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The Game of Kings Reader’s Guide

By Dorothy Dunnett

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

READERS GUIDE

The questions, discussion topics, book descriptions, and author biography are designed to enhance your group’s reading and discussion of Dorothy Dunnett’s six bestselling novels in the Lymond Chronicles. We hope they will enrich your experience of these imaginative and adventuresome works of historical fiction.



First set in sixteenth-century Scotland following a disastrous war with England, the Lymond novels have as their hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a nobleman and soldier of fortune possessed of a scholar’s erudition, an elastic sense of morals, and the tongue of a poet. The six novels take this compellingly charismatic figure on a perilous and colorful tour through the glittering courts and power centers of sixteenth-century Europe.



To these novels, Dorothy Dunnett brings an effortless narrative mastery, in-depth human portraiture, and an uncanny ability to reanimate the past. The Lymond novels are works of marvelous intelligence and pure enchantment, adventures for both the heart and mind.

Introduction

In 1547 Lymond returns to his native Scotland, which is threatened by an English invasion and by the bloody rivalries of its nobles. Accused of treason, hunted by friend and enemy alike, he leads a company of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation, even at the cost of his life.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. For discussion of The Game of Kings

  The Game of Kings is the first of six books in the Lymond series based on the imagery of chess. Who would you say are the gamesters in this novel? Do the kings "play" the game or are they pieces in the game? Given the way suspense is created and information hidden, how is the novelist at some level engaged in a chess game with the reader?

2. The brothers Francis Crawford of Lymond and Richard Crawford of Culter appear to be rivals in every field: love, war, politics, family. Which scenes make you feel you’ve seen the heart of this relationship? Has Dorothy Dunnett managed to create in Richard a character with a fullness of his own, aside from his function as "foil" to Lymond? Is Richard as "romantic" a character as his brother? More romantic?

3. Lymond’s Spanish disguise at Hume Castle is only the most theatrical and public of the flamboyant hero’s many masquerades; what are some of the others? Besides the multiple political or military purposes, what do you think are some of the deeper psychological reasons for Lymond’s brilliance at, or even addiction to, "acting"?

4. Lymond likens sixteenth-century Scotland to a wren caught between crocodiles. How do the character and choices of Wat Scott of Buccleuch mirror, and affect, what’s happening in Scotland? What about Andrew Hunter of Ballaggan? Would you call Agnes Herries, later Maxwell, such a "wren"?

5. Perhaps the most poignant relationship in the novel is that between the protagonist, Lymond, and young Will Scott, the heir to the lordship of Buccleuch. What are some of the lessons Will must learn during his "apprenticeship" with Lymond?

6. Startlingly enough, in the course of this novel the glamorous and dangerous protagonist has no lovers and no sex, delivers only one kiss, and ends up in the embrace of his mother. What are some of the ironies here? What does the romantic triangle created between Richard Crawford, his wife Mariotta, and Francis Crawford seem to be saying about "romance"? About love?

7. Why does Lymond put himself in the hands of his enemies to redeem Christian Stewart, held hostage in England? How is this relationship, as Lymond says, "made possible" by her blindness? How does the blind girl help the reader more truly "see" Lymond?

8. The scene at the climax of the novel cuts back and forth between a legal hearing and a game of tarot cards–a game associated with the mystic, occult, and fateful. How do the contesting parties in the legal game and in the card game mirror one another? What might Dorothy Dunnett be suggesting by this pairing of the legal and the occult worlds?

9. A good popular novel should, arguably, have some strong villains: Who qualifies for this role in The Game of Kings? Is it easy to distinguish treason from patriotism–or patriotism from egoism–in the world of the novel?

For discussion of the Lymond Chronicles

1. The hero of a long series of historical novels, like the hero of a crime or detective series, lives properly in a milieu of struggle and physical violence and is likely to be the object of this violence over and over. Yet, of course, he must survive it if the series is to continue: "Popular resurrections are a tedious pastime of Francis’," says Lady Lennox in Queens’ Play, trying to recover from yet another reappearance by the handsome nemesis she had thought was dead. What are the most interesting or important examples of the deaths and resurrections of Francis Crawford in the series? How and for what purpose do such scenes play with the feelings of the reader?

2. In its various travels and stories, the Lymond Chronicles encompass several religious systems–Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, as well as several forms of the Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. What is the series’ attitude toward religion, religious institutions, and authentic spirituality? What do figures like the Dame de Doubtance, John Dee, and Michel de Nostradamus–astrologers and scientists, mystics and psychologists–represent in this respect?

3. Over the length of the Lymond Chronicles the protagonist must withstand the attacks of three powerful antagonists–Margaret Lennox, Graham Malett, and Leonard Bailey. How do these figures of evil differ in their reasons for wanting to possess or destroy Francis Crawford? Does the manner of their deaths or downfalls seem particularly appropriate to their characters?

4. As the secrets of the Crawford family structure surface one by one, through the very last few pages of the last novel, the questions raised in the first novel about Francis Crawford’s relationship with his father, his brother, and his sister acquire disconcerting new dimensions. What new father, brother, sister does he need to integrate into his understanding of his family? One thing never changes, however–the centrality of his relationship to his mother for his psyche, his sexuality, even his politics. What by the end do we think of Sybilla Semple Crawford?

5. The essence of a good historical novel is its capacity to create colorful scenes for pure entertainment value, while also offering shrewd characterization, complex plot evolution, and acute political and social insight. Is the comedy of a scene like the feast and fight at the Ostrich Inn in Part II of The Game of Kings, for instance, a good balance for the pure thrill of the swordfight and chase into Hexham in Part IV? How do these scenes illuminate character, plot, and relationships?

About this Author

Dorothy Dunnett was born in 1923 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. Her time at Gillespie’s High School for Girls overlapped with that of the novelist Muriel Spark. From 1940-1955, she worked for the Civil Service as a press officer. In 1946, she married Alastair Dunnett, later editor of The Scotsman.

Dunnett started writing in the late 1950s. Her first novel, The Game of Kings, was published in the United States in 1961, and in the United Kingdom the year after. She has published 20 books to date, including the six-part Lymond Chronicles and the ongoing Niccolo Series. Also an accomplished professional portrait painter, Dunnett has exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy on many occasions and has had portraits commissioned by a number of prominent public figures in Scotland.

She has also led a busy life in public service. In the past, she has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland, a Trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, and Director of the Edinburgh Book Festival. She has also served on numerous cultural committees, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1992 she was awarded the Office of the British Empire for services to literature. She lives in Scotland and has two sons and one grandson.
 
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