Tuesday, December 3, 2019

More Thoughts on The Fall of Rome

I've been reading Martin Crookall's weekly blog posts on Lafferty in his blog Author for Sale. He recently posted his entry on The Fall of Rome. I responded to his blog, and thought I should also repost my comments here.

Darrell Schweitzer wrote a wonderful introduction to The Fall of Rome for an edition that never saw print. He talked about the way history was written during the Roman Empire and immediately thereafter. The job of the historians then was to create something beautiful that also recounted the history. From that point of view, The Fall of Rome succeeds beautifully, it is deeply fun to read and also shows us a perspective on the Goths that most of us would ever have considered.

It is a fabulistic history. It gives us the accurate bones, but with flesh that must be somewhat fictional. Darrell Schweitzer points out the example of the conversation between Alaric and the ghost of his father. No-one was there to report the dialog, and no transcript has survived. Yet the story becomes part of the background for Alaric’s dual loyalties between the Goths and the Empire.

Did the Gulf of Corinth freeze at Alaric’s command to let his army escape Stilicho? Most likely not, but this story tells us he did make an unlikely escape. Alaric and/or his supporters may have also used the story of this improbable escape to help build up his own mythos in his time.

Lafferty tells us as much, I think, by including the little bit about Atrox Fabulinius (which could be english-ized as “Atrocious Liar”). Essentially, the truth is in there, but in this case history serves story, rather than the other way around.

And what a story it serves! This is a book you can read for the great overarching story of the collapse of the Res Romana, for the narration of strategies and battles and shifting loyalties, or just for the sheer joy of Lafferty’s word-craft. I frequently would have to stop and revel in individual sentences or paragraphs. For example, the paragraph early in the book where he is discussing what remnants and artifacts survive to tell us about the culture of the Goths in the early 5th century AD.

"The dance is something with no survival, lacking verbal or pictoral record. The Goths may have had it. If they painted, it was not in a medium or on a material that has survived. Their history was unwritten. Their scientific speculation may not have gone beyond mead-table discussions and arguments. There is no record of their early philosophy. Since they were Germans, they must have constructed philosophical systems; and also, since they were Germans, these would have been erroneous."

And that’s not even the best line in the book, merely the one that was on the top of my mind from recent conversation.

Darrell Schweitzer’s introduction is included in his book The Fantastic Horizon: Essays and Reviews, and reprinted with his kind permission in Feast of Laughter, Volume 3.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Deeper We Go, or Oh What a Tangled WWW we Read, or More Links than a Sausage Factory

This is the double edged sword of reading Lafferty with a Web browser handy. Martin Crookall, in his Author For Sale blog, recently posted his thoughts on Archipelagohttps://mbc1955.wordpress.com/2019/11/13/the-man-who-wrote-lafferties-archipelago

Reading this reflection led me to reflect on my experience reading Archipelago and discussions various Lafferty fans and I have had about it. I especially loved the interlude where Hans is sitting in a cafe in a drunken reverie thinking about talking to Marie Monaghan and then transitioning into actually talking with her, with no real transition in the narrative between the two states. You can read the passage on DOJP's wonderful blog here: http://antsofgodarequeerfish.blogspot.com/2016/02/reading-argo-cycle-part-2-archipelago.html (and of course, I blogged about it here: http://www.yetanotherlaffertyblog.com/2016/06/drunken-reveries.html).

Reading this, I paused over the passage where Hans is trying to figure out how to describe Marie's eyes. She had green eyes, and he didn't know how the classics would have described them. He reflects on a verse:

"Nicolette had eyes of vair,

Something, something, yellow hair—" 

But vair had become vert with the disintegration of the French soul, and it was no longer the green of the Troubadors: ignorant wise men even said that vair was a shade of gray. 

So, I highlighted the line "Nicolette had eyes of vair", right clicked, and chose Search Google. This led me to someone having a very similar rumination about the meaning of "vair" to describe eyes in Aucassin and Nicolette: a Love Story by Francis William Bourdillion published in 1867, an examination of the medieval romance of the same name: https://books.google.com/books?id=Z7oPrY9GJlIC&pg=PA166&lpg=PA166&dq=Nicolette+had+eyes+of+vair&source=bl&ots=yqbUwXykR9&sig=ACfU3U30WgGa7RQFHXhrQlCyGLd2Pqf-hQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_s-be9urlAhURP6wKHY5jAfEQ6AEwAHoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=Nicolette%20had%20eyes%20of%20vair&f=false 

Looking for a bit of background led me to the Wikipedia article. Wikipedia is my constant friend when reading Lafferty's novels. Aucassin et Nicolette is a late 12th C or early 13th C novel. It is a love story across class lines and of the Love-wins-over-Duty genre. It is a chantefable, a combination of prose and verse, so every few paragraphs, at least one of the characters bursts into song.  Here's the article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aucassin_and_Nicolette

So I went back to my Google search window and searched for "Nicolette had eyes of vair yellow hair". This brought me to one of those specific instances of song in a 1910 translation of Aucassin and Nicolette.:

Here one singeth: 

There were gathered shepherds all.
Martin, Esmeric, and Hal,
Aubrey, Robin, great and small.
Saith one, "Good fellows all,
God keep Aucassin the fair,
And the maid with yellow hair,
Bright of brow and eyes of vair.
She that gave us gold to ware.
Cakes therewith to buy ye know,
Goodly knives and sheaths also.
Flutes to play and pipes to blow,
May God him heal!  

And the link to that search is here: https://books.google.com/books?id=mr4OAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=Nicolette+had+eyes+of+vair+yellow+hair&source=bl&ots=QcN-d60LQ1&sig=ACfU3U3DP15otCEaEihZAfjuqQiBE48xwA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiXlLHJ7OrlAhVQrJ4KHaURBoQQ6AEwAXoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Nicolette%20had%20eyes%20of%20vair%20yellow%20hair&f=false

As has become my usual experience falling down the rabbit holes of Lafferty's classical allusions, there is substance at the bottom of even the most throwaway-seeming remark. It's just that Lafferty, and his characters, are far more well-read than I!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Why Fourth Mansions?

I have commented often that Fourth Mansions is my favorite book by any author in any genre. Why do I feel so strongly about it? 

  1. The sheer joy and exuberance of the writing. Lafferty's way of introducing characters with seemingly unrelated bits of information that as the book progresses become repeated and increasingly important. 
  2. The sense that there is more going on than is apparent on this side of the curtain. This is a perhaps a tired trope, but somehow Lafferty telegraphs the idea that these are not specific actual conspiracies, but allegory for our own conflicting inner forces. 
  3. The wonderful play he has with metaphor and different levels of reality. When Biddy Bencher is lying on subterranean beaches being torn apart by wild dogs, and she is complaining that they are only taking her legs. At the same time she is in her room listening to the stereo. Both are true, but one is true to her character while the other events are occurring in a more mundane reality. 
  4. Perhaps most importantly, Fourth Mansions is an immensely hopeful book. Freddy Foley is not a hereditary chosen one, he stands in fore each and every one of us malodorous worms in the middle, for every everylout. That he can integrate the strengths of the four monsters and lead humanity through to the fifth mansion, means that each one of us has that potential!