Letters Column for November 2005

Hello!

This month there will be a Christmas, as there is every year (except for leap years.)

On this occasion, I think it is good to remember the light.

There is a lot of light in the world.

People tend to hang beautiful, glittering, multicolored Christmas lights about their homes this month.

And there are street lamps. Those are pretty in the gloom.

There was a brilliant light in Tunguska on June 30, 1905.

More recently, there were incredibly beautiful auroras in the sky over Seattle. They rippled through the night sky in waves.

Every morning, weather permitting, there is the sun.

Inside each person there is a pure and a brilliant light. I don’t know if they own that light or if it’s something larger, beyond them, shining through. But it’s there.

I don’t know who all will read this, so I don’t know what I’m asking you to remember. I think for some of you, what’s really important, is to remember that you have that light. Some of you might be better off remembering that other people do. But either way, I’d hope you will remember, for my sake if nothing else, that that light is a beautiful thing.

Now some of you are nodding your heads and some of you aren’t; because while there are a lot of people who like this sort of sentiment, it’s commonly considered—well, just sentiment. Pretty words.

I mean, we all know about the monsters and lowlifes, and even the people we like don’t always seem that great.

But it’s not just pretty words, I think, and I’m going to try to explain why that is.

We live in a world that’s pretty much start-to-end. We live in a world where people are supposed to make themselves, to build themselves, where the light in people’s souls is seen as a product; where bad people are dim shadows because they are failed people, and where one must always ask, “Have I failed?” lest one be a dim shadow oneself.

But this isn’t a start-to-end light.

This isn’t a light you’re expected to make.

This is like the light of the sun.

In everyone there’s a light that’s theirs, a light that’s trying desperately to spill out and brighten the world, and it’s not a light to make.

It’s a light to grow towards.

There is above everyone at a dizzying, terrible, wonderful height a light that is theirs to achieve; a shining more real and more true than all our fumbling attempts at virtue or at crime. It is a light that leaks out around the edges of the things we do, because we are entirely too small to hide it.

And when you look at the monsters and the lowlifes of the world, well, their light is theirs to find and theirs to climb to, and there’s nothing you can do about it if they won’t; nothing, save to remember in amidst the grim execution of justice that that light is there.

And when you look inside and say, “Have I failed?”, well, there’s the other side of the coin. You can’t get rid of the light. You can’t take away what you have in you to grow into.

It’s ordained not by you but by the equations of life, world, and spirit that give us birth.

You don’t have the means to fail, not the way most people think of it.

I guess there’s a harshness to all of that, but mostly, I’m going for hope, so.

That’s what I’m thinking about this December.

**
Donations for November totalled $165. There’s also another $25 that’s come in this month. Thank you!

**
Thank you for your kind words,

ADamiani
BethL
Blue
cariset
David Goldfarb
duerig
edomaur
Eric
Ford Dent
GoldenH
Graeme
insanitykun
JoeCrow
Joejay
Luc
mcclintock
melsner
Metal Fatigue
mineownaardvarks
Mithrandir
Ravious
rpuchalsky
Sparrowhawk
Taliskar

**
Some more random thoughts on An Unclean Legacy—I think it should properly have been about ten entries longer. But not on Hitherby.

Someday I’ll start up another webcomic that has longer arcs.

**

*laughing so hard I knock my mouse off the table and accidentally close the browser*
— cariset

Oh no! Mrs. Frisby!

**

it seems that the particular “smurf” tonality of Nobilis is an accidental one, albeit a funny one. I’d like to read more things about the destruction of the Creation by the Dark Smurves
— edomaur

She led in the Power of Might on a chain; he was shackled, hooded, shuffling, drawn taut.

She presented him before the Rider and bowed low; then she stepped back.

“You are cruel, Papa,” said Might. “If I am taken from this world then whither Samson? Whither Bunyan? Whither John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man?”

And gently, gently did the Deceiver touch the face of Might, his fingers soft through the rough fabric of Might’s hood.

“They are not needed,” said Papa.

“And . . . you will keep our bargain?”

Might’s voice nearly broke.

But the Papa did not answer. There was only the thunder and the pain as Might was ripped from the world and Hefty Smurf was born.

There was silence for a time.

“Bring me Communism,” Papa said, and the woman bowed and took her leave.

**

This may be off topic, but I’m trying to actually implement some of the software for something like IOSHI. Are you interested in being involved Rebecca?
— michael vassar

PM me on the forums with more detail?

**

“I will not consume any energy field larger than my head”
— cariset

What if it looks smaller than my head when I put it on my plate?

**

I note also that the devil claims victory, where previously I’d thought the outcome far more ambiguous.
— ADamiani

Francescu experienced the night of shadows in a starker fashion than some of the others.

**

If some of the children don’t have (angels and devils on their shoulders), perhaps they only settled on the children who were old enough at the time to be concerned with morality.
— rpuchalsky

It’s simpler than that; most of the children were safely out of their flight path. ^_^

**

Oh and I loved the parts where Francescu walks into a tree and Christine realizes she wrote an obscenity instead of a spell.
— BethL

It’s hard to live in a censored universe. (Although after it moved to a new time slot and got a harder edge, the Unclean Legacy censors let some real profanity past. By the end, Unclean Legacy had 40% of the “fuck”s in all of Hitherby. Wait, down to 33% now.

Man! My writing’s so clean it squeaks during sex.)

**

Hm. Every time I rewrite that it sounds like an empty platitude. I mean it. I hope you feel better. It sucks that “hope” is all that is in my power to do.
— ADamiani

Thank you for your kind words. ^_^

**

(Because hugs are comforting, and no one will hug you physically when you are sick. Especially if you have leprosy. No one ever hugs you when you have leprosy. Well, except other lepers.

(Please don’t get leprosy, Rebecca!)
— Metal Fatigue

I have duly registered my preferences with the Ministry of Diseases You Don’t Want to Get. They were having a two-for-one special, so I threw in tapeworms!

**

I’ve also been wondering about how when Manfred fights most of the members of Rachel’s bandit group, they end up being “gone”. Where did they go? If they just ran away, Sophie presumably would have got them, and Manfred at this stage of his life doesn’t kill
— rpuchalsky

I think the rest of Rachel’s gang mostly staggered off whimpering with a newfound dedication to honest labor in their hearts.

It’s vaguely relevant to the story that Manfred himself doesn’t seem entirely clear on what he can and can’t do; however, since the story is told and I can’t edit it via the letters column, it’s also fair to imagine that he just intimidated them a lot.

the Saraman curse must affect the children of Gargamel and Yseult, as well as Yseult herself.
— rpuchalsky

It does!

The Saraman curse—the fact that all seven children naturally attract evil opportunities and unclean powers—is relevant in my mind to how the ending played out. All of them spent that last scene very aware of all the ways they could (try to) kill everyone else and seize the little golden men.

**

at the beginning of the Elisbet descriptions and being on the nice list and everything, I thought, “She is such a Beth. But without the h, maybe because she is a ninja.”
— BethL

I think that claiming her is one of the best things Montechristien does. So I can hardly disapprove of you claiming her in another sense! ^_^

**

The truth will set you free.
— Taliskar

If you love the truth, you’ll inevitably come back!

**

I wonder, is Hitherby flirting with Calvinism, and the doctrine of irresistable grace?
— ADamiani

Yseult’s sense of evil is poorly calibrated. It’s not so much irresistable grace as my recognition, as author, that even if I delve fully into the uncompromisingly harsh judgment characteristic of pseudomedieval Christian theology, cackling a lot doesn’t make you evil.

She does a lot of things that are potentially quite evil—I mean, you can reasonably imagine that Sir Jasper died, and certainly training bears to kill Kings is not hugely morally sound. But since we know a posteriori that she was both nice and good, her admiration for life, including others’ lives, probably won out.

She was, in a lot of ways, like Montechristien Gargamel would have been if he’d never managed to kill the blue essentials—cartoon evil, certainly, but, really, not much harm done.

**

If the Devil has forgotten what God’s grace means, it’s possible (even probable) that he’s wrong about the nature of his conflict with God in other ways.
— Sparrowhawk

Quite possibly!

That bit was explicitly me hedging my bets. ^_^

**

Adding a new classification of angels would throw off the symmetry and numerical symbolism of Pseudo-Dionysus’s arrangement, which was pretty much the entire point of the system.
— Eric

Well said, sir, but note that in the close proximity of a singularity it may require more than threefold symmetry to produce the effects of a threefold symmetry elsewhere. Inevitably our eyes turn to Immeasurable Gravitational Force Smurf* and the peculiar implications of his inclusion on the cast.

On the whole, then, I think that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the smurfs are angels proper, the lowest rung on Jacob’s Ladder. Throne meet a close second, with seraphs in a distant third. For the aforementioned reasons, the idea of them making up a separate choir of their own is rejected.
— Eric

Well reasoned! I tip my hat to you.

* Oh, huh, he’s apparently just called “Brainy” in the cartoon.

**

Mount Thumb just cracks me up.
— mcclintock

It’s opposable!

Incidentally, do people want more visual art a la Thanksgiving? It’s not very good, but I don’t know if the amusement value makes up for that. ^_^

**

A Movie Preview
— Sparrowhawk

Yay!

But do you have funding? ^_^

**

But once you postulate a universe in which soullessness really exists, the user can haul out their soul-o-matic soul detector and say that look, their use of the soulless is justified by an actual confirmable physical/metaphysical difference.
— rpuchalsky

Sure.

People do that with skin color and sex, too. It took science a while to notice that it wasn’t justified, too.

I think it is possible that there could be a metaphysical state that justifies using an apparent person poorly. I’m not entirely certain what it would look like, though.

I used to think that philosophical zombiehood might suffice—that people without any real internal state or personal perspective would be “soulless” in the sense you mean.

I don’t, any more, because I’m starting to figure out that personal perspective is in fact an invention—I don’t know if it’s really a Renaissance-era idea like some people claim, it’d weird me out if Babylonian civilization didn’t have it, but it’s definitely an abstract mental construct—it’s technology. It’s part of the process of computation that goes on in the brain.

You can’t weasel around it by saying that philosophical zombies don’t do computation, either. It seems to me that if you created a computer that never actually did any computation, but nevertheless produced the results of that computation, then you’d still have to pay for the copy of Office you install on it.

Possibly it might suffice to have people who fundamentally process their experience as something entirely different. If a biological humanoid android is wired to think that dog food is the most incredibly wonderful thing ever, is it still wrong to feed them nothing but kibble?

In Hitherby, Sophie is soulless because nothing she does affects the destination of her soul. I think it’s wrong to be cruel to her. Christine can arguably call her cruelty to Sophie self-mortification, but the justification is tenuous.

Mini-people are a lot weirder. Their soullessness means that they do not accumulate karma; essentially, their lives are entirely self-contained. Arguably, they’re Buddhas. There’s a case that once they’re dead, anything you did to them is no longer morally relevant. However, I’d tend to assume, based on the above examples of race and sex, that even if I can’t figure out a bulletproof reason why hurting them is bad, that it probably is anyway. I come from a soul-centric society, after all.

**

Well, we know Francescu is unlikely to be dead, he keeps his life in his severed finger, part of which is in Tomas’ posession. Hence, deathless.
— ADamiani

I kept thinking it’d be funny if it turned out that he’d totally screwed up the spell since he didn’t have power yet, and that accordingly they’re just fingerbones. But the weight of canonical text suggests otherwise. ^_^

That said, yah, Sophie couldn’t have done more than get him out of the way for a little bit.

**

And, still, the Devil stands.
— GoldenH

You know how these kinds of cartoons are. The bad guy always gets away. Otherwise, you wind up having to come up with an even badder fallen angel next season!

(“No, this one didn’t just rebel against God—he ATE GOD’S FOOT!”)

(“What?”)

(“And then he SPIT OUT THE TOES! That’s what dromedaries are! The TOES he SPIT OUT!”)

**
That’s it for November! Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, thank you for donating, and thank you for living. ^_^

Rebecca

11 thoughts on “Letters Column for November 2005

  1. And, still, the Devil stands.
    — GoldenH

    You know how these kinds of cartoons are. The bad guy always gets away. Otherwise, you wind up having to come up with an even badder fallen angel next season!

    (“No, this one didn’t just rebel against God—he ATE GOD’S FOOT!”)

    (“What?”)

    (“And then he SPIT OUT THE TOES! That’s what dromedaries are! The TOES he SPIT OUT!”)

    yeah, but that’s not what I meant. Here’s the demonology 101 quote, it’s out of context but I think, still pretty powerful.

    oh, and SPOILERS

  2. The truth will set you free.
    — Taliskar
    If you love the truth, you’ll inevitably come back!

    Oh. Oh, man. I’m having one of those moments where you connect things that you never noticed before that really should have been obvious all along. (Like the time that I realized “President” was “one who presides”.)

    Can I use that as a sig quote on Usenet? Really, I ought to go trawl through the archives for sigs, I bet there’s a lot of them out there waiting.

  3. Incidentally, do people want more visual art a la Thanksgiving?

    Sure! But not very often, OK? It should remain something special.

  4. There was a brilliant light in Tunguska on June 30, 1905.

    Not to comment on what lights may or may not have been in the sky over Siberia in 1905, but is it possible you’re mistaking the date of the June 30, 1908 “Tunguska Incident”?

    Man! My writing’s so clean it squeaks during sex.

    The contradiction of this sentence amuses me deeply.

    Someday I’ll start up another webcomic that has longer arcs.

    The thing that interests me most here is that you conceptualize Hitherby as a webcomic without pictures (Thanksgiving notwithstanding), rather than a fiction blog. Do you conceptualize these as different things?

  5. Incidentally, do people want more visual art a la Thanksgiving?

    Yes, but not as a regular thing – what you do with words is wonderful, and I wouldn’t want the drawings to reduce your output. :) But as something for holidays and special occasions, it works well… (When *is* Jane’s birthday anyway? Or at least, her Martin-day, when he showed her “another way to be”?)

  6. The thing that interests me most here is that you conceptualize Hitherby as a webcomic without pictures (Thanksgiving notwithstanding), rather than a fiction blog. Do you conceptualize these as different things?

    It’s a description indicative of scope and ambition, I think. Jenna’s trying to make manifest ideas I’ve had for a long time about webcomics. BIte-size little stories, easy to swallow in a brief time. It’s possible for them to be very very very successful.

    On the other hand, fiction blogs don’t appeal to the same kind of audience; they appeal to a much smaller audience, for one. Hitherby Dragons is the only one I can think of, honestly, that would qualify as such.

    My thoughts about webcomics-without-pictures have developed some, watching Hitherby in action, and these days I don’t think HItherby is quite right to be the breakout webcomic-without-pictures. (As suggested by its relatively small readership.) But it does admirably at being Hitherby Dragons.

    Of course, possibly I’m just an optimist and the idea can’t be pegged better than Hitherby has done it.

  7. I can’t hold it in any more:

    …”except for leap years”? Huh??

    They have February 29 on leap years instead.

    Rebecca

  8. More recently, there were incredibly beautiful auroras in the sky over Seattle. They rippled through the night sky in waves.

    What ???

    Oh…

    Sorry, i read “anoraks”. Silly me.

    Happy Christmas & Co.

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