This is a rather short chapter, consisting of little more than a training montage containing more Chekov’s guns than Chekov’s own armory. Gil learns how to escape a horseman while on foot. He learns were weak point on an opponent lie. He learns how to let his body fight instinctively while his brain continues to work and strategize against his foe. He even learns how to fight when severely distracted, as a mermaid who lives in the nearby pond watches his training with evidence mirth.
Again we see Wright playing to one of his many strengths. Bruno walks, talks, and thinks in a way vastly different from Ruff. He is bigger, slower, and more methodical. In contrast to Ruff’s peppy attitude and upbeat manner of speech – which never fades, even when Ruff is confronted with the large and intimidating bear – Bruno’s every word carries with it a ponderous meaning, and unlike Ruff’s constant certainty, Bruno often pauses to think long and hard before coming to a decision.
Generally, I like to let the author explain what's important and what isn't. As a result, I rarely reach for Infogalactic to look up obscure references. If I really need to know, the author will let me in on the secret. When Bruno calls Ruff a "Son of Old Hemp", I made an exemption. Turn out Old Hemp is no legend or mythical reference - he was an actual dog that lived back in the late 1800s and who is widely recognized as the father of the border collie breed. Live and learn. Ruff was earlier described as half border collie and half everything else under the sun, so this was just one way of Bruno to reference Ruff without using his proper name. It's also worth mentioning here that Ruff and Gil are both half-breeds, and this might account for their easy companionship. They both straddle genetic lineages.Ever since the Puppy of the Month Book Club took an in-depth look at Nine Princes in Amber, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to what makes a character likable. In that book, I took it on faith that we should be rooting for the point of view character – I hesitate to call him a protagonist now that Hooc Ott and other reviewers pointed out his callousness to the people of the shadow realms (like me). So what is it about Gil that we find so appealing?
For one thing, Wright pulls the old “at least one parent dead or missing trick”. This is a vulnerable young man with much to learn. We men of the west tend to root for underdogs, but there’s more to it. A lot more. Even though Gil has no real moral guide before we meet him, he has an innate sense of justice that requires him to stand up for the little guy, to always tell the truth, and to right any wrongs he sees. Though just a boy, and though the scale of his actions is commensurate with the scale of a playground, Gil is already a hero. Add to that his kindness and empathy, and you get a character that’s hard not to like.This chapter also includes one of my favorite quotes from the book:
Rabbits will always say what other rabbits say because they are afraid to disagree, but they will never check to see if they are telling the truth.