|Death of Roland, illumination from Grandes Chroniques de France, mid-15th c.|
(from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
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!
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.