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The Marriages between Zones Three, Four, and…
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The Marriages between Zones Three, Four, and Five (as Narrated by the… (1980)

by Doris Lessing

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Canopus in Argos: Archives (2)

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English (7)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A fable, a romance but of a very human kind, where the savage breast is calmed by a wise woman from another culture. A novel full of optimism that has a feel good factor that made me smile in recognition of the potential for human beings to live fuller lives. But wait …this is fantasy isn’t it?

The second book in Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series - the science fiction/fantasy series she wrote to escape from the reality and gloom of the human condition that she had depicted in most of her previous novels. While this novel uses ideas from the series, particularly the various zones of existence that surround our planet, it is very much a stand alone book. AI-Ith is the leading citizen of zone 3; a matriarchal society where people are in touch with their feelings, can communicate with their animals and live a full and productive life. There is no war, there are no weapons and the standard of living is high and the people live contented lives, however something is wrong, they all feel it and reach back into their past through their story tellers and songs but find no answers. The Providers (a god like higher civilisation) rarely communicate with them, but unmistakably a message comes to AI-Ith that she must marry the war lord in zone 4. The zones are protected from each other by different qualities of air that make travel in another zone almost impossible, but a shield is provided for the military escort that comes up from zone 4 to take AI-Ith back down to her marriage with Ben Ata. The majority of the novel is about the love that develops between the sensitive, wise woman from zone 3 and the boorish military commander of zone 4. AI-Ith and Ben Ata recognise almost from the start that their union must be successful; the quality of lives in both zones depend on it.

Lessing is excellent in creating environments in which her characters can fulfil their destinies, her lyrical narrative captures a sense of place and provides an atmosphere that holds her stories in a satisfying conjunction. She makes the reader care about her characters who all show defining human qualities that make them seem real people in a fantasy world. There is both joy and sadness in the enforced marriage and a deep respect develops between the very manly man and the womanly woman, that permeates the book and provides that feel good factor. Lessing never descends into kitsch; there is always too much grit in the oyster and for her story to develop into a happy ending. She does however provide a sense of individual fulfilment as both AI-Ith and Ben Arta face challenges from zones 2 and zones 5 respectively.

It would be another nine years until the Berlin Wall would come down from the date when this novel was first published in 1980, and Lessings book is all about barriers that stop people achieving their full potential. The barriers seem all to real to the people enclosed within them, but with work and some help they are shown to be artificial and so a message of hope is obtained from a conclusion that fits the fantasy and brings it within reach of the real world.

Lessing tells much of her story from the perspective of the chroniclers from the matriarchal zone 3, and reminds the reader that perhaps this is not the full story, but one that has come down to future generations. She refers to artwork (not shown in the novel) expressing some of the key events that can provide different interpretations of the story. A fable of events dug out from the archives provides an overall framing device that leads the reader through this fantasy in a most delightful way. I was entranced, I am not sure that this would always be the case, perhaps when I read this I was feeling particularly mellow and receptive to Lessing’s promptings, but then again that could be down to the power of the writing. As of now a five star read. ( )
2 vote baswood | Jun 13, 2016 |
Thought vol. 2 might be better than 1 -- same tedious drivel... ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
There is a scene particularly loved by our artists who embellish it with a vast yellow moon positioned so that it is close to, or behind Al.Ith's head. Or there is a delightful crescent set off by a star or two. and they oft add a large peacock, whose shimmering tail fills the orchard with reflected light.
But it is on the whole a realistic depiction, and I am saying this because it is the last of the truthful scenes.


The second in the Canopus in Argos: Archives series is an allegory about love and change rather than a science-fiction story. Al.Ith, the queen of Zone 5 and Ben Ata, the king of the less advanced Zone 4, receive an order from the Providers telling them that they must marry. Although it is generations since the last communication from the Providers, whose role appears to be to oversee the zones and prevent stagnation, no-one in either zone seriously considers disobeying the order, even though neither monarch is happy about marrying someone from another zone.

Interesting, but I think that I prefer "Shikasta". ( )
  isabelx | Oct 7, 2010 |
I'd read this before when I embarked on my reading of the entire Canopus in Argos series, but I elected to give it a reread in sequence. That was kind of unnecessary, because it's not really connected with the other books in the series. I'm glad I did, however, because it's my favorite book in the series. The Canopeans don't even get directly mentioned; the book is entirely about the inhabitants of the ethereal Zones that encircle the Earth. Unlike Zone Six, which is inhabited by the souls of Earth's dead, Zones Three and Four are inhabited by seemingly ordinary human beings, albeit technologically primitive ones. Zone Three is ruled by a queen named Al•Ith, who is ordered by the mysterious Providers to marry Ben Ata, the king of Zone Four. The book's gender politics are somewhat obvious: though both Zones contain men and women, each is dominated by one gender, and Zone Three is a land of love and creativity, whereas Zone Four is one of repression and destruction.

What makes the book work, though, is the exploration of the growing love between Ben Ata and Al•Ith, as each introduces each other to aspects of love and sex the other had not considered. The book is decently two-sided on this point, though occasionally one gets a feeling of "Well, men, I suppose your destructive and harmful ways are sometimes necessary, maybe." But the two characters are both weakened and strengthened by their love for one another in various ways, and there are some excellent passages about how love redefines both parties. The last third kinda loses me, though, as the pair is ordered to separate so that Ben Ata can marry the ruler of Zone Three, a woman even more primitive than he is. Zone Three lacks the discipline of Zone Four, and suffers for it, being militaristic without purpose or organization. It seems that each Zone's ways are a necessary step to the next Zone's ways, and that what the novel tries to show is a constant mixing is necessary to avoid stagnation; at the novel's beginning, even the paradisaical Zone Three is suffering until Al•Ith and Ben Ata are joined. Indeed, Zone Three is not portrayed uniformly positively; Al•Ith is ostracized by her former friends and family for the change she has undergone. (I was reminded of Ursula Le Guin here, specifically the way that the society of Anarres in The Dispossessed rejects Shevek because he thinks too radically for their well-kept utopia.) But thanks to the novel's events, Al•Ith can now move on to the unknown realms of Zone Two, and travel between the Zones becomes more common in general. This is all very intellectually interesting, as we have just seen, and provided me with a lot of food for thought, but this section lacked the emotional engagement of the rest of the novel. (It is also interesting to note that, in light of my comments on Shikasta, the title of this book also calls attention to the text's fictional origin, and points out that the reader really ought to consider the origin of the utopian depiction of life in Zone Three, though the Chroniclers are much less sanguine about Al•Ith's exile than most of the Zone Three characters.)

I think the highest praise I can pay this book, though, is that until I read Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body, I was strongly considering using an excerpt from it as a reading in our marriage ceremony. There's some beautiful stuff.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Jul 15, 2010 |
Zone Three is a prosperous, peaceful, egalitarian matriarchy, while Zone Four is a poor, militaristic, hierarchical patriarchy. The Providers order the queen of Zone Three to go down to Zone Four and marry their king. Both characters have a lot of adjusting to go through.

Doris Lessing's sympathies obviously lie with Zone Three (though since the book is narrated by Chroniclers of Zone Three, perhaps that is the source of the bias), but both Zones suffer when there is no mingling between the two (or between them and Zones Two and Five) as their different ways of life are taken to extremes. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Oct 22, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Doris Lessingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Siikarla, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Rumours are the begetters of gossip. Even more are they the begetters of song.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586053387, Paperback)

The second in Doris Lessing's visionary novel cycle "Canopus in Argos: Archives". It is a mix of fable, futuristic fantasy and pseudo-documentary accounts of 20th-century history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:18 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Fantasy fiction. The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five is the second volume in Doris Lessing's celebrated space fiction series, 'Canopus in Argos: Archives'. In this interlinked quintet of novels, she creates a new extraordinary cosmos where the fate of the Earth is influenced by the rivalries and interactions of three powerful galactic empires, Canopus, Sirius and their enemy, Puttiora. Blending myth, fable and allegory, Doris Lessing's astonishing visionary creation both reflects and redefines the history of our own world from its earliest beginnings to an inevitable, tragic self-destruction. The Marriages is set in the indeterminate lands of the Zones, strange realms which encircle the Earth. Zone Three, a peaceful, contented, matriarchal paradise, is ruled by the gentle Queen Al . Ith.; the neighboring Zone Four is a land given to war and chaos, controlled by the brutal warrior-king, Ben-Ata. Their marriage, a melding of the extreme male and female principles, threatens to destabilize the entire galactic empire. Many other Doris Lessing books are available in Flamingo, including other four titles in the 'Canopus' series.… (more)

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