The ambiguity of the hounds

I just encountered this phrase in a Le Guin novel: “Rodenne fell to talking hounds.”

And it occurred to me that that phrase could mean very different things in different genres.

The novel where I read it, Malafrena, is set more or less in the real world, in the 19th century. So the sentence means that Rodenne (a newly introduced character) began to talk about hounds.

But in a fantasy novel set in a world of animals who can speak, the same sentence could mean that Rodenne died in battle, killed by hounds who speak.

(Or, of course, Rodenne could be the name of a city, conquered by those hounds. But in other parts of the sentence in Malafrena (that I didn’t quote here), Rodenne is clearly a person.)

I think it’s kinda neat that the different contexts can change the meaning of fell, to, and talking.

(As a friend of mine used to say: “Context disambiguates!”)

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