The Story of Darab and the Fuller (Shahnameh Readalong 26)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week we are skipping The Death of Rostam and discussing the next chapter, The Story of Darab and the Fuller.

Why? you may ask. Because Tessa and I, with the assistance of the fabulous Renay of blog Lady Business and podcast The Fangirl Happy Hour, recorded a 30 minute conversation about our feelings about The Death of Rostam. We will post that for your listening pleasure as soon as Renay has edited it to her satisfaction so perhaps next week or the week after. Meanwhile, we forge onward.

THIS WEEK: The Story of Darab and the Fuller

Synopsis: “The story of King Darab, who was raised by a fuller and had an awesome mother.”

TG: All the stories about Homay, please.

Homay, daughter of Bahman, makes herself queen after her father dies. She “places the crown on her own head” and tells the whole world not only is she queen now, but she’s gonna be a great one: then she proceeds to do exactly that.

I love that this story gives her honor and glory, doesn’t try to undercut her power. And I love that she’s the first king to want to keep the throne for herself who then succeeds in doing so! The threat to her crown is her son, and instead of having him killed or banished or concocting a long-game scheme to get rid of him, she gives him to the river, with riches and guardians. It works! The people who find him raise him well enough, to be practical in addition to letting his farr develop and grow bright.

It was interesting to me that Darab’s farr shows up as beauty, a warrior’s glory and prowess, and a certain, shall we say, attitude. He feels that his parents are not his true parents, and he feels that he comes from elsewhere. His feelings make him a bit of an ass to his parents, but that’s in keeping with the behavior of famous princes and warriors like Rostam. I also see parallels to Zal a bit, who was raised by magic, because Darab WAS given to the river, and even though there’s no explicit magic there and his foster parents were humans (though humans who bend the river to their will by narrowing it), it seems like the land takes an interest in him, for it’s the wind itself protecting him from the ruins later in his life. That moment of earth magic was lovely and exciting. Of course, Zal would never turn a wife away bc she had bad breath! (I loved that story though, and really look forward to Sekandar, named after a semi-magical healing herb.)

Homay seems to change her tune when she realizes her son has come home–she’s happy to see him, according to the narrative, but tells a slightly different story. At first, when Darab was a baby, she “enjoys” the fact that she’s the queen of everything, but she tells Darab and the priests when he returns that she is so glad to turn the throne over to him because it and her wealth have “caused me such sorrow.” I want to think that she’s saving her own skin by acting apologetic and as if she did this because she HAD to, to save the kingdom for Darab. I wouldn’t put it past her.

My favorite moment of this entire section though, is when Darab forgives Homay for sending him away, because IT MAKES A BETTER STORY. He actually says to her that he’s glad she gave him to the river, because nobody will forget him now. That is delightful, and insightful of him. And also pretty meta, given that this is the Book of Kings and I’m certainly going to remember this section better than some of the others.

A last note: these kings seem to be living normal lifespans now. Growing old and sick, dying in time for their children to inherit, instead of living for hundreds of years and having to be ousted.

Homay crowning Darab

Homay crowns Darab, although as far as I can tell Darab is sitting the audience chamber and Homay is on a balcony observing the crowning rather than doing the crowning with her own hands

KE:  Wow, I could write a hundred pages about this story alone because there is so much of interest here.

The story has a very folk-tale like feel to it, complete in itself and with the delightful element of the baby placed in water and recovered by people who adopt it (as also seen in the stories of Moses and of Mesopotamian king Sargon). As Tessa points out, Darab’s growth reflects elements of earlier stories. Of course Darab’s high birth asserts itself despite his lowly upbringing; of course he is recognized as superior to others, etc etc. This is a trope still beloved in our modern fiction complete with the mismatched family element (Harry Potter!). These days it might also be a random gifted person, not just a descendent of noble blood, who is plucked from obscurity and returned to their rightful status as someone on top of the heap (whether that heap be rulership, art, science, or what have you). Regardless, the trope of essentialism, of “blood tells,” of Chosen Ones and the hierarchy of “natural worth” is quite interesting for how long it has been with us and how it persists even in a supposedly democratic egalitarian society.

I want to add that Darab was really a dick to his foster parents which I can in no way from the story detect that they deserved, except, I suppose, that it might be implied they should have never tried to pretend (to him) that he was really theirs. I did not like the way he treated them, and of course in a story of this kind he is never scolded, punished, or made to look bad for his rudeness and dismissiveness. Birth and farr give him the right to be the way he is.

I too loved Homay. What interested me most beyond the unusual aspect of a woman ruling alone and competently (that is, the story allowing it) was the unexplained and never explored aspect of her relationship to her father. Her father has sex with her. Because we are given a synopsis for this very unexpected situation rather than the full poetic treatment, we can’t know whether Homay is a willing participant. Is she okay with it because it gives her power? Why does her brother leave in anger? He must suspect that he’s about to get disinherited. Is there shame in Homay having a child by her father? Is that one reason for her to claim the child is dead and get rid of it (without killing it, since she seems too righteous to do that)? Is it purely ambition that drives her, knowing that she could be nothing but a regent as long as a boy child exists? And if so, then everyone would have to acknowledge that this is a child born through incest, even though there is a “custom called Pahlavi” which I looked up in iranica online:

In Zoroastrian Middle Persian (Pahlavi) texts, the term xwēdōdah (Av.xᵛaētuuadaθa) is said to refer to marital unions of father and daughter, mother and son, or brother and sister (next-of-kin or close-kin marriage, nuclear family incest), and to be one of the most pious actions possible. The models for these unions were found in the Zoroastrian cosmogony. 

The pre-Alexander Achaemenid Empire, the one he conquered, includes marriages among the noble clans that may be quite close relation. I don’t know what it means in the Zoroastrian cosmogony but politically it can sometimes make sense to marry next of kin or close kin to keep power tied tightly within the hands of a single family.

I also have to wonder if Darab and Dara have any etymological link to the King Darius whom Alexander defeated, but I just don’t know. We are falling sideways into history, and it is so interesting to see the origins of the next story which we know from a different place in Western history.

Which leads me to the next interesting thing: Hey! Alexander! How fascinating to suggest Sekander (the Persian form of Alexander) is half Persian! Why not? His origin story is fascinating. I too was bemused by Darab putting his wife aside because she has bad breath. What a curious detail.

A couple of interesting mentions regarding Filqus, named here as the king of Greece. Is Filqus related at all etymologically to Philip (Alexander’s actual father)? I have no idea. Anyway, he’s said to be in league with the king of Susa, and now after all these stories about legendary kings I do feel we are stepping firmly into history. I don’t know where Amourieh is meant to be; I found one reference to it saying it is the district between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, in which case Filqus would not be the king of Greece (Hellas) or Macedonia but rather of what we now call Lebanon and Israel. How curious!

Narratively it feels as if Darab’s choice to send her back to her father reflects a long tradition within the Shahnameh of boys being brought up by their mother’s in their mother’s courts with no knowledge or interaction with their fathers. It’s just so interesting, and of course sets up the next story, which is Sekander’s conquest of Persia.

Randomly, as I searched for images of Homay, I found this image of the cover of a book about (as the title so clearly states) Women in the Shahnameh. Hmm. Could be interesting.


Next week: Either the podcast version of The Death of Rostam OR if that’s not ready yet, the first part of Sekander’s Conquest of Persia. JOIN US!

Rostam and Esfandyar Part Two (Shahnameh Readalong 25)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week: the second half of Rostam and Esfandyar.

Synopsis: “Esfandyar nearly kills Rostam, but intervention from Zal and the Simorgh saves him and allows him to kill Esfandyar instead.”

TG: I’ll read sections with Simorgh and Zal doing magic FOREVER. It’s interesting to me that the rules governing use of magic remains so very amorphous. If you’re a good person, using magic is fine, if you’re a bad person (or a Turk), then it’s bad. That’s the only rule I can really parse out, though I’d be interested in an analysis by someone more knowledgable.

Speaking of magic, I looked up tamarisk trees on wikipedia and it’s salt cedar! ( It’s also all over the Old Testament and in the Epic of Gilgamesh, often planted in auspicious places, or also used as a curse. This episode of Rostam using a specific arrow to kill Esfandyar reminded me of the story from Norse mythology of only a mistletoe arrow being capable of killing the god Baldur.

I don’t have a lot to add to last week’s thoughts, to be honest, since other than the magic this continues to confuse me with regards to motivation and changing behavior. Basically everybody says one thing and does another, or feels one thing then abruptly feels another way. They really played up the prophecy that whoever kills Esfandyar will suffer, and then it went nowhere. Of course there’s always the next section, but I actually felt some tension about whether Rostam or Goshtasp would be the recipient of the torment and woe, then…nothing. They’re both doing ok!

I did like the moment Esfandyar sent his sons’ bodies home with a note reading “This is your fault, Dad, don’t pretend to be sorry!” But still have a hard time understanding why E kept up the attempts to chain Rostam when he so, so clearly disagreed with the command.

We did get a few more named women, Beh Afarid and Homay, who just lit in to Goshtasp in a really admirable way. But Pashutan then told them to shut up, basically, even though he’d literally been saying exactly the same thing three lines before hand. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Better luck next week, with THE DEATH OF ROSTAM. AW YEAH.


A bearded Rostam, mounted on his horse Rakhsh, looses the arrow that strikes the younger hero, Esfandyar (also mounted).

KE: I am bitterly disappointed that one of the sections abridged in this translation is Esfandyar’s rescue of his sisters. I don’t think any hero has rescued his sisters, or even had a relationship with a sister, not since the brief mention of Sevayash (*weeps endless tears*) hanging out with his sisters to avoid the machinations and sleazy sexual interest of Queen Sudabeh. As the endless back and forth between Rostam and Esfandyar went on, and then when he dies and the repercussions hit the Persian court, I could not help but think that we as readers would have better understood his heroic aspect (within the context of the narrative) if only we had seen him act heroically. As it is, we only see this weird bickering with Rostam which is, as you say, running by some different set of rules than those I can fully understand.

I did find this sequence really interesting though because people’s motivations are so twisty and ambivalent. It’s clear Goshtasp is not a nice man or even a particularly good king; he’s one who seems to rest upon others’ laurels, and he is a mediocre enough judge of character that he even listens to a bad advisor! At the same time, it is stated that Esfandyar tried to overthrow his father which basically goes against all societal mores. So he’s no peach either.

And, as we have already discussed, him and Rostam trying to out-dick each other is in some ways the crowning moment of this long Rostam-heavy sequence.

But it really is Goshtasp’s fault. He is smart enough to know he is at risk, and smart enough to use his son’s honor and pride against him. He machinates his son’s death in a way that no repercussions can fall on him (even if his children do blame him for it), and he gets away with it! He basically doesn’t seem to be sorry at all.

Esfandyar and Rostam are trapped by their own societal expectations, the forms of behavior they have to follow. So for me it’s a fascinating exploration of how they push and pull against their own need to not lose face, not lose reputation, and not lose honor. All things considered, it kind of sucks.

Pretty sure Bahman, renamed Ardeshir, is THE Ardeshir, a real king who took power after the death of Alexander the Great’s successors (the Seleucids) in that region. It’s fascinating to start seeing the historical element sail in.

For me there were a lot of good lines in this section (and I always love every reappearance of Zal and the Simorgh), but I was perhaps most affected by Esfandyar, on his dying breath, saying, “It was Goshtasp, my father, who destroyed me.”

That is some drama right there. His death won me over, and my abiding dislike for Rostam even softened slightly in this sequence.

Even so, I await next week: “The Death of Rostam.”

HOWEVER: it’s not yet clear whether next week’s post will go up on Friday August 20 or Friday September 2. Why? you may ask. That is because Tessa and Kate will both be at Worldcon Kansas City (Midamericon), and with the aid of Renay Williams (of the Hugo-nominated Lady Business) we hope to record a podcast for “The Death of Rostam” because we are so ready.

We will let you know as soon as we know.

To close, here is a statue of Esfandyar, holding a spear and a shield and posing with one foot forward in the classic stance. DUDE.

Esfandiyar_RamsarPreviously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1

Midamericon/Worldcon Kansas City SCHEDULE

I am attending Worldcon Kansas City aka Midamericon.

Here’s my schedule. Find me! Say hi! I will have bookmarks and postcards and intend to give them away. I will also have a few copies of The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal, with its 29 black and white Julie Dillon illustration (she’s won the Hugo twice!), and I just might be carrying around a copy of the brand new just released August 16 POISONED BLADE which I will give away to the first person who comes up to me and says, “Kiss off, Adversary.”


FRIDAY (August 19):

Friday 11:00 – 12:00, ROOM 3501B (Kansas City Convention Center)

BEYOND Fantasy Creation for the Bold

A reprisal of Sasquan’s 2015 worldbuilding panel dialogue between Kate Elliott and Ken Liu. This year the topics will include: respecting the intelligence of people of the past if you take inspiration from history for your fantasy world; cultural change and transformation as catalysts for conflict and plot; power dynamics and differentials between groups as the engines for ethics and institutions; mapping ethnicity in a secondary world; and more!


Friday 14:00 – 15:00, ROOM 2207 (Kansas City Convention Center)

A Cast of Thousands and A Unity of Plots

How do you write a novel that features many, many characters with parallel/divergent plot lines that must be woven together seamlessly? How do you avoid plotting yourself into a corner? What tools, tips, techniques, research approaches, academic disciplines, etc. are useful? How do you leverage the knowledge of experts? How do you plan for and execute multiple plot lines?

Kate Elliott, Ginjer Buchanan (M), Charlaine Harris, Scott Lynch, Mr Robert Silverberg


Tachyon Publications Book Signing

Friday 1515 – 1545 (Tachyon table in the Dealers Room) COME BY! Say hi!


Friday 17:00 – 18:00, ROOM 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)

Epic Fantasy

A look at the modern successors of J.R.R. Tolkien and what they are bringing to the quest.

Sarah Beth Durst, Kate Elliott (M), Tessa Gratton, Anna Kashina, Sharon Lee




(you have to sign up for this in advance; 12 people only — basically we sit around a table and you can ask me anything)

Saturday 1300 – 1400; ROOM 2211 (KKCC)


Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, ROOM 2504B Readings (Kansas City Convention Center)

Magazine Group Reading – Apex

Our Magazine Group Reading Series continues with a special group reading that features authors from Apex Magazine: Jason Sizemore (M), Ms Rachel Swirsky, Jason Sanford, Kate Elliott, Foz Meadows, Adam-Troy Castro


Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, 2504B (Kansas City Convention Center)

Revealing the Past Through Alternate Histories

We think of historical fantasy and alternate history as revisioning the past: but can they be used, instead, to reveal it? How does sci-fi and fantasy enable writers to tell stories that make readers think differently about our history? What are the histories that we choose to tell ourselves?

Eric Flint (M), Alan Smale, Walt Boyes, Kate Elliott, Esther Friesner



Sunday 11:00 – 12:00 Autographing Space


(please come if you can; I’ll have bookmarks and postcards, and I’ll write something special in your book. Or if you don’t have a book for me to sign, I’ll sign a bookmark!)


Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, Room 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)


This Netflix original by J .Michael Straczinski and the Wachowski sisters has fallen under the radar. There is nonetheless a devoted and growing fan base, especially among politically active viewers. Panelists examine the groundbreaking representations of gender, sexuality, race, religion, and identity in the show while also challenging its US-centric interpretations of other countries. *Spoilers Abound* for non-viewers, but why not come see what you’ve been missing?

Kate Elliott (M), Mark Oshiro, Meg Frank, Sunil Patel

That’s it! (isn’t that enough?)

Poisoned Blade blog tour: schedule

This post is from The NOVL

Blog Tour: Poisoned Blade

Are you ready to find out what happens after Court of Fives? The sequel is coming out next week on Tuesday, August 16th! Poisoned Blade promises to be a deeper dive into the politics at hand, and trust us when we say this one will twist and turn just as a Spider does.

Until then, join us for a blog tour for all things Court of Fives. Here’s the schedule, courtesy of our friends at Rockstar Book Tours!

Week One: 

Week Two: 

SDCC Panel on Love in the Time of YA

Last month (July) I attended San Diego Comicon along with perhaps 160,000 other people (I’m not sure of the numbers). I had the honor of participating in a great panel moderated by the excellent Mary Pearson, with panelists Alexandra Bracken, Andrea Cremer, Kami Garcia, Amy Tintera, and Brenna Yovanoff. I was impressed with how well Mary ran it, and what great comments everyone had.

Even better, the panel was recorded and now you can watch it:

Rostam & Esfandyar (1st half)(Shahnameh Readalong 24)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week: the first half of Rostam and Esfandyar.

Synopsis: “The Prince of Iran Esfandyar meets Rostam who has been living apart from the Persian court and the two engage in a ‘My Dick Is Bigger Than Yours’ contest” 

TG: My feelings about this section are probably pretty clear based on my summary.

At one point they even *literally* have a handshake contest. In which they squeeze blood and pus out from under each other’s fingernails. (At least the narrative is ALL IN).

My two real issues with section are:

a) nobody listens to good advice

b) wtf motivations

Both Esfandyar’s mother Katayun and his advisor Pashutan give Esfandyar good advice multiple times, but he disregards them. His only counter-point is a good one, (that it’s bad news to go against the king’s command) but I’m not sure it out weighs the legions of reasons Katayun and Pashutan offer to disregard his father’s unreasonable command. What’s the point of having advisors if you never listen to them? Only Afrasyab regularly listened to his advisor, and of course his advisor was evil and led him astray again and again.

With Katayun, at least, I’m pretty sure Esfandyar only asked her because he thought she’d tell him what he wanted to hear. When she doesn’t, he treats her terribly and regrets asking her at all. When he says those mean things to her about asking a woman’s advice I think he’s making it up, since he’s all “some guy said this” instead of having an actual citation.

As for motivations…. I think it’s interesting that Esfandyar is so interested in inheriting the throne before his time, just like Goshtasp was and did, and I can’t help but wonder what we missed thematically in the skipped-over section that might have helped us understand the shift from heirs being named only when the king was near death to this legacy situation. Is it just that Lohrasp has a living son, who has a living son, instead of sons dying tragically? Is it a shift with the coming of Zoroaster? The desire to take the crown from your father doesn’t seem like something that should sit well with the presence of farr.

The other aspect of my wtf motivations reaction is that I have mixed feelings about the kind of narrative when prophecy causes its own conclusion: If Goshtasp hadn’t had his son’s astrological chart read, would any of this happened? And when he gets the prophecy, he only momentarily tries to figure out a way to thwart it. When the councilor says you can’t change fate Goshtasp seems to decide “well, if I can’t change my son’s fate of dying at Rostam’s hand, I guess I should just give in and create a TERRIBLE SCENARIO.”


esfandyar fighting wolves

Esfandyar, wearing lamellar armor and a lovely helm, and riding a splendid black horse, wields a sword as he hunts two gray wolves (one of which has ANTLERS) in a landscape of trees and bushes.

KE: Goodness. We have finally met a man who is as obnoxious and self centered as Rostam.

The first thing that strikes me on reading Rostam and Esfandyar (the first half) is that the dispute between Khosrow and Zal isn’t really over. Zal spoke out against Khosrow’s decision to leave the kingship, and while he apologized (in a beautiful gesture) for doubting the king’s appointment of Lohrasp as his heir, in fact it now seems that Rostam and Zal have not acknowledged Lohrasp’s heir in any meaningful way. That in part is what ignites this rather dreadful story.

Once again a mother gives advice to her son and is ignored, this time with bonus sexism about women’s advice. At first I thought Esfandyar was too young to have married but he has a grown son, so it’s interesting that none of his wives/concubines are deemed important enough to influence him. Again I can’t analyze because I don’t know the cultural context but it’s fascinating to me which of our famous men are given relationships with mothers, which with wives, and which basically have no female figure to interact with as adults.

The debates between the two men are amusing as they each strive to out-dick each other using courtly flowery language mixed with stabs of insults and demands. Also, I want to note that I wrote the previous sentence before I saw Tessa’s comments, just to note that we independently came to the conclusion that Esfandyar is a dick to rival Rostam.

I was also intrigued and puzzled by the son who wants to supplant his father, in contrast to the father who (in the case of Kavus, for example) steps aside when it is time for his son (or grandson) to take his place. It does feel as if a sea change has happened, or a cultural shift. As we haven’t reached Alexander the Great’s time yet I’m not sure if all of this still exists in the “legendary past” or if any of it has any correspondence to the Achaemenid era. It doesn’t seem to, but (according to the book I mentioned last week) it’s clear the Persians have had a tradition of “Books of Kings” from before the time of Alexander and maybe as far back as the Median kings who reigned prior to Cyrus and the Achaemenids.

The thing is: given Esfandyar’s history of wanting to supplant his father, why would Goshtasp even try to stop him from getting killed by Rostam? That absolves him from the crime of killing his own son or acting against him, and rids him of an heir who will never be satisfied until his father is dead.

Oh, and yes: The handshake scene is a classic piece of dick dueling. I am sure we should be more respectful of the deep masculine profundity in all this, but I just can’t.

Next week: The second half of this story will doubtless end badly for someone whose name is Esfandyar.

Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow