One step forward, two faceplants

June has not been particularly kind to us. The move took a lot out of me physically, and a fair amount out of the Beloved Other. Until a few days ago I was having severe asthma attacks from all the heavily pollinated dust that had been dislodged from under furniture and behind bookcases, not to mention the depths of a ruinous old carpet that could not be properly hoovered because of its tendency to spit up its own fibres and strangle the machine with long threads of carpety stuff. At one point I had a coughing fit whilst driving, so intense that I nearly blacked out, swerved off the road, and would have driven into an open pit on a construction site if I had not banged against a friendly K-rail and bounced back into the stream of traffic.

Just about the time I got topsides on the asthma, my right knee gave out and I can no longer finish the work of moving. Unpacking is a wild Technicolor dream. I have been hobbling about the new flat on crutches, since my leg won’t bear my weight properly. The quadriceps tendon, you see, passes over the head of the thighbone on its way to the kneecap, and I (so my doctor told me years ago, when I had a similar injury) have an odd sort of rough patch or abrasion on the cartilage there. Ordinarily it does no harm, but if the tendon becomes inflamed, it catches on the rough spot and won’t slide over it. If I am sitting down, I can lift up my left foot straight in front of me like a Christian, but my right foot remains planted on the ground like a megalithic temple. The muscle simply won’t move until the inflammation subsides. It is also quite deliciously painful if I don’t keep my leg extended in just the right position with the right degree of support, and I cannot sleep in that position, so I have been waking up every morning in a fine taking.

Needless to say, my working files are still packed away, though the Beloved Other has done yeoman work to re-shelve a lot of my books; for which I am boundlessly grateful. The Impendices therefore remain impending for the moment. My apologies to all.

Impendix II: The Isles of Light and the Keepers

I had intended to put up a new Impendix every week; but I have been otherwise occupied. Quite suddenly, without much premeditation, the Beloved Other and I have found a new flat that is larger and more congenial to us than the place where I have been living these last seven years. Nearly all of my books and papers are packed in boxes now, some in the new place, some waiting for the movers’ van. Today is the first day that I have had much leisure to give to the promised project, and accordingly I spent some time jotting these notes from memory.


In Färinor, as mentioned previously, apart from starlight, the only important source of light was in the Isles of Light in the midst of the central ocean. It was there that the Maker installed his bright children, the Díoni (the word actually means ‘bright children’ or ‘bright scions’ in the Fair Tongue), to tend his creation, to keep the Light, and to complete the world to its finest details – as the architect of a cathedral will employ carvers of stone and workers in stained glass.

The habitations of the Díoni were scattered widely among the Isles, but they settled most thickly on the islands nearest to Alenna, the midmost, where grew Ynd Urenn, the Tree of the World. It was said that the roots of Ynd Urenn grew all through the deep places of the earth, keeping the lands in their hold, protecting the rock that sustained them. It was also said, though more doubtfully, that the Tree sent unseen tendrils into the upper airs, where they touched the dome of the sky and mingled their life with the light of the turning stars. The especial task of tending Ynd Urenn was given to one of the Díoni, Lysana, who was called the White Queen. None of the Díoni made any lasting dwelling upon Alenna, but the house of the Queen was on the isle nearest to its shores, and she came there more often than any of her people. [Read more…]

Impendix I: The shape of the worlds

After long reflection and consultation, I have decided to go ahead with the project of writing ‘Impendices’. My editorial consultant, the wise and formidable Wendy S. Delmater, has lent her support to the notion of using these posts to advertise my ‘legos’. By that term I mean the more or less original elements in my stories that other people may find sufficiently interesting to want to play with themselves; which is the best way to turn casual readers into lasting fans (and repeat customers). I have discussed the matter in my essai called ‘Legosity’.

(My brain, which as my Loyal Readers know is a foolish and incorrigible thing, thereupon suggested that these fragments of story were not really Impendices at all, but Pro-Lego-Mena. I therefore ordered it to be taken out and shot.)

The methodical part of my mind, however, revolts at the idea of tossing out legos willy-nilly, whichever one seems to be shiniest at the moment. I should like to present these things in some kind of reasonable order, so that my 3.6 Loyal Readers can have some notion of the context. It would be difficult to explain why a particular chess piece, a knight for instance, is interesting and fun to play with, to someone who did not know the object of the game or the shape of a chessboard. So I shall begin, as it were, by describing the contours of the board. [Read more…]

G. K. C. on grandmothers

A commenter on another blog recently wrote two comments, which I here telescope together, as the second was explicitly written as a correction to the first:

If we are to have a stable, functional society, women can have equal rights and political participation, or they can have a functional exemption from moral consequences. They cannot have both.

The disjunction is true and logical, and not only of women, but of human beings generally. But ‘a stable, functional society’ has nothing to do with the case. It is a red herring, and a red herring of a particularly insidious type, because it amounts to denying that the question is one of morals at all. Chesterton made the point very neatly a century ago:

But the whole modern world, or at any rate the whole modern Press, has a perpetual and consuming terror of plain morals. Men always attempt to avoid condemning a thing upon merely moral grounds. If I beat my grandmother to death to-morrow in the middle of Battersea Park, you may be perfectly certain that people will say everything about it except the simple and fairly obvious fact that it is wrong. Some will call it insane; that is, will accuse it of a deficiency of intelligence. This is not necessarily true at all. You could not tell whether the act was unintelligent or not unless you knew my grandmother. Some will call it vulgar, disgusting, and the rest of it; that is, they will accuse it of a lack of manners. Perhaps it does show a lack of manners; but this is scarcely its most serious disadvantage. Others will talk about the loathsome spectacle and the revolting scene; that is, they will accuse it of a deficiency of art, or æsthetic beauty. This again depends on the circumstances: in order to be quite certain that the appearance of the old lady has definitely deteriorated under the process of being beaten to death, it is necessary for the philosophical critic to be quite certain how ugly she was before. Another school of thinkers will say that the action is lacking in efficiency: that it is an uneconomic waste of a good grandmother. But that could only depend on the value, which is again an individual matter. The only real point that is worth mentioning is that the action is wicked, because your grandmother has a right not to be beaten to death. But of this simple moral explanation modern journalism has, as I say, a standing fear. It will call the action anything else – mad, bestial, vulgar, idiotic, rather than call it sinful.

—G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Boy’ (in All Things Considered)

The only real point worth mentioning about ‘functional exemptions from moral consequences’ is that it is morally wrong to exempt anyone from moral standards, which, in so far as they are moral, must be universal if they are not meaningless. Stable and functional societies have been built upon chattel slavery, helotry, human sacrifice, and any number of other wicked and revolting practices. That does not mean that it was either wise or right to do so, or to exempt those societies from the particular moral standards that were outraged by their customs.

Dr. Samuel Johnson observed, as a good Tory opposed to the American war of independence, that the people who yapped the loudest about liberty were the slaveholding planters of Virginia. The inconsistency had to be paid for; and it was, within a century, when the accounts were squared with a million gallons of blood. Yet those slaveholders were paragons of the moral law compared to a good many of our modern opinion-makers and cultural leaders. They should be opposed because they are wrong, for they are wrong; not because they cannot succeed, for they manifestly do succeed.

Impendices?

Just tossing out an idea—

I have reached the stage of life where I have more books in mind than time to write them before I die, even if I drastically improve my productivity (which needs to happen in any case). In particular, there are masses of backstory material behind my principal series (The Eye of the Maker and Where Angels Die, in particular) that could with advantage be worked up into prequels and stand-alones, but probably never will be.

When old J.R.R.T. came up with backstory like that, and it wouldn’t fit comfortably in the front story without bloating and dyspepsia, he had a handy way of dealing with it:

A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir – and he is holding up the ‘catastrophe’ by a lot of stuff about the history of Gondor and Rohan (with some very sound reflections no doubt on martial glory and true glory): but if he goes on much more a lot of him will have to be removed to the appendices – where already some fascinating material on the hobbit Tobacco industry and the Languages of the West have gone.

Letters, no. 66

In the nature of things, I have no appendices to banish such stuff to; but the rules of the game do not require me to let that stop me. Stanislaw Lem once wrote (and published!) a whole volume of introductions to books that had never been written: not perhaps his best work, but an amusing game for some of his readers to take part in. My brain, that cornucopia of questionable ideas, has suggested to me that I could write appendices to books that have never been written, and stick them up here: partly in case my 3.6 Loyal Readers might be entertained, but chiefly for my own reference, so they would be gathered in some reliably searchable spot. It further suggested that since these pieces would come before the books and not be added after them, they should properly be called not Appendices but Impendices.

I have, as it happens, written and posted a couple of things of this kind already: ‘The Worm of the Ages’ and ‘Droll’s Audition’ (both collected in The Worm of the Ages). There is also a lot of stuff on the History of This and the Languages of That, though nothing so far on the Tobacco Industry of the Other, which could go under the ‘Impendix’ heading, if it seemed advisable to air such things on this blog.

What do you all think?

Thanks for the therms!

On behalf of all the Frozen North, I would like to thank my 3.6 Loyal Readers most humbly for their generous outpouring of heat. Degrees have been arriving from as far away as Australia.

[Read more…]

Demon weather

I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather. I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the weather-clerk’s factory who experiment and learn how, in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it.

—Mark Twain, ‘Speech on the Weather’

And what happens to the apprentices who flunk out of the New England weather factory? They get sent to Alberta, that’s what.

Where Angels Die is fiction, mostly, and rather fantastical fiction at that, but there are one or two points on which it draws from life with stark and unvarnished realism. One of these is what I have called the ‘demon weather’. When the demons attack a warm, temperate or subtropical country like Anai, the first sign of their appearance is that the weather goes sour. Winter lasts for eight or nine months of the year, the sun is blotted out by a perpetual overcast, and when it should by nature be spring or autumn, it stays just cold enough to snow, and just warm enough to let some of the snow thaw now and then so it can refreeze as iron-hard ice, just to keep the locals busy and entertained. Much like this:

Beautiful spring in sunny Alberta

This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the kind of weather we have been having here in the Frozen North through the whole of April so far. Once or twice I have seen the sun, but the clouds moved in quickly to censor it again. At the moment we are having one of our miniature thaws. I call it a thaw, because some of the snow on the ground melts, but not any of the ice. Meanwhile it keeps right on snowing, in a lazy and desultory way. At night the temperature dips solidly below freezing (it touched zero degrees Fahrenheit a day or two ago), and the snow-melt turns to slick black ice. When morning comes, the ice is cleverly concealed beneath a fresh dusting of snow, and the cycle repeats.

I have been gobbling Vitamin D supplements, but even so, this weather – and this much of it – is, I frankly admit, wearing me down. It is hard to get up the gumption to write, or to do anything else but the bare minimum of daily chores.

I therefore call upon you, my 3.6 Loyal Readers, for help. If any of you are living in warm and sunny climes, where the demons never reach and the weather-factory turns out a decent article suitable for export, see if you can find it in your hearts to send us a degree. Fahrenheit or Celsius makes no difference; send whatever you can spare. Five extra degrees will make each day’s snowfall run off before nightfall, putting a stop to the glaciation underneath. Ten degrees will stop the nightly freeze-out. Fifteen degrees (if so many generous souls respond to this impassioned plea) will banish the demons and apprentice weather-clerks back where they came from, to Hades or Hartford or wherever they rightly belong, and bring thousands of suffering Canadian children their first true experience of spring. Flowers will bloom, grass will grow, and the Earth itself will turn more happily on its axis. Do it for the Children, for the Planet, or for the rich and noble tax deduction.

Please give generously; or else keep your distance until June.

A joyous Easter to all

I have never been in the habit of playing practical jokes, not even on the first of April, since that was my late father’s birthday and his sense of humour did not extend to such things. (He would have been 91 today, and I still miss him sorely.) This year, April 1 is a doubly solemn day. So I offer my good wishes to all for a happy and joyous Easter; even to those who do not celebrate the day (and I hope they will pardon me for it).

Christ is risen, and it’s not a joke.

14 minutes of fame

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

—Andy Warhol

It seems the renowned Mr. Warhol was off by one minute. At least in the case of Scott Foster, a Chicago-area accountant who plays goal in a men’s recreational hockey league.

At every game in the National Hockey League, the home team is required to supply an emergency goaltender. Since every team has two goalies to begin with, a starter and a backup, the emergency goalie’s job normally consists of sitting in the press box and munching on free food supplied by the catering staff.

This season, Foster was one of the emergency goalies on the list of the Chicago Blackhawks, sitting in at about a dozen of their home games. Last night, in a game against the Winnipeg Jets, lightning struck. [Read more…]

A little bit wrong

Quia parvus error in principio magnus est in fine.
(For a little error in the beginning is a great error in the end.)

—St. Thomas Aquinas, opening line of De ente et essentia

Most modern people have a dangerous and deplorable habit of jumping into arguments in medias res, not bothering to inquire into the basic assumptions made by either side. Their most fiercely held opinions are apt to be based on someone else’s errors, and they don’t even know it. The people who made those mistakes were a little bit wrong; the people who take their conclusions on trust go wrong on the titanic scale.


Today I am setting out to continue work on ‘The Little Charter’. I hope I have not made a ‘little error’ in the first chapter this time. Things go pear-shaped so fast when I do.