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Walk to the End of the World Study Guide Discussion Questions

Volume One of The Holdfast Chronicles

This novel, published in 1974, engages the reader in a brutally reactionary future -- a desperately lopsided culture of superstition and grim competitiveness which the major characters must navigate even as it collapses around them under the weight of its own contradictions, hypocrisy, and ideological lunacy.

1. Do you think the story has become dated?

In what ways is it still vitally connected to today's culture and events?

2. The protagonists in this story started out as figures playing the stock roles of the heroic quest: the young prince in search of his powerful but absent father, the roguish sidekick, the stalwart and loyal veteran, and the Girl.

3. As a protagonist, how does Eykar Bek differ from the usual SF or Fantasy hero — Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS, or the royal outcast fighting to regain his kingdom in so many fantasy series? How is he similar?

How does D Layo work as the trickster-sidekick character familiar from "buddy" movies and stories?

4. What do you think about Alldera, compared with "the Girl" in other quest-type SF novels or comics - Princess Leia or the warrior princess in Tolkien, or the thief or assassin figure (often young females) so common in fantasy?

What differentiates Alldera from the usual token woman in a male adventure story?

5. Captain Kelmz is a figure familiar from any western or war movie: he's the wise, older advisor to the hero on his or her journey (Yoda; Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit").

How has the author changed this character to suit this story?

6. How do the changes in the qualities of these stock characters alter this story to make it more - or less - than a standard futuristic action-adventure tale?

7. Did you come to like these characters?

Are any of them "good" or "bad" people? How do they show it?

8. Each of these characters is driven by personal passions. What are they?

9. The society of the Holdfast was designed by the author as an experimental model in which, for ideologicial reasons, homosexual love has come to be seen as the highest form of romantic and social relationship.

How do the men of the Holdfast justify their ideal of male-to-male attachments? Why do some of the fems agree - or do they only seem to agree?

10. The culture of Ancient Athens was deeply homoerotic; do you know of modern cultures that lean in this direction today?

What observable characteristics do you think would typify such a society in the modern world?

11. Do you think any of the men in this story really love each other? Any of the women?

What do you think the author believes about the possibilities of real emotional relations between men and women? How do you think her values and attitudes make themselves felt in the story?

12. The Holdfast is a homoerotic society "created" by fictional heterosexual men who have been imagined by a female author. How might a society set up by real homosexual men in similar circumstances be different?

13. Why do the "fems" accept their degraded position? Why don't they rebel? How do they resist?

14. Some of the men understand that they, too, are slaves: what ways do they find to resist?

15. How does "Darkdreaming" fit into this picture? What is the role of the drug "manna" in the workings of the Holdfast?

Is this similar to how mind-altering drugs are used in our own society?

16. The Ancient Greeks had slaves; so did the Romans, so did the Vikings, so did Continental Europeans (as serfs at home, or as imported slave labor in many parts of the world that the Europeans colonized). So do rich or high-status individuals and classes of people in many parts of the world today. Experts in this phenomenon maintain that slavery is increasing now, not decreasing.

What do you think it would take to eradicate slavery from the modern world?

17. Many science fiction stories assume that slavery will be carried into the future on Earth and out to other planets and star systems, and will play an even larger part than it does in the current world. Fantasy authors often include slavery as common in their imagined societies.

Does this say something about the basic political stance of both these genres? Why do you think so many authors use this idea?

18. Why didn't the author tell the whole story from the point of view of the fems? What would have changed about the story?

19. The Great Man theory of history holds that all people's lives and societies are shaped, for better or worse, by the ideas and actions of powerful individuals (Napoleon, Cleopatra, Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, Mahatma Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I of England). In the realms of intellect and culture (rather than politics) the Great Man is usually a scientist - Galileo, Pasteur, Burbank - an artist like Alexander Dumas or the Russian poet Pushkin, or a thinker like Neitsche or Spinoza.

Do you think that history needs Great Men to mature, develop, and move forward?

20. On the scale of life in the Holdfast, is Raff Maggomas a Great Man? What qualities of the Great Man does he show?

21. Some scholars believe that the forces that move societies are much more modest, and are better studied in the letters and household accounts and diaries of ordinary people. To these historians (typified by Fernand Braudel, author of The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II) Great Men appear as embodiments of deeper currents in a culture, rather than as leaders who create those currents.

Where does this book fall with regard to these two ways of looking at history?

22. The author took her college degree in Economic History. What is economics, and where are the signs in the book of her concern with its issues?

23. What do you think happens next to the major characters after the end of this book?

You can find out what the author says happens to them, and what they go on to do in their world, by reading the succeeding three books in the series: Motherlines, The Furies, and The Conqueror's Child.