Tag Archives: June

Angelus Ferri

My cat died. I will post on it soon, but it’s had me down.
In better news, though, my muse is perking up. So while I hope to do better soon, I will at least post some fictiony stuffs.
This is a continuation of Prism Sentence and Light Reading. Both of those stories were based on Inspiration Monday posts by BeKindRewrite.
In keeping with tradition, so is this one. I give you the dissonant serenity of the Angelus Ferri. I am starting to figure out where this is going. I think.
.
What are you doing, cowering like a five-year-old? You’re Angelus Ferri. Get up. 
Tenebrae pushed herself to a crouch. Her whole body was shaking uncontrollably causing the bladed ‘wings’ shielding her back to make soft metallic sounds.
The blue searchlight that had been chasing her for days beat down on her, but nothing else had happened. She felt exposed, cornered, but her tormentors remained maddeningly silent.
Shading her face with with one ‘wing,’ she looked up and roared.  “If you want me, come for me!”
The blue light flickered. Shadows cast by nothing she could see began to look like forms and faces. She squinted at them. Her attention fell on one that looked familiar. Realization trickled through her like cold water. He was one of her former comrades, left to die when she defected. That connection caused her to recognize the others. All of them were dead. Either she had killed them under orders, or they were collateral damage from her shifting allegiance.
She turned, again, and ran.

“Shift change. Thank God!” Sertor stretched and handed a clipboard to his replacement, Adrian. “Everything’s been pretty standard. No issues.”
“Thanks,” said Adrian, flipping through the notes. Aula’s replacement, Marius, was already practically asleep at his desk.
Sertor snorted at the sight, “Lazy lump,” and kicked the leg of Marius’s chair. The man startled awake, glared groggily, then rested his head on his arms again.
Some time after Sertor walked out, Adrian moved to check Marius’s pulse.
Oughta sleep for a while, after a dose like that.
He flipped through the notes to find the cypher Sertor had left him.
-It’s starting to get to her. We need to act quickly. See prismer 71.-
Adrian felt his stomach tighten. What if she won’t cooperate? What if she breaks?
Swallowing his anxiety, he quickly checked both his own prismers and Marius’s. The last thing he needed was the oneirologist checking in on them.
Everything looked good, for now. But he had only one shift to do what needed to be done. He glanced over the list of prismers to find the most recent addition. The longer anyone had been there, the less likely they would be of any help.
As Sertor had said, it was prismer 71. “Octavian  Laurentius,” Adrian mumbled. “Nasty list of charges. But nothing she can’t handle, assuming she’s still herself.” Carefully, he adjusted the prism for 71. Then for prismer 67, bringing them to a slightly closer frequency. Little by little, over the next few hours, he continued his adjustments.

Tenebrae’s feet pushed the ground behind her until, finally, a step met no resistance and she fell. It was almost a relief to be helpless, to know that there was nothing she could do. Falling was very like floating until the end.
She landed hard, but not hard enough. Her wings, never designed for flight, had closed together to protect her from their sharp edges. She flexed them open again and stood up.
The searchlight was gone, now. Instead there was a globe of light near her feet, shining up through a translucent floor. The ground stretched out, featureless, as far as she could see in any direction, until it met the unnaturally still storm-cloud sky.
Picking a direction at random, Tenebrae started off at a loping, energy-efficient run. Every time her foot struck the floor, there was a flare of light.
I might as well be screaming “hey, I’m here!” Not that I’ve got any better option.
As she covered more ground, she began to see shapes moving under her. They were difficult to make out, but a moving curve, here, and a flickering reflection there, brought her to a halt.
She watched the floor intently. There. What is that?
The line of a flank slipped by, as graceful as an eel, and the size of a whale.
The creature moved out of sight. Then it struck at her feet, causing the floor to vibrate. Tenebrae saw a wide orange eye and a flash of inward-curving teeth before it withdrew, only to ram the floor again a moment later. She tensed to run.
Run where? Why?
The calm she had while falling came over her again. Another eel-monster had joined the first and was also striking at the ground under her feet. Tenebrae knelt down, staring at the teeth with a dissonant, disconnected serenity.
When the creatures struck again, she began pounding in the same place with her fists and the wrists of her wings. Cracks formed between them.

Octavian had no idea how long he had been walking before he emerged from the forest. He came out onto a dry red landscape under a cool twilit sky. It was beautiful, but no more settling than the forest. The hateful giant lightning bug was drifting along beside him, but he tried not to think about it. The only thing he remembered clearly about his recent experiences was the pain of touching the thing.
A sound like the first crack of lightning, without the accompanying echoes of thunder, split the air. Looking up, Octavian realized that what he had taken for roiling clouds were giant eels, as big as dragons, swimming through the sky. Several of them had converged on a bright point, from which spread glowing cracks.
The sky shattered, raining down shards as the eels escaped up into the black expanse above. Octavian dove for cover against a tree.
When he looked up again, the red landscape was dusted with something too crystalline to be snow. It crunched under foot, and sent up puffs of dust if he wasn’t careful.
Ahead of him was another light, like the one that followed him. He felt desperate at the sight of it, though he could not have said why. Slowly, he made his way towards it.
His light, and the one he was approaching, flickered together. They both looked like bio-luminescent jellyfish suspended in midair.
There was a person lying on the ground in front of him, very still.
Angelus Ferri.
The metal wings reflected the dim light and cast the rest of the body in shadow. When it moved, Octavian took a step back. The face that looked up at his was scarred, and the eyes were unreadable.
The Angelus only spared him a glance before taking in the rest of her surroundings. Then her face twisted in what could have been anger, or frustration, or anguish, and she slumped back to being a heap on the ground.
“You… have a light, too.” He said, after a while.
The Angelus twitched, but did not respond. Octavian sat down and wrapped his arms around his legs. There did not seem to be anything to do but wait.

Adrian studied the readouts, holding his breath as they finally synced. He waited for a few minutes, his heart racing, to be sure that they were stable, then he sat back and closed his eyes in relief.
.

Dose of Tolkien

Because, you know, I can’t let this blog go too long without something Tolkien-related.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled.
He walked along and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.

Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening.

He heard there oft the flying sound
Of feet as light as linden-leaves,
Or music welling underground,
In hidden hollows quavering.
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,
And one by one with sighing sound
Whispering fell the beechen leaves
In the wintry woodland wavering.

He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.
Her mantle glinted in the moon,
As on a hill-top high and far
She danced, and at her feet was strewn
A mist of silver quivering.

When winter passed, she came again,
And her song released the sudden spring,
Like rising lark, and falling rain,
And melting water bubbling.
He saw the elven-flowers spring
About her feet, and healed again
He longed by her to dance and sing
Upon the grass untroubling.

Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinuviel! Tinuviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinuviel
That in his arms lay glistening.

As Beren looked into her eyes
Within the shadows of her hair,
The trembling starlight of the skies
He saw there mirrored shimmering.
Tinuviel the elven-fair,
Immortal maiden elven-wise,
About him cast her shadowy hair
And arms like silver glimmering.

Long was the way that fate them bore,
O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.

– J.R.R. Tolkien


N. T. Wright: “The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them”

This blog is hit or miss for me (though always interesting) but this quote is a definite “hit.”

Dover Beach

N. T. Wright

“The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual. This is not to say that all humans, and all societies, are equally good or bad; far from it. Merely that we are all infected and that all easy attempts to see the problem in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are fatally flawed.”
– N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture

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Xena, Arizona Ranger

The other day I was listening to Marty Robbins, as I do now and again (after all, the man’s voice is like gelato, creamy and smooth). Specifically, the song Big Iron. Songs often influence, or interweave with, my writing. This song makes me think of the main protagonist of my WIP, who is a ranger, though not quite like the Rangers of the Old West, idealized or otherwise; not entirely unlike them, either.

The thing is, my ranger-protagonist is a woman. She’s not a gun-slinger, partly because her distance-vision is terrible, but mostly because there aren’t any guns in her world. However, I can definitely see her hunting down an outlaw and taking no prisoners.

So, on impulse, I stopped the music and began to re-sing the song to myself with the ranger being female. Then, when I reached the part about the outlaw, he became a woman, too. The result follows.

“Big Iron,” by Marty Robbins, altered lyrics in red.

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day,
Hardly spoke to folks around her, didn’t have too much to say.
No one dare to ask her business, no one dared to make a slip,
The stranger there among them had a big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was early in the mornin when she rode into the town.
She came ridin from the south side, slowly looking all around.
She’s an outlaw, loose and runnin,” came the whisper from each lip,
“And she’s here to do some business with the big iron on her hip,”
Big iron on her hip.

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red.
Many folks had tried to take her, and that many folks were dead.
She was vicious and a killer, though a girl of twenty-four,
And the notches on her pistol numbered one and nineteen more,
One and nineteen more.

Now the stranger started talkin, made it plain to folks around,
Was an Arizona Ranger, wouldn’t be to long in town.
She came here to take an outlaw back alive, or maybe dead,
And she said it didn’t matter, she was after Texas Red,
After Texas Red.

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red,
But the outlaw didn’t worry, those that tried before were dead.
Twenty folks had tried to take her, twenty folks had made a slip,
Twenty-one would be the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet.
It was twenty-past-eleven when they walked out in the street.
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath,
They new this handsome Ranger was about to meet her death,
About to meet her death.

There was forty feet between ’em when they stopped to make their play,
And the swiftness of the Ranger is still talked about today.
Texas Red had not cleared leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped,
And the Ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round.
There, before them, lay the body of the outlaw on the ground.
Oh she might’ve went on livin, but she made one fatal slip,
When she tried to match the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

Big iron, big iron,
When she tried to match the Ranger,
With the big iron on her hip.

 

It certainly changes the mental imagery, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love the original version of the song, too, and am as happy to sing it as to sing my slight adjustment.  Since doing this, though, I’ve tried flipping the pronouns in other songs, and it nearly always works.

Anyone who reads my blog consistently knows that I consider myself a feminist, and I in no way feel that I have to choose between feminism and loving and respecting men. Feminism, to me, means being considered a whole person, on equal standing with men, who are also whole people.

The culture I live in is riddled with messages that I don’t like. Few stories have interesting (much less powerful) female characters, and alternative feminist narratives sometimes seem to belittle, if not demonize, women who desire traditional female roles. It all makes me want to throw up my hands and shout “stop telling me what I should want and give me some better stories!”

Things are getting better in this regard, but progress seems slow. I will keep playing with songs and writing my own stories that neither limit women to periphery or symbolic roles, nor demonizes them if they make their mark on the world by keeping a home and raising children.


Errant Star

An short for BeKindRewrite’s InMon challenge. One of my darker characters decided to philosophize a bit. I should probably preface this with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, so here it goes: The views and opinions in this snippet are those of the character and do not necessarily represent those of the author.

Personally, I know very little of astrology and so far as I am aware, there is no star of Melinoe, much less an errant star (planet). Melinoe is, however, a minor figure in Greek mythology, a nymph of the underworld associated with ghosts, nightmares, the moon, and madness. Cheery stuff.

 

I was born under an errant star. So are many great men, their restlessness driving them to fame. But it is said that men born under the ascendancy of Melinoe’s star are destined for great madness, or for the bringing of death, or both together

I have heard it said that there is no fate, that we make ourselves. It may be so, for as I look back, every step I have taken was a choice made freely. Every time I took a life I had clear reason, a purpose. If I knew nothing of star-wheels and prophecies I would never think twice. And yet, I was born beneath the influence of Melinoe’s wandering light.

Which begs the question: Am I an unwitting slave to cosmic patterns? If so, the blood on my hands is blood on the stars. They are the murderers and I am but their tool. Is that why some stars are tinged with red?

If not, if I have done these things of my own will, have the stars, since before my birth, been following me?


An Exercise in Eccentricity

In my last post, I asked some questions and promised to give my own answers in my next post. This is that post.

The questions remain open to be answered, though. I really do need some outside input to help break me out of my usual creative patterns.

So, if you intend to answer these questions, please do so BEFORE READING THIS POST! I don’t want to influence your answers.

That said, here goes nothin:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… there was a great wolf spirit and a great serpent spirit roaming over a primordial world, and they were brother and sister. They were sent to shape the world for creatures who would come after them. 

Now, the wolf was an orderly creature who liked patterns and measures, while his sister serpent loved all things unpredictable and chaotic. For a time, they worked harmoniously, each one seeing the beauty in the other’s plans, but after a while their ideas came more and more into conflict. Unwilling to compromise, they parted ways, each one traveling over the surface of the world and shaping it according to their own desires.

When the siblings had covered the world, they began to run across and change eachother’s designs. As time went on, it seemed as if they would completely undo their own work and leave the world as formless as when they had begun. And so the Great Spirit reached down and scooped them up to release them in the sky where they would have more space to shape and form and would not interfere with the creatures that were to come.

The eye of the wolf is the fixed polar star, ever reliable. The serpent runs through the chaotic band of many stars, and her eye is red and inconstant.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

 4th of July.  I absolutely love fireworks, and New Years is too insane. The 4th is, at least around here, a laid-back holiday filled with grilled food, family, and explosions. Sparklers, and elaborate fireworks displays never fail to fascinate and awe me. Thank you, Chinese inventors! I am also fond of my home nation and like to have a set time to celebrate its existence.

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

 I want to read a story that involves a magical lint brush. Why? Because the non-magical kind don’t work nearly well enough to solve my cat-hair issues.

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

Brightsnap: brightsnap is an alchemical transmutation creating silvery beads that explode on sharp impact, exuding a blinding light for as long as a minute. Because honest uses of brightsnap are rare, it has been outlawed and knowledge of the ingredients and process have been suppressed. On the black market, the beads now fetch a high price. 

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

I’ve been doing this one for a while, so I will pick one I haven’t yet added to my list. 

Trillium: a meeting of ways/convergence

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

This is a tough one for me. You already have my favorite ghost poem, so I must think of something else. I am very fond of several E. A. Poe stories and of some of the folk-tales I have come across. Poe’s work is pretty well-known, though, so perhaps I should highlight the latter. I have little tangible reason as to which folktales and ghost stories speak to me, and which don’t. Here are two very different ghost-stories, both with roots reaching far back into human history.  The first one is a vengeful ghost tale, and the second is a sad one.


A Ramble in Which I Ask for Help

I am not sure where I am going with this post, but then I figure this blog is mostly here for me, so I am allowed to let my mind wander sometimes.

As usual, I am thinking about the craft of writing, the thread of stories, of characters and places and worlds (Earth, and the worlds of imagination).  My WIP takes up a lot of thought and a lot of time, but I am making more progress on it than I ever have before. Not only the actual writing and editing process, but the world-building questions that underpin everything.

Astronomy and calendars have been one focus lately. Did you know that the Mayans (and some other Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures) had two to three calendars in order to map time? All the hoopla about 2012 being the end of the world seems to have evolved from the fact that the “Long Count” cycle ticked over to the same length of time believed, by the Mayans, to have preceded the creation of mankind (a more in-depth scholar of these things than I may correct me, but that is how I understood it).

Anyway, I am fascinated by the different ways humanity has found to keep track of the passage of time. Did you know that the Romans changed the length of an hour throughout the year in order to account for what we call “daylight savings?”

In order to stoke my creative furnace, I have some questions I would like you to answer, if you are willing. I won’t steal your ideas (unless you want me to), I just want to get my sluggish brain thinking about these things again. Consider it an idea-bouncing contest. I will answer them, myself, in my next post.

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

 

Characters are rummy. So are people outside written stories, though, so I suppose that is as it should be. I like my protagonists and antagonists all to be people I can empathize, and even sympathize with. In that sense, I suppose, I don’t write fairy-tales. There are behaviors that bring destruction or redemption, choices made that could have been different, but the paths are those of people, not symbols. I speak no word against fairy-tales or allegory. I love both, they just serve a different purpose.

One of my favorite characters from Tolkien’s mythos is Smeagol/Gollum. He ain’t pretty, and he’s rarely nice, but he feels very real. He could go either way at his crossroads, and the paths he chooses are understandable, if disastrous for him. His is a very human story, one that is easily recognizable in others, but hard to see in ourselves. I hope readers will see characters in my work that they do not want to emulate, but to whom they can relate nonetheless.

Aaand it is probably time to bring this ramble to a close. I need to go see if the little inch worms that have camouflaged themselves in yarrow petals are still about. My garden sorely needs some care, but at least it is alive, aye?

 


Time is Scarce

But I will offer a quote which I have been mulling over from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as well as some of my mullings.

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world and enough of a Christian to die to it?”

Simultaneous fanatical pessimism and fanatical optimism… the words do not, in themselves, communicate what is intended, but Chesterton manages to redefine them enough for me, I think, to understand what he means. I’ve spent a lot of my life darting around people I know like a crazed sheepdog, nipping their heels when they move too far towards extremes of optimism and pessimism. I’ve done this partly because I am an insufferable “fixer” who has a hard time staying out of other people’s business (I am working on this), but I have also done it because I have experienced one side of that dangerous equation and witnessed the results of the other.

But for all this, I have long been aware that there is a good kind of balance and a bad kind. Before I read this passage of Chesteron’s, I did not have a good way to express what I mean.  He opened a new avenue of thought to me.

A bland medium breeds complacency,  resignation, and inaction. I do not want that kind of balance for myself or for others. I do not want to race around myself, or around my friends and family, nipping heels until the person is afraid to move. I want the balance that is stability, but that also propels us forward into action. I want the balance that burns, changes and grows.

When I was in Canada recently, a man walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He had one of those long poles used for balance. This strikes me as an apt metaphor in some ways. When I need to balance, I have two options. Either I can stand still or crawl. When I spread my arms out to their full length and try to walk I am not very stable and I am apt to fall.  A puff of wind or a slight miscalculation can send me reeling because I am trying to balance within reasonable limits. The long pole, projecting far beyond normal human reach, gives a person the ability to balance while walking forward. The pole is a balance between extremes. True balance, in this sense, is not an absence of extremes but a coexistence. This means that my entire life must be an epic balancing act which propels me forward, not static inaction in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

Maintaining opposing extremes within myself is akin to playing with fire (I love fire).  Extremes are dangerous, but then a lack of extremes is equally dangerous.  If I shift my grip too far towards one end of the pole, I will topple, just as I would lose my balance without the aid of the pole. Constant vigilance is needed. I pray to God to help me not slip to one extreme while leaving the other behind. That sort of thing happens all the time, and the results make my hair stand up. I know myself too well to doubt that I can easily slip, with disastrous consequences, and yet I feel that this seeming-paradox is the safest, most healthy course. Irony is ever with me and I am not blind to the irony of my belief that the safest place to be looks, from the outside, so dangerous.

Like all metaphors, this one only goes so far. As usual, I am left wondering how much questions like this can be communicated through words. The above makes sense to me in the same way balancing makes sense to me. At first it was instinctual, and only now am I coming to understand the forces at work. I know enough to say that I know very little. I hope, in time, to know more.


Gothic Galatea

Disclaimer:  I do not consider myself a poet.

While I love reading poetry and admire the craft of “language distilled,” my own efforts are conducted in a lazy manner. I use verse to vent and play, and I know enough true poets to recognize the difference between their work and my own. I thank my mother and my other Literature teachers and professors for educating me in the theory and forms of poetry, for showing me how to read on multiple levels and for steering me away from some of the worst pitfalls.

When I do write verse, its form is usually spur-of-the-moment. I love rhythm; I avoid rhymes.  I have, for assignments, written sonnets, haiku, and one horrible sestina that will never see the light of day (I would burn it, save that it reminds me of the consequences of literary disasters), but I have never felt the desire to write these for myself.  Every few years, however, rhymes seem to build up in me like water behind a dam and they must be released.

What follows is a rare, rhymed verse that I created the last time my rhyme-reservoir reached critical mass. I only write such gothic things when I am in a peculiarly merry mood. Who knows why? Anyway, the perfectionist in me knows that it is quite flawed. I nevertheless find it entertaining to read (it was entertaining to write, too) and I thought I would share. I like it best when I read it aloud.

.

Heart of Stone
.
One sharp twist and the heart is broke.
Of stronger stuff had it been made
Then, mayhap, still intact it laid,
But no, the organ’s split and grayed
And all who know should fear.
.
For once this heart be shatteréd,
There’s naught to hold the fury back.
The mind, pain-raw, will turn to black
And ne’er again will offer pact
Of mercy, love, or peace.
.
The night sky split with lighted bolt
And those too near, they heard her scream.
The moon looked on with faded gleam
To see the breaking of her dream
And how her body bent.
.
Fell eyes of flame and empty coal,
Sharp claws, and hands of icy flesh,
Long hair that leaves and bones enmesh,
And heart that twists and cracks afresh,
Do all a monster make.
.
One sharp twist and the heart is broke.
Of stronger stuff had it been made
Then, mayhap, still intact it laid,
But no, the organ’s split and grayed
And all who know should fear.
.
For selfish love he formed her first.
No woman-flesh could satisfy
His critical, appraising eye,
So golem made, to make him sigh
With admiration true.
.
He did not count her soul to be
As free as his, or anyone’s,
And jealousy in him, begun
When her love by another won,
Did take her from him far.
.
For once this heart be shatteréd,
There’s naught to hold the fury back.
The mind, pain-raw, will turn to black
And ne’er again will offer pact
Of mercy, love, or peace.
.
And so he did her lover take
Unto the courts and thence to hang,
And heedless of the dirge she sang,
Dragged her back to prison’s clang
Of bars to keep her still.
.
But little did her maker fear
The fury in her shattered heart.
Her prison she then rent apart
And unto him she did impart
Her rage and pain in full.
.
One sharp twist and the heart is broke.
Of stronger stuff had it been made
Then, mayhap, still intact it laid,
But no, the organ’s split and grayed
And all who know should fear.
.
His broken body then she left,
To roam the woods and forests wild.
For every woman, man, and child
Who finds her now, and is beguiled,
She is a certain death.
.
Curséd is the man who brought this
Creature life and failed to see
That she, like all who would be free,
Never a soulless doll could be.
He doomed us to his fate.
.
For once this heart be shatteréd,
There’s naught to hold the fury back.
The mind, pain-raw, will turn to black
And ne’er again will offer pact
Of mercy, love, or peace.


Jack, how do you do that?

Jack Lewis, or “Clive Staples” if you want to be formal, has a habit of writing about ideas that I have turned over in my mind before. When he does this, he almost always presents me with a new slant to consider and sometimes even a completely new thought. I enjoy his nonfiction. I enjoy agreeing with him and arguing with him equally. 

Imagine my delight when the copy of Phantastes which I opened recently is introduced by Jack. I have read snippets of his thoughts on George MacDonald before, but this introduction was more comprehensive and more touching. It is uncommon outside academia (maybe it is uncommon within it as well) to have one of one’s favorite authors comment in any length on another of one’s favorite authors. And as usual, Jack’s words touched on my own thoughts regarding MacDonald, and expanded them.

I thought I would share.

“George MacDonald’s family (though hardly his father) were of course Calvinists. On the intellectual side his history is largely a history of escape from the theology in which he had been brought up. Stories of such emancipation are common in the Nineteenth Century; but George MacDonald’s story belongs to this familiar pattern only with a difference. In most such stories the emancipated person, not content with repudiating the doctrines, comes also to hate the persons of his forebears, and even the whole culture and  way of life with which they are associated. Thus books like The Way of All Flesh come to be written; and later generations, if they do not swallow the satire wholesale as history, at least excuse the author for a one-sidedness which a man in his circumstances could hardly have been expected to avoid.  Of such personal resentment I find no trace in MacDonald. It is not we who have to find extenuating circumstances for his point of view. On the contrary, it is he himself, in the very midst of his intellectual revolt, who forces us, whether we will or no, to see elements of real and perhaps irreplaceable worth in the thing from which he is revolting.
“All his life he continued to love the rock from which he had been hewn… His best characters are those which reveal how much real charity and spiritual wisdom can co-exist with the profession of a theology that seems to encourage neither. His own grandmother, a truly terrible old woman who had burnt his uncle’s fiddle as a Satanic snare, might have appeared to him as what is now (inaccurately) called ‘a mere sadist.’ Yet when something very like her is delineated in Robert Falconer and again in What’s Mine is Mine, we are compelled to look deeper – to see, inside the repellent crust something that we can whole-heartedly pity and even, with reservations, respect. In this way MacDonald illustrates, not the doubtful maxim that to know all is to forgive all, but the unshakeable truth that to forgive is to know. He who loves, sees.”

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“The image of a great house seen principally from the library and always through the eyes of a stranger or a dependent (even Mr. Vane in Lilith never seems at home in the library which is called his) haunts his books to the end.”

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“His lungs were diseased and his poverty was very great. Literal starvation was sometimes averted only by those last moment deliverances which agnostics attribute to chance and Christians to Providence. It is against this background of reiterated failure and incessant peril that some of his writing can be most profitably read. His resolute condemnations of anxiety come from one who has a right to speak; nor does their tone encourage the theory that they owe anything to the pathological wishful thinking – the spes phthisica – of the consumptive. None of the evidence suggests such a character. His peace of mind came not from building on the future, but resting in what he called ‘the holy Present.’ His resignation to poverty was at the opposite pole from that of the stoic. He appears to have been a sunny, playful man, deeply appreciative of all really beautiful and delicious things that money can buy, and no less deeply content to do without them. It is perhaps significant – it is certainly touching – that his chief recorded weakness was a Highland love of finery; and he was all his life hospitable as only the poor can be. “

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“It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought – almost unwillingly, for I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions –  the Everyman edition of Phantastes.  A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a frontier. I had already been waist deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment, to flounder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. Now Phantastes was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference.  Nothing was at that time further from my thoughts than Christianity and I therefore had no notion what its difference really was. I was only aware that if this new world was strange, it was also homely and humble; that if this was a dream, it was a dream in which one at least felt strangely vigilant; that the whole book had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize (that was where the Death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later and with the help of many other books and men. But when the process was complete – by which, of course, I mean ‘when it had really begun’ – I found that I was still with MacDonald and that he had accompanied me all the way and that I was now at last ready to hear from him much that he could not have told me at that first meeting. But in a sense, what he was now telling me was the very same that he had told me from the beginning. There was no question of getting through to the kernel and throwing away the shell: no question of a gilded pill. The pill was gold all through. The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I should have been shocked in my ‘teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness. But now that I know, I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round – in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness,’ never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire – the thing (in Sappho’s phrase) ‘more gold than gold.'”

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There is much more to the essay as well. Lewis explores a theory of the nature and artistry of myth-making. It’s well-worth a read.


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