The Gates of Hell are Open… Want to Peek?

I have just finished preparing a class on Witches for my University of Prince Edward Island class today. It’s Hallowe’en, so evoking the Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Christian Studies department is not altogether unwelcome. It should be a good discussion, and is less about witches and witch burning and all the madness of history than it is about what we do when we create the idea of the Witch (or the Inquisitor, or the Church, or the Woman, or the token Gay or Asian character). I’m looking forward to it.

It was a bit hard for me not to talk about demons, being as it is Hallowe’en and the class is on Christianity. I went with witches–I could also have done monsters or saints or the Day of the Dead–but my mind has gone back to my favourite Hallowe’en book, The Gates of Hell by John Connolly. Except for The Book of Lost Things, I probably wouldn’t have read Connolly without being forced. It’s just not my genre. I am, though, always open to Screwtapian works, and the artwork of the original hardcover of The Gates caught my eye. Most of all, I was given this book by a student who had already struck me as having a critic’s eye, so I thought I would give it a try.

I have, since that time, read The Gates four times and I have used it often in discussion groups. I absolutely love the book, especially when it goes by its original full title: The Gates (of Hell are Open… Want to Peak?). The audiobook is also very well done–not an easy task when one of the main characters is a hapless loser demon who isn’t very good at demonness.

At its simplest, The Gates is the story of Samuel Johnson and his critically intelligent and almost priggishly detached dachshund, Boswell. Samuel is a peculiar boy, under-appreciated and misunderstood in his little English town of Biddlecombe. His core strangeness and accompanying intelligence is demonstrated in how we meet Samuel. He is trick-or-treating at 666 Crowley Road—you have to watch for things like that—except that it is only October 28th. He wanted to get a headstart on Hallowe’en, and is met with confusion by Mr. Abernathy, the guy who writes self-help books to make other people’s lives better, but who hates his own life. I think this exchange captures the heart of the book’s style:

Mr. Abernathy looked from the dog to the small figure, then back again, as though unsure as to which one of them was going to speak.

“Trick or treat,” said the small figure eventually, from beneath the sheet.

Mr. Abernathy’s face betrayed utter bafflement.

“What?” said Mr. Abernathy.

“Trick or treat,” the small figure repeated.

Mr. Abernathy’s mouth opened once, then closed again. He looked like a fish having an afterthought. He appeared to grow even more confused. He glanced at his watch, and checked the date, wondering if he had somehow lost a few days between hearing the doorbell ring and opening the door.

“It’s only October the twenty-eighth,” he said.

“I know,” said the small figure. “I thought I’d get a head start on everyone else.”

“What?” said Mr. Abernathy again.

“What?” said the small figure.

“Why are you saying ‘what’?” said Mr. Abernathy. “I just said ‘what.’”

“I know. Why?”

“Why what?”

“My question exactly,” said the small figure.

“Who are you?” asked Mr. Abernathy. His head was starting to hurt.

“I’m a ghost,” said the small figure, then added, a little uncertainly, “Boo?”

Best Hallowe’en moment. Ever. And it was only the 28th.

Now, poor Mr. Abernathy is not alone in his befuddlement. Mr. Hume, Samuel’s teacher, finds it difficult to follow his thoughts. And Reverend Ussher, the vicar of St. Timidus Church, is only able to respond to Samuel’s questions with milk-toast theological answers. And while this annoying feature will ultimately set up Samuel as the unintended hero of The Gates, it does not land him early Hallowe’en booty. Indeed, Mr. Abernathy is too busy re-enacting an awkward séance to be handing out treats. It is an innocent activity: chanting around a pentagram and reading an ancient book that speaks directly to Mrs. Abernathy’s mind in the basement of 666 Crowley St. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, lots can go wrong. In the séance, the Abernathy family awakes The Great Malevolence (aka, Satan), who uses the Large Hadron Collider (from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, though it also exists in real life) to open The Gates of Hell, and create a multidimensional porthole that will allow Satan to finally conquer earth. Samuel stumbles on to the plan, and though he tries to tell the adults in his world no one will believe him. Samuel is then left to save the world, accompanied only by Boswell and his two middle school friends, Tom and Maria.

Of course, the plot throws out from there. It is a funny book, written in a mocking didactic tone with winding paths into theology, philosophy, science, the origins of the universe, the nature of evil, and particle physics—sometimes all on a single page. I highly recommend this book for a Hallowe’en read.

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NaNoEdMo… I think. Maybe… No, I’m Pretty Sure.

I won’t be participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)–at least not in the usual sense. I know my writing habits. To do 1667 words each day–or 2000 words a day to account for pattern-breaking days–I need 2 or 2.5 hours each day. I can do some writing and editing in the in-between times, but I will still need two solid writing hours each day. I work Mon-Fri, 6am-5pm, so that won’t be happening.

But I do like the motivational structure of NaNoWriMo. I like taking structured time and setting it aside with a challenge. I also like the software that NaNoWriMo provides, though I could do that with Excel I’m sure.

So, instead of writing a novel in 30 days, I am going to edit one. I am setting November as National Novel Editing Month, NaNoEdMo. I thought I invented this idea, but apparently some people did it last year, setting aside 50 hours for editing. I have no doubt I will do 50 hours of editing as I edit every day at work. So I will set the modest goal of editing a chapter or a short story each day through November.

Part of this challenge is to give energy to my dark fantasy, The Curse of Téarian. This was my NaNoWriMo project in 2012, and one that is worth working on, I think. I have completed two full drafts, so I only need one more solid rewrite before I move on to the pitch stage.

I excel in the prewriting stage of creating fiction. I love making character lists, drawing maps, writing out plotlines or outlines, and fighting through the logical problems of development. I love the rush of writing. Part of the reason I like the 3 Day Novel Contest (3DNC) is that it really is a rush of excitement. When I set aside the time, I am good at getting the story out into a decent first draft. But there it sits, all my inspiration and a few hundred pages. For some reason I resist editing. I’m hoping that November will give me that boost to finish what is the hardest stage of writing for me.

So I will spend November editing. I have 5 or 6 short stories to edit and 27 chapters of Téarian. It will be a full month, I’m sure.

What about you? Are you in for NaNoWriMo? Or are you twisting it to your own nefarious ends, as I am? I’d love to hear what you are up to, and will be tweeting my experience @BrentonDana.

I wrote the above yesterday, certain that November for me would be dedicated only to editing. Part of editing is rewriting, so I knew there would be some new work–updated chapters, rewritten scenes, changed endings and beginnings. Aside from a few blogs and an academic paper due, however, I was not intending on producing any new fiction.

A late night of mind wandering has challenged that. These ideas often come to me when I’m ready to move across the threshold of consciousness to the mysterious world beyond.

I have had WWI on my mind. It is 100 years since the Great War broke out in Europe and spread itself think across our globe. I thought the battlefields in France would make a good setting for a story. I am always struck by C.S. Lewis‘ description of the war, brief as it is:

I think it was that day I noticed how a greater terror overcomes a less: a mouse that I met (and a poor shivering mouse it was, as I was a poor shivering man) made no attempt to run from me. Through the winter, weariness and water were our chief enemies. I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still. One walked in the trenches in thigh gum boots with water above the knee; one remembers the icy stream welling up inside the boot when you punctured it on concealed barbed wire…. [As] for the rest, the war—the frights, the cold, the smell of H.E., the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet… (Surprised by Joy, ch. XII).

The image of the mouse nestling up against the soldier strikes me. The images of mud and blood fill in the colourless, soundless video recordings of the trenches I have in my mind. At the end of this passage in Surprised by Joy, Lewis remembers being struck by the fact that this war, this was what Homer wrote about. For me, I say, this is what Tolkien wrote about.

As I thought more and more of the mud and blood, the mice and men, a story idea began to fill my imagination. I thought of the grassless fields of poisoned mud and spilt blood, and I wondered what those living in the invisible world were experiencing. Not all worlds are in the same dimension, and I wondered what the faërie people that shares the physical location of the French frontline were experiencing.

What I imagined was a kingdom of fey completely unaware of our human world. They live in the grass and trees upon the rolling hills of what we call France, but what they call Lörendahl. A faërie council is drawn up to investigate why their fields are slowly dying and why the wells are slowly being poisoned. The story would have one person or a group of people from fairyland finding their way into the human dimension. There they will discover that the violence is so great that death has crossed the threshold into all other worlds. It is a fantasy version of Robert Burns’ world of mice and men.

I think it is a striking image for a story. For weeks I have been trying to squeeze it into a plot and nothing is happening. Perhaps a short story will do.

But last night another line from Lewis’ war experience kept me from sleep:

“Every few days one seemed to meet a scholar, an original, a poet, a cheery buffoon, a raconteur, or at the least a man of good will” (Surprised by Joy, ch. XII).

Intriguingly, Lewis talks of WWI in mostly positive language. The descriptive violence above is really a throwaway in that chapter of his autobiography. This image of the different stories in WWI struck me last night, particularly since I had spent the weekend thinking about this question: Who died in WWI that would have cured cancer? or written the genre-defining new novel? or created a new school of art or architecture? or designed a carbon-neutral fuel? or shared stories of life to someone who would go on to change the world for the worse? It is a terrifying question. Lewis and Tolkien both survived WWI, as did Winnie the Pooh creators Milne & Shepherd, Ernest Hemingway & F. Scott Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart and Winston Churchill and Edwin Hubble and Sir Alexander Fleming and Pope John XXIII…. If these are the leading men of the century who survived, imagine who died.

Out of this mental game has emerged a new story idea, an unusual soldier–a combination of Doestoevsky’s idiot, Jean Auel’s Ayla, and Pressfield’s Bagger Vance–that links the war letters of great characters who live through the war and change the world. He takes their deaths, so to speak, wandering though the war taking their wounds so they can live to share their gifts with the world.

So now I’m stuck. The image won’t go away. All day as I have been working, the character is digging into my imagination. I can see him now, sharing a cigarette on the roof of a train car with a young, frightened poet. It is dark, and the only sounds are the dishwashers in the mess and the slow, steady thud of bombs on the line. Every now and then the Eastern horizon lights up yellow, deepens to orange, and then fades again to black…. I know the character, and I know him well. He has emerged fully formed in my imagination.

What do I do? Do I throw down and write? Oh well. I have a couple of days to think about it!

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Touching Noses, a Marriage Proposal

I have, without exaggeration, officiated at more than 200 weddings. It is is something I enjoy, an opportunity to bless a couple at a transformative moment in their lives. The profound reality of being the wedding minister is that I get to speak things into being. I get to confirm what already exists in formation while at the same time affirming something new in the universe. The great fun of weddings, in my mind, is that they are sealed with a kiss. I have witnessed anxious kisses, awkward kisses, unsure kisses, eager kisses, shy kisses, get-it-over-with kisses, kisses too long for propriety, and kisses that would make the gods blush. Sealed with a kiss.

I am reading John Crowley’s 1980s fantasy classic, Little, Big. It is a difficult book to read, drawing from the traditions of George MacDonald and Lewis Carroll, but shifting perspectives constantly.

In the scene I capture below, Smoky and Daily Alice are getting married. For Daily Alice, this is the culmination of a faërie prophecy from childhood, though she is not certain if she is rejecting the prophecy by marrying Smoky, or fulfilling it. For Smoky, he is just amazed that he was even noticed, let alone loved. Smoky’s perspective is humorous as they exit the swan boats–their version of the aisle–and as the minister stumbles along in the shadow of the Impressive Clergyman of The Princess Bride. Alice’s perspective is quite charming, capturing the image of two noses beginning apart from a great distance and rushing “together to collide soundlessly.”

Alice’s View

There was a game she had played with Sophie in the long hallways of Edgewood, where she and Sophie would stand as far apart as was possible to get and still see each other. Then they would walk slowly together, slowly and deliberately, looking always each at the other’s face. They kept on, at the same pace, not laughing or trying not to, till their noses touched. It was like that with Smoky, though he had started far off, too far to be seen, coming from the City—no farther, out there where she had never been, far away, walking towards her. When the swan boat picked him up, she could easily cover him with her thumbnail if she chose to; then the boat drew closer, Phil Flowers hauling on the oars, and she could see his face, see that it was indeed he. At the water’s edge he was lost for a moment; then there was a murmur of expectation and appreciation around her and he reappeared, led by Cloud, much larger now, the new wrinkles visible at his knees, his strong veined hands she loved. Larger. There were violets in his buttonhole. She saw his throat move, and at that moment came Music. When he had come to the stairs of the pavilion she could no longer take in his feet if she looked resolutely at his face, and she did—for a moment everything around his face darkened and swam, his face orbited towards her like a pale smiling moon. He mounted the steps. He stood beside her.

No touching noses. That would come. It might she thought take years; maybe they never would—their marriage was after all a Convenience, though she had never, would never, need not now ever explain that to him because, just as the cards had promised, she knew now she would choose him over anybody else, whether the cards chose him or not, or whether they who had promised someone like him to her thought he was unnecessary now or even wrong. She would defy them to have him. And it was they who had first seen fit to send her out to find him! She wanted with all her being to continue to find him now, to put her arms around him and search; but the stupid minister began to mutter—she felt anger at her parents who had thought him necessary, for Smoky’s sake they said, but she already knew Smoky better than that. She tried to listen to the man, thinking how much better it would be to marry touching noses: to proceed from great distances together till it was as in the old halls when the walls and pictures glided by changefully on the edge of vision but Sophie’s face kept constant, growing, the eyes widening, freckles expanding, a planet, then a moon, then a sun, then nothing at all visible except the onrushing map of it, the great eyes starting to cross at the last moment before their two noses rushed vastly headlong together to collide soundlessly.

Smoky’s View

They were greeted and handed out of the leaking swan by many hands. Around the island people were sitting together, opening picnic baskets, placating shouting children; few of them seemed to notice Smoky’s arrival. “Look who we’ve got here, Cloud,” said a slim chinless man who made Smoky think of the poets the guidebook had disliked so much. “We’ve got Dr. Word. Where is he now? Doctor! Got some more champagne?”Doctor Word in a tight black suit had a look of unreasoning terror on his badly shaven face; his golden glassful trembled and bubbles rose. “Nice to see you, Doctor,” Cloud said. “I think we can promise no wonders. Oh, settle down, man!” Dr. Word had tried to speak, choked, spluttered. “Pound his back, someone. He’s not our minister,” Cloud said confidentially to Smoky. “They come from the outside, and tend to get very nervous. A wonder any of us is married or buried at all. Here’s Sarah Pink, and the little Pinks. How do you do. Ready?”

She took Smoky’s arm, and as they went up the flagged path toward the gazebo a harmonium began to play, like a tiny weeping voice, music he didn’t know but that seemed to score him with sudden longing. At its sound the wedding-guests gathered, talking in low voices; when Smoky reached the low worn steps of the gazebo, Doctor Word had arrived there too, glancing around, fishing a book from his pocket; Smoky saw Mother, and Doctor Drinkwater, and Sophie with her flowers behind Daily Alice with hers; Daily Alice watched him unsmiling and calm, as though he were someone she didn’t know. They stood him beside her; he began to put his hands in his pockets, stopped, clasped them behind his back, then in front of him. Doctor Word fluttered the pages of his book and began to speak quickly, his words shot through with champagne and tremblings and the harmonium’s unceasing melody; it sounded like “Do you Barble take this Daily Alice to be your awful wedded life for bed or for worse insidious in stealth for which or for poor or to have unto whole until death you do part?” And he looked up inquiringly.

“I do,” Smoky said.

“I do too,” Daily Alice said.

“Wring,” Doctor Word said. “And now you pounce you, man on wife.”

Aaaah, said all the wedding guests, who then began to drift away, talking in low voices.

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Reblog: C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)

For this week’s “Feature Friday” I wanted to focus on Jennifer Neyhart’s blog. This veteran C.S. Lewis writer and social media wizard is in the midst of a C.S. Lewis blogging challenge. She is writing a C.S. Lewis blog every single day in the month of October! There are a number of interesting blogs, including this one on Sehnsucht, which connects with another Feature Friday from this month.  

C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)

Sehnsucht is a German word that embodies a huge theme in all of Lewis’s writings.

For Lewis, Sehnsucht was the sense of deep, inconsolable longing, yearning, the feeling of intensely missing something when we don’t even know what it is. It is also related to his experiences of joy:

“Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.” – Surprised by Joy

The author of Hebrews writes about the heroes of the faith who “were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

And in The Weight of Glory Lewis describes this longing further:

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”

Haven’t you experienced the moment he describes where we grow awkward with friends in the face of such vulnerability and we break the tension with laughter? We are uncomfortable with this feeling, with the awareness that we are lacking and that we are always longing for more

read the remainder here.
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Thoughts and Prayers: The Ottawa Terror Attacks

ottawa_shooterA delightful little post on marriage that comes out of my reading of John Crowley’s Little, Big was scheduled to post this afternoon. With the Ottawa terror attacks in play, I decided it was time for a more sober reflection, even if I don’t have all the answers. As I write this, people in Ottawa are staying away from windows. Children are hiding beneath their desks at school.

Terror attacks are nothing new. 9/11 has shaped our generation, and Lower Manhattan still seems a bit empty to me. There are other dates like this: 7/7 in London, 13/7 in Mumbai, and 22/7 in Norway, the July bombings. An earlier American generation was formed by 11/22/63. Perhaps today will become 22/10 or 10/22. I don’t know. The attack may not be over yet. Someone on the radio just called it “Canada’s 9/11.”

It’s too early to tell why multiple shooters attacked Parliament Hill. On Monday, a radicalized Muslim convert mowed down soldiers in Quebec with his car. Yesterday Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent died of his injuries. The suspect in this attack had his passport suspended because authorities were concerned he would join ISIS forces in the Middle East. Instead, he served his cause closer to home.

It could be that today’s acts of terrorism are from a similar base of politicized Islam. Bombings rocked Mumbai not just on 13/7, 2011, but also in 1993 and 2008. In 1993, the Blind Sheik attempted the first bombings of the World Trade Centre. While largely unsuccessful, terrorists did succeed in the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, and the Aug 7, 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. In those coordinated attacks of Kenya and Tanzania, at least 224 died and thousands were injured.

While media since the first Gulf War has most frequently drawn out elements of Islamic terrorism–and they are certainly there–this one stream of the world’s second largest religion does not have a monopoly on terror. My childhood memories are haunted by IRA bombings, laced in my imagination with a U2 soundtrack. It is hard to ignore the Oklahoma Bombing or the Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas Attack, both in 1995.

There is danger all around.

The soldier shot on Parliament Hill was just pronounced dead.

I have taught a number of classes on religious and anti-religious extremism. Without fail, students want to know why. Why do people radicalize? How does a human life of less value that a political or religious idea? How does a middle class kid from Denver, CO or Lockport, NY or St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC set down textbooks to take up arms?

I have never had an answer for my students.

There are many social reasons why people radicalize. The social conditions in the Palestinian Territories or among Iraqi minorities is ripe for extreme solutions to unsolvable problems. Revolutions begin this way, but it is also the way that terrorist organizations flourish.

There is also the question of mental illness. I brought up this question in my post, “What if He is Actually Evil?” Too often social conversations turn to language like “insane,” “mad man,” and “psychopath.” I think this leap does real damage to people with mental illness, and it leaves no public space for the question of good and evil. It also doesn’t help the radicalized individuals or their victims. On Monday I posted a pithy quote from a Terry Pratchett character who talks about evil, and how humans have no good except what evil they prevent. Perhaps he’s right, though I hope not.

So I have no answers.

All I can really do try to redeem that public cliche. “Thoughts and prayers,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper is offering to our country. “Thoughts and prayers,” President Barack Obama is offering to our Prime Minister and all of Canada. This phrase can slip out of our mouths without much thought or any intention to pray. It has perhaps come to mean nothing as we say it when we have nothing else to say.

But it is a good phrase, a sentiment that can rise above the cliche.

My thoughts and prayers, as meager as they may be, are with the victims of terrorism and the citizens of Ottawa.

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The Banality of Evil: A Thought by Terry Pratchett

“The Banality of Evil” is a phrase by Hannah Arendt in her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. The idea emerged out of the aftermath of WWII, as the public slowly came to consciousness about the Holocaust. There were Nazi hunters in the news, and the Nuremberg trials were giving testimony to horrors that most in the world could scarcely find words for, even in the darkness of imagination. Still today, perpetrators of the holocaust are being pulled from senior citizen homes and being charged with the atrocities of their youth.

What is particularly striking about the holocaust, however, is not merely the evil that great evil men perpetrated. It is the base reality that much of the death and torture of millions of civilians came at the hands of relatively normal people. Why did millions of Jews, Poles, communists, homosexuals, disabled people, and political nonconfomists die in WWII concentration camps? Because everyday people showed up for work, punched their time card, and did their job.

While Hannah Arendt’s argument is a little more complex than that, this basic idea is the banality of evil.Captain Sam Vimes is one of my favourite Discworld characters. He is the most begrudgingly redeemed characters I know, slowly brought out of an alcoholic stupour and career aimlessness into a sense of personal worth and vocational renewal. Indeed, where we pick up the story, he has just become a hero, in that he defended the city of Ankh-Morpock against certain destruction and saved the Patrician, Lord Vertinari, from an assassin’s blade. The Patrician, a cruelly officious bureaucrat who seeks to mitigate evil rather than engender good, share’s his personal worldview with Captain Vimes in the denouement of Gaurds! Guards! (1989). Vimes was waiting for condemnation, but receives cautious praise instead. Lupine was both the attempted assassin/usurper and Vertinari’s right-hand man. The Librarian is an ape, an orangutan to be specific, who has been deputized by Captain Vimes’ Sergeant. You’ll need to know that to see the implicit question that Pratchett leaves open at the end: What does it mean to be human?

“You saved my life.” [the Patrician said].

“Sir?” [Captain Vimes responded].

“Come with me.”

He stalked away through the ruined palace, Vimes trailing behind, until he reached the Oblong Office. It was quite tidy. It had escaped most of the devastation with nothing more than a layer of dust. The Patrician sat down, and suddenly it was as if he’d never left. Vimes wondered if he ever had.

He picked up a sheaf of papers and brushed the plaster off them.

“Sad,” he said. “Lupine was such a tidy-minded man.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Patrician steepled his hands and looked at Vimes over the top of them.

“Let me give you some advice, Captain,” he said.

“Yes, sir?”

“It may help you make some sense of the world.”


“I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people,” said the man. “You’re wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.”

He waved his thin hand toward the city and walked over to the window.

“A great rolling sea of evil,” he said, almost proprietorially. “Shallower in some places, of course, but deeper, oh, so much deeper in others. But people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end. Amazing!” He slapped Vimes good-naturedly on the back.

“Down there,” he said, “are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathesomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no. I’m sorry if this offends you,” he added, patting the captain’s shoulder, “but you fellows really need us.”

“Yes, sir?” said Vimes quietly.

“Oh, yes. We’re the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you’re good at that, I’ll grant you. But the trouble is that it’s the only thing you’re good at. One day it’s the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it’s everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no one’s been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It’s part of the specification, you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don’t seem to have the knack.”

“Maybe. But you’re wrong about the rest!” said Vimes. “It’s just because people are afraid, and alone—” He paused. It sounded pretty hollow, even to him.

He shrugged. “They’re just people,” he said. “They’re just doing what people do. Sir.”

Lord Vetinari gave him a friendly smile.

“Of course, of course,” he said. “You have to believe that, I appreciate. Otherwise you’d go quite mad. Otherwise you’d think you’re standing on a feather-thin bridge over the vaults of Hell. Otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death. I quite understand.” He looked at his desk, and sighed. “And now,” he said, “there is such a lot to do. I’m afraid poor [Lupine] was a good servant but an inefficient master. So you may go. Have a good night’s sleep. Oh, and do bring your men in tomorrow. The city must show its gratitude.”

“It must what?” said Vimes.

The Patrician looked at a scroll. Already his voice was back to the distant tones of one who organizes and plans and controls.

“It’s gratitude,” he said. “After every triumphant victory there must be heroes. It is essential. Then everyone will know that everything has been done properly.”

He glanced at Vimes over the top of the scroll.

“It’s all part of the natural order of things,” he said.

After a while he made a few pencil annotations to the paper in front of him and looked up.

“I said,” he said, “that you may go.”

Vimes paused at the door.

“Do you believe all that, sir?” he said. “About the endless evil and the sheer blackness?”

“Indeed, indeed,” said the Patrician, turning over the page. “It is the only logical conclusion.”

“But you get out of bed every morning, sir?”

“Hmm? Yes? What is your point?”

“I’d just like to know why, sir.”

“Oh, do go away, Vimes. There’s a good fellow.”

In the dark and drafty cave hacked from the heart of the palace the Librarian knuckled across the floor. He clambered over the remains of the sad hoard and looked down at the splayed body of [Lupine].

Then he reached down, very gently, and prised [the book] The Summoning of Dragons from the stiffening fingers. He blew the dust off it. He brushed it tenderly, as if it was a frightened child.

He turned to climb down the heap, and stopped. He bent down again, and carefully pulled another book from among the glittering rubble [a book of Law]. It wasn’t one of his, except in the wide sense that all books came under his domain. He turned a few pages carefully.

“Keep it,” said Vimes behind him. “Take it away. Put it somewhere.”

The orangutan nodded at the captain, and rattled down the heap. He tapped Vimes gently on the kneecap, opened The Summoning of Dragons, leafed through its ravaged pages until he found the one he’d been looking for, and silently passed the book up.

Vimes squinted at the crabbed writing.

Yet draggons are notte liken unicornes, I willen. They dwellyth in some Realm definèd bye thee Fancie of the Wille and, thus, it myte bee thate whomsoever calleth upon them, and giveth them theyre patheway unto thys worlde, calleth theyre Owne dragon of the Mind

Yette, I trow, the Pure in Harte maye stille call a Draggon of Power as a Forse for Goode in thee worlde, and this ane nighte the Grate Worke will commense. All bathe been prepared. I hath labored most mytily to be a Worthie Vessle…

A realm of fancy, Vimes thought. That’s where they went, then. Into our imaginations. And when we call them back we shape them, like squeezing dough into pastry shapes. Only you don’t get gingerbread men, you get what you are. Your own darkness, given shape…

Vimes read it through again, and then looked at the following pages.

There weren’t many. The rest of the book was a charred mass.

Vimes handed it back to the ape.

“What kind of a man was [the author]?” he said.

The Librarian gave this the consideration…. Then he shrugged.

“Particularly holy?” said Vimes.

The ape shook his head.

“Well, noticeably evil, then?”

The ape shrugged, and shook his head again.

“If I were you,” said Vimes, “I’d put that book somewhere very safe. And the book of the Law with it. They’re too bloody dangerous.”


Vimes stretched. “And now,” he said, “let’s go and have a drink.”


“But just a small one.”


“And you’re paying.”


Vimes stopped and stared down at the big, mild face.

“Tell me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to know…is it better, being an ape?”

The Librarian thought about it. “Oook,” he said.

“Oh. Really?” said Vimes.

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Why Poetry?

Brenton Dickieson:

I am a fan of John Benjamin’s “The Bully Pulpit” page. Every couple of days he captures an intelligent, compassionate, witty, or startling quote from a leading author or historical figure. This quick response by Peter Hitchens on poetry is worth the while.

Originally posted on The Bully Pulpit:

Peter Hitchens

Questioner: I teach five-year-olds and we’ve been doing poetry — they love writing it. But making them sit down and recite poems would just be a waste of their time and a waste of my time.

Peter Hitchens: Well, I’ll recite you one a teacher taught me some 40 years ago:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

[Applause] And I’m very pleased that my head is full of things like that, and also lots of hymns, which I also remember — and I feel very sorry for anybody who hasn’t had the chance to learn them. And I think it is a great condemnation of our school system that so few…

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