Impendix VI: The Morakh

After the sack of Eremis, the children of Morak were never again united in one cause. For it was the Destroyer who had brought them together by the thoughts that he put into their hearts; and they had failed him. As a weapon, they were too blunt and brittle for his purpose. They had destroyed the city, but not the nation; many of the Färinoth were slain, but many yet lived, though scattered over many lands, and they would not be taken at unawares again. From that time the Destroyer cast aside the creatures he had tempted into his service, and minded them no more. Not one of the promises by which he had seduced them was ever kept.

When they saw how they had been cheated, the Morakh loosed all the rage and violence that was bred into their nature. The empty city they smashed into rubble, defiling the ground and cursing all the land of Ereph. No child of Dân dwelt ever again by the waters of Drath Erem, and the River of Spirit ran untravelled to the sea. In later ages a few rash wanderers dared disturb the sleeping wrath of Eremis, and if ever they returned to the lands of the living, they brought back tales of ghosts and ghouls, fell spirits and foul lights, and their faces were marred by a horror that they could neither tell nor forget. Even birds and beasts kept far away from that unclean place.

Few of the Morakh were slain in the taking of the city, but many in the aftermath. It is told in the Gremni that a swift winter and a hard fell then upon the Southern lands; and many more of the host of Ghrenduz perished of cold and hunger, for they had assembled in haste and without thought of provision. Some have seen in this the Destroyer’s own hand, a final stroke of contempt for his broken weapon, sending deep snows and howling winds from the edge of the Void. It was long believed that all the kindred of Morak had perished in that winter; but it was not so. A few survivors there must have been, for they returned long after to trouble the world again.

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Impendix V(a): The Carvings of Remembrance

The notes that follow are condensed from the published lectures of B. R. Smallbold, of King’s University, Wardhall, who has greater knowledge of the history of the Fair Tongue than any mortal hitherto. The editors gratefully acknowledge his assistance.

Breghwir of Eremis, as it has been told, was the first to devise symbols for the sounds of speech. These were used at first for short inscriptions, usually magical in nature, to bind the words of a spell permanently to the thing enchanted: an advance upon the technique of the Díoni, whose enchantments had to be laid on at the same time and by the same hand that made the enchanted object. Thus Tan-an-Nydh, the knife of Telkon, was his work solely, and no servant or apprentice had any share in it. The wall of Eremis was too large to be built by a single child of Dân, so Telmon was compelled to find a new method. The letters of Breghwir were invented for this very purpose.

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Impendix V: The fall of Eremis

Vairos was the father of his kindred for many long years, and in his time the Färinoth grew to a great multitude; and their first abode, on the hill by the mouth of Aena, could no longer contain them. Therefore they looked to build a new home for all the people; and in this matter Telmon, the brother of Vairos, was first in zeal and in skill.

It has been told that Färon’s sons took to wife those maidens of the Díoni that came across the Sundering Sea, seeking to wed the sons of Dân. Vairos took after his mother Vaimë in looks, if not in mood, and plighted his troth to Lyessë the golden; great joy attended their union, and their house was a place of song and laughter. He was his brother’s elder, but it was not for this that his people chose him as their new lord, but rather because of his glad cheer and his open hand.

Telmon favoured his father, being darker than his brother, shorter of stature but broader of build; his wife was Pirmala, the black handmaiden of Telkon, who taught him all the lore of stone and metal that she learnt in her master’s house. The name Telmon indeed was given him by Pirmala herself on their wedding-day: for it means ‘disciple of Telkon’ in the earliest speech of the Fair Folk. He attended more to the earth beneath his people’s feet than to the people themselves, and was engrossed in his handiwork; and so he did not find favour when his father’s days ended, but yielded the lordship to his brother.

Telmon was slow to master his craft, for stone and metal are hard and unyielding, and strong hands and skilful alone can work them. He had not the power of Telkon to shape the matter of the earth, nor so hot a fire as Ión Tela for his forge; and his tools were few and simple, being of his own devising. Still he was the first of the children of Dân to essay great work in masonry or smithcraft, and a few of his works were preserved with great honour until the downfall of Färinor itself.

But to Vairos was given a new gift, unknown to his fathers: the art of enchantment and glamoury, in which all the house of the White Queen excelled. From light alone were their best works wrought, beautiful yet insubstantial, vivid to the eye but impalpable to the hand. Work scarcely less cunning they did in sound and scent, and in the appearance of movement. All these arts Vairos acquired speedily, for his mind was keen and fresh, and the craft of the mind is not hampered by want of subtle tools.
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Candlemas

As my fellow Catholics will know, today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus, and also the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since that is a terrible name for a holiday, we fake our way out of having to use it. This we accomplish by bringing candles to Mass so that they may be blessed, and thereafter serve as symbols of Jesus Christ, Light of the World.

In some parts of Christendom, it is true, additional customs have accreted onto the original Candle-Mass. For instance: It is truly an inspiring sight in a large church, such as the cathedral in which my Beloved Bride and I were married, to see the whole congregation armed with hundreds of blessed candles. We light them, of course, one after another, until the whole interior of the sanctuary is ablaze with glory.

And then, if the groundhog sees his shadow—

Long belated

In September, I found out that a man can’t write a book in the midst of preparing for his own wedding. (At least not this man.)

In October, I found out that a man can’t write a book in the immediate aftermath of his own wedding.

In November, I had a medical emergency, a possible TIA (or else the mother of all migraines, the doctors still aren’t sure), which left me tired, groggy, and with a calendar full of appointments with labs and specialists. Also, we took on a roommate to save money, which meant we had to clean the flat from top to bottom and back again.

We shall see how December goes; but my Beloved Bride (formerly the Beloved Other) has given me the green light to give my work top priority.

Apropos of which, allow me to introduce Sonya to you all:

Sonya is the one without the beard. Thank God.

Scatterbrained

I have been driving Impendices three abreast, and working in a desultory way at other things (and wasting a good deal of time on Plants Vs. Zombies), and have yet to finish any of the promised work for September. CreateSpace is shutting down and being replaced by the Kindle print-on-demand service, and that requires my attention; and other matters are becoming urgent.

For one, I am getting married. The Beloved Other and I (after a rocky period in which it was not certain we would work out together) are definitely tying the knot on the sixth of October. Preparations for this have been taking a great deal of my spare attention (and nearly all of hers), and therefore I cry you mercy for my slowness at other tasks. Pray for us, or else wish us well, according to your customs and those of your fathers.

C. S. L. on novelty and myth

C. S. Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost is not much read nowadays, as indeed Paradise Lost itself is not much read; and both we and our art are the poorer for it. Milton’s great epic contains much beauty and grandeur and not a little good sense. Lewis’s lectures on Milton (from which the Preface was constructed) are wanting in the beauty and the grandeur, which were not to his purpose anyway, but compensate for this by overflowing with a fount of good sense that is directed with deadly precision at the characteristic follies and errors of ‘literary’ people in our own age. Lewis was a survivor from the previous age (he once likened himself to a living dinosaur), and saw with painful clarity what necessary human qualities were being cast off with the old learning that he had acquired and his successors had not. We are still living recognizably in the age of those successors.

One of the follies of this age, which has only grown worse with time, is the tendency to ‘ironize’ or undercut anything archetypal or mythical, to make the gods and heroes ‘just folks’, to deflate, to take the heroism out of heroes and the importance out of villains, and make all the characters talk and act like bored and unreflective teenagers. The ideal of modern drama is the situation comedy, reduced to a troupe of stock characters making stock wisecracks at each other’s expense. The ideal of modern literature is either an impenetrable and meaningless jungle of very pretty words (for the Snobs), or a perfectly stylized and predictable melodrama that makes no demand whatever upon the imagination (for the Proles).

The idea that there are other kinds of people besides Snobs and Proles does not occur to the Snobs; they have not even thought of asking the Proles what they like or want. And as the Snobs have captured the citadel, the rest of us are supposed to be content with whatever books and drama they see fit to shove down our throats. The dire sales figures of recent fiction from the major publishers, and the collapse of one major film-franchise after another, shows what happens when the Snobs are put in charge of popular entertainment. They are neither entertaining nor popular.

One form that this takes (you see it in most of the Dreamworks animated films, and the formula is imitated to dire effect in cartoon franchises like Hotel Transylvania) is to turn all the creatures of fantasy, from elves and dragons to vampires and talking beasts, into sitcom parodies with exactly the same motivations and neuroses as stereotypical suburbanites in Los Angeles. (Sometimes, as in the Madagascar series, they have the neuroses of stereotypical Manhattanites instead. This is no great improvement.)

By this everything essential is lost, and only a twee appearance remains. A dragon without greed is no dragon at all, but only a giant cartoon lizard; there is not even any particular reason why it should be a lizard. A vampire that does not steal souls is only a morbid sex-symbol to tickle the fancy of the ‘goth’ crowd. In Zootopia we have seen the nadir of this approach: a city full of talking animals that all behave exactly like modern city-dwelling Americans, to the point where any realistic animal behaviour is considered a freak and an abomination. Half the plot of the film turns on the horror (oh, the horror!) of carnivorous animals actually reverting to type and eating meat. The idea that one species of animal is any different from another is represented as the most benighted racial bigotry.

Lewis, if anybody had troubled to heed him, warned us very early on against this kind of thematic degeneration. The whole point of using creatures different from men in a story is that they are indeed different; they are not Just Folks; they are brought in because they are not Just Folks, but at worst hypostasized qualities, or at best, thinking and feeling creatures that are nevertheless not human. Everyone in a modern story is alienated. The humans are alienated from their own human nature, and the aliens are alienated from being alien. One of the functions of fantasy, before it became morbid, was to recover the sense of the alien and of the human; to remind us what we were alienated from, as well as what was alien to us. We might not have lost that function so quickly or so thoroughly if we had troubled to listen to this passage:

There is, furthermore, a special reason why mythical poetry ought not to attempt novelty in respect of its ingredients. What it does with the ingredients may be as novel as you please. But giants, dragons, paradises, gods, and the like are themselves the expression of certain basic elements in man’s spiritual experience. In that sense they are more like words – the words of a language which speaks the else unspeakable – than they are like the people and places of a novel. To give them radically new characters is not so much original as ungrammatical. 

That strange blend of genius and vulgarity, the film of Snow-White, will illustrate the point. There was good unoriginality in the drawing of the queen. She was the very archetype of all beautiful, cruel queens: the thing one expected to see, save that it was truer to type than one had dared to hope for. There was bad originality in the bloated, drunken, low comedy faces of the dwarfs. Neither the wisdom, the avarice, nor the earthiness of true dwarfs were there, but an imbecility of arbitrary invention.

But in the scene where Snow-White wakes in the woods both the right originality and the right unoriginality were used together. The good unoriginality lay in the use of small, delicate animals as comforters, in the true märchen style. The good originality lay in letting us at first mistake their eyes for the eyes of monsters. The whole art consists not in evoking the unexpected, but in evoking with a perfection and accuracy beyond expectation the very image that has haunted us all our lives.

A Preface to Paradise Lost, ch. 8

Impendix IV: Vaimë’s egg

This is the tale of Färon son of Dân, from the day that his father was slain and he himself wounded nigh to death. As has already been told, he leapt into the waters of Aena, the River of Spirit, and so escaped; but it was not by his own power that he was saved.

Now the Díoni, Keepers of the Light, had grown to a numerous people; for they had taken forms like the bodies of living creatures, male and female, and bred new bodies after their kind, in which dwelt new spirits that the Maker sent into the world. The eldest and mightiest of the Keepers were the founders of great houses, and in those houses dwelt their kin, and the prentices of their lore, and lesser servants besides.

Vaimë, whose name means ‘Foam Maiden’, was a maidservant in the house of Cómar, lord of the waters, and went often forth on errands for her lord. It came to Cómar’s ears that foul things had defiled the waters of Aena, corrupted by the Destroyer; among these were the eels that poisoned Quelmë. Therefore he sent the spirit of Vaimë to inhabit the waters of the river and purify them from evil. And when Färon cast himself into the water, though he knew it not, he cast himself into the unseen hands of Vaimë; and she bore him up so that he did not drown, and stopped his wounds with the power of her song, and carried him upon the current into the land of Ereph.

There Färon remained for a long count of years, wandering without purpose, singing songs of lamentation; and no voice answered him but the sounds of wild things. Of all these, the mewing of the gulls spoke most to his mood; and following their cry, he came in the end to the shore of the Sundering Sea. Long he walked on the lonely strand, mourning for his lost kin, and adding his tears to the dark waters. Most often he remained near the bay of Drath Erem. Telkon himself had carved that bay out of the long shores of the South, so that the master of stone and the lord of water might have a meeting-place in that far part of the world; for they were wanderers both, and old friends.

In all these days Färon heard no voice that spoke with words, save his own. [Read more…]

The World State

Oh, how I love Humanity,
With love so pure and pringlish,
And how I hate the horrid French,
Who never will be English!

The International Idea,
The largest and the clearest,
Is welding all the nations now,
Except the one that’s nearest.

This compromise has long been known,
This scheme of partial pardons,
In ethical societies
And small suburban gardens—

The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.

—G. K. Chesterton
(Here in Canada, in these enlightened times, it is de rigueur to love Humanity, and hate the horrid Americans. —Ed.)

Report: Nothing to report

So: Immediately after my last post, in which I detailed the long list of projects that I believe I need to complete in order to have any viable shot at paying the bills by writing, I came down with a moderately severe case of flu. The muscle aches gave me sleepless nights, which I could have dealt with; but I also had a fever, and when I get a fever, my inner ears get inflamed, and when my inner ears get inflamed, I get spasms of dizziness whenever my head moves, and can actually hear the faint whoosh of the perilymph sloshing about in there. (It took me half a century to figure out that the illusion of sound I heard at such times was no illusion at all, but an actual sound inside my ears.)

Kipling observed in his autobiography:

I discovered that a man can work with a temperature of 104, even though next day he has to ask the office who wrote the article.

I am extraordinarily cool-blooded by nature, and if my temperature gets up to the canonical 98.6 (or 37 °C) I am already suffering from all the effects of full-blown fever. With a temperature of 104, I should in all likelihood be dead. But having to ‘ask the office who wrote the article’ is a significant handicap when (a) the ‘article’ is part of a tightly organized book, or worse, a series of several books, and (b) there is no ‘office’ to ask. I find that when I am feverish, the perpetual dizzy spells and whooshes are apt to cut off the whole writing process every few minutes, just long enough for my short-term memory to lose track of what I was doing; and if I do nevertheless get stuff written down, my long-term memory is never properly informed, and next day I have to ask what I was writing it for, and nobody can tell me. This is unsatisfactory.

More specific and serious unpleasantnesses have also occurred, but I shall spare you those. I am very unhappy with life and the world, and furious with my own utter lack of progress in recent days.