Friday, September 28, 2012

Pursuing a Theme: My Review of Simon Gough's The White Goddess

       A couple of days ago, I posted a review of The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough on my Ruminations blog.  I mentioned that the subject matched up well with my intentions for this present blog -- that is, to comment on the subject of myth in literature.  The review was getting pretty long and so I left out a couple of things.  I would like to remark on those here and also to talk a little about Graves' poetry and how reading Simon Gough's book has impacted my perception of it, and also touch briefly on Dylan Thomas.

       First, my omissions from the review.  I didn't talk about the role of Robert Graves' son Juan, who plays such a noticeable part in the first section of the book.  He is a bit of a Wild Child -- a mischievous faun who doesn't take to the constraints of civilization. He helps Simon lose a lot of his civilized inhibitions.  And yet when we see him again, at the age of perhaps 16, he has become an introverted youth who plays hardly any part in the story.  One can only assume that going off to school has crushed his spirit.  A couple of remarks are made about how he, too, is in love with Margot and about how he is a disappointment to his father, but that's as far as it goes.  I was a bit disappointed, too.  However, this isn't Juan's story and since it's based on actual events, the author can't change some realities.  Juan simply had no role to play in the latter two-thirds of the book.
       It's a greater oversight for me to have omitted a discussion of Beryl, Robert Graves' wife.  She is the steadying influence, the centerpost of the household, which would fall apart without her.  She is the Wise Woman, herself an aspect of the Goddess -- the Mother or Earth Goddess -- Demeter -- who is eternal.  Graves' relationship with her is enigmatic -- she can't be his muse, yet he can father children on her and he couldn't live without her.  By 1989 the King-God may have yielded to the new king and left the scene, but Beryl still remains.  What endures in Paradise is the Mother, not the Muse -- a more profound dimension  of the female principle, but not one who is inspirational for poets, it seems.

       Now to the subject of poetry.  At one point in the book this exchange takes place:

       "Beryl looked away, shaking her head, not at me but at her thoughts.  'What makes it even worse is that we're in October now,' she sighed.
       " 'October?'
       " 'It's the worst month for poets -- for true poets, at least! October's the month of death, of human sacrifice -- ' She suddenly grinned at my expression.  'It doesn't matter what you or I think, it's what Robert believes -- that's the thing.' "

       I was struck by this because, in picking the chapter epigraphs for my book The Termite Queen, I used two poems related to October: "Especially When the October Wind" by Dylan Thomas, and Robert Graves' own "Intercession in Late October."

       "Especially When the October Wind" is a 32-line poem on the dual themes of the urgency of poetry and death, a sinewy weave of imagery of words, weather, landscape, blood, heartbeat, the "dark bird," and in effect Graves' Goddess ("the wordy shapes of women").  It even has some of Graves' trees from his own White Goddess (the "vowelled beeches," the "oaken voices").  In one of my epigraph posts in Ruminations, I discussed some of the excerpts from this poem that I used as epigraphs on the chapters where Kaitrin and Kwi'ga'ga'tei are learning how to communicate.   Personally, I think this is one of Thomas's great poems because the progession of the imagery is so controlled.  Sometimes Thomas can seem wildly out of control, but not here.
       So it's interesting to note that Thomas was born in October.  For that reason alone he might connect the month with a sense of his own mortality, but Beryl's remark quoted above made the connection all the more meaningful.  Robert Graves was born in July, so he can't make that connection; for him the connection is one of the dying of the year, the time when the King is sacrified so that a new year can be born.
       "Intercession in Late October" is short.  I own a copy of Graves' Collected Poems, 1975, but I just discovered he didn't include "Intercession in Late October" there; I copied it from a library copy of the 1961 collection, so he had written it by the period being portrayed in Gough's book.  I'm going to quote it here.
How hard the year dies: No frost yet.
On drifts of yellow sand Midas reclines,
Fearless of moaning reed or sullen wave.
Firm and fragrant still the brambleberries.
On ivy blooms butterflies wag.
Spare him a little longer, Crone,
For his clean hands and love-submissive heart.
       According to Graves' Greek Myths, Midas is one of the King-figures who is doomed to die at the end of the year.  He was cursed with ass's ears and was ashamed, so he hid them under a cap.  However, his barber knew the truth and found the secret too good to keep, so he dug a hole on the river bank and whispered into it, "Midas has ass's ears!"  Then he filled in the hole and went away.  A reed grew in that place and whispered the secret to everyone who passed by (the "moaning reed").  When Midas learned that his secret was out, he executed the barber, drank bull's blood, and "perished miserably," as Grave concludes. ("Because of the great magical potency of bull's blood, only the Earth-mother could drink it without harm," Graves writes.  So it makes a terrific weapon for the Goddess to use to slay her Kings.)  
       Originally I saw this as a single-dimension poem, talking about the end of the year as symbolized by the dying King, but after reading Gough's book, I see it a little differently.  I see Midas as the betrayed Goddess-loving King who is innocent of any real evil-doing and yet will ultimately be done in by the Goddess, anyway.  I see Graves identifying with Midas -- one who can't escape the ultimate betrayal, but yet begs his muse to spare him for a little longer. 
       I've long known Graves' poetry was about the female principle, but now I'll always be looking for parallels between the figures in his poetry and how he felt about his muses, which I think will deepen my understanding.  And I think it's an intriguing -- can we call it a coincidence? -- that another "true poet," Dylan Thomas, should also have written about October as the month of the death of life and poetry.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Illustration No. 10 (Tenth of a Series)

       This will be my last illustration for "The War of the Stolen Mother."  It depicts the death of A'bir'zha'tai, who is the Laocoön character.  There's an error in it, unfortunately, which I would have to correct if I ever actually published this.  In the actual myth, Laocoön and his two sons are strangled by two serpents.  And in my own story, I also mention two reptiles attacking A'bir'zha'tai and his two assistant priests.  However, when I went to do the drawing, I forgot there were only two serpents and I showed each of the priests being attacked by a separate serpent, making three in all.  Anyway, I'm not redrawing it just to display here.  I think it's fairly effective if you can get a large enough view of it. 
Click for larger image

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Slight Change of Focus for This Blog

       I set up this blog to promote  "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" because the series was to include six and maybe seven volumes and I thought a dedicated website was in order.  However, I find there isn't enough to say on the subject unless I want to play the spoiler on the plots (I think I've done enough of that already).  So I'm going to expand the reach of the blog to cover the general use of myth in literature and also to discuss some of my other writings, past and future.  Ruminations of a Remembrancer will focus on literary, linguistic,  and philosophical topics (including book reviews), although I'll continue to comment on my books there when I feel it's warranted.
       In the meantime, I've decided not to post the older version of the Trojan Horse illustration -- it's really not sufficiently well-done.  I do have one more illustration for the "War of the Stolen Mother" that I'll be posting within a day or two.  At that point I got tired of drawing.  I have a few illustrations for v.2, but they are all old ones that are not very good.  If I can find the time and my arm holds out (all that manipulation of the mouse is murder on the hand), I might try to revise some of them or draw some new ones.
       But I WILL have the cover art for v.2 to post.  As I said in a Tweet, it's 99.9 % finished.  The map is also fairly close to being done.
       After I post those two, I plan to get deeper into the theme of myth in literature.  So stay tuned ...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Illustration No. 9 (Ninth of a Series)

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       At last -- the Trojan Horse! Except termites never heard of horses or of any other large domesticated animal that can be ridden or used to pull vehicles.  I won't tell you what they actuallty came up with -- what that strange-looking object parked before the walls of Thel'or'ei is supposed to be.  You'll have to read the book to discover that!
       This is a recent version of the Trojan Horse subject.  I have another version, the second drawing I ever did.  It's pretty awful, although it has a certain interest, so I may present it here next.  (After looking at it again, I'm not so sure about that.)  When I drew the first one, I still had no clue as to how to use the vector drawing tools (I doubt I had even discovered what the Edit Points feature was all about), so it's a wonder it came out looking like anything.
       You will note that I originally intended this to be the cover for v.1.  (Also note that the title and author are couched in the original form, which was to omit my own name, as if it really were a 30th-century publication.)  I changed my mind and used the "Ki'shto'ba Stands Guard" picture instead because I never was completely satisfied with this drawing.  Now I kind of wish I'd used this, since the one I did use is a night scene and doesn't show very well on Kindle.  
        Here are some of the things that don't suit me about this drawing.  I had trouble with the perspective.  How large should the characters be in relation to one another?  The wall doesn't seem high enough.  Et cetera.  Also, the rocks don't look right.  I like the rocks on my other drawings, but these seemed to elude me.  I wanted a reddish glow from the volcano, but then the foreground rocks ended up looking like they had lava running down them.  I also think I should have used a different color for the typography -- the red doesn't show up very well.  And that cotton-pickin' stone wall needs better definition. 
       Otherwise, I do like this.  That's Za'dut capering around at the front, of course, and the pale- winged Alate is Ta'hat'a'pai (Cassandra).  And I'm sure you'll notice the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name, peering down over the shoulder of the volcano, watching her manipulations unfold, just as Zeus and Athena did in the real Iliad.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Illustration No. 8 (Eighth of a Series)

Here is the second version of the picture I posted as No.7.  We see that A'zhu'lo finally got its head through and pretty much fell rather than jumped into the chamber below, knocking over the Holy Image in the process.  Za'dut is clutching the stones it had to remove from the lip of the Eye in order to allow its big-headed companion access.  Again, the picture could use some work.  I no longer use black to outline the termites; instead I use a dark orange.  But in spite of flaws, I think this one is pretty funny.
By the way, while you're here, you ought to back up and read my last couple of posts, which deal with characterization in my termite stories and also give you a glimpse of what's coming in v.2 ("The Storm-Wing").  I've almost finished the cover for that one, and I'll post it here as soon as I'm fully satisfied.

Click for larger image

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Termites Can Be Real Characters, Too!

       I'm going to post this on both my blogs, because I'm going to discuss not only characters from the "Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" series but also some who are unique to "The Termite Queen."  I've been wondering if, in spite of all past explanations, some of you may view a people evolved from social insects as mindless, colorless units in a mechanized society.  My creations are far from that!  They have real, individualized personalities, which allows them to play all the roles necessary in an epic adventure, and I would like for anyone who reads either of my blogs to understand that.
       In "The Termite Queen" the cast of Shshi is more limited, and the characters are more black-and-white -- more written to type.  It's a story of good vs. evil, in fact.  So we have the leader, the Holy Seer Kwi'ga'ga'tei, who personifies all that is good about the termite society, and we have her counterpart, the evil Mo'gri'ta'tu, who carries within him a touch of the Earthly Satan himself. Both are extremely intelligent in their own way, both know how to use words to offset their weak Alate bodies, and both are powerful forces.  I personally think Mo'gri'ta'tu is one of the greatest villains of all time (but of course I could be prejudiced! LOL!)
       Then in that same story we have those who are manipulated by Mo'gri'ta'tu.  We have the aging Commander Hi'ta'fu, who has been the fortress's mainstay for many years but who is nearing the end of its life and lives in fear of being supplanted and shunned before death comes.  Hi'ta'fu is thus ripe for being lured into treason by a more subtle individual.  Hi'ta'fu's Second in Command Lo'lo'pai, a Warrior who is not especially well-endowed intellectually, can't sense the forest for the trees -- Mo'gri'ta'tu is able to twist its perceptions in way that produces a true tragedy.  Both Hi'ta'fu and Lo'lo'pai can be seen as heroes with tragic flaws.  Is Kwi'ga'ga'tei a tragic character?  Probably not, because she accepts her role as savior of ...  Well, you'll have to read the books if you want to find out what her savior-role might imply.  
       Finally, we have the Champion Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head -- an outsider brought in to fight -- what?  In the beginning they think it is the Star-Beings, who came to the termite world, abducted and killed two members of the society, and returned in a flying egg that hatches into the most bizarre creatures the Shshi have ever seen.  Later, they discover that the Champion -- that same mighty Warrior who threatens the position of the Commander Hi'ta'fu -- has really been called to fight the evil within.
       We get a good look at Ki'shto'ba in "The Termite Queen," but we don't get the full scope of its character.  In the "Labors" series, Ki'shto'ba is revealed as the quintessential epic hero -- a Warrior of high moral character, who had a mysterious genesis and is the subject of prophecies. It shares the somewhat stubborn, single-pathed outlook of its Caste, but it rises above that through a native intelligence.  Ki'shto'ba understands that there is a time to fight but that there is also a time not to fight -- a time to seek peace.  The Shshi Way of Life is after all one of peaceful existence within the bounds that the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name set for her insectoid creation.
       Ki'shto'ba's Companions each has its own carefully drawn character.  Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer, the narrator of the tales, is no fool -- he's astute, analytical, and pragmatic, but he has a streak of adventurous idealism, and he's always willing to consider another's opinions.  And he has a strong sense of empathy, as well as a big sense of humor.
       A'zhu'lo, Ki'shto'ba's twin, typifies all the conflicts of a younger brother.  Actually, it isn't younger, because it was hatched from the same egg as Ki'shto'ba, but A'zhu'lo is much smaller and less powerful and not very inclined to fight.  It idolizes its mightier brother but it's always measuring itself against Ki'sho'ba and always coming up short.  Now there's a recipe for some kind of ominous development, that's for sure.
        The Worker Wei'tu, one of the two Helpers from Lo'ro'ra who accompany Ki'shto'ba and Di'fa'kro'mi on the Quest, is another pragmatist and a bit of a cynic.  Just the same, it is devoted to the task at hand -- of looking after the more needy members of the troop -- and it's a very good Builder, who becomes more and more educated to that task as the Quest proceeds.
       The other Helper, Twa'sei, is infatuated with Ki'shto'ba (da'roit'um| or twist-headed, in the Shshi language).  It is very small, but it is fiercely devoted to the Champion and wouldn't give place to anyone when it comes to taking care of the giant Warrior.  However, Twa'sei is also resentful that, because of its small size, everybody is protective of it and nobody will give it credit for being able to do anything significant.  It wants an adventure in its own right.  Twa'sei will have to wait for v.2 to get its opportunity to shine.
       And then there is Za'dut, who joins the Quest after the To'wak episode.  Za'dut is a Worker, but it's also the quintessential con-man (or con-termite!)  It's an outcast and a canny, glib liar -- a first-rate actor.  It survives by its wits -- it can talk its way into and out of scrapes better than anybody in the universe.  It cares for nobody but itself -- at least at first.  Whether that changes, you'll have to decide for yourself by reading the books.
      There are other characters, of course, but these that I've discussed will be with the series from the start to the finish.  I would be delighted if you would introduce yourself to all of them.  See the sidebar for information about how to buy any volume of my works.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What Do Intercaste Termites and "The Song of Roland" Have in Common?

       I'm still in the process of preparing v.2 of "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" for publication. It will be 22 chapters in length (about 111,000 words) and it works well as a unit. I'm still entitling it "The Storm-Wing." I recently realized that the end matter in the first volume refers to it as "The Adventures of Ki'shto'ba Monster Slayer," but it's the same book.  I don't think it's worthwhile republishing everything to fix that detail.  I've rewritten the Translator's Foreword for v.2, although I will probably revise it a bit more, and I'm working on the art for the front cover and on the map.  I'll publish both of those in this blog when they're finished.
       I won't be publishing for a while, though, because I'm waiting for v.1 to accumulate a few more readers and a few reviews.  I would love to have a review (positive, of course!) to quote on the back cover.  So I continue encouraging people to buy "The War of the Stolen Mother" and to read it!
Death of Roland, illumination from Grandes Chroniques de France, mid-15th c.
(from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
       So what does all this have to do with the title of this blog post?  "The Storm-Wing" is a tale of monsters -- Ki'shto'ba fights five of them, two of them reflecting two of the Labors of the earthly Hercules, one of them a product of my own imagination, and two others drawn from a particular medieval epic tale that shall be nameless at this point.  However, the story also draws on another medieval epic: "The Song of Roland" (Le Chanson de Roland, part of the "Matter of France").  The narrative begins in this volume and concludes in the third volume ("The Tale of the Valley of Thorns").
       Many of you may remember some of the plot of "The Song of Roland" from literature courses.  The hero Roland and his loyal friend Oliver lead an army in the name of the great French King Charlemagne to stop the Saracen's advance into Europe.  They clash in the Roncevalles Pass in the Pyrenees. 
       (Parenthetically, when I wrote this story a number of years back, I attempted to discover the derivation of the name "Roncevalles" or "Roncevaux."  Obviously valles or vaux means "vales" or "valleys."  Ronce, I finally determined, means "bramble," a prickly bush.  That's where the title "Tale of the Valley of Thorns" came from.  In the Shshi language, it's Pol'ki'shtot, literally, "Valley of Thorns.")
       Charlemagne has a reserve force, which has already gone ahead of Roland's small band that makes up the rear guard.  If Roland should need backup, he is supposed to blow his horn to summon the King, but he is a proud knight who refuses to concede that he cannot do the work by himself and delays blowing the horn until it is too late.  By the time Charlemagne arrives, the whole band has been slaughtered and the Saracens have prevailed.
       Now how does that work with termites?  In the first place, they can't blow a horn; they are totally deaf.  I came up with an answer that I won't disclose here, but I thought it was pretty ingenious.  And I created a species of Shshi called the Marchers (Roland was a march lord), who guard the region between the Northern Nasutes and the Southern Nasutes.  The Northern Nasutes are the people of Sa'ti'a'i'a from "Termite Queen."  The Southern Nasutes are a different animal entirely.  The Marchers and the Northern Nasutes and the Shshi of the Plains (the people of Ki'shto'ba and Di'fa'kro'mi) all worship the Sky-Mother (their Goddess lives in the sky).  The Southern Nasutes worship a Nameless Mother who lives underground; they use volcanic fumes as their prophetic stimulus (the oracle at Delphi?) instead of ingesting hallucinogenic vegetable matter.
       The Marchers and the Southern Nasutes have been at war for as long as anyone remembers.  It's Franks vs. Saracens, Christians vs. Muslims,  all over again.  Infidel fighting infidel!  And all on the basis of where their goddess resides.  I'll have a lot more to say on that subject at another time.
       So what is this intercaste thing in the title of this post?  In "The Song of Roland" a major member of Roland's band is Archbishop Turpin, the Warrior Bishop.  Fighting and praying with equal ferocity, he is clearly a kind of hybrid.  At one point he fights a Black Champion, who obviously represents Satan, and prevails.
       So how do I portray Archibishop Turpin? 
       I've mentioned Dr. Timothy Myles before -- he's the entomologist whose website taught me a large part of what I know about termites.  At one point I ran into an abstract of a paper he did in 1980 describing experiments changing the hormonal makeup of termite nymphs.  The resultant final molt produced "an individual with perfect notal and wing development, normal compound eyes and ocelli, complete sclerotization and full-length prognathous soldier mandibles. I have designated this laboratory freak a double caste. Its existence has endocrinological, developmental and social implications."  In other words, it produces an Intercaste -- an individual with the jaws of a Warrior and the wings and eyes of an Alate.  If this can be induced in the laboratory, why couldn't it occur in nature as a genetic aberration, especially if the native stock experienced a lot of inbreeding?  
       Such an hybridized individual would likely have a strange psychological mindset, and so we get Lug'tei'a (whose name means Thunder-Seer") -- a Warrior/Priest/Seer, the Chief Priest (Archbishop?) of the Marchers, who is a great Champion in his own right (imagine a sighted Warrior fighting normal ones who are eyeless!) but who is also gifted with unusual powers of prophecy and suffers from many conflicted feelings about his own aberrant existence.  I found him a fascinating character and I'm sure you will, too, after I publish v.2 and 3 and you get to meet the character in person.   

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Illustration No.7 (Seventh of a Series)

Monster Is in the Eye or the Beholder: $1.99
Any of the three "big books": $3.99
How much do you pay for a cup of coffee?
       This illustration belongs with Chapter 22 ("The Theft of the na'ka'fi'zi|") of "The War of the Stolen Mother."  I published that chapter on the Ruminations of a Remembrancer blog as an entry in the Third Sunday blog Carnival for August and it's had quite a few page views.  I also put a second version of this illustration there, but now I'm at a point where I want to discuss those illustrations, so we'll start with the original.  na'ka'fi'zi| means "holy stone image" -- think of the Palladium (the statue of Pallas Athena) whose presence was supposed to keep the citadel of Troy safe.  In the myths Odysseus steals the Palladium.  In my version, Za'dut the trickster plays the part of Odysseus the trickster.  However, Za'dut is a Worker and doesn't have the strength to carry that big stone image, so he elicits the reluctant assistance of A'zhu'lo, who is Ki'shto'ba's twin.  Then when they get to the apex of the fortress, where they know there is an opening, they discover that it isn't large enough for the Warrior's big head to fit through.  At one point, A'zhu'lo gets stuck.  That's what I'm showing here, in a cut-away view.  It's all very farcical.
       Now to discuss the technique.  As you can see from the date in the lower right corner, I produced this back in 2003, so it was among my earlier drawings and it was done on my old computer, which had Word 97.  At that time I was using a lot more textural fill -- note the stone texture on the image and the hatching on the floor.  Those aspects never worked very well with  Word 2007, which I have now, so I discontinued using them, but they remain on these converted drawings. 
       You can see the piece could use some work.  I seemed unable to make the cone-shaped tip of the fortress properly symmetrical and I sort of abandoned the individualized stonework on the edges.  Since it's a night scene, I drew the termites' legs in black and made A'zhu'lo's head gray, but I seem to have kept that orangish tone on Za'dut for some reason.  Of course, the two termites are wrapped up in the "magic skins" -- the cloaks of invisibility.  The antennae don't show up very well, and the vegetation growing out of the sides of the fortress needs more definition.  And those shadowy markings don't work very well.  Anyway, I think it captures the sense of what's going on, and I hope you'll enjoy the drawing (do click on it to enlarge) in spite of its imperfections.
       The next illustration I put up will be the second version of this one.
Click to enlarge