Thursday, December 31, 2009

Italian children in New York, about 1910

Suffering, thinking, and a looking for lost sheep

I’ve been working on the story that I describe in the previous post, cleaning up bits of dialogue and fixing continuity problems. I’m still thinking through the end bits. And I’m still trying to find a story for Sha’Jael (shaw-jay-el) and Timothy. I’m considering an adventure set at the time of the black plague, the search for a lost treasure of manuscript, or Tim entering Edward’s service and Jael tagging along. I’m not totally happy with any of those ideas.

This is a bad day for me. I’ve been more than ordinarily sick today. I hate bad days. Fortunately tonight is a night off for me. I was working ten hours but the week’s schedule had to change at the last minute. So I’m off tonight and work Saturday instead.

An acquaintance asked me about Brownies and their place in the Pixie-Fairy struggle. I haven’t a clue where to place them, though I have thought about it. I just ignore them. I’ll think more about them latter. I have a book from 1904 that tells about brownies. But, while I like the book’s charm and old illustrations, I can’t see presenting them as that story teller did.

I’m still thinking about giants, not that I plan to write a story about them. I’m interested in the sources of cultural traditions, but not in any “scientific” way. I’m more interested in how people thought (and think) than in finding out from where the thoughts are derived.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, some writers took the Genesis narrative as historical actuality. I wonder what sort of “history” one could make of it. I’m half tempted to write something that takes it seriously, give it footnotes and load it with speculations and comparisons. I may have to change my name to James Frazer to do it! (If you never read all the volumes of his Golden Bough, you should. Even if his method was faulty, his books are full of interesting bits!)

So, if we took the first eleven chapters of Genesis as absolute historical truth, then we’d have to answer questions that modern pre-historians leave unexplored. This might be fun, but it would take hours of research to do right. Of course I could just make it all up. It’s not as if I would be writing ‘serious’ history. But the best stories have recognizable elements of reality in them.

The Genesis stories are brief. A city is built, and conflict is implied. Implements of iron are forged, and weapons are implied. Men live long lives. Wickedness fills the earth. A prophet arises in contrast to a formalistic religion. He is hounded and disappears. The word goes out that “God took him.” But where God took him is left unsaid. Speculation abounds. Shape-shifters live among humans. Some say they’re angels who’ve sinned. Lots of drama. I wonder …

I’ve also been thinking about someone I know who thinks of himself as the ultimate expert on everything. There is probably the seed of a character in that. I do not mean to be unkind, but he has mental health issues. He is also very smart. The combination can be deadly boring – and still remain interesting. He is always convinced he is exactly right about everything. His historical knowledge is faulty, and his political philosophy is stolen from the most impractical bits of many political theories. He talks everyone down, as if the flood of words will prove his point.

He is such an interesting and annoying person that I should find something to borrow for a character. …. Time will tell.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Timmy, Sha'Jael and King Edward

I’m taking a break from the history book Bruce and I are working on. We both need time to reconsider our approach. That happens when the trail of historical evidence goes in unexpected directions. So we’re giving it a rest for a month or two.

I’m well into a new pixie book. Umm that’s probably an exaggeration. I have made a good start on it. I’m tentatively calling it Pixie Tails and Other Stories. (Notice: I do mean Tails and not Tales.)

I have bits of stories I started as novels that just didn’t make the grade, but they’re good stories. I’m putting them in short story format, maybe a few of them will be longer. I’m nearly done with the first draft of what will be story two. I haven’t decided on a title, though I’m leaning toward “Estephan” or “The Knights’ Tale.”

Stories take on a life of their own. Any writer knows this. This one popped out two unexpected characters, and I’ll write a story or two with them as the focus. Timothy (no one calls him Timmy except Sha’Jael, a newly-born pixie who is already determined that she will marry him someday.) is seven years old, tow headed, mischievous and the un-winged son of a pixie. Sha’jael is his feisty tag along. She has the Sha attitude down to her toe nails. Want a bit?

She and Timothy confront King Edward and his two companions. Edward is seeking his bastard son whom he fears has gone missing. He rides into a complex situation. Timothy misdirects him until the village is ready for them. Pixies are alerted. You need to know that the king’s riders have with them a crazed priest, made insane by a pixie bite that will eventually kill him. He was one of three gray robes that burned a pixie’s human granddaughter as a witch. Bad idea that!

From the story:

All pixies are a bit impetuous. Pixie babies are even more so, and though my cousins of the House of Sha would dispute it, Sha babies are the most impetuous of all. Sha’Jael fluttered down from the oak where she’d hidden and landed toes first on Tim’s shoulder, and many things happened.

“Demons!” the priest screamed.

“A fairy!” The king was awestruck and meant no insult. Everyone knows fairies are nasty things, just as all know that pixie and fairy are locked in battle until the last judgment.

Jael hissed at the King, displaying teeth grown long and sharp for the hunt.

The knight with the crossbow loosed the bolt at Timothy. Faster than most eyes can see, Jael was off Timothy’s shoulder and had the bolt in hand.

She hovered in front of the king, rage on her face. Her voice was raised, and from a pixie baby that means it was squeaky. “One of your men lost this. I return it to you. Loose another at my Timmy and I’ll make you all bleed. Timmy is mine. … And I am NO foul and stinking fairy.” She made a rude very rude face, something involving squinting eyes and a protruding tongue. “I am PIXIE, twelfth princess of the House of SHA; and you will not call me fairty!”

The king made a half mocking, half serious bow. “My abject apologies, Princess.”

Jael fluttered close to the king’s face – too close for his companion’s comfort. One urged his horse forward and batted at her. She darted up and back. The riders moved forward. Someone shouted, and a hail of arrows – well aimed arrows – struck the ground in front of them. They reigned to a sudden halt.

… So that’s that bit. I like this little pixie and I like Timothy. So does King Edward. Later we have this:

Sha’jael for all her scolding (and hissing) attached herself to Edward. She danced on his table, sat on his hand or shoulder, flirted shamelessly, and in the process taught him more about pixies and their human relations than any amount of pedanticism could have.

When I walked into the dining hall the men were focused on a conversation between King Edward and Jael and Timothy.

“So, it’s all settled. You are betrothed to young Timothy?”

“I’ve chosen him,” she said with considerable finality.

Timothy rolled his eyes. “She’s a baby,” he said “and silly.”

“Tim is not as certain as you are, Princess.”

“He will be,” she said. “I’ll be fully grown in a year. He’ll see.”

“See what, My Lady?”

“I’ll be irresistibly pretty. All the Sha are. He’ll be smitten.”

The king slapped his knees and the others laughed. Sha’jael blew a kiss to Tim and wing colored a gorgeous and flirty pink, going quickly to emerald.

Timothy blushed, and the laughter grew. “You’re not even two months old. You’ll change your mind,” Tim was tolerant, even a bit condescending.

“… won’t,” she said.

“You’ll only be as tall as you’ll get by year’s end, but not mature for at least twenty years after.”

“… I’ll be gorgeous.”

Timothy paused. “I can see you will be. …” Her wings turned pink again. “But most pixies don’t mate until after one hundred years at least. … I’ll be old or dead.”

“You have too much pixie blood for that.” She crossed her arms. “Besides, I don’t have to wait. … “

“Hopeless!” Timothy threw up his hands.

“So that’s a ‘yes’ then?” the king asked to laughter.

Tim paused again, looked the pouty Jael up and down and sighed. “That’s a maybe.”

The knight’s laughter turned to a loud roar.

Anyway … that’s bits of the story in rough draft. Now I find a separate adventure for Timothy and Jael. It’s not what I planned, but then writing seldom goes exactly as one envisions. That’s as true for historical research as it is for fiction.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Young Dancer

Impossibly Large; Impossibly Small

I’m avoiding writing today, though I will take my notebook to work and jot ideas when I have free time. This has been a bad day for me. I seldom bring my health issues into my blog, but the last two days have been particularly bad for me. I’ve been having short but intense seizures. I don’t know how I’ll get through work tonight.

I’ve been unfocused, which is not unusual when I’m troubled. I keep drifting off into reconsidering how I handled a domineering person whose behavior I came to question. I’d do it differently, given a chance. I don’t wish to be her friend, but I was unkind in how I handled the problem. I regret the unkindness less than I regret befriending them, but I still regret it.

We are all complex. The person with whom I had my ‘disagreement’ is a mixture of socially conservative, religious in an undefined, feel-good way, with a strong need to dominate others. She collects people, usually wounded in some way, and seeks to dominate them. She is full of sexual innuendo, and socially conservative. She swings from “it’s only sex” to strict morals.

It was a bad situation. I made it worse by pushing her as far as I could. Bad me. I should have backed up and said, “You know what? I don’t want to be your friend on this basis.” The perverse little pixie in me wanted to see what she would accept. It was a lot, as long as she could remain in what she saw as the dominate position.

I’m sorry I adopted the strategy I did.

Enough of that. I have other issues and questions today. I wonder why someone would claim to live in Minnesota but post here from a New York based ISP?

I have been reading about giants. There doesn’t seem to be any real proof that a race of giants of the sort usually presented in story and legend ever existed. I wonder if, in an era when the average male was just past five feet tall, someone a foot taller wasn’t seen as a giant. I have no real sense of these legends yet. In English tradition they tend to be immense, not merely head and shoulders taller than normal humans.

Other stray thoughts concern the small. Fairies are seen as small, though in other parts of the mythology they are not. Religiously, Angels are sometimes seen as too small to see. Those who see them this way shift from the concept of invisibility to that of size.

None of this mythology has an immediate historical basis; it’s all from the field of traditional, idle story. But it is the fodder for more stories. I do wonder though, if there isn’t something behind the mythology.

I should be cleaning house. I can’t do that either. ….

In an area more in touch with reality, we finally traced down an 1886 four page tract published in Liberia. That was a chore, but we were helped by kind-hearted experts from the Episcopalian Church. I only wish that the religion with which I at least nominally identify was as forth-coming.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alternate Beginnings

Most of ancient religion is discredited. Few believe what those religions taught; fewer have any interest in the theology and peculiarities of ancient belief systems. Even the neo-pagans and Wiccans who see themselves as the inheritors of these belief systems seldom really explore what ancient religions taught. But, suppose some of them were true. What would the world really be like if it were ruled by gods and goddesses in conflict?

Ancient gods were disputatious beings. They were layered creatures, the offspring of other gods. In some systems the ultimate parent of the God’s is a shadow being who is, if worshiped at all, worshiped distantly. Sometimes he is unnamed, given the title “El” or god and seen as disinterested and distant. It’s his sons or grandsons and granddaughters ancient theology presents to us. What if it were all true, or what if there were elements of truth in it? (I’m abandoning scholarship here. Don’t take me seriously, please.)

There is a snippet in the Bible about the men of fame, the men of old, the heroes that others worshiped but for whom the Bible writer had contempt and because of whom God judged the world of Noah. Greek mythology saw these men as gods in their own right, or as mere bandits with extraordinary stature and strength and nasty dispositions. Suppose the mythology associated with Plutarch’s life of Theseus were true, or mostly true. Then from this we have a portrait of these demigods, the sons of others who were seen as gods.

Theseus, we’re told, was presented as a god’s son: “For some time Aethra declared not the real father of Theseus, but the report propagated by Pittheus was that he was the son of Neptune for the Troezenians principally worship that god; he is the patron of their city to him they offer their first fruits and their money bears the impression of a trident.”

I don’t know if our ancestors were more gullible than we are, but they were more gullible in ways we might find surprising. Let’s just presume the populace believed this story, though the actual belief may have been more in a quiet acquiescence to official propaganda than in actual belief. Theseus is presented as “in his youth discovering not only great strength of body but firmness and solidity of mind.” He is the perfect opponent to the wild half-gods, the men of olden time fame of the Genesis writers.

When Theseus seeks his real daddy, he encounters and vanquishes the wicked men of fame:

“It was hazardous at that time to go by land to Athens because no part was free from the danger of ruffians and robbers. Those times indeed produced men of strong and indefatigable powers of body of extraordinary swiftness and agility but they applied those powers to nothing just or useful. On the contrary their genius their disposition their pleasures tended only to insolence to violence and to rapine. As for modesty justice equity and humanity they looked upon them as qualities in which those who had it in their power to add to their possessions had no manner of concern virtue s praised only by such as were afraid of being injured and who abstained from injuring others out of the same principle of fear.”

Bad boys all, if you ask me. Anyway, Theseus encounters and vanquishes them one by one. They are presented as giants. The same impression is left by the Genesis writers. The Authorized Version translates chapter six, verse four, as: “There were giants in the earth in those days … the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

Weather the original story teller meant to imply more than tyranny is hard to say. Size, in these stories, equates with strength. But let’s suppose these spawn of Gods and humans were larger than average and stronger, even though there doesn’t seem to be anything to support the existence of extraordinarily large humans.

Theseus’ story then tells us of a strong human’s conquest of giant-spawn. He took away Periphetes’ giant-sized club and made it his own weapon; it was proof of his power. “Delighted with the club he took it for his weapon and used it as Hercules did the lion's skin. The skin was a proof of the vast size of the wild beast which that hero had slain, and Theseus carried about with him this club whose stroke he had been able to parry but which in his hand was irresistible.”

Another element in these stories is prowess against wild beasts. This is an element of another Genesis story. Nimrod was a might hunter. Skill in the hunt translating to political power is an element in several mythologies. Theseus killed the wild sow, a fierce and formidable creature.

What if all these things were essentially true? What if our view of history is skewed away from them because we prefer to see the world differently? How different our history books would be if these things represented real human history and not a confused mythology. If we melted mythologies into a big pot and pulled out the broth, how different our history would seem. My historian’s conscience tells me that as far as our interpretation of pre-history goes, it might not be much less accurate than what we now dish up to students.

In the mid 19th Century legitimate historians still presented elements of Genesis as the absolute historical truth. What if they were? I wonder how a book entitled The History of Man Under the Angelic Tyranny would read. …

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Goat Stone of Assyria

Most everyone who visits this blog knows I write fantasy fiction and history. Once upon a time I taught elements of ancient history. It’s fascinating and frustrating. Documentation for much of the era and area that my lectures covered simply does not exist in any meaningful way. Much of what is said about it is speculative, based on hints and guesses.

Here is an Assyrian carving. This illustration comes from a book published in the 1890’s, but it’s faithful to the original, and I cannot find a good photo of this. Here is your task: Interpret what you see in a reasonable way. Connect this relief carving with what you know of Assyrian history or of ancient cultures in general. What do you conclude? What do you note?

One historian developed an entire theory off this boulder; that is, of course, never a wise thing to do. But we’re playing here, not teaching or writing serious history. What’s your theory? What story does this tell?


Oregon Coast about 1910

Union Square - Seattle 1921

Short 'n Scrawny -- Bring Back the SUN!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tinted Post Card - Edwardian Era Baby

Germany - About 1895

Burdens, Obligations and Pain

Some things I once believed now seem untenable, unsupported by fact or logic. Other things I still believe and practice. One of the beliefs I hold to be “true” is derived from this:

“Continue bearing one another’s burdens and thus carry out Christ’s law. … Everyone should examine his own conduct … for everyone must bear his own load.”

Without discussing original language definitions, let’s just say that the load each should carry is their own “load of responsibilities.” These include everything that rightly falls on us. One example will suffice. If you produce a child, it is your responsibility to foster her, love her, teach her, care for and nurture her. That many fail to carry this load does not make it less of an obligation. Failure to see the consequences of intercourse does not relieve one of the moral “load,” and we will be held accountable both by naturally following consequence and by God.

The burdens with which we should assist each other are the unavoidable frailties and circumstances of life that are outside our areas of responsibility. They are those things which no one should carry alone.

By seeking to control the decisions of another adult one steps from a support role into the place of God. We can help another reason. We cannot rightly make their decisions. One can fail to distinguish between carrying another’s burdens and assuming another’s responsibilities by redefining a bad act in such a way that one excuses what is hurtful.

I may mourn for someone who is enslaved to a bad practice. I wish every addict was free from their addiction. And I agree that most – probably all – addictions are diseases. But they are diseases acquired by choice. Addicts make a series of ill-considered choices, becoming trapped both by the dependency and by self-loathing.

I have little sympathy – though more compassion than you may allow to me while reading this – for self-inflicted addictions. I’m trapped in a cycle of behaviors by a neurological disorder. I would never willingly choose them. They are mine by the accident of genetic inheritance, and they or the underlying brain defect will eventually kill me. So, my sympathy for those who choose destructive behaviors is almost non-existent.

I reject the approach that expresses itself with, “That’s okay; you’re a good person.” They aren’t good people, and their behavior is not okay. Those who express this thought confuse intrinsic human worth with goodness. A physician who confused existence with wellness would make the same mistake. A physician does not wish his patients to remain as they are, but wants them to be healed. An addiction does not free one from responsibility or consequence, though it makes them much more difficult to bear. Carrying the burdens of an addicted person is right. Assuming their responsibilities is morally indefensible and so is justifying their faulty choices and bad acts.

When I first wrote this I appended a section of personal comments meant for another. Those are no longer appropriate, but this statement of belief and practice is. I’m certain many will disagree with it. I’ve had this discussion before and know it is a sensitive and difficult issue. I expect a measure of respect for my opinions on this issue.

Glasgow - About 1865

Margaret Winifred Tarrant (1888—1959)