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A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the far northern colony of Toltara, catching the listless Workers by surprise and sending them scurrying for shelter. The first gusts of the incoming storm blew up dust devils in the plaza below, but Queen Arsenya’s stiff, inflexible state gown did not yield to them. She craned her neck for a glimpse of the road leading south.
“Ellhué’s not coming,” said the Queen, tapping her lacquered talons nervously on the marble railing of the balcony.
“Five Orcish Nymphs will die in the arena tomorrow, my Queen”, replied Bellimont, her Lord Consort. “I doubt Ellhué wants to be one of them.” He regretted what he said as soon as the words left his mouth. The Queen’s eyes narrowed and she bared her canines, never a good sign. Another bolt of lightning forked through the leaden sky, followed almost immediately by the boom of thunder. The wind rose again with the promise of rain.
“Hsst! Silence!” she commanded him, her eyes flashing to match the pyrotechnics in the sky. “You’re the only Drone who cares a vole’s hindquarters about the rule change. The others are excited about it, the brutes.” The Queen straightened her back, rising to her full height. Orcs instinctively obeyed size and height, and Arsenya of Antarissa was the tallest Queen in the Commonwealth. “For a Drone, you’ve shown far too much concern about Ellhué’s upbringing. Everyone comments on it.”
What the Queen said was the unvarnished truth. His solicitude for Antarissa’s oldest Nymph was an open scandal in the Commonwealth. Orcish Drones were supposed to drink, hunt, shoot, quarrel with other Drones, and, of course, fertilize the Queen when she required. It was not a hard job, and most Drones were content to do just that. Lord Bellimont departed from expectations. Not only did he take an active role in the administration of Antarissa, but he was also scoured the Commonwealth for tutors for the Nymphs of the household.
Lord Bellimont’s heart jumped as he heard the scrape of wooden wheels against the cobbled pavement. Two coaches turned a corner into the main plaza of Toltara. The first one creaked into place before the palace entrance, the coachworker jumping down to care for the horses. The second, laden with greatchests and other accoutrements of travel, clattered along until it halted in front of an unloading dock.
The Queen sent a brace of Workers to attend to the newcomers, but Lord Bellimont outran them. As soon as the door to the passenger compartment opened from the inside, he helped a young Orcish Nymph step down. She was lithe and athletic, and tall for a Nymph. Bald as befitted a potential Queen, she was dressed for travel rather than for court. Her skin was darker than the olive complexion common to Orcs from the broad central plains, and her tusks were dainty. At twenty-eight, she had yet to seek a throne in the arena.
“Bell!” the Nymph shouted, and gave him a greeting peck on the cheek. “Good old faithful Bellimont!” She handed him her handbag and turned her attention to the Queen. “By the Lady, Mother, you look like a statue in that state gown” Behind her a younger orc-girl stepped out of the compartment. Apart from her cinnamon complexion, the two could have been hatched from the same egg. They had the same almond-colored eyes, and the same generous mouth. Queen Arsenya’s eyes widened.
“Ellhué! You brought little Tuana with you?” the Queen asked.
“She wouldn’t stay behind! With this new Temple decree requiring Nymphs to fight to the death, she begged to accompany me, Mother,” Ellhué replied, drawing the younger Nymph into the embrace.
“I couldn’t stand it if something happened to Ellhué, and I wasn’t here,” said Tuana, gazing up at the Queen.
“Thank the Lady Tuana came along, Mother,” said Ellhué, looping her arm through her mother’s. Although the Queen towered head, shoulders and ribs over the Nymph, the state dress impeded her movement, and the two walked together comfortably. “Now that the Temple bids us kill each other in the arena, like so many fighting she-bears, it would have been a melancholy ride without Tuana’s merry company.”
The rain, which had been threatening all afternoon, finally broke over their heads in torrents. Lord Bellimont bellowed at the Workers to escort the Queen and the two Nymphs towards the door where a warm rectangle of light glowed against the violent weather.
Silhouetted in the doorway was a gravid young Orc Queen, her stiff state robe seriously stretched by her swollen egg-sack.
“Manira!” shouted Ellhué. “What are you doing here in your condition?” It was the first time either Ellhué or Tuana had seen the former Antarissan Nymph since she had won the throne of the icy, far southern port colony of Ferrol nine months ago.
“Relax, Ellhué,” the newly minted Queen reassured her. “I’ll be back in Ferrol weeks before this brood arrives. Phew! This northern weather suffocates me. How does anyone stand it?” The gravid young Queen turned to Arsenya, who still overtopped her by half a head. “Mother, will there be a chance to discuss Commonwealth action against the White Queen? I know I can count on Antarissa, but…”
Before Queen Arsenya could finish, the two Nymphs grabbed the younger Queen by either arm and dragged her down the hall, giggling with delight. Lord Bellimont couldn’t help noticing that Ellhué’s laughter, although genuine, was more guarded. He punched his palm with his fist. What was he to do?
A decree had come from the Temple that future arena contests would revert to the ancient rules, barbaric rules that all decent Orcs believed were behind them. Formerly, Ellhué’s candidacy for the throne of Toltara would have been a welcome interruption in court life. If she won, it would have been another feather in the cap of Antarissa. The defeated Nymphs would become generals, guildmistresses, or priestesses, and life would go on.
But to fight to the death? To risk her life? A life that had been so carefully tended?
“Lady’s teats, Mané, being a Queen really suits you”, declared Tuana, who couldn’t keep her hands away from Queen Manira’s protruding egg-sac and swollen breasts. This mild blasphemy earned the young Nymph a slap on the back of the head from her mother.
“Being a Queen is wonderful!” replied Manira. “First of all, you’re taller than everybody else, so they obey you instantly. Then there’s the egging. O Lady, how can I describe egging?” She lay her palms flat over her swollen abdomen and smiled knowingly. “It’s like being filled with sunshine, or lightning”, she corrected herself as another peal illuminated the heavens outside the palace. “All this life inside me.”
“I wish I was going into the arena tomorrow instead of Ellhué”, Tuana declared. “I can’t wait to be a Queen!” She put her head against Manira’s bump, embracing the gravid Queen around the waist. “Lady’s teats! I’m so full of unripe eggs I could burst open like a melon. All I can think about is egging and being seeded.”
“The rules have changed, Tua,” Ellhué reminded her solemnly. “The contest is a lot more serious now, and you’re only fifteen.”
“I’m glad the Temple changed the rules,” Tuana said, a little too loudly. “I’d kill all those other Nymphs. Mother had to when she Queened, didn’t you, Mother? That’s why she’s so tall and strong, and lays so many eggs at one time.”
“The circumstances were different then, dear,” Arsenya explained. “Manira didn’t have to kill anyone when she became Queen of Ferrol, and look how tall she is.”
Yes, thought Bellimont darkly. They hated us and wanted us dead. They wanted to get rid of the Abomination in their midst, but you prevailed and saved both of us. Attendants brought out the Nymphs’ formal gowns, softer and more flowing versions of the blue and white Antarissan state gown, tailored for their immature figures. The Nymphs dragged the new Queen of Ferrol into their chambers to help them change.
“So, the last of Donaugh’s challengers has finally arrived, has she?” said a voice behind the Antarissan party.
Queen-Dowager Synisse of Toltara extended a powdered hand for Arsenya and Bellimont to kiss. “No other consorts except for poor old Bellimont here? Ah, Arsenya, always the traditionalist.” An older Drone, stout and going to bald, huffed up to her side, accompanied by a solidly built Nymph already Queen-tall. “I’m sure you remember Anhwan and the Nymph Gonaugh”, she added. “Gonaugh will be competing for my crown tomorrow.”
Lord Bellimont acknowledged their hostess with a slight nod, but did not kiss the proffered hand. All the decadence of the Orcish Commonwealth was on display in this one squat figure. How early she had come to her Dowagerhood at forty-six. The Queen of Antarissa was only three years younger than Synisse, but the contrast between them was remarkable. Arsenya still had the tight, firm silhouette of a much younger Queen. Her eggings were copious, and his heart still jumped when she included him with the younger and lustier Drones.
He hated to admit it, but there was wisdom in the Temple’s reinstatement of the old ways. It was hard wisdom, cruel wisdom, but the truth of it slumbered deep in Orcish hearts. Arsenya was living proof. Mighty Queens arose out of the shed blood of their foes, not out of the cake-and-berry parties Orcish arena rituals had become.
If only there were some way he could shield Ellhué from that.
“Is he one of your original consorts, Synisse?” asked Arsenya. Consorts were released from service to a Queen as she went into Dowagerhood. For some reason, this one stayed behind.
Queen-Dowager Synesse allowed the veiled insult to pass. The thunder continued to boom outside the palace, shaking the glazings. Synisse of Toltara was never a conscientious Queen. She drank to excess, she overate, she never exercised, and she disported herself with Drones half her age. When her Dowagerhood came upon her prematurely, Synisse thickened, wrinkled, and shrank overnight. Her layings had been paltry for a decade, and Toltara, despite its outward splendor, was seriously underpopulated. As they walked, Synisse extolled Gonaugh’s martial virtues. “She’s been training for over a year. The Temple’s decree took us all by surprise, Arsenya, but I believe Gonaugh is ready.” Arsenya looked down at Gonaugh, who could not meet her eye.
As they entered the banquet hall, the schism between Antarissa and the rest of the colonies became more apparent. There were more than three dozen Queens present, but their state gowns were shabby and ill-maintained. Only Antarissa’s glistened with new gems. Synisse had a Worker conduct Arsenya and Bellimont to their table. The other Queens, and the Drones and Workers following their example, stepped back as they walked by. There were polite greetings, but no real welcome.
“The White Queen will eat their colonies like so many mince-tortes”, Arsenya whispered. “I wouldn’t be surprised if half of this Orcish rabble was already in her pocket.” The White Queen had already devastated six southern colonies, and rumor put her advance battalions within a week of Ferrol. “They’re jealous”, she concluded. “There isn’t a one of them that lays more than fifty score a year. As if mere distance will keep the White Queen at bay forever.”
It’s not jealousy, Bellimont ruminated. It’s a death wish. Queens collected antiquities, rare birds, beasts, Drones. They sought their own pleasures and took no thought for the Workers, whose hives slowly emptied. Outside of Antarissa, a full nursery was unheard of. There weren’t enough Workers to till the fields, care for the meat-stock, or repair the buildings, let alone bring new lands under cultivation. As soon as you crossed the Antarissan border, all of that changed. Industry abounded. Overall-ed young Workers dunged the fields. Builders fitted stones into roads and bridges. Soldiers drilled in the camps.
The cornets blew, announcing the arrival of the Nymphs to the banquet. A door opened, but not a single Nymph emerged. The chatter of the banquet guests turned nervous, when suddenly Gonaugh, wearing the gold-and-green of Toltara, torn in several places, flew out the door running pell-mell towards the dais where the Queens were seated. On her heels came Tuana, just as tall but not so stocky, clothed in the Antarissan blue-and-white. Halfway to the royal platform she threw herself at the Toltaran and tackled her around the legs. The door disgorged a score or more Nymphs who surrounded the struggling pair, screaming and shrieking. Ellhué, also clad in the Antarissan colors, followed at a distance, accompanied by a young Drone.
Tuana was riding the Toltaran, pummeling her fiercely with her fists. Two other Nymphs threw themselves at Tuana, and were paid swift punches to the face. A third Nymph, who was stanching a flow of blood from her nose, tried kicking Tuana. The Antarissan grabbed her assailant’s leg in mid-kick, give it a twist, and flung her on her back. Ellhué and the Drone managed to pull Tuana off the hapless Toltaran and through the circle of screaming nymphs to safety. Tuana was sputtering curses and insults.
“You daughters of syphilitic mole-rats! By the Lady’s cunt, Ellhué will cut you all to ribbons tomorrow!” It took all of Ellhué’s strength to keep Tuana from throwing herself back on the other Nymphs, who were being assisted back to their quarters by other guards and attendants.
Lord Bellimont waded into the tangle of Nymphs and guards. He put his hand on Ellhué’s shoulder and turned her towards him. “What caused this, Ellhué?” he asked.
“She was defending my honor, Lord Bellimont”, replied Ellhué. “Mine, and Mother’s. Gonaugh, that’s the Toltaran, claimed Mother lay with you before her Queening, and that I was an Abomination.” Ellhué was clenching and unclenching her fists.
“Then the Nymph Gonaugh accused the Nymph Ellhué of wanting to do the same thing with me”, said the young Drone apologetically, “and that we would make another abomination. That’s when the Nymph Tuana jumped on Nymph Gonaugh. I assure you, Lord Consort Bellimont, I had no such intention.”
“That’s true, Mother”, added Ellhué. “We were just talking. Rostum’s going to apprentice himself to Iolanth the master builder next year.”
It was an hour and a half before the Nymphs, properly chastised, filed chastely out the same door and took their places at the raised table set for them. It was an hour and a half in which Lord Bellimont was able to formulate a plan, and in the other hour and a half before they were dismissed he was able to solidify it.
Around midnight, a feverishly vivid dream disturbed Lord Bellimont’s sleep. He saw Queen Arsenya standing alone on the pinnacle of a mountain. The wind blew from the South. Other Queens stood around the Antarissan Queen, but on low hills. Ferrol arose in the far South, with Manira perched on the summit. In the North, Toltara rose, but Lord Bellimont could not see the Queen standing on the summit. Her face was hidden, turned to the North. Toltara reached Antarissa’s level and surpassed it.
Other peaks arose, and each of them carried an Antarissan Nymph. Bellimont saw Arsenya, surrounded by Antarissan Nymphs become great Queens, and her glory was very great. Then water flowed into the plain from the South. It covered the hills and their light was extinguished. The waters continued to rise, threatening the mountains where the Antarissan Queens were standing.
The Queens from the hills swam furiously to reach the peaks where the Antarissan Queens are still above water, but it was of no avail. The Queens sank beneath the waves and vanished.
Lord Bellimont saw with a particular clarity that the waters kept rising until one by one the mountains went dark as the waves swept over them. The waves threatened Queen Arsenya’s mountain. Only Toltara and her Queen were still clear of the rising waters. When the tide overwhelmed Queen Arsenya’s peak, she cried out and threw heself into the still rising water. The Toltaran Queen turned and shouted, throwing herself into the water as well.
Eventually, the water covered Toltara’s mountain as well. Out of the South came a single ship. It sailed closer. Ellhué, clearly Ellhué, was its only passenger. The ship passed into the North, and vanished. There was only the Ocean.
Lord Bellimont awoke with a start. His bedrobe was drenched with sweat and he was trembling. After stripping off his damp nightclothes, he lit a candle. As he pulled on his breeches and fastened the stays on his camiset, his mind cleared, and he realized what he needed to do. A knock came at the door.
“Who’s there?” he answered. The Nymph Ellhué stepped inside, fully dressed in travel leathers, breeches and boots. She carried a cloak in her right hand and a satchel in her left. “Ellhué!” he shouted in surprise.
“Lord Bellimont,” she whispered. “I’m sorry to make you bear this burden. I can’t face Mother with this, and I can’t fight in the arena tomorrow. I’m not a coward, but I can’t fight knowing that even if I win, I’ll bring shame on Mother.” She lowered her head and sobbed. “And you”, she added.
The Lord Consort fastened the last button and tied his cravat. He walked to her and put his arm around her shoulder. “Ellhué, dearest, I just woke up from a most terrible dream. I’m, well, also convinced you must leave. In fact, if you hadn’t come in just now, I was going to come to you.”
Ellhué’s expressive almond-colored eyes got even wider. She lay her cloak and satchel on the couch next to her, and was stared intently at Lord Bellimont.
“Twenty-nine years ago I was traded to the old Queen,” Lord Bellimont told her. “Argha had little use for a tuskless boy, so I had nothing to do. The only Nymph in the household was your mother, and she was barely fourteen years old. We became friends. She was lonely, and I was barely a Drone, awaiting my first call.”
“I tremble to think about it now, but I became besotted with your mother. She was a flat-chested, narrow-hipped Nymph, but she rode like a centaur, handled a bow like one of the great archers of legend, and sang like a bard. I worshipped her. Inevitably, my first call was not with the old Queen, but with your mother,”
“The rumors are true then,” Ellhué said, blushing. “I am an Abomination.”
“Wait,” he pleaded. “The old Queen Argha died of a sudden fever and your mother posted for the old Queen’s throne despite her age.” Lord Bellimont lowered his head. “Your mother did not believe she would prevail against the older, stronger Nymphs in the lists. To my shame, I tried to get her to run away with me. Instead, she allowed me one last tryst.”
“Against all expectations, your mother vanquished her competitors. She had to kill all seven of them. Not one dared yield to an Abomination,” the Lord Consort continued. “So, your mother Queened hard, very hard. She grew from a Nymph much smaller than you to her present height right in the arena with my seed still roiling in her egg-sac. Four days later, she produced the finest, roundest, Nymph egg anyone had ever seen. We hid it until the rest of her first brood arrived, then we allowed everyone to believe it was the product of her Queening Night.”
“That egg was you, Ellhué, fertilized by my seed, unmixed. There has never been any doubt in my mind or that of the Queen that you are my daughter, Ellhué. Mine alone.”
Ellhué blanched to hear the word used by a Drone. It sounded like a blasphemy.
Lord Bellimont rose to his feet and embraced the sniffling Nymph. “I will hear nothing of Abominations, dearest Ellhué. It’s true that Drones are put to death for doing what I and your mother did, but your mother’s size and fertility silenced our critics. Despite fierce opposition, I was made Lord Consort at seventeen. You are no Abomination. You are the best of us, Ellhué; kind, fierce, and as true as a sunrise, but outside Antarissa, yes, you are an Abomination, and not fit to be a true Queen. That is why I’ve decided to ask Tuana to take your place in the arena tomorrow.”
As if summoned, the younger Nymph stepped into the Lord Consort’s room. “Ellhué’s already asked me to replace her in the arena, and I’m as happy as a bee in sugar water that you approve.”
“What did you hear?” Bellimont asked the younger Nymph.
“Everything,” responded Tuana with the hint of a smirk.
“Leave,” he said to Ellhué, grasping her hands in his huge mitts. “Go north, not south. There is a colony of hermits on the very northernmost cape, just outside the jungle. You will be safe there.” Lord Bellimont handed her a small purse containing some coins.
Ellhué walked into the Lord Consort’s embrace and he kissed her on the forehead. “Go,” he said. “Remember those who love you, for love is stronger than fear.”
Then Ellhué turned to Tuana, and wept on her shoulder. “Goodbye, father, sister”, she sobbed. She opened the door, and vanished into the darkened hallway.
“The Queen is going to kill us,” remarked Tuana to Lord Bellimont after the sound of Ellhué’s footsteps died in the hallway. “Well, you anyway. I’ll be a Queen by tomorrow afternoon.”
The next morning, Bellimont and the Queen decided to watch the contest from ground level among the more prominent Workers rather than from the box set apart for royal guests. There was no excitement in watching glimmering minatures at such a distance, so they stood at the edge of the field where only a low wall separated them the arena proper.
A cornet blew to begin the contest, and the frightened Nymphs circled the arena, each keeping an eye on the other. The Nymph in the Antarissan colors kept her back to the arena wall, sword and shield in either hand. “Smart girl,” whispered Bellimont under his breath. “Make them come to you.”
The Antarissan feigned a stumble, to see she could draw an unwary adversary in her direction. Gonaugh was swinging an axe in great arcs against the shield of a smaller Nymph visibly wilting under the blows.
The ploy was successful. A compact, quick little Nymph, obviously from one of the northern colonies came towards her with a spear. The Antarissan waited until she thrust, then bounded aside and slashed the girl in the chest with her sword, cutting her breastplate and scoring a large scratch from nipple to navel. Her blood gushed through the leather onto the already wet sand, clotting it.
Letting the Northerner think she was pushing her back, the Antarissan Nymph retreated until she felt the wall at her back. When her opponent began probing blindly with the spear, she danced out of the way and rained sword blows down on the girl’s arms, shoulders, and face. At last, the poor girl thrust too deeply into a place where the Antarissan no longer was, and loked up to find her only inches from her face. The Antarissan thrust her sword through her competitor’s lip just under the bridghe of the nose. The northerner’s head exploded like a bloody balloon, and the Antarissan grew visibly before the crowd’s astonished eyes.
“It’s the blood”, whispered Arsenya to the Lord Consort. “It does something to you. I felt so much life rushing into me when those other Nymphs spilled their blood on me. It was like I’d never be tired again. Ellhué drew first blood. That’s good. Now she’ll be bigger and harder to beat.”
The Toltaran Nymph also dispatched another Nymph, and was charging around the arena bellowing challenges to all and sundry. Her biceps were the size of two roasted peafowl and rudimentary breasts were forming on her chest. The other two Nymphs gave her a wide berth.
The Nymph in the blue and white parried a blow from a challenger who hoped to catch her from behind. The Antarissan smashed the boss of the shield into her adversary’s face, driving her into the arena wall. The challenger stumbled and the Antarissan buried her sword in her throat, releasing a geyser of blood from her carotid.
The crowd howled with delight. The Antarissan had now unsnapped her leather breastplate and greaves, having outgrown them.
“That’s very good”, Arsenya explained. “All that blood will feed Ellhué like a Twentyfeast dinner. She’ll get huge. Oh, but here comes Synisse’s brat.”
The Antarissan had her back turned on the massive Gonaugh, who saw an opportunity to deal her most dangerous rival a single crippling blow. The Antarissan ducked just in time, as the Toltaran’s axe whistled over the top of her head. She managed to prick the inside of Gonaugh’s thigh, but then pivotted to meet the last Nymph who had come up on her left.
This challenger was crouched into a defensive stance, guarding her core with the shield and denying entry with the sword. The Antarissan, unaccustomed to her increased stature, attempted to slash at her opponent’s legs, while also keeping Gonaugh at bay, and was rewarded by a glancing cut across the scalp.
Arsenya stood to her feet. The Nymph she thought was Ellhué dispatched the dexterous Nymph with a daring series of feints that ended with Antarissan steel severing her thigh. The crowd went mad. “Ellhué! Ellhué! Ellhué!” went up the shout from ten thousand throats. The Antarissan grew visibly much larger and stronger, feeding on the energy released by the dextrous Nymph’s blood.
Now the contest had narrowed to just Antarissa and Toltara. Gonaugh had only one victory under her belt, and was now deeply overmatched by the Queen-sized Antarissan, who had dispatched the other three Nymphs.
Howling with rage, the Toltaran flew into the Antarissan Princess with great windmilling swings of her axe, disregarding the Antarissan’s short sword as a bull might disregard a fly. The Antarissan scored her adversary’s arms and chest, but was unable to land a killing blow.
“Gonaugh’s strategy is to land a killing blow with that axe, and depend on victory to heal her”, Arsenya whispered to Lord Bellimont. “It’s the only chance she has. Where did Ellhué learn to fight like that? She’s fighting like a devil! Look at the size of her!”
Gonaugh’s axe bit deeply into the Antarissan’s sword arm, not quite severing it. The crowd gasped. Bellimont could see Gonaugh haul back for a swing to the Antarissan’s head that would have ended the contest, but the blue clad Nymph slammed her shield powerfully into Gonaugh’s midsection just below the rib cage.
Gonaugh’s arms fell nervelessly to her side and she vomited profusely all over the Antarissan. The Antarissan Nymph followed up with more blows to the liver, growing larger and more menacing with each connection, until poor Gonaugh folded under her, visibly shrinking. Finally, the Antarissan lifted her shrunken adversary overhead, the wound on her sword arm completely healed. She broke the Toltaran’s back over one mighty knee, and snapped her neck with her ham-sized hands.
The stretcher carriers came running out to carry Gonaugh’s broken body from the arena, and the Antarissan ripped off her armor and stood erect. Covered in blood, and Gonaugh’s vomit, she was visibly Queening. Her waist narrowed and her hips flared. Her entire body lengthened and thickened, and her breasts rounded and filled.
“Ellhué! Ellhué! Ellhué!” the crowd cheered. The victor found her sword and lifted it skyward, her head thrown back in a shout of triumph unheard over the tumult of the crowd. Her now formidable tusks and canines glistened in the mid-morning sunlight.
The stadium exploded with noise and movement. Even the Workers abandoned their seats and pressed forward onto the field to hail their new Queen. The excited crowd paid no heed to rank or position. The weight of their collective bodies carried even the towering Queen and the massive Lord Consort along as the current of a rain-swollen river carries a log.
Being shorter by a head and a neck than the Queen, Bellimont found himself privy to a half a hundred wagers being settled somewhere in the vicinity of his midsection. Coins were knocked into the dust and quickly recovered as the streaming Toltarans jostled for position near the small aperture that led to the arena.
Suddenly Bellimont smelled something he hadn’t smelled in nearly thirty years, the maddening musk of a bloodied, victorious Queen filling with eggs for the first time. Other Drones were already abandoning their positions and throwing themselves into the arena, even the ridiculous Anhwan.
Arsenya lay her hand gently on his shoulder. “Don’t pretend that was Ellhué, not Tuana,” she said. Her tone was one she would use on a male grub caught stealing apples. I have one question, though.”
“Y-yes, my Queen”, replied Bellimont. He was trembling again, although this time not with fear.
“We’ve known all her life that Ellhué is your daughter, and yours alone. Why would you not want her to become a Queen, as I did?”
“I only ever wanted her here, with us, my Queen”, he replied, tears stinging his eyes “Now, I’ll never have that.”
Williams’ Arthuriad, however, differs from Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the same way that his novels do. Whereas Tolkien and Lewis created secondary worlds for their characters in which their adventures unfold, Williams uses this primary world, and he emphasizes this from the very first lines of the book;
Recalcitrant tribes heard ;
orthodox wisdom sprang in Caucasia and Thule ;
the glory of the Emperor stretched to the ends of the world.
Charles Williams differed from his friends and colleagues CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien in that he did not create a mythology whole-cloth as they did; Lewis with his stories of The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien with his tales of Middle-Earth. What Williams did was to adapt a pre-existing mythos to his purposes; that of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. It is not that Lewis and Tolkien didn’t have plenty of source material from which they drew their fantasies. Lewis, according to his autobiography Surprised by Joy, wrote a number of animal-stories when he was younger under the influence of Rudyard Kipling and Beatrix Potter. Tolkien stitched together a lot of Norse and Anglo-Saxon material for his Middle-Earth, and those who know those sources better than I claim that there is little that is original in his work.The Arthuriad is going to be about Europe, or rather Britain-In-Europe, or Britain as a part of Europe. Once, while I was enjoying the 1982 Granada TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted, I made a remark about, as an American, how English the whole series struck me. Indeed, Anthony Andrews’ and Jeremy Iron’s Sebastian and Charles were kind of a baptism for me into what I have come to think of as Deep England. A very perceptive friend parsed it differently. He said that the milieu of Brideshead Revisited was England, indeed, but it was that submerged and subjugated Catholic England that Waugh depicted in his novel, the flavor of which came across so strongly in the TV adaptation. It was about the survival of ancient and life-giving folkways in a hostile and unforgiving environment.
I think that what Williams is attempting here is something even more ambitious. His cycle of poems is going to be treating England as a part of Christendom, through the language of myth. It surprises me that in the (in)famous frontpiece of Taliessin Through Logres, where the body of a naked woman is superimposed on a map of Europe, that part of Europe which eventually became Protestant does not figure prominently. Williams never treated non-conformist Protestants with contempt in his fiction; his depiction of the communion service in The Place Of The Lion is one of my favorite scenes in his whole corpus, but the flavor of the Arthurian poems is strongly that of Christendom united, certainly before the Protestant Reformation and almost as if the Chalcedonian and Orthodox-Catholic schisms had never taken place.
This is as it should be. Arthur, inasmuch as he can be fixed in history at all, is a pre-schism figure and shrouded in Druidic shadows. History is compressed. The rise of Islam, and its conquest of Constantinople are shoe-horned, for poetic purposes as yet undivined by me, into this cycle of poetry, and the Emperor is given a suzerainty in the West that he never had .
HOWEVER, for some reason, the woman’s right elbow bends at Cordoba, from whence Aristotelian thought gained purchase in the late Middle Ages, and from that Occam’s Nominalism, Protestantism, and secularism. Williams’ poetic language seems much more Neoplatonic to me;
Carbonek, Camelot, Caucasia
were gates and containers, intermediations of light ;
geography breathing geometry, the double fledged Logos
Maybe that last line is a jazz-handed reference to the Chalcedonian Definition, I don’t know, and maybe Williams will be treating the rise of Scholasticism and Aristotelianism elsewhere (The milk rises in the breasts of Gaul, trigonometrical milk of doctrine. Man sucks it ; his joints harden). I don’t know. I am not an English literature student, nor a theologian, and Williams’ poetry is heavy sledding. I don’t think his poetry is the equal of Blake’s but it seems much more certain in its referents. Maybe too certain.
It has been a couple of weeks since my long-awaited [used] copy of Taliessin Through Logres – The Region Of the Summer Stars – Arthurian Torso arrived from the used bookstore in Michigan from which I ordered it. It was a surprisingly good copy, well worth what I paid for it. The edition is, I believe, pretty well known; Eerdman’s published it in 1974 and I could have picked it up for $7.95 at that time. It’s odd, but I remember seeing it in a Christian bookstore forty years ago, and shuffling through the pages. I was familiar with CS Lewis and I had heard that Charles Williams was a friend of his. Having puzzled my way through Many Mansions, I had already had a taste of Williams and wanted more. The dense and deeply self-referential poetry of Williams’ Arthuriad completely defeated my casual perusal and I put the book back on the shelf.
Not too many copies of the Eerdman’s volume were published. Maybe my recently acquired book was the same one I held in my hands forty years ago. Stranger things have been known to happen.
My eye was caught by a phrase that began an essay “The Coming Of The King” in the explanatory work by Charles Williams, The Figure of Arthur, which was included in the volume I purchased:
By the twelfth century the outline of the new metaphysical civilization in Europe was taking shape
and I knew that my reading of Williams was going to be different from that of a Western Christian. For me, the twelfth century marks an ending, not a beginning. The “new metaphysical civilization” that arose after the sundering of Latin Christendom is for me already a seminal apostasy, a long fading rather than a new quickening. The ruthless imposition of continental feudalism over the conciliar Anglo-Saxon polity, the suppression of the variegated local liturgies in favor of the Roman rite, to choose only two examples, speak to me more of
Union is breached; the imams stand in Sophia
Good Is God, the muzzein
calls, but lost is the light on the hills of Caucasia
glory of the Emperor, glory of substantial Being.
As I begin to attempt to dovetail Williams’ mythology of Camelot-as-the City with my own dreams of the pre-schism eucharistic Commonwealth [however vaguely or however imprecisely that Commonwealth may have existed or not in history], I find three great burning ideas stand out to me.
- The Arthurian corpus, I believe, is Charles Williams’ great clearinghouse for all of his literary and theological output. The themes that Williams touches upon in all of his writings; The Web of Exchange, Co-inherence, The Vision of the City, the Way of the Affirmation of Images and the Way of the Denial of Images, are all present here and elevated from concept to archetype, or at least as far as Williams’ poetic abilities are able to carry them.
- Charles Williams was not a Roman Catholic but an Anglican. This is important. Forged in Tudor politics during an uncertain time, Anglicanism as a faith has had a more elliptical orbit than other Christian bodies. There have been times during its career when Anglicanism has wobbled close enough to Orthodoxy for the broad majority to thrive within something of a celestial “temperate zone”. I don’t want to go to far into this, but it appears to me that Charles Williams’ and CS Lewis’ time was just about optimal.
- Williams had the keen intuition to use the pre-Schism figure of Arthur [and the barely-historical figure of Taliessin] to anchor his romance of Christendom. The period of time between Theodosius and Alfred the Great is an interesting time. I always thought of pre-literate man as somewhat childlike, and high Roman culture was always more unstable in Britain than anywhere else in the Western Empire. The fall, when it finally came, was almost total, and there was enough “wiggle room” for the collective mythopoetic imagination to begin to accrete material around a minor Brythonic warlord with a shallow gloss of Romanitas, much as an oyster around a grain of sand, until the pearl of legend emerged.
Charles Williams’ Englishness is, among other things, something I would like to discuss before I tackle the daunting task of exegeting his Arthurian poetry. Like many Americans, I have something of a fantasy England tucked away somewhere in my heart. It is composed of bits and pieces of English high and popular culture that I have ingested over the years; a bit of Tolkien’s Shire, a bit of Lewis’ Oxford, landscapes from Gainsborough and Constable, screaming teenaged girls from A Hard Day’s Night, plenty of Downton Abbey, Chariots Of Fire, and Brideshead Revisted, both the Waugh novel and the Granada TV adaptation.
I was surprised at how well my American fantasy England weathered my exposure to the real article in the early 80s when I spent four months in the UK, visiting all four “nations” [Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England] in succession. What I experienced during my visit was more of a confirmation of my fantasy England, and an amplification and broadening of it, than it was a repudiation of it.
An English friend suggested to me that what I was experiencing was what the English themselves called “Deep England”. “Deep England” is part nostalgia for a simpler life more attuned to the natural rhythms of the English countryside, part fable about a vanishing face-to-face village life, part family oral history, and a large dollop of national self-deception. Nevertheless, it has a powerful pull on the national sentiment. “Deep England” could be classist, different things for different people. A retired slate miner would wax sentimental about the days when the mines were humming and one’s mates had plenty of energy for sport and plenty of money to spend in the pubs. An Anglican parish priest would sigh and remember a “time when the Church had more influence in people’s lives.” “Deep England” seemed to be something which you were always perpetually losing, something that was always just slipping away. For me, an outsider, the musical expressions of this “Deep England” will always be the austerely beautiful “Pastoral” Symphony #3 of Ralph Vaughan Williams, or a church choir performing that unsurpassably mad hymn by William Blake, “Jerusalem”.
As an American, it is hard to know what to make of this Englishness. Whatever it is, we don’t have it, although we speak a common language. Eight generations of republican life now separate us from the fountains of “Deep England”, and all that remains is the notion of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant as a kind of gold standard for white people. In a way, it is kind of a collective unconscious mythopoeia, a mythopoeia built up scrap by scrap from the raw material of language, climate, and a long tenancy on the land. From this mythopoeia, all of the particular myths forged by Englishmen down through the long years have their provenience.
Already I am thinking about what Williams’ Arthur poetry is most like. If it is idiosyncratic and difficult, it is idiosyncratic and difficult in a particularly English way. Like William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the prophetic work of William Blake, or the contemporary Gnosticism of David Lindsey’s A Voyage To Arcturus.
All of my life, and it has not been a short one, I have been interested in what is called by students of literature the matter of Britain, and its best known segment, the stories and legends of King Arthur. I cannot remember my first exposure to the stories of the Round Table, but it was either by means of Andrew Lang’s Tales of King Arthur with the wonderful Art Nouveau illustrations by H.J. Ford, or the Walt Disney animated movie The Sword In The Stone. I am leaning to the first, because The Sword In The Stone came out in 1963, when I was trembling on the brink of adolescence, and I already knew that Merlin was a darker and more powerful figure than Disney’s avuncular buffoon. The movie version of Camelot came out about this time as well.
In the years that followed, I devoured T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, puzzled my way through Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Mort D’Arthur, and discovered that even John Steinbeck had set his pick into the Arthurian trench. The result was his last work of fiction; The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. Since the 1970s, there have been several other works of Arthurian fiction that I have enjoyed as well; Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and the sequels, Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, Nikolai Tolstoi’s The Coming Of The King.
What attracts me to the stories of Arthur and his knights is the matter of the Grail. The Grail lifts the whole Matter of Britain out of the realm of Story and into the realm of myth and metaphysics. It is interesting to me that Malory devoted most of Le Mort D’Arthur to the achievement of the Grail. The adulterous love affair between Guinevere and Lancelot doesn’t appear to have much occupied him, although since Tennyson and the Victorians, the love story has been center stage, and the Grail forgotten. The Grail stories, though, are where the real mythopoetic power of the Arthurian material resides.
Charles Williams dealt with the stories of Arthur in two volumes of poetry, possession which I have just recently come into after an extended search. He deals almost exclusively with the Grail, and with the mystical aspects of the Arthurian stories. I would like to do a read-through of his poetry, although it is famously difficult. I am not a Williams scholar. I can’t go to the Kilby collection and dig up old letters of his, and there is a lot of introductory material to get out of the way first.
But I have been promising myself that I would do this, and it’s high time I started to do something worthwhile with this moribund blog anyway.
Tolkien proposed to the love of his life, Edith Bratt, as soon as he was legally able to do so; at midnight on his 21st birthday. They married three years later and remained married until her death in 1971. They had four children. Looking for references to sex in Tolkien’s Legendarium is a tedious task for those accustomed to modern salaciousness. The Elves and Men in his narratives are monogamous and well-behaved, seeking glory on the battlefield rather than in the boudoir.
CS Lewis was a celibate academic until late in life. My suspicion is that “Jack” Lewis had something of a thing for the ‘Bad Girl’. It surfaces from time to time in his fiction (most transparently in The Magician’s Nephew), and I certainly think Joy Davidson scratched that itch admirably.
Owen Barfield married the beautiful and gracious Maud Douie. They had two children of their own and fostered a third. His devotion to Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy was a thorn in her side throughout their lives together. Barfield is interesting in that he contemplates sex in his philosophical works at a time when the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and the 70s was just beginning to gather momentum, and he already had the advantage of a long memory and could discern it in seminis in the works of Swinburne and Lawrence.
Charles Williams, among the Inklings, is the most interested in developing a theology of sex, erotic love, and marriage. According to many, he is not a pristine fountain from which to draw water; his own marriage was troubled, he had dalliances with younger women who were drawn to his circle, and he held some heterodox opinions about the role of sex in the Early Church.
Nevertheless, Williams remains almost alone among Christian thinkers in investigating erotic desire from a theological perspective. This essay of his I lifted from a copyrighted sources which I believe is either out of print or so obscurely marketed as to amount to the same thing. I reproduce it here for the benefit of Williams fans and other people who may find it useful. It pulls together several strands in his thinking; the hermetical or occult, the Poetical, and the Christian. It is a remarkable essay and a true tour-de-force.
THE INDEX OF THE BODY
From the ‘Dublin Review,’ July 1942
IN the Prelude (book viii, 11.279-81) Wordsworth wrote:
the human form
To me became an index of delight,
Of grace and honour, power and worthiness.
The most important word there is index. There are moments in all poetry when the reader has to ask himself whether a word used by the poet is accurate not only for the poet’s universe but for the reader’s own. It is a secondary decision, since the first must be only of the poetic value, but it is sometimes important. That is so here; the word index, pressed to its literal meaning, is a word which demands attention, and afterwards assent or dissent.
It is true that Wordsworth himself did not develop the idea; he is speaking generally, and in other passages his genius suggests that the index is to a volume written in a strange language. This is no weakness in Wordsworth; it was, on one side, his particular business. Thus the image of the Leech-Gatherer in Resolution and Independence is drawn at least as inhuman as human; so is the Soldier in Book IV of the Prelude who is the cause of such terror, and the other wanderers; the woman with the pitcher, and even Lucy Gray, are of the same kind. They are on the borders of two worlds, which almost pass and repass into each other. Wordsworth, of all the Romantics, came nearest to defining and mapping that border-land.
There are, of course, also his more exclusively human figures- Michael, for instance, in the poem of that name. Here the human form suggests to him the grandeur of the moral virtues; it is the suffering and labouring spirit of man which he sees. That may have been what he had chiefly in mind in the passage I have quoted: man as ‘a solitary object and sublime’, but man also ‘with the most common; husband, father’, who
suffered with the rest
From vice and folly, wretchedness and fear.
But the passage is capable of another reading, and one which proposes to us a real, if less usual, sequence. It is that reading which I wish now to discuss, and the word index is the beginning. The question proposed is whether we shall take that word seriously as a statement of the relation of the human form to.’grace and honour, power and worthiness’. The human form meant, to Wordsworth, the shape of the shepherd seen among the hills. There it was high and distant. It was a whole being significant of a greater whole-which is, in some sense, the definition of objects seen romantically. But the lines might be applied to the same shape, seen near at hand and analytically. They might refer to the body itself; it is that which can be considered as an index.
What then would be meant by the word? Nothing but itself. An index is a list of various subjects, with reference to those places where, in the text of the volume, they are treated at greater length. But, at least, the words naming the subjects are the same; and a really good index will give some idea of the particular kind of treatment offered on the separate pages. Some such idea, Wordsworth’s lines suggest, the body and even the members of the body may give of the delight, grace, honour, power, and worthiness of man’s structure. The structure of the body is an index to the structure of a greater whole.
I am anxious not to use words which seem too much to separate the physical structure from the whole. The fact of death, and the ensuing separation of ‘body’ and ‘soul’, lead us to consider them too much as separate identities conjoined. But I hope it is not unorthodox to say that body and soul are one identity, and that all our inevitable but unfortunate verbal distinctions are therefore something less than true. Death has been regarded by the Christian Church as an outrage-a necessary outrage, perhaps, but still an outrage. It has been held to be an improper and grotesque schism in a single identity-to which submission, but not consent, is to be offered; a thing, like sin, that ought not to be and yet is. The distress of our Lord in His Passion may perhaps not improperly be supposed to be due to His contemplation of this all but inconceivable schism in His own sacred and single identity. If our manhoods were from the first meant indivisibly, how much more His!
It is one of the intellectual results of the Fall that our language has always to speak in terms of the Fall; and that we cannot help our language does not make it any more true. The epigrams of saints, doctors, and poets, are the nearest we can go to the recovery of that ancient validity, our unfallen speech. To treat the body as an index is to assume that, as in an index the verbal element-the word given-is the same as in the whole text, so in the physical structure of the greater index the element-the quality given-is the same as in the whole structure. Another poet, Patmore, put the thing in a similar light when he wrote that
from the graced decorum of the hair,
Ev’n to the tingling sweet
Soles of the simple earth-confiding feet
And from the inmost heart
Outwards unto the thin
Silk curtains of the skin,
Every least part
‘The spheres’ there are likely to mean, first, the outer heavens. This idea is practically that of the microcosm and the macrocosm: the idea that a man is a small replica of the universe. Man was ‘the workshop of all things’, ‘a little world’, mundus minor exemplum majoris mundi ordine, filius totius mundi. It is a very ancient idea; it was held before Christianity and has been held during Christianity; it was common to Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans; and, for all I know, the scientific hypothesis of evolution bears a relation to the union of the two. Into that, however, I am not learned enough to go. The idea went through many changes, but its general principle remained constant: that man was the rational epitome of the universe. It led, of course, to many absurdities, and (if you choose like any other idea) to some evils. Some writers catalogued painstakingly the more obvious fantasies: hair was the grass or the forests; bones were mountains; the sun was the eyes, and so on. Astrology, if not based on it, at least found the idea convenient; however we may reject that ancient study, it had at least this philosophic principle mixed up with it-that each man, being unique, was a unique image of the universe, that the spatially greater affected the spatially lesser, and the calculable influences of the stars were only calculable because each man represented and reproduced the whole. Astrology then was a high and learned science; it was forbidden for good reasons, but it was not fatalistic. It did not say ‘this will certainly happen’; it said: ‘Given these stellar and individual relations, this result is likely.’ But the will of God and the wills of men were allowed much freedom to interfere with the result. Sapiens dominabitur astris. The paragraphs in our papers today bear as much resemblance to the science as texts lifted up on boards outside churches do to the whole dogmas of the Church. The paragraphs are, I allow, more likely to harm; the texts, on the whole, are innocuous.
Beside, or rather along with, this study went the patterns of other occult schools. The word ‘occult’ has come into general use, and is convenient, if no moral sense is given it simply as itself. It deals with hidden things, and their investigation. But in this case we are concerned not so much with the pretended operations of those occult schools as with a certain imagination of relation in the universe, and that only to pass beyond it. The signs of the Zodiac were, according to some students, related to the parts of the physical body. The particular attributions varied, and all were in many respects arbitrary. But some of them were extremely suggestive; they may be allowed at least a kind of authentic poetic vision. Thus, in one pattern, the house of the Water-carrier was referred to the eyes; the house of the Twins to the arms and hands; the house of the Scorpion to the privy parts and the sexual organs; and the house of the Balances to the buttocks.
It will be clear that these four attributions at least had a great significance. It will be clear also that in such a poetic (so to call it) imagination, we are dealing with a kind of macrocosmic-rnicrocosmic union of a more serious and more profitable kind than the mere exposition by a debased astrology of chances in a man’s personal life. It may be invention, but if so, it is great invention; the houses of the Zodiac, with their special influences ruling in special divisions of the spatial universe, may be but the fables of astronomy; it must be admitted that few certain facts support them. But they are not unworthy fables. They direct attention to the principles at work both in the spatial heavens and in the structure of man’s body. Aquarius is for water, clarity, vision; Gemini are for a plural motion, activity, and achievement; Libra is for that true strength of balance on which the structure of man depends.
With this suggestion, we are on the point of deserting the spatial heavens for something else. The like regions of the spheres, of which Patmore spoke, here begin to be transferred to the spiritual heavens. ‘As above, so below’ ran the old maxim, but even that dichotomy is doubtful. The houses of the Zodiac, in this, do but confuse the issue, except in so far as they, like the whole universe, exhibit the mystery by which spirit becomes flesh, without losing spirit. Perhaps the best verbal example is in the common use of the word ‘heart’. Even in our common speech the word is ambiguous. To call Hitler heartless means that he seems to be without the common principle of compassion. It is said that Tertullian (but I have not found the reference) said that ‘the supreme principle of intelligence and vitality’, ‘the sovereign faculty’ of man, resided ‘where the Egyptians taught- Namque bomini sanguis circumcordialis est sensus, the sense of man is in the blood around the heart’. At least the pulsating organ presents, for man, his proper physical rhythm in the whole mundus minor exemplum majoris mundi ordine. As our meaning – physical life or compassionate life – so the word heart. Compassion is the union of man with his fellows, as is the blood. The permitted devotion to the Sacred Heart is to the source of both. The physical heart is, in this sense, an ‘index’ to both. Gerard Hopkins wrote, of the Blessed Virgin:
If I have understood
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The death dance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
The visionary forms of the occult schools are but dreams of the Divine Body. All these brief allusions show that there have been some traditions of significance-poetic, occult, religious. Christians, however, may be permitted to press the significance more closely; they may be allowed to ask whether the body is not indeed a living epigram of virtue. There have been doctors who held that Christ would not have become incarnate if man had not sinned; there have been doctors who held that He would. Either way, it is clear that the Sacred Body was itself virtue. The same qualities that made His adorable soul made His adorable flesh. If the devotion to the Sacred Heart does not, in itself, imply something of the sort, I do not know what it does imply. The virtues are both spiritual and physical – or rather they are expressed in those two categories. This is recognized in what are regarded as the more ‘noble’ members in the body-the heart, the eyes. But it is not so often recognized as a truth underlying all the members-the stomach, the buttocks. That is partly because we have too long equated the body as such with the ‘flesh’ of St. Paul. But ‘flesh’ is no more that than (as Mgr. Knox pointed out recently in the Tablet) it is ‘sex’. The body was holily created, is holily redeemed, and is to be holily raised from the dead. It is, in fact, for all our difficulties with it, less fallen, merely in itself, than the soul in which the quality of the will is held to reside; for it was a sin of the will which degraded us. ‘The evidence of things not seen’ is in the body seen as this epigram; nay, in some sense, even ‘the substance of things hoped for’, for what part it has in that substance remains to it unspoiled.
It is in this sense then that the body is indeed an ‘index’ to delight, power, and the rest. ‘Who conceives’, wrote Prior,
‘Who conceives, what bards devise,
That heaven is placed in Celia’s eyes?’
Well, no; not so simply as that. But Celia’s eyes are a part of the body which (said Patmore, who was orthodox enough)
And sweet replies to some like region of the spheres.
And those spheres are not merely the old spatial macro cosmic heavens, but the deep heaven of our inner being. The discernment of pure goodwill, of (let it be said for a moment) pure love in Celia’s eyes, at some high moment of radiant interchange or indeed at any other moment, is no less part of the heavenly vision (so tiny and remote as it may be) because it is a physical as well as a spiritual vision. The word ‘sacramental’ has perhaps here served us a little less than well; it has, in popular usage, suggested rather the spiritual using the physical than a common-say, a single-operation.
Eyes then are compacted power; they are an index of vision; they see and refer us to greater seeing. Nor has the stomach a less noble office. It digests food; that is, in its own particular method, it deals with the nourishment offered by the universe. It is a physical formula of that health which destroys certain elements-the bacteria which harmfully approach us. By it we learn to consume; by it therefore to be, in turn, consumed. So even with those poor despised things, the buttocks. There is no seated figure, no image of any seated figure, which does not rely on them for its strength and balance. They are at the bottom of the sober dignity of judges; the grace of a throned woman; the hierarchical session of the Pope himself reposes on them: into even greater images and phrases we need not now go.
It will be thought I labour the obvious; and I will not go through the physical structure suggesting and propounding identities. The point will have been sufficiently made if the sense of that structure being heavenly not by a mere likeness but in its own proper nature is achieved. It is a point not so much of doctrine as of imagination. That imagination is at once individual and social. The temples of the Holy Ghost are constructed all on one plan: and our duties to our material fellows are duties to structures of beatitude. The relation of the Incarnation to our own mode of generation is blessedly veiled. But its relation to those other identities of power is not at all doubtful. It is not only physical structures we neglect or damage by our social evils; it is living indexes of life. The Virtues exist in all of them materially, but it is the Virtues which so exist. Christ, in some sense, derived His flesh from them, for He derived it from His Mother, and she from her ancestors, and they from all mankind.
The Sacred Body is the plan upon which physical human creation was built, for it is the centre of physical human creation. The great dreams of the human form as including the whole universe are in this less than the truth. As His, so ours; the body, in this sense of an index, is also a pattern. We carry about with us an operative synthesis of the Virtues; and it may be held that when we fall in love (for example), we fall in love precisely with the operative synthesis.
Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye;
In every gesture dignity and love;
Is much more a definite statement of fact than we had supposed; footsteps are astonishing movements of grace. That we cannot properly direct and control our sensations and emotions is not surprising; but the greatness of man is written even in his incapacity, and when he sins he sins because of a vision which, even though clouded, is great and ultimate. As every heresy is a truth pushed disproportionately, so with every sin; at least, with every physical sin. But, however in those states of ‘falling in love’ the vision of a patterned universe is revealed to us, the revelation vanishes, and we are left to study it slowly, heavily, and painfully. All that the present essay attempts to do is to present a point of view which has behind it, one way and another, a great tradition-a tradition which, for Christians, directs particular attention to the Sacred Body as the Archtype of all bodies. In this sense the Eucharist exposes also its value. The ‘index’ of our bodies, the incarnate qualities of the moral universe, receive the Archtype of all moralities truly incarnated; and not only the pattern in the soul and will but the pattern in the body is renewed. Or, better, in that unity which we, under the influence of our Greek culture, divide into soul and body. ‘Socrates’, Dr. William Ellis writes, ‘invented the concept which permeates every part of modern thinking, the concept of the twofold nature of man, of man as a union of the active, or spiritual, with the inactive, or corporeal; the concept, in short, of the organism as a dead carcass activated by a living ghost. Even if we repudiate this idea, we are still half-dominated by it, so deeply does it underlie our pattern of culture.’ I am far from suggesting that this is the proper Christian view. But there is, I think, no doubt that it is not far from the popular Christian view. The fuss that has been made about Browning’s line (not that that was Browning’s fault)-‘nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps souI’-shows that. It was repeated almost as a new revelation, though indeed the Lady Julian had said almost the same thing centuries before. We have to overcome that lazy habit of the imagination-the outrage of death notwithstanding. We experience, physically, in its proper mode, the Kingdom of God: the imperial structure of the body carries its own high doctrines-of vision, of digestion of mysteries, of balance, of movement, of operation. ‘That soul’, said Dante in the Convivio, ‘which embraces all these powers [the rational, the sensitive, and the vegetative] is the most perfect of all the rest.’ The rational, or self-conscious, power is indeed the noblest, but we must ask from it a complete self-consciousness, and not a self-consciousness in schism.
It was suggested that the stress of this imagination may be an incentive to our social revolution. For if the body of our neighbor is compact of these heavenly qualities, incarnated influences, then we are indeed neglecting the actual Kingdom of God in neglecting it. It is the living type of the Arch-typal. We have not merely to obey a remote moral law in feeding and succouring and sheltering it. It is the ‘index’ of power; tear away the index, and we are left without the power; tear away the index, and we are left without the delight. Let the whole to which that index witnesses be as immense as any volume of truth may be, and still the value of that small substance remains. Every student of a learned work uses the index attentively. A good index can indeed be studied in itself. To study the body so is to increase our preparation for the whole great text.
Oh, Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth
You who are everywhere and fill all things
Treasury of blessing and Giver of Life
Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain,
Oh, Good One!
From the Trisagion Prayers of the Orthodox Church
The concept of coinherence is foundational to Charles Williams’ writing; his prose fantasies, his poetry, and his non-fictional theological works, but it is very hard to understand exactly what he means by it. People claim it is too abstract, but it is based on the Patristic concept of perichoreisis, which is the mode of being of the most Holy Trinity.
As I delayed in getting this post out of WordPress’ penalty box, another blogger has essentially beaten me to the punch. The writer of The Orthosphere has written a three post series on The Economy of Forgiveness which is based on a meditation on Charles Williams’ novel All Hallows’ Eve , and which is expanded in two subsequent posts:
The first post introduces Williams’ key concepts of Co-inherence and The Way Of Exchange. The writer of the Orthosphere does a masterful job here unpacking what Williams meant by both of these terms.
There is no escape from the Web Of Exchange – all of reality, material and immaterial, is constructed to reflect the nature of the most Holy Trinity, that is to say, it is a Unity composed of interconnected parts which, as you rise higher and higher in the chain of being from inert matter through the biosphere into human society and culminating in the society of the Blessed Trinity, the component parts become more and more distinct and their interpenetration and mutual dependence more and more absolute.
In the second post the writer of the Orthosphere introduces another Williamsian concept, the idea of vicarious suffering as the medium of exchange in the moral universe, which allows for something akin to an orthopedia of the soul to occur. In the final post he introduces the Communion of the Saints through mutual intercession.
When I was in the process of converting from the Reformed version of Christianity to Holy Orthodoxy, I was continually reminded by friends who were nervous about my insistence on the intercessions of the Saints that ‘there was only one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus’. My response was that that word was mediated to us through Paul and the dubious ministrations of, among others, the Zondervan Corporation, now part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire of mediation.
Indeed, mediation is the point of the Universe.
Due to a change in my external circumstances, and the necessity of two hour commute (both ways) daily, I have been glutting myself on imaginative literature in the past few months. There is a wealth of good stuff on audio, and it is a very good way to ‘catch up on your reading’, if you define reading loosely enough. Since the commute began, I have been fortunate to acquaint and re-acquaint myself with some of the great names in imaginative literature; JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, George Macdonald, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen King, Tim Powers, ER Eddison, Jack Vance, and many others too numerous to mention. In a way, it has been kind of an exercise in “comparative fantasy”.
One of the most frequent objections to fantasy literature is that it lacks ‘depth’, that fantasy literature is an endless repetition of a “good vs evil” theme that resurfaces in book after book, series after series. Usually, the critics blame Tolkien. The contrast between Good and Evil that Tolkien traces in his epics are as sharp as shadows on the moon. It is not nuanced enough to reflect the “real world”. Then, to hear some people talk, all writers of fantasy literature written since The Lord Of The Rings have slavishly followed Tolkien down the path of rewriting Paradise Lost according to their own moral vision.
The critics are wrong. Prior to Tolkien, fantasy literature, what there was of it, was strangely amoral. James Cabell’s Jurgen was a flighty rascal. Dunsany’s little fables were as likely to celebrate hashish eating as martial courage. Mirlee’s Lud-In-The-Mist incarnated no Manichaean vision of good and evil. The resolution of her tale was a satisfying Hegelian synthesis between the quotidian comfort preferred by her Whig protagonists and the whimsy of the Jacobite fairie folk they so disdained E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros was thoroughly aristocratic both in tone and aspect, a sort of a High-Tory-on-LSD ‘romaunce’, peopled by proud-speaking haughty grandees entirely dismissive of the pettier sort of folk and their concerns. There was no room for hobbits in Ouroboros. Indeed, inasmuch as fantasy literature dealt with Good and Evil at all, it was to offer an escape from the stultifying decayed-Evangelicalism public morality of the day into an earlier, more permissive world.
Tolkien’s great achievement was the creation of a morally consistant parallel world. To me, the single brilliant imagining of the race of hobbits brings his re-creation of the Good into sharp focus. The hobbits are good, almost Pelagian, although some of them can be better than others. There are individual hobbits that appear “spoiled” (or ‘bent’ to borrow from Lewis’ mythology), such as the Sackville-Bagginses or the Sandymans. These two families, however, were introduced as foils for the healthier Bagginses and the Gamgees who good-naturedly suffer their trepidations. Because the Sackville-Bagginses and the Sandymans are so rare, the Shire appears to govern itself. The rules are unwritten, all offices are mostly ceremonial, and the canons of good behavior are everywhere acknowledged and practiced. As fantasist Gene Wolfe observed in a clairvoyant essay; living under what Mr. Wolfe calls Folk Law in a face-to-face society may be the most salutatory framework for human life, much in the same way that folk tales have the deepest resonance, and folk tunes have the most haunting and unforgettable melodies.
Yet, the Shire is not good in a vacuum. The hobbits are King’s Men in the very best sense of that word. The King, although absent by the time of the narrative recorded in The Lord Of The Rings, serves as a locus for the values of The West. ‘The West’ is shorthand for all those parts and peoples of Middle-earth not yet seduced or tyrannized by Sauron, although it can include more easterly populations such as the Beornings, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, the Wood-elves of eastern Mirkwood. Although the King has been absent from the government of the Shire for more years than separate us from the Battle of Hastings, his health is toasted at every meeting of the Shiremoot and his will is followed as best the hobbits can in their political vacuum.
Even the West is not good in and of itself, though. It is good because of the loyalty of the remnants of the Numenoreans and their allies to that which is Beyond the Sea that ‘the West’ stands as a bulwark to the trepidations and contaminations of Sauron. The weight of this allegiance is never explicitly explained within The Lord Of The Rings itself, but its presence can be felt in the same way you can tell where the sun is with your eyes closed. Tolkien’s continual references within the narrative to older, more primordial material; even Gondolin being mentioned in the first few pages of The Hobbit, weave a web of numinosity about his tale whose nexus is the Elder Race, the immortal Elves, who had opposed Sauron (and his greater master Morgoth Bauglir) in the past.
The Silmarillion revealed plainly what The Lord Of The Rings only hinted at. The Elves are good because they revere the Valar, the preserving and governing Powers of the World, who came into it at the behest of the world’s Creator Eru Iluvatar, a monotheistic deity. It is this realm, the realm of Valinor across the Sea, whose values are echoed by the denizens of ‘the West’.
In a sense, you have a kind of a neo-Platonic universe obtaining in the Tolkien legendarium. The Elves know next to nothing about Eru, the One, except for what they have learned from the Valar. The Men of the West have no direct access to the Powers in Valinor. Everything they know about it has been mediated to them by the Elves, who are abandoning Middle Earth. The hapless Hobbits, in their turn, would not have survived as long as they had in the rough and tumble of Middle earth without the constant protection and supervision of the Men of the West, the Dunedain.
You can hear all three layers in a musical representation on the soundracks to Peter Jackson’s films, especially in the Council of Elrond. First, there is the Elvish theme; atmospheric, ascetic, and other-worldly. Then, there are the virile horns of the theme of the West, vigilant and ready for action. Finally, there are the homespun strings of the Shire theme. They blend and fade into each other by the end of the piece. I don’t know how deliberate that was on the part of the composer, Howard Shore.
Wheels within wheels, indeed.
Immediately post-Tolkien, there were a lot of Good-vs-Evil sagas, most very derivative, retelling Tolkien’s story after him. Others, like Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series, eshewed binary Good vs Evil to create a more nuanced, more Buddhistic unary moral Universe. LeGuin’s emphasis on “balance”, as if good and evil were polarities like male and female or acidic and basic, came to be echoed in a lot of fantasy worlds, such as the Star Wars universe with its depiction of the Bright Side and the Dark Side of the Force, or the recent popular animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, where all the tension in the series is caused by the Fire Nation getting out of balance with the other three elemental nations; the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads. Fire Lord Ozai is not Satan or even Sauron. Ozai’s opponent is not Avatar Aang, but rather his son Zuko who, through the tutelage of the saintly Uncle Iroh, can restore the Fire Nation’s necessary line to the spectrum that is the Avatar universe.
I didn’t like Star Wars, and although I dearly love the Avatar animated series, unary, “balance”-based moralities don’t seem to produce satisfying eucatastrophes in the same way that fantasists are able to when good is truly good and evil is truly evil. I haven’t read, or even followed the movies inspired by, the Harry Potter novels, but I think I am correct in assuming that Rowland’s moral compass is more like Tolkien’s and less like Lucas’, which makes the opposition to her tales by conservative Christians even more puzzling.
Finally, there has been a movement within the fantasy genre itself away from a strict good vs evil paradigm and more towards what TV-Tropes.com defines rather pungently as Crapsack World, where all the choices are between real-l-l-ly bad, bad, and not-so-bad-but-still-iffy. I have digested several works of this sort, some of which are very good; China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and The City And The City (both of which are brilliant), Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and of course, the Crapsack World to end all Crapsack Worlds, George R. R. Martin’s Westeros.
Funny thing about Westeros, though. Just when I was beginning to tire of Martin’s unrelenting cynicism, the pointless violence, and the continual betrayal which punctuated life in his series, Martin showed a bright little corner where life was good, men were fair, and decent people could live decent lives. It was buried deep in Brienne’s arc in A Feast Of Crows, when she accompanies the septon Maribald from the ruins of Saltpans to the Isle of Silence, where a strong abbot has created an island of peace, faith, and rest in the turbulent sea of conflict, cynicism, and blasphemy that was the norm in Westeros.
I read somewhere that George R. R. Martin is the son of a dockworker from Bayonne, New Jersey. True to his working class roots, Martin teaches us that the good is not something that occurs haphazardly. It is the result of consistent effort over an extended period of time by people who actively desire to be good and just, and it flourishes best where the eyes of the powerful are elsewhere. It also seems to me that Daenarys Targaryen’s extended and somewhat tedious sojourn in the Slavers’ Bay is to allow her to learn the difficult lessons in statecraft that will make her the kind of queen Westeros so desperately needs. As a wise man once told me, good works do not make you righteous the way paying your bills makes you solvent, but they do make you righteous like exercise makes you strong.
I can live with that. I can more than live with it, I can applaud it.
The National Public Radio folks have decided to ask their listener base to help them select the greatest works of imaginative fiction. Their list contains a lot of surprises, but the finalists were selected by the ubiquitous expert panel, and they are inviting fantasy and science fiction fans to vote on which of these 200 or so works are their favorites.
Here is the list. My choices are in bold:
The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
Armor, by John Steakley
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
The Belgariad, by David Eddings
The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
The Change Series, by S.M. Stirling
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson
The City And The City, by China Mieville
City And The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F. Hamilton
The Company Wars, by C.J. Cherryh
The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
Contact, by Carl Sagan
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison
The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
Earth, by David Brin
Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
The Faded Sun Trilogy, by C.J. Cherryh
Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
The Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
The Gormenghast Triology, by Mervyn Peake
Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
Kraken, by China Mieville
The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
Last Call, by Tim Powers
The Last Coin, by James P. Blaylock
The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
The Lensman Series, by E.E. Smith
The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
Little, Big, by John Crowley
The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J. Sawyer
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The Newsflesh Triology, by Mira Grant
The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton
Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
The Pride Of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh
The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R. Scott Bakker
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
Replay, by Ken Grimwood
Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
Ringworld, by Larry Niven
The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
The Saga Of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
The Scar, by China Mieville
The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
The Stand, by Stephen King
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
Steel Beach, by John Varley
Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card
The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
Ubik, by Philip K. Dick
The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
VALIS, by Philip K. Dick
Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon
The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
Watchmen, by Alan Moore
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
World War Z, by Max Brooks
The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Edison
The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
1632, by Eric Flint
1984, by George Orwell
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
I was glad to see both Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen and Gaiman’s Sandman series in such august company. Both Earth Abides (Stewart) and Lord of Light (Zelazny) are close to perfect works of science-fiction. Unfortunately, Stewart never wrote another book, and Zelazny fell off precipitously after LOL. Amber wasn’t nearly as good.
I am not surprised that A Voyage To Arcturus didn’t make it onto this list. It is very poorly written and hard to parse, but it does have a sticking power that many better works lack. I was surprised to see that nothing by Lord Dunsany made the cut, nor was James Cabell represented, nor George Macdonald, nor Jack Vance. In the mean time, you can amuse yourselves identifying the pictures off to the right.
In the last week, I have been following an interesting exchange between David Theroux and my loyal friend Steven Hayes about the economic thought of CS Lewis. It appears Paul, whom I suspect of being a right-leaning American Catholic suspicious of governmental interference, found a kindred spirit in Lewis, who was certainly no fan of political ideologies.
Steve, a left-leaning South African with whom I share a concern that the benefits of “freedom” in the market sense have been inappropriately distributed, and with whom I share at least the apprehension that governmental coercion may be the only weapon available to whinge the behemoths currently dominating the geopolitical environment, responded saying that he felt that Lewis would not have allowed himself to be aligned with American Libertarianism, which is an ideology that wishes to extend to all Americans the benefits of that freedom from governmental restraint currently enjoyed by those who can afford seats at $10,000 a plate fundraising dinners.
Mr. Theroux offered a rebuttal to Steve, which Steve graciously forwarded to me in a mailing list, is unavailable for linking, although I hope to remedy that shortly.
I think that the whole problem of trying to pigeonhole Lewis’ politics and/or economic theorems [and, let us confess, all politics appears to have reduced to economics in our darkening era] is that Lewis’ thinking along operated primarily on a pre-Enlightenment, pre-“Victorious Analysis” basis.
I don’t know anything about Natural Law theory, except that it seems to be often on the lips of a certain type of Catholic. I am assuming that Natural Law is something akin to what Lewis dealt with when he introduced the concept of the “Tao” in ‘The Abolition Of Man’, so if I make mistakes in understanding the ideas begind Natural law, please bear with me. I have to admit that the whole idea of ‘law’ leaves me a bit cold, whichever phrase it is embedded in; “Natural Law”, “the Law of Historical Necessity”, “the Law of the Marketplace”.
I would like to bring the thought of another of the circle of Lewis’ friends, Owen Barfield, to play upon the issue of economic thought:
“[Francis] Bacon… was at least among the first to draw the analogy in English. so that in the history of thought, we have a here a pretty definite point – round about the beginning of the 17th century – at which the concept ‘laws of nature’ first begins to reveal itself as working in human minds.”
Barfield goes to to explain that the idea of Law, from the time of Bacon on, displaced the older idea of Form as a metaphor of “thinking Nature”. The older idea of Form, which was useful in explaining ‘natura naturans’, Barfield maintains, were the “memory of those elements which the best Greek thinking could still apprehend in its time as living Beings” was usurped by the menta habit of thinking of Laws, which dealt with ‘natura naturata’, as a static thing “which dealt with the rules that govern the changes which occur in the sense-perceptible part of nature.”
This helps me to distinguish the economic thinking of Lewis, and his companion Tolkien from the algorithmic thinking about The Market© that is so ubiquitious in our day. The Algorithm arose in the Seventeenth Century as a way of thinking and swept all before it. The United States, it is sometimes helpful for me to remember, is not a Nation based on ties of race, religion, or culture, but literally an Algorithmic state, based not on centuries of precedent and custom, but on ABORSGSIARTATBWTAADR (A Bunch Of Really Smart Guys Sitting In A Room Thinking About The Best Way To Achieve A Desired Result). And the temptation is, when confronted by undesireable results proceeding from the execution of the Algorithm, is to reach for the levers and tweak it until it produces the desired results.
The result of the triumph of the Algorithm has been an undeniable increase in the levels of comfort for those who benefit from its application, especially for those close to the levers and those who directly support them. Indeed, the limited liablity corporation and the ersatz personhood rendered to it by legal fiat represents kind of an Incarnation for this Algorithm. The pronouncements of those in charge of these entities indicate there is a kind of reverse-theosis underway in them that strips them of any concern that cannot be quantified by this Algorithm.
In contrast, Lewis champions a kind of a pre-Algorithmic ordering of society, where The Market© digests other concerns besides the merely economic. Novelist Gene Wolfe in a masterful essay on Tolkien says this in a way I can only marvel at:
“Philology led him to the study of the largely illiterate societies of Northern Europe between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the true Middle Ages (roughly AD 400 to 1000). There he found a quality — let us call it Folk Law — that has almost disappeared from his world and ours. It is the neighbour-love and settled customary goodness of the Shire. Frodo is “rich” in comparison to Sam, though no dragon would call Frodo rich; Sam is poor in comparison to Frodo, though Sam is far richer than Gollum, who has been devoured by the tyranny and corruption of the One Ring. Frodo does not despise Sam for his poverty, he employs him; and Sam does not detest Frodo for his wealth, but is grateful for the job. Most central of all, the difference in their positions does not prevent their friendship. And in the end, poor Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of his association with Frodo, and rich Frodo sacrifices himself for the good of all the Sams.”
“Sam Rayburn, a politician of vast experience, once said that all legislation is special-interest legislation. Of our nation, and of the 20th century, that is unquestionably true; but it need not be. We have — but do not need — a pestilent swarm of exceedingly clever persons who call themselves public servants when everything about them and us proclaims that they are in fact our masters. They make laws (and regulations and judicial decisions that have the force of laws) faster and more assiduously than any factory in the world makes chains; and they lay them on us.”
It need not be so. We might have a society in which the laws were few and just, simple, permanent, and familiar to everyone — a society in which everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder because everyone lived by the same changeless rules, and everyone knew what those rules were. When we had it, we would also have a society in which the lack of wealth was not reason for resentment but a spur to ambition, and in which wealth was not a cause for self-indulgence but a call to service. We had it once, and some time in this third millennium we shall have it again; and if we forget to thank John Ronald Reuel Tolkien for it when we get it, we will already have begun the slow and not always unpleasant return to Mordor.”
Please note that the essay by Mr. Wolfe is copyrighted, and the owner of the website from which I obtained the above fragment paid Mr. Wolfe for the privilege of publishing the essay in its entirety. Thank you, Mr. Robertson, for making this available publicly.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the way back is the way forward. Nostalgia for Holy Rus or the Anglo-Saxon Thengs or even the Scotland of David Ricardo will not assist us in our current extreme. We live in a time where children now consider it a judicious investment to bring a firearm to school, but I do not want to return to a time when such schooling was available to very few, if at all.
What Barfield indicates is that we need to have a different way of thinking;
“The economic life is today the real bond of the civilised world/ The world is not held together by political or religious harmony, but by economic interdependence; and here again is the same antithesis. Economic theory is bound hand and foot by the static, abstract (algorithmic) characte of modern thought. On the one hand, everything to with industry and the possibility of substituting human labor by machinery, or at very least standardizing it into a series of repetitive motions, has reached an unexampled pitch of perfection.”
“But when it is the question of distributing this potential wealth, when it is demanded of us that we think in terms of flow and rate-of-flow, in otherwords that we think in terms of the system as a whole, we cannot even rise to it. The result is that all our ‘labour-saving’ machinery produces not leisure but its ghastly caricature unemployment while the world sits helplessly watching the steady growth within itself of a malignant tumor of social discontent. this incereaasingly rancourous discontent is fed above all things by a cramping penury, a shortage of the means of livelihood which arises not out the realities of nature, but out of abstract, inelastic thoughts about money.”
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am clueless about the kind of thinking Barfield says we require at this juncture. Whether it is holistic rather than reductionistic I cannot penetrate at this time. If it holistic, it runs the risk of requiring somebody to know a system extensively before saying anything about it, and every time I head down that path, I find myself thinking algorithmically about non-algorithmic thought, and thus get myself all balled up in knots.
The closest I have gotten is, maybe, when meditating in a grove of trees about photosynthesis, I entertained a kind of a pre-sentiment that the trees “wanted” to trap the sunlight and turn it into useable energy, not only for themselves, but for all the biosphere, and if I could just ‘learn their language’, as it were, I could find a way to cooperate with the trees and help them do this.
I think another of the neglected Inklings, Charles Williams, with his concepts of Co-Inherence and Webs of Exchange, lends himself to an economic interpretation. Certainly Williams, as a lifelong City dweller, would have a different outlook than the bucolic Lewis or Tolkien. Certainly, a good case could be made for there being different Webs of Exchange; the Chemical, the Biological, the Semantic, the Anthro-Economic which exists over and above the others and which currently is returning evil for good.