.  This is what he work in the contract is for.  Tammy's sister is being held in a magical slumber until Tammy is able to make good on her payment as a tithe to save her sister.  The Great Progression was going to end in her death.

Of all of these, the strongest possibilities to my mind are (1A), (1C), (2A&B), (4A), or (4C).  I personally go with either (4A) or (4C).  The tone of the Great Progression, was just way too creepy for me to not suspect something darker going on there.

Having talked on all that, then, it sheds light on the motivations for Harris.  He grew up hearing stories of a mythical Orphic girl in the forest who lived with the spirits after escaping the Academists.  He went to investigate, and was surprised to find she was real.  He grew very attached to her (the time they are shown spending as friends is likely spanning several years), and after watching her magical abilities, he decided to head to Kirkhall and officially study magic in order to understand her better, and also in order to free her from what he saw as an imprisonment to evil monsters.  He doesn't yet really understand the difference between Orphic magic and Academic magic, or he doesn't understand the apparent conflict between the two.

After ten years of study, he comes to find that the sort of magic she performed is called "Orphic", and that it is mostly considered to be fictional.  He tells people about his friend, and they think he is making things up.  He goes so far as to write, effectively, a Ph.D. thesis on Orphic magic and the Orphic princess from his childhood, but it is dismissed as foolishness.

In these studies, he came to understand the nature of Tammy's situation.  Namely, that she was going to be sacrificed to them (I'm still going with that hypothesis).  Since the spirits are clearly Orphic and there is a strong anti-Orphic bias at Kirkhall, even if the spirits are benign and helping, Harris would have learned a skewed view of them.  Either way, Harris thinks he understands his old friend's situation, and thinks that breaking her out of the forest will be saving her life (whether true or false).

Therefore he organized his rescue mission.  Both to free her from being sacrificed, and to bring her to Kirkhall where the mages 300 years later (that's a long time, really) will be awed by her PLUS awed by Harris' original thesis on her.   Perhaps he thinks that Academists are sufficiently tolerant now to not be superstitious about Tammy's powers.  Or perhaps he plans to use Tammy to persuade them.

Harris is, by this point in his life, a total, overly-studious nerd.  He's been studying fairytales for ten years.  He has no conception of feelings.  He doesn't even consider that someone could get the wrong impression of this whole situation, as it is so absolutely clear in his mind that he's doing the right thing.  When Tammy protests and screams he doesn't register her emotional reaction (i.e. that from her point of view she was kidnapped and taken away before she could save her sister from her paralysis, after killing all her closest friends before her very eyes), but thinks she's just being a difficult little girl.  He's genuinely excited to bring her to Kirkhall and show it to her, knowing she'll be really grateful once they get to the Academy.  She won't even mind the magic handcuffs!

In short, he's a clueless buffoon.  He expects that he'll just be able to explain it all to her later or something, and it will totally make up for the dismissive and rude way he's handling the whole situation.  (He's only a little bit like me, really.  Only slightly.)

I don't think he's evil.  I think he really is trying to rescue her.  After they leave the gate and enter Kirkhall, he's feeling really good about himself, having just saved the girl and saved the day without a hitch.  It was so easy!  Now just to get back to Kirkhall.

He does have ulterior motives, though.  Those can't be denied.  His ideas about Orphism are dismissed by the other Mages.  He probably needs to prove that Tammy is real before his Mastery Thesis can be accepted.  Once Orphism is proven, he will be famous, having proposed an entire thesis on it before anyone even knew it existed.  This is something like what he means when he says there will be plenty more expensive spells if everything goes according to plan -- if he can get her out and prove that Orphism still exists, he will have all the spells he wants.

Anytime doing the "right thing" also gives you immense financial reward and prestige, you're probably not really doing the right thing.

There is one thing bothering me, and that's the quail.  It originally showed up on page #13.  It has now revealed itself to be a spirit.  That quail is going to stay with her for a very long time in to the series, I can tell.  The reason that bothers me is that this whole sequence is a build up to Tammy enrolling in magic school (as per the author's statements).  I don't know if she goes to the same school as Harris, but I don't know of any other schools.  If she goes to the same school as Harris, then he must have convinced her that he was right to take her from the spirits.  If she goes to some other magic school, then it must be that she has given up on fulfilling her contract to the spirits.

If the spirit quail is still there, and becomes her pet, then neither of these can possibly be true.  She would still know the spirits are alive, and she wouldn't keep around a quail that had plans to murder her.

One question that I haven't addressed yet is, what happened to the older sister?  This obviously depends on how she was put in to her state of paralysis.  If she was cursed when she came to the spirits (situation A above), then she will likely die.  If the spirits were leaching power from her, or had put her in a magic slumber (B or C), then she will come out of it.  If they weren't protecting her from a curse, then there's no way to know what will happen to her.

I think it's possible that Tammy is going to escape from Harris soon, run back to her sister, find her dead, and freak out.  She'll then take the quail and run away and end up at some other, rival school.  Perhaps she'll start studying in order to get revenge at Harris and the rest of the Academists?

It is the case, whatever else, that Tammy is going to end up at a magical school with the quail as a pet, and this whole section is just a prologue setting it up.  Hopefully, it's only a little while longer before we find out just how wrong I am in all of this over-long analysis of a 30-page cartoon.


  1. I think the time is right to get past the Magic School genre and get to the Magic National Lab genre. The stories would be simultaneously hilarious and depressing.

    1. Like Piled Higher and Deeper, but with robes and pointy hats? :P

    2. I've seen academia, and I've seen business. The labs are totally different worlds.

  2. All the labs I've seen have been full of dust and cardboard boxes of broken equipment from the 70's. I presume that isn't normal in business. But that would probably be more normal if the equipment were magical.


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