On the Nine Bright Shiners

I’ve been re-reading a lot of the Old Kingdom trilogy (by Garth Nix) recently, a chapter or two (or ten) before I sleep. I seem to always, always gravitate towards it when looking for a nice comfort read. None of it is a “comfort book” by any means, but it’s just really nice to get back to. To escape to.

That said though, one of the things that continue to fascinate me even with multiple readings are how the Charters and Shiners and everything is woven together, and the stuff we don’t know. It’s quite provocative, keeps me thinking and trying to piece everything together, but I never seem to get everything down pat.

(Warning: quite spoilery!)

So we know that there are the Nine Bright Shiners, the first seven of which created the charter and whose power is also in the bells. Five of them gave themselves up to the charter, and two gave up most of their powers but kept their consciousness (more or less) intact. This coincides with the nursery rhyme first encountered in Sabriel:

“Five Great Charters knit the land,
Together linked, hand in hand.
One in the people who wear the crown,
Two in the folk who keep the Dead down,
Three and Five became stone and mortar,
Four sees all in frozen water.”

From what the Disreputable Dog says, as well as their journey down the well in Abhorsen’s House, we know that the two Shiners who still have some form of consciousness in the Old Kingdom are Kibeth (the Dog herself, the Walker) and Astarael (the being down the well, the Sorrowful). Which means that the five Shiners who gave themselves up would be Ranna the Sleeper, Mosrael the Waker, Dyrim the Speaker, Belgaer the Thinker, and Saraneth the Binder.

Now comes the confusing part. Did the five mix up their powers (like in a huge vat) and then partitioned it to five and infused their (collective) powers into the Great Charters? Or did they put their powers into a specific Great Charter, thus having that Charter take on a couple of their strengths? The latter seems likely, as from the book we see that when the Dog barks, the dead and Free Magic constructs walk, synonymous with her title, “the Walker” (she also likes walks, too). However, if this is the case, why did Hedge call the Abhorsen “Astarael’s Get”? If Astarael retained consciousness (which she did) then she can’t be one of the five Shiners who gave themselves up to the Charter.

Obviously the next step would be to look at the symbolism of the Bloodlines representing the Five during the second binding of Orannis in Abhorsen, but even this can be a little vague. During the second binding, we have:

  1. Ranna, represented by Touchstone (King)
  2. Mosrael, represented by Sanar and Ryelle (Clayr)
  3. Kibeth/Dog, who stood for herself
  4. Dyrim, represented by Ellimere (future Queen)
  5. Belgaer, represented by Sameth (Wallmaker)
  6. Saraneth, represented by Sabriel (Abhorsen)
  7. Astarael, represented by Lirael (Remembrancer, Abhorsen-in-Waiting)

Since Lirael says that there will be a bell which speaks to the person for the binding, we can assume that the bell speaks to the Charter in the wielder’s blood. This looks good especially for the Sabriel/Saraneth pairing; and to a lesser extent, Mosrael for the Clayr (waking dreams/prophecies) and Belgaer for Sam/the Wallmaker (the Thinker, creating things). It even makes a bit of sense that Lirael stands for Astarael. But Ranna/Dyrim is a puzzler. Touchstone says that Ranna speaks to him as it’s “appropriate” given that he’s slept for a long time; and, both Touchstone and Ellimere has the Blood of the Crown.

However, given that in the “supposed” timeline (before Kerrigor messed it up), Touchstone was not going to be the King, maybe we can safely say that Ellimere’s blood is stronger in terms of representing the Crown. Since Two of the Great Charters are the Wall the the Stones, which do Ranna and Belgaer stand for? I’ve read (not entirely sure of the origin) that the other Wallmakers became Charter Stones themselves. Does that mean Sameth/Wallmaker/Belgaer = Charter Stones?

Shiner Title Charter representation Second binding avatar
Ranna Sleeper Charter Stones? The Wall? Touchstone
Mosrael Waker Clayr Sanar/Ryelle
Kibeth Walker
Dyrim Speaker Crown Ellimere
Belgaer Thinker Charter Stones? The Wall? Sameth (Wallmaker)
Saraneth Binder Abhorsen Sabriel
Astarael Sorrowful Lirael

But that still doesn’t explain why Abhorsens are called Astarael’s Get, and which of the Charter specifically received Ranna and Belgaer’s power. There must be something here I’m missing. Maybe the prequel/sequel to the current trilogy will shed some light into this?


  • Darael said:

    My understanding was that the Five were in only four bloodlines – that the line of the Wallmakers held the mingled power of two, and divided it acain without necessarily disentangling them when they made the Great Charter Stones and the Wall. It should also be noted that they clearly didn’t pour the entirety of their power into those two constructs – some must have remained latent in mixed-bloodline children who manifested the powers of the Abhorsen, the Clayr, and/or the Royals. If this wasn’t the case, power would have had to spontaneously transfer from the Wall and/or Stones when Sam was (conceived|born), which would appear to go against the ordered nature of the Charter.

    I’m unconvinced that Astarael is one fo the “Two for the woof/ To make and mend” (from the song sung by [spoiler]Orannis through Nick) – the Dog says she’s cursed to be forever outside that to which she gave herself, with her consciousness impinging upon it only very slightly, in one specific location. This would seem to me to preclude effective “making and mending”, making her more likely one of the “Five for the warp / From beginning to end”. The presence beneath the Abhorsen’s house thus has everything to do with her power being invested in the Abhorsen bloodline. People are quick to assign the Abhorsen Saraneth because the Abhorsen Binds the dead – but there’s frankly as strong an argument for Kibeth (if we ignore that we know Kibeth’s not among the five), given that the step following Binding is Walking. The commonality is Death – Astarael’s domain. Three Great Charters meet in that house (the Wallmakers explicitly built the Abhorsen’s house, which is two, and it’s the home of the Abhorsen, which makes three), so it’s unsurprising that a very little of Astarael can sometimes be found there. Or, as the Dog points out, not *precisely* there…

    I would then posit Saraneth for the Crown or part of the Wallmakers, and given that Dyrim is such a good fit for the former, the latter seems plausible. I would leave Dyrim as part of the Wallmakers’ power, and assume that Belgaer the Thinker monitors, analyses, and works with Kibeth to “make and mend” the notional fabric of the charter.

    …he said, four and a half years late.

  • Steve said:

    Ranna is the Stones and Belgaer is the Wall. You can tell because Touchstone fixed the Stones, and Sameth is the Wallmaker,and the Wallmakers probably put more of themselves into the Wall than the Stones, which can be assumed by their name.