There is something about the final brilliant moment of the day, right before the sun dips below the hilltop behind my house, that really puts me in a weird, contemplative mood. My iPod decides to start playing a Hikaru Utada song.
Thanks to all the anime I’ve watched, even J-Pop ballads make me think of the end of the world.
For some reason I started thinking again about the fact that both J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin call their respective fantasy universes Eä/Éa (which I forgot I had already noticed once upon a time), and somehow stumbled upon this paper about how The Earthsea Cycle is an intertextual critique of The Lord of the Rings
Presumably since the paper limits itself only to LotR it doesn’t really mention any of the other similarities in lore between Middle Earth and Earthsea, but if you include The Silmarillion I think there are even more.
(One of these days, I’ll write this out in a more scholarly fashion, but today is not that day.)
The Old Speech/True Speech of Earthsea and the power of song in Middle Earth
The paper tries to demonstrate that magic works very differently in LotR versus in The Earthsea Cycle but if you look at The Silmarillion and consider singing as a form of speech, then I think there are more similarities than differences.
In Earthsea, magic operates through the magical language known as the Old Speech, in which words manipulate the very fabric of reality. Knowing the true name of an object or a person gives a mage power over that thing or person. (And it’s also the trick to the notion that dragons—who speak only the Old Speech—cannot lie. This is only because–in Karl Rovian fashion—even if what is uttered is currently not true, it becomes true upon utterance.
In a sense, this is how the Creation of Arda works. The song of the Ainur itself creates the reality of Middle Earth, and the discordant music sung by Melkor and his adherents also becomes wrought into Middle Earth as well.
The other instance where the power of singing is evident is when wielded by the heroine Lúthien Tinúviel, whose power is such that she made Morgoth fall asleep, and was able to move the heart of Mandos, master of doom.
But, certainly, plain speech in Middle Earth also has significant, perhaps even binding consequences. The Oath of Fëanor. The Doom of Mandos. The curses uttered by Glaurung upon the children of Húrin. Even the incantation written on the One Ring which, when uttered by Sauron, allowed him to gain power over the Three, the Seven, and the Nine. Knowledge of the potentially disastrous consequences of plain speech may be what made Elrond so reluctant to require the members of the Company of the Ring to swear oaths.
(And while this is more of a stretch, its also interesting how much magic in Middle Earth is bound up in weaving: Lúthien’s cloak of invisibility woven from her own hair, the “magical” cloaks that Galadriel gave to each member of the Company. “Text” is derived from Latin “texere” which means “to weave”. In a way, it’s quite fitting that text is still the primary medium of the network of networks that is the Internet, and that http is the most common protocol used on the Internet, being the defining characteristic of the World Wide Web.)
The Destruction of Solea and the Drowning of Númenor
The paper also distinguishes the fact that the entirety of LotR takes place on a continental landmass, and the Sea has very little to do with the tale, whereas in The Earthsea Cycle the Sea is the principle means of travel. Again, however, if you look at The Silmarillion the importance of the Sea is quite evident. The meme that proved to be the seed of The Silmarillion and the lore of Middle Earth was a random Anglo-Saxon verse concerning Earendel, whom JRRT transformed to Eärendil, and who is described as a mariner. The human kingdom of Númenor is an island that develops a vast navy that essentially colonizes the known world and in the end the Númenorians build a great armada to assail the Valar themselves. The Dúnedain are also known as Ship Kings. And, of course, the Noldorin exiles seek solace by sailing across the Great Sea to Valinor.
While the Flood Myth is almost practically a human universal, I still can’t help but see a parallel between the destruction of Solea in Earthsea and the drowning of Númenor in Arda. There aren’t any exact parallels between the Deed of Morred—in which the Enemy of Morred lusts after Queen Elfarran and, rebuffed, he vows to destroy her and everything she loves—and the Akallabêth, although in the earliest drafts, JRRT did envision a similar love triangle between Elentir (brother of Amandil and uncle of Elendil), Tar-Míriel, and Ar-Pharazôn. except that Elentir is the one who ends up in the Friend Zone. (In the final drafts, Ar-Pharazôn takes Tar-Míriel against her will.) Certainly, the death of Tar-Míriel, queen of Númenor seems to be echoed in the death of Elfarran.
The other story from JRRT that the Deed of Morred resembles is the Fall of Gondolin, in which Maeglin lusts after Idril (the mother of Eärendil), and, being rebuffed, betrays the kingdom to Morgoth in hopes of being able to take her against her will, although, certainly, the meme of a man obsessed with a woman who does not love him, who, then, in his rage, wages war and tries to take her against her will is an ancient one, being the subject of one of the oldest epic poems of Western civilization.
The Dry Lands in the West and the Undying Lands
In both Earthsea and Arda, the Westernmost regions are associated with immortality. Being denied eternal life, humans find themselves envying the elves who are allowed to travel West, and become obsessed with trying to escape death, and ultimately leads to the destruction of Númenor, when Ar-Pharazôn and his armada try to conquer Aman. Le Guin’s conception of the Dry Lands where your soul goes after you die at first seems to echo JRRT’s conception of the Halls of Mandos, and not even the dragons can reach those westernmost shores, but she ends up subverting this concept significantly in the last book of The Earthsea Cycle, The Other Wind. Whereas Eru divides the world so that humans can no longer reach the shores of Aman without divine providence, the Dry Lands were created by ancient mages in a failed attempt to attain true immortality. In this way, both JRRT and Le Guin tackle the notion that death is to be embraced, not avoided.
Ged’s loss of power and the non-healing wounds of Frodo
For some reason I didn’t catch this before, but the third book of the Earthsea Cycle, The Farthest Shore actually also echoes the end of LotR. Both are concerned with the concept of casting aside great power for the greater good—in order to save the world, Ged loses his magical ability and Frodo loses the One Ring. In a sense, Le Guin’s ending is the happier one, in which, despite his great loss, Ged is still able to find love, and purpose in his life, whereas Frodo never really overcomes his loss. (Also, Ged’s sacrifice and Frodo’s sacrifice both herald the return of the rightful king.)
I don’t know why I thought the domain name highpoweredmutant.com would still be available.
Also, social media has totally ruined my ability to write long posts.
It took me a really long time to learn this, but I finally realized that asking “what if?” unilaterally makes no sense. Because it doesn’t matter if it never crossed her mind.
I’ve been kind of obsessed with this song.
There’s something about it that makes me think of video game music, specifically Final Fantasy or anything Square Enix.
The phrase “red parade” totally makes me think of the Red Wedding from A Song of Ice and Fire.
I just finished reading Ken Liu’s short story ”The Waves” this morning about human interstellar travelers who are presented with, progressively, the choice of biological immortality, the choice of machine immortality and the Singularity, and the choice of transforming into pure energy life forms, interspersed with retellings of the creation myths of various cultures.
I had also recently read his short story “Arc” about a character who is given the choice of eternal life and who chooses against it.
The first thing that came to mind was that this was a science fictional account of Tolkien’s “choice of the Half-Elven”.
The last thing that came to mind was that, while there probably isn’t a God, there may very well be gods.
How is it that libertarians can talk at obnoxious length about how certain behaviors by private entities are totally justified and not immoral while the exact same behaviors performed or sanctioned by the state are violations of human rights, but when you try to explain how racism is bigotry plus state power and/or sanction and/or influence, and without the state reinforcement it’s not the same thing and definitely not the same level of oppression, they’re all “Huh?!?”
Thanks to my little sister, I became thoroughly immersed in the lore of Rainbow Brite (as well as She-Ra, and less so, My Little Pony) The one episode (two episodes, really) that really stuck to me was the pilot, which was/were far darker and more foreboding than the actual series was—basically explaining how Rainbowland came to be transformed from a devastated wasteland ruled by a malevolent force into an Edenic paradise.
So, somehow my id completely incorporated this into my brain, and mashing it up with a little Robotech, came up with this scenario a long, long time ago:
Murky Dismal, Lurky, Wisp (who would later be apotheosed to Rainbow Brite) and a raven-haired woman wearing a headset (whom my subconscious decided to name Cassandra) were a starship crew sent to the planet that would become Rainbowland with the task to secure a landing site so the corporation they worked for could exploit its bountiful natural resources (never mind the forbidding landscape.) Murky, Lurky, and Wisp are meant to be the ground team, with the woman with the headset coordinating movements from low planetary orbit. Because of a shuttle mishap or transporter accident, Wisp gets separated and loses communication with the mothership, and ends up having to wander the land trying to survive, while Murky and Lurky find themselves captured (although with communication to the mothership still intact) and taken to the King of Shadows who rules the entire godforsaken planet and has subjugated the native population of sprites and humans. It had always been Murky’s and Lurky’s plan to double-cross the two women and gain glory for securing the planet for themselves, but they find themselves have to swear obeisance to the the King of Shadows whom they also plan to double-cross.
I wondered for the longest time where the woman with the headset came from. I had assumed she must be a character from Robotech that my brain had interpolated in my dream, but the only series I was really familiar with was the part that was derived from the Macross Saga, and the only major character who sort of resembled the woman was Miriya Parina Sterling, but she never really wore the same headset I was imagining.
Well, thanks to Netflix, which recently just put all 85 episodes of Robotech up for streaming, I finally figured out the woman in my dream mashup is Nova Satori from the part of the series derived from Southern Cross (which I really was never into and barely watched). And perhaps the reason why I confused her with Miriya Parina Sterling is the fact that the same actress voiced both characters.
While rummaging through my cabinets looking for some Tylenol, I started thinking about the drug delivery mechanism they use in the movie “Looper”: eye drops.
I would think eye drops would have terrible absorption. The cornea has no vasculature whatsoever, and while the sclera does, absorption would still be horrible, what little that gets absorbed would be completely diluted by the circulating through the body and then getting metabolized by the liver, and very little of it would actually be available to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Unless what they’re dropping into their eyes aren’t conventional pharmaceuticals, and are actually computer-programmable nano particles that invade into the vitreous and project all sorts of weird visual stimuli. (I thought about virus delivery systems, too, but it would take way too long for the virions to get absorbed prior to infecting the optic nerve and latching into the brain. It would be a feasible way to alter consciousness long-term, but it doesn’t seem like it would get much traction as a club drug.)
It’s odd that I would even have to say it to myself, given how self-obvious it is, that life isn’t like a story. There are no happy endings, there are no plots that tie up nicely at the end. All of life is in media res, in eternity (unless some of the cosmological theoretical physicists are right, and everything comes to a freezing crawl in few trillion years, not with a bang, but a whimper.)
Life isn’t a story, except when you have to try to tell someone about your own. Except for maybe Taoists and Zen Buddhists, anyone who takes some interest in you wants to know—not necessarily how your life has actually gone—but how you’ve decided to narrate your own story arc. No one wants event-to-event reportage, with much of it not making any sense, most of it tangential, all of it sound and fury signifying—let’s be honest—not much of anything. They want you to edit out the boring parts, want you to pretend that you’re really third-person omniscient when the truth of it is that first-personal limited probably overstates how clear you understand anything.
I seriously doubt she is looking for someone with skill in such matters. There are some people who really do want that out of a human being—the actual physical mechanics, the verbal niceties, all the storybook accoutrements, or maybe just decent-sized genitalia—but I suspect she’d rather be interested in someone who actually felt something. And it’s been a while since I have. Because I’ve stopped trying to give a running account of my thought processes, it’s hard to pinpoint just exactly when this comfortable numbness had taken hold. Maybe it was just the inevitable chemical consequences of taking anti-depressants for years. Maybe it’s just too much alcohol. Maybe (and most likely) I don’t really know at all, and I’m just forced to confabulate something because the narrative impulse requires some sort of explanation. One thing I know, though. Anyway it shakes out, and whatever I come up with, I’m probably doomed. Oh, sure, we’re all doomed, but I’m talking redshirt-doomed. Because I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that I’m not really the main character in this story.
Let’s face it. In the wake of this presidential election, especially during and after the presidential debates, much ink has been spilled and many photons have been emitted in regard to how President Obama was being rude by interrupting Mitt Romney’s lies.
This reflexively sets my teeth on edge.
A lot of it is the fact that calling something rude is a really easy way to stifle unpopular speech (which I try to articulate further in this Friendfeed thread.)
It is also grating how outright lies told politely can garner more respect than truth that is spoken in a manner that is deemed rude.
Ultimately, it comes down to a form versus content argument.
Now, I can understand how rejecting something based entirely on form alone can save people a lot of time. Obviously, every person should be allowed to determine what they’re comfortable with, and what they’re not. But prejudging things based on form can create a strong bias against those, who, for whatever reason, cannot meet the requisite form you require. They may not have the education or cultural competence. They may not have the luxury of time. They most likely have no way of reading your mind as to exactly what form you would be actually receptive to.
My problem with using form alone to prejudge content is that (1) I have been brainwashed since youth by the hoary cliché that I should never judge a book by its cover and (2) such a strategy is prone to error precisely because of these aforementioned biases.
Now, most of the time, the result of such an error is nothing more than temporary hurt feelings. Although sometimes it may cause long-lasting enmities. (And these are the most common results of most Internet arguments, and we need not go further.) But outside of the Internet, and depending on how powerful the person doing the prejudging is, it may actually cause long-term or permanent harm, but even then, it’s usually not something immediately life-threatening. But in my line of work, this does not always hold true.
Sure, maybe someone is being rude to me simply because they’re an asshole. But it’s also possible that someone is being rude to me because they’re afraid that I won’t take them seriously and won’t actually listen to what they have to say, and if I don’t listen to them, they may literally die. Or it could be that they’re being rude to me because they have a subdural hematoma and their frontal lobes are starting to get ischemic, causing a disinhibition syndrome. In other words, it behooves me to go straight to the content, and try to ignore the form as best as I can, even if they are seriously pissing me off. Because the content will still tell me if the guy is really just an asshole, or whether my own personal hangups and cultural prejudices are what are making me perceive him as being rude. Or maybe he’ll stop being rude because he’ll recognize that I’m actually listening to him. Or maybe I’ll realize that he’s actually brain-injured and needs immediate medical attention. Sure, ignoring the form and focusing on the content takes a whole hell of a lot more time, and it can involve a whole hell of a lot more mental discomfort, but it will also keep me from making horrific mistakes because I didn’t listen.
In the end, though, no one should be able to force you to listen to speech you’re not comfortable with, and that’s your prerogative. (As I’m wont to say, free speech lets me say whatever I want, but it doesn’t force you to listen.) But there is no universal objective standard for rudeness. As for many other things, the privileged get to set that standard. The marginalized just have to live with the standard. And privileging form over content can actually cause much misery.
Is this a harbinger, or a precursor? Would she have saved me, if I had somehow threaded my way through fate? Or it’s just the chemicals, the neurotransmitters diffusing through my brain. Maybe this is just the way they all justify the emptiness.
I’ve got no one.
This is always the hour that can bring me to utter despair, after the sun disappears beneath the horizon, and I’m alone with nothing but my thoughts. But this too will pass. Anything is bearable if you wait long enough. One way or the other.
The sad confluence of events, starkly rendered
in terse words over the static of the airwaves
confronting you with your own mortality
you’ve got no control
there was nothing that could’ve stopped this
you don’t know the reasons
how could you possibly know the solutions?
how could you possibly know who to blame?
We try to pretend we have control
that this was 100% preventable
and maybe there’s really a chance in the future
but we can only talk about risk-reduction
about statistical significance, about random chance
trying to imagine that the averages and the distributions
correlate to some concrete mechanism
but maybe there is no concrete mechanism, no iron-logic culmination of events
except for the hand squeezing the trigger
and those unlucky to be standing at the wrong place at the wrong time