Orsinian Tales

I… actually beat Kelly at chess? I’m not expecting to win again any time soon, but I’m still marking the calendar: 30 August 2008, “Earthsea.”

Speaking of Le Guin, I recently finished Orsinian Tales. I wouldn’t call it her best by any means, though part of my judgement may be obscured because I went into it thinking they were interlinking stories about a medieval village, when instead they were all tales about a made-up Central European country called Orsinia. I appreciated the collection more once I caught on, and my favorites were “The Barrow,” “Conversations at Night,” “A Week in the Country,” “The Lady of Moge,” and “Imaginary Countries”–though the last could have stood without the last line. Personal preference.

These were my favorites not necessarily because of the language, which was below her usual brilliance, but because of the stories. The medieval village chief balancing belief in the old ways and the new Christianity. A quarry town and life under a communist government. Her ability to present imagination as fact, and only later do you see with the jaded eyes of adulthood. Despite being tales about a country, the stories were microscopic, focusing on specific, ordinary individuals at turning points in their lives. The astuteness with which she explores human character is noteworthy and largely makes up for the lack of poetry. Though, this lack might be because they were stories about Orsinia, a bare place that itself does not evoke poetry but hearts bent toward survival—a thought to keep in mind during a future reread. To some degree I was reminded of “The Day Before the Revolution” (found in Le Guin’s Wind’s Twelve Quarters, my favorite collection of hers yet), and, as a result, The Dispossessed—they also employ the use of subtle observation. I did, however, come across a few gems of perfect sentences that remind me why Le Guin is a master of language:

Like Stefan, she wondered at [Kostant], at his beauty and his strength, but she did not think of him as wasted. The Lord keeps the house and knows his servants. If he had sent this innocent and splendid man to live obscure on the plain of stone, it was part of his housekeeping, of the strange economy of the stone and rose, the rivers that run and do not run dry, the tiger, the ocean, the maggot, and the not eternal stars.
— “Brothers and Sisters”

What good is music? None, Gaye thought, and that is the point. To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, ‘You are irrelevant’; and arrogant and gentle as a god, to the suffering man it says only, ‘Listen.’ For being saved is not the point. Music saves nothing. Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky.
— “An Die Musik”


This still brings tears welling up in my eyes and down my cheeks, and a wish that I could have been there in person, or be involved in something just as great. Let us never stop dreaming.


Tonight I had an unexpected opportunity: I got to hear Greg Mortenson speak at Trinity University. He is the founder of the Central Asia Institute and author of Three Cups of Tea. He builds schools for girls in Pakistan. A friend gave me a copy earlier this summer and I was excited to read it because I had been eyeing it in the bookstore for months. Last week, my mom and I heard that he would be in town. Of course I was going to risk missing Obama’s speech (I would record it) in order to go hear Greg Mortenson.

Mortenson is just as personable and inspiring in person as he is in print. This is a man who grew up in extraordinary–or at least, not your typical American–circumstances, is down-to-earth, and works towards the betterment of our world because, well, it doesn’t occur to him not to. This is a man who had brunch with Pervez Musharraf three days before he resigned as president! I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this book. Read it. Let it inspire you, compel you.

A couple quotes:
“If you fight terrorism, that’s based on fear. But if you promote peace, that’s based in hope.” (In regards to the subtitle to his book. The hardcover said “One man fighting terrorism… one school at a time. The new softcover says, “One man promoting peace…”)

“The real enemy is ignorance, and it is ignorance that breeds hatred.”

We made it home in time so I could still hear Obama’s speech. It’s been interesting watching the DNC in the family room, with my dad in the other room, because he is a staunch Republican. “He’s going to promise the world,” my dad said tonight. “And McCain will next week,” I quipped back. We’ve had mild verbal sparring like this all summer, mainly because I won’t stand for anyone to be spoken badly of, whether I agree with them or not. At least my father stayed in the other room, and didn’t get up to go upstairs.

Tonight Obama spoke about change and what it would look like. I listened. I thought. President Wilson urged Congress to ratify the 19th amendment, and he was a Democrat. President F.D. Roosevelt picked up the pieces of a broken America with the New Deal, and he was a Democrat. The Civil Rights movement was fought during a Democratic presidency, and it succeeded. That same presidency was that of an Irish Catholic. It would seem that Democrats are not afraid of change. When I look at Barack Obama, when I hear the arguments against him, they are mostly from older people, working from a world-view foreign to those of us born in a post-Cold War, post-segregation world. Perhaps it is a good thing for a young candidate to become president. He would better represent the upcoming leaders and workers of this nation, people like me who when she saw him running for president didn’t notice the color of his skin until someone else pointed it out to her. Who saw a person.

In 1962, President Kennedy said, “The Irish were not wanted here. Now an Irish Catholic is President of the United States. There is no question about it, in the next forty years a Negro can achieve the same position.”

We’re six years late, but we’ve made it. There is no question about it: it’s possible. And we should be willing to consider change, and not fear it. In the past, such risks of change brought us independence, universal suffrage, civil rights. We should not fear to hope.

Tonight I also heard Obama say, “We recognize ourselves in each other.” It reminded me of why I read and study and hope to create literature. Literature often brings us face to face with the Other and the unknown; it compels us to see in their face a reflection similar to ours: two eyes, a nose, and a head full of fears and dreams, and a heart aching to be known.


I’m a little behind on the DNC because I’ve had to record it, and just got around to catching up last night. I must admit that I am impressed by Michelle Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric. I’m a moderate, an independent, and I’m going to give next week’s RNC just as much attention as I’m giving the DNC, because I believe that it is valuable to hear both sides. However, the words from Michelle’s speech that resounded in my sensibility were these:

And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do—that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

These sound like words lifted from my own journal. They’ve got my attention, and I’m listening.

My own snobbery

I recently read an article, The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, and as I read it, felt vindicated for opting to go to a small liberal arts college instead of applying to Ivy schools that I couldn’t afford. I was also vindicated by being rejected by those same Ivies for graduate school–because apparently the University valued my humanistic education. I had also prided myself at still being able to communicate with those not-as-educated as myself. And then the past few days had to prove me a hypocrite. It was incredibly refreshing to spend the weekend with Kelly and Philip–to be able to weave in and out of conversations about WWI, the Ottoman Empire, Post-colonial theory, Germanic barbarians, the Attolia trilogy, pre-Malory Arthurian tales, Firefly and Star Trek, our non-denominational selves being able to laugh at Christianity, world-building and writing fantasy, audio hallucinations, etc. I haven’t had a peer in San Antonio, and it is something I have hungered for. Something that makes me miss Kelly terribly, something that makes me glad to be going to grad school, to be back in an academic setting, where I am among “my own kind,” so to speak. And then I am aware of my own intellectual snobbery.

My job this summer has been at a corporate real estate firm. This is my last week, and so people are finally asking, “So why are you leaving? What are you doing?” I answer that I’m starting graduate school, and then answer the following question with, “Mediaeval English Literature.” They blink, they stare, they waffle and say something about did I know Donald Trump wants to build a golf course in Scotland and I say yes, yes I do. The business-persons want to know what am I going to do with this degree. The maintenance techs nod, impressed, but still are unsure how to respond. One property manager, who also spent eight years in Europe, spends the lunch break talking with me about politics and society in general–this has helped make the summer bearable. And one person actually laughed at me to my face. I’m still unsure how to interpret it, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m leaving. They are all surprised that I’m studying Mediaeval Literature, and none of them asked before now what my degrees were from college. Perhaps Kelly is right, that the postmodernists were right, and we are all drifting away from each other after all.

Regardless of being a snob, or not, I will be glad to leave and be where I’m in fertile soil again. A semi-desert is a nice place to visit, but there is nothing for me here. I feel a little like Shevek, who has to go away in order to be heard. True voyage is return. Hm.


Note the plural.

I’ve been thinking more about The Essential Question and fear I may have made another Gibbonesque mistake and judged Jules Verne unfairly. In my historiography tutorial at Oxford, I made the catastrophic error of telling my tutor that Gibbon was an imperialist. I know–bad idea. I still wince at the memory, and he even mentioned it on my transcript, so I’m pretty certain that’s what cost me my A in that course. But I digress. I have this odd bias against Victorians, and it’s been a conscious effort to be more even handed with my forays into that century. [I suppose I should state it now: my literary isms of choice are New Historicist, Post-colonial, and mythological. I did Gender Criticism for a while, but it’s time to move on.]

I personally would categorize Jules Verne more as a fantastic, travel adventure writer, closer to Gulliver’s Travels. This is especially the case when you consider that his two other main works are Around the World in Eighty Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which could also be read as travel narratives. Because of his extended use of geological science in Journey, people tend to classify him as SF. At the present, I can’t recall how much science was used in these works, it’s been awhile since I’ve read either.

So I guess I want to acknowledge the possible argument that he could be the precursor to Hard SF, whereas his contemporaries, Shelly, Wells, & Co., were mainly Soft SF. Perhaps, Kelly, instead of removing him completely, move him down to the Honorable Mentions that you’ve started.

Untitled Document

It was a joint effort [I contributed the sea dragon]. Now, to keep polishing the outline… and figure out what to do with those pesky barons. And a working title. 😉

“I always thought Serenity had a vaguely funereal sound to it.” Thanks Simon, for your boost of optimism.

Outta this town

In approximately 4.85 hours I will be in McKinney, TX. Kelly and I will go to Panera Bread for lunch and stay for no less than three hours, as we reacquaint ourselves with Sofia and Nafis and hammer out the details for The Novel, including, hopefully, a working title. We will then proceed to her home where more book talk will commence. We will watch at least one episode of Firefly. There will be a ferret.

About the weather

“It’s hot outside!” I hear my coworkers exclaim whenever they come back from lunch, stepping into the cool air-conditioned building. I normally nod and give a forced smile. My initial, unspoken, response is, “Is this unexpected?” I, too, have made comments about the weather, though generally it is preceded by, “Ugh,” and then, “It’s hot outside.” A statement, said flatly, not ending in rising inflection indicating surprise or question. Yes. It’s San Antonio. In August. It’s hot outside. Anything else really would be unexpected.


I debated between titling this post Terror and Fully Alive and settled on the third, Apprehension. Last night at small group we had an opportunity to go off by ourselves and ponder worship, and to do so in our individual way. I ended up leaning against the wall, hugging my Bible in the silence, thinking. It’s the type of prayer I prefer most: conversational thinking, not presenting a laundry list of items I’d like to see happen, but working things out with the Spirit. Because he can keep up with me, I jumped from Vidanric and my sheer pleasure of reading books like Court Duel by Sherwood Smith, to my apprehension about surviving in grad school, to my confidence that I will get the job done, because I always do, to the subsequent concern of being too absorbed in my studies that I would then forget God, but if this is what God has gifted me to do, if this mind is being developed to its fullest, if this is what I purely enjoy doing, then is not the pleasure I derive from reading, writing, and discussing what I read and write, also an act of worship? For more often than not, I learn for the sake of learning, not out of selfish ambition, with a belief also that all Truth is God’s Truth. God is not forgotten in my studies, even if he is not obvious to outside observers.

And then I remembered how at Oxford, a common refrain in our prayer group was that we wanted to be truly alive, to thrive, and live with joy. It is a desire I have carried since, also with the knowledge that I was close to that ideal while at Oxford… but since then have only been half-alive. There were moments of joy in Shawnee, in San Antonio, in South Carolina: laughing and having tea with Kelly or Sarah, any conversation with Laura, escaping into my own created worlds of Orion or Jazz or Bede, reading books that engage my imagination, being fully involved in my work. This past weekend, I have felt the most alive in weeks, all while sitting in my room, stationary, solitary, reading Crown Duel and Court Duel. But to any other serious reader, they would know that I was not still, and I was not alone.

At first glance it seems odd, that an activity so still and silient and solitary would be where I find greatest fufilment, but then to me it doesn’t, for the whole mind is engaged, and the heart becomes involved, too. So I look to Scotland with hope, that I may thrive there, for this is the life that I have chosen: one that pursues literature, both the study and the creation of it. And it seems perfectly natural for me to choose medieval literature, for where else can I find better food for the imagination than dragons and knights, chivalry and quests, proud warriors and heroic speeches?