The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.
People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.

I finished reading a book called The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro that my step-mom had gotten me. I’m going to be delivering some spoilers about the book in this post, so be forewarned. If you’re interested in Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing or King Arthur stuff I’d recommend you finish the book on your own before reading this post.

The book is set a generation or so after King Arthur, when all his knights are getting old or dead.

The book follows the journey of a married couple, Axl and Beatrice, who are traveling to their son’s village.

A mist covers England clouding people’s memories. People forget things after the simplest of distractions. Old memories are difficult or impossible to recall. And the problem affects everyone.

The memory mist springs from a dragon and it becomes the quest of Axl, Beatrice, and a few people they meet on their journey to slay the dragon.

The dragon slaying is all fine and good and I loved reading those parts. It may not be a traditional King Arthur tale, but I love reading new takes on old things and it hit a home run in being a King Arthur story.

What bothered me about the book is what has bothered me about a lot of books, the ending is sad.

I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was in high school. I asked him, “Why do modern stories have bad endings? Ancient stories always have the good guys killing the bad guys and everyone living happily ever after. Like King Arthur.”

My dad said something along the lines of, “Modern stories have bad endings because they’re more real. Fairy tales like King Arthur are fine for kids, but grownups like stories that are real, that they can relate to. It’s cathartic.”

That answer was good enough for me back then, but I’ve done some more thinking on it since.

First, bad endings are not solely the province of modern stories. Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of an ancient story with a horrible ending. Romeo and Juliet is based off the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. The Iliad has a powerful ending, but no one really gets what they want. Hector is still dead and Achilles still feels empty.

The second thing I realized is that it isn’t so much the sadness that makes stories feel real. You can’t just have something bad happen to someone and expect people to start feeling empathy for that character.

No. What makes stories real is having characters on both sides of a conflict who could both be described as good.

The Greek myths are perfect examples once again. Achilles is the hero of the Iliad, but so is Hector. They’re both great admirable people (at least to the Greeks. I don’t think someone with the epithet, “the Mankiller,” would be very popular today),

They’re both heroes in the story, but they have antithetical goals. One must die for the story to reach resolution. And that’s what makes it sad.

The conflict doesn’t always need to end in death and the characters don’t always need to be diametrically opposed, but ultimately the “villain” of an adult story must have real motivations for what they are doing. And most real motivations are fundamentally good. People do things to help themselves or the people they care about, not because they want to hurt other people (sadists are exempt).

An easier separation between what I’ve called good and bad endings in the past would be children’s stories and adult stories.

Stories need to be simplified for children which can mean having a villain who is just villainous for no good reason (Jafar, The Star Wars Emperor, Mordred from King Arthur, etc.).

But back to The Buried Giant!

Early on in the book Axl and Beatrice encounter a woman who tells them about a mysterious island that is clearly some sort of allegory for Heaven.

It’s said that you can live on the island and never see the other people living there.

Only a couple that is truly in love will be able to interact with each other on the island.

A couple’s truly in love status is tested by the boatman who brings people to the island. He asks couples a series of individual questions before permitting them to travel together.

The woman that Axl and Beatrice meet describes that happening to her and her husband. They answered the questions and then the boatman said the water was too rough to bring them to the island at the same time.

Thinking she would get to see her husband on the next boat, she said, “Fine,” and her husband went first.

When the boatman came back he informed the wife that she had failed the questions and that she would not be seeing her husband on the island. She left in a rage and wandered England before eventually telling her story to Axl and Beatrice.

Our protagonist couple talk about the island constantly. They are concerned that they won’t be able to answer questions about their love for each other if the dragon’s memory mist prevents them from remembering why they originally fell in love.

In the final chapter of the book they talk to the boatman. The boatman talks to Beatrice first and then to Axl. We only hear Axl’s conversation.

The boatman is very casual and brings up a fight that Axl had with Beatrice once. Axl explains the fight, but is suspicious that he and Beatrice will be denied joint entrance to “Island Heaven” if he tells the whle truth (the reader never learns the whole truth).

The boatman agrees to take them both to the island. Axl hops in the boat with Beatrice.

And then the boatman says, “I can’t take you both at the same time. The weather is too bad.”

Axl’s face darkens. He knows he failed the questions, but he doesn’t want to say goodbye to his wife. He stays in the boat.

Beatrice tells Axl she’ll be fine. They can just meet when the boatman brings the next boat.

Not wanting to upset his wife, Axl gets out of the boat and trudges towards shore.

And the book freaking ends there.

I understand that sad endings are sometimes more realistic, but this felt more like the author screwing with me.

Couldn’t they have been allowed to go together? Couldn’t we have learned a few more specifics about what Axl and Beatrice fought about long ago?

Nope! Ishiguro does the smart thing. If you have questions that don’t need answering in a story, then don’t answer them. People will come up with their own answers and those will always satisfy the readers more than anything you can come up with.

So does the boatman come back and take Axl to be with Beatrice? It’s possible, but my own answer to that question was, “No.”

And that’s a sad ending.

-GoCorral

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Buying a House

My wife and I have been thinking about buying a house for awhile and over the last few weeks we have set things in motion for us to actually get one.

The first thing we did was to call a real estate agent that had gotten a house for a couple we’re friends with.

The real estate agent set us up on a tour of houses in Davis in what we’d guessed our price range was. We fell in love with the first house we saw and none of the other houses compared to that one.

The house itself has four bedrooms and two full bathrooms. There’s an additional room upstairs that is designed to be an office space. There are two living rooms, a back patio, and a side patio. The kitchen is massive and there’s also an awesome play structure in the backyard. On top of the roof are some solar panels. The house is at the end of a block long cul-de-sac and right next to a park at the back of the street.

Basically, the house is amazing. We fully believe that we could live in the house for the next forty years.

So after deciding we wanted to make an offer on the house we had to go through a flurry of gathering papers and sending them off to the lender to get us a mortgage. Bank statements, loan statements, W2s, paystubs, credit card statements. SO MANY STATEMENTS!

We quickly got a prequal letter for a mortgage and we made an offer on the house.

The house had been on the market for five months, so initially we were going to lowball it. But apparently two other couples had gone to the open house and were going to make offers on the house as well. We went for list price and the current owners snatched our offer up the next morning.

The next step was lining up house inspections to make sure we weren’t getting a dud of a house.

The inspections happened this week. They found a few problems, but nothing major (no walls made of cardboard, no explosives under the floorboards, etc.). We’re asking the current owners to fix some of the problems before we close escrow.

There’s been a steady stream of other forms to sign going back and forth between my wife and I, the real estate agent, the solar company, our insurance company, and the lender.

It’s been an exhausting experience. When I get home I’m often printing off another form to sign, signing it, scanning it back into my computer, and then emailing it off again. The process would probably be even more exhausting 25 years ago when the forms all had to be dropped off in person or sent through snail mail!

But we’ve lined up an amazing house to move in to. Here! Take a look!

The view when you first come into the house.
The view when you first come into the house.
One of the TWO living rooms.
One of the TWO living rooms.
The big ol' kitchen.
The big ol’ kitchen.
I will climb on this thing every day once we move in.
I will climb on this thing every day once we move in.

-GoCorral

Mount and Blade

I play a lot of video games but I am often far behind the latest release. I didn’t finish playing Pokemon Gold until Pokemon Heart Gold came out. I’m still working on Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed too. I’ll probably never experience Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins.

Mount and Blade is one of the few games I started playing when it first came out. The game was created by a Turkish couple and once it became popular they created a video game studio around it called TaleWorlds. TaleWorlds has just announced that Mount and Blade will be coming out on the Nvidia Shield. I’ve never heard of the Shield, but the people at TaleWorlds are excited to branch out beyond the PC.

In Mount and Blade you take on the role of a warrior in a medieval world with a variety of warring factions. The game is entirely sandbox based. There is no plot to follow. You have to make up your own plot.

The first time I played the game I started a civil war in one of the five kingdoms and ended up on the victorious side. The second time I formed my own kingdom and conquered the world for myself.

The gameplay is what you’d expect for a third person shooter in medieval times. You get swords, armor, bows, and other equipment to do battle with. RPG elements are mixed in as well. Your character levels up and has a few skills that influence the setup of battles as well as your combat capabilities in each battle. The more battles you win the more gear and money you get, money of course being spent on more gear.

The name of the game is Mount and Blade, so there is a fair bit of horse-riding in the game. Cavalry are vastly superior to other units in open field combat. Mount and Blade is also one of the few games to make horse combat interesting. Mounted combat meshes seamlessly with foot combat. Your character rides his horse around, hitting people as he rides by. If you aren’t careful eventually your horse will be taken out. You can try to find another horse that has lost its rider or you can continue on foot.

Mount and Blade is also one of the few games I’ve seen that fits single combat with RTS style combat. The only character whose actions you control directly is your own, but your character can bring potentially hundreds of others to the battle with him. These soldiers are given orders through hotkeys or a menu during battle. The orders can include positions to take on the battlefield, which weapons to use, whether to mount horses or stay on foot, and how tactical formations such as a wedge or turtle shape.

The soldiers that you command in battle have a morale that is heavily influenced by what food you give them. The greater variety of food they have to eat, the better and longer they fight. I spent a fair amount of game time buying more and more food for my soldiers to eat because they kept eating everything up after each battle.

Your soldiers level up after a battle just like you do. They get better gear and stronger combat capabilities with each new level. A fully leveled army is necessary for one of the greatest challenges in the game, sieges.

Sieges are the final objective in Mount and Blade. Unless you actively avoid it, your character will eventually end up in a siege. Assaulting a castle has two basic methods, just like in real medieval wars. You can wait for the combatants to starve or you can attack them with siege engines and try to take over the castle by force. Using force is almost always the better option in Mount and Blade.

Siege engines are used to breach the walls of the castle in someway first. This can be a battering ram that breaks down the castle gate, ladders that scale the walls, or a siege tower that goes over the wall allowing access. Once inside the castle walls you have to eliminate the enemy presence before your troops run out. Then you break into the inner keep and take on the guard there to secure the castle as your prize.

Your character can also defend from sieges. The same rules apply. My favorite tactic was shooting arrows at the soldiers pushing the siege towers up to my walls to try and slow the advance of the behemoth siege engine.

Mount and Blade also has an intense mod community. There are hundreds of mods that add small new things to the game or completely change it. Different mods can change the game to new historical periods, or fantasy periods. You can play a jedi on a speeder instead of a knight on a horse if you want. Some mods introduce boats. Others let you play as if you’re a King’s Guard in Westeros if you like Game of Thrones. I tried out a few. One of my favorites advanced the timeline of the basic game to Renaissance era, allowing rudimentary firearms to be used in combat.

I played the original game out as much as I felt like playing. A sequel came out awhile back, but my impression of it was, “We added some good ideas that were already present in mods and added a multiplayer mode that Mister Ed won’t be using.” A new sequel is scheduled to come out soon though! I’ve been thinking of taking a look. Maybe I’ll see you in the multiplayer mode there if I decide to try it.

You can find Mount and Blade at TaleWorlds website or on Steam.

-Mister Ed