Monday, 2 October 2017

Leeth Dossier Q&A part 2

This continues on the Q&A I had with AndyK much earlier in the year. The topic this time covers perhaps a key aspect of the series.

Spoiler alert!

Again, note that because we discussed the first two books, this article contains spoilers if you haven't read them: in other words, it's only intended for people who have already read Wild Thing and Harsh Lessons.

(As a small aside, in Kesha’s powerful song Praying, most of the lyrics sound to me like they could have been written specifically for Leeth to throw in Harmon’s face.)

Harmon and Leeth's relationship

A: I really hope you let poor Leeth break out of Harmon's Mind Control. It's horrific to read what she has to endure. That's what most reviewers are bashing at as far as I can see. And I understand that. It's beyond dark.

L: Harmon and Leeth are certainly the main two drivers.

A: Well.. Leeth seems to be a package on the back seat for much of the journey. During book 2 she mainly reacts. Except the end of course. There the victim finally showed claws. :}

L: I think you're being just a little bit mean to Leeth: learning to be a "super spy" is her dream career, so she was very much in agreement with that development.

A: I know. But Harmon turned it into an abuse spree she can't possible want to be a part of. By the end of book two that showed. To some extent. Also having her trust broken so awfully should leave impressions on her. Would be reasonable if she might even develop trust issues after that.

L: It would have to happen a lot more: she is fundamentally trusting. She'd have to have her trust broken over and over again before she'd decide that was normal, rather than blaming the individuals who'd betrayed her trust.

A: Okay. That is consistent with how she reacts with people. Also makes her more "loveable" for the readers I guess. But will also make her the victim in a harsh world. Curious how that will develop in future books.

L: She'll learn and grow.  Quickly.

A: Were you really afraid you wouldn't get enough sympathy for Leeth from your readers? That's puzzling. If I ever felt a character deserved sympathy and compassion it's her.

L: I'm encouraged and very pleased you feel that way.  That's of course my own feeling, too.  But I know some others don't feel the same way: they say so in their reviews. Even some of the people who liked the book found Leeth hard to like.  And of course the 1-star reviewers found both her and Harmon to be monsters. I found it uplifting to see her survive and defeat the odds against her.  But my perception is very much within the context of what I see developing in the future.  So your comment makes excellent sense to me.

A: Sure.. you see the story and characters in a holistic sense. I as a reader can only see what you presented so far.

L: It is a deep trap she's in.  In fact, she's trapped in several different ways.  Working her way to her best self will take a while.

A: I feared you would say that.

L: At least it suggests the situation and characters will be rich enough to sustain a lot of things to write about!

A: Come to think of it: There are two things towards the end of book two that I don't really get:

1) Leeth wants to actually kill him when he tries to set her to Zombie mode. She fails because of the compulsions. And then says she is sorry for knocking him out!? Why? After she admitted to herself she is controlled by a monster? That "Keepie is gone"?

2) Harmon making plans about after they got away from the Department. What a "great team they would be". Is he really so delusional at that point that he doesn't see where he pushed Leeth to?

L: Great questions!

1) She's still coming to terms with her new knowledge.  She's not certain that giving up on "Keepie" was the right thing to do: she can't help wondering if doing that helped kill the "Keepie" side of him. She wonders if she'd tried harder, could she have brought him back?

Partly, at that moment, she was tired: feeling she should have said more, done more.

Partly, too, she felt it would feel satisfying to appear polite while knocking him unconscious — just a touch of sarcasm in her words — though staring down at him afterwards, it instead reinforced her feeling she'd abandoned "Keepie".

2) I feel that if Harmon completely reformed, and was genuinely remorseful, in time Leeth would forgive him: she's that desperate for love. She desperately wants to be needed, or even wanted.  Harmon, knowing that, knows it could be used, merely psychologically, but also (he would believe) he could use his magic to block some memories and implant more compulsions and ideas.  He believes he could manipulate her that way, through varying means that range from truly despicable and evil (the easy way, for him) to good (though that would require spiritual pain and a lot of emotional growth on his part, which he is not very open to).

On top of that, he genuinely admires her, and respects her, and knows he could give her opportunities to express herself that she would relish.

A: Yet he never showed her that, did he? That he admires her or even respects her?

L: A few times he did, yes.  Not often.  But there are probably ten or twenty instances in the books; and Leeth could list them all: because each one, each tiny crumb, meant so much to her.  Harmon himself would probably be surprised by the length of the list.

He knows he could give her opportunities to express herself that she would relish.

A: Again, did he tell her that? In book 2 I mean? Instead he did something that truly destroyed every bit of trust she had left for him.

L: In book 2?  There were far fewer instances; though given it spans only a few months, perhaps the frequency didn't change much.
A: Which again, as a psychiatrist, he should have realized right then, that there is enough to control her right there in her emotional attachment. "Come on girl. This is important. Do it for me. For us."

L: But if he took that approach, she would feel it only fair to be able to use the same argument, and that's not something he wants to allow. It would be a two-edged sword. And he himself wants to suffer no cuts.

A: Well, without some form of control for her or choice for her it was always destined for contest, rebellion, controversy and finally animosity.

L: We as readers can see that.  Even Harmon, too, probably.  But partly, he's not (yet) been honest enough with himself to admit that he cares; but mainly, he believes the experiment is more important than his or Leeth's happiness.

A: So you developed Leeth's character beautifully along those lines. Which makes perfect sense in this environment.

L: So I don't think he's being entirely delusional.  He is, however, seeing a rosier picture than is likely, given their personalities and how the two of them interact.

A: [Re 1:] But after he programmed her and used that trigger she did realize he betrayed her trust, right? Then he started to torture her and humiliate her in public (which she obviously abhors more than the pain). So her realization that there is only a monster left controlling her makes sense. "...and she had enough". I didn't see much doubt in her after that point?

L: True.  But she has had years of memories and shared history opposing that.  She can even pick out nice things he's done for her.  In her heart she knows she can't trust him.  I think that would be a hard truth for her to accept.  And she still wishes things weren't like that. Besides, sadly, in real life many women stay in abusive relationships for a whole range of complex reasons.

A: [Re 2:] Okay, I guess I could rationalize and understand such a development.
But there is not even the slightest hint that he even considers he might be in the wrong. And it's an even longer way to remorse from there.
And it shows she is desperate for emotional attachment. But she should also have realized she is more likely to find it anywhere else but Harmon.

L: If she were older, or wiser, yes, she should have.  She's trusting by nature, though.  Which I think makes his abuse worse. And she is reaching out: to James, Emma, Dojo, Eagle, Father….

"She desperately wants to be needed, or even wanted.  Harmon knows that could be used..."

A: But he never did! That's what I meant in my previous question:  he could have used an emotional bond to steer her. Even if the emotions are mostly "faked".

L: Yes, it would have made things easier for him, and worse for her, if he could have brought himself to do that.  But he can't bear to start down that path.  It's why he reacted so strongly against what he'd learned from that first mind probe in the Institute, when he felt her overwhelming need for love drawing at him: and "ran away" from it by terminating the spell.

A: But by the end of book 2 it's too late for that. Seriously, do you see an emotional bond between them that would allow them to reconnect? After everything he did? After she realized what he did? I can't.

L: Their relationship is deep, and badly messed up, and damaging them both: her much more than him.  So I do see it as a possibility, but it's not an end I'm steering towards.

Their relationship will continue to be important, and will continue to change and affect them both.

L: "he could use his magic to block some memories and implant more compulsions and ideas."

A: If he erases her memory all the time she can't actually learn and develop.

L: Agreed.  But he wouldn't erase it all.  But not erasing it all would likely leave loose ends that might then be probed at to find inconsistencies and cause problems...

A: And he already put so many compulsions on her she is becoming an automaton quickly. And it's doubtful she can actually work under that condition. She definitely won't progress and develop and he probably would have to admit the experiment failed.

L: I don't agree that she couldn't develop in those conditions; but I think he could easily end up in a situation where unless he has her tied up with compulsions and behaving like an automaton, she'd be too dangerous to him personally.

But again, that's not something the story is heading towards.

A: I am just still so puzzled about Harmon's short sightedness. But again, this is the makeup of an interesting character, too. A pretty fatal flaw. Just because someone has power doesn't mean he has wisdom. And he is a poster boy for that.
It's just puzzling he actually could keep the upper hand for so long. Considering the amount of mistakes he made.

L: The mistakes come mainly from his character flaws, and to a lesser extent to Eagle's very subtle manipulations in the background.

And yes, by the end of Book 2 Leeth realises she can't trust him.

A: Also I don't quite get how he supposed her personal development should progress if he so totally controls her. The only thing developing there can be resentment.

L: Her development would be stunted if he controlled her to that extent. But even he knows that.

More importantly, her development doesn't depend on him. So I don't think he's being entirely delusional.  He is, however, seeing a rosier picture than is likely, given the way the two of them interact.

A: Well...  it is consistent with his personality. I can't argue that :}

L: The point they've descended to in their relationship — what you're calling the fire — I see more as the two of them now being a long way down in a deep pit.  I see the changes coming more as an attempt to climb back out of the pit (for one or both), rather than as putting out a fire.

A: Okay, I'd say both are fitting metaphors. Leeth realizes she has to do "something". And he should realize by now he pushed her to that.

L: Yes.

L: If not for Marcie's situation, Leeth would have stayed, directly confronting Harmon, fighting the problem head on, until something catastrophic happened. If she had run away for herself, or run away just to escape Harmon, she would consider that a massive "loss of points" in their unacknowledged battle.

A: ???

He just switches her into Zombie mode and she has to do whatever she does not want to do. Obviously she wants to fight this torture and abuse. But it doesn't look like she has any chance there. It's what made his betrayal so monstrous after all. And why I can't see any productive way those two actually work together. You already described her breakdown. And her realizations that "Keepie is dead and she had enough"

Running away was the only reasonable choice I'd say.

L: I can see other options.  But none that Leeth would have seen, or could have carried out plausibly at that point.  She could have chosen to stay and endure it: but when I peer into that alternate future, I see disaster and blood.

I think the running away was a wise choice for her.

Again, I think that will do for now. The next Q&A topic: "Who is the most evil character in the series so far?"

Although before that I may write a quick article on updating your ebooks at Amazon, when you have post-publication corrections you want to make.

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