Sunday, 25 November 2012

Thomism And Mythology

"The background here is Catholic, but the religion does not conform to the theology of St Thomas Aquinas. Rather, it is the naive, half-pagan mythology of peasants and seafarers in the early fourteenth century..." (Poul Anderson, The Merman's Children, London, 1981), p. viii).

Right. In the Thomist religious instruction/indoctrination that I received, we were taught, in accordance with Platonic-Cartesian mind-body dualism, that intellect and will were faculties of an immaterial soul and were impossible for a merely material brain.

If we met a Martian or merman and found that such a being was capable of thought, speech and volition, then we would infer from this alone that he possessed a soul. A merman with intellect and will but without a soul would have been regarded as contradictory yet such as these are characters in The Merman's Children where a soul is necessary neither for humanity nor for rationality but is merely a supernatural extra. The mermen who, lacking a soul, cease to exist at death are in no worse a condition than a secularist human being believes himself to be.

Anti-Magic

If Poul Anderson had written his sequel to The Broken Sword, then one of the issues that it would have addressed was going to be the end of Faerie. This issue at least did get to be addressed in his The Merman's Children. John Keats wrote a similar passage in Lamia about science measuring the mystery out of the rainbow etc and Neil Gaiman has the mysterious places retreating before cartography. I disagree (another English poet wrote, "The angels keep their ancient places...") but let us first consider Anderson's account.

On page 148 of The Merman's Children (London, 1981), the magical is associated with the natural which is contrasted with both the supernatural and the artificial. Christianity exorcises magic; technology excludes it.

On the side of nature are:

time ordered by sun, moon or stars;
beauty, wonder, mystery, wilderness, awe, magic, hob-sprites, the halfworld, Faerie;
knighthood, a social convention, not a natural phenomenon, but one that had ever linked warriors to that mysterious "Otherworld" as against this measurable empirical world;
ships guided by "...birdflight, landmarks, a mariners sense of oneness with the billows."

Against this are:

time ordered by clocks - hard, artificial, "...devoid of mystery";
bombard, rocket, sapper, "...the doom of knighthood";
ax, plow, cities, artificial environments;
ships in yearly greater numbers guided by compass and astrolabe;
such ships rounding the earth so that Christian steeples rise above the last Faerie refuges;
learned men measuring the tracks of the stars more closely than the ancients, calculating the architecture of the universe;
spectacles, telescopes and microscopes;
men questioning God's ways and questioning Faerie out of the world.

There are three stages in this advance against magic:

Christianity (church bells and steeples);
Deism (Masonry, "...architecture of the universe...");
atheism (questioning God's ways).

It is a false dichotomy. Beauty, wonder, mystery and awe are with us still and expressed by writers of fantasy. The beauty of a rainbow is neither diminished nor devalued but enhanced by scientific explanation.

Someone said, in the light of modern science, that "clocks are clouds", i.e., that what looks mechanical is ultimately chaotic.

Ys And The Merman's Children

The Merman's Children (London, 1981) is set about a thousand years later than The King Of Ys. Rereading the former immediately after the latter, we notice:

(i) merpeople in both (not only does an Ysan princess become a mermaid but merfolk plural had been mentioned earlier in connection with the Irish sea god);

(ii) a sea god called Lir in Ys and a merpeople town called Liri in The Merman's Children;

(iii) that Ys ends with the exorcism of the mermaid whereas Children begins with the exorcism of Liri;

(iv) in the later work, not Ys but another submerged city whose inhabitants had worshipped a kraken;

(v) characters in both works hoping to cross the Atlantic to colonise a "new world";

(vi) in Ys, Pagan gods retreating before Christianity and, in Children, Pagan supernatural beings almost extinct;

(vii) the Kings of Ys and Liri converting to Christianity but the merman's son sailing "Westward, maybe to Vinland or beyond..." in order to retain his heathen freedom (p. 256).

(viii) St Martin, a character in Ys, referred to in Children - also appropriate references in the latter to Arthur and Ogier.

British Mythology


Shakespeare mentions Robin Hood in As You Like It. Why do Shakepeare's Histories or Comedies not include a Robin Hood play? That would have lifted the outlaw out of doggerel - "Rimes of Robin Hood" - into literature. He did make it into Ivanhoe as "Locksley." Thus, Hood is mentioned in a play by William Shakespeare and appears in a novel by Walter Scott.

Poul Anderson mentions King Arthur in The Boat Of A Million Years, in The Merman's Children and in the Notes to The Dog And The Wolf (co-written by Karen Anderson) but Anderson's heroic fantasies and historical fictions do not include a King Arthur novel because Anderson was busy writing about many other characters, whether legendary or invented.

However, the Andersons indirectly link Arthur, King of Britain, to (their version of ) Grallon, King of Ys. In their King of Ys tetralogy, the Romans withdraw from Britain. The Romano-British Gratillonius, no longer King of the now inundated city of Ys but still a popular leader (Dux/Duke) in Brittany, expels the Romans and organizes local defense against barbarian incursions. Meanwhile, the British defense effort generates the Arthurian legend. Thus, the blurb on my The King Of Ys rightly says, "Before King Arthur, there was the King of Ys..."

Arthur and Robin prefigured two later social policies -

Arthur: the Round Table = equality.
Robin: robbing from the rich to give to the poor = redistribution of wealth.                                                         

Saturday, 17 November 2012

From Legend To Fiction

Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys Tetralogy combines four legends:

(i) the fabulous city, Ys of the hundred towers, protected from the sea by a wall with a gate opened to admit ships but locked against storms and high tides;

(ii) nine Witch-Queens, the Gallicenae;

(iii) a king who wins and defends his crown in mortal combat;

(iv) Ferriers of the Dead, fishermen whose sacred duty is to conduct not bodies but souls across water to their judgement or next incarnation.

Thus, the hero of the Tetralogy kills and becomes the King of Ys, husband of nine Queens, while Ysan fishermen ferry the dead.

In the legend, Grallon or Gradlon, ruling Cornouaille from Quimper, which he had founded, built Ys for his daughter, Dahut or Ahes, whose lover, the Devil disguised as a young man, got her to steal the key from her father as a sign of her affection although he really wanted it to open the gate. In the Tetralogy, Gratillonius, name later shortened to "Grallon" or "Gradlon," ruling Ys, later founds Quimper for Ysan survivors after Dahut's lover, Niall of the Nine Hostages, had got her to steal the key with the same result. Ys gains history and substance by pre-existing Gratillonius for several centuries.

In both versions, Dahut's mother had died in childbirth although her identity is different. The Andersons improve the story.

What To Reread Next?

Poul Anderson's works of fiction set in the past can be:

heroic fantasy:
historical fantasy;
historical fiction;
historical science fiction.

Which of his novels would it be appropriate to reread now after finishing the long historical fantasy, The King Of Ys (co-written with Karen Anderson)? It would be possible to return to Anderson's works of fiction set in the future, and that will happen eventually, but for the time being it feels like a wrench to leave the past.

I have yet to read or even to acquire a copy of Mother Of Kings. I have recently reread and blogged about Anderson's other four Viking fantasy novels, as also his three novels of different genres set BC. Another three novels of different genres are set in the fourteenth century. These include The Merman's Children. The King Of Ys ends with the exorcism of a mermaid and somewhere near the beginning of The Merman's Children is the exorcism of a colony of merpeople. That seems like an appropriate progression.

The blurb on the attached cover image makes this novel sound like the sequel that Anderson said he might write to his first heroic fantasy, The Broken Sword. I do not think that this novel can be regarded as that but I will check on that point as I reread it.

Change But Not All At Once

In The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson, worldviews change but gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, as they do in real life. Nemeta, who had been the last worshiper of the Three of Ys, became a Christian but then Dahut, agent of the Three, killed Nemeta's husband, Evirion, as she had already killed another woman, Tera's, husband, Maeloch.

Knowing that this is forbidden to Christians but doing it anyway, Nemeta joins with Tera to invoke "'...the old Gods...Cernunnos, Epona, Teutatis...,'" curse the Three and summon "...the Old Folk from their dolmens." (pp. 486-487) Receiving intelligence on Dahut from Cernunnos, Nemeta relays it to Bishop Corentinus who, in turn, speaks to Dahut's father, Gratillonius.

Gratillonius, converted but not yet baptized, therefore not ringing any alarm bells in Dahut's preternatural sensory apparatus, is able to lure Dahut into the open where Corentinus, emerging from concealment, can exorcise her. Thus, an extraordinary heathen-baptised-unbaptised-episcopal alliance neutralizes the last expression of the power of the Three. (This is at last the end of the Three that I had been looking for when rereading the tetralogy.)

As I am sure any Bishop would tell us, they would not be able to do it that way these days.    

From Start To Finish

The action of Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy takes twenty five years. For seventeen of those years, Gratillonius is King of Ys. The fourth volume describes the remaining eight years. Gratillonius, remarried with two young children, is still active, now as the Duke of Armorica but unofficially described as "King."

Almost everything changes:

the sea destroys Ys;
civil war divides the Empire;
no usurper succeeds in restoring central control;
one usurper withdraws troops from Britannia;
Armorica, then neighboring regions, expel Imperials;
the Pagan Gods dwindle or withdraw;
the new God's power grows;
Paganism becomes persecuted witchcraft;
Gratillonius converts from Mithraism to Christianity;
Bishop Corentinus (St Corentin) exorcises the mermaid who had been the last vengeance of the Ysan Triad;
barbarians advance even into Italy;
feudal dependence of serfs on landholders or monasteries begins.

The world changed then as now.

The Three Are Within

All gods are within us so the Three of Ys must be there as well although they come to be reviled by most of the characters in Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy. No god has just one meaning. Therefore -

Lir:
the elements;
the sea from which life came;
pre-human life.

Belisama:
sexual motivation;
aspects of femaleness.

Taranis:
the male response;
control.

We contain:

effects of the elements;
pre-human motivations;
(at least attempted) control.

It makes sense to personify these aspects of life as gods. Our ancestors worshiped them. We begin to understand them. In Buddhist mythology, the Buddha is a teacher of gods and men. Distractions from meditation are natural, not demonic. The Goddess, not the Devil, is within.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Who To Call On?

In Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), the religious changes continue. The fisherman Catto:

living on Ysan territory, had invoked the Three of Ys;
but, embittered at them after the city had foundered, learned to call on Christ;
but then, thinking that God would have "'...no ear for the likes of us...,'" instead asked "holy Martinus," St Martin, to bring them in safe (p. 469);
then, in desperation, offered " '...the Powers whatever they want for our lives...' " (p. 469);
but, thinking that this might have been an unlucky invocation, fumbled for a better one;
then said " 'Christ ha' mercy...,' " while his companion Surach mouthed spells over a seal bone amulet, when it seemed that they would be wrecked (p. 469);
finally, thanked holy Martinus, although Surach muttered, " 'If 'twas him,' " when they seemed to be safe;
and avoided shelter that might be haunted;
but then encountered Dahut who still spoke for the Three.

The basic worldview has not changed. The One God is remote. Other Powers, helpful or hostile, are nearer. Catto had asked Martinus not to intercede with God - the Christian formula - but to intervene in events - the Pagan formula. Thus, he treats St Martin more like a god than a saint.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

In The Footsteps Of St Paul And The Goddess

OK. I will be busy tomorrow and the two week excursion to Malta starts early on the day after that so this should be the last post of November. The Dianic who convenes Lune Pagans Moot told me that there are plenty of Goddess sites on Malta so I will walk in Her footsteps as well as those of the saint after whom I am named.

I like a story of Paul from Acts. When he was preaching, someone asked, in effect, "What is this ignorant braggart shouting about?" Another guy listened and replied, "New gods." The name "Jesus" was discernible as was the feminine noun "Resurrection" which might have sounded like the name of a goddess, thus (maybe) "Jesus and the Living Goddess."

If history had gone differently, then our pantheons would have differed as well, as Poul Anderson points out a couple of times.

The End Of The Three Of Ys

We seem to have tracked these Gods to their last stand. Nemeta becomes a Christian.

"'And the Gods of Ys lost Their last worshipper,' said Gratillonius in a rush of savage glee." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 445)

Other former Ysans still invoke Them but perhaps this is not the same as worship? Their agent Dahut is still at large but will be exorcised at the end of the novel.

The transfigured Dahut's mode of consciousness is extraordinary:

she hears Niall's name on the wind, on gulls' wings, in "...the secret rivers of Ocean, and the whispering of dead men in the deeps" (p. 343);

she follows it and finds him;

she gives him good weather, guides him past rocks and wrecks his enemies' ships;

she leads the Scoti to attack Gratillonius' home when he is not there to defend it.

Indeed, the world is a better place when she has been exorcised.

Times Change

The Ysans had known that their Age of Brennilis was ending and that Dahut would initiate a new Age. They just did not know what form the new Age would take: an Age of Ys as legend.

We now live in times of change as they did at the end of the Roman Empire. Enlargement and beautification of a place of worship over generations:

"...had been an idea strange to Gratillonius; but the world was moving into a different age." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 359)

When Drusus says that the local defence force will never be a legion, Gratillonius replies:

" 'No...The time for that is past. We don't live in the same world any more.' " (p. 421)

- but he has the determination and foresight to lead his people into a new age and a different world.

He tells the procurator, " 'Times change, sir.' " (p. 425)

- to which the disgruntled procurator replies, " 'You're right, times do change.' " (p. 425)

Later, that same procurator says hopefully, " 'A new Constantinus, come from Britannia...A new age?' " (p. 428)

It is a new age but not one that he likes. This usurper called Constantine pulls the Romans out of Britain and Gratillonius, now popularly appointed Duke, expels them from Armorica.

The Dog And The Wolf

After the battle:

"Now and then an abandoned dog howled on a farmstead. It sounded much like a wolf." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 420)

And so it should:

"For between the Dog and the Wolf there is only the Law." (p. 504)

- which is the point of the volume's title.

When Gratillonius had fought the Scoti, his wife Verania, wanting to understand the difference between civilised and barbarian and knowing that it was not in the blood - we would say "genes" -, wrote a verse, really written by Karen Anderson, that lists possible differences, various bodily features, but ends by identifying only the Law.

When the Germani attacked:

"They were mostly big, fair men with long moustaches and braided hair." (p. 415)

- so these antagonists can be easily identified by their physical features and some members of Gratillonius' army might then identify barbarism with such features but this is a mistake, breeding xenophobia and racism.

Battle

Chapter XXI, section 2, of The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson presents an excellent description of a battle to repel barbarian invaders. Although I have read the entire King of Ys tetralogy two or three times, I have no memory of this battle and might as well be reading it for the first time. I will remember it better after blogging.

The former centurion, Gratillonius, leads a makeshift army of local "brotherhoods" whose standards include tree, fish, horse, Cross, evergreens and auroch horns. His own banner, black on gold with a red border, shows the Roman She-Wolf that fed the Founder of the City. His brother-in-law, Salomon, training for leadership, has a gold cross on a blue shield, a precursor of medieval chivalry.

Gratillonius addresses his men, a mixed bunch:

" 'In Christ's name, by Lug and Epona and Cernunnos and Hercules, we go!' " (p. 418)

"Hercules" had been a favourite oath of Gratillonius when he was a Mithraist.

He instructs Salomon as the enemy advance. They observe that the Germani lope forward with spaced standards, forming their customary wedge but lacking finer coordination. Their petty king has combined shrewdness and boldness with leadership skills to bring them this far.

Some horses, not trained for combat, bolt but Gratillonius' pedigree animal Favonius fights with hoofs and teeth and must be kept away from friends. The minimal military organisation that the former centurion has been able to impose holds. The enemy are slaughtered or flee.

Weird Picture

This is weird. See this picture? I have used it a couple of times to illustrate the theme of "witch" when posting about Nemeta, the daughter of the title character of Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy. When I look at the picture, I see to the woman's right a horse's head and face with the mouth in the cauldron, the eyes parallel to her neck and the ears parallel to the top of her head.

There is no such animal. Its head is smoke from the cauldron and light reflected in the smoke. One of its eyes is her shoulder and the other is the bottom of a tower protruding from the castle. One ear is the top of a tower and the other is a tree. When attention is focused on the left hand side of the picture, there is no horse but it is still there now in the corner of my eye.

Not Yet Fifty

Several years after the destruction of legendary Ys, Gratillonius, the former Roman Centurion from Britannia who had unexpectedly become King of that fabulous, Christ-cursed city, is not yet fifty years of age yet now leads a completely different life as a tribune in Armorica where he finds it necessary to organize a local defense force against barbarian attacks without any Imperial support and has remarried to a younger woman with whom he has started a family after losing most members of his extended Ysan family in the inundation of their city.

His reign there had lasted seventeen years, a considerable period although less than half of his life to date. He has outlived a lot of close friends and several sworn enemies but many of the issues in his career remain unresolved. "The King of Ys" is now merely an honorary title but it is how he is still known by many Ysan survivors.

One moral of this story is that none of us is any one thing. We can identify a man with the most prominent or spectacular part of his career but there is always more to him than that especially when we take into account unrealized potentialities, e.g., in this case that, had events gone differently, then "King Grallon," as he was known to the Ysans, would have led their colonization of North America.

Into The Dark

"God, how he missed Rufinus, and Maeloch, and Amreth, and more and more gone down before him into the dark!" (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 413)

Gratillonius is not thinking like a Christian yet. According to his belief, he and his co-religionists will go up and those who go down will not go to mere oblivion which is what "the dark" means here.

A curate in the South of Ireland said that people in his parish simultaneously entertained three mutually incompatible ideas of death:

what the Church teaches;
oblivion;
the pre-Christian idea that the dead persist in an underworld, resent the living and can return to harm us.

The pre-Christian idea was logical. In dreams, we seem to leave our bodies and to enter a realm where we can meet the dead. Death would be the mere absence of life, not a positive state.

Many people who do not question their received beliefs accept that there is a hereafter but do they really believe it? Are they as confident that they will still exist after death as they are that they will arrive in New York if they fly across the Atlantic? The mind seems to have different layers of belief. I like Alan Moore's description of religions as "higher fictions" - stories that people live inside of while still knowing that they are stories?

Wittgenstein questioned whether someone really believed in a Day of Judgement if he was not bothered about it. Is it so far in the future that it is thought of as more like a remote future event in the history of humanity rather than as a future experience of each individual? In a letter to a friend, Wittgenstein wrote, "I am afraid that the Devil will come to take me away." I thought, "This is Wittgenstein. He does not mean that literally." The very next sentence was "I mean this quite literally!"

Proto-Feudalism

Gratillonius, tribune of Confluentes, and Rullus, curial of Geoscribate, discuss military defence in the event that the Empire becomes unable to send reinforcements. Gratillonius proposes local lines of communication, including beacons and runners. My thought was that, since he is starting to talk about military organisation in Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire, he is preparing the way for feudalism.

Sure enough, Rullus replies that, when free men have been wiped out by exorbitant Imperial taxation, it will be:

" 'Better to seek some great landholder's protection. Not that I'd make a serf he'd want; but the monks at Turonum may take me in...' " (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 399)

Rullus has here summarized all the features of feudalism:

great landholders;
protection;
serfs;
monasteries as also landholders.

The landholder does not own the land in the modern sense. He can neither sell it nor develop it as he sees fit. Fortunately, cities and trade grew up alongside feudalism and eventually overthrew it.

I think that the Mafia ethos of protection, violence, religious observance and personal loyalty to individual leaders as against the rule of law is a modern survival of feudal social relationships.

In The High Crusade, Poul Anderson imagined European feudalism succeeding on an interstellar scale but this was a joke, I hope.

Life After Ys II

Pursued by a combination of malice and Christianity, Nemeta must stop practising witchcraft. Hiding in the woods, she no longer even chants to the Three because:

"That could have disturbed the inhabitants, who sacrificed to spirits of wood and water and to whom Ys was a tale of doom." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 394)

I am trying if possible to find the moment at which the Three cease to be worshiped and also to ascertain Who else is being worshiped then. There is Christ but there are also "...spirits of wood and water..."

So far - by page 394 of 504 -, neither Nemeta's father, former centurion, prefect, King and curial, now tribune, nor any other Roman authority knows that she has committed infanticide. That would be a more substantial charge against her and would also make it more difficult for Gratillonius to defend her. For the reader, she has become a more sympathetic character despite the horror of the child sacrifice.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Nemeta

After Dahut has taken Rufinus, Nemeta speaks plainly:

Dahut, not a demon in her shape, haunts Ys;
she drowned but the Three would not let her stay dead (thus, what is seen, heard and even felt is her transfigured body, not her ghost);
she is the vengeance of the Three on their city;
Nemeta knows this from dreams, wands, a pool and the smoke of a sacrificial fire;
Nemeta still worships the Three because they give her powers whereas Epona etc have become sprites or phantoms, Wotan and his warriors are aliens and Christ would deny her freedom;
Dahut now chiefly exists to avenge Niall;
having helped Rufinus, Nemeta must stay away from the sea and from any river that Dahut could swim up;
Nemeta lives in the woods with cats like the witch that she has become.

Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), pp. 356-358).

The Fate Of Niall II

In Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), the death, we would say "assassination," of Niall of the Nine Hostages is very sudden, easy and unexpected. Rufinus does not shoot the arrow but it was he that made it possible. However, Wikipedia confirms that, according to the sources, Eochaid killed Niall outside Ireland and, in at least one account, with an arrow.

Earlier in the Andersons' King of Ys tetralogy, Niall had forbidden that the destruction of Ys be listed among his achievements or indeed that his and Ys' names be in any way associated with one another. Thus, the Andersons are able to place Niall at the center of the story of Ys and yet can also account for his absence from that legend.

All of the Scotian forebodings about Niall are now fulfilled. En route to his death, he has an extraordinary dialogue with the mermaid Dahut. The words of the exchange are printed without inverted commas, showing that they are not spoken aloud. Yet they are many and quite specific.

"In a way unknown to him he heard: I have said that never will my love let go of you, nor will it ever, Niall, my Niall." (p. 343)

He replies in the same way. They converse and she confirms that she is the vengeance of the Gods. Why does she not hate him for his betrayal? Are her emotions locked at the point where they were before her death - if it was death? She says that to love him is her doom. She controls the elements in his favor, wishes him a long life and does not (seem to) know of his imminent death.

The Andersons endow Eochaid with the ability to invent imaginative curses:

" 'May the winds of winter toss his homeless soul for a thousand years.' " (p. 347)

There are others. In fact, Eochaid condemns Niall to be reborn and die as a stag, a salmon and a child and Uail laments Niall by comparing him to a stag, a salmon and a child.

A sound as of winter wind though in unmoving air is a keening at sea. The invasion fleet that had been led by Niall turns back so I am bound to say that his assassination was a good thing.

The Fate Of Niall

"They dared not open their hearts to each other about it. Thus nobody knew how widely and deeply the cold current ran." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 341)

If nobody knew it, then how can we be told about it? Maybe they realized afterwards? Maybe. However, this passage is narrated neither by nor from the point of view of anyone who was present. The omniscient narrator addresses the reader.

The preceding page had described actions by Niall and conversation between Uail and Cathual but not from the point of view of any of these three. We are told that Cathual "...winced..." and "...seemed unable to speak his meaning..." but this could have been observed by a third party. (p. 340) We do not perceive the conversation from Cathual's perspective.

The narrator informs us of Cathual that:

"He was not alone in his forebodings." (p. 340)

- then briefly summarizes months of bad omens to Scoti, including old wives and druids.

Earlier in the novel, a conversation between Gratillonius and his prospective son-in-law, Cadoc, seems to be recounted as if seen from outside by the omniscient narrator. However, one paragraph when "...they took each other's measure...," shifts between their points of view:

"Cadoc saw a burly man, plainly clad..." (p. 183)

"Gratillonius noticed features also darkened by the sun..." (p. 183)

The Andersons control point of view well and occasional shifts of viewpoint within a single passage are rare.

Seasons

As earlier in the King of Ys tetralogy, Poul and Karen Anderson locate the narrative of Volume Four against the passage of the seasons:

"This early in the year, the surrounding forest stood mostly bare to the blue overhead." (The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 24)

"Most fruit trees were done with blooming..." (p. 67)

"Beneath wolf-grey heaven, wrack flew. The north wind drove it, clamouring shrill, fanged with cold." (p. 84)

"That was a chilly year, but towards midsummer a spell of heat..." (p. 113)

"...the woods beyond the Odita blazed with autumn, red, russet, yellow under the earliest sun-rays." (p. 137)

"...harvest was ended, weather still mild..." (p. 145)

"The new year might be more hopeful than the last. Weather grew springlike well before the vernal equinox." (p. 153)

"Easter Eve was clear...leaves were bursting forth..." (p. 163)

"Trees groaned in the wind..." (p. 174)

"The feast of St Johannes had taken unto itself the ancient rites of Midsummer..." (p. 182)

"That summer was cruel..." (p. 192)

"...sun, warmth, and harvest odours. Bees buzzed..." (p. 205)

"Autumn blew grey from the north. Wind bit." (p. 207)

"Midwinter's early darkness had fallen..." (p. 210)

"It was the Birthday of Mithras." (p. 216)

"Spring cast green over the low land..." (p. 216)

"Summer weighed heavily on the land. Rainfall the day before..." (p. 230)

"Wind hooted and dashed rain across roof tiles." (p. 235)

"Winter heaven hung featureless grey." (p. 250)

" 'These endless winter nights drive everybody a bit crazy...' " (p. 254)

"...this was around midwinter." (p. 255)

"A light snow fell." (p. 260)

"Willows had leaved...Migratory birds were coming home." (p. 262)

"The first breath of autumn..." (p. 296)

"In the dark of the moon before winter solstice..." (p. 305)

"Springtime dusk." (p. 311)

"Harvest brought wholeness." (p. 328)

"Winter's rain brawled on the roof and sluiced down window glass." (p. 332)

"That year Beltene in Mide..." (p. 337)

"Clouds drifted low, heavy with rain." (p. 355)

"...their first, excellent harvest." (p. 358)

"On a day in autumn when the wind went loud and sharp..." (p. 362)

"The Black Months need not be dark." (p. 365)

"Spring returned..." (p. 372)

"Summer was then well along, a bleak one this year, chill rains and fleeting pale sunshine." (p. 378)

"Thunder rolled down the sky." (p. 380)

"The storm passed over." (p. 386)

"Autumn weather came..." (p. 391)

" 'Winter draws nigh.' " (p. 393)

"A sharp summer was followed by a hard winter." (p. 397)

"As the year spun down to solstice, cold deepened." (p. 401)

"Skies hung heavy, low above old snow and skeleton trees..." (p. 411)

"The sun drew nigh to midsummer. This was a beautiful year, as if to atone for the last." (p. 427)

"Summer brooded in majesty on ripening grain..." (p. 431)

"The long day of Armorican summer wore on." (p. 435)

"Rain came..." (p. 443)

"That year they kept the Feast of Lug in Armorica without their chiefs." (p. 448)

"Harvest was done..." (p. 451)

"The storks had long since departed..." (p. 472)

"Equinox almost a month behind them, nights drew in fast...Autumn colours in the woods..." (p. 484)

"The day before solstice hung still and murky." (p. 490)

"Snow began to fall..." (p. 495)

" 'Today is the Birthday of Mithras...it began that selfsame day, five-and twenty years ago. I stood on guard on the Wall...' " (p. 497)

"Midwinter nights fell early and dwelt late..." (p. 497)

Thus, by the end of the novel, we have not only witnessed great events among human beings but have also followed the circle of the year several times. 

Not Yet The End

Despite her claim, Nemeta was not the last worshiper of the Three. When Gratillonius mobilizes fishermen to fight the Scoti, one of them prays:

" 'Lir, I promise You the best of my every catch for a year...' " (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 271).

Such prayers will continue to be uttered at least until the last Ysan survivor who does not convert to Christianity dies but maybe no longer than that. Meanwhile, Nemeta, wanting to help her father, prays not to the Gods but to her dead mother and receives her mother's power to leave her human body and to fare forth in the form of an eagle owl. Dahut the mermaid and Nemeta the owl intervene in the battle between Gratillonius' irregular army and Niall's Scoti.

Meanwhile, another issue awaits resolution. As noted before, Poul Anderson wrote detective fiction and sometimes incorporated elements of such fiction into other works. Nemeta had sacrificed her son and, when the remains were found, had maliciously diverted suspicion onto Gratillonius' son-in-law. Gratillonius, charged by the Bishop to "'...search out the true guilty party...,' " has so far cleared his son-in-law but has not yet sought out any clues to the murderer's identity. (p. 254) Can we expect him to do this? Having read the book at least twice before, I do not remember. Instead, I find that many details are read with surprise as if for the first time. But this time I will indeed notice and remember what becomes of Nemeta.

Gratillonius The Hero

Far from being an anticlimax, Volume Four of Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), is crucial to the story of the tetralogy's title character. Never has Gratillonius been such a hero than after the loss of his city and kingship.

When his political opponents have paid arsonists to destroy his colony of wooden buildings, he quickly organises the rebuilding of the colony, this time as a stone-built city to be funded by retrieving stolen wealth that Scotian pirates had secreted on the Channel Islands. The (ex-)King of Ys remains a formidable opponent to the Scotian King Niall long after Niall had destroyed Ys. Gratillonius not only fights and wins battles but also rebuilds civilisation and we see him do it - leading, working, organising.

As expected, the fire in the colony destroys the notes for a history of Ys:

"...The Veil of Brennilis, the revenge of the Gods, whatever it is, casts its shadow yet, and always shall, until Ys is wholly forgotten. We'll never find time to write that chronicle, nor will anyone else. The story of Ys will die with those of us who lived the last days of it; and our city will glimmer away into legend." (p. 308)

- legend on which fictions will be based.

Life After Ys

In The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson, ex-king Gratillonius' daughter Nemeta clarifies a couple of otherwise ambiguous points.Yes, she does still worship the Three of Ys when working as a witch after the fall of Ys. Yes, Dahut's powers as a mermaid do derive from the Three, not from any other Power.

Further, Nemeta as owl is insubstantial, a mere Sending, whereas Dahut as mermaid has an intermediate status, solid and substantial enough to pull men under the sea but supernatural or spiritual enough to affect and harm Nemeta as owl.

Meanwhile, Gratillonius has almost imperceptibly been moving towards accepting Christianity. Earlier in the King of Ys tetralogy, when he instructed another character in the Mystery of Mithras, Gratillonius presented at face value implausible stories about a primordial past. Now he accepts without question supernatural stories about Christ, in particular that the latter could have called on a legion of angels... I suspect that, although Jesus, unlike Mithras, existed, he did not have access to any angelic legion.

However, the tetralogy is a historical fantasy in which supernatural events, like the owl, the mermaid and angelic messages, do occur. In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol Series, a time traveller says that he cannot in honesty argue for Christ but that series is historical science fiction, not historical fantasy.

For readers who cannot empathise with Gratillonius' conversion to Christianity, there is one character whose worldview is much closer to modern secularism. Gratillonius' handfast man, Rufinus, professes unbelief in any of the Gods but Gratillonius, unlike many of his co-religionists, retains the good sense to befriend and employ such an able man as Rufinus.

A History Of Ys

In Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), Runa proposes to write:

" 'A history of Ys, from the founding to the end.' " (p. 187)

- because:

" 'They should be remembered, those splendours and great deeds.' " (p. 187)

They should and I wish that the Andersons had been able to write them. We know that Runa's history will not be written because Ys remains forever behind a "Veil". That is one decree of its Gods that still abides, implemented by Niall who is under a gess or obligation from Dahut - which is one reason to believe that Dahut was transfigured by one of the Three, presumably Lir, not by Anyone else. The histories of Ys, including the account of the discovery of America, were lost when the library, with every other Ysan building, was overwhelmed. Runa has to interview survivors and also to write down memories from her education whenever they occur to her.

She urges Gratillonius that, although the subject is painful to him, his city, Queens, children and friends deserve their memorial so he should give her his oral history. Ironically, Bishop Corentinus might underwrite the project because:

" 'the fall of the proud city is a powerful moral lesson.' " (p. 187)

Thus, this could have been a Christian history of Pagan Ys. Runa receives Christian instruction.

When Gratillonius first hears of this project, he instantly recalls Verania's song beginning:

"I remember Ys, though I have never seen her -' " (p. 187)

- appropriately, since, despite Runa's efforts, Ys will in fact be remembered only in poetry, legend and fiction, not in historiography.

Meanwhile, other histories begin. The Roman bureaucrats plotting to undermine Gratillonius' remaining authority recall a Solar Commonwealth bureaucrat persecuting Nicholas van Rijn in Poul Anderson's future history. All too plausibly, political disagreement becomes personal animosity.

Gratillonius, who would have led the colonisation of America if Ys had endured, founds a colony of Ysan survivors and leads the rebuilding of civilisation. He dispatches his son-in-law to chart the interior of Armorica, quietly rebuilds defensive networks and works manually alongside others to construct a furnace. Instead of sinking into serfhood or slavery, he hopes that his people will become:

"Coppersmiths, goldsmiths, jewellers - masons, sculptors, glassworkers - weavers, dyers - merchants, shippers, seamen, fresh growth in ...trade...civilization, and the strength to ward it!" (p. 226)

Meanwhile, his daughter Nemeta, the self-proclaimed last worshiper of the Three, living alone in the wood, sets up in business as a witch paid to cure sick animals by chanting in an unknown tongue - Ysan? Does she invoke the Three or only the local " '...forest Gods...' " to Whom she refers? (p. 252) At least initially, we are not told which. Are we to understand that she founds medieval European witchcraft?

The Last Ysan Worshipper

Questions are answered as the text continues, in Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989). Nemeta, Gratillonius' daughter, self-proclaimed last worshiper of the Three of Ys, sacrifices her newly born son, the King's grandson, to the Three and curses the men who had raped her. And she must do this in secret because it breaks the Roman Christian law against infanticide.

This is indeed a dark ending but, unless something else significant happens before the end of the novel, it really does seem to be the conclusion of the vengeful story of the Ysan Triad.

There are two other items of unfinished business. Nemeta's curse includes this invocation to Lir:

" 'Let her who haunts the ruins torture their souls forever.' " (p. 181)

Having scavenged in the ruins of Ys, Nemeta knows that someone haunts them.

Secondly, former worshipers of the Three have gone over to either:

" '...the new God of the Romans or the doddering old Gods of the Gauls.' " (p. 181)

The latter include Tera who had invoked Cernunnos and Epona and threatened the wights while delivering Nemeta's son. There are always more than two alternatives. Life remains varied and diverse despite attempts to fit it into a single pattern.

Bribing Gods And Threatening Wights

(Illustration by Joanna Barnum.)

Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989) remains fascinating in its presentation of a period of religious change against a background of historical fantasy. The authors convey the joy of a Christian convert receiving baptism and putting away heathenry. Meanwhile, however, Tera continues to bargain with her Gods although she had said earlier that they are now mere ghosts of their former selves.

While delivering a child, she offers three bulls to Cernunnos and a walrus ivory figure for ritual use to Epona. But the real sign of changing times is the threat that she makes to elves, nymphs, ghosts and every wood or water dweller. She can lead " '...the Christian wizard...' " to their haunts which he would give to his saints. (p. 175)

Behind the scenes, the supernatural conflict is not only between the one new God and many old but also between saints and elves etc, or, at least, that is how it is bound to appear to someone like Tera who has seen Cernunnos. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The 480th Post

Here the blog becomes self-referential. The 480th post is about the 480th post. For reasons of numerical aesthetics, I prefer to end the month with a round number of posts on the blog. 480 will suffice since I am unlikely to reach 500. As stated previously, blog-wise, this month will end for me the day after the day after tomorrow. Then there will be an interval of two or more weeks. If a few more posts are written between now and this Friday, they can be saved and added later.

My pleasure in rereading Poul Anderson's works is significantly increased by being able to comment simultaneously and also in a medium that is instantly accessible to others. What is remarkable in Anderson's works is both the range of subject-matters and the wealth of details in each individual work. I hope that, during a period when there are no new posts, anyone who still views the blog will find that earlier posts are worth reading.

Monday, 12 November 2012

"Where Did The Gods Go?" III

Now this has to be the answer. Tera, who has seen Cernunnos three times - and had another vision although that might have been a hemp dream - , says:

" 'They're ghosts of what They were, the Gods are. For sure, my children will go to Christ. Else their age-mates'll mock them, and why should they suffer?' " (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 169)

When Christianity has passed a critical mass, social pressure ensures further conversions. But, meanwhile, Tera who has experienced Gods knows that They have become ghosts. She was an Ysan but an inlander calling on the Gods of the Gauls or the Old Folk, not on the Three. She befriends Maeloch who no longer serves the Three after what They did but still lights a torch for the dead at Hunter's Moon. These are the people who did not give in to the social pressure of Christianity.

My Wiccan neighbour has an altar with images of the Horned God and the Goddess. Cernunnos is back. 

Nostalgia For Ys

Nostalgia can be vicarious. We can feel it when reading the early chapters of an autobiography or even about a fictitious place like Susan Howatch's Starbridge with its Eternity Street, quiet Cathedral close, chapel in the wood and Bishop's lawn sloping down to the river.

Incredibly, in The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), Poul and Karen Anderson convey not only nostalgia but also even vicarious nostalgia for the destroyed city of Ys. Verania had never visited Ys but its King, Gratillonius, had become a familiar guest at her father's house. Verania's contact with Gratillonius enabled her to compose and sing a song beginning:

" 'I remember Ys, though I have never seen her...' " (p. 162)

("I remember (fill in the blank)" is a powerful opening. The evocative "I Remember Babylon", both title and concluding phrase of a short story by Arthur C Clarke, sounds as if it refers to reincarnation but then means something else.)

Verania:

imagines that she had walked through Ysan streets as a ghost;
has dreamed of living there;
mourns for Ys although she was not there;
addresses " '...you...' ", Gratillonius, who does remember Ys;
had heard " '...many ancient tales of splendid Ys...' " (p. 162);
refers to the city's Tyrian and Punic heritage;
describes Ys as " '...hundred-towered...legend-haunting...Ys the golden...the wondrous place where all once yearned to be' " (p. 163);
says that she will continue to remember Ys and wonders if " '...our ghosts...' " will return there " '...and never leave?' " (p. 163)

Thus, she speaks for the readers who remember Ys from three previous volumes.

In The Footsteps Of St Paul III

In Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), Gratillonius, no longer Mithraist but not yet Christian, attends the episcopal consecration of his colleague and friend, Corentinus. During a reading from the New Testament:

"Gratillonius thought Martinus must have chosen the shipwreck of Paulus in compliment to old sailor Corentinus." (p. 122)

All the characters mentioned here have either historical or at least legendary status:

Martinus is St Martin of Tours;
Paulus is St Paul;
Corentinus is St Corentin;
Gratillonius is the King Grallon or Gradlon of the legend of Ys.

We already knew from previous volumes in the series that the Ysans had softened Gratillonius' name to "Grallon." It is now established that the Gauls among whom the survivors of drowned Ys settle soften it instead to "Gradlon." (p. 149) Thus, even a contradiction in the legend is explained. The transformation of an invented fictitious character, the Romano-Briton Gaius Valerius Gratillonius, into an inherited legendary figure, Grallon/Gradlon, is complete. He is historically contextualized by his associations with Martinus, Corentinus, Maximus, Niall etc.

"Where Did The Gods Go?" II

In the Pagan world view, there is no difference in meaning between the questions "What gods are worshiped in this country?" and "What gods exist in this country?" (An ambiguous intermediate form of the question would be "What are the gods of this country?") So maybe what happens to gods that are no longer worshiped is simply a matter of what is believed or imagined to happen to them? Different things are imagined so maybe a majority, consensus or composite view prevails?

One character in Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989) has an active imagination:

"Evirion came to think that it was as if the Gods mocked him: the Three of Ys, Taranis the Thunderer, Belisama the All-Mother, Lir of the Deeps, dethroned, homeless, become trolls. He denied it with every force he could summon, but it gnawed past his defences like the sea undermining the foundations of the city. If not They, then Someone laired here and hated everything human." (pp. 128-129)

The thought of the Three as trolls overcomes his resistance to it as though the thought reflected an external reality. We know that Dahut transformed into a siren or mermaid lairs nearby. She had reason, as she saw it, for hatred but surely not of "everything human"? Why does she lure sailors to their deaths? Is she controlled by someone or something hostile? We were definitely told that someone had awaited her when she underwent a process that should have ended simply in her death.

If all national pantheons had an equal ontological status, then the world would be full of gods, as Thales said. Some works of fiction, eg, The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson and The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, accept this premise. The Romans cleverly acknowledged the reality of foreign gods but avoided divine overload by identifying Zeus and Thor with Jupiter, Ares with Mars etc. In the Andersons' King of Ys tetralogy, a Latin inscription identifies Belisama, Taranis and Lir with Venus, Jupiter and Neptunus but Gratillonius tells his men that such identifications are not always accurate.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Where Did The Gods Go?

If Gods existed but stopped either communicating or responding, then our environment would have changed from Pagan polytheist to secular atheist unless meanwhile we had acknowledged a new God Whose power and influence had been increasing.

Whether the Gods have ceased to respond is an experimental question. The vestal Nemeta tries to invoke them but is unsure of the result:

"Something stirred in the forest, unless it was a trick of the wearily climbing moon." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 46)

Gods used to manifest through forests and moonlight but maybe now there is only a forest and the moon?

Again, this time in a dream:

" 'I know not...Did I see Him, antlered and male, two snakes in his grasp? Were there thunders? I woke cold...' " (pp. 47-58)

Is this a vision of the God or has it now become just a dream with mythological content? And has the nymph fled or is she dead?

Meanwhile, something else is happening. The older, wiser vestal Runa warns Nemeta to be discrete with her invocations because the political balance of power has shifted in favour of the Christians. Here we see the beginning of the Dark Ages and the seeds of the Middle Ages, centuries of enforced uniformity and oppression from which the world has thankfully emerged. Poul Anderson's The Shield Of Time shows the medieval church-state conflict ending indecisively, thus allowing freedom and science instead of either theocracy or autocracy.

Who destroyed Ys? Niall when he opened the sea gates. Lir when he let the sea pour in through the opened gates. Could Lir have held the sea back when the gates had been opened? No, but the Gods, including Lir, had marked Dahut as their next chosen Queen, knowing what must result. Rejected, as she saw it, by her father, Dahut would join forces with Niall whose own Gods had told him to seek the "Queen without a King."

The sign stops appearing on vestals when Ys has been destroyed. The Gods have at least withdrawn if not died.

Niall's morality is childish. He had intended no harm to Ys so Ysans should not have harmed him? He had intended to harm others in Armorica and Ys was part of the Armorican defence system. It is he who is responsible for the loss of his invasion fleet and his eldest son.

What Becomes Of Dahut?

Having destroyed Ys, Niall also destroys its ruins. He does not want the city to be rebuilt or even remembered. This is comprehensible if reprehensible. But something else is less comprehensible.

Where Ys had been, a siren swims and sings. Niall sees a white body and hears a song that "...was in and of the wind and the waves but more than they, from somewhere beyond." (Poul and Karen Anderson, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), p. 35)

Here again, the Andersons convey Pagan religious experience: someone speaks, or in this case sings, in and through nature - the wind and waves. Perhaps a walker on the shore who was less attuned to such experience would hear the waves but not the song? Niall had earlier summoned a dead witch-queen and thus "...let the Otherworld into his life..." (p. 36)

The singer claims to be vengeance. Whose? We have already seen Niall's vengeance against Ys, the Ysan Gods' vengeance against King Gratillonius and Dahut's vengeance against Gratillonius. Does Dahut now seek vengeance for her betrayal by Niall? No, she claims still to love him and that this love is stronger than death. So is that what has brought her back? By the power of her love, she lays a gess, obligation, on Niall that he destroy the Ysan ruins. In fact, it is this vision, as he calls it, that motivates him to organise the systematic destruction of every remaining physical trace of the ruined city.

He tells his men that he does not want Ys to be rebuilt or remembered but does not mention that there is now also a gess on him to this effect. Does Dahut inflict on Ys her own vengeance, that of the Gods or of both? Such things happen in legendary stories even if the motivations of supernatural beings are not always clear.

Rhymes And Recriminations

We have got used to looking out for verse concealed in Poul Anderson's prose. As noted in an earlier post, in Poul and Karen Anderson's Dahut (London, 1989), Chapter VIII, section 2, what looks like prose turns out to be several stanzas with a regular rhyming scheme.

Again, on page 450, Gratillonius' prayer can be re-punctuated:

"Mithras, God of the Midnight, You have had our sacrifice.
"Here is my spirit before You, my heart beneath Your eyes.
"I call, who followed Your eagles since ever my life began:
"Mithras, also a soldier, keep now faith with Your man!"

In this milieu, Gods Who break faith with Their worshipers may be reviled. In the sequel to Dahut, The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), an officer has to tell three of his men to stop doing this as if they were merely being disrespectful to absent human superiors (p. 27).

Gratillonius says, "...the Gods of Ys are dead...They brought Their city down on Themselves..." (pp. 30-31).

Have they died or merely ceased to interact with mankind? Have they instead withdrawn to another realm? Or, indeed, is death itself simply another realm? We are given some information about the differing post-mortem fates of three of the human characters, Dahilis, Budic and Dahut, but what becomes of departed Gods remains a greater mystery.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Linking Volumes


One way to link sequel back to prequel is to make their events overlap. Two early chapters in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol novel, The Shield Of Time, retroactively describe interludes between events in what should have been the concluding two stories of his omnibus collection, Time Patrol. (I say "should have been" because the publishers have not rearranged the stories into an appropriate reading order.)

Chapter I, section 1, of Poul and Karen Anderson's The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989) re-presents an event already described near the end of the previous volume Dahut (London, 1989) but from an alternative perspective. In Dahut, we read how Gratillonius' fingers momentarily "...forgot..." his daughter Dahut who was then torn from his grasp and swept away by the current. (pp. 462-463)

In Dog, we read what Dahut saw and felt as her father's hand grasped her arm but then:

"The fingers slackened. A surge tore her from them." (p. 23)

We then accompany Dahut on a strange journey. Swept along by the sea, she breathes when above the surface and holds her breath when below it. Back on the surface after sinking deep, she swims towards floating timber but a wave sends it from her. Among the skerries, billows strike her and:

"...she did not know the last of them for what it was." (p. 24)

I don't either. This is where something supernatural starts to happen. In the dark, she sinks, breathes sea, experiences pain but only remotely and briefly, descends through an endless keening whiteness and enters some other place or space, "...somewhere outside all bounds...," where she is awaited and transfigured. (p. 24)

This is all a bit too eerie and mysterious for my liking. I would like to know whether the "Someone..." who awaited Dahut is demonic as Christians believe or neutral as Pagans would have believed (p. 24).

The God Of Small Points

Hail the God of a few small points!

(i) "Wind struck him with blades that sang." (Poul and Karen Anderson, Dahut (London, 1989), p. 438)

Should this read, "...blades that stang"?

(ii) Something was puzzling me about the words "sea" and "Ys." Is each the phonetic reversal of the other?

(iii) It is unfortunate that it all has to end but the Andersons gave us three long volumes about Ys before it was destroyed. In Heaven, if there were such a place, I would like to read endless continuations of several Poul Anderson series to include a Kings Of Ys History recounting all the events of Gratillonius' seventeen year reign, all previous reigns and Caesar's visit to Ys.

(iv) Gratillonius' withdrawal from the service of Mithras, "...the God Who in the end denied him...," dates from the drowning of Ys (p. 467). I think that this is a bit hard on Mithras. He had intervened in a battle against the Franks and could hardly be expected to save Ys when its Gods had decided to destroy it. Even Christ, now becoming the most powerful God, does not send an angel to warn of impending danger until it has become too late to prevent the danger from occurring. Thus, to save Ys, Mithras would have had to oppose Belisama, Taranis, Lir and Christ.

(v) The destruction of Ys ends the Pact with its Gods. Did the destruction of Jerusalem end the Pact with its God? Some would have said so but Isaiah prophesied a new covenant with individuals. Did Jesus' execution disprove his Messiahship? Maybe, but the execution was interpreted as a sacrifice.

The Doom Of Ys

When a city is inundated, all of its inhabitants are simultaneously drowned, killed or otherwise affected in diverse ways. In order to present a brief and unified account of such an event, Poul and Karen Anderson, in Dahut (London, 1989), give the Christian minister to Ys, Corentinus, the ability to endow the Ysan king, Gratillonius, with clairvoyance by touching him with his staff.

Gratillonius's spirit, rising like a heron through winds of space and time, sees:

the sea covering the isle of vigil, destroying the house and turret of the Witch-Queens and killing Queen Bodilis as she tells her Gods that They will be judged for Their actions;
Queen Forsquilis entering the Mithraeum in the Raven Tower and calling on its God before stabbing herself as the sea breaks in, destroying the tower;
Gratillonius' deputy and his family drowned in their home;
another legionary and his family drowned trying to reach higher ground;
the sea destroying the library and those who have taken refuge in it;
Queen Innilis trampled to death in the stampede to escape from the flooding library;
Queen Vindilis climbing onto a stone lion but the water going above her head;
Soren Cartigi, Speaker for the God Taranis, saying calmly, " 'Ocean has entered...The Gods have ended the Pact...' " before being hit in the neck by a shard of glass from a toppling tower (pp. 458-459);
Queen Lanarvilis ground into a barricade;
Queen Maldunilis running, falling, floating, going under;
Queen Guilvilis, too crippled to flee, trying the forgive the Gods as the sea comes in;
Guilvilis' daughter, Valeria, and her companions trapped by the flood beneath the wall of Ys;
the palace collapsing on Queen Tambilis and an Ysan naval officer;
most of the current and former Kings' daughters engulfed;
the Lodge and the Wood of the King burning while his enemy escapes;
houses falling like sandcastles;
ramparts breaking asunder.

Returning to his body, he sees Princess Dahut torn from his grasp. His seventeen years as King have ended. Eight of his Nine Queens have died.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Niall And Ys

Unusually in a modern novel, the Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages delivers a soliloquy over the sleeping Dahut before he sets off to destroy Ys. Shakespearean dramatis personae soliloquise because that is the only way that the audience can know what they are thinking but a novelist usually reports a viewpoint character's thoughts directly to the reader.

Niall, although this passage is narrated from his point of view, speaks quietly in his own language:

" 'It's sad I am to be leaving you, my darling...' " (Poul and Karen Anderson, Dahut (London, 1989), p. 436)

- and continues, quietly, for over a page, ending with:

" 'Farewell, Dahut.' " (p. 438)

(She will not fare well when she drowns with her fellow Ysans.) Of course, he wants neither to wake her nor to be understood if she did awake but his speech informs the reader. It identifies Dahut as her Gods' instrument of Niall's vengeance on Ys.

Now we understand the storms that have continued for hundreds of pages. With wind and waves, Lir will quickly overwhelm Ys when Niall opens the sea gate with the key stolen for him by Dahut when he had lied about why he needed it.

Ys, no longer isolated, is open to new ideas, has both a Mithraeum and a church within its walls and has a King who has inwardly foresworn its Gods, having openly defied them on several occasions. As King Gratillonius himself had said earlier, this conflict is ultimately between the Gods so it is Their responsibility to resolve it.

A new Age is dawning, with Christianity and other developments beyond that, but it is not an Age that the Three can control. They withdraw. Their time is passed.

Appreciating Details

Rereading and blogging involves noticing, appreciating and remembering many details forgotten from two or three previous readings.

(i) A lineage of the Gods: Tiamat, the pre-cosmic Chaos from Babylonian mythology, was the mother of the inhuman, squid- or kraken-like sea God, Lir, Who was the father of the anthropomorphic sea God, Mananaan mac Lir, Who in turn remains active several centuries later in two of Poul Anderson's Viking novels.

(ii) Elven Gardens: This exotically named location in Ys is mentioned several times but the reader has probably forgotten the early description of enclosed paths, topiaries, statues and a stairway to a Temple.

(iii) Ys: The characters refer to the city of Ys as beautiful and a wonder of the world but again we might not remember the occasional descriptions of its wall, friezes and gleaming, colored towers.

(iv) Ysan inns: Five are mentioned and three are described, providing comfortable contexts for character interactions and conversations. They differ, depending on the economic circumstances or life styles of various Ysans and visitors.

(v) Gratillonius' challengers: Long periods can pass without a challenge but one can come at any time. The identities and motivations of the six challengers are an important part of the story.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Challengers Of Gratillonius

In Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys Tetralogy, whoever challenges and kills the King of Ys becomes the King of Ys, who:

must perform the sacral roles of high priest and Incarnation of the Ysan God Taranis;

must marry the Nine Witch-Queens of Ys, who are also high priestesses of the Ysan Goddess Belisama;

may lead Ys politically but for this needs support in the Council.

King Gratillonius defeats six challengers:

Hornach, a pathetic wretch who had hoped to live high as the challenger in the King's absence and to escape before he returned;
Rufinus, whom Gratillonius refuses to kill;
Chramn, a Frank;
Tommaltach, a Scotian Mithraist;
Carsa, a Christian Gallo-Roman;
Budic, a Christian soldier.

Gratillonius is the last King of Ys because the city is destroyed during his reign. 

Goths And Gods

In Poul and Karen Anderson's Dahut (London, 1989), Stilicho, de facto dictator of the Western Roman Empire, must mobilise against Alaric, the Visigothic King (p. 362). This sounds familiar to readers of Poul Anderson's Time Patrol Series. A few decades earlier, in "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth," Athanaric was king of the West Goths or Visigoths and Ermanaric succeeded his father Geberic as king of the East Goths or Ostrogoths. Athanaric hated Christ whereas Ermanaric cared nothing about any gods.

However, these Goths inhabit different fictional timelines. Both of the timelines are in most of their historical details indistinguishable from ours but the Alaric of Dahut inhabits a history where gods were real and are becoming mythical whereas the Athanaric and Ermanaric of the Time Patrol Series inhabit a history where gods were mythical and are sometimes identified with time travellers. Magic works in Dahut whereas futuristic technology works for the Time Patrol.

In Dahut, we read a conversation between Corentinus, Christian minister to Ys, and Forsquilis, one of the Nine Witch-Queens of Ys. The premises of this historical fantasy novel include the Pagan idea that all the gods which various people worship exist and that the balance of power between them can change. Thus, Christ gains in power as the Olympians become myths, the Ysan Triad withdraw and Mithras, after intervening in one Ysan-Frankish battle, retreats.

Corentinus describes a revelatory dream. Either its content is symbolic or he sees a region of the hereafter where one of his flock who transgressed and was killed "...wandered naked through an endless dark...," calling his lover's name in a bitter cold wind. (p. 377) Not an Inferno then. That doesn't sound quite so bad, wandering in cold and darkness  - for how long? Until what, rebirth, extinction or entry to another realm? Nothing is forever.

Weather And Seasons

As events in Ys approach a climax, weather conditions and seasonal changes seem to sympathise.

"Rain lashed from the west..." (p. 269)

"Weather cleared. The morning sun stood low...nearly heatless." (p. 272)

"The afternoon grew mild." (p. 275)

"Clouds drove low on a wind that howled..." (p. 278)

"Weather turned clear and cold." (p. 295)

"Wind woke anew..." (p. 300)

"The winter sun was barely aloft." (p. 305)

"Rain and sleet scourged the streets." (p. 307)

"...Gratillonius stood before the winter Council..." (p. 309)

"Snow fell in small dry flakes." (p. 328)

"Weather turned bitterly cold and clear." (p. 333)

"Snow returned, this time on a wind from the sea..." (p. 342)

"During the night snowfall ceased and freezing weather moved in." (p. 347)

"The cold spell ended. Snow began to melt." (p. 366)

"Rain mingled with sleet dashed down the streets of Ys. Wind clamoured, Ocean roared. This had become a stormy year." (p. 368)

"Clouds raced on a wild wind." (p. 380)

"Wind blustered outside." (p. 387)

"The wind yowled." (p. 390)

"A gale from the west drove an onslaught of rain before it." (p. 392)

" 'The weather...It's been vile throughout, this year.' " (p. 394)

"Suddenly came a quiet spell among the storms ramping over Armorica at that winter's close." (p. 394)

"The night...was the first clear one of their homeward journey." (p. 406)

"Foul weather returned and worsened. Wind came..." (p. 410)

"Ocean raged...Wind was an elemental force...The blast had been strengthening throughout this day...The Wood of the King surged under the storm..." (p. 413)

"If the storm got much worse, they would have been in danger." (p. 416)

"Still the wind mounted. By dawn it was like none that chronicles remembered. And still it mounted." (p. 422)

"The wind wuthered, the sea thundered." (p. 425)

"By sunset the wind had indeed lessened. It was still such as few could travel in..." (p. 428)

"The wind keened. The sea rumbled." (p. 432)

Also, a Witch-Queen learns by clairvoyance that above the clouds there is an unpredicted lunar eclipse. And shortly afterwards there is a comet. All this parallels the spiritual storms experienced by the characters and expresses the turmoil of their Gods.

Epona's Horse

When I stated in a previous post that the Irish King Niall stayed at the inn called Epona's Horse, I was in fact rereading a passage about an earlier visitor to Ys, the Northman Gunnung Ivarsson. However, Niall, on his arrival, does take a room at Epona's Horse so I had not gone far wrong.

Epona's Horse is frequented by "...moderately prosperous foreigners and Ysan commoners." (Poul and Karen Anderson, Dahut (London, 1989), p. 368). The tile floor of the taproom is warmed by a hypocaust. Tallow candles and blubber lamps light murals of both real and fabulous animals. Owned and managed by a large family, the inn serves good food and a wide choice of drinks whereas the Fish Tail inn that we encountered earlier was limited to mead and indifferent wine. Niall and the fisher captain Maeloch, sharing ale, bread and cheese, are too engrossed in conversation to heed a nearby courtesan.

By describing not just one but several inns catering to various classes of clients with different income levels, the authors make Ys a substantial setting for the political, psychological and even theological dramas that are the plot of the novel. By drawing out Maeloch, who is an acquaintance of the disaffected Queen Dahut, Niall, a mortal enemy of Ys, begins to learn how he can manipulate Dahut as she has already manipulated three unsuccessful challengers to her father's Kingship. Thus, while the reader enjoys reading about a conversational interlude in the "...snug cave..." of the taproom, the plot is at the same time significantly advanced. (p. 368)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

More Details About Ys


We know of an unnamed inn in the Fish Tail slum and the more respectable Green Whale. Suddenly, we learn of three more:

" '...the Swan is the most respectable mariners' inn...' " but foreigners usually stay in " '...the Crossed Anchors or Epona's Horse.' " (Poul and Karen Anderson, Dahut (London, 1989), p. 324).

Niall, the nemesis of Ys, stays at "...the second place...," which would be Epona's Horse, where Dahut, the instrument of Ysan divine vengeance, seeks him out.

Meanwhile, we have received another prefigurement concerning Dahut. Gratillonius wonders what had possessed the two young men who had unsuccessfully challenged him for the Kingship. Unable to believe any evil of Dahut, he does not realize that he should ask who had possessed them. Corentinus, the Christian minister, believes that Dahut herself is possessed and indeed her sudden malevolence gives that impression.

Further, when dissembling to her father, Gratillonius, she clutches his hands and:

"The touch burned." (p. 311)

- like her sandcastle and the description of her rising from bed like a mermaid, here is another prefiguring symbol.

Addendum, 7 Nov '12: I have got something wrong here. All will be made clear either in a later post or in comments on this one. 

Prefigurements II

I have found another example. In Poul and Karen Anderson's Dahut (London, 1989):

"Dahut raised herself to a sitting position, rising from the blankets like a mermaid from the sea." (p. 282)

I illustrated a previous post (also here) with a picture of the legendary Dahut as a mermaid. Is that what she becomes at the end of The King Of Ys Tetralogy? She does not become half fish but "merpeople," meaning simply "sea people," can be aquatic bipeds, as in another historical fantasy by Poul Anderson.

The Anderson's "...synopsis of the basic medieval story..." has Dahut becoming "...a siren, haunting the coast, luring sailors to shipwreck among the many rocks..." (The Dog And The Wolf (London, 1989), pp. 529-530). As far as I remember, not having reread that far yet, that is what she does in The Dog And The Wolf, whereas the half-fish mermaids were supposed, I think, to pull individual sailors under the water.

In any case, the Andersons' Dahut becomes something that lives in the sea and that is prefigured when, in the previous volume, she rises from her lover's bed like a mermaid.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Ontological Status Of Ys


Like Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix, the inn between the worlds, Poul and Karen Anderson's city of Ys seems to have an uncertain ontological status. When Gratillonius, who will become the last King of Ys, first sees the city, he cannot believe that it is inhabited by human beings rather than by elves or Gods.

Later, when he has been its King for sixteen years:

"Ys gleamed, somehow not quite real - too lovely?" (Dahut (London, 1989), p. 183)

"...not quite real..." Impossibly beautiful?

This uncertainty of the relationship between Ys and reality increases when the city is destroyed and its existence is past:

"Ys was gone.
"Had Ys ever been?" (pp. 466-467)

To us, Ys is a legend and the setting of a work of fiction. To Gratillonius, it has become not only a memory but also one that he can already question and doubt. Does this approach qualify the text as "metafiction," a fictional text acknowledging its fictional status? Whether or not this term is applicable, the Andersons construct a smooth transition from a narrative about the last King of Ys to one set in the history that we recognize where a myth like Ys of the hundred towers is too good to be true.