Letters Column in August 2011: Light, in the Bastion of Darkness, with the Candlestick

One thing I notice on reading again is that the Dominion apparently left Elm Hill with The Thorn That Does Not Kill still stuck in it. This may perhaps connect with Liril having the Thorn in “Saturday (1 of 2)”, something I’ve wondered about for a long time.

(I also notice that there are quite a lot of legends tagged “The Thorn That Does Not Kill” that have no obvious connection to said Thorn.)
— David Goldfarb, on The Lion

Well, you’d hardly be able to see them if’n they’d been kilt, right?

Hm, I’m a’gonna go look at the Thorn page.

Let’s see!

Oh, yeah, those are all fine. ^_^

The connection to Skipping Right Over King Obo-Zed is fairly elliptical. That’s there for my own benefit as much as anything else—the tags helped me keep the story straight in my head well before I decided to make them visible. ^_^

I think that the hooks in A Castle That Ceases to Move Soon Dies are related to the Thorn. I’m not sure if the tooth of the great dentist devil-god Asphokain qualifies, but even if it doesn’t, there are plenty of hooks on the shelf that it could be.

In House of Saints, there’s a pretty blatant Thorn expy. That’s the pin that Vladimir uses!

Now, I’ll have to admit that in a few others, like Death Unsacred, there isn’t really the Thorn so much as, you know, thorns. Thorns that didn’t seem so far off from being the right Thorn as to make me eliminate the tag.

**

“Dad told me once, ‘the thing about this job, the terrible part of this job, is that you can’t just force it. You’ve got to live with the frustration of standing in a land of plenty and having nothing to eat or drink.”

Nice Tantalus tie-in. It makes me wonder what more’s going to come of the Tantalus connection, and when Saul’s going to do more than have an awesome backstory. Presumably Martin knows about the connection given his historical trivia, so maybe he has a secret plan in wait.
— Xavid, on I Will Make You Cry

Thank you for your kind words!

Saul will probably have more than an awesome backstory in . . . late chapter 3, after the Frog and the Thorn, maybe in chapter 4. There’ll also be more juicy Tantalus action in Firewood Boy, if I ever manage to release Hitherby books.

(Actually juicy might be a misnomer, given that Tantalus is often extremely dry.)

**

Ooh, and a letters column confirms that the Monster hasn’t seen Saul yet. Also, Saul’s the only [damned] soul who finished his cheesecake, of course. ^_^
— Xavid, on I Will Make You Cry

Even more interestingly, Saul isn’t currently in Hell.

**

Well, even Lucifer only got 33.3 repeating. All in all, Micah’s doing pretty well.
— Aetheric, on I Will Make You Cry

This is in reference, of course, to Micah only being 20-30% effective against the monster. I admit I had never formally considered the possibility that this would represent an asymptotic approach to the effectiveness of the God-Defying Lightbringing Yama King.

Hm.

I think Micah is doing pretty well, but he’ll have to beat out the Devil if he’s going to make this work! It’s time for him to give 111.1%!

**

So, either my previous supposition that Unforgivable Dominion = Chancel is at least 33.3% wrong, or else Something Strange is going on. My bet’s on “both,” except that as per the next story, that might not be a legal bet.
— Aetheric, on I Will Make You Cry

Unforgivable Dominions actually split off from the world much earlier than Nobilis Chancels did. They’re roughly parallel to existence rather than subsidiary realities!

**

Speaking of letters columns, weren’t we promised one, earlier this month? Oh, well.
— David Goldfarb, on I Will Make You Cry

Where now the dragon and rider? Where is the map they were making?
Where the wings, where the columns, where the bright fire strafing?
Where is the hand on the quill, and the columns’ corpses glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
Like Protesilausian elms they have grown to surround you
Elephants swaying on the branches around you
Gathering the glooms from the live-elms a’burning
Beholding the flowing years of the King, returning

**

This one took a few days to sink in. I didn’t get what was going on, at first, with the city — it seems like the sympathetic magic actually linked that diorama to Santa Ynez, so that when the diorama got carried away to Ii Ma’s domain, the city was “estranged … from the normal processes of space and time.” Interesting. I have to admit I didn’t expect that outcome.

The monster getting advice from his Dad was likewise interesting. I assume that said Dad was the monster of 1968, from The Unsubstantiated Assertions Fairy et sequelae.

— David Goldfarb, on I Will Make You Cry

Correct!

**

…”Call him a mean name.” Oh man, I totally should have made that connection.
— David Goldfarb, on What do you do with a one-winged Cherub?

It is a really, really mean name to call a monster.

**

Oh, great. Now I’m going to have my brain singing “What do you do with a one-winged cherub” to the tune of Drunken Sailor all day.
I’m not saying that this necessarily indicates that Jenna is a bad person. But, y’know, there’s a
correlation there.
–Eric, on What do you do with a one-winged Cherub?

I’m a terrible person! Half the time I’m not even really sure where the legs are supposed to go.

**

Hm!

I think I will go ahead and do some responses to stuff said during this run of letters columns. That’s not my normal practice! But it’s reasonable under the circumstances. ^_^

**

Testing this account I haven’t used for like six years.
— ScrewyAnathema, on this very letters column!

Welcome back!

**

I did indeed find those blog entries amusing and interesting. I would suggest to others that they start from this link: http://eos-sama.com/jenna/2011/04/short-update/

…which is the earliest post I could find, and then click on the right-pointing arrows to step forward through the individual posts.
— David Goldfarb, on Part 2 of this very letters column!

Thank you for your kind words, and the link!

I do plan to get back to those, until I hit at least 25, once Chuubo’s is otherwise sorted.

**

Gosh darnit, Jenna. You continue to be a light in a bastion of darkness! How am I supposed to compete?
— coronary, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Aww! Thank you for your kind words.

What I like to do is wear a bunch of weights on my heart. Then, when I take them off—e.g., by laughing, or by using a metaphor lathe—I become superhumanly luminous! People stagger back, blinded, and fall out of buildings. Superman catches them. He bursts in. He challenges me. “You again, Jenna!” he declares.

I protest.

“You don’t understand!” I say. “I’m just being a light in the bastion of darkness!”

Then for some reason I am in jail. It is very peculiar. Fortuitously it turns out that Superman is not empowered to make arrests, so I hi-5 my peeps Ivy and Livewire (or technically after the first time I do not actually do this thing) and then I head on out back to the streets to commit more acts of wanton illumination.

Later, I try to stop him with Kryptonite, but this action leadeth to no good ends.

**

So, Maya? She seems to be pretty good at bearing burdens. I note that this post is also tagged Realistic A. Are we going to find out they were the same person all along (surely you can’t be a demon and an angel all at once)?

But the monster seems to have taken the throne at some point, too. So he took up the throne and found the burden too heavy?
— Rand Brittain, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

So I’m going along trying to read the past parts of this letters columns because I’m sure I’ve talked about this. But then I reach an entry which happens to mention a certain very large wall, which might in some fashion be fiery in its title and my net dies.

Living in China makes me paranoid sometimes. Though perhaps justifiably—you would not believe how slow it was to edit that entry!

**

So Maya was on the throne when she held the treasure wheel. Interesting to note that you can have the throne and still not have an answer to suffering- the sickness of the world stems from something more than just bad management.

So: did she lose the wheel when Siddhartha broke dharma? Can you lose the throne by any circumstance other than choosing to give it up? (Although, even if that’s so, Maya arguably chose to let the breaking of the world take place.)
— Rand Brittain, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

It is absolutely true that the throne cannot answer suffering. It’s as limited as the moral reasoning of the person on the throne. Uri’s approach to answering suffering was rudimentary—he could construct a Heaven, but couldn’t figure out how to let everyone through the doors, and he couldn’t convince the people inside that it was OK to hang out in Heaven while their loved ones were in Hell. (I oversimplify.) Cronos saw farther than Uri, and I’m suspecting that that’s also the case for Cloud-Shrugging Zeus, but the solutions they found didn’t allow them to answer suffering—they were like Martin’s would be, if he attained to the throne, unable to answer suffering because on some level that’s not what they’re trying to do. Ending suffering is close to what Martin wants, it’s close to what Cronos wanted, it’s probably close to what the wielder of the thunderbolt wanted to do too, but it’s not it exactly.

Mind, a lot of the better lot who held the throne could probably have gotten there eventually. I don’t think Cronos embraced suffering, at the end, because he was unable to get past his level of moral reasoning. I think he was just doing the best he could based on who he was at the time. That’s probably even true for Uri, for all the failings to which he might be prone.

**

Don’t forget to read more Nightlights! There’s now a second . . . part (chapter? section? illumination!) going on!

P.S. Superman, please do not get the wrong idea from the word “illumination.” Let our little . . . interludes . . . be for us alone.

**

Hrm, there are two ways to read that last part. Either, Zeus stole the Treasure Wheel, an object of great power that holds dominion over the world separate from the Throne, gave it to Maya, and left the empty Throne behind. Or, the Treasure Wheel IS the Throne of the World, which Zeus gave to Maya and Maya gave to the Buddha, and the Buddha shattered by becoming a Buddha. From what you said in the last post, the Monster holds one of the shards of the Treasure Wheel, called the Thorn That Does Not Kill.
— Nyren, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Indeed. I think you can read it in those ways!

The important thing is that after Zeus did this, Maya was in charge. She killed a monster and rescued his victims. She browbeat a supreme deva into following her lead. She called forth armies of gods. There was basically one guy in all the world who didn’t dance to her tune after that, and really, you can make a strong argument that that’s because she used her power to make sure there would be.

(People don’t always realize when they get pregnant that their kids are going to become enlightened and banish gods from the world later on. They think, “No, this child will become the demon-slaying, wheel-turning sage king of all the world that my parents never let me be when I was growing up!”)

**

But he is laughing. He cannot stop laughing. The Buddha does not laugh. Belshazzar, who is a monster – Belshazzar laughs. He and the Buddha – they together gave the answer to suffering that ended the third tyranny. Did that result in him gaining the power of the Wheel? This entry is tagged “Belshazzar” and not “Siddhartha.” I think, as I said before, I think that if you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him. Only then will the Tyranny end.
— Nyren, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Killing never solved anything!*

* this has been a paid message of the Beleaguered Buddha Society

**

Conjectures and guesses: We are told that Persephone is fated to break the world. My theory is that Persephone ended the Third Kingdom of the World, fulfilling the prophecy. There were seven hundred years between the ending of the Third Kingdom and the ending of the Third Tyranny when Maya gave the Treasure Wheel to Prince Siddhartha. So, perhaps Zeus didn’t give the Treasure Wheel directly to Maya, but gave it to Demeter, which allowed Persephone to destroy the world on Boedromion 18 by shrouding the Treasure Wheel in the Elusian Mysteries. (“I think that you shouldn’t be able to just look at the nature of the world like that. It should be a mystery.”) Perhaps that’s what Martin was talking to the Lens and Mei Ming about when he was discussing the “problem of Persephone.” Then, later, it fell into Maya’s hands.
— Nyren, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

These are cool ideas!

I’m pretty sure the wheel went directly to Maya, but you’re not as wrong as that suggests. ^_^

**

Also, as an aside, with the mention of the Monster holding a shard of the broken Treasure Wheel, I’m suddenly imagining the Righteousness Game being applicable here. Snatch! I stole your Treasure Wheel shard!
— Nyren, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Oh, man, just think how much his life would suck if one of his victims got hold of the Thorn!

**

That does seem to be Maya. I wonder what’s up with the 200 or so years between the end of the Third Kingdom and when Maya gets the power of the Ultimate Monarch, though.
— Xavid, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Good question! It’s actually quite possible that it’s more than that—703 BCE isn’t the start of the Third Tyranny, it’s the earliest history I’ve shown from it. What we know is that sometime between Aegisthus becoming a monster and Ella being Sennacherib’s captive, the answer that Cloud-Shrugging Zeus made to Cronos’ Tyranny stopped working for people. That doesn’t necessarily correlate to the handoff of power. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there was anything that changed for the son of Cronos of the crooked councils—it just means that at that point, the world wasn’t a happy place.

I’d guess it was around the time the Eleusinian Mysteries were lost, or around the time that the line of monsters started making gods from crucibles, or around the time that Cloud-Shouldered Zeus reached a conclusion about something and started taking action that was discordant to previous policies on the matter.

Maybe all three.

**

I’d forgotten that Maya’s story starts with her making a promise a human couldn’t fulfil. It doesn’t seem like this promise made her into Realistic A., though. Perhaps there’s just more to Realistic A.’s nature than is on the surface.
— Xavid, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

I would assume that the promise to know and end all suffering is what made an unidentified human into Maya- I can’t see how that promise would lead to Realistic A.
— Rand Brittain, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Correct!

**

Okay. So Maya received the treasure wheel / throne of the world from Zeus. She wanted to pass it to Siddhartha and have him ascend to the throne of the world. That didn’t work out: he became a Buddha instead. I agree with Nyren that it seems likely that Belshazzar took the throne at that time, both because of the description here and because Belshazzar is the most likely candidate for the being identified as “Anatman” in Anatman — the “god of a godless world.”

If that’s right, and it seems likely that Belshazzar / Anatman held the throne for (most? all?) of the Fourth Kingdom and Tyranny. It’s his verdict (which is also Siddhartha’s) that severs the gods and makes them into isn’ts. He’s going to die at some point:

“Why, you rotten old Anatman,” he hears future-Anatman say. “You’re a no-person man!” . . . 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.”
— Greg, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

That’s actually pretty interesting.

So, Anatman is the principle that there’s no such thing as a permanent, static identity; we might broaden this to say, there are no ideal truths that shine through from behind the forms and sense-perceptions that we see arise and fall. There’s no one true America, no one true meaning of the word “wicked,” no real person that “is” good but does a bad thing or “is” bad but loves their family—there’s no true experience to find by prying under the surface of the world, there’s just the world. There’s just the actual experiences and events.

It relates to the idea that we’re just the brain, right? That the mind isn’t something that lives in the brain but just something that describes how the brain acts. Anatman’s all about the idea that we should make a descriptive rather than prescriptive interpretation of all the abstractions in the world. He says: our observations are all that “mind” and “law” and “meaning” and “existence” are.

There’s nothing more!

Belshazzar had the power to rip idealized abstractions like “my nature,” “my will,” or “beauty” from people. More than that, really, because they weren’t just abstractions back then. There were observable, empirical effects of these things he fed on that bridged back to the actual from the ideal, and he could, even still, rip them away.

So I suppose that if Anatman is not Belshazzar, then Anatman is Belshazzar’s spiritual successor and mop-up crew.

But he isn’t on the throne. Not Anatman! That would be an infelicity.

**

It seems to me there’s a strong echo here of Martin:

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

Also, Martin does seem to have the property of undoing Anatman’s work. So I think the throne passes from Anatman to Martin? Or Jane, because Martin is a part of Jane? Here it’s a bit fuzzy. And I’m not sure it’s happened yet. If I’m right so far, it may be that Jane/Martin haven’t taken the throne yet because they haven’t resolved their fundamental conflict of operating methodologies. Or it may be that Martin took the throne either when he left the firewood world or when he left the underworld, but hasn’t yet used its power. Except maybe during the harrowing of Central and on a few other occasions. I guess it depends on whether making an isn’t into something that exists is an actual exercise of the power of the throne of the world or just a more localized phenomenon.
— Greg, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

I think you could probably say that Martin’s using metaphysical leverage rather than power.

**

I am too lazy to do all the rereading required and instead must wait for the Hitherby books that stitch everything together to come out. And I am WAITING. Get your act together, universe.
— Hitherby Admin, on Whoever Can Bear the Weight

Yeah!

hides, just in case there’s lightning in response.

**

OK!

It looks to me like I’ve got one more of these letters columnsy things to go, so in September, you can expect to see the story moving forward again. I apologize; I’ve had time to get ahead, here, although not as much as I’d like, but it’s mostly gone into Nobilis-related stuff. So on the plus side, you’ll see more of that soon; and hey, I think Nobilis itself reaches our distributor at like the end of this month and can start heading to stores from there. ^_^ Playtesting will probably start pretty soon on early stuff, so if you’re interested in that kind of thing, you might want to get an account over on eos-sama.com or start following me on google plus, those being the most likely places for me to mention and organize things like that.

Best wishes,

Jenna
who would consider using facebook instead in solidarity for people with nyms or no invite but facebook is blocked really hard in China

6 thoughts on “Letters Column in August 2011: Light, in the Bastion of Darkness, with the Candlestick

  1. Thank you so much for the links. I notice! I must figure out how to lure potential commenters into becoming actual commenters.

    Oh, and it’s okay to say ‘volume’ or ‘chapter’. :-) ‘Illumination’ comes from my blatant theft of some manga/anime styling– I’m always impressed when they refer to episodes/chapters as ‘levels’ or ‘stage’ or ‘layer’ or ‘period’ or something that is, you know, relevant to both storytelling/words AND the subject of the story.

  2. Even more interestingly, Saul isn’t currently in Hell.

    Yeah. I figure that has something to do with Martin. Neither Saul nor Martin strike me as being purely good or beloved of the one who sits on the throne of the world. Saul does have the “child of a god” thing going, but that apparently wasn’t enough for a few thousand years, and Martin doesn’t have that proptery as far as I’m aware. And there’s the question of whether Saul met with Persephone before leaving Hell…

    Hm, and Anatman sounds an awful like what Martin did when he said “you’re just a firewood dharma” and decided to be something else…

    So many more stories! I’m glad that they might get written! :)

  3. cariset: See Tantalus (I/IV) for the two of them meeting before Saul got rescued. As for what he did in the 9 years between his encounter with Martin and joining the tower’s cast, we don’t know much. It seems like Persephone would be all over him, assuming she’s still as she was in Priyanka’s time. And assuming that escaping as he did gave him blood, somehow.

  4. Playtesting will probably start pretty soon on early stuff, so if you’re interested in that kind of thing, you might want to get an account over on eos-sama.com or start following me on google plus, those being the most likely places for me to mention and organize things like that.

    Do you mean create an account on the EOS forums, or some other part of eos-sama.com? Of course, to playtest I’d need a playgroup, but now that the books have arrived I’m going to work on making that happen.

  5. Xavid: Yes, I was referring more to what happened after he (presumably) ceased being dead, being as the oracle told Persephone that it was his blood she needed. :-) Although who knows, maybe Saul is an anentropic zombie, with blood that works backwards in some metaphysical sense. It’s hard to tell!

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