(Forward-Fill) Emeline

Emeline is exposed.

She’s not like other babies. Other babies have homes. Emeline has a rosebush and a hill.

She is supposed to die.

She doesn’t die.

Emeline eats the thorns of the rosebush. She drinks Bambi’s mother’s blood. She survives.

She grows crooked and strong.

Soon the babies in the village begin to vanish. They will be laying in their cribs. Suddenly there is music. That music. The music from Jaws.

Da-dum. Da-dum.

Ca-who! chortles the baby happily. Babies love sharks.

But it’s not a shark.

It’s Emeline.

First Carol’s baby vanishes.

Everybody tells Carol she’s crazy, with her stories of Emeline and whatnot. Some people blame her.

Then Maude’s baby vanishes.

People begin to mutter.

Finally Susan and John’s baby, who would have been the star of a whole different fairy tale had things gone differently, disappears.

There’s a black thorn left behind in the crib, and the smell of burp, and lingering music in the air.

Seven men set out from the village with knives and torches. They hunt down Emeline. She doesn’t fight them very hard. All she wants is a home.

They catch her.

They tie her up in satin swaddling.

They talk about whether to kill her, but there’s nobody really up for the job.

So they throw her in an oubliette and somebody watches her day and night.

She lives there in the dark.

Sometimes Maude comes and brings her a present. A flower. A stuffed toy. A blanket.

“Hey,” says Maude.

She drops it down.

“Brought you something,” says Maude.

It hurts her, but it’s worth it.

Emeline looks up. Emeline smiles. It’s like the sun.

17 thoughts on “(Forward-Fill) Emeline

  1. Forward-fill? I’m not sure if I know what that means in this context.

    Health problems and site programming issues have combined recently to give Hitherby an unusually post-modern feel — chunks of text buried, variously unofficial, appearing and disappearing. For instance, The Ghouls (IV/IV) doesn’t exist on the main Hitherby list of entries, but it does on maps, where it is likened to an uninked issue, but on a main-site-posted entry called (Update), the discussion on it is mentioned. And it’s a history, and therefore is supposed to have “really happened” once it itself really happens. So it has an indeterminate status, a kind of Schrodinger’s Cat.

    Or with (History: Boedromion 21-22: Things and Choices), which has a flag that says that it might be edited or might not, and that the flag will be removed when it’s edited to taste. If the flag is removed and no part of it has obviously changed, has it been edited? Or if the flag is still there six months from now, will people feel an impulse to check back and see if it is gone before writing a comment that references Boedromion? The longer it continues in existence, the more solid a kind of virtual original version of the entry becomes, especially if the edited version is actually drastically different than the original.

    This tends to emphasize that the apparent solidity of the rest of Hitherby is itself something of a mirage. The entries are edited, or will be, when they are put into monthbooks, so we aren’t reading the final versions. And of course the monthbooks could themselves be edited in later book release. Comments have been lost in site transition, so there are some entries (e.g. the one about overuse of exclamation points) that now appear far differently depending on whether you ever read the original comment that motivated them or not. The early Letters columns are full of answers to questions that have vanished. The site from which Rebecca took her translations of some Greek words is gone, so her own record of why certain names are as they are is gone. The question is now permanently undecideable.

    An interesting process.

  2. That reminds me: the second monthbook is almost done being assembled, and the third one is almost done being edited.

    After that we’re discussing switching to PDFs.

  3. That reminds me: the second monthbook is almost done being assembled, and the third one is almost done being edited.

    After that we’re discussing switching to PDFs.

    Isn’t the tangibility of the monthbooks their prime advantage? I want to be able to hold hitherby in my hands. In the absence of monthbooks, I’ve taken to formatting and printing out the canons on my own. I’ve found it startlingly easier to read them that way.

  4. Well, “backfill” is when a character appears and then the stories go back and fill in important details of their history. Yes? So forward-fill is where we get the history first and then the character is going to appear later on in the main storyline. (Maybe.)

  5. Forward fill: at some point in the future, when I’m feeling well and have time, this entry will move forward one or more days in the archives.

  6. Thanks, Metal Fatigue — the Wayback Machine does have most (though probably not quite all) of the missing comments. But transience by itself isn’t quite what I was getting at, although it is certainly part of it. It’s more a matter of indeterminacy and the undecideability of truth claims.

    Perhaps the best way of expressing this in Hitherby terminology is that, right now, the entry The Ghouls (IV/IV) is an isn’t. It makes particular claims about the Hitherby world, claims which are backed up by the full force and power of the metaphysical “history” designation. And people can read it, it is in some sense there. But it’s not really there.

    (History: Boedromion 21-22: Things and Choices) is an isn’t of a slightly different sort. It asserts its canonicity, but what does it assert? A Protean truth that may change at any moment, that is always on the point of change, until the indeterminacy finally collapses.

    I’m sorry that this effect occured in part through health problems. But it is still interesting. And of course it is itself transient; assuming that Hitherby goes on, at some later point there will be no evidence other than these comments (and perhaps the Wayback Machine) that it ever occured.

    Here is another Hitherby analogy. If a history that involved Martin as a character was in maps limbo like The Ghouls (IV/IV), would it be self-publishing? Does Martin’s status within Hitherby as a character that could create himself from nothing, that could change his dharma from firewood boy to real boy, mean that his histories are true as soon as written within a Hitherby context?

  7. Oh ,and one other thing. I had originally thought that maybe I shouldn’t be discussing these meta-issues within the comments for this entry. They were originally sparked by the forward-fill designation, but that doesn’t have to do much with the entry itself. But now, thanks to Rebecca’s explanation, I realize that by virtue of being connected to this entry, these comments are going to become time travelers. At some future point, “Emeline” will be moved later in time, probably with the forward-fill designation taken off, and due to the way that Hitherby displays entries, will appear with a later date — sometime in October, say. But the comments are dated by when they were posted, so they will be anachronisms, comments that purportedly appeared before their subject existed.

    Will this just be an uninteresting artifact of the site software? Perhaps, but only if you consider the moved version of Emeline to be the same as the current version. If you consider its current uncertaincy in time to be on the same order as an uncertaincy in text — a kind of Heisenburg principle — then the later version will really not be the same as the one that we now perceive, and these comments will be about an entity that has moved out from under their feet.

  8. Rich: I thought you would be able to tell that The Ghouls (IV/IV) had been replaced by The Water (4 of 4). This gives us a bit of insight into the writing process: Rebecca wrote one ending to the “Mr. Kong” cycle, but decided that it wasn’t satisfactory, so she ended it another way.

    The tone of your comments confuses me somewhat. What do you want? For Rebecca to not edit her work? The “transience” that you refer to is due to the fact that we are, effectively, looking at a work in progress. You might compare Hitherby to Dickens publishing novel one chapter at a time in newspapers, but that doesn’t really line up. I’m sure that he would have edited some of those stories after the fact if he had the choice (in fact, I’m sure he did just that for the collected versions.) I actually feel priveliged for the insight Hitherby has given me into the creative process. It’s the same feeling I’ve gotten when a friend showed me several versions of a script he was writing; seeing how it changed over time. If you want a story that stays the same, just buy a book.

    EDIT: I had to get up and do something in the middle of writing this post. By the time I posted it, Rich had already responded in a way that answered some of my questions. My reply to him is below.

  9. Oh ,and one other thing. I had originally thought that maybe I shouldn’t be discussing these meta-issues within the comments for this entry. They were originally sparked by the forward-fill designation, but that doesn’t have to do much with the entry itself. But now, thanks to Rebecca’s explanation, I realize that by virtue of being connected to this entry, these comments are going to become time travelers. …
    Will this just be an uninteresting artifact of the site software? Perhaps, but only if you consider the moved version of Emeline to be the same as the current version. If you consider its current uncertaincy in time to be on the same order as an uncertaincy in text — a kind of Heisenburg principle — then the later version will really not be the same as the one that we now perceive, and these comments will be about an entity that has moved out from under their feet.

    I suppose that the disconnect is because you’re thinking of “Hitherby Dragons” as being the whole site. I propose that it’s just the stories. What is happening here is, we are watching Rebecca write a story, and making comments on it. These comments might influence Rebecca, but it’s still her story. Martin and Jane (et al) are still her characters. The website “Hitherby Dragons” exists to let us see her writing process; which is, like all creativity, not always reliable. So, we have backfill and forwardfill and stories that are edited after people have already read and commented on them. I personally like this way of doing things, but I can understand how one might want to preserve the stories and comments as they originally existed as a historical record of how it all came about.

    Is this making sense, or am I just confusing things more?

  10. I might as well go all-out on this, and add an unfinished narrative poem:

    The Rock

    It started with rock
    Large, grey-streaked,
    Monolithic, by the river
    They found it there.
    The tribe
    Settling by water
    Would look up at its lines
    Carved — by fire? by air?
    Surely it meant something

    Later, a city
    Mud brick, straw on the roofs
    And the traders from the bark boats
    Would stop there
    Look at the rock
    Go on

    They invented writing
    The runes on the rock
    Forming their symbols
    There, an ox, there
    A sheaf of wheat
    But when the first receipt
    Had left the chisel of the first scribe
    It had changed
    The rock was different
    Was it the light?
    The message wasn’t there

    It became their holy duty
    The priests, mumbling
    Incense-blessed
    Would study the incised runes
    The rock lit by sun or moon or fish-oil lamp
    It was the name of God, they said
    But their eyes grew dim unavailing

    They made mathematics
    Invented to decode the rock
    The prayer wheels spun
    Combining, subtracting
    They made codes no one could break
    They took the continent
    Blessed be the Name, they said
    But still unknown
    Blank as the empty sky

    As the centuries went
    Lenses focused on the rock
    And the first computers
    Mystic visions rolled red-hot
    And a special guard
    All facing in
    Watched it, unceasingly
    In case it might change again
    The cryptographers
    — Impossible, they said —
    The cryptographers
    — Impossible, they said —
    Any message would have fallen to them
    Codes crack, shatter
    There must be none

    The first atomic blast
    Flashed through an empty city
    River vanishing in steam
    They had left the bomb there
    The runes incised in its case
    An offering.
    Perhaps the rock would be left,
    Some said, imperishable
    Or the secret name be freed
    Or the world vanish

    The rock is there
    The blast is there
    We can not know the end

    — Rich Puchalsky

  11. Sparrowhawk, I’m not saying that anything should be done any differently (which would be particularly cruel, given that part of this is due to health problems) or that finished works are superior to unfinished, or the reverse. I’m just writing about something that interests me, and that I hoped that other people would also be interested in.

    I do think that you can choose to look at this merely as that we are reading one rough draft after another, and seeing the usual processes that writers take to revise their work. I don’t find this to be the most interesting way to look at it, for me, and I’ve been trying to propose an alternate viewpoint that I think may be possible.

    And of course this is Rebecca’s story, and her characters. In some sense, the entries themselves (and not the Audience entries or Letters entries or site update comments or entries about why entries are delayed) are all that Hitherby is. But I do think that this point of view (the part beginning with “in some sense”) does tend to deny an unusual degree of documented interactivity between the writer and her rough-draft-readers.

    Edited to add: but in my haste to emphasize that I wasn’t saying various of the things that Sparrowhawk thought I might be saying, I’ve put too much emphasis on comments above. Really, Hitherby is unusual not only in its serial quality, but in that it has rules for the degree to which each of its entries define its fictional world. When those definitional entries change, of course its really just one rough draft replacing another. But from the imagined viewpoint of a Hitherby character, their world is changing. And from the actual viewpoint of an actual reader of Hitherby, our mental model of Hitherby is changing.

  12. I don’t particularly mind this sort of analysis.

    For reference, I like to think that eventually I’ll be able to explain the gaps in the actual archives in canon, but that this shifting around stuff is unrelated to the actual events in Hitherby. I could be wrong; it’s always hindered by the fact that I only really think about how to handle author error when I’m tired or sick or distracted enough that it’s happening. ^_^

    Rebecca

  13. I’m glad that you don’t mind it. I personally think of Schrodinger’s Cat entries, entries that assert a certain truth until you stop looking at them, and time-traveling comments as being rather cool. Of course, I’m sorry that these effects were unplanned and due to illness. But it seems tempting (to me, probably not to you) to look at these kinds of things as interesting quantum mechanical or postmodern aspects of the Hitherby universe rather than as author error.

  14. Rich: some of your comments remind me of the claims that the Internet is causing a revolution in epistemology. I’m not sure I agree with those claims—give me an example of an epistemological question involving the Internet, and I’ll bet you US$10 that I can find an equivalent example with no connection to the Internet—but the ubiquity of the ‘net certainly is prompting examination of some questions that had eluded scrutiny before now, and revitalizing an area of philosophical inquiry that had started to look like a finished effort.

    None of which has anything at all to do with this entry, of course, or Hitherby in general.

  15. Metal Fatigue, the Internet aspects make some effects easier to see than in print, such the refusal of removed entries to disappear from the archive, or the way that date-stamped comments can be attached to an entry with a resettable date — but they aren’t required. If we were reading drafts on paper, you might see all the same things. And in a more important sense, since our memories have many of the same characteristics, even paper isn’t really necessary. We could be listening to tales told around a campfire, and we would still remember earlier ones that had dropped out of the narrative. Or we might remember that a particular tale was first told on the Summer Solstice, and associate it with events of that day, and continue to do so even when it was moved in the sequence so that it was told the next year in the winter.

    So in some ways this is about the epistemology of storytelling. But I find it more interesting because the story in this case is, in part, about defining a fictional world. That makes it a metaphysical question rather than only an epistemological one. Metaphysics (as Merriam-Webster informs me when I looked up the spelling of epistemology) is concerned with the “fundamental nature of reality and being and includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology”.

    From Rebecca’s comment above, she has provisionally defined the ontology involved as that the things that she thinks of as author error do not exist within the Hitherby world. They only exist within the Hitherby site, or group of readers, which in some sense hangs around the Hitherby world without actually being a part of the text called “Hitherby Dragons”. I take this to be the reading that Sparrowhawk wrote about.

    I am tempted to an alternate reading. (Though clearly, if Rebecca says that I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Alternate readings can be wrong and still interesting.) So much of Hitherby is about entities that are there and yet not really there — isn’ts — and about the process by which isn’ts are becoming more real. Isn’ts often assert their importance, their godlike powers, yet when they exercise these powers, they work, but still fail. I see a relationship between this and an entry like “The Ghouls (IV/IV)”, to take one example, at least metaphorically. Metaphorically, “The Ghouls (IV/IV)” is marked to have the power to define the Hitherby universe. Yet it does not. At some point, Rebecca could move it back into some part of offiicial continuity (why not? it’s a pretty good and relatively finished text) and at that point, it would become an is. But no one knows, perhaps not even Rebecca at this time, whether that is ever going to happen. Meanwhile, it is in some sense — but not fully — there, it is unlike a purely imaginary entry.

    So the situation appeals to my ex-physicists’ love of thought experiments. I start to think about things like I’ve written above, such as the apparent analogy between Martin’s self-creation within the Hitherby universe and the effects of of a draft history with Martin in it. In some way, it appears to me to be a way of thinking about the issues brought up by Hitherby itself.

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