The Curse of Chalion: a fantasy novel based on Spanish history
In this novel, as deftly crafted as her Vorkosigan saga, Lois McMaster Bujold has pushed further the bounds of subcreation as defined by Tolkien in his paper On fairie stories. She presents us, not just a coherent imaginary universe, but even a strange God, which rather than three persons displays five, together with important differences from the God we have heard about.
The book is interspersed with pearls worthy of being remembered. The following are a few of them:
- To a man of certain age... all young ladies start to look delightful. It's the first symptom of senility.
- [God] does not grant miracles for our purposes, but for [His purposes].
- Prayer, he suspected... was putting one foot in front of the other. Moving all the same.
- Men have always a choice - if not whether, then how, they may endure.
- [God is] on our side... can we fail?... Yes... and when we fail, [God does] too.
The Curse of Chalion is loosely based on a part of Spanish history, the preliminaries of the famous kingdom of the Catholic Monarchs, the creators of the Spanish state. The following inklings point to this conclusion:
|Map of the Ibran peninsula|
- The map of Chalion and the neighboring countries, which does not appear in the novel but is shown in its continuation, Paladin of souls, is the map of Spain and Portugal, upside down. Its name, the Ibran Peninsula, is a simple modification of the Iberian Peninsula.
- In the map, Chalion occupies the same space as Castile (Castilla); Ibra is Aragon; Brajar is Portugal; Yiss is Navarre (Navarra): the four main kingdoms in which the Iberian peninsula was divided at that time, apart from the Moorish kingdom of Granada, represented here by several small heretic kingdoms. Even the Balearic islands can be seen, somewhat displaced from their real situation.
- The king of chalion (Orico) has two half-siblings: Iselle and Teidez. The king of Castile until 1474 (Enrique IV) had two half-siblings: Isabel (Isabella) and Alfonso. Notice the similarity: Orico-Enrique, Iselle-Isabel(la).
- Orico, who seems to be infertile, forces his wife to go to bed (unsuccessfully) with his chancellor Dy Jironal and his brother. In the same way, Enrique IV of Castile was accused by his enemies to be impotent and to have fathered his daughter, Juana la Beltraneja, by means of his favorite, Beltrán de la Cueva.
- The castle in one of the covers of the book, shown above, is the Alcázar of Segovia, the seat of Enrique IV's government in Castile (see the photograph below and compare).
|Alcázar of Segovia (Spain)|
- In chapters 11 and 14, while discussing possible marriages for Iselle, the king of Brajar is mentioned. Iselle dismisses him because he is much older than herself. In Castile, Enrique tried to marry Isabel to Alfonso V of Portugal, 20 years older than she was. She rejected him.
- Iselle is betrothed by Orico to Dondo dy Jironal, the lecherous brother of his chancellor. Similarly, Enrique IV of Castile ordered Isabel to wed Pedro Girón, brother of the Marquis of Villena, one of the chiefs of the noblemen party. Both Dondo and Pedro died suddenly in uncertain circumstances a short time before the wedding. Notice the similarity: Jironal-Girón.
- When Teidez, who is Orico’s heir, dies accidentally, Iselle becomes the heiress. In the same way, when prince Alfonso died in 1468, Isabel was accepted as the heiress by the party of the noblemen and by the king.
- In the novel, Iselle weds in secret Ibra’s heir, Bergon. In 1469, Isabel of Castile wedded in secret Fernando (Ferdinand), heir of Aragon (notice the similarity, Bergon-Aragon).
- Iselle leaves the Zangre, where she is watched, using as a excuse her wish to visit her mother, who is supposed to be mad. Once with her, Iselle escapes, riding her horse, to seek refuge in the city of Valenda, governed by her uncle, where her marriage with Bergon will take place. In the same way, Isabel of Castile left Ocaña, where she was watched by the order of his brother the king, using as a excuse her wish to visit her mother, who is supposed to be mad. Once with her, Isabel escapes to seek refuge in the city of Valladolid, governed the Enrique de Trastámara, her relative, where her marriage with Fernando will take place. Notice the similarity: Valenda-Valladolid.
- Among the conditions of the wedding, the novel states that Bergon will not be the king of Chalion, just the king of Ibra; Iselle will be the queen of Chalion. Only their issue will inherit both kingdoms (an empire, in Cazaril’s words). In a similar way, Isabel did not relinquish the government of Castile to Fernando. Both were considered equals in the government. Their grandson was the emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.