Letters Column in August 2011: In Which Travel Kind of Throws Me

Now, is this tagged “God-Defying Lightbringing Yama King” because of the metaphorical use touching Melanie, or because the G-DLYK is one of the Kings of Unforgivable Dominions?

Or both?
— David Goldfarb, on Forsaken of their Gods

I’m-a gonna leave this one ambiguous for a while!

Jane certainly sees the God-Defying Lightbringing Yama King in the Dominion that came to Elm Hill. She sees that and she sings stuff like The Ballad of Bushido Santa.

But we’re going to see the real thing soon enough in this story, and for the first time, and there’s going to be a lot of him unless things take an unexpected turn. So I’m going to leave myself some more wiggle room in case I wind up polishing those bits of the story’s horns more than I’m expecting.


I really like Melanie as a character. Her past keeps getting more compelling and sympathetic, her present still seems really threatening, but she’s started to seem redeemable enough for a future incorporation into the tower’s cast to be plausible.
— Xavid, on Bam

Thank you for your kind words!


I think she’s seeming understandable, but the character we see in “The Fable of the Lamb” deliberately rejects redemption. Anyway, she’s on course to be eaten by a King of an Unforgivable Dominion….
— David Goldfarb, on Bam

Rejecting redemption doesn’t make you ineligible for it. Seeing her as a tragic hero (a deeply flawed one) is interesting to me in ways I haven’t gotten from other monsters’ characterizations.
— Xavid, on Bam

In fairness to both sides:

Rejecting redemption is definitely a strong argument against being redeemable. But you can’t hold being destined to be eaten against somebody. I mean, on a moral level. That’s like slathering cold oatmeal all over your new-fledged wings!


she really wants to have the upper hand over Liril’s mother, she finds herself craving it sometimes, like a spider might crave blood

I find myself with a definite feeling of schadenfreude that Melanie doesn’t get to have that.

The big question of course is how all this history is going to affect things once the two of them meet again at Elm Hill. And with Tina in the mix. (We have foreshadowing of a “siege”, which certainly doesn’t sound good.)
— David Goldfarb, on Haunted

Priyanka was born one generation too soon. There wasn’t a twisting, awful path of escape for her, just chances to be broken a little less or a little more.

It’s definitely for the best that she was able to at least shape her own interactions with Melanie, if not with the monster of today or the monster of 1968.


Just for the record: this one was a response to a comment on an early entry, now lost, which said that they used too many exclamation points. As much as I love Hitherby, I honestly think that commenter had a fair point. (As time went on, Jenna’s style evolved and the exclamation point use went down to a better level.)
— David Goldfarb, on Avoiding the Use of Exclamation Points



I do look forward to things coming together at Elm Hill, if for nothing else than for the presence of Truth. And hopefully it’ll show us more of what’s up with the Place Without Recourse.
— Xavid, on Haunted

Truth is not lost! His story was just . . . temporarily delayed!



Jane/Martin and Liril/Micah make an interesting compare-and-contrast. In both pairs it’s the male half who has the power, but the female who has the control.
— David Goldfarb, on on Haunted

It’s not clear to me that Jane and Martin divide that easily. It’s certainly true that when Martin came out of the Underworld he was more powerful than Jane, but any smith, test, and maker worth their grits would at least potentially be able to make an is that does not simply supervene and depend on his own power. Similarly, I don’t think you can make an easy case that either of them is entirely in control of the other; it’s Martin’s theater, ultimately, but Martin may need their relationship more than Jane does.

Liril and Micah are, of course, pretty standard and even gender-compliant/performative in this respect.

(Which reminds me of that old saying about “behind every great man there is a great woman”, which in turn reminds me of how when Mylitta met Nabonidus, she ended up in a palace and placed, as it were, on a pedestal…and utterly disempowered.) In both pairs, neither member ages in what we would consider the normal way. Jane and Martin are trying to change the world, while Liril and Micah are just trying to find personal freedom.

I find Jane and Martin the more interesting pair, precisely because they have more power. That may just be me.

In “The Old Man and the Sea” Micah steals some milk and leaves it in a place without refrigeration, and it goes bad. Martin takes bad milk to Mei Ming. I wonder if it’s the same milk?
— David Goldfarb, on Haunted

Nah, it’s just like that milk.

See, people keep their own gods. It’s what they do. But sometimes they steal milk, and then, while they’re off being tortured or whatever, and the milk’s sitting out in the sun, sometimes, their milk goes bad.

And then sometimes, somebody, who has never actually tasted bad milk, sometimes he might think, “Hey, I wonder what that actually tastes like.”

You know?

And then if, as one might guess, it’s actually not that good? Then maybe they might want someone else to taste it too. Because, you know, that’s the thing one does with bad milk.

You share it.

Only, you know, Martin, he’s just into it for the experience, but Mei Ming, she totally thinks that bad milk is something romantic and breathing of the rich and ancient scents of distant lands.

She’s probably not the only person Martin shared it with. In fact, I think we can safely say, looking at Jane’s discussion of necrolactophilia, that it was something of a thing.

Lemurs take their name from a Latin word for ghost; the first Europeans in Madagascar thought the big-eyed little monkeys looked spooky. So “ghost lemurs” is a redundancy of a sort. I’m quite positive that Jenna knew this.
— David Goldfarb, on Ghost Lemurs and Pygmy Zombies vs. Happy Valley

Mysterious, wise smile.

Also, they jump off of cliffs. I heard. In packs. * wiggles eyebrows *


Friggin’ elephants, amiright?

Personifying the tendency of the world towards not being as we wish it, being metaphors for things you don’t want to talk about, and whatnot.
— Eric, on And Sometimes You Just Slip

Preach it, brother!

Can I get an ELEPHAMEN!


[The elephants’ relevance i]s because of the forgetfulness. Or lack thereof.

Hitherby Dragons is a story about the emptiness. Formal systems require woglies to exist. But forgetfulness does not change this.
— Aetheric, on And Sometimes You Just Slip

Though, man, I could tell you some STORIES about Gödel.

Like, there was this one time when he got totally stoned on the elixir of life and forgot the nature of the world and started scribbling on the walls and when he woke up he realized that he’d written down a complete, consistent formal system.

“Zap,” he whimpered.

Zapathasura, the Ravnos antediluvian with whom he was rooming at the time, came over to peer blearily at the wall.

“Huh,” Zapathasura said. Then he scribbled over one of the 0s to make it into an 8.

“Oh, man,” Gödel said. “Thank you. I was panicking. I was out of my head.”

“No big,” said Zapathasura.

He was cool that way. Sometimes he’d drink Gödel’s blood. Sometimes he’d make complete, consistent systems inconsistent. And if he isn’t dead then they’re inconsistent still.


Forgetfulness[, such as elephants do not have,] does, however, eliminate the chance to heal the wounds, or to allow those wounds to end you.

Jane has wounds. They let her be Jane.

Jane is more than the sum of her wounds. So are Liril and Melanie. So is the monster. So is Erin. But it’s hard to remember that, when you’re thinking of Erin.

We don’t need to forget. It’s just that the only alternative is to remember. And then, in that remembering, we still have the original pain that made us forget. It never stopped. And we’re weaker.
— Aetheric, on And Sometimes You Just Slip

It is true that elephants do not have this problem. But they do have ivory stuck to their face, so there is a certain balance.


The makers of formal systems do what Uri did: they consign the woglies to beneath the earth and do not allow them inside their world. That also means excluding the siggorts and Ophion, but they’d rather exclude some beings than let in the woglies.

(I’d never considered before how that part of Cronos’s history relates to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, but I’d be surprised to hear that it wasn’t intentional.)
— David Goldfarb, on And Sometimes You Just Slip

Woglies and Gödel are like humans and breathing, it’s not that I’m necessarily thinking of the fact that humans breathe air when I talk about them being reluctant to pay court to a rusalka so much as that a certain concern for breath is implicit in the system.


Apropos of nothing in the current story, but because I was just rereading Island of the Centipede, I cannot help but wonder: if the Tower of the Gibbelins is off the coast of California, and the Sea of Chaos extends west from California, where does that leave those of us who live in Hawaii? I need to know whether it’s water or chaos out there so I can plan my snorkeling accordingly!
— philomory, on And Sometimes You Just Slip

I think Pele dragged Hawaii into the conventional ocean at some point, probably when it got tangled in her hair or something. There may have been sharks with lasers on their heads involved, and the President’s birth certificate just may have gotten a little scorched in the process. But that’s OK! I hear that matter’s settled now.

So, you all probably want me to get through this letters column this month, and ideally in the first half thereof, so I’m going to have to pick up the pace some. And I will! But I’ve been traveling and this week was crazy. I was feeling rebellious against nobody in particular and worked on different things today instead of this letters column, and today was really my first chance to do it—I did the answers above, like, Monday? but they lack a certain spark.

So, anyway, picking up the pace commences now. Whether that’s a TON of answers on Wednesday, intermediate posts, or an apologetic shame-faced look on Wednesday with a few more answers, the world is yet to know!

P.S. when I was young I thought living without a dishwasher was crazy and strange. I just had the opportunity to hand-wash dishes—not even machine-wash, just, you know, having all of

  • proper towel to dry with, brought from America

  • place to put said towel

  • dishwashing fluid with a strength I can estimate

  • scrubber with a strength I can estimate

  • water that I know is, while not drinkable, safe to wash dishes in

for the first time in a year. It felt good.

Best wishes,


14 thoughts on “Letters Column in August 2011: In Which Travel Kind of Throws Me

  1. I have to admit, I never made that connection between “Cooking” and “Reinterpreting Bad Milk”. Of course, those two entries were almost a year apart.

    In other news:

    This is me completely ignoring that attempted play on “lemur” and “lemming”. Phhbbbtbt.

  2. Oh yeah, and the bit about Melanie being destined to be eaten was not so much an argument against her being redeemable as an argument that she’s unlikely to join the Gibbelins Tower crew.

  3. Look, I questioned Tara equivalence because the tags are distinct, but there is only one Melanie tag. Dare you question the sacred truth of the tags?

    (I guess the logical alternative would be someone else in the cast playing Melanie playing someone else to analyze her contradictions without her presence. But I still hold out hope. ^_^)

  4. Well, he can do anything he wants when his year’s up, you know. He’d fit right in with the other undead, after all.

  5. Is he actually going to remain ghouled after his year is up? Because if so that kind of alters my perception of the deal. Remind me, do we know what the dharma of a ghoul is?

  6. Thinking out loud:

    There are tags that are not in the cloud above; I find myself intrigued by The Lady and Ms. Brown.

    Also, what does it mean for an entry to not be tagged Relevant? What is it not relevant to?

  7. Relevant marks legends that are particularly relevant to canon. There shouldn’t be any false positives but I’m sure there are many false negatives. ^_^

  8. …Oh. That’s what “Relevant” means. I’d unsuccessfully tried to find some common thread among those entries — I wasn’t thinking at a sufficiently high level.

  9. Priyanka was born one generation too soon. There wasn’t a twisting, awful path of escape for her, just chances to be broken a little less or a little more.

    It’s possible my brain is saturated with radical feminism and I’m seeing it everywhere, but …

    That’s a metaphor for the feminist struggle, isn’t it? I’ve always felt the Monster was the patriarchy, or at the top of the patriarchy, from the tie, but felt silly saying it. But Priyanka being born “one generation too soon” has feminist struggle written all over it. Dharma feels like an abstraction of gender, and that’s the first interpretation of dharma that’s been less than opaque to me; I have a dharma too! I feel absolutely horrible for Melanie now. :(

  10. I need a bit of help here. I can see a metaphor between “crucible” and “uterus” now, and wonder how I never saw it before. The monster depersonalizing Liril was horrible, but somewhat abstract: what does it even mean that a crucible isn’t a person and shouldn’t have volition? Why not anthropomorphize crucibles? The metaphor changes it from something fantastic into something all too real.

    So, where is this on the continuum between “insightful” and “tactless”? Does everyone notice this and just not say it? I went 3 or 4 years without noticing it, but as soon as I’d read a bit about feminism I’d look again at some Hitherby and say, “Oh.”

  11. For Liril, dehumanizing herself became something of a coping strategy. She is not the first of the monster’s victims to arrive at this solution. Arguably it was even out of her control: Her volition, for instance, was taken from her as a newborn in a psychic maiming that seems at least partially metaphorical. But she does have enough control, at least, to retreat into her own mind and only address the monster when he is not there.

    I hadn’t made the connection of a crucible to a womb, and I don’t know if it matters, but as to, “Why is Liril empty and without volition?” It is to fill emptiness and respond to suffering that gods, in Hitherby, are summoned. They are wishes or imaginary friends or schizophrenia made manifest. Therefore the monster inflicts emptiness and suffering in order to cause his victims to create gods. Liril’s wounds keep her volition quiet, but she can still respond to situations and even act with intention, as when she masterminds the the circumstances that allow her to create Tainted John.

    Liril’s response, to escape any way she can, is just her own best effort at an answer to this cruelty, much like Jane’s intent to become the change in the wind that heals the world. She doesn’t have to be “not a person,” but it’s by running away from being a person that she finds enough psychological room to become what she makes of herself.

  12. I don’t have a good grasp on what it means for a person to be “empty” or “emptied”, so I’m always looking for new angles from which to approach it. It’s something like despair, but … And that’s where I stop: “Something like despair, but …”

    I agree that any metaphor to “womb” isn’t necessary to appreciate Liril and her story. It’s just an interpretation I never saw before, parallel to reproductive rights, whether we view Liril’s ability to make gods as an aspect of her person, or whether we try to abstract it away as something separate from Liril that merely occupies the same space as her body. The monster sees it as the latter, and for him it’s not a rationalization. He sees the world as a data stream without people. That may be how the monsters got around Amiel’s promise; they guard Lia’s line, but not as people. It’s enough that they guard them as property or territory. The worst part of it is the monsters can’t let them go.

  13. Agreed. I’m interested in the feminist implications, now that you lay them out. Worst of all in my mind is that the monsters cannot allow themselves to feel affection for the people of salt. With justification, they fear that that would unmake them, or sentence them to the living death of a cherub-god’s bondage. I’m hoping that somehow, Melanie can find some way to bond with Liril that exceeds the monsters’ trap or Nabonidus and Mylitta’s tragedy. She feels genuine friendship for Liril, even if the love of freedom and the stalker’s urge to own are both stronger motivators “now,” during the siege.

    Somehow, I feel like Melanie’s situation is somehow equivalent to Tonjou Utena near the end of Shoujo Kakumei Utena when she is the first person to genuinely reach Anthy, Those who have witnessed the anime know the price she pays.

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