The Singer of All Songs: Book One in the Chanters of Tremaris Trilogy Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About the Book
Calwyn has been raised in the confinement of Antaris, learning to practice chantment in the Power of Ice as one of the Daughters of Taris. Her sheltered life is shattered by the arrival of Darrow, a sorcerer from the lands outside the ice wall and a man who awakens Calwyn's barely stifled sense of adventure. Darrow is pursued by Samis, once his friend and now a powerful enemy who seeks absolute power by becoming master of all nine chantments. Calwyn helps Darrow escape and the two travel together, teaming up eventually with Xanni and Tonno, fisherfolk brothers who take them by sea in search of further help to defeat Samis. Along the way they are joined by Trout, a student and inventor; Mica, a Windworker; and at last the mysterious, telepathic Halasaa. They face dangers, sorrow, and fear in their quest to save the lands and peoples of Tremaris from the evil power that Samis seeks. During a final encounter in the Desolate City, Calwyn learns the extent of her own powers and the enduring value of friendship.
"I absolutely adore Kate Constable's The Singer of All Songs. It pulls you right into a fully realized fantasy, complete with careful physical description and likeable characters. I'm sure readers will welcome this sparkly new talent to the American writing scene as much as I do." - Nancy Farmer, author of Constable's The House of the Scorpion.
"A terrific book, beautifully written, with wonderfully rich imagery and fascinating magic. I'm very much looking forward to Kate Constable's next book." - Garth Nix, author of Sabriel.
- Calwyn has always been "different" from the others in her community. Discuss the ways she does not fit in as a Daughter of Taris. Do you think her difference is because of heredity or her own unique personality?
- Why does Tamen treat Calwyn so harshly? Is there anything Calwyn could have done to make friends with Tamen?
- What is Calwyn's relationship to Marna? Why do Marna and Tamen react differently to Darrow's arrival?
- What do you think has shaped Darrow's personality? Why is he so distant at times and friendly at others?
- Describe the difference between the brothers Xanni and Tonno? Why does Tonno continue on the dangerous quest after Xanni is killed?
- Why does Trout join the group? Does he really want the adventure, or is he afraid of the consequences if he stays at the college?
- Why is Mica so unpleasant to Calwyn at first? What happens to change her behavior? What attracts Tonno to Mica?
- What is the importance of Halasaa? Why was he ostracized by his people? Why does he help the travelers, and why does Calwyn trust him so completely from the start?
- Each of the adventurers contributes something special to the defeat of Samis. Discuss each of their special gifts and how they work together against this powerful enemy.
- Darrow carves a map of Tremaris for Calwyn on a piece of fruit, and later on a wooden globe. Can you create a map of Tremaris based on what you know of the lands?
- Why does Calwyn know so little of the world of Tremaris before leaving Antaris?
- What misconceptions do the people outside of Antaris have of the Daughters of Taris? Why do these misunderstandings arise among people of different lands? Can you name parallel situations in our world?
- Geography is important in shaping the way people think and act. Discuss the differences in geography that would affect the people of Antaris, Kalysons, Merithuros, the Isles of Doryus.
- Discuss the difference in the setting where Halasaa lives. Why does Calwyn respond to the singing of the blazetrees? How does the atmosphere of this land affect its inhabitants?
- What is the Desolate City? Can you speculate on the character of The Ancient Ones from the description of the city? Why is this the place where Samis and the others have their last struggle?
- Quest: The theme of the quest is an important one in many fantasy novels. Discuss the importance in this story of the quest and the journey. What is the quest? What self-knowledge does each of the characters gain on this journey?
- Cooperation: Calwyn understands the importance of cooperation since she was trained in Antaris to work with others and protect the ice wall. Darrow asks her, "Have you never heard the saying, that shutting two sorcerers in a room is like locking up two wild roadcats in a box? They would tear each other to pieces." How do these opposing views on cooperation among sorcerers get resolved?
- Power: Discuss the ways the theme of power is explored in this tale. What does Power mean to Tamen, to Marna, to Darrow, to Samis, to the Pirate Captain, to Calwyn? Is Samis really as powerful as Darrow believes?
- Trust: In the world of Tremaris, it seems very difficult for people to trust each other, yet Darrow says to Calwyn, "We will fail in this quest, unless we can trust each other." What happens in the course of the journey to create trust and understanding between these two? How does trust develop in each of the companions on the journey - Tonno, Mica, Trout, and Halasaa? Which of them has a naturally trusting personality?
- Love: Discuss the many ways that love is introduced in this story: the love of brothers, of friends, of grandparents, of mentors, of a man and a woman. Compare the ways in which certain characters express their feelings for each other.
Other Books to Compare and Contrast
Bond, Nancy. A String in the Harp. Atheneum, 1976
Peter resists the year he must spend in Wales with his family until ancient harp key he finds in the sea rocks gives him visions of the early life of the mythical bard Taliesin and the power of his music.
Funke, Cornelia. Inkheart. Chicken House, 2003
Mo possesses a powerful magic, the ability to bring book characters to life simply by reading aloud. But the evil Capricorn becomes a nightmare in real life, and Mo's daughter Meggie must help her father overcome him and restore their family life.
Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam, 1984
An awkward boy, Sparrowhawk, discovers his true name and calling as a wizard's apprentice, but must face great challenges from within and without in this first volume of the Earthsea cycle. The story continues in The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonsong. Aladdin, 2003
Forbidden by her father to pursue her musical gifts, Menolly runs away, bonding with the rare fire lizards, and finding her way at last to the Harperhall, where her talent is appreciated. The story continues in Dragonsinger.
McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown. Greenwillow, 1984
Aerin, princess of Damar, who has never been accepted as her father's heir, seeks her own destiny when she battles Maur, the Black Dragon, and learns that she is the true hero who can wield the great sword Gonturan. The Blue Sword (Morrow, 1982) tells the story of another strong female of Damar.
Nimmo, Jenny. Midnight for Charlie Bone. Scholastic, 2002
Charlie struggles to understand his magical gifts and how he fits into the strange atmosphere of Bloor's Academy, where all the students possess some special talent or power. The story continues in Charlie Bone and the Time Twister and Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy.
Pierce, Tamora. Song of the Lioness quartet. Random House, 2003 Alanna, longing for adventure, trades identities with her brother so that she can train to become a knight in the first book, Alanna: The First Adventure. Her story continues in three more volumes.
Pierce, Tamora. The Circle of Magic Quartet. Scholastic, 1997-2000
Four misfit children learn to use their special talents and become powerful mages in this fast-paced series that includes Sandry's Book, Tris's Book , Daja's Book, and Briar's Book. Their stories continue later in The Circle Opens Quartet.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic, 1998
Harry Potter learns to accept his magical powers when he attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With his friends and fellow students he thwarts the evil intentions of his nemesis Voldemort. The story continues in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Scholastic, 1999), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Scholastic, 1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Scholastic, 2000), and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic, 2003).
About the Author
Kate Constable grew up in Papua New Guinea, without television but within reach of a library where she "inhaled" stories. She studied the liberal arts and law at Melbourne University in Australia and then worked part time at a record company while beginning her life as a writer. She now lives in Thornbury, Australia, with her family.
The following is a short essay Kate Constable recently wrote about why she writes fantasy.
Life, the universe and everything: fantasy, fairy tales and philosophy
"Oh, you're a writer?" said the new mom at playgroup today. "What do you write?"
"Kids' fantasy," I said, and she nodded politely. Not a real writer, then.
Yes, I confess, I started writing fantasy because it was so much fun. Everyone knows that fantasy is fun - it's escapist nonsense, right? Pure and simple. Nothing to do with the real world. Real writing is about real people, with real problems. It's about real places, and real events, and the big, serious questions of life. But fantasy is all enchanted castles and mystical quests and terrifying dragons and magical swords. And the young hero and his feisty girl companion and their talking animal face many perils and always save the day. Just like a fairy tale.
Fantasy is the offspring of the fairy tale, and the reason that fairy tales have endured through the ages is simple: it's because they tell important truths. As Bruno Bettelheim points out in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, "the fairy tale...takes...existential anxieties and dilemmas very seriously and addresses itself directly to them: the need to be loved and the fear that one is thought worthless; the love of life, and the fear of death."
It's true that the stories might seem grotesque or implausible, but the archetypes linger because they resonate with meaning. The wicked usurper who abuses the power they've been given, the brave yet overlooked child hero/heroine, the magical tasks, the importance of the quest, all have their place in a child's emotional development, even if they don't realize it at the time.
Everyone is on a journey. Everyone needs to learn how to be brave, and resourceful, and kind. The world is full of cruelty and danger, but it is also filled with unexpected magic and wonder, and it is those who are open to the possibility of magic who triumph in the end. These are the lessons that fairy tales teach, and though not all fantasy writing sticks to the fairy tale rules, I would argue that fantasy can confer the same benefits on its readers.
Any worthwhile fiction addresses, on some level, moral and philosophical questions. These can include the difficulty of sustaining loving relationships; the quest for a meaningful life, lived with honor; the damage that prejudice and fear can do; the richness and joy to be found in small, precious moments of beauty and connection; the importance of faith, and justice; the rewards of courage and compassion. For a shy kid, or an awkward adolescent (and I was both), it can be easier, less threatening, and more pleasurable to explore these "big questions" in a setting that's a few steps removed from the real world. In fact, sometimes, it's the so-called realistic books that can seem to be the ones written about an unfamiliar universe!
For ten years, I struggled to write a succession of realistic novels, about real people, or at least people whose lives were not very far removed from - well, me and my friends. None of those novels was published; some of them were never even finished.
When I turned to fantasy writing, it was with a sense of plunging into a delicious pool of freedom, a wild liberation that realistic fiction couldn't offer. Literally anything was possible now! I created walls made of solid ice that enclosed a whole community, a clarion that called up fire, a man who could speak in silence, a girl who could sing up the wind, an empty ship rowed by magic instead of galley slaves. And as I wrote, the tools and symbols of fantasy began to reveal a richness and complexity that I hadn't realised was there.
For example, I gave my characters the ability to perform magic through songs called chantments. Gradually the chantments became separated into different types, the Nine Powers, each with its own distinct style. The chantments of the Power of Wind were high and melodious, and usually sung by women. The chantments of the Power of Seeming (which create illusions) were as shrill as the buzzing of a mosquito. The chantments of the Power of Iron (which move whatever belongs to the earth) were similar to the throat-songs of Tuva. The chantments of the Power of Becoming, which govern healing, birth, death and the force that gives life, are not sung at all, but danced.
It wasn't until I'd been working on the Tremaris story for some time that I realised what a perfect metaphor the different songs had given me: the image of a choir of singers, all singing different notes and with different voices, but blended and harmonised into a rich and multi-layered whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. And what followed naturally from that image was its counterpart: the demand that everyone should sing with one voice, the same notes, a recipe for monotony and sameness, a stamping out of difference and diversity.
Perhaps this was a predictable vision for someone who lives in a country which has prided itself for fifty years on the strength and diversity of its migrant heritage, the blend of ethnicities and cultures that enriches our cities and all our lives. Yet as I worked on the book, I was appalled at the savage demolition of that ideal that unfolded around me every day, the demands that all Australians adhere to one (Anglo-Celtic) heritage, one (conservative) way of looking at the world, one (frightened and unfriendly) response to strangers who approach us seeking shelter. Here was the consequence of the "one voice" philosophy, even clearer and more terrifying than I'd ever imagined it.
But it's within the framework of the story that the big questions can be played with most fruitfully. My heroine, Calwyn, is struggling to realise her destiny. How do her choices shape her life, and her awareness of herself? Who is she, and where does she belong? Her relationships with her companions grow and change during the adventures they share. Tremaris, the world she inhabits, is taut with mistrust. Peoples of different lands despise each other; there is suspicion between those with the gift of chantment and those without, between the Voiced Ones and the Tree People, between the desert-dwellers and those who live by the sea. How will they ever come to sing together, each contributing the unique notes that will make up the whole of the music?
I should have told the other mom at playgroup, yes, it is fun. It's pure delight. I feel a sense of guilty, self-indulgent pleasure whenever I sit down at my desk, because it doesn't feel like work, it feels like play. But it's more than just fun. The world of reality and the world of fantasy share more common ground than you think.
To order The Singer of All Songs (0-439-55478-0, $16.95) by Kate Constable, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, contact your local bookstore or usual supplier. Teachers and librarians may call toll-free 1-800-SCHOLASTIC. Price and availability subject to change.
Discussion guide prepared by Connie Rockman, Children's Literature Consultant, adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University, and editor of the Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators (H.W. Wilson, 2000).