The Maid and Butler and Swordsman of Mars


Sometimes characters explain things to one another that they should already know. 

“My lord, your brilliant plan – to poison the ambassador’s wine and then blame it on the Lord-Baron Thumin, with the help of a few bribes and drunken guardsman, is proceeding without hitch.”

This kind of dialogue-embedded info dump can serve its purpose, and I would go so far as to say it can be an expedient writing tool that can serve its purpose. It is, however, also too easy to hamfist, often resulting in long-winded and awkward dialogue.

Until today I didn’t know there was an actual term for this technique, which came up in response to an observation of mine.

Incidentally, I don’t think the poor writing I was pointing out is actually an example of Maid and Butler dialogue. Whatever it is, it doesn’t serve the story well (wink).

If you’re interested in what I’m talking about, please see the rather lengthy bit of excerpt, from O. A. Kline’s The Swordsman of Mars, below. Emphasis mine in bold:

swordsman of mars“Yirl Du!” he exclaimed.

“I shield my eyes, my lord Sheb,” said the Jen, “and thank Deza that you still live. Lal Vak and I thought you dead, and so reported at the castle.”

“What brought you here?”

“My arrest came so suddenly,” replied Yirl Du, “that I am still bewildered. I was sent here this morning charged with inciting the Free Swordsmen to revolt against the Kamud.”

“And should they be able to prove such an absurd charge, what will be the penalty?”

“Death. In what form, I know not. The seven dread judges of the Kamud deal out death in many fiendish forms. Their most merciful sentence is the stroke of the sword. Then there are the mines. A sentence to the mines is really a death sentence, for few men survive their rigors for many days.”

“And what sentence do you think they will pass on me?”

“Of what is my lord accused?”

“I slew a soldier of the Kamud who attacked me. Also I am to be charged with impersonating myself, because I am officially dead. Furthermore, there is some suspicion attached to me, which I cannot fathom, because I was wearing a sword of the Ma Gongi.”

Yirl Du groaned. “You might have obtained an acquittal on the first two counts, but I fear this latter spells your doom. Deza grant that I, Yirl Du, Jen of the Takkor Free Swordsmen, may never live to see my Rad die in such dishonor.”

“But why should a sword of the Ma Gongi constitute such damning evidence?”

“It is believed,” the Jen told him, “that the Ma Gongi are plotting to overthrow the Old Race – to conquer all Mars. There have been persistent rumors that one of the archaeologists has unearthed the secret of the deadly green ray.

“Although we would not dare to publicly voice our suspicions, there are also those among us who suspect Sel Han of plotting with the Ma Gongi. He has so wormed himself into the good graces of Irintz Tel that a word breathed against him would bring instant disaster to almost any man.

“It is said, also, that the Dixtar intends to wed his daughter Neva to this arch-plotter, and that through marriage with her he will eventually succeed to the dixtarship of Xancibar.”

“It is obvious that this Sel Han is indeed a menace to all mankind,” said Thorne.

“I have a further suspicion,” went on Yirl Du, “born when you told me of the disappearance of Thaine’s father. Miradon Vil, a prisoner, would be of inestimable value to Sel Han in his plans for conquest. With the Vil in his power, he could hold the royalists as well as the Kamud in the hollow of his hand. A colony of the Ma Gongi inhabits a part of the marsh not far from Miradon’s hiding place. And it may well be that they, at the instigation of their ally, Sel Han, have captured the Vil and are holding him in some secret hiding place.”

The whole encounter between these two men, and their conversation, is recounted here. When, then, did one tell the other of the disappearance of Thaine’s father? There was no such exchange! It’s like the writer forgot to add a couple lines of dialogue, or even a throwaway sentence like “Thorne told the Jen of his encounter with Thaine.”

I don’t think this qualifies as maid and butler dialogue, but I do know on thing that it is: sloppy. And yet, so far this is a fun little story in the vein of Burrough’s Barsoom tales, and I look forward to reading more.



    • Harsh!

      I recognize Burroughs wasn’t the greatest writer, but I have a soft spot for him. For the most part I enjoy his stories, and John Carter was one of my gateways into older classic/pulp SFF.

      • Very harsh. I don’t like that style at all. And maybe if he’d stuck to short stories like Howard, I’d have been more lenient.

        But Burroughs in novel form is just too much for me to handle.

  1. I’ve always heard this dialogue info-dumping technique referred to the “As you know, Bob…” method.

    “As you know, Bob, my plans to use a magnet the size of Manhattan to pull down a massive iron meteorite from Lagrange point 5 and crash in into Saturnian Sultan’s Spaceport, were foiled in the first two books. So, this time, I ordered the giant magnet from Acme. And with the help of Coyote Company, we will finally deliver the vengeance I have repeatedly sworn upon the Sultan’s Road Runner Rocket Rangers.

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