Friday, May 2, 2014

Sheri S. Tepper’s witch: Madame Delubovoska

Positive paranoia: this is when we believe that people are conspiring to help us and events are being arranged in our favour. This happened to me in the case of The Marianne Trilogy by Sheri S. Tepper, which I wanted to re-read but could not find anywhere. I visited many second-hand bookshops before giving up the hunt.

I had done everything I could without success, so the universe took a hand. I experienced a strong inner prompting to visit a small Kentish town with historic associations. I wandered around the back streets, and found a charity shop with a big pile of Sheri S. Tepper’s books in the window. An omnibus volume of The Marianne Trilogy was among them! I bought the lot for a very reasonable price. Not only did I have some good reading material, I also gained some more inspiration for articles.

Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore introduces a very unpleasant character called Madame Delubovoska, who also appears in Marianne, the Madame, and the Momentary Gods, the second book in the trilogy. Before she even comes on the scene we learn that she is a sociopath, a psychopath, someone who uses people and doesn’t care about anyone.

Madame Delubovoska and her evil deeds
Madame Delubovska is the aunt of the half-brother of Marianne, the young woman who is the heroine of the stories. She is a stereotype of a villainess in many ways. She is pictured as a Disney wicked witch or evil step-mother: she is tall and very thin with long bony fingers; she has black hair and fiery eyes, a hard metallic voice and a horrible cold, sardonic laugh. She wears black and drives around in a long black car.

She is fierce and vindictive. Anyone who stands between her and her goals is disposed of, as are people who are no longer of any use to her. She is after the land, property and money that belong to Marianne’s side of the family.

Madame Delobovoska is described as being sly, vile, very strong and deeply schooled in all the black arts, including sorcery and shamanism. She has the ability to make subliminal or telepathic suggestions; she commits psychic crime: she uses psychological black magic to harm and kill people.

Marianne is warned to be quiet and inconspicuous to avoid attracting this woman’s attention. This advice is useless in the case of people who stand in Madame’s way or have something she wants.

When they first meet, Marianne sees someone with the eager, glittering and hungry eyes of a bird of prey, someone whose voice has a serrated edge. Marianne is unable to speak and cannot breathe: she is suffocating. Her mother had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, with suffocation symptoms when Marianne was thirteen. Her father - apparently - choked to death one year later.

Marianne thwarts and offends Madame Delubovska by learning how to defend herself, rejecting commands disguised as invitations and stepping back out of reach when the witch lays a hand on her shoulder. Marianne can sense undercurrents, subtle threats and the presence of evil: Madame’s fury when defied feels like a blow. This is very close to home: I have felt blasts of anger come from energy vampires when I tried to avoid them or defend myself.

Marianne pays for her defiance: she becomes ill. She says that on the surface nothing happened, so if a film had been taken there would be nothing to see or hear; it is just that she could feel everything. This is a key concept: harmless conversations on the surface, a vicious attack or punishment below the surface. This is what some energy vampires and witch-like people do to their victims in real life, and the effects are devastating to ‘sensitives’.

Madame can do worse things than make people ill: she can transport them into false worlds, into the dream borders, binding them forever in places that exist within the mind and have virtually no exits to the outside world. They are alone, lost and frightened, friendless, perhaps without memories. Some people in the real world feel and behave as though they live in such dream worlds, borderlands where good and evil, light and dark, may be reversed.

The book repeats the rule that such things cannot be done without the victim’s consent. As this will not be given knowingly, the dice must be loaded. Marianne is tricked and sent into another world, where she lives in a kind of limbo.

Black Madame appears as a character in this dream world; she tells Marianne that she will never get out, but continually urges her to go to the embassy where exit visas are issued as procedures change from time to time. This behaviour and the double messages, this cat and mouse game, can be found in parents who insist on their children following a certain path while having ruined their chances of succeeding.

Some people appear to be hostages to something inside them that continually raises then destroys their hopes; they appear desperate to escape and to find something or someone that will save them from an empty or pain filled existence. They may pin their hopes on a variety of possible saviours in turn, but although everything changes nothing is ever different; they never escape, at least until they realise what it happening.

Once Marianne starts to think about escaping via a different route, she senses that Madame is full of some obscure fury. Some people do convey this impression: it may be that these people are using psychological black magic to try to get what they want but others are not performing their allotted roles and events are not going according to plan.

The dream worlds
Madame may be two dimensional and neither very interesting nor original as a person, but the worlds that she sends people to are fascinating. The worlds of the library and the laundry are especially memorable places. Sheri S. Tepper conveys their atmosphere very well: she has a first class imagination. 

There is a lot of useful information in the descriptions of the protocols for getting in and out of these worlds, for travelling between them and the rules that apply while living inside them.

There are some chilling descriptions of the states of mind of the inhabitants and their lives and experiences. The ways that people interact with each other seem familiar, as do the half-lives, the going through the motions of living:

“They did not see one another… They lived, if this was living, and worked and were without true knowledge of one another…”

From Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore

“Time does not move in the false worlds as it moves here… In the dream worlds, one can live many lives in one lifetime or one can effectively experience an eternity of discomfort or horror.”

From Marianne, the Madame, and the Momentary Gods

 “One can accept almost anything if one doesn’t remember anything.”

From Marianne, the Matchbox, and the Malachite Mouse

One of the people whom Marianne meets in the library world is described as having retreated to some last redoubt inside herself, from which she peers out upon the world. This is how some people live in the real world when they are under some evil influence and have continually come under attack from the outside.

A huge outburst of anger helps Marianne to break through the malign enchantment she has been under.

Bad luck and cursing
Madame Delubovoska arranges for Marianne to receive a group of sinister gifts. This helps to give her a presence in Marianne’s life and to influence her for the worse. It is an attack, a softening up exercise: the gifts - pictures, small ethnic magical items - are sent one by one to slowly accustom Marianne to their corrupt and evil atmosphere. They are unpleasant and menacing; they make her feel ill and unclean. An ally replaces each gift with something similar but with a good, safe and clean aura to reverse the effect: he exchanges evil for good.

The ally, a magus called Makr Avehl, tells Marianne that he once bought an expensive new car that did not function well after a while. He says he put a curse on the engineers who had designed it, and the world famous car manufacturing company went bankrupt soon afterwards. He then says his curse was only a joke: he could have done it but it would be an unworthy exercise of his abilities. This sort of action is a good example of remote revenge and psychic crime.

In the first book, Marianne mentions having problems with mechanical things: she hits her thumb when using a hammer, her waste disposal unit is always getting stopped up and her staplers always jam. This is similar to the run of bad luck that Dido Twite experiences in Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree after she defies the witch Mrs Lubbage. Another friend tells Marianne that she has been the victim of a minor enchantment, an annoyance spell.

In the second book, Marianne is re-living her past life in a slightly changed reality. She receives an anonymous gift, a hideous wooden carving that makes her feel ill. It is the medium for all kinds of trouble, which starts immediately. An inner voice suggests in an insinuating whisper that she does not need to wear her protective bracelet all the time as she is not in any danger. Luckily, she does not remove this bracelet.

However, a run of bad luck soon starts: the data files on her computer at work, which she had been building for weeks, are found to be fatally corrupted. Her car gets a flat tire, and she has a near miss when driving home. She disposes of the carving by burning it in her fire. Next day, she finds that her colleagues at work have been able to restore her files. Another unpleasant gift comes, and the files turn to gibberish again. She wonders whether she is being hexed. It is actually Madame Delubovoska trying once again to harm her. Marianne soon makes a big mistake. She is still under the influence of her enemy: she stupidly ignores a warning signal and makes a wrong assumption. She is sent to another dream world.

This world, in which she runs a public laundry, has some very bizarre elements and original concepts. What is all too familiar is a scene where she urgently needs to take a bus. She waits and waits, then decides that the only way to arrive at her destination in time is to walk there. Two buses pass her when she is between stops. The dice are loaded against her in the worlds controlled by Madame. 

Some people continually make the wrong decisions and miss opportunities. They make huge efforts that are all wasted. Their affairs never work out for the best. They may feel that they are under a curse or an evil spell as nothing ever goes right for them. Perhaps there is a saboteur in their lives.

Some familiar concepts
One of the dream world characters tells Marianne not to say Madame Delubovoska’s name aloud: it is a convention that saying the name of people such as Lord Voldemort and Chrestomanci may attract their attention and bring them down on you.

We are told that bodies can be sundered from their souls, and that Madame Delubovoska may have traded off vital parts of herself in for power.

Madame loops time backwards using a time bender, a device that she keeps in a bag around her neck. Her relatively young appearance is maintained by the use of time travel: when she is finally defeated she turns into a feeble, white-haired old woman. This is a common fate for witches.

There is a scene where Madame asks Marianne some key questions, ones that it would be very dangerous for her to answer. She feels a compulsion to tell the truth, but her protection saves her. This reminds me of a scene in the film Stardust, where the witch Ditchwater Sal puts Limbus grass in the food to get the truth from witch queen Lamia, which in turn reminds me of the truth potion Veritaserum.

One of the characters in Marianne, the Matchbox and the Malachite Mouse mentions a device called a ‘remembrer’, which makes me think of the Remembrall in Harry Potter.