Tag Archives: May

The scent-test

Book Meme 2012

Week 8: Best Story Settings

I read for setting.

I love characters, I love plot, I adore good dialog, but give me a book with a good setting. Books where place is not important to the author often fail to impress me, and books where the setting rubs me the wrong way are shut, never to be opened by me again.

I am not sure if I am in the minority or not. I hear of people being impatient with description, and yet so many books seem to be loved, as I love them, for the rich texture of their settings.

When I first started writing, I was interested more in the world than anything else. My characters were cliches and my plot was barely functional, but I got the texture right. Whatever their flaws, I want to step into my worlds and smell them.

Yep, I judge a book-setting by its smell. If I want to step into a book and take a deep breath, I am pleased. That is not to say that the world has to smell pleasant. Khazad-dûm does not, I think, have an airy smell, yet I desire to step into it.  The setting just has to have a unique and interesting bouquet.

What makes a setting compel or repel me? I honestly have no answer.  It is also as impossible for me to choose my favorite setting as it is to choose my favorite book. Luckily, this week’s question does not ask my favorite, it asks the best. Not that that is a much easier question.

There are many contenders, and I could argue the supremacy of each, but I shall stick to one victor and an honorable mention. I have chosen these two because there is something very special about each of them, something that makes them stand out against the many rich and wonderful worlds that literature has opened to me.

The honorable mention is:

Middle Earth, from the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien

Middle Earth stands out from all other fiction I have encountered. It is deep and textured as no other. Tolkien must, I think, have had severe obsessive issues to write what he did.

There are languages that intertwine and evolve, vibrant mythologies, peoples with history and memory, geography that is firm but not static, with a history all its own, and much more. There is not a point in any of the stories set in Middle Earth where I do not feel that I could step in and smell the air. When I read, it feels as real to me as the ground on which I sit, if not moreso.

The rarity of such a world in fiction goes without saying. I have yet to encounter anything so complete. Many have tried to do what Tolkien did, and if anyone has succeeded, I have yet to read their work.

But there is something even more challenging than writing a world as comprehensive as Middle Earth, and that is why the victor of this contest is:

Wonderland, from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll, (or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, if you prefer, poor chap), did something very rare with these two books. He opened a window into the real world of the imagination and dreams of children.  I cannot express how rare this is.

Writers are almost all handicapped by the fact that they are adults. Adulthood involves, among other things, being trapped on one side of the looking-glass.  By this, I do not mean that we lose our imagination, or that we cannot remember what it was like to travel the landscapes of childhood, but as we mature, our minds change. We think differently, and we easily forget, and as such we can see through the looking-glass, but it is next to impossible to re-enter it.

When a writer attempts to paint child-dreams with words, they almost always forget something. Often, they forget the underlying threat. Children may be ignorant of the world, but they are not innocents. Think back on your childhood and pick up the threads of violence, threat, and nightmare and you will know what I mean. To truthfully show what a child imagines is to remember the shadow behind the door.

By the same token, some writers either forget to abandon adult logic, or forget that children have a logic of their own. A child’s imagination is not bound by norms that have not yet been learned, but there is rhyme and reason to the landscape of their thoughts. It makes sense to a child that one half of a mushroom might make you grow, while the other half would make you shrink, and once you accept the properties of mushrooms, the events of the story follow quite reasonably.

The child’s fascination with the world is more often remembered, but even that takes skill to express. Carroll, I think, captures all of this. Wonderland is wonderful, but it is not innocent, or safe, or logical, or nonsensical. It is, in short, a child’s world. In creating Alice’s adventures, Carroll transcended his own adulthood and created a world capable of reminding adults what it is like to be a child. As impressive as Tolkien’s body of work is, I am more impressed by Carroll’s ability to travel in time.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


Where is my toolbox…

This photo belongs to the user Khaki on stockvault.net

Not Funny bot: “This is a comment to the webmaster. I came to your “Requiescat in Pace jubilare” page via Google but it was difficult to find as you were not on the first page of search results. I see you could have more traffic because there are not many comments on your website yet. I have found a website which offers to dramatically increase your rankings and traffic to your site.”

::A heavy CLUNK resounds, followed by sounds of rummaging::

Dear bot.  I usually find the antics of your kind amusing. But not today.

I realize that your tiny electronic brain cannot comprehend such things as “tasteless” ::rumage:: or “insensitive”, but I am in no state to be patient.

It occurs to me ::rumage:: that I could use some more wires and circuit-boards for my artwork.

In the spirit of sportsmanship, I give you fair warning.

::picks up a dremel tool and loads a bit::

If you come here again, I will be waiting with my fence-cutter, pliers, and diamond-dremels. Your wires would make a very pretty mask, I am sure.


Requiescat in Pace, Anne Murphy Raplee

Cinderella had a fairy for a godmother. While that sounds very exciting, I would not trade with her. My godmother is a wit, a craftswoman, a goat-keeper and a dear soul. Today, that dear soul departed, and I cannot say how much she will be missed.

I call her my godmother, but I think I always considered her a grandmother. My biological grandmothers both died before I was born, one step-grandmother died shortly after my birth. Of the other two step-grandmothers, one was kind but quiet and the other was so different from me in personality that it was difficult for us to relate. I loved them, but Anne was closer to me.

In her kitchen was a wall of what looked like ancient and cruel devices of torture. I remember playing the “what does that one do” game quite often. She would tell my brother and I “that one is a corn-sheller” or perhaps “it’s a corer,” when we asked, but she seemed endlessly amused by our more gruesome assumptions. I was obsessed with her collapsible egg-baskets for a while, and her doll-houses, and various other strange and wonderful things to be found in her house and in Doc’s shed.

Doc was her husband. I know he had a name, but I never can remember it! He was always Doc Raplee, originally our veterinarian, and always our friend. Like my father, he was a tinkerer, and unlike my father, he was a tough, gruff old country vet, a complex mix of harsh and tender. Doc died a few years ago, but tragically he was faded in mind before that. Even from the little I know, Anne’s life was not an easy one. She was often happy when I knew her, but her path was rocky.

Anne knew how to knit, and made afghans for my brother and I. She even knitted us a town and a train! I found, yesterday, a pillow she made for me with a horse on it. In my jewelry box is the white-gold heart with her tooth mark and mine in it (we were both curious children, apparently). Her corned beef and cabbage were heavenly, and her conversation was even better.

I could tell a hundred tales. I think I will make notes for myself, lest I forget them some day. For weeks I have been trying to remember the name of her old disgruntled Scottie dog. It is at the tip of my mind, but I cannot grasp it. I do remember Meg, the only collie I have ever really liked. I remember the cow… Sweet Thang, if I remember right. There were burros: Murphy’s Burro, which is funny to those of us who know Murfreesboro, and Daisy. There were also goats. Tons of goats. Anne’s Siamese cats never liked me, but then I was a small child at the time.

Anne’s home had a pond, usually overgrown with weeds, that held, for me, and endless fascination. I think it was on the hills behind that I first discovered the beauty of bones. I spent hours upon ours scouring that hill for the smooth, intricate treasures picked clean by coyotes and vultures and bleached by sun and rain. Anne never complained, at least to me, that my bone-collecting was morbid or unclean. I also loved the hills for themselves, with their old cedars and smooth limestone boulders.

I loved that place so much that, in college, years ago, I wrote this. I was assigned to write about a place.

Cedar of Lebanon

            Step lightly, and watch your feet.  The cows have been here and goat pellets cling to the crevices in the slope.  Climb carefully from ridge to ridge on the fossil-encrusted limestone that peeks through the grass.  Never walk straight. Weave. Pause and run your fingers over all that is left of this seabed.  If you are lucky you will find a bone or two, picked clean by the coyotes and bleached by sun and rain. As you walk you will come to an old juniper whose roots are nestled in the smooth curve of one of the great boulders.  Its shedding bark splinters off the twisting trunk like strips of peeling wallpaper until it reaches the branches, heavy with fragrant spiny leaves and dusty berries.  Brace yourself, back against the trunk, foot pressed in the dip of the smooth stone and suck the air deep into your chest until it hurts.  Then just sit, be silent, and let your senses bloom like dandelions. Let your hungry eyes search the cirrus clouds sweeping the sky, and dwell on the dove gray stones and the burning fall colors.  Feel the sharp, resin-sweet air and the heat of the sun-warmed boulder beneath you. Taste the sun and the wind, and drink the blues and golds as wine. Crush the leaves of the juniper between your fingers and smell the age of their parent tree.  Remember if they prick you, they mean no real harm. Open your ears and listen as the trees sing and the birds rustle and the limestone wears away.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

I look on this passage now, and I know that it was not just the place itself that made me love it. It was the people there, who loved me. Anne, I am proud to have your name. I am glad to have known you so long, and to have been shaped by knowing you. I owe you much for the beauty, fascination, love and joy you brought to my life, though I know you would never call in the debt.

Goodbye, for now. We must all carry on in your absence. Know, however, that I intend to keep talking to you, when I need to, and I am determined to see you again, in time.


Verbage

Book Meme 2012

Question 7: Favorite words and phrases, or lines and literary allusions that would win your heart.

What a broad topic! If I get onto “favorite words” in literature I will never have done, so scratch that. The same goes for favorite phrases. In fact, I am determined to warp this question beyond all reason.  What follows aren’t really lines or allusions, but some of my favorite clips of prose. For your sake, I will categorize them a little. I will begin with faith, move on to humor, continue to awesome, shamefully admit romantic sentiment,  and end with a passage that is utterly dear to me. I have restrained my impulse to flood this post with quotes. It has been painful to leave out so many, so dear, but I must resist! As it is, this post is atrociously long.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.'”

-Isaiah 9:1-2 N.I.V.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter.
The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass;
A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.”

Guards! Guards! byTerry Pratchett

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what’d happen? All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight- to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.”

Mr. Tate was trying to dig a hole in the floor with the toe of his boot. He pulled his nose, then massaged his left arm. “I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death.  I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

Persuasion by Jane Austen

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“The Mountain

Curdie was the son of Peter the miner. He lived with his father and mother in a cottage built on a mountain, and he worked with his father inside the mountain.

A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old times, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them — and what people hate, they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough of them. To me, they are beautiful terrors.

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight–that is what it is.

Now think: out of that cauldron, where all the bubbles would be as big as the Alps if it could get room for its boiling, certain bubbles have bubbled out and escaped–up and away, and there they stand in the cool, cold sky–mountains. Think of the change, and you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about the very look of a mountain: from the darkness–for where the light has nothing to shine upon, much the same as darkness–from the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest–up, with a sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the glaciers fresh born.

Think, too, of the change in their own substance–no longer molten and soft, heaving and glowing, but hard and shining and cold. Think of the creatures scampering over and burrowing in it, and the birds building their nests upon it, and the trees growing out of its sides, like hair to clothe it, and the lovely grass in the valleys, and the gracious flowers even at the very edge of its armour of ice, like the rich embroidery of the garment below, and the rivers galloping down the valleys in a tumult of white and green! And along with all these, think of the terrible precipices down which the traveler may fall and be lost, and the frightful gulfs of blue air cracked in the glaciers, and the dark profound lakes, covered like little arctic oceans with floating lumps of ice.

All this outside the mountain! But the inside, who shall tell what lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones–perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones are rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires–who can tell?–and whoever can’t tell is free to think–all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages–ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.

Then there are caverns full of water, numbingly cold, fiercely hot–hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the water cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood in the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the great caverns of the mountain’s heart, whence the arteries let it out again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and kinds, through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to the light, and rushes down the Mountainside in torrents, and down the valleys in rivers–down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs of the world, that is the sea, where it is tossed in storms and cyclones, heaved up in billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to mist upon rocks, beaten by millions of tails, and breathed by millions of gills, whence at last, melted into vapour by the sun, it is lifted up pure into the air, and borne by the servant winds back to the mountaintops and the snow, the solid ice, and the molten stream.

Well, when the heart of the earth has thus come rushing up among her children, bringing with it gifts of all that she possesses, then straightway into it rush her children to see what they can find there. With pickaxe and spade and crowbar, with boring chisel and blasting powder, they force their way back: is it to search for what toys they may have left in their long-forgotten nurseries? Hence the mountains that lift their heads into the clear air, and are dotted over with the dwellings of men, are tunneled and bored in the darkness of their bosoms by the dwellers in the houses which they hold up to the sun and air.

Curdie and his father were of these: their business was to bring to light hidden things; they sought silver in the rock and found it, and carried it out. Of the many other precious things in their mountain they knew little or nothing. Silver ore was what they were sent to find, and in darkness and danger they found it. But oh, how sweet was the air on the mountain face when they came out at sunset to go home to wife and mother! They did breathe deep then!”

The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald

On a personal note, the above chunk of MacDonald’s wandering is an example of what is often, if not always removed from his work when abridged. To many readers it might seem extraneous exposition, but to me this is the soul of MacDonald’s work. I am convinced that this is what a man writes when his heart is singing, and it echoes the songs in my heart.

I must quit now, while I am ahead. It is agony to leave so many quotes un-quoted! I may have to do a follow-up, or ten.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


A couple more tidbits

There are a couple more tidbits of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy that I am mulling over. I am pleased to share them.

“It is constantly assured, especially by our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is – can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.”

“It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced.”


Adventure

I am making my way through G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. It is quite an experience so far. Sometimes I lose his thread. Sometimes I feel he is expressing aspects of my own beliefs that are new and strange to me, as if he is looking at the prism of the world from a different angle. Occasionally I disagree with him, but that is something I look for in anything I read. If I agree with a writer fully, I know something is wrong with me.

Most of all, I am loving the read. Chesterton’s prose are sometimes dense, but often entertaining, and they force me to think. He speaks of the necessary paradoxes, the marriages of extremes, that are the vitality and mystery of Christianity.

Today I came across a simple sentence that affects, immediately, both my life and my writing. I thought I would share it here for the benefit of my friends and family. For all of its simplicity, its implications are complex and far-reaching, or so I think.

“Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.”


Chridonalchett

 

Book Meme 2012

Week 6: The author by whom you own the most books

I may shock you all by NOT cheating in this blog-post. In my defense, there is not really a way to cheat here other than lying, and what is the point of a dishonest meme?

Though I have not cheated, I am still faced with a peculiar circumstance. Behold the three-way tie.

I own ten books by Agatha Christie, ten by Terry Pratchett, and ten by George MacDonald. Tolkien is the runner up with 9, but I won’t expound on him today.

One result of the literary exploration of my shelves is that I am ashamed not to own more P.G. Wodehouse. I’ve read many of his books, but I own few. This must be remedied. Unfortunately for my pocketbook, the delightful Pratchettean book store down the road from me has a lovely collection, but I digress. It is time, I suppose, to put in a word as to why I own ten books apiece from the above three authors.

Agatha Christie:

This author is my standby when I am in need of entertainment. I am fond of the mystery genre, especially when the author incorporates humor and gravity effectively, as Christie does. I enjoy attempting to unravel the puzzles she lays out, and I like watching her colorful characters waltz across the pages.

It may not be the first that I read, but And Then There Were None was the first work of Christie’s to make a deep impression on me. That book is an example of her skill, and while few of her books are up to that standard, the mind capable of creating such an intricate mystery created many more to perplex and delight.  Christie is one of those authors that I feel is well balanced. There is nothing about her writing that amazes me. She is no word-smith, but she her style is capable, and develops over time. She handles her characters and plots with skill. On the whole, if I can be as competent in writing as she, I will be very pleased.

Terry Pratchett:

Ah, Pratchett. The first book I read of his, Guards! Guards!, came early in his career, and you can tell. I have seen worse written books, certainly, but it is not up to my usual standards for fiction. And yet I ate it up, dived headlong into its sequel, and kept going.

That sort of thing had never happened to me before. My path is strewn with books that I abandoned after reading poor prose in the first chapter. What can I say? I was trained into literary snobbery from an early age. So what is it about Pratchett that overcame my reaction to his clumsy writing? His humor appeals to me, being dry and witty, but more than that, I fell in love with his characters almost immediately. I had to know what happened to Sam Vimes, Carrot, Sergeant Colon and Cecil Wormsborough St. John Nobbs. Lady Sybil Ramkin was of interest too, by the end of the book. I am still trying to absorb the lessons inherent in my reaction to Guards! Guards!. That a shoddily written book should be among my favorites tells me that my literary snobbery ought not to be the only measure by which I judge a book.

Thankfully, Pratchett’s style and skill have improved and he has been, for some time, a skillful writer. I do not agree with his worldview, but his insight into human nature is layered and often profound. I enjoy the human elements of his stories and the complex questions he raises. He makes me think and he makes me smile, sometimes simultaneously. Most of all, though, I am in love with his humor, and his characters.

Remember, “Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.” -Terry Pratchett from Guards! Guards!

George MacDonald:

MacDonald’s flaws as an author are quite obvious. He wanders off in strange and obscure bunny-trails, he hits his reader with great blocks of thick, purple prose, and the paths of his stories are often as winding and bewildering as the roads of Faerie. I am not surprised that he is not widely read. The irony is that even his failings delight me. I cannot think of a single author who captivates me as MacDonald does. The landscapes of his mind, heart and soul seem released on page, and they are simultaneously strange and familiar.

His tales for children are as whimsical and imaginative as those of Lewis Carrol without the aura of nightmare beneath the dream. By this I do not mean that MacDonald glosses over the dark aspects of existence. Rather he acknowledges the darkness and is unafraid, and this gives his reader courage. What is more, he reveals beauty in the most unlikely places. He teaches his reader to look and think rather than to assume.

His fiction for adults is more difficult to read, but I find it rewarding too. The darkness lies deeper and I can tell that the author has been troubled and afraid. But, as an author, he follows his characters through mundane and fey worlds undaunted and, again, I follow. I will quote a passage from Lilith in the hope that MacDonald will speak for himself better than I can.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

The moon at length approached the forest, and came slowly into it: with her first gleam the noises increased to a deafening uproar, and I began to see dim shapes about me. As she ascended and grew brighter, the noises became yet louder, and the shapes clearer. A furious battle was raging around me. Wild cries and roars of rage, shock of onset, struggle prolonged, all mingled with words articulate, surged in my ears. Curses and credos, snarls and sneers, laughter and mockery, sacred names and howls of hate, came huddling in chaotic interpenetration. Skeletons and phantoms fought in maddest confusion. Swords swept through the phantoms: they only shivered. Maces crashed on the skeletons, shattering them hideously: not one fell or ceased to fight, so long as a single joint held two bones together. Bones of men and horses lay scattered and heaped; grinding and crunching them under foot fought the skeletons. Everywhere charged the bone-gaunt white steeds; everywhere on foot or on wind-blown misty battle-horses, raged and ravened and raved the indestructible spectres; weapons and hoofs clashed and crushed; while skeleton jaws and phantom-throats swelled the deafening tumult with the war-cry of every opinion, bad or good, that had bred strife, injustice, cruelty in any world. The holiest words went with the most hating blow. Lie-distorted truths flew hurtling in the wind of javelins and bones. Every moment some one would turn against his comrades, and fight more wildly than before, THE TRUTH! THE TRUTH! still his cry. One I noted who wheeled ever in a circle, and smote on all sides. Wearied out, a pair would sit for a minute side by side, then rise and renew the fierce combat. None stooped to comfort the fallen, or stepped wide to spare him.

The moon shone till the sun rose, and all the night long I had glimpses of a woman moving at her will above the strife-tormented multitude, now on this front now on that, one outstretched arm urging the fight, the other pressed against her side. “Ye are men: slay one another!” she shouted. I saw her dead eyes and her dark spot, and recalled what I had seen the night before.

Such was the battle of the dead, which I saw and heard as I lay under the tree.

Just before sunrise, a breeze went through the forest, and a voice cried, “Let the dead bury their dead!” At the word the contending thousands dropped noiseless, and when the sun looked in, he saw never a bone, but here and there a withered branch.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


Implications

Mom, I dedicate this rambling post to you and your valiant war against video-games during my youth.  If it had not been for your efforts, my brother and I might have spent so much time playing that we would have lost the ability to step back and appreciate what we played.

A virtual cookie to anyone who knows instantly who these men are.

The above images come from the game Final Fantasy IV (yes, there is much irony in that name).  I suspect that my first encounter with this game came in the mid 1990’s, but I forget.

What I do not forget is the impression it left on me.

The dialog was simplistic, even childish, the graphics left most of the work to the player’s imagination, and the plot was linear. In some ways, this simplicity was better food for the imagination (or maybe just to my developing imagination) than the intricate and complete worlds of current games. There was elbow-room for creative translation.

Despite its relative simplicity, Final Fantasy IV was complex for its time.  It told a story through which a myriad of characters moved. There were interactions and character-arcs which evoked emotional reactions and some that even fascinated me. Friendship, guilt, doubt, bravery, sacrifice, loss, love, betrayal, and difficult choices ran throughout.

This post is concerned with a single event in this game, one of many, that has stuck with me over the years. I think it unlikely that any reader who has not already played this game will choose to do so because of my post, but even so, Spoilers Follow. You have been warned.

The main protagonist of Final Fantasy IV is Cecil Harvey (his name cracks me up, I can’t help it!).  He begins the story as a Dark Knight, a warrior so focused on destruction that his most powerful attack not only does massive damage to his enemies, but harms him as well. It is mentioned that the training of Dark Knights often causes trainees to lose their minds.

In the course of the story it becomes clear that, as a Dark Knight, Cecil will be unable to defeat the enemies threatening his world (Final Fantasy games are always rather apocalyptic, it becomes charming after a while).  The implication is that, as a destroyer only, he is unable to be a protector.

There is nothing too revolutionary about what happens next. In the annals of fiction this arc is well-worn, and yet my encounter with this game’s version changed my perspective a little. Cecil is sent to Mt. Ordeals (allegorical much?) in order to purify him and redeem him from the atrocities in his past.

The moment that spurred me to make this post is the one where Cecil literally faces himself. Cecil the Dark Knight steps out of a mirror and attacks Cecil the emerging Paladin.

This battle has been mulling in my head lately in connection to a story of my own. There are many kinds of enemies and challenges in the lives of real human beings and I find within myself one of the most insidious and dangerous of all. Being a Christian, I have no intention of belittling the danger of our Enemy with a capital “E,” but the enemy I find within myself is a tool Satan may use, a manifestation of the corruption that has befallen creation.

The me that is mine enemy is dangerous because she knows exactly where the pressure-points are. She knows my sins and my temptations, she knows what frightens me, draws me, weakens me and what has the potential to destroy me. She is most dangerous when I fail to notice her because, after all, she is me.

If only it were as simple as a game and I could pull her out and face her once and for all. But life is not so simple, nor should it be. This is a prolonged war, one of the few in which it is appropriate to say “God is on my side.”

This post is in danger of becoming massive because the thoughts I have on this subject are too many to name. I am working through a puzzle, and I imagine I will continue to do so for a long time. It helps to see some of the thought-process in print, though.

I recently discovered the implications of Final Fantasy IV bleeding into a story I am writing.  Who is my protagonist really up against? Sure, she has no shortage of enemies without, but what of her enemy within? What does struggling with that enemy entail? Also, if, in this fictional world, one wishes to test the caliber of a person’s character, how would one go about it?

One of my professors likens the human creative process to a coffee-maker. We shovel in beans (art, music, literature, life, nature etc.) and see what drips out later. I think his observation is astute.  For better or for worse, the video-games of my childhood are nestled among the various other beans in my mind creating a very strange and ever-changing blend of coffee. Here is hoping it turns out to be drinkable.

For the amusement of those who are familiar with the characters of the story I am writing, the heroine of Final Fantasy IV is named Rosa Farrell. I did not remember this fact until today. Thankfully, she has little in common with my Rosa, though I have to wonder if my subconscious is playing with me when it comes to the name.

Cecil

Yes, they are the same character. I never liked this style of FF art, but here is Cecil looking very spiky on one side, and very feminine on the other. Are those pouty-lips? Seriously?


Dishonorable Bot and Friends

This photo belongs to the user Khaki on stockvault.net

It’s time, yet again, for spam-bot question and answer. So, Bot number 1, you commented on Mountain Song, yes? What do you have to say for yourself today?

Dishonorable Bot:  While there are many ways to be unfaithful in [edit], including naturally abusing bugs as well as exploits ingame, using hacks may be the easiest method for most players. All of us work hard each week, constantly modifying code and dealing around update patches, to be able to bring you the highest quality [edit] hackers available.

I see. Well, your grammar is relatively coherent! Congratulations! The next time I need to hack the Smoky Mountains, I… wait. What? 

Nevermind. Bot two, you and bot three commented on Ominous Endings, I see. What did you think of it?

Helpful Bot: I must say, as a lot as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt assist but shed interest after a even though. Its as if you had a wonderful grasp on the subject matter.

Well, I am glad it is as if I have a wonderful grasp of my own opinions. That is encouraging. I appreciate your assistance in, um… shed interest… is that a stock-venture?

Bot 3? Are you friends with bot 2? or did you just happen to comment on the same post?

Incoherent Bot: Average In turn sends provides will be the frequent systems that offer the opportunity for one’s how does a person pick-up biological, overdue drivers, what one mechanically increases the business. Search Engine Marketing

Ah. Now where did I put my biological overdue drivers what I mechanically increase the business?

Onwards. Bot four, you commented on Cue Music, I believe. What did you think of it?

Encouraging Bot: You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. Always follow your heart.

I see. Your specificity and thoughtful critique really convince me that you are a real person, and I am going to click on your commercial website! Perhaps you are selling hopeful arenas, which sound disturbing if you ask me.

Bot five! I see you posted on Motley Crew. What have you to say?

Critical Bot: naturally like your website however you have to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to tell the truth then again I will certainly come again again.

Can’t… reply… laughing too hard!


Shapes are only dresses… and dresses are only names

Book Meme 2012

Question 5: Characters and literary figures I’d name my children after

As I am me, I am going to take this very literally. With the wealth of wonderful writers, illustrators, characters and places, it is tempting to wax poetic about naming a child of mine Eowyn, or Cadfael, but in reality, I think too much to do such a thing. So while there are plenty of names I would like to honor, most are names I would give to pets, not children. I have strong opinions on names because, well, a real person is going to have to deal with their name and all its connotations until they reach the age of 18.

In general, I consider a name’s meaning and history as well as its sound. In this case, I also have to consider the namesake in literature. But what usually stops me from saying “oh I would name a child this, because it is lovely!” is the ever-dreadful, “what would someone with this name actually be called?” Even my own name gets turned from Anne to Annie, though only my parents can get away with it. I would love to name a child Harper, but the thought of its being shortened to “Harpy” gives me pause.

Like I said, I think too much.

Most of my favorite authors are out of the running. George is not a bad name, but I am not fond of it. John Ronald Reuel… no. I like Agatha, but not enough to give that name to a daughter of mine. Rosemary is worth consideration, but I have yet to read enough of her books to form much of an opinion of her. Jane is nice, as is Austen, but I am stopped by how enormous Austen’s fandom has grown. Do I really want my child forever tied to a fan-base? No.

As my literary taste runs to the fantasy genre, a lot of my favorite characters have beautiful names… that, again, I would not tie to a child of mine. There are exceptions though, and below I will choose my favorite literary-derived name for a boy and for a girl.

Gareth

The name itself, I am told, means “gentle.” In some ways its bearer in Arthurian legend is gentle, but not so much that he will not fight for a cause and win. I must watch my step here because some of my readers (quite possibly all of them) are more versed in the Arthurian legends than I am, but from the versions I have read, Gareth and his brother Gawain have always been the characters to whom I was most drawn. They are not the highest or the mightiest, they are not the most pure (what is with Galahad, anyway?), but I find them to be both human and noble. Gareth is astoundingly patient, courageous, powerful, and relatively wise. That seems a good legacy for a son, to me. Best of all, the name is Welsh! Also part of the consideration: while “Gary” is not my favorite name, it does not set my teeth on edge.

Irene

This name comes from Greek mythology, and means “peace.” That alone, however, would not tempt me to choose it for this post. Irene is the name of the princess and her “grandmother” from The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald. The little princess Irene is a mix of uncertain temper, and noble nature. She can be irritable or spoiled, but when the pressure mounts she shows herself to be bold, resourceful, loving and loyal. She alone would be enough, for me, to merit the choice of her name, but then there is her “grandmother.”

Queen Irene seems to be a creature of faerie. One moment she may be a withered hag spinning thread in a garret, the next a young queen with a cascade of golden hair standing in a stately hall, and the next a glowing gemstone down in the mines. The title of this post is a quote from her, an answer to young Curdie’s question as to her true form. Queen Irene is right: none of her shapes or names can tell the full truth of who and what she is. Perhaps I should take her advice and lighten up about names, eh? For all the uncertainty of her person, though, Queen Irene’s character is clear enough. She is full of wisdom, strength, and most of all, love for all that lives. On the whole, I think Irene would be an excellent name to have.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


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