Written for a college class, spring 2005.
Andre Norton has left behind an extensive library of science fiction and fantasy that has helped to shape the genre and the minds of generations. Her career spanned over fifty years and one is hard pressed to think of a better ending to that career than her final novel, “Three Hands for Scorpio”. In this novel, Norton tells the story of the identical triplets, Tamara, Sabina and Drucilla Scorpy. As the story begins, the Scorpys are kidnapped from their warm and loving home only to be dropped off in a place where none have ever been known to return from, called the Dismals. In the Dismals, the Scorpys meet a mysterious man named Zolan who teaches them as much as he can of the Dismals while the women seek a way out of the crack in the earth. It isn’t long before they embark on a dangerous quest with Zolan that will take them back to their own world. From the start, their adventure is rife with struggles and hardships in a place where the Scorpys cannot be themselves for fear of revealing their sorcerous nature. In “Three Hands for Scorpio”, Norton uses the fantasy setting to help us better understand the dark nature of discrimination and how we can triumph over that darkness by learning to accept help from others.
Many of us have never experienced the darkness of discrimination for what it is today, but through the Scorpys we can identify with what life must be like for oppressed people. At the beginning of the story, the Scorpy sisters prepare to entertain a clan from Gurly. As they are making their preparations, their mother warns them to watch what they say, “See that you keep such remarks and thoughts to yourselves! […] No matter that you can sit in a saddle as well as any man; young females of the noble clans do not make a show of riding” (18). The message we see here is loud and clear, there are some things that women simply don’t do because they are women. This discussion of how women are treated by the foreign clan goes on as their father’s squire enters to report on the happenings in the clan’s country, in his report he tells the triplets’ mother, “Ladies are openly denied the courtesy of their rank; they are set to eat at separate tables and served the coarsest food.” (21). The women of the court in Gurly are being set aside and treated as though they were lesser beings than men. Later in the story, the Scorpys’ maid goes to them just before the banquet and tells the sisters a story that a peddler from Gurly told her, “He’d been to Snarlyhoe and he said how the lord there had women whipped through the streets” (23). This horrible treatment of women is something that is foreign to the sisters. Tamara’s reaction to her maid, “Be sure […] that the Lord of Snarlyhoe, no matter who he may be, does not rule here!” shows us that the Scorpys do not appreciate this abuse (23). The mistreatment of women is something with which the sisters are unfamiliar, having been raised in a loving home that always encouraged them to be who and what they were. As they join the Gurly clan for dinner they see the truth in the stories they have been told. They meet the priest of the Chosen faith, and upon their meeting he exclaims, “Take shame how you show your bodies to tempt the believers. Whores you are, for all your draggle of silks!” (26). The hurling of this insult at the girls upon their first meeting gives us an indication that the stories of a hatred of women growing in Gurly have their foundations in truth. All three of the sisters were appalled by the rudeness directed at them by the priest. Armed with their perspective, we are given an opportunity to look at their oppression from a more personal point of view. We gain a stronger insight into how dark discrimination can be when we look at it from this newly achieved perspective. The sisters, having rebuked the advances and rude remarks made toward them at the dinner, find their way to bed only to be kidnapped. When the identity of their kidnapper is revealed to be the Chosen priest, they learn how deep this discrimination against them for who and what they are really goes, “Nay, he must be saved from such defilement! All the whores from the South deal with workers of the Dark […]” (50). This idea that the Gurlys might be defiled by the sisters’ affections, and that they are being called whores tells us that the priest’s hatred of them is about more than how they dress. He abhors the very essence of their existence. This theme of a hatred of sorcery in Gurly carries through when the sisters unite with an army from Gurly and Sabina overhears one of the men say to Zolan, “You have doubtless lived too long with these Southerners and now they use you to their purpose” (253). The speaker in question assumed that Zolan had been corrupted by the sisters and was not acting of his own will. Later, the sisters are accused by the king of Gurly, “Witches—all of you!” (284). The king, like the man that spoke with Zolan clearly fears that which he does not understand, and we see that it is out of this very lack of understanding that discrimination is born. This sort of deep hatred is foreign to many of us, as it is to the Scorpy sisters, but the insight into how dark hatred is and how it can blind someone to the truth is critical to understanding how discrimination can be defeated.
The Scorpy sisters show us that the only way we can defeat discrimination is through acceptance of individuality and the aid of others who may not share our physical characteristics. A common theme in the book, is that the Scorpy sisters moved and worked as one to overcome their trials during their youth, but as they grow in the telling of the story, they realize that their individual talents also hold great value. When Sabina and Drucilla are separated from Tamara in the Dismals, they find that even without Tamara’s presence they still have power of their own. Sabina uses her skills as a healer to find a plant that will give them more magical strength, and then Drucilla calls upon that power saying, “This Power—to hold it—to make it work for my purpose—this was always meant to be!” (154). Through the use of their individual talents, they are able to get past the wards that trapped them in the maze, even without their sister’s aid. At the end of the book, after the girls have escaped from the Dismals with Zolan, they meet Tharn who is a personification of all of the hardships they have faced up to that point, “The face of our enemy twisted, and he flung both arms above his head as if to seize a storm and pull it down upon us” (294). Tharn’s implied desire to throw a storm at the sisters leads us to believe that he is the source of all their troubles. They step in to defeat Tharn and find that it will take all the strength they can pool together, “During our sharing, […] our bodies remained our own. We sharpened our Talent, fastened our attention once more on the one before the door” (293). They join together to combine their unique gifts into one powerful force that helps to strike down the darkness. Zolan engages Tharn as Drucilla allows herself to be possessed by the spirit of Zolan’s mother, “Drawing all my last strength, the Jug Woman used my hand to hurl her gift” (296). This woman from another time and another place in the world joined with the sisters to defeat their common enemy. The sisters may not have been able to triumph over darkness without the help of Zolan’s mother in her spirit form. This leads us to conclude that regardless of the shape or form that help in a battle takes, it is always good to have help, no matter the source.
The fight in our world against discrimination goes on, even though the Scorpys fight ends with the novel. Norton portrays many concepts of hatred and puts them to us in such a way that we can step outside of ourselves and view them objectively. This objectivity is important to allow us to see what we have been blinded to by our perceptions. One can only defeat darkness by stepping into the light. This metaphor is a key piece of this particular book, but it applies to everything that we do in our lives. It can guide us on a path where we can walk away from our preconceived notions about who and what a person is on basis of their race, gender or religious beliefs. In walking away from those ideas we find that we are all just people and because we are human we are all unique in our own ways. No two people on this earth are exactly the same, but the fact that we all live on this world binds us and requires that we always endeavor to understand each other.
Norton, Andre. Three Hands for Scorpio. New York: Tom Doherty Associates LLC. April 2005.