Thursday, December 8, 2011

webs of thought, almost impalpable, coming from every direction

This is the second part of the post I made a few days ago. It was getting so long that I cut it in half. The "stories" I'm talking about in the first paragraph are the Axe Cop webcomic by Ethan and Malachai Nicolle, and the Norse sagas in Gautrek's Saga and Other Medieval Tales, which were translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. The Djoleto book turned up three posts ago, so that's why I'm mentioning it without preamble. "Freezing" in the last paragraph is not an exaggeration.

The logic of these stories is not the logic of nature but the logic of need. Axe Cop, who has been locked in a gaol cell, needs to know how to overcome the villain, and so the words A Golden Bladed Chainsaw Can Beat Me, taped to the shoulderblades of the vampire baby standing in front of him, is sensible, sane, efficient, and the reader has the pleasure of seeing a problem solved and the coherence of the fictional world upheld.

These worlds are coherent in the way that a person is coherent. The hero needs a villain and a villain arrives; the tongue is dry and the hand picks up a cup. These person-worlds are sensitive, they have nerves, vessels, blood, running everywhere from the fictional clouds through the fictional air to the fictional grass -- they are responsive, they are in sympathy with their fictional people, they're like those old cartoons -- first the character walking along a road starts to dance, and then the trees dance, and the flowers dance, the sun wiggles its illuminated tentacles in time to the beat, everything is dancing; the person is also the sun, the person is the cloud, the person is the flower.

And "of course," I thought in the shower, "it's true, everything in a piece of writing comes from the author and nowhere else, no character history and no setting can account for it, and psychological realism is only the author's clever fake moustache," and then I remembered my favourite example of this author-giving-improbable-presents phenomenon (I know I've mentioned it before), which is Irma Prunesquallor's hot water bottle (where did they get the rubber? from the author), and then, in the same book, you've got Steerpike's monkey, which he obtains with ease, in spite of the fact that wild monkeys don't exist anywhere in Mervyn Peake's world and there isn't any pet vendor, monkey salesperson, animal trapper, or anyone else who could have found it for him. Charles Dickens could change the nature of a cup.

"What an unfathomable mystery there is in it all!" he said one day. Taking up a wineglass, he continued: "Suppose I choose to call this a character, fancy it a man, endue it with certain qualities; and soon the fine filmy webs of thought, almost impalpable, coming from every direction, we know not whence, spin and weave about it, until it assumes form and beauty, and becomes instinct with life."

So he said to James T. Fields. "Amu Djoleto's Money Galore," I reasoned, "with that strange two-tone jerkiness -- I can imagine it hovering between the two modes of writing, the realist and the post-Viking, those descriptive passages about headmasters' offices being the realistic parts, and then the suddenness with which things happen being saga-like, and there's the author's evident wish that he could make an event occur now and not have to sit around preparing for it, which is not his forte; and, if I'm remembering this rightly, his crooked politician has the magical number of girlfriends -- three -- as fairytales have three good fairies or three questing siblings or as Bosi and Herraud provides three women for Bosi, or as the tall strangers encountered by Thorstein Mansion-Might arrive in a trio. They ride up and surprise him. And if he hadn't met them then he wouldn't have needed to come unseen into Gerroid's kingdom, and the dwarf's magic invisibility ring might never have been useful, so, see, without them he would have been left trekking on and on, waiting for intervention, as people do in the real world, where the sun and the trees are not sensitive to us, as proven by the weather here in Las Vegas right now, which is freezing cold against my wishes, and in an icy wind last week there was that woman I met outside the Post Office, the one who asked me for cigarettes which I did not have, and then money but I only had enough for the stamp I was about to buy for a letter to my granny, and we talked about that wind, which had been blowing all day, sucking crowds of autumn leaves across the roadway in front of the cars like mobs of yellow jaywalking handkerchieves, but all the time I was talking to her she kept putting her tongue in and out, and this was a tic not an insult, since she went on talking casually through it all, telling me that she had lived in Las Vegas for a year and a half and never before had she witnessed such a wind, and, she added, you can't wear sandals in Las Vegas, because the sand will come in from the desert and coat your feet, all the time in and out went her tongue, curling down to her chin and back inside again, and what author gave her this strange trait, this power," I wondered, "what saga is she in, what guidance would she have given me?"


  1. I will read this post, when I get over my disappointment that it isn't a continuation of the story of the woman with an allergy that causes a bump like a human head to appear inside her mouth. I was just getting interested in that peculiar fantasy when you stopped.

  2. It's got a tongue with a tic, if that's any consolation. Not the same thing, but human heads are involved.