Anatman (I/VII)

Anatman’s the god of a godless world.

He’s stood against the Devil himself and said, “You don’t exist.”

(And oh! how the Devil laughed; but that’s a story for another time.)

He’s stood against the demons and the fiends, and fought them back; and the angels and the fetches too. He’s won ten thousand different battles against ten thousand different gods.

He’s the man who stands at the boundary of the world and keeps theology at bay.

Here’s how it goes.

801 years into the common era, an octopus-bodied snake-headed bird-beaked hydra god of unspeakable and abominable torments tries to break into the world.

Anatman puts an end to that.

“Those are some pretty abominable torments,” concedes Anatman, “but they’re totally speakable.”

The hydra glares at him.

“You know I’m right,” Anatman says.

It’s not easy to talk about the torments of the octopus-bodied snake-headed bird-beaked hydra god. You have to put yourself through a mental wringer just to figure out where the bird’s beak goes, and that’s before you even get into the torments.

But you can.

And if they’re not unspeakable, then it’s not the kind of octopus-bodied snake-headed bird-beaked hydra god-abomination that it thought it was, and so it doesn’t break into the world.

Later, in 816, the wolf of space comes down to eat the Earth.

It takes Anatman himself to go out there and stop it. Alchemy doesn’t work and people don’t have nuclear weapons yet and longbows are notoriously ineffectual in space, but Anatman, he goes out to where the wolf is ravening towards the world and he says, “The Earth is bigger than your head.”

This brings embarrassment to the wolf.

The wolf says, “It is sometimes difficult to correctly judge perspective when you are in space.”

“See that you’ve learned better, then!” Anatman laughs.

And that’s the resolution for the matter of the wolf.

Finally, there is a firvuli.

To become a firvuli is the destiny born into a girl named Halldis, the purpose seething in the flesh and fire of her, 981 years into the common era and under the Icelandic sun. She is born for no other reason, and to no other purpose, than to one day decide it is better to be a firvuli and cast aside her mortal flesh and ascend to become a great grey god-mountain firvuli that is winter and death and the substance of THE END.

Right now, of course, she’s still a baby girl, because she’s just finished being born.

Anatman slips into the room while the midwives are distracted. They probably couldn’t have seen him anyway, since he’s the person of there-aren’t-really-any-people as much as he’s the god of there-aren’t-really-any-gods, but he isn’t taking chances.

He slips into the room, and he looks down at the baby, and he stares into her fire.

“You’re gonna be a firvuli,” he says, “little girl. And that’s no good.”

It turns on him.

It’s shocking. It’s terrifying. It’s not even technically or literarily possible. It’s like suddenly reading a book that the writer hasn’t even started writing yet—that’s how unexpected the rising of a firvuli can be. It fumes up from her soul like the steam from a fresh corpse’s blood and it looks at him, it looks at him, and suddenly instead of a baby girl or a firvuli he’s looking at THE END.

His senses desert him.

He flails in emptiness.

He remembers suddenly forward to the moment of his death.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


981 CE

“Why, you rotten old Anatman,” he hears future-Anatman say. “You’re a no-person man!”

A no-person man!

A philosophical conceit!

Not a god, not a person, not really anything at all!

And under the power of those words, just like he’s going to do one day, later, on the day Anatman dies, he finds himself unfolding, unraveling, dissolving and stopping being, because you can’t very well be a god of godlessness or a person of no-persons, after all.

Today, though—

Today, he shakes it off. Today, he laughs. Today, he scruffs the baby’s head, and he plucks the firvuli from her soul, and he kisses it lightly on its brow.

“It’s OK,” he tells it, cheerfully, and hugs it close against his heart. “It’s OK. You don’t have to fight me. You don’t have to be afraid of not existing. I do it all the time, and it’s really not so bad.”

So he carries the firvuli away, off to the lands of fable, to live estranged from the humans and the good earth and the wind. He carries it off to the borderlands of the world, to live in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, in the corner-of-the-eye, in the hypothesis, the supposition, and the edges-of-the-map. He takes it away from the earth to the fairy regions, where hydras and great wolves and firvuli were still allowed to be, and he tells it the secret that cuts it off forever from the world and sound: that nothing ever ends.

That everything’s always ending.

That nothing’s ever even really started.

And that might sound like more than one secret, or even a contradictory passel of secrets, if you’re someone like you or me; but if you’re a no-person man like Anatman, all those secrets are the same.

And Anatman and the firvuli become great friends; but as for Halldis, she is empty, she is desolate, she is born to know great suffering, for she is a girl who should be a firvuli, who should become a firvuli, anyway, a great grey god-mountain of THE END, and who can never be a firvuli at all.

Well, that wasn’t the noble truth we were expecting! Still, you’ll probably have to wait another week before we allude vaguely to a different noble truth instead.

In the meantime, you could

19 thoughts on “Anatman (I/VII)

  1. Hmm.

    __________________________
    So he carries the firvuli away, off to the lands of fable, to live estranged from the humans and the good earth and the wind. He carries it off to the borderlands of the world, to live in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, in the corner-of-the-eye, in the hypothesis, the supposition, and the edges-of-the-map. He takes it away from the earth to the fairy regions, where hydras and great wolves and firvuli were still allowed to be, and he tells it the secret that cuts it off forever from the world and sound: that nothing ever ends.
    _________________________________

    We have seen this process before. It did not seem so benign then, but we have seen this process before, or a close variant thereof. I just wonder whether he’s taken the firvuli to another place, or if the Place Without Recourse used to be different.

    -Eric

  2. That’s a good question. ^_^

    I don’t know whether I’d be disappointing my readers if I gave a straight answer, or if I dodged the question, so instead I’ll give a related thought:

    In the moment of the swift-step (c.f. “The Fable of the Lamb”), a person is not real.

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  3. It occurs to me that in the context of Hitherby Dragons metaphysics, “real” is a term of art, and one rather intricate in some of its subtleties.

    Hmm. Really, part of what’s behind my question about the PwoR is that either answer implies interesting things. If the Place Without Recourse used to be a place of wonders and majesty, then that both says things about the “How beautiful” moment of awakening, and raises the question of why it has become what it is now. Was this something the current Monster or his predecessors did on purpose or by accident, or part of the changes in the world in the last thousand years, or what?

    And if Anatman took the firvuli to a different place by the use of this technique, then it suggests that there are more than one place where people and gods who have had their metaphysical basis undermined by exposure to the right idea can end up. That where they end up isn’t just a result of their state, but is also tied up in the intent or nature of the one who separates them from the world.

    If I were a GM faced with a question like this, I would definitely choose not to reveal the answer up front. It poses a situation for people to investigate, potentially testable hypotheses, jumping-off points for various stories, and so on. But in fiction… eh, I don’t know how to handle such things in fiction. My writing skills and training are in straightforward and functional areas where such issues do not arise.

    -Eric

  4. Then I will simply observe that Anatman asks not a single question in this entire story. ^_^

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  5. Interesting observation. Let’s take the parallel futher. Anatman takes things away from the world by revealing truths. When he remembers the moment of his death, he is nearly unmade by the revelation of his own truth.

    Is there a question that will trap Ii Ma?

    Anyway, Yay! Hitherby is back. And I think the categories are new, and probably have interesting revelations if you poke them hard enough (Elvis is a King of an Unforgivable Dominion? Or something, anyway. I’d never have connected Nthanda to spattle without the categories)

  6. Heeheehee Elvis.

    **

    In re: Ii Ma, and the questions that might trap him:

    The monster clicks to the next slide. There’s a picture of Martin. He’s leaning against the wall, looking away from the camera.

    “This is what Jane has. She has a creature that can breach the boundary and make gods real. He can manifest dharma. If he sends to us a killing god, there are none of us safe. Conversely, should he manifest Ii Ma, then we may imprison any man we choose, without recourse, without jurisdiction, without protection. We would simply speak a man’s name, and Ii Ma would take him away….”

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  7. Yeah, I think it’s been implied before that Ii Ma is not in the Place Without Recourse just because it’s in charge of the place, but because Ii Ma itself is in the “a bit more toward the isn’t” category.

    That’s another distinction between Ii Ma and Anatman, really. Anatman can go to the lands of fable and the borders of the world, but he doesn’t spend all his time there.

    -Eric

  8. Anatman is, in fact, intended to appear a lot closer to reality than the firvuli, the wolf, or Ii Ma. (I’m telling you intent because there isn’t actually a single knock-it-out-of-the-park indicator; having to worry about the midwives seeing him is a big deal, for instance, but not definitive.)

  9. Hmm.

    There was one other thing this one reminded me of, and your saying that about how close Anatman was to reality jogged my memory about it.

    _________________
    “Why, you rotten old Anatman,” he hears future-Anatman say. “You’re a no-person man!”

    A no-person man!

    A philosophical conceit!

    Not a god, not a person, not really anything at all!

    And under the power of those words, just like he’s going to do one day, later, on the day Anatman dies, he finds himself unfolding, unraveling, dissolving and stopping being, because you can’t very well be a god of godlessness or a person of no-persons, after all.
    _______________________

    Reminded me of

    ________________________
    Then he sees the mirror.

    His soul knows its truths. You are nothing, it tells him. A firewood boy. An isn’t.

    “Oh, God,” Martin says.

    Martin is a thirteen-year-old boy. He does not let his tears show. He does not hug the barber. He simply walks out. He finds the gate to the Underworld. He goes in.

    His soul knows its truths. You are nothing, it tells him. A firewood boy. An isn’t.

    It’s his destiny. It’s the law of his nature. It’s his dharma. It’s the truth of his soul that he can’t escape. But then there’s a realization and a decision and a wave of defiance and he laughs.

    “Why,” he says, “you’re just a firewood dharma.”

    Martin puts it aside and he descends.
    _______________________

  10. Martin is so awesome. ^_^

    I’m allowed to say that, right? Even though I wrote him? He’s awesome!

  11. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner: this discussion of Martin’s awesomeness is the place to ask a question I’ve been wondering about for a long time.

    Does Martin have a middle name?

    If he does/did, is it/would it be Stuart?

  12. It would probably be Lockheed.

    If he had one!

    Which he may not bother having, what with their primary purpose being to disambiguate, and there aren’t actually any other Martin Thumbscrews’ on the web, and for Jane to announce loudly when trying to pull moral rank.

  13. It’s his name as a mythic figure, and a sometimes nickname. I don’t think it qualifies as a proper family name.

  14. “Why, you rotten old Anatman,” he hears future-Anatman say. “You’re a no-person man!”

    Right. I think Martin has found the way back from non-existence. That thing you were? That was severed from the world? You don’t have to be that! You could be something else! Wouldn’t you rather? :D

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