Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Coyote Age

Ragnarok seems close enough these days–”a wind-age, a wolf-age, ere the world’s ending”. But is it really wolves that we need to worry about?

After all, wolves do have some pretense to nobility. Wolf-warriors were a thing, back in the good old days. “Wolf” was often part of someone’s name. If a wolf shows up and rips your throat out, you could imagine still retaining a sense of personal dignity, maybe even respect.

As Sean puts it in his self-named saga (the second book, The Well Of Time, is still coming along; thanks for asking): 

knew that wolves were really great, essential parts of the ecology and all, and should never, ever be hunted from helicopters. But I didn’t feel the same way about wargs.

Well, it turns out I don’t feel the same way about coyotes, either. A pack of them killed more than half our ducks and geese in one night (leaving the bodies, for the most part; so much for the notion of animals as noble savages who waste nothing). They’ve made hit-and-run raids on our chickens in broad daylight. We’ve had to get part of our house’s back wall reframed recently, leaving us virtually open to the elements for a while. Let me tell you, hearing coyotes howling in the night with nothing between you and them but a thin sheet of plastic tends to give you a new perspective on your place in Nature.

Wolves may be fierce and noble. Coyotes lurk and sneak and lure other animals in, then surround them. They attack on the run, like the animal kingdom equivalent of a drive-by shooting. If a coyote did rip your throat out, it would probably be from behind. 

So I’m thinking that a better name for what we’re going through now is a Coyote Age. The world is under attack, yes, but for the most part not openly. Most of the action is disguised. The air and water are full of poison. High-sounding policies lead to nothing but hunger and disease. People who speak the truth are censored, while lies are repeated over and over until free thought is destroyed. You can imagine George Orwell saying, “Hey, I was less than forty years off!”

This is not a good time for trust. Even our own leaders (in what used to be called the West, at least) are on the side of the coyotes, pretty much. If we’re lucky, they may follow in Wiley’s footsteps and construct elaborate contraptions that wind up failing and causing their own destruction. We still need to worry about the fallout, in that case.

If they’re more like real coyotes, the going will be even harder. A wind-age, a shield-age. Keep yours up!

The Death of Childhood

One of the most disturbing parts of our ongoing cultural suicide is what’s being done to children. Of course, things were bad even before the Black Death Lite came in. Already children were not being allowed to go out, except for school and carefully scheduled “play dates”. There is a ‘free range kids‘ movement that has arisen in response, but I would guess they’ve been set back considerably in the last year and a half. I can remember (yes, I am that old) that such restrictions weren’t really around when I was growing up. We didn’t exactly run wild, but going alone to get some candy at the “corner store” down the road, or playing in the nearby woods with no grownups around, was a normal thing.

One consequence of this is that most children don’t come into contact with children of different ages (increasingly, not even in their own home, what with the increase in “one-child-if-any” families). Why does this matter? Childhood games are (or used to be) typically taught to younger children by older children. I can still remember long summer afternoons when the older kids in the neighborhood taught me and others to play Red Rover, for instance. Jump rope rhymes were another type of lore passed on, though for obvious reasons I wasn’t as aware of them. Later, though, in another century during the Gulf War, I remember passing a yard where a little girl was jumping rope. She was chanting a rhyme in which Saddam Hussein’s name came up, just as girls in England, two hundred years before, might have woven Napoleon Bonaparte (or “Boney”, which scanned a lot better) into their chants. That day, I felt a strong sense of the continuity of culture, and its ability to transcend time.

That’s mostly gone now. Social media and online games seem to have largely replaced interactions in the real world. Anything to do with traditional culture is actively discouraged. And then there’s the coup de gras of Covid regulations–children must be encased in bubbles (sometimes literally) and at the least, masked. What does it do to children to never see others’ faces? No shared grimaces of disgust, no smiles? And to look on other children primarily as dangers, potential sources of infection? You can bet it doesn’t make them happier or more gregarious.

My family went to the zoo a little while ago and noticed a sign at the playground there: “PLAY AT YOUR OWN RISK. We cannot guarantee that you will not get COVID-19”. Well, no. And they can’t guarantee that you won’t get stung by a bee, or stub your toe on a rock, or skin your knee. But what they are doing their very best to guarantee is that our children will grow up lonely, twisted, and above all, always afraid.

Some things are OK, some aren’t

The first book of my Sean’s Saga trilogy-to-be, The Road to Hel, is available now on audiobook. Sean is voiced by the talented Kyle Adams, who cheerfully put up with pronouncing an egregious number of words from Old Norse. It’s on sale on Audible, ITunes, and Amazon.

Now, that’s okay. Also okay is that I’m making some progress on The Well of Time, the second book in Sean’s Saga (in chapter 5 currently; I’ve just about made it to the point from which the teaser excerpt at the end of Road to Hel was taken).

What’s not okay:
1) The fact that free speech is pretty much dead in the United States, with the government (working hand in hand with Big Tech) determining not only what is true and what is false, but what people will even be allowed to see and hear.
2) The fact that so many people seem to be okay with 1). I’m shocked that there are independent authors among those who cheer on the new censorship. I saw someone make this statement, more or less: “Free speech is not meant to protect lies.” Think about it for a moment (if in doubt, take another look at point 1) and then tell me if you can drive a monster truck through the hole in that “argument”.
3) The push for mandating a vaccine which isn’t really a vaccine, which sort of, maybe, might (or might not) protect against a virus which has a 99% plus survival rate, but by dint of relentless propaganda, has everyone scared senseless anyway. And, as an extra bonus: the demonization of those who refuse to participate in this needless, quite possibly dangerous experiment–“They’re the ones who are keeping us from getting back to normal!”. Cue the torches and pitchforks!

In short, it’s not okay that we are now being ruled by fear. And sadly, that makes it difficult, these days, to just put out an upbeat post about fantasy fiction.

The Fifth Element

Every now and then I’m seized with the urge to write about woodpiles. It’s as if I’m suddenly ambushed and possessed by the spirit of Robert Frost–which happens sometimes, let me tell you, if you live in New Hampshire. And if said possession also coincides with the Chinese New Year, then you get this blog entry.

In other parts of the world, it’s said that wood warms you four times–once when you cut it, once when you split it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it. In my neck of the woods, we would scorn such wimpy timber. Granted, I buy my wood already split, but in my experience wood warms you when: you stack it, you throw it in the truck because you have to move the stack to a new house, you restack it, you throw it in the truck again because the pest control guy said you stacked it too near the house, you restack it again, maybe split it again because the woodstove wants some smaller pieces, and then finally you burn it. That makes seven times by my count. Firewood like that would be cheap at almost any price.

And that doesn’t even count going out to the pile, several times a day, and lugging the wood back to the smaller pile, ready for burning, inside by the woodstove. When you interact with wood as much as we do, it starts to make sense that in China it was included as one of the elements. Stacking the last couple of cords with my son and daughter, it was easy to feel like we were living inside a world of wood: we were surrounded by it, breathed it, got it on our skin and blown in our eyes. Piles of wood also create an ecosystem of their own, colonized by spiders, ants, mice, crickets, and the odd wasp, like the one that clung to my glove and then stung me when I brushed my hand across my forehead.

But all the pains seem worthwhile when glowing embers fill the stove or fireplace, and flames dance with the shadows they cast. We wouldn’t have it any other way, even when the wind comes down the chimney and blows smoke into the room. Our clothes may smell of wood smoke a bit, but that’s one of the best smells there is. And that, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, is proof that the gods love us and want us to be happy.

That Time Oscar Wilde Got It Wrong

I’ve just been re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It’s a brilliant book, and full of the wit that made Wilde famous before he gained fame for less savory reasons. However, there is one passage that Wilde, who once said that he spent a morning taking out a comma and the afternoon putting it back in, didn’t take enough time to edit. Here Lord Henry Wotton’s uncle is being described:

In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, who he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said the country was going to the dogs. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices. 

I think Wilde suffered a bit here from having too many witty phrases at hand. He wanted to get them all down, and he did, but the passage as a whole ends lamely and sounds like, well, a bunch of quotes strung together. Here is a better version, and please note that no punctuation was harmed in making this edit:

In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, who he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said the country was going to the dogs. 

There, Oscar, wherever you may be (and the presence of a strong autobiographical element in Dorian Gray gives us a pretty shrewd idea)–fixed it for you!

The Incredible Shrinking Library

My family is in the process of moving from a big, mid-1850s Victorian to a smaller, older house in the country. One big reason is that we have fewer people–just four of us left at home. But there’s still quite a bit of furniture. Especially bookcases. Bookcases full of books. Rooms full of bookcases.

There’s no way around it. We’ve got to thin this literary thicket. So how do you make the decision, if you can only keep half your books? Or even a third?

Getting rid of multiple copies is a start. We had a surprising number of duplicates–and this isn’t some collectible copy vs. reading copy thing, either; in our house they’re all reading copies.

The next thing I ask is ‘will I ever read this again?’ It’s a tough question to answer, with some books, but if the answer was ‘Maybe, years from now’ then I rounded that down to a ‘No.’ (If the answer was ‘Hey, I forgot I even had this,’ then that translated mostly to a No also…I’d been getting by, in effect, without having that book.)

Reference books often get the benefit of the doubt, though. Nobody reads Saxo Grammaticus for fun, but when you want to put your finger on that particular passage you need to quote in your seminal essay on Loki, you want him standing by somewhere on your shelves. Likewise books that are just plain hard to get, like The Long Lost Friend, a treatise on hexes that turns up in Manly Wade Wellman’s stories. Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth, his expose of the fairy kingdom that came out just before he was reportedly abducted by those same fairies. Or my 1848 edition of The Maypole of Merrymount. (Looking at that one reminds me that time is kinder even to houses than it is to books.)

Fiction is tending to bear the brunt. I went through my ghost story collection and concluded I could spend the rest of my life, and even my afterlife, without most of them. M.R. James and Russell Kirk survived, but not much else. Science fiction was already scarce, and in the future it will be nonexistent (ironic, that). Even favorite authors are being sacrificed. Anything by John Dickson Carr that doesn’t feature his G.K. Chesterton-inspired detective, Dr. Fell, came off the shelves. Fritz Leiber shed a few books and Tim Powers is being reduced to just two (The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides).

The books that survive have a few things in common, whatever the genre. I need to like the characters. Or at least one. Why should you spend time with people you can’t stand? Also, there’s got to be some humor in there somewhere–it’s one of the biggest things that makes life bearable. I guess that proves I agree with Herman Hesse’s great insight in Steppenwolf.

Not that I’m probably going to read that one again.

If you take it the right way, this is a worthwhile exercise. Sort of like ‘what books would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?’

Because the truth is, we’re always stranded on a desert island. It’s just that some islands have more room than others.

Saving Daylight

It’s that time again, in the U.S. anyway–Daylight Savings Time ends tomorrow. It’s a nuisance, but at least this time, we get to turn the clock back and get an extra hour of sleep. The real killer is in the spring when the clock moves forward, and we celebrate by having lots of traffic accidents.
While pondering this problem recently, I came up with an ingenious plan to fix the system.
In November, nothing changes. But in March, the ‘spring forward’ will be eliminated. Instead, everyone will simply set the clock back twenty-three hours.
So, when we reach 2 a.m. on Sunday, the whatevereth of March, it instantly becomes 3 a.m. on the preceding Saturday. This accomplishes the ‘light savings’ just as well as the current system, and also gives you a do-over for that Saturday, making it a three-day holiday weekend. Or you can choose to stay in bed and sleep your way back to Sunday.
Difficult people might point out that this would create a problem over time, as we’d gain a day and every year would become, in effect, a leap year, pushing the calendar out of synch with actual solar alignments. Not to worry. We simply decree that February now will have only 27 days, and 28 in a leap year. What’s the downside of trading a day in February for an extra day in March? We’ll just have to tweak the famous rhyme a bit, which should be no problem:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November,
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone–
In leap years keeping twenty-eight,
Else twenty-seven–saves a date!

Any day now, I expect to receive the accolades of a grateful nation..

Writing Like a Viking

In Egil’s Saga, it’s told how Egil fell into the power of his enemy, King Erik Bloodaxe. Egil managed to save his life by composing a 20-stanza poem of praise for Erik, overnight, and reciting it from memory the next morning.

Those were the days when poets really had to work for their living!

You couldn’t just dash off something in free verse, either. There were demanding technical rules governing how a poem could be composed.

Technical Stuff You Can Skip If You Just Want to See a Sample:

Egil’s poem was a drápa, a poem of praise–usually a longer poem, consisting of 8-line stanzas, with a periodic refrain. Each line had to meet certain requirements also. The verse forms for drápas varied, but one possibility was Dróttkvætt or “courtly metre”. This is a trochaic metre (stresses fall on the first syllable of each syllable pair, or foot). Think Longfellow’s Hiawatha–“By the shining big sea water”. The dominant form in English, back when people worried about stuff like that, was iambic, with accents falling on the second syllable. Think just about anything Shakespeare ever wrote–like “This time of year you may in me behold”.

Each verse in Dróttkvætt has 3 feet. Further requirements vary by line–for odd lines, two of the stressed syllables must alliterate with each other, and two (not necessarily the same two) must share a partial rhyme (similar consonants, different vowel sound). For even lines, the first stressed syllable must alliterate with the two alliterated syllables from the previous odd line. Then, two of the stressed syllables within the even line must rhyme with each other.

My Personal Quest:
I have been tackling the task of writing a drápa in English, using the Dróttkvætt verse form. Mine is a relatively short drápa–just 100 lines, 13 stanzas counting the refrain. Still, it’s about the hardest piece of writing I’ve ever done. In the better stanzas, though, the lines play off each other to create a distinctive music that’s hard to describe.

The Sample:

This is my 4-line refrain.

Wish-lord watches high-throned,
Wanderer still fares onward,
Found One finds the rune-hoard,
Famed the names of Odin!

My poem is a poem of praise for Odin, particularly his feat of discovering the runes. Odin
is famed for having many names, and one of the extra tasks I set myself was to include a different name of Odin in each stanza. In this, the refrain, I include four, the first three translated into English.

Wish-lord watches high-throned,
This is an odd line, the alliteration supplied by ‘wish’ and ‘watch’. The partial rhyme is also supplied by these two words–I’m fudging just a little on the word endings. ‘High-throned’ refers to Odin’s high seat, from which he can see everything that occurs on Earth. Wish-lord is one  of his more intriguing titles; Valkyries are also sometimes known as ‘wish maidens’.

Wanderer still fares onward,
The Odin-name ‘Wanderer’ of course carries on the ‘w’ alliteration from the first odd line. The two rhyming syllables (it doesn’t need to be a full word) are ‘wan’ and ‘on’. ‘Wanderer’ has an extra unstressed syllable, it’s the only place in the poem I allowed myself that particular luxury.

Found One finds the rune-hoard,
Alliteration and partial rhyme are supplied by ‘found’ and ‘finds’. ‘Found One’ seems a particularly ominous name for Odin, especially from the point of view of those evildoers who would rather not find him!

Famed the names of Odin!
‘Famed’ and ‘names’ supply the rhyme, ‘Famed’ the carry-on alliteration.
There you have it! Not too difficult, right? Now, just keep on doing that for 96 more lines…and for extra credit, be ready to recite it tomorrow morning in front of a hostile audience!