Stupid Words and their Stupid Power, Anyway (I/III)

“It is the elephant,” Melanie says.

Liril looks at her.

Melanie is laughing. She is looking upwards at the sky. She is hugging her hands to her own chest now and it is awful and Liril wants to cry but Melanie had asked that she stop crying, so she doesn’t.

“Melanie,” Liril says.

“’Why do we suffer?’” Melanie asks. “’Why do we have to suffer, and fear, and die?’”

“We don’t,” Liril says.

“No,” Melanie says. “Not ‘we don’t.’ It is ‘because of the elephant.’”

Liril looks blank.

“You go,” Melanie says.

“I can’t go,” Liril says.

“It’s easy,” Melanie says. “All the answers are elephants.”

It is beginning to seep in through Liril’s reserve. It’s too ridiculous.

“You go,” Melanie insists.

“What’s gray and awful,” Liril says, hesitantly, “and has a shiny tie?”

“Oh,” says Melanie. “That one could be a frog.”

Liril makes a squinchy face.

“Or an elephant,” Melanie says. “An awful elephant in a tie. Why did the elephant step on the grape?”

Liril shakes her head.

“He thought it was a pair of shoes.”

Liril closes her eyes.

Please, she thinks. Please go away.

It is too late. She is beginning to laugh. It is escaping her. Awful things will happen and it will be her fault, it will be her fault for laughing, it will be her fault for accepting this precious gift that is given to her life.

“You go.”

“What’s gray and wrinkly,” Liril asks, instead of laughing, “And antithetical to the covenants of the world?”

It’s almost like having a will, being able to ask a question like that.


“What the hell kind of word is ‘antithetical?’” Melanie asks.

And the giggling takes Liril, and she is lost.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]

1982 CE

They go to Liril’s house. Liril opens the door. She goes in and turns around and she is inviting Melanie inside —

“Get out,” says Liril’s mom.

She is standing there, frozen. It’s a whisper. It’s a strangled, horrified little whisper. It’s barely loud enough to hear.

Get out.

Melanie straightens. She braces her feet. She gives a tight grin to Liril’s mom.

“Fear’s showing, love,” she says.

It’s a weird thing to hear from a ten-year-old girl.

A moment passes.

Liril’s mom doesn’t move; so Melanie just shrugs, and nods, and pretends their words were greetings; and she walks past Liril’s mother, and takes up Liril’s hand, and goes up to Liril’s room.

That’s the first time the two of them meet.

The second time they meet, Liril’s mother doesn’t say anything at all.

The third meeting, though, a few weeks into their acquaintance, she’s found some kind of peace.

She stops Melanie at the door. She can stop her, this time. She’s not terrified, this time, and that means that Melanie has to pay her mind — a tall woman like her, with the ability to call the police and the like, maybe even overpower Melanie, physically, with her raw adulthood’s might.

“Go up to your room, honey,” Liril’s mom says, to Liril.

So Liril does.

Liril’s mom leads Melanie into the living room. She makes hot tea and little plates with tea sandwiches. She brings them in. She sits down, facing Melanie, to talk.

Melanie takes a sandwich.

“Thank you,” she says.

“She says you’re a good person,” Liril’s mother says.

“She does?”

“For now,” Liril’s mother agrees.


Melanie thinks about this. She chews on the sandwich.

“Weird,” Melanie decides.

“So I’ve decided I can’t hate you. And so I am not going to tell the monster that you are here, and have him hale you away and raise you in the customs of the monster’s house; or, failing that, cast you back against the wall and pierce your eyes and heart with the Thorn that Does Not Kill, or hang you from a cross and put razor wire on your brow and let you bleed; or stake you out on some bleak hill for the carrion birds to feed. Because I would enjoy seeing him do those things to you, I would enjoy seeing you suffer, but I shouldn’t go that far for somebody I don’t hate.”

Melanie puts her sandwich down.

It has become unappetizing.

“I would be haled away,” she says, “and raised in a monster’s house?”

“He doesn’t have children,” says Liril’s mom.

Melanie thinks about this.

“It would be nice to have a house,” says Melanie, “and customs.”

“Would it?”

Melanie gives a little snort. Then she shakes her head.

“He won’t catch me,” Melanie says.

“Yes,” agrees Liril’s mother. “Children are so very good at avoiding being caught by monsters. It’s practically a trend.”

“Won’t,” Melanie underlines.

Not me.

“One day,” says Liril’s mother, “you will find him; or he will find you; and you will meet the monster. And then you can decide whether to tell him that I betrayed him. You can decide whether to tell him that I had you here, that I knew you were here, a girl of the monster’s line, and I didn’t even like you, and I kept it from him anyway. If you tell him that then you will have more than enough revenge for what I am going to do to you today, but you’ll also prove that Liril’s wrong.”

It’s hard for Melanie to believe she could stomach this woman’s sandwiches and tea at all.

“If I may ask,” says Liril’s mother, “how do you live?”

“What are you going to do to me today?”

“No,” says Liril’s mother. “It is my question now. It is your question later. How do you live?”

Melanie frowns.

“I don’t understand,” she says.

“I mean,” Liril’s mother says, “are you—fostered? Did you grow up here? How do you live?”

“Oh,” Melanie says.

She shakes her head.

“I steal,” she says. “I carry messages. I live with the fairies in their dells, sometimes.”

“You must be very cunning,” Liril’s mother says.

Melanie’s heart shouts a warning.

She is standing up.

“You won’t do this,” she says.

“What am I going to do?”

“You won’t.

Why am I afraid? she asks herself.

It is the expression on Liril’s mother’s face. It is subtle but familiar. She has seen it on her brother’s face. The last time she saw it Billy was holding up Papa’s head —

The words are not what she’s expecting. She doesn’t even understand how they can stop her; how they can catch her up; how they can freeze her; how, for that matter, it could mean anything to her at all, when Priyanka says:

“There is a King.”

24 thoughts on “Stupid Words and their Stupid Power, Anyway (I/III)

  1. Liril’s mother is Priyanka! Perhaps I should have guessed that before. I wonder whether LIril is the child of her body, or whether the monster just put her in the role of “Liril’s mother”, just as (I guess) he put someone in the role of “Jane’s mother” when she was off living with Bob.

    The monster does already have a child, of a sort, but it’s very plausible that Priyanka wouldn’t know that.

    It’s 1982 CE, so the monster already has Jenna as well as Liril.

    Liril has a mother in 2004, but it could well be someone else.

  2. It’d make sense for Priyanka to be Liril’s biological mother, since the Monster’s interest in both of them implies they’re of the same line.

    I’ve always thought that Jane’s mothers were creations of Jane due to her feeling that she ought to have a mother, along the lines of the legend Jane’s Father ( I guess this is because of their seeming to fulfill the literary role of a mother as Jane might see it more than having an actual personality. (I’m thinking of Jane’s mother when she lives with Bob and Jane’s mother at the time of The Angels (III/IV) (, which seems to take place when Jane’s already at the tower and generally seems not to have much need for a mother.)

    I wasn’t thinking of Jane’s biological mother, who’s apparently named Tara, here, but now that I search for her I have to wonder if there’s any connection between that Tara and Tara the Buddhist Pirate. I don’t see any particular connection between them other than the name, but stranger things have happened.

  3. Hrm. Is it wrong that, in the theatre of my brain, this entry ends with a camera pan to the street where a man in a white leather jacket takes off his sunglasses and says, simply, in that way of his, “Uh-huh.”

    And now this makes me wonder how relevant this Legend: is to this story.

  4. I think there’s been an explicit mention by Dr. Moran that there may be enough clues to figure out who’s currently sitting on the throne of the world, but darned if I can figure it out.

  5. My gut tells me Persephone sits on the Throne of the World, but I have no idea why my gut would think that.

    Watch, it’ll turn out that the answer is actually Ii Ma. That would be the most depressing thing EVER!

  6. In my re-reads, I came across Aegisthus, which has the following intriguing statement:

    “I am Aegisthus,” he says, “son of Atreus. I wish to sit at Olympus on the high god’s throne; or, if I cannot, that my heirs should do so.”

    And of course the events following on that led directly to the start of the line of monsters that continues to the present.

    We have in Martin and Lisa that one of the conditions to get out of the underworld is to be beloved of the one who sits on the throne. Mylitta got out because she was beloved of Nabonidus, who sent gods to help her. That too suggests that it’s the monsters who sit on the throne.

    Hmm, except that at that point it should still have been Zeus.

    (I also suspect that the upheavals of 539 BCE made what it means to be on the throne of the world something rather different.)

    Not apropos of the above discussion: I noticed last night that a large number of the entries about Siddhartha’s life are tagged “Realistic A”. I wonder whether Yasodhara became Realistic A?

  7. Actually, I think the important line from Martin and Lisa is this one:

    “None save the monster,” she says, “may choose the circumstances of their lives.”

    Compare it to this description:

    Cronos was Ge’s son in that moment, strong as the earth, unsurpassable, indestructible, horned and terrible, and free—as only one creature in all the world could be—to act accordant to his desires.

    I think that being on the throne of the world means freedom of choice, and that hasn’t changed. What does change is what the individual on the throne does with that freedom.

  8. Interesting. The ascension of Zeus and the casting down of Cronos left people free to act according to their desires, although constrained by their natures; and then the upheavals of 539 BCE meant that people were no longer constrained by their natures. But people are still constrained by their circumstances. Yes, I think that you’ve found a clinching piece of evidence, and I now definitely believe that the monster is on the throne, and the imago was searching in the wrong place entirely.

    (And it suggests that Martin will find some way of freeing people from the constraint of circumstances; although it’ll take Jenna to make me understand what that would mean.)

    (And I’d still like to understand how the God of Abraham fits into the picture.)

  9. That is the best C.S. Lewis tie-in I have ever read. Even better if it wasn’t deliberate. Well, I guess when you draw from the same source material, after a certain point, Aslan is assumed.

    Don’t end the story the same way. (Not that I would ever need to tell you, or Jane, that.)

  10. You know, it occurs to me: if the monster can choose the circumstances of his life, it would seem to follow that he can choose whether or not he is bound by Amiel’s promise. Which would mean that he doesn’t do what he does because of that promise; rather, he chooses to leave the promise in force because it suits him.

    In The Show, the monster suggests that Amiel’s promise protects him from Jane’s gods. (And in Tunnel Rat the oceanid says that making gods to fight him doesn’t work.) I wonder whether he’s mistaken about that one. It may be that being on the throne of the world, which has been said to allow command of gods, does so.

  11. In re: Realistic A, note that The Flower is tagged “Realistic A.” Also note that The Miracle isn’t. I am mainly pointing this out right now because it supports a conclusion that profoundly satisfies me on both the emotional and intellectual levels.

  12. I really, really, really want to believe that Maya is Realistic A. I want to believe this emotionally because Maya is my second-favorite character, and if she is Realistic A, that means that we definitely know that she is still around and playing an influential role in the present day. I want to believe this intellectually because it fits in perfectly with my philosophy and a lot of my favorite works of art and even stuff I wrote myself before I even started reading Hitherby for the demon of illusion to be the angel of realism.

    If you look at all the entries tagged “Maya,” most of them are tagged “Realistic A,” also, and most of the ones that aren’t are ones where people are talking about Maya but she doesn’t actually show up. I can also try my best to explain away “The Summoning of the King” by saying that it describes how Maya becomes Realistic A in the first place, so the tag might not be appropriate because the story starts out when Maya is not an angel (and note that Maya’s promise does sound like the kind of promise that would turn someone into an angel – it’s about the hope of ending suffering, not the acceptance of suffering). I have no idea how to explain away “The Corpse,” which is pretty damaging to my theory (although it doesn’t really suggest any alternate theory, either).

    That having been said, I am extremely attached to my theory (this is the Maya-Dharma?), and so I find it rather consolatory that “Angels” is also tagged “Maya.”

  13. Hmmm. That’s extremely interesting. I don’t quite understand how the demon of illusion becomes the angel of realism, however. Also, I can’t help thinking that it was Realistic A (or the one who becomes Realistic A) who says at Siddhartha’s birth, “He shall certainly become a Buddha”. And that wasn’t Maya. And all evidence we have is that it is the act of making a promise, that transforms your nature; but Maya remained a demon of illusion long after “The Summoning of the King”, so it couldn’t have been that.

  14. Incidentally, I should mention that I had a look at the blog which is linked to your name, and reading through it answered a question that I had wondered about for many years, namely whether “The Angel of Caprona” is a real tune. So thank you for that.

  15. Well, if Maya’s the illusion of material existence, which those of us who aren’t enlightened normally call reality, it makes reasonable sense. But there does seem to be a acceptance/hope transition necessary somewhere.

  16. I rather like the idea that the Buddha’s answer transformed Maya, from a demon who represented acceptance of reality, into an angel who brings hope that we can eliminate suffering by penetrating illusions.

    Also, I can’t help thinking that it was Realistic A (or the one who becomes Realistic A) who says at Siddhartha’s birth, “He shall certainly become a Buddha”. And that wasn’t Maya.

    This certainly sounds like Realistic A. But maybe it was the birth of Realistic A inside Maya? I don’t think it’s established whether anyone but Maya actually heard this. This explanation is a bit of a stretch, though. :)

    but Maya remained a demon of illusion long after “The Summoning of the King”, so it couldn’t have been that.

    I don’t recall seeing that in a story, but I could easily have forgotten. It sure doesn’t sound good for this theory that I have quite abruptly come to cherish. :/

  17. but Maya remained a demon of illusion long after “The Summoning of the King”, so it couldn’t have been that.

    I don’t recall seeing that in a story, but I could easily have forgotten. It sure doesn’t sound good for this theory that I have quite abruptly come to cherish. :/

    What I meant was that in all the rest of the Siddhartha stories, that come after “The Summoning of the King”, there is no indication that Maya’s nature has changed.

  18. Ah. Hm.

    I choose to interpret the fluttering voice as a foreboding of things to come, and the actual transformation from demon to angel later, in 539, when the world is broken. :)

    Also, thank you for linking to “The Summoning of the King”! It has some lines which I find rather interesting, in light of the other thread in these comments:

    A woman named Maya kneels beside a dying man. She takes his hand. “I will end such suffering as this,” she says.

    The power of the Ultimate Monarch has fallen into Maya’s hand.

    “What must be done, I must.
    The treasure wheel of that King is mine.”

    She holds up her hand. There is a wheel burnt into her palm.

    “I have no power to stop the horrors I have seen.
    I am illusion.
    Though I reign with the treasure wheel over all the kingdoms of the world
    I have no power.”

    “And now you hold the treasure wheel,
    And thus you rule the world.”

    I’m not sure what to make of that. Clearly she hasn’t been on the throne of the world since before time. Possibly she started when she slew Prajapati’s monster?

  19. David Goldfarb, you’re welcome! Now I’m going to be verbiose about acceptance and hope – I think it’s okay because I do think it’s relevant to Hitherby. But it’s amusing to me that you should bring up a DWJ quotation in this thread, because it’s actually another DWJ quotation that inspired much of my thinking on acceptance and hope – in her answers to fan’s questions here, she’s writing an answer to “Janet” about the theme of The Homeward Bounders (to all those reading this: don’t read the question if you haven’t read The Homeward Bounders, but, those of you who know you like both Hitherby and DWJ, you really ought to read The Homeward Bounders!), and she writes: “Hope inspires you, but it also makes you sit back and accept a bad situation.” And I could talk a lot more about this in the context of The Homeward Bounders and The Wild Duck and Shelley (err, I mean Percy Bysshe, not the Gibbelins’ Tower cast member, although going by the tags apparently the Gibbelins’ Tower cast member is the actress for Susan in my favorite legend, so I have abruptly developed a huge interest in her), but that seems kind of inappropriate in this setting. Luckily, I think the same thing has actually come up in Hitherby before, when Jenna was talking about the classification of gods – this is on Lisa – Jenna says she classifies Lisa as an angel, if a bad one, because her important character trait is that she sees things in terms of hope, but that Ben’s interpretation of Lisa as a demon because “you think that she is an argument for leaving things as they are” is also “valid.” So I think it’s fair to say that Jenna also clearly sees a link between acceptance and hope – at least certain types of hope have the tendency to look like acceptance. This same letters column does talk a bit about why Maya is a demon, though, suggesting that at least at that point in the story Jenna sees her more as a demon. But I think, like Lisa, she’s a bit borderline. I’m willing to go with the theory that Maya’s hope looked more like acceptance, placing her in the demonic category, and then that something changed at some point (maybe in 539 BCE or whenever) to make her acceptance look more like hope, moving her into the angelic category?

    Anyway, I don’t know about the rest of you all, but the reason why I absolutely ADORE the Thus-It-Happened of Maya is that I find both sides of the argument between Maya and Siddhartha immensely compelling (and, in fact, I adore the way that this is encouraged by the narrative in that, despite their completely irreconcilable worldviews and commitment to defeating each other, there’s a strong emphasis on their genuine and powerful love for each other) – it sounds like the kind of argument I have with myself all the time. The ways in which Maya is demonic (in the Hitherby sense) and teaching acceptance are obvious – but I think there is some hope in her arguments as well – the hope that we can keep the good things about the world of illusion and still get rid of the suffering. She hopes against hope that Siddhartha will be a Wheel-turning King who will answer suffering. If she is merely illusion – if there is a deeper, truer reality, then this hope is merely acceptance of a bad situation. But if you take the viewpoint that the illusion of Maya is the only reality (and, rather oddly, in one sense doesn’t this seem to be what happened after 539 BCE? “The desert, and the desert wind, and the sky, and the sea, and life, and death, and the beating of your heart. . . the perfume of a spring morning. . . the abattoir stench. . . everything in this world” – those aren’t the things that ended in 539 BCE), then her hope is a hope for a genuine change in the way of things. (And, again, even if Maya isn’t Realistic A, I think the “Maya” tag on “Angels” suggests that this is not a completely insane line of thought).

    I still don’t get why “The Corpse” isn’t labelled “Realistic A,” though – it seems like a major wogly in my theory. For that matter, does anyone have any theory (even if Realistic A isn’t Maya) as to why this particular entry in the Thus-It-Happened isn’t labelled that way when so many of the others are?

    I like the idea of forebodings of things to come! We do get characters speaking to themselves from the future in HitherbyAnatman did it recently, and it also happened to Chaos Woman. So why not Maya? Which reminds me that at some point long ago I thought there was some kind of association between Chaos Woman and Maya, but I have no idea why, and it may just be because a serpent and Maya are both religious antagonistic figures who are antagonistic in a situation involving trees?

  20. Well, “The Corpse” features Maya saying that there are words that cause the illusion of material existence to become a localized phenomenon — compare the Dukkha Call, and I seem to recall that there’s also a Buddha Call as well. (I’m pretty sure that the pun of “Dukkha Call” comes first, and the others follow on.)

    I don’t see why you’d think that Maya transformed there. Later on, in “The Bo Tree”, Maya still seems to be the demon of acceptance of material existence. Although Maya has some interesting lines in “The Corpse”:

    I have thought that we would come to blows
    And you unmake me
    And I rain fire on you
    To save the things I love.

    Which is of course exactly what happens in “The Bo Tree”. So Maya was unmade there…it seems possible that she was remade into an angel; but then it seems to me equally possible that she was simply severed from the world.

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