Home > MYTHSOC > Mythlore > Vol. 41 (2022) > No. 1 (2022)
History in the Margins: Epigraphs and Negative Space in Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice
Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice demonstrates a significant effect of epic fantasy’s conventions for creating the history of a fictional world. By prefacing each chapter with an epigraph from an official in-world historical text before giving a first-person personal narrative, the novel blurs the boundaries between text and paratext, public and private, official history and personal myth-making. This structure raises questions about what is central and marginal in history, suggesting the extent to which historical narrative is constructed in the imagination by taking the facts surrounding a central event from which the historian is absent—a process much like negative space drawing in the visual arts. The novel uses negative space an image, a formal structuring principle (both in the style of the text and the relationship between text and epigraph), and a philosophical concept about the construction of history. Both the epigraphs and negative space, then, suggest that fantasy, as a genre which invents history, is well-positioned for metafictional reflection on the constructed narrativity of history and the dependence of historical “fact” upon the historian’s imagination. At the same time, epigraphs and negative space claim authority for reporting events “as they really happened,” displaying a collision between fantasy’s constructivist metafictional overtones and its mythic, essentialist need to secure the reader’s belief. Ultimately, Hobb’s novel suggests a more dynamic relationship between epic fantasy and postmodernism than is usually assumed.
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