(Bonus Content Between Chapters) Gnostella, Revised

Author’s Note—

Of all the stories on this site, Gnostella is the one I do not like. It makes sense, and is important, but it just doesn’t make me happy. It’s possible that it’s just the name—that the original story is not absurdist, and the name is. So maybe I could just change the story name and the character name to something like “Inverse Ella.” That might work. Or I can replace the whole thing—not on the site, but in the monthbooks and your hearts—with this.

Remnant Ella

Once upon a time, there was a wonderful girl named Danielle. She lived with her dear father, her wicked stepmother, and two wicked stepsisters. Her dear father held the Gnostic belief that the world and its Creator were inherently cruel. Faith and virtue were opposites in his sight. Dispirited and disgruntled by his gloomy philosophy, Danielle’s wicked stepmother set fire to the library, burning Danielle’s dear father to death and destroying all his wonderful Gnostic tomes. Because Danielle sat in the cinders and rubbed the ashes on her face to mourn, Danielle’s stepsisters called her “Remnant Ella.”

Danielle became a beautiful princess. She met her handsome prince. Together they overcame many hardships and sorrows. Down they cast the stepsisters, and the wicked stepmother, and other instrumentalities of their torment. They brought peace to the magical land in which they lived. Then they lived happily ever after.

One day, as Danielle moved through the corridors of her castle, she tripped over a cat, who hissed and said,

How long have you lived now?
Do you even remember?
Who are you to deserve to be happy forever?

“That is an imperfect rhyme,” Danielle said. “I expect better from a magical animal.”

The cat scurried away.

One day, Danielle leaned out a window and beckoned a bird down to her finger. It came, with a certain reluctance, and landed there, and sang:

At last you’ve found happiness,
And yet, all the same:
Your life is a horror;
Your father’d be shamed.

“What do you mean?” Danielle asked.

The bird only sang.

So Danielle went to a mirror in the castle, inherited from her evil stepmother, and asked it, “Why shouldn’t I live happily ever after?”

The mirror showed her the lives of two peasants, one beautiful and one handsome, who had lived in her kingdom for many years. They lived together and loved together and overcame many sorrows. They brought forth life from the earth. They strove. Then, inevitably, the swords of circumstance and pestilence struck them down.

At that very moment, Danielle saw, the dead peasants stood before the three thrones of a god of judgment; and one aspect of the god sat to the left, and one to the right, and one between them. The ex-peasants stood there to face the penalty faced by those who die, and the handsome ex-peasant said,

“What is it that the prince and princess have that we have not? We lived, and we died, in sorrow and in pain; while for more years than men can count, they have ruled in that castle, defying time, defying age, defying sorrow; they are like ghosts, eternal beyond the boundaries of death; they are like demons, mocking the pain of others’ lives.”

The left god and the right god looked off into the shadows. The god in the middle leaned forward.

“The world is not fair,” said the god in the middle, “but as you make it so. Dreams are not real, but as you craft them. Hope, and magic, and life are choices. It is not for a person to blame the gods if they do not live happily ever after; rather, I think, this is a flaw in the greater portion of humanity.”

Then the beautiful ex-peasant spoke, and said, “This is an excuse.”

Danielle, watching, felt her nostrils flare.

“To live,” said the beautiful ex-peasant, “is to choose hope, and magic, and life, and dreams. To live is to want the happy ending. And who is there who is not good? Who is there who does not deserve happiness forever? We are flawed, we have many flaws, but if we are not all magical princes and princesses with destinies of greatness, that is not our flaw but the world’s.”

The god in the middle shrugged, then, and grinned, and he was not concerned. He said, “You are bitter creatures. I make my judgment: your existence after death shall be as expressions of that bitterness. You shall be creatures of ashes and sorrow. Your touch shall bring an end to joy. Your happiness shall be schadenfreude.”

He sat back against his throne, and the mirror turned to black.

Danielle nodded to herself, and said, “It is true; my father would be shamed.”

She broke the mirror. She cut herself upon a length of silvered glass. As her life drained out, she spoke a spell:

Ah! That the world should know such gods no more.
May my blood be a poison unto their throne.

Such a poison as this covered Snow White’s apple; such a curse as this doomed Sleeping Beauty; it is the red of such blood as this that stained the dancing shoes. And in their halls the gods dared not face her judgment; and two of them, the left god and the right, left their thrones. Into the darkness behind their places, they walked, and what happened to them thereafter is not known.

The beautiful ex-peasant and the handsome one took their places on the thrones; and why this should have happened is a mystery. Only the old men and old women in their huts, their mouths gaping with missing teeth, know that answer; and what it means, they do not say.

10 thoughts on “(Bonus Content Between Chapters) Gnostella, Revised

  1. Well, I certainly didn’t feel that “Gnostella” was absurd at all, though the name did make me vaguely hungry for peer-to-peer chocolate-hazelnut goodness. In fact, the contrast between the name and the story was a bit jarring.

    Nonetheless, I like the new version better in all respects but one.

    Why doesn’t the handsome male ex-peasant say anything this time? Why doesn’t the Prince enter into the story at all? If those are deliberate and well-considered choices, I am very disturbed by them; and they seem to me to detract from the central issues of the story.

  2. Bird 19 words
    Cat 19 words
    Danielle 50 words
    Handsome 63 words
    Beautiful 70 words
    Middle God 98 words

    Narrator Priceless


  3. I think that this version is amazing, much stronger than the first, and now one of the great entries rather than one of the slightly confusing ones. I don’t know whether I should stop there; I feel too close to this one. But I’ll go on anyway.

    I have trouble (though I wish that I didn’t) in thinking about Christian conceptions of God without Gnosticism. That’s sort of the point of the whole “problem of evil”, or “problem of pain”; if people didn’t persistently think that these were problems, there wouldn’t be so many apologia for them. One of the reasons that I like Hitherby Dragons so much, in addition to the writing quality itself, is that a good deal of it is an extended meditation on these issues through fantasy.

    So this entry in some sense embodies my fears about the uselessness or destructiveness of the feeling that there must be something intrinsically wrong with the world. Gnosticism in the entry is an idea that is perceived as true — I would place the exact moment as when Danielle’s nostril’s flare — and the beautiful ex-peasant’s statement of it is very well put, but is a “truth” that solves nothing. Danielle’s suicide only replaces the left and right-hand gods with two new ones that apparently function in the same way as the first; the middle god is momentarily abashed but not replaced, and everything goes on as before — people still grow old and feeble as they always did. Gnosticism variously functions as the cause of the father’s death, as a spoiler of happiness and joy, and finally as a poison. By daring to judge the world and its gods, the two ex-peasants are doomed to themselves be judges forever, or perhaps until they are replaced in their turn.

    I don’t really know how to respond to this. Certainly not with a defense of Gnostic ideas; I have no interest in convincing people to agree with something that I feel is probably harmful. It’s a dilemma that I face with those of my poems with religious themes; it’s impossible to write poems, even at my minor skill level, that don’t reflect what one really feels, so I have the alternatives of doing my best and hoping that people find some kind of value in them, or of remaining silent. But this is getting away from Hitherby.

    Anyways, in terms on ongoing Hitherby continuity, I think that this entry refers to the period of the hero Ella’s life when she is mentioned as being a “husk”. I’m nowhere near fguring out what is going on narratively or symbolically with this connection, of course.

  4. Metal Fatigue, what makes you think that either peasant is either male or female?

    Only the middle aspect of god, here, is male.

    And is that the one who sits on the throne?

  5. Good catch, novalis. I hadn’t thought of that, though I did wonder whether the three gods were symbolic of the Christian Trinity in some way. Metal Fatigue, perhaps “Why doesn’t the Prince enter into the story at all?” has a double meaning. After all, the Prince of Peace is supposed to be a large part of mainstream Christianity’s answer to those who bring up the problems of the world, and the two peasants in the story address the central god, not the two on each side.

  6. One other thing I didn’t catch on first read: the new title is “Remnant Ella”, and other Hitherby entries refer to how God always leaves a remnant when he destroys. So this is a reference to survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt is known by all peoples, of course, but it is an area in which a specifically Jewish rather than Christian examination may be useful.

    I recommended this before in another Hitherby forum, but once again, I recommend for anyone who can deal with a deeply depressing and difficult read David Blumenthal’s _Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest_. He starts with something like “For, two sets of questions now pose themselves: (1) Is abusiveness, then, an attribute of God? Is abusiveness a quality without which we cannot understand the ultimate reality that we call God? And (2) if this is so, what constitutes a theologically and Jewishly proper response to this realization?” and ends with “Given Jewish history and family violence as our generations have experienced them, a theology of protest is a proper theology and unrelenting challenge is a proper religious affection for us to have.” (Quotes taken from
    an article on Blumenthal’s web site.)

  7. I have learned two important life lessons from Hitherby in the last 24 hours:

    1.) I should never try to post anything here more sophisticated than “Wow.” at 1:30 AM on the Monday after a four-day gaming convention, because I will misread things and miss important bits of symbolism and generally make a fool of myself and then have to apologize to Rebecca. (Sorry, Rebecca!)

    2.) When attempting to compose a response in the form of a legend as penance for having ignored the foregoing rule, I should do so in a word processor and make regular backups, so if my laptop suddenly decides to shut itself off, I don’t lose everything and have to start over.

  8. Actually, I preferred the old version. Because it was short, the images got to speak for themselves, rather than the points being laboured. The new version just has less impact for me.

  9. Very late to the party here (only discovered Hitherby Dragons a few weeks ago), but I would like to echo kastaka’s preference for the original version. The original version was concise and moving; the new version is needlessly belabored. This reminds me of what Gene Wolfe did in his Book of the Long Sun: he made a point in the Book of the New Sun; people didn’t get it; so he decided to make it utterly explicit in the BotLS in order to make sure that people got the point. But in making the point explicit, an entire layer of meaning was stripped away, and the text became banal and lost much of its impact.

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