Challenge 732 Response
with Ron Linson
Emma Grave’s “Stop, Thief!” appears in issue 732.
What is the function of Roanna’s boots? What else might she have chosen to wear if she knew she were going to be running?
[Ron L.] I have a soft spot in my heart for the fantasy thief class. When I first started playing the online roleplaying game that I later wrote and coded for (see my bio page), my character was a thief, and I had many thrilling adventures on my way to becoming a demigod.
Anyway, the primary function of boots in any situation is to protect the feet. When Roanna abandons her boots, she ends up with feet that are filthy and sore. In medieval cities, the streets are incredibly dirty, even when they’re paved, and running barefoot on cobblestones is a terrible idea. One of the oldest sections of Forest Hills, New York is still paved with cobbles, and I found it uncomfortable to walk on them in sneakers, so I would imagine hard-soled boots would be preferable.
Thieves are also sometimes called “footpads” because they would often wear shoes with some padding on the soles in order to move around quietly. Roanna could have worn such shoes, but given that she wore boots, it might clue the reader in that stealth wasn’t her goal at all. In fact, she leads the thief-catchers on a merry chase and, at first, I beleived she had a contract to hand the pilfered item off to someone on a ship. I was wondering what she would do then, especially if the thief-catchers were right on her heels but, at the end, I was pleasantly surprised.
[Don W.] Thanks, Ron. I can understand that walking on cobblestones can be uncomfortable or even hazardous. If part of the pavement is uneven, walkers and, especially, runners may turn an ankle unless they’re careful.
In “Stop, Thief!” the boots seem to play a special role. Roanna seems unusually attached to them; she’s more reluctant to lose them than almost any other part of her attire. However, I consider the boots not as characterization but as a dramatic device that adds some action to the chase scene.
The author deserves credit for careful narrative logic. Making Roanna especially fond of her boots justifies their use in the chase scene and, at the same time, explains — to some extent — why she seems improvident in not wearing shoes that would help her run faster or more nimbly.
Copyright © 2017 by Ron Linson
and Bewildering Stories