Simon Ysidro and Gerald Tarrant: A Comparison

Those able to read Polish might be aware of the admiration that I have for the 1988 novel by Barbara Hambly, Those Who Hunt the Night, and its sequel, Travelling with the Dead. Cover for "Those Who Hunt the Night"I picked the book, having read Celia Friedman’s very favourable description, naming it as one of the best vampire novels ever written ( I must say that, in my opinion, this praise is fully deserved. Moreover, it is ineresting to look at the similarities and parallels between the main characters created by the two writers: Celia S. Friedman’s Gerald Tarrant and Barbara Hambly’s don Simon Ysidro.

A the heart of Hambly’s novel we have a difficult and complicated cooperation between two unwilling companions: James Asher, an ex-spy turned Oxford professor, and the pround,  400-year-old Spanish aristocrat turned vampire, don Simon Ydisro. For any reader of the Coldfire trilogy the model sounds familiar. The similarities, however, go beyond the main modfel of interaction between characters; the characters themselves seem to have a lot in common.

These similarities between Tarrant and Ysidro seem to exist on at least a few levels: their looks and demeanor as well as their wolrdview and lifestyle and, last but not least, their relationship with the other protagonist of the novel. 

There are quite a few similarities between Ysidro and Tarrant, as far as their looks are concerned – enough to make a reader who knows one of the characters treat the other one as somewhat familiar. Both look like young men, slender, tall and fair-haired, with delicate yet strong features, pale eyes and long-fingered hands; both, in short, have the looks that can be described as aristocratic. Both also have a predilection for clothes that seem, in the eyes of the human protagonists, a just a little bit old-fashioned, while at the same time elegant and rather costly.

Their aristocratic looks are closely connected with their origins; both Ysidro and Tarrant belong by birth to the aristocracy of their respective lands and both at a time pursued careers at royal courts. Ydisro came to Elizabethan England as a courtier to the Spanish king, while Tarrant was, for a time, an important person at the court of king Gannon. The similarity as such would not mean much, if not for the fact that in both cases their aristocratic origins are somehow reflected in their behaviour. Tarrant as well as Ysidro are all too aware of their own value and position (you cannot honestly call any of them humble…) and their look at those lower than them (i. e.: the rest of humanity, more or less) with something approaching ironic disdain.

Even more importantly, their mien and demeanor seems similar. The opinions of Damien Vryce and James Asher are nearly identical : they notice immediately that their undead companions move with the grace of predators: Ysidro is comaped to a cat, Tarrant to both a cat and a snake. This feature is not exclusive to them, as it seems rather common in descriptions of vampires; what is parfticular, however, is the mien and the facial expressions. From the first moments of his acquintance with Ysidro James Asher notices that his main way of reacting to the world of mortals is dark amusement; it takes Damien a while longer to start noticing the same reaction it in Tarrant. Also, although both Tarrant annd Ysidro do look human, there is something in their eyes that proves that they have long ago left their humanity behind. In both cases, however, more often than not there is something, some flicker of emotion or regret that proves that some shadows, some remnants of that lost humanity are still there. Neither Tarrant nor Ysidro deny that they are no longer humans – quite the opposite, both seem to stress that fact, though at least in Tarrant’s case his statements seem more ironic and, in some way, almost masochistic rather then filled with pride. Both are, or were, religious – and both know with absolute certainty that their souls have been damned and that, shouyld death ever catch up with them again, they are bound for Hell. Neither of them denies the responsibility for the crimes the had committed to survive – and both seem secretly regret those crimes, being at the same time perfectly aware that, if asked again, they would have made the same choice.

400-year-old Ysidro and nearly a millenium-old Tarrant are among the oldest undead beings in their respective worlds, yet both are suprisingly well adjusted to the newer world. Tarrant may have some quibbles about the modern manners and Ysidro might dislike trains, but none of them even approaches the level of Anne Rice’s Armand and his inability to understand the changing world. Conversely, both use the mechanisms and opportunities of the progress (first and foremost, the economical ones) to guarantee for themselves a comfortable existence, which mostly means solitude. Both Ysidro and Tarrant use the money, among other things, on intellectual pursuits: their houses are full of books and, as they both shre the belief that even a good memory starts failing you after a few centuries, also notes.

Whatever they say or think about themselves, Tarrant as well as Ydisto still can, and do, react emotionally on other humans, feel not only anger or hatred, but also pity, sympathy, friendship, even love. Gerald, in his last journey with Damien, gives up killing and hunting, just like Simon does when he travels with Lydia, James Asher’s wife, to Istanbul.

Importantly, Ysidro and Tarrant are able, against all odds, to make friends among humans -p and those friendships also seem rather similar. Both the cooperation between Asher and Ysidro and that between Damien and Gerald starts with threats and less than willing partnership. In both cases is is accompanied by the deep convictrion on the part of the human side that they would have to, at some point, risk geting rid of the monster for the good of humanity, even though in both cases it is painfully obvious that such a task would be suicidal. However, both Vryce and Asher at some realize that the hatred and distrust towards the monster starts to vanish, replaced by – or rtaher, mixed with – admiration, loyalty and, well, love. Their cooperation results not as much in the corruption of the human side (although Damien does accuse himself of it) as in the humanization of the monster and the birth of unexpected comradeship and understanding. Their friendship grows strong enough to force Damien to weep for Tarrant’s apparent death and make Asher hope that against all odds Simon had survived the massacre in Istanbul.
One may also add that both Ysidro and Tarrant are not immune also to the more tender feelings towards (mortal) women: Tarrant has this strange, difficult to define weakness for Narilka Lessing, and Ydisro all but falls in love with Lydia Asher, when they travel together… Obviously, both Ysidro and Tarrant are presented as sexually attractive, but this seems to be the staple of the genre rather that an individual feature.

Now, let us make one thing clear: all of the above is not to prove that the character of Tarrant is just a copy of Ysidro’s, not in the least. Firstly, I would see the similarities more as a homage than anything else (1); secondly, what matters is the way in they differ.

The main difference, in my opinion, is the nature and scale of their fall and their moral responsibility. Simon was changed and lived a life of bloodshed and killings – a private life of as private man. Tarrant’s fall, however, was symbolic: when he fell, he wasn’t just a sorcerer seeking immortality, he was – still, despite being an ourtcast – a symbol and epitome of the Church. His life and his fall were not private – they were public and they created an event that resonated in Erna for all eternity. And even though his final sacrifice was done anonymously and very few knew how it happened that Calesta was destroyed, also this act had a cosmic scale and an enormous significance for the planet and its entire, not only human, population.
Moreover, Tarrant’s guilt was, I think, greater from the start. He wasn’t a young man, lured into a life of a vampire: he consciously sought the means of prolonging his life and accepted the deal with the Unnamed and the fact that he would have to sacrifice his wife and children for it…

It is interesting (and a lot of fun) to trace the similarities between those characters; it is, however, even more interesting to notice how brilliant Celia S. Friedman’s homage to one of her favourite novels is and how intelligently she constructs her own character to suit both the chosen ethos of a (quasi) vampire and the scale and nature of the world she designed for him.

(1) Apparently, as it often happens with insights, this one would have been perfectly OK, if only the facts were different 🙂 See the Author’s comment below, where she explains that the character of Tarrant was first designed years before the publication of B.H. novel. If the similarities prove anything, then, that it is only the truth of the saying that great minds think alike…

1 Response to Simon Ysidro and Gerald Tarrant: A Comparison

  1. As always, I love reading your essays, for the insights they provide. But regarding Tarrant being a “homage” to Ysidro, I’m afraid that would require a time machine. 🙂 The character of Gerald Tarrant was created in 1979, while I was in grad school, including all the elements you’ve described here. When my first book was published in 1985 there were a number of reasons I did not write Coldfire next (chief among them being I wanted more time to work out the mechanics of the fae), but the story was set at that point, as were all the character traits you’ve discussed. I didn’t read Those Who Hunt the NIght until after Coldfire was in print. So I’m afraid this falls more into the “great minds think alike” category.

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