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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 thatcharlesandsebastian 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 Charles WilliamsEurope 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.

 

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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.


darktower_1After more than five years, with more interruptions than I care to mention, I have finally followed Roland Deschaine of Gilead into the room at the top of the Dark Tower.  I have to admit that I was surprised at how moved I was when he paused at the entrance and recited the names of all of his friends and ka-mates.  It’s odd.  Stephen King was never a favorite author of mine.   Of all the many books he’s written, the only other one I’ve ever read was 11-22-63, his romance about the man who went back in time to stop the assassination of President Kennedy.  I didn’t care for it.  The only other book of his I want to read is The Stand.   People who have read a lot of Mr. King’s books say it is his best, but after slogging through 4250 pages in eight volumes (I read Wind Through The Keyhole chronologically, between Wizard And Glass and Wolves Of The Calla), I am a bit reluctant to give Mr. King another 1100 pages of my attention.  Interestingly, the reviewer who listed The Stand as King’s best book rated the seven canonical Dark Tower volumes roughly as I would have ranked them, so I have reason to trust his judgement.

Roland’s story is a compelling one.  Like The Lord Of The Rings, which is just about the only other work I have read to which I can compare it, The Dark Tower series is both interminable and strangely, over far too soon.   Both of these works create a desire to explore more fully the world the author has created; to know more about its inhabitants, its history, and its geography.   Mr. King includes no maps.  There are no sprawling appendices such as Prof. Tolkien included in The Lord Of The Rings to give you the backstory of Mid-World.  Another characteristic that Mid-World shares with Middle-Earth is that it seems strangely depopulated.  Either that, or the protagonists of both works spent the majority of their time in the parts of their imaginary worlds where the people didn’t live.   This seems to be a common flaw with fantasy.  Narnia was claustrophobic as well, having only three “countries” that really counted.   Earthsea was a collection of islands with, I assume, nothing much larger than fishing villages to house its inhabitants.

The Dark Tower series took Stephen King almost 35 years to write, and it shows.   The biggest divide is between Wizard And Glass, which was published in 1997, and The Wolves Of The Calla, which was published in 2003.  In the intervening years, Stephen King was almost killed in a near-fatal auto accident, and it shows up in the writing.  King himself seems to have felt some pressure to complete the series after his accident.  The last three books, despite their more than 2000 pages, have a rushed feeling that is missing from the parts of the series that he wrote prior to the accident.  By the time he published his Mid-World “inter-quel”, Mr. King had found his rhythm again.  Certainly, even though there are weak parts in the first four books and excellent parts in the last three, I found I preferred the first four to the latter three.

My favorite five scenes from the Dark Tower series were;

1)   Roland and his companions in Meijis – I haven’t read enough King to know how much material he recycled from other his other books in order to tell the tragic tale of young Roland Deschaine and the tragic Susan Delgado, but I suspect it was a lot.  I detected some of The Children Of The Corn, at least.  Nevertheless, as far as raw storytelling is measured, King never approached this level again for the whole 4,000-plus pages of the series.  Even the characters seemed fully-fleshed, and I warmed to Alain Johns and Cuthbert Allgood in a way that I never did to wisecracking Eddie Dean.  The bad guys Eldred Jonas and Roy Depape are more richly drawn than either the Crimson King or Mordred, and even minor characters like Cordelia Delgado and Hart Thorin are alive with life.  Rhea of the Cöos is beyond creepy, and one of the better villains I’ve encountered in any fiction.  Other reviewers gush about the love affair between Susan Delgado and Roland Deschaine, but I found it kind of off-putting.  I know Roland is supposed to be knowing beyond his years, but a 14 year old boy in love with a 16 year old girl does not act the way Roland acts here.

2.  The Drawing Of Eddie Dean – I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I kinda liked Eddie better as a junkie than as the wise-cracking comic-relief he became by the end of the series.  The story of how Roland ended up behind his eyes and managed to extricate him from his tangled web of obligation and addiction in 1980s New York was absorbing.  It was a shame that Eddie very seldom was allowed to rise to the nobility of character he displayed during the gunfight in Balazar’s gin joint.   His “trail marriage” to Susannah was often distracting as well, but in his coming and going, I have to admit that I came to love Eddie Dean.

3. The Massacre At Tull – It has been a long time since I read The Gunslinger, the first volume of the Dark Tower series,   Roland’s methodical massacre of all the inhabitants of Tull, including the idiot child Soobie and his paramour Allie, opened my eyes to just how hard-bitten the series could get at a moment’s notice.   It also presaged just who Roland would sacrifice in order to attain the Tower.   There was a high body count in the Dark Tower series , but this action set the stage for all of the rest.

4. The Manni In the Cave Of The Winds – I enjoyed Wolves Of The Calla far more than I thought I would.  After having Roland and the gang meander around blank open country for more than four volumes, actually, since River Crossing, or maybe even Tull, it was good to get back to settled lands and farmsteads.  Pere Callahan’s negligent Catholic mission made a good counterpoint to the Manni, who i thought were one of King’s better inventions in the series.   It seems kind of a shame that he used them basically as a key to open the door between worlds.  They would have benefited from greater exposition.  

5. Jake and Pere Callahan in the Dixie Pig – I really warmed to Pere Callahan and was sorry to see him depart so early in the seventh book, but boy! did he go out with a flair.  I hadn’t read Salem’s Lot, so I only knew as much of the Pere’s backstory as King revealed in Wolves Of the Calla and Susannah’s Song.  There were a lot of nice touches in the Dixie Pig segment; the Mid-World kitchen boy serving under the taheen cook,  Jake switching bodies with Oy to get past the guardians in the passage to Fedic.  There were also some typical King gross-outs as well, but hey, I could almost smell the meat roasting on the spit behind the curtain.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, though.

My five least favorite parts were 1) the lobstrosities – i was so glad when the story moved passed them.  2) the Emerald City sequence with Martin Broadcloak/Randall Flagg. 3) the demon sex that brought Jake into Mid-World, although the bifurcation of Jake and Roland was handled very well.  4) Susannah/Mia “dining” in the swamp.  I nearly lost lunch.  5) basically everything that took place from the Castle of the Crimson King until Roland reached the Tower.  The Dandelo/Patrick Danville episode was pretty anticlimactic after the chiaroscuro of Algul Siento, and the removal of the Crimson King was very cheesy.  I suspect King just wanted to finish by this time.

Something has to be said about how American the Dark Tower series is.  Any American mythopoesis is going to have a lot of the Western in it, because the Western, with the free man remaking himself on the Frontier, is our great myth.  Stephen King took it and ran it out farther than I would have thought possible.  Maybe this isn;t, yet, the Great American Novel,  but it is without any doubt the Great American Fantasy series.  I’m glad I went on this journey.  Thou hast spoken well, may it do ya, gunslinger.  Long days and pleasant nights to you.

Thankee sai, Mr. King


flanneryI had no idea that one of my favorite writers was born on the feast of the Annunciation.  It makes perfect sense though.

From Orthodixie:

It’s the birthday of Flannery O’Connor [Savannah, Georgia (1925)] who wrote two novels and 32 short stories and who said: “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.” When she was six, she and a chicken that she taught to walk backward appeared on the news. She later said: “I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

She said, “When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic. … Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”

— Stolen from The Writer’s Almanac

Someone once told the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor that it is more open-minded to think that the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is a great, wonderful, powerful symbol. Her response was, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”
[Source]

Flannery O’Connor: “When I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me, it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified… The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.”

Additional poignancy is added in that this year the Feast of the Annunciation abuts the Sunday of Orthodoxy.  I never got the appeal of Miss O’Connor’s writing for serious Protestants.  She is not at all sympathetic to them.  I hung out with a lot of neo-Calvinist, culture-engaging types who lionized her.  When I started reading her, I found her to be very dismissive of Protestantism, whether of the modernist, of the fundamentalist, or of this new-fangled presuppositionalist variety.  I think it has something to do with the radical nature of grace in Miss O’Connor’s fiction, which is indeed arresting, but which never comes about through The [classical Protestant] Word Of God Preached, but through [good ol’ dirty Catholic] matter.  I am not ashamed to admit that it was Miss O’Connor’s short story Parker’s Back that turned me into an iconodule, rather than St. John of Damascus’ cooly argued Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images.  Once I saw the image of my proud, bitter,  man-hating soul in Sarah Ruth’s fastidious iconoclasm, there was no recourse but for me to prostrate myself before the holy icon of the blessed flesh of my Lord, and ask His forgiveness for my sin and spiritual elitism.  He who did not deign to hold Himself aloof from the messiness of our incarnate lives forgave me.


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.


Marija Gimbutas (1921 – 1994) is a name all of you should know. Fleeing the Nazi occupation of her native Lithuania in 1944, she settled in Southern California, eventually becoming a full professor of anthropology at UCLA.

Dr. Gimbutas first attained prominence in the field of Indo-European studies by identifying a Neolithic culture of the Russian steppes, the Kurgan culture of appr. 4000 BC, as the speakers of Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral language of the majority of European and Indian languages spoken today. The Kurgans were a militaristic, patriarchal, and technologically obsessed society which, in various waves, dominated and submerged what she called “Old Europe”, a uniform (!?!?) Neolthic culture which was pacific, aesthetic, matriarchal, and meticulous about ecological relations to the natural world.

Dr. Gimbutas’ theory of Indo-European procedence is not entirely accepted by scholars in archeology or linguistics. It remains a “fruitful” hypothesis, meaning, I suppose, one that can still be  invoked to apply for grants and to lend legitimacy to articles published in scholarly journals. The jury is still out as to whether the Kurgans were indeed the linguistic great-grandfathers of Homer, the writers of the Vedas, Virgil, and the bards of the Cattle Raid on Cooley.

My Goddess can kick your Sky-God

Nevertheless, outside the more rigorous climes of official academe, her ideas took fruit in a series of novels written by one of her ex-students, Jean Auel, who had a good run of success with her “Earth’s Children” series, beginning with “The Clan of the Cave Bear”, which was made into a decent film starring Darryl Hannah.

The Earth’s Children series degenerated swiftly from the original book, which was quite good from both a literary and imaginative perspective, into a predictable set of romances between the protaganist Ayla and a series of broad-chested, long-haired, sensitive Neolithic swains who followed her across Old Europe in obedience to the Great Goddess, whom they worshipped and who Ayla symbolized.

I never finished the second book, although I have been meaning to. Whatever made the first book special is definitely lacking in the second. At any rate, Ms. Auel made Dr. Gimbutas’ speculations plausible to a host of moderns looking for a reason why their lives weren’t working so well.

Gimbutean fiction is quite a lively sub-genre these days, with plucky, Goddess-honoring heroines standing shoulder to shoulder with brave, shining-eyed, long-locked heroes against the awful Horse People and their ferocious, oppressive Sky-God (Guess Who?).

The mythology is quite potent, which is why its not going to go away because it doesn’t have any basis in verifiable history.  Christians, as usual, had their seismic triggers posted elsewhere and didn’t see Dr. Gimbutas coming up behind them.


E’ verdade! Ele fiz ao sol soubir!         It’s true, he made the sun come up!
Agora, voçê e’ o Orfeu!  Toque uma canção p’ra mim!
Now, You’re Orpheus!  Play me a song!

From Steve Hayes’ Yahoo Group “eldil”

So here’s what I posted (or would have had Eldil Yahoo Group been accessed):

You may have seen reported on the news that an atheist organization has put up a large billboard at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC that reads:  You know it’s a myth.  This season celebrate REASON.

A Catholic organization has recently retaliated with a billboard opposite which reads: You know it’s read.  This season celebrate Jesus.

When I first saw the original sign I said to myself, Of COURSE it’s a myth.

The word myth has morphed of course from the Greek ‘mythos’. In Webster’s that is  “a pattern of beliefs expressing often symbolically the characteristic or prevalent attitudes in a group or culture.”

I’m sure Steve could provide a better definition or meaning of the Greek word.  The word myth today most often in the secular world is used to mean an unfounded or false notion, a thing having only an imaginary existence.

A second comment by the same commenter [AnnA]

The atheist sign is of course wrong about myth. Myth is real. Myth and reason
are not opposites, or enemies, iyw. Every human holds to both, sometimes at the
same time. Even the atheist holds the myth of physics- indeed much of he/she
calls science, the myths of history, etc. If one hasn’t seen it, or is unable
to fully intellectualize it (such as pain, evil in the world, the meaning of
life- whatever) then one has a myth. Privately or publically everyone holds
their myths.

Steve replies:

I am reminded of what Nicolas Berdyaev said about myth:

“Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is
high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention,
with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything,
in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality… The
creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life,
more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational
thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better
than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that
of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original
phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural
world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and
creative energy of the people… it brings two worlds together
symbolically.”

and then I reply:

If there is one thing I have taken away from the epistemological wars I have been involved in on the internet, it is that TRVTH is something of a fluid concept.

The atheists who put up their billboard in the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel are really saying something like this: “You don’t believe the Christmas story based on any of the mechanisms you use to justify belief in your daily life, so
why believe it at all? Using the mechanisms you would use to troubleshoot a engine problem or invest $15,000, you cannot determine whether or not there ever even was a Jesus of Nazareth, much less whether he did all those things you heard he did. So, why celebrate?”

Leaving aside the fact that most people aren’t as epistemologically fastidious as a trained scientist, I realize that the atheist is making a claim that “Reason” is the primary means by which truth is distinguished from falsehood.   The problem is that reason is not a particularly good means of establishing veracity in historical matters, where usually you have to weigh the reliabilty of documentary evidence or material testimony such as pottery and other remains.

When the atheist refers to the Nativity of our Lord as “myth”, he is making two powerful claims; first, that if there was a videocamera in the stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, it would have discovered nothing more than an ordinary family in difficult straits, if that. Also, if this camera followed the baby throughout his life, it would reveal nothing more than an ordinary man leading an ordinary life. Maybe at the end he went a little crazy, abandoning his profession and taking up the life of an itinerant preacher before running afoul of the ecclesiastical and governmental authorities. He was tried, executed and buried. End of story. The rest is “myth”.

But the second claim is the more powerful. It is the claim that what the videocamera reveals is TRVE, i.e., that nothing can be trusted apart from the testimony of our senses, however enhanced by technology.

Now, on to myth.

My mind appears to work in two complementary ways. I learn by distinguishing differences between phenomena and by discerning likenesses between phenomena.   The discriminatory faculty I would call the digital impulse and would assert that it is what the atheist calls “reason” and it is a very powerful faculty.

The generalizing faculty I would call the analogous impulse, and it operates somewhat like two people lying on their backs and staring at clouds. One says, that cloud looks like John F Kennedy, and the other says, no it looks like an
airplane about to fly into a mountain. This is also a very powerful faculty.   The best writers I have ever read who have commented on this same polarization of the human intellect are Douglas Hofstadter and Robert Pirsig, although I
think I have seen it commented on by a host of modern thinkers from Michael Polanyi to Michel Foucalt. Just don’t ask me for my notes. 🙂

Language, that most human of faculties, appears to me use these opposing yet complementary devices simultaneously.

Now, the discriminatory faculty is amenable to discussion. We can see that light comes in different frequencies, and that the large majority of people whose retinal cones are irritated by electromagnetic impulses with a wavelength of 520nm report seeing a green object. If someone doesn’t see a green object, we don’t assume that she is merely expressing a private opinion. We assume that her visual appratus is defective in some way.

The generalizing, or analogous faculty is far less amenable to such agreement.  There is no way to establish who is “right” between the two men looking at clouds, although most onlookers with any sympathy for the two men would be able to see what they see. Culture and experience play a large role as well. It is unlikely that a Tibetan would see John F. Kennedy in the clouds, for example.  However, this doesn’t mean that the ability to see connections between seemingly  unrelated events, pattern recognition, is useless. Indeed, it is a highly sought after ability in intelligence workers, security agents, and investment bankers.

It is obvious from the Gospels themselves that not everybody experienced the same phenomenon when they encountered Jesus of Nazareth.  One of my favorite passages in the one in the Gospel of St. John where Jesus asked His Father to glorify Him with the glory that they shared before the world began. His Father responded, according the apostle, audibly, that He had glorified it and would glorify it in the future. However the apostle also recorded that the listeners were divided between those who heard an angel talking and those who heard a thunderclap.

One can only wonder what a good tape recorder, a created device, would have picked up had it tried to record the uncreated Voice. Perhaps people would have had differing responses to the recording; an apostle or someone equally pure of heart would hear the Voice of Sinai, good men would hear an angel, bad men a thunderclap.

There is an echo of this in the Tao Teh Ching:

“When the good man hears of the Tao, he practices it assiduously

When a mediocre man hears of the Tao, he neither believes nor disbelieves

When a contemptible man hears of the Tao, he laughs it to scorn

But the Tao that could not be thus ridiculed is not the Eternal Tao.”

It appears that the interpretation of this event falls within the purview of the second mental impulse, and that this impulse is what gives rise to what men call “myth”. The exercise of the discriminating impulse attempts to remove this
“mythical” element from explanations of phenomena, resulting in that which is universal for all subjects (I dislike the word ‘objective’).

The exercise of “reason” does not result in “truth” as much as it results in that which can be agreed upon by all subjects. That is why it works best on inert matter, or even more accurately, best in the abstract realm of mathematics and logic.  Reason loses traction as you ascend the ladder of the sciences, moving from Physics to Chemistry to Biology to Anthropology to Psychology to Poetics to Theology.

As you ascend this ladder, accretions of “myth” accrue. Chemical reactions are more than mere physical phenomena. Biological processes are more than can be described by mere chemical reactions. Purity of heart becomes more important as you move from quantum mechanics into medicine.

Once again, I find myself at soemthing of an impasse. As Coleridge put it, in order to be able to say anything correctly, it is necessary to say everything, and I am incapable of saying everything. I am sure that if this gets out to the right places, I will be well-corrected, maybe not gently, but it appears to me that the force of Reason is the systolic force that pushes from that realm behind or above the minds of men out into the “shining buzzing confusion” that is perceived by very young children, mystics, and the abusers of certain alkaloids.

The force of myth, far from establishing what is “right” or “true” or “so” in the realm of the phenomena, is a diastolic force that pushes back from the inert physical world, the “intersubjective” world, the world that all subjects share, back into the mind and soul of man and hopefully, links him to that which is behind and above him.  The proper use of myth is not for us to discern truth in that which is not-us, but for that which is not-us to establish truth in us.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams