Andêhostai Erelas and the Development of Thomoraii Poetry

I’ve recently been enjoying Robert Greenberg’s Great Courses video lecture series on “How to Listen To and Understand Great Music.” His method of teaching about significant musical works while also telling stories about their composers – with lots of primary sources, thank you! – has been great fun. Partly inspired by Dr. Greenberg’s style, I decided to write about Andêhostai Erelas, one of my favorite Thomoraii writers. Of course, Andêhostai’s imaginary, but that’s just too bad. I sure do wish his works actually existed. One note – all the marks on the vowels in Thomoraii words and names have meanings. I didn’t put them on just to amuse myself.

It was the Golden Age of the emperor Trusǎi in the continent of Thomorai when Andêhostai Erelas was born in 1301 MSY [Modern Sheesania Years; Andêhostai’s birth was in about 1814 A.D. our years]. All of Thomorai was at peace under the rule of Trusǎi, and the middle class was swelling as many people grew rich trading with Unia, Santa Meluna and other nearby countries. The arts were flourishing under the patronage of these wealthy middle and high classes, but most of all under the patronage of Trusǎi himself. The emperor was particularly fond of poetry, and so during his reign he supported many of the best poets in Thomoraii history.

At this point there were three main types of Thomoraii poetry. There were the folk poems: rhymes and fables and other such things, passed down by oral tradition and not taken very seriously by the patrons of the arts at this point. Then there were the epic poems, grand sagas of mythological or historical events that focused on telling great stories in beautiful language that would also teach the reader about morality and human nature. These epic poems typically featured archetypal characters and themes and were filled with abstract ideas from philosophy, psychology and other such subjects. They were not supposed to have realistic, complex characters, deal with everyday problems, or teach practical lessons. They were supposed to be grand and sweeping and inspiring rather than down-to-earth, detailed and practical.

Then there was the personal poetry, or tuôlenǎ, an art form meant just for the writer. Tuôlenǎ of this time period was typically short but very descriptive and detailed, and involved the specific feelings and ideas of the writer much more than epic poetry. There might be a story to a tuôlenǎ poem, or it might just be a description or a comment. Writers of tuôlenǎ might occasionally show it to friends or family, and indeed many scholarly families kept books of such poems that had been written by members of the family. But in general tuôlenǎ poems were meant only for the poet.

Andêhostai Erelas was born in Ôbtobâi, the capital country of the Thomoraii empire, in the golden age of the epic poem. His mother, Fidêl Truwêm, was a singer, and his father, Erelas Pǎityǎr, was a musician who worked for Trusǎi. While Erelas was not a very high-ranking musician among those that Trusǎi hired, he was quite well off and knew many of the musicians, writers and artists that Trusǎi was funding. Erelas intended for his son to become a musician, and so he began giving Andêhostai lessons in all of the major Thomoraii instruments when the boy was four. But while Andêhostai enjoyed studying and playing music, he was not particularly gifted, and Erelas realized that his son could probably never be skilled enough to get a good job in music – there were so many gifted musicians in Thomorai at this point that the competition for patronage was quite intense. So Erelas began casting about for something else for Andêhostai to study.

Meanwhile, Andêhostai’s mother Fidêl was teaching him to sing just for their own enjoyment – she liked to write short songs and she thought that it would be very nice to be able to sing duets she had written with her son, and Andêhostai, as mentioned before, enjoyed music despite his lack of natural ability in it. In the course of her teaching, Fidêl taught him bits of epic poems set to music, parts of opera-like dramas that she occasionally performed in. Andêhostai loved these poems and began writing poems and music for them himself, despite the fact that the music he wrote was rather bad. When his father saw the poetry he had written, he told his son to quit writing the music and focus on the poetry, and then he went and got him a teacher to help him. And so Andêhostai started taking lessons in writing epic poems when he was eight years old.

Andêhostai’s teacher Bêlûzdâzlai Kedê’a was a stern, grumpy old man who had been writing epic poetry for Trusǎi for decades. He was a tremendously demanding teacher, even more so when he recognized the talent Andêhostai had with words and images. He was horrified that, while Andêhostai’s parents had taught him to read and write quite well, they had not given him epic poetry to read or brought him to public performances of such poetry. So he began bringing the young Andêhostai to poetry readings twice a week, and had him read all the great works of poetry in the Thomoraii tradition over at least three times. “First time, look at the story. Second time, look at the philosophy. Third time, look at the writing style,” he said, “and if you enjoy any of it, read it a fourth time and try to look at it all.” Andêhostai later wrote to a friend, Palǎjân Ǎrazas:

I believe that I had practically memorized The Wandering of the Meshobai, The Return of Eriliair, all the works of Dûhǎlas Amjâi, The War for Kafa Monica, all the works of Thesolǎi Kulas, and all the works of Lǐshlai Lǔralai by the time I was fifteen years old. I couldn’t help it; any time I said anything at all about liking one of the poems I was reading, Qǎhai [professor] Bêlûzdâzlai immediately assigned me another reading of it. And then any time I wrote anything good at all about the poem I was reading, he assigned me another reading. And then any time I showed any signs of influence from the poem I was reading in my own poetry, he assigned me another reading. And if for any other reason he decided I needed to read it again – if he thought I had missed something, or misunderstood something, or needed to learn the lesson the author was trying to get across (this happened a great deal when I was a teenager and rather full of myself), or if he was just grumpy that day or if he thought was grumpy and needed some cheering up – and obviously more reading would do it – he’d assign another reading. I think I read Lǐshlai Lǔralai’s The Call of the Firebird sixteen times in the year I was fourteen alone. Of course, now I return to it quite often for inspiration or just for some relaxing reading, completely on my own initiative.

Bêlûzdâzlai drilled the rules of epic poetry writing into Andêhostai, forcing him to revise his poetry again and again. More than anything else, he forced Andêhostai to remove unnecessary words and details. “I had a tremendous tendency to go off on tangents of description at that age,” Andêhostai wrote to Palǎjân, “but Bêlûzdâzlai would have none of it. I would write five pages of a poem and he’d cross out four pages of it, and in the remaining page every third phrase would be crossed out. ‘Unnecessary! Unnecessary! Unnecessary! Focus on your story! Nobody cares what color the banana leaves were!’ he’d say.” Andêhostai did learn a great deal from his teacher. But the disciplined, strictly rule-abiding Bêlûzdâzlai and the dreamy, descriptive Andêhostai very often came into conflict over what was necessary and what was not.

One day when Andêhostai was twelve years old, Bêlûzdâzlai happened to mention the genre of tuôlenǎ, dismissing it as a “messy, unorganized, sentimental load of pointless mush with no rules.” Andêhostai had certainly heard about tuôlenǎ before, and had now and then tried his hand at a tuôlenǎ poem or two, but when he heard Bêlûzdâzlai’s rant a lightbulb went on in his head. Tuôlenǎ had no rules! There would be nothing to stop him from going on those descriptive tangents he loved so much! The contrary side of him, the side that always wanted to be different and always wanted to mess with the rules, was delighted. He started filling notebooks with tuôlenǎ poems documenting his feelings, his experiences, his reading and his writing. At first his tuôlenǎ poems were, indeed, messy, unorganized and sentimental without any real form or structure. But as he became more serious about tuôlenǎ, he began to apply what he was learning in his studies with Bêlûzdâzlai to his tuôlenǎ poems, and they became better and better. He became skilled at using small details to evoke a large, rich, image, to illustrate the moods of his characters, and to show people’s emotions in ways that he never could with the stock archetypal characters he worked with in epic poetry.

When he was fifteen, Andêhostai wrote a series of tuôlenǎ poems that tell the story of two cousins from a middle-class family. In the beginning, they are walking together through a plantation, discussing their lives. The older cousin tells the younger about how he fell in love with the daughter of a poor farm laborer, a gentle and sweet woman, but with no money or education. Afraid of what his family would think, the cousin married another woman from a middle-class family. As he tells his story to his younger cousin, he tries to convince him, and himself, that he made the right choice. The younger cousin listens, but does not really agree.

The scene then shifts to one right out of Andêhostai’s life. The younger cousin is being assigned by his poetry teacher to write a scene for an epic poem on the life of Raǐsh, a great warrior. The younger cousin writes the first stanza of the poem in proper epic form. Then, thinking of his older cousin’s story, he refuses to give in and write in the strict form of an epic poem. Slowly, stanza by stanza, he transforms his epic poem into a tuôlenǎ one, adding more and more descriptive images, more and more details of the characters’ feelings, and breaking the strict phrase structure of an epic poem more and more until it has become a tuôlenǎ poem, free of any particular structure and full of detail and description. It is an amazing work, but Andêhostai did not show it to anyone other than Palǎjân until years later, and it was not published until a few years before his death. But it shows how already, at that age, he had perfected the art of the tuôlenǎ poem and was already experimenting with how he could meld it with the epic genre.

When Andêhostai was nineteen, Bêlûzdâzlai finally grudgingly admitted that he had taught Andêhostai everything he could. It was now time for the debut work. Andêhostai would write a full epic poem completely on his own, without any input from Bêlûzdâzlai or anyone else. Once he was finished, he would show it to Bêlûzdâzlai, and if the teacher thought it was good enough, he would organize a time for Andêhostai to perform it for some significant poets and patrons of poetry. Hopefully the poem would be good enough that the patrons would be interested, and then they would bring various proposals for hiring Andêhostai to Bêlûzdâzlai. Bêlûzdâzlai would bargain with the patrons until they had all agreed on a few concrete proposals, which he would then bring to Andêhostai to choose from.

Andêhostai chose as his subject the myth of the hero Narâzas. In this classic Thomoraii story, Narâzas accidentally discovers that his father Fezêrlas, who his mother had always said had died before he was born, is actually alive. Narâzas then goes on a journey to find his father, overcoming various trials and making many friends and enemies along the way. But this is just the first part of the myth. At the end of this first part, he finds Fezêrlas, but then at the beginning of the next part, Narâzas discovers that Fezêrlas is actually a traitor aiding an enemy tribe. This is why his mother left his father and why his mother never told Narâzas that his father was alive. So Narâzas then goes on a quest to stop Fezêrlas’s treacherous actions and defeat the enemy tribe once and for all. Naturally, he succeeds, and in the end of the second part he becomes the leader of his tribe and marries a beautiful woman named Surila. There are further parts with more adventures, but Andêhostai’s poem focused on the second part.

Now, Andêhostai did want to write a good, solid epic poem. This was, after all, going to be his debut work; it had better be good, or else he would have a hard time ever getting a decent patron. But now that he was not under the critical eye of Bêlûzdâzlai, he wanted to experiment a bit and play with the story and the structure. Most of all, he wanted to incorporate some of his favorite elements of tuôlenǎ: the descriptive details, the emotions, and the fleshed-out characters. So for starters, Andêhostai changed the story a bit. In the original, Narâzas’s bride Surila contributes very little to the story before the marriage in the end; she offers Narâzas some advice once or twice, that’s all. But in Andêhostai’s telling of it, Surila actually dies in the finale of the first part (he begins his poem with the first part’s finale, but other than that he sticks to the second part). Her spirit then returns in the form of a red bird to guide Narâzas in his struggle against his father.

Surila was the first of a long line of female advisors, very often animals or spirits, and very often romantically involved with the hero or with some other major character, that appear again and again in Andêhostai’s poetry. Such advisors and companions do appear in other Thomoraii poetry and in Thomoraii myth, but definitely more in Andêhostai than anywhere else. Many scholars have hypothesized that these advisors were inspired by Andêhostai’s own lifelong relationship with Palǎjân Ǎrazas. This young woman was the daughter of Andêhostai’s father’s best friend, a fellow musician. She studied almost all the arts and sciences that were popular in Thomorai at that time: music, poetry, art, theater, philosophy, biology, psychology, and so on, but she never specialized. She was very intelligent, loved to analyze, and spent much time listening to music, reading poetry and watching various sorts of theatrical productions, then writing critical analyses of them in letters to friends. But Andêhostai wrote that “she does not dare create anything herself. She has a brilliant mind, a wide experience, a great ability with words and a beautiful straightforwardness, but she is afraid. I am not quite sure what she is afraid of; maybe that with her great taste she will never be able to stand anything she creates herself; maybe that all the artists she criticizes will attack anything she creates in revenge. I do not know. But I know that she is afraid, and everything I try to say to her to coax the writer, the composer, and the painter out of her does not move her resolve one bit.”

Andêhostai and Palǎjân often played with each other when they were children, and Palǎjân sometimes joined Andêhostai’s music lessons with his father and poetry lessons with Bêlûzdâzlai. She read epic poems along with Andêhostai – though she did not read them over quite so many times as Andêhostai did – and she went with Andêhostai and Bêlûzdâzlai to performances of them. Andêhostai often showed her his work for comments and criticism, and they would frequently discuss a writing assignment together to help Andêhostai get his thoughts in order before he actually started writing. When they were both twelve, Palǎjân and her family moved to a plantation in rural Ôbtobâi, and Palǎjân and Andêhostai began exchanging letters. When Andêhostai began to seriously write tuôlenǎ, he occasionally showed her some of his work, and she often suggested improvements or pointed out particularly good bits.

They were still frequently writing letters to each other and were still very close friends when Andêhostai began writing his debut work, which he was calling Narâzas and Fezêrlas. But Andêhostai had begun to fall in love with Palǎjân, and when he began Narâzas and Fezêrlas he was trying to decide what to tell her and what to do. Almost unwittingly he began to explore his relationship with Palǎjân through the relationship of Narâzas and Surila in his poem. Surila guides Narâzas but never makes any decisions herself, just as Palǎjân guided Andêhostai in his writing but never wrote anything herself. Surila and Narâzas grow and change throughout the poem, sometimes coming into conflict, but ultimately they support each other even when they disagree, just as it was with Palǎjân and Andêhostai. Most notably, Surila and Narâzas love each other, but the fact that Surila is, in truth, a dead spirit in the form of a bird presents a rather large barrier to their marriage, much like Andêhostai felt that Palǎjân’s opinions towards him and towards love and marriage presented a barrier to them ever being married.

Even though he knew that to be true to the spirit of the story he had to keep Surila in her bird form, and he had to make it impossible for her and Narâzas to ever marry, he still struggled with this decision and searched for alternate options throughout the poem. It gives Andêhostai’s Narâzas and Fezêrlas a certain very real quality that is completely lacking in the other epic poems before it. Nazâras and Surila actually struggle with their situation and try to find ways out of it. There is not the foregone conclusion, the ending that everybody knows, that there always is in epic poetry before Narâzas and Fezêrlas.

Narâzas and Fezêrlas has a number of other new qualities, too. For one, Andêhostai actually thoroughly fleshed out his central characters: Narâzas, Fezêrlas, Surila and a few others. He gave them realistic emotions; he made the good characters make mistakes; he made the bad characters do good things. Additionally, he filled his poem with descriptions, most often small details to evoke moods and feelings without many words. Such devices were all highly unusual in epic poetry before Andêhostai, and they were all things he had learned to do well in his tuôlenǎ. But these new elements aside, Andêhostai stuck to the traditional form of an epic poem. He kept the basic structure of the myth of Narâzas; he included lofty themes and philosophical ideas; and he was very careful about the sound of his words, one of the key aspects of Thomoraii epic poetry of the time. Light, happy scenes were filled with words that sounded smooth and flowing, making little use of the Thomoraii language’s deep, throaty vowels. But sad, heavy scenes were filled with pharyngealized and epiglottalized vowels and consonant clusters. Happy characters often rhymed or used alliteration; sad characters often used short, choppy words, almost as if they were speaking in between sobs. It might seem rather silly to someone used to English writing, but this was a standard in Thomoraii epic poetry at the time, and Andêhostai did it well.

Andêhostai wrote, revised, revised, revised, revised and revised his poem again for nearly a year. When he realized that he was close to finishing and would soon have to show the poem to Bêlûzdâzlai, he threw himself into another flurry of revision as he tried to make it good enough that it would be acceptable to his teacher. He was terribly worried that Bêlûzdâzlai would hate the unorthodox new elements he was including, and would be disgusted that he did not properly follow the epic poem structure. It was also frustrating to Andêhostai that he could not show his work to Palǎjân for comments – the creator of a debut work could not get outside work or advice before showing it to their teacher, and even after the teacher saw it, they couldn’t change it before performing it. But finally, just two weeks short of a year after he had started it, he made a final word change in Narâzas and Fezêrlas and then brought his manuscript of it to Bêlûzdâzlai (who was living in the same house as Andêhostai at the time). Andêhostai then sat down and wrote a frenzied letter to Palǎjân describing the moment, even though

…nothing that much happened, really…I went to his room, held out the manuscript, and said, “Here it is, Qǎhai.” He said, “Thank you, Andêhostai.” He took it, glanced at it, put it onto the stack of papers and books next to him, and looked at me. I knew I was supposed to leave so he could read it in peace. But I could not help but say, “Oh please, Qǎhai, just, if you’re worried, if you don’t know, if you – just keep reading! Just – ” and he cut me off and said, “Of course. You know what I think about how to read an epic poem,” and then he kept looking at me, so I left. But I thought as I was going into the courtyard that his business about reading something three or four times was only for a good epic poem. He also always said that if you realized something was trash, read it for another hour, and if it’s still trash, give it up.

Andêhostai finished his short and agitated letter to Palǎjân and sent it, but then he could not find anything else to do as he waited and waited for Bêlûzdâzlai to finish reading his poem. He could not stand to read another epic poem, as he usually did in his free time, since he had been “drowned” in poetry for the last few weeks as he tried to revise quickly, and he was thoroughly sick of it. He tried to practice the instruments he still played, but he was too nervous to play well at all, and, in fact, broke a string on one of them. He replaced the string, and then tried going out for a walk. But he quickly returned home when he saw how hot and sunny it was outside, and besides, he did not want to keep brooding about what Bêlûzdâzlai would think, and a quiet walk would probably encourage brooding. Finally, he decided that since he was already in “such a thin, stretched, crazy state, so nervous of Bêlûzdâzlai that any other stress would seem a relief,” he would accomplish something else that had been a stress on him for some time and would have put him into a thin, stretched, crazy state if he hadn’t already been in one: he would write a marriage proposal to Palǎjân.

Andêhostai had written her several months back about what he was thinking and feeling about her; she had responded coolly and a bit indirectly, saying that she was sure they would always be friends, but she was not so certain about love. Andêhostai had figured that she needed time to think, and besides, it was not really in keeping with Thomoraii culture for a woman to express affection towards a man before there was some commitment between them. If he proposed marriage, he would show that he was serious, and there would be enough of a commitment for her to comfortably say what she was thinking. It would also open up discussion between their parents. And besides, he did want to marry her. So trying to keep his thoughts of Bêlûzdâzlai and Narâzas and Fezêrlas at bay, Andêhostai once more sat down and wrote to Palǎjân, “I must once more write to you about something that has been on my mind for some time…”

He was almost done with this second letter to Palǎjân when a servant called him for dinner. Andêhostai, thinking that Bêlûzdâzlai would very likely come and eat with his family, went down to the courtyard where they ate in a “tremendously distracted state.” But Bêlûzdâzlai was not there. He had asked for his dinner to be brought to his room, where he was still reading. Andêhostai desperately questioned the servant who brought Bêlûzdâzlai his meal about what he had seen, but the servant could only shrug and say that Bêlûzdâzlai was looking at papers and seemed just as grumpy as usual. After dinner, Andêhostai returned to his letter to Palǎjân, and once he had finished that, he tried his best to go to sleep.

In the end, Andêhostai had to wait another full day to find out Bêlûzdâzlai’s verdict. Finally, in the morning two days after he had delivered the manuscript of Narâzas and Fezêrlas, Bêlûzdâzlai called for him to come to his room. Andêhostai wrote later that day to Palǎjân:

I entered Bêlûzdâzlai’s room and stood there in front of him. He was sitting on the floor with my manuscript in his lap. He had big stacks of papers and books on either side of him. One stack was topped by his dictionary; the other was topped by his [grammar book]…He took a deep breath and said, “Well, my son, I have read your poem. I must say that when I began I was quite alarmed. I’ve known about your…habit” (I could feel the word “bad” perched in his mouth there, passed over but kept ready at hand) “of writing tuôlenǎ for some time, despite what you might think, and I was concerned at first that you had come up with some grand idea about combining the two, epic poetry and tuôlenǎ. And you know what our dear Lǐshlai says about grand ideas” [here is a quote from The Call of the Firebird about pride, one that Bêlûzdâzlai often quoted at Andêhostai when he showed arrogance as a young man] “But…well. Your poem isn’t perfect, you know,” he said, very businesslike and stern all of a sudden, but it made me feel a little glow of warmth…because I know him very well, Palǎjân, and I know that he always does that before he praises me, because he always has to qualify any compliment he makes. That’s just who he is. But anyways, this all flew through my mind in the brief breath before he said, “but…well, then I read this,” and he quoted a piece from near the beginning, a piece that I have very much wanted to show you, Palǎjân, but which I can’t until my performance of the whole thing. Let me just say that it is a piece from the meeting of two friends, but after one has been greatly changed. [It’s from the place where Narâzas first meets Surila in her bird form.] So Bêlûzdâzlai read this piece of my poem to me, and he read it very well, and then he was quiet for a moment, and he said, “My dear son, I have been part of your life for a very long time, and I honestly do not know how you know what such a meeting feels like. But somehow you managed here to push through all my annoyance and alarm and all my fine critical capabilities, all my filters and walls and glasses over my eyes, and echoed something inside me, and so you got inside of me. And my dear Andêhostai, at the end of the day, that is all that matters in art, isn’t it? I don’t care what color the painter uses; if he can make me start and see and realize something in myself, he has done the great thing, he has fulfilled his art. I don’t care what instruments, what forms, what keys and notes and harmonies the composer uses; if his music reaches inside of me, if it gets past my mind and my cold judgment, that is all that matters, isn’t it? Now of course there are colors and instruments and so on that are superior for certain things, and your poem is not all perfect, not at all, and very often it reaches past me and over me and – ” And suddenly, Palǎjân, he leaned forward and bowed his head before me and touched my feet with his hands, and I felt like I was in a dream, and I felt like I was Tebî in Thesolǎi Kulas’s The Quests of Bêkiair and something was being offered me that was too beautiful and too grand and too humbling for the person offering it for me to accept it, and I gasped and said to him, “Please, Qǎhai – !” and then I said, “Tell me what I did wrong!” and he sat back and sighed and said, “I wish I had your [heart].” And then he swallowed and composed himself and began pointing out all the mistakes I had made. It was very thoroughly unsettling, Palǎjân, and I still feel like Tebî when I think of it. I am afraid that he thinks I am better than him at writing poetry. Maybe I know now why you are afraid to write anything.

Throughout the rest of Andêhostai’s career, Bêlûzdâzlai would often take issue with the details of how he modified the traditional epic form. But ultimately Bêlûzdâzlai was completely behind Andêhostai’s experimentation, since he believed that Andêhostai had the skill and the talent to pull it off.

Unfortunately, Andêhostai did not have the same happy outcome with Palǎjân as he had had with Bêlûzdâzlai. Three days later, as he was preparing to perform Narâzas and Fezêrlas, he received a very frank letter from Palǎjân. She said that she sincerely appreciated Andêhostai’s honesty with her, and was also very flattered and honored to be the recipient of his love. But, she said, while she very much wanted to keep his friendship for the rest of her life, she did not want to complicate it, stress it and change it with the addition of a romantic relationship. She wrote:

In the world today, the husband rules over the wife, and the wife has got to scheme and plan and be subtle and clever and manipulative in order to get a word in. I have no desire to be ruled by you or to manipulate you. I have found great joy in our status as equals and I do not want to change it…Very honestly, I don’t care if you say that you would never treat me that way, because even if you don’t want to, everyone around you is going to be expecting it. And even if you are all stubborn and full of grand ideals and ready to take on the world now, are you really going to have the same energy to defy our society twenty or thirty years from now, when you are tired of resisting everything and everyone – including me? Because I am a stubborn women, and I will no doubt frustrate you at times such that you will desperately wish you could order me to stop. And am I going to have the will to defy you when you try to assert your power over me? No. It will not work. We would destroy both ourselves and our happiness….And besides, I am not in love with you, though of course being in love has very little to do with the question of marriage in most cases. But I am just a bit nervous that you think love does have very much to do with marriage, and so if I marry you you’ll expect me to be in love with you. And at the same time, I also feel like Thesolǎi’s Tebî, I feel like the one who is offered something too grand and beautiful, and something that will, in the end, be too painful for the one who offers it for me to accept in good conscience. Yes, Tebî did accept in the end, but she was in a story; I am trapped in truth and in reality.

Andêhostai acknowledged Palǎjân’s response and withdrew his proposal. But he never really gave up hope of being able to marry her. He was, in fact, married to two other women during his life – Sonolan Alfěslǎi and Fidêl Tělěfes – and Palǎjân herself married another man and had many children with him. But Andêhostai always held out hope, however foolish it might have been, that somehow it would work for the two of them to get married. And those female advisors, so often romantically connected to the hero, but so often unable for some reason to actually be married to him, continued to appear again and again in his work.

Five days after presenting his poem to Bêlûzdâzlai, Andêhostai read Narâzas and Fezêrlas aloud in front of an audience of several significant epic poets of the day, including one of his favorite authors, Thesolǎi Kulas. The audience also included some of Ôbtobâi’s greatest patrons of epic poetry; the emperor Trusǎi himself had sent a representative, Kulas Dûhalǎs, to see if Andêhostai was worth his patronage. Additionally, Andêhostai’s family and Palǎjân were in the audience; for them, it was much like attending his graduation. The reading took about four and a half hours. Once it was done, the poets in the audience were split on the merit of Andêhostai’s poem, particularly on the merit of the new, tuôlenǎ-like elements that he included. But the patrons loved it, and by that evening, Bêlûzdâzlai had quite a number of proposals from them to present to Andêhostai.

Andêhostai ended up writing a poem on the foundation of Obtobian civilization for an army general, and a poem called The Death of Numiair, based on an old myth, for the head of the Thomoraii government’s tax department. When Trusǎi’s representative Kulas Dûhalǎs read these poems, he finally decided that Andêhostai’s work was mature enough to deserve Trusǎi’s patronage. Two years after Andêhostai’s debut reading of Narâzas and Fezêrlas, Trusǎi hired him to write a trilogy of epic poems on a mythological topic “to be decided.” The resulting works were the three volumes of Andêhostai’s classic Bêkiair Cycle: Bêkiair and Tebî, The Wanderings of Bêkiair, and Bêkiair and Kedê’a. After reading these phenomenal works, Trusǎi decided to hire Andêhostai for life.

Andêhostai continued to work on perfecting his synthesis of epic poetry and tûolenǎ until he died. At first his style was quite controversial, with some critics loving it and many others citing it as an example of the sloppiness of modern writers. But as his work became more polished and his style lost some of its alarming novelty, the critics of his day mostly settled into praise, though of course there were still quite a few that hated his writing. The patrons and readers of epic poetry, on the other hand, almost all loved it from the beginning. Printings of his poems were bestsellers, and readings of them sold out. His wife Sonolan Alfěslǎi set several of his poems to music, starting with The Death of Numiair four years after it was published, and the resulting works were also quite popular. Additionally, his Bêkiair Cycle was adapted into a opera-like music-and-drama production five years after it was first published, and this work remains a classic of Thomoraii theater today.

Much more notably, Andêhostai’s style was a huge influence on the younger epic poets of the day. They loved his way of writing description, his complex characters, and his liberal use of emotion. Expanding on this, they began to write epic poems that were not based on historical or mythological tales. One writer, Amjâi Bêlûzdâz, wrote many poems telling stories he had completely made up himself, set in the time when he lived, featuring normal middle-class characters – very unusual among the hordes of gods, nobles, warriors and peasants that filled the old Thomoraii epics. Other writers began to include more practical morals and ideas instead of just the rather grand philosophical theories that earlier epic poems were filled with. And, most of all, there was a new focus on complex and realistic characters. Old heroes and villains were reimagined with more sophisticated motivations, personalities and moralities, and many new heroes and villains were created, too.

Through his skilled combination of epic poetry and tûolenǎ in his beautiful works, Andêhostai Erelas started a trend towards humanistic realism in Thomoraii poetry. His focus on the details of life, human experience, and human emotion struck a chord with his readers and inspired many future Thomoraii poets. Today his work is some of the most classic in the Thomoraii literary canon; The Death of Numiair and the Bêkiair Cycle, in particular, are very famous and are required reading for many students. Now Thomorai’s future poets read Andêhostai over and over again just as he once read the classics of his day over and over.

I’m doing Camp NaNo!

2014-Participant-Facebook-Cover

Every year, a bunch of insane writers like myself spend November trying to write a 50,000-word novel. The people behind this challenge, NaNoWriMo, are probably part of a giant conspiracy with psychiatrists to make people crazy so they can all get more money, because they also run sessions in April and July! And what’s more, they call it “Camp NaNoWriMo” as if it were some sort of happy adventurous nature thing, instead of a tense, caffeinated race played inside, hunched over a screen. Fortunately, they are a bit kinder to us during Camp NaNo than during NaNo proper, since you can set your goal word count during Camp, and during NaNo you just have got to do 50,000 words.

This year I’m going to be doing Camp NaNoWriMo in July, writing a novel called And Then We Can Finish the Story and aiming for 30,000 words. I’m not done planning it yet, for sure, but it’s already taking shape as a rather convoluted story, filled with a little too much symbolism, set in my imaginary world, and having a great deal to do with the themes of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Well, that’s very nice, you say, but why are you telling us this in May? Because, dear Reader, I’m so busy with school and the like that I’m going to have to do extra school in June (which is fast approaching) so I’m freed up to write during July. And because I’ll be doing extra school in June, I won’t be posting as often. I usually try to post every week, but during June and July I’ll only be aiming to post every other week, and I can’t promise anything really long or complex. (No humongous treatises on music, thank you very much.)

And when can we read your novel? you ask. Well, I’m hoping that my book will turn out nicely and be something that I’m eager to share, but I really can’t be sure how things will actually go. It might crash and burn in the first week of Camp NaNo; it might end up being horrendously long; it might end up being really, really boring; it might end up being so convoluted that I start melting my own brain; etc., etc. However, even if things go reasonably well, don’t expect to be able to read it anytime soon – I’ll want to edit it quite thoroughly before I ever put any bits up on my website. You can keep an eye on its page on Camp NaNoWriMo, though, for a more thorough description, an excerpt (eventually), and stats on how far I am.

Arandui music

This post has been a long, long time in coming! I usually try to post something every week, but this article has taken so long to produce, and I’ve had so many unexpected complications and technical difficulties along the way, that I decided to chuck the posting goal while I finished it. And now it’s finally here! I hope somebody enjoys it. I also hope that I haven’t made any big, stupid mistakes, especially considering that I haven’t been studying music for very long…but if you catch any, please comment or contact me and let me know!

So, in the past few weeks my roving curiosity has gotten stuck on random subjects relating to music. I spent a few days reading everything I could about Pythagorean tuning, then I read about chords and harmony and counterpoint, then I went back to the subject of tuning and read about meantone and well-tempered tuning, then I investigated different types of scales, then I tried to wrap my mind about what a mode was. (Thankfully now I’m down to only one browser tab relating to music, but if I think about it too much I’ll end up with more.) So naturally I not only ended up with some understanding of historical Western tuning systems, I also ended up with a musical system for Arandu, my favorite Sheesanian country at the moment. And here it is.

I’ll start with an overview of the history of Arandu and Arandui music and how it developed, then discuss some of the more theoretical aspects of Arandui music – the tuning systems (of course!) and the scales and modes – then talk about the different instruments used in Arandu, and finally show a few examples of complete Arandui songs. (In English, since I haven’t worked on the Arandui language enough yet for me to translate a song into it.) Two notes: Firstly, the Arandui musical system is, admittedly, very close to the modern Western system. As I was thinking about it, I decided that since I don’t even know that much about Western music, it would probably be a bit too ambitious to try to come up with something really alien. But later on, once I understand Western music better, I can come up with weird musical systems for other Sheesanian countries. Secondly, if you’re curious about how I made all the examples throughout this article, I did them by writing a small program in Java, using the excellent JFugue library, to produce MIDI files with the proper tuning. Then I used TiMidity++ to generate .wav files from the MIDI’s. But where’s all that music from in the first place? All of it was written by either me or my sister – some of the examples are mutations of songs my sister and I have made up; other examples I wrote on the fly.

Background: Egeldish Music

Arandu was originally settled by religious refugees from Egeld, and so naturally they brought their Egeldish musical traditions with them. Now, Egeldish music is very strictly segregated between sacred music, which involves a variety of instruments (particularly string instruments), but is only played by certain priests; and popular music, which is not allowed to involve any instruments other than drums, a certain type of crude vessel flute similar to an ocarina, and foreign instruments (even then, if a foreign instrument is too close to one used in Egeldish sacred music, it’s not allowed). The priests that play sacred music have very jealously guarded their instruments and their techniques for centuries, warning people that they will incur the wrath of the gods if a non-priest tries to produce music in a sacred style. Foreigners visiting Egeld have at times been killed for playing music too similar to Egeldish sacred music without the authorization of these priests. Today many parts of Egeld are a bit looser about these restrictions, and certainly nobody will get killed nowadays for bowing a violin, but most Egeldish people are still very nervous about sacred-style music that isn’t authorized by the priests. You might not get killed for bowing a violin, yes, but you will make everybody afraid to associate with you.

Well, the Egeldish refugees that settled in Arandu had very little concern for these restrictions, because they had an entirely different religion and thought that all the priests’ warnings about divine retribution were a bunch of hogwash. Indeed, they were quite eager to defy the restrictions on Egeldish music now that they were out of Egeld and out of reach of the priests. The problem? Most of the refugees were low-class peasants who rarely even got to hear the priests’ special music, and certainly never got to study the priests’ carefully guarded instruments and techniques. While there were a few men among the refugees who had once been priests, none of them had ever studied the sacred music. But the refugees had stolen quite a few sacred instruments as they left Egeld, as part of a larger effort to take revenge on people who had opposed their religion (lords and landowners were also targeted). And so now they had a few different stringed instruments and flutes and other miscellaneous things that they had almost no idea how to play. (Sometimes they didn’t even know what they were. There was one particular miscellaneous thing that the Egeldish refugees just could not figure out how to play. Eventually a former priest realized that it wasn’t an instrument at all; it was a doodad used in certain rituals.)

So what did they do? They messed around with the instruments and invented their own new musical system based on what they could make the instruments do, and, of course, based on what little understanding of music they already had from Egeldish popular music. In the end, two main types of music developed in Arandu, loosely based on the Egeldish distinction: sacred music, which mostly uses instruments based on those stolen Egeldish sacred ones; and popular music, which uses the instruments from Egeldish popular music, refined and improved, as well a few new ones borrowed from the sacred musical tradition. In general, however, there’s a lot more overlap between Arandui sacred and popular music than between Egeldish sacred and popular music. And in Arandu, anyone can buy a sacred instrument and play it however they want without their neighbors killing or ostracizing them. Not so in Egeld!

As I continue the rest of this article, I’ll note what different scales or tuning systems or instruments are used in sacred music or popular music. The examples section will also have examples of both.

The Theory

The Arandui octave is divided into seven notes; starting from one note, a whole step up, then a whole step, then a half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and finally a half step to reach the note an octave above the first – the same as our major scale. So if you look at part of a typical piano keyboard (original image found here)…

Western octave

…we have twelve notes in an octave – seven white keys and five black keys. The Arandui octave is equivalent to the seven white keys.

Arandui octave

The Arandui notes are usually called, starting at the note closest to our D, fińa, hula, civoor, tyiis, sroi, para and lia. These names come from the first words of each line of an old Arandui hymn. They’re also occasionally called jueńśa, parazune, talianpara, zune, cyiru, hool and tamaanpara after their corresponding popular modes (or, in the case of zune and cyiru, the names of the other keys of the jueńśa mode), and these names are sometimes shortened to ju, pa, ta, zu, cyi, ho and ma.

Tuning

How this octave is tuned depends on what sort of music you’re playing. Popular music uses straightforward Pythagorean tuning, which I’ll explain a minute; sacred music uses a variation on Pythagorean tuning that allows for different sorts of harmonies. This means that you can’t really use popular-tuned instruments and sacred-tuned instruments together. For this reason, instruments that aren’t easy to tune (like flutes) are usually either only used in one style, or are sold in two different types, one for popular and one for sacred.

So, Pythagorean tuning! This tuning system was initially developed by, surprise, Pythagoras and was used in medieval church music. It’s based on the fact that a note played at the same time as a note seven half-steps up (so a C and a G, or a D and an A, or a B and an F#) – a perfect fifth – sounds quite smooth, restful, and generally pleasingly harmonic. Pythagorean tuning uses a series of these perfect fifths to produce the notes of a scale. So, say you were going to tune an Arandui cumaas, a type of stringed instrument that looks a bit like a dulcimer. You’d start out by tuning one string using something like a tuning fork; this is just a basis to start from. Let’s say you tune the first string to D. You’d next tune the A string – a perfect fifth up – adjusting it until it sounds good with the D string. Then you’d tune the E string, another perfect fifth up, adjusting it until it sounds good with the A. And then you’d do the B string until it sounds good with the E string, and the F# string until it sounds good with the B string, and so on – that’s the basic idea.

With this tuning system, perfect fifths sound very nice, so popular Arandui harmony tends to use a lot of perfect fifths. Fourths (notes five half-steps up, so D and G, or C and F) also sound good. Major thirds (notes four half-steps up, so C and E or D and F#), however, don’t sound very harmonic, so they’re used in popular Arandui music to create dissonance. Arandui sacred music, on the other hand, does use major thirds as harmonic (like modern Western music does). So the tuning system for sacred music basically adjusts the popular Pythagorean tuning in order to get nice, smooth thirds (minor as well as major, actually). The main downside is that one fifth, E and B, ends up sounding pretty bad. But this particular combination of notes isn’t used that often in sacred music, so it works pretty well.

A last note on Arandui tuning: both popular and sacred tuning is based on the note fińa at 300 Hz. Standard modern Western tuning, on the other hand, is based on A = 440 Hz. In Arandui tuning, both popular and sacred, the note closest to A is 450 Hz.

Finally, nerd alert: here are two big tables of Arandui popular and sacred tunings. First there’s the popular tuning, which is really just straightforward Pythagorean…
Arandui Note Closest Western Note Frequency (Hz) Ratio to Fińa Cents from Fińa
Fińa D 300.00 1:1 0.00
Hula E 337.50 9:8 203.91
Civoor F# 379.69 81:64 407.82
Tyiis G 400.00 4:3 498.04
Sroi A 450.00 3:2 701.96
Para B 506.25 27:16 905.87
Lia C# 569.53 243:128 1109.78
Fińa D 600.00 2:1 1200.00

…and then we have the sacred tuning, which is a tad more interesting.

Arandui Note Closest Western Note Frequency (Hz) Ratio to Fińa Cents from Fińa
Fińa D 300.00 1:1 0.00
Hula E 337.50 9:8 203.91
Civoor F# 374.93 5:4 386.00
Tyiis G 400.00 4:3 498.04
Sroi A 450.00 3:2 701.96
Para B 499.91 close to 5:3 884.05
Lia C# 562.40 703:375 1087.96
Fińa D 600.00 2:1 1200.00

Scales, Modes and Keys

Arandui sacred music almost always uses a nice, straightforward heptatonic scale (one with seven pitches to the octave) made up of all seven Arandui notes. Here’s a recording of two Arandui church instruments, a syiđa and a petashuisplaying this scale.

Arandui popular music, on the other hand, uses five different types of pentatonic (five pitches to the octave) scales, each with different characteristic melody types and behaviors – in other words, five different modes. And one of them is also used in multiple keys. Much more interesting! Each mode is associated with a different type of music, and each one is named after a different time of day. I’ll go through each one and explain the structure of the mode, its name, and the type of music it’s used for, and provide an example recording of the scale of that mode and a short example of a song using it. First, we have…

Tamaanpara (Sunrise)

Starting from lia, this mode is composed of a semitone, a tone, a tone plus a semitone, a tone, and two tones. In Arandui notes, lia fińa hula tyiis sroi lia, or in Western equivalents, C# D E G A C#. An Arandui cuśa playing this scale:

This mode is used often for love songs and also for enéntanoa (or in the singular, entanoa), “walking songs,” which are traditionally sung by travelers as they walk to their destination. Here’s a part of one traditional entanoa using the tamaanpara mode.

Jueńśa (Day)

Starting from fińa, tyiis or sroi, this mode is composed of a tone, a tone, a tone plus a semitone, a tone, and a tone plus a semitone. So, for instance, in Arandui notes, fińa hula civoor sroi para fińa, or in Western equivalents, D E F# A B D. If the jueńśa scale starts from fińa, it’s called jueńśa lane or just lane; if it starts from tyiis it’s called jueńśa zune or zune; and if it starts from sroi it’s called jueńśa cyiru or cyiru. A cumaas playing the jueńśa lane scale:

Jueńśa is most often used for happy songs and children’s songs, and it’s one of the most common Arandui modes. There will be a full example of a jueńśa song at the end of this article, so I won’t show an example now.

Parazune (Noon)

Starting from hula, this mode is composed of a tone, a semitone, two tones, a tone, and a tone. In Arandui notes, hula civoor tyiis para lia hula; in Western equivalents, E F# G B C E. A cuśa playing the scale:

This mode is fairly unusual in Arandui music, but it’s used occasionally in music supposed to evoke tension or mystery. In modern music it’s sometimes used as an intermediary when changing between talianpara and jueńśa. Here’s an example using parazune, part of a larger work that eventually resolves to jueńśa lane. This example is played by a cuśashoi.

Talianpara (Sunset)

Starting from civoor, this mode is composed of a semitone, a tone, two tones, a semitone, and two tones. In Arandui notes, civoor tyiis sroi lia fińa civoor, and in Western equivalents, F# G A C# D F#. A cumaas playing the scale:

This mode is almost always used for sad songs. Here’s a bit of one played by an ilanydriis.

Hool (Night)

Starting from para, this mode is composed of a tone, a semitone, two tones, a semitone, and two tones. In Arandui notes, para lia fińa civoor tyiis para; Western equivalents, B C# D F# G B. A cuśashoi playing the scale:

This mode is also used for sad songs, but talianpara and hool have different connotations of “sad.” Talianpara is considered tragic, weepy, emotional; hool is more mournful and despairing. So say you had an Arandui tragic play where the hero loses his love. When he first hears the news and is going through a lot of emotions, he might sing a song in talianpara. At the end, when he’s finally resigned to his loss and is quietly despairing, he might sing a song in hool. Of course, this is just the general difference; both talianpara and hool are used all sorts of ways in Arandui music. Here’s one bit of a song using hool.

The Instruments

Now that we’re done looking at the theory I’ve come up with for Arandui music, let’s look at the instruments that Aranduis use to play such music! For each instrument, I’ll explain what it is, where it’s from and how it’s used, and then give an example of the instrument being played.

Cuśa

The cuśa is a four-holed fipple flute; similar to a recorder, but, again, with only four holes. The design is based off a similar Väolki instrument, but it’s played much like flutes are in Egeldish sacred music. Cuśas are generally only used in popular music, as they can only play pentatonic scales. They’re made in all the different popular modes, and they’re the most popular and well-known Arandui instrument. People generally play them with one hand while accompanying themselves on a drum or a cumaas with the other hand. Here’s an example of a solo cuśa playing a short jueńśa lane tune.

Cumaas

The cumaas is a stringed instrument that looks a bit like a dulcimer. It’s most likely based on violin-like instruments that are used in Egeldish sacred music, but it could have also been based on the Hysleft guitar, an instrument from Carafilier. Cumaases come in two types: five-stringed versions, which are made in different modes and have a string for each note in the scale; and a seven-stringed version that has one string for each note in the full Arandui octave. The five-stringed versions are generally played at the same time as a cuśa; the player plucks strings on the cumaas to add harmony to the cuśa’s melody. The eight-stringed versions are usually plucked or strummed to play both notes and chords, with the player using two hands. However, five-stringed cumaases are sometimes played solo, and eight-stringed cumaases are sometimes used to accompany a cuśa. In general, the cumaas is most popular as accompaniment for a cuśa. In such a situation, the cumaas & cuśa player will often have multiple cumaases of different ranges so they can play more than just five notes.

Here’s an example of a cumaas playing solo.

Cumaas ihiisleve (or Hysleft guitar)

The cumaas ihiisleve is a direct borrowing of the Hysleft guitar, which was invented by the Hysleft people of Carafilier and Latrigle. While the cumaas ihiisleve is basically identical to the Hysleft guitar, it’s played a bit differently. Hyslefts play both chords and individual notes on their guitars; Aranduis generally use cumaas ihiisleves only to play chords (because if you need to play individual notes, well, that’s what a cumaas is for!). Cumaas ihiisleves are also only used in popular music, never in sacred music. As for an example…well, I would show an example, but it would be quite difficult to produce a proper one using my program, so I’m afraid there will be none for now.

Cuśashoi

The cuśashoi is quite like a pan flute, and was probably derived from similar Väolki instruments. Cuśashois are made in both ten-tubed versions, which are used in popular music, and fourteen-tubed versions, which are used in church music. Both kinds are usually constructed out of wood. The ten-tubed cuśashoi is fairly common in Arandui popular music, but it’s certainly not as popular as the cuśa. The fourteen-tubed cuśashoi is common in northern Arandui sacred music, often replacing the much more complex and expensive petashuis, but it’s fairly rare in sacred music from the rest of Arandu. Here’s an example of two cuśashois playing a bit of northern Arandui church music.

Ilanydriis

The ilanydriis is a vessel flute similar to an ocarina. It’s descended from the crude clay vessel flutes that were used in Egeldish popular music, but it’s far more capable and much better sounding than these Egeldish instruments. Ilanydriises are still usually made out of clay, however, though you might occasionally come across a ceramic one. There are two types: the plain “ilanydriis” can only play a pentatonic scale, and is made in all the different modes. However, this type is actually quite unusual nowadays. Modern players usually play what’s specifically the “church ilanydriis” instead, which can play a full heptatonic scale and has a large range. Such church ilanydriises are used in both popular and sacred music. In sacred music, they usually play harmony (the idea being that they’re quiet enough to play harmony without messing up the people trying to sing the melody); in popular music, they’re used for both harmony and melody.

Here’s an example of three ilanydriises playing a bit of sacred music together; one’s playing the melody and the other two are adding harmony.

Syiđa

The syiđa is a stringed instrument similar to a violin, and almost identical to the seneduā that’s used in Egeldish sacred music. Because it’s expensive and much more difficult to play than popular instruments like the cuśa and cumaas, usually only churches are willing to pay to buy syiđas and train people to play them. So it’s almost exclusively used in Arandui sacred music. In such sacred music, the syiđa usually plays the main melody, and so often has an important role. Here’s a syiđa playing a bit of a classic Arandui hymn.

Petashuis

The petashuis is a double-reed woodwind instrument much like an oboe, based off a similar Egeldish sacred instrument. Like the syiđa, it’s fairly expensive and difficult to play, and so it also is usually only found in Arandui sacred music. It often plays the melody with the syiđa or occasionally by itself, or sometimes it plays a simple harmony. Here’s an example of two petashuises playing some sacred music together.

Ńeregoi

The ńeregoi is a type of natural trumpet constructed out of brass, derived from a similar Egeldish sacred instrument. Unlike most modern Western brass instruments, it isn’t curled up, so it’s rather long and unwieldy. It also has no valves, fingerholes, or other such mechanisms, so it’s difficult for a player to produce standard Arandui scales without a great deal of training and practice. So, in general, the ńeregoi is only found in rich churches that can afford to train people to play it.

Here’s a sample of a ńeregoi playing part of a hymn.

Tadudú

“Tadudú” is an all-purpose Arandui term for a drum played with the hands (instead of with drumsticks). There are many, many types of tadudú – some derived from Egeldish instruments, some from Väolki ones, some from Suclapoi ones, some originally Arandui. Some particularly popular types are the tadudú jianame, a tall, slim drum with a deep sound; the tadudú nicone, a smaller version of the tadudú jianame that produces higher-pitched sounds; the tadudú shizhae, a drum the size and shape of the tadudú nicone but with a thinner skin stretched across the top and with a body that’s always constructed out of metal, producing a different sort of sound; and the tadudú soonane, a drum that looks like a huge tambourine without the metal jingles (rather like a bodhrán). All are used in both popular and sacred music.

Unfortunately, since I don’t think I could produce proper examples of all those drums, I’m afraid the sounds of Arandui tadudús will be have to left to your imagination for now.

Sozózona

The sozózona is a pitched percussion instrument composed of a number of small metal disks, much like little cymbals or the jingles you would find on a tambourine. It’s played by hitting the disks with a wooden mallet. Most sozózonas have a range of about two octaves, with disks for each note in the standard heptatonic scale used in Arandui sacred music. The sozózona was probably invented in Arandu (though similar instruments are played in other parts of Sheesania), and it’s very common in Arandui church music – it often plays arpeggios in a steady rhythm to accompany other instruments. Here’s a sozózona playing some arpeggios (though a real sozózona’s sound resonates for quite a bit longer than the fake one in the example).

Shelala

The shelala is a percussion instrument very much like a tambourine, though it’s usually quite large. It was based on the tadudú soonane (which itself was based on a type of Egeldish drum) with added metal jingles probably inspired by the sozózona. It’s common in northern Arandui sacred music as well as popular music, but outside of northern Arandu, you’ll only see it in popular music. As with the tadudús, I’m afraid I couldn’t produce a proper example, so just imagine a deep-sounding tambourine.

The Examples

And finally, at long last, we have reached the full examples of Arandui songs! First we have an Arandui hymn – so sacred music, of course – based on Psalm 43, written by a man from northern Arandui, Hitrial Dohona Haellimoon (you can see his hometown, Haellimoon, on my map of Arandu). It’s a type of song, a lament, traditionally sung during what we call Holy Week, the time before Easter.* Men sing one part; women sing another part (though the parts rarely overlap – they mostly take turns), but you’ll hear me singing both parts since I don’t have any men handy. A petashuis and a syiđa carry the melody, with the petashuis playing the men’s part and the syiđa playing the women’s part; this is quite normal for songs like this. There there’s an ilanydriis and a sozózona playing harmony to round it off.

Here’s the recording! If you’d like to see the sheet music I wrote up for this song, which includes the words, I have a PDF of it here.

Secondly, here’s a song in the popular Arandui style using jueńśa lane, one of those old children’s songs that you learn when you’re little and play when you’re first getting the hang of an instrument. I sing the melody along with a cuśa while a cumaas plays harmony. You can find the sheet music of this song (and the words!) here.

*Yes, the Arandui religion is more or less Christian. And yes, I do have an explanation for how people on another planet are following Christianity, but that’s out of the scope of this already very long article. If you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll write up the story!

Map of Arandu

My maps are, alarmingly, getting more and more citified. My map of Frencha had about 52 cities and towns marked on it, and there was still plenty of room to draw little symbols for mountains and forests and the like. My map of Egeld had about 150 cities and towns marked on it, and did not have room for the little symbols. Now this map of Arandu has about 185 cities and towns on it, and most definitely does not have room for pretty symbols. Yikes! I can’t believe I came up with that many town names! At least now I’ll never have to come up with one again. Unless I need a name for a village that’s really small and wouldn’t be on the map…

Arandu, like Egeld, is in the continent of Lufitantha. It’s the biggest industrial center in the continent and also the richest country. It was originally settled by Egeldish refugees who had converted to the Schesian religion. These Egeldish Schesians were mostly poor peasants, and so after concluding from the Schesian scriptures that all people were equal, they became eager to try to change their society and improve their lot. However, they soon discovered that Egeldish landowners were quick to crack down on any peasants that tried to put any big ideas about equality into practice. Many of the Schesian peasants then turned to what was basically terrorism – attacking and kidnapping landowners, attacking major public places, and so on. Naturally, the Egeldish landowners were not very happy and cracked down even harder, and soon the Schesians had to leave the country. They traveled through Azon, gaining many converts – Azonians had been subject to the often brutal rule of Egeldish landowners many times in their history, and so they were happy to join anybody who had opposed the landowners – and then arrived in Carafilier.

At first they were welcomed, and indeed made quite a few converts. But when they started to denounce the Carafilieris’ mistreatment of the Hysleft people, they quickly fell out of favor with the ruling classes. Soon they were back to their old terrorist tactics in another effort to change society so that it would treat everyone equally. And soon the Carafilieri government had punished them enough that they decided to leave the country again. So this time they sailed to Suclapo. Here they were not even welcomed in the first place, as most Suclapois were very suspicious of anyone with a different religion. So while they were allowed to land in a city in Suclapo, they were not allowed to leave the city, and they encountered hostility everywhere. What to do?

Fortunately, if most of the Suclapois didn’t like them, a few did. One of the friendly Suclapois had gone on a merchant ship to Jacia some years back. Along the way, they had been blown off course by a storm, and ended up landing in Arandu, which was unsettled at the time. This Suclapoi sailor told the Egeldish Schesians about Arandu and suggested that perhaps the Schesians could sail there and settle there. They decided that this was a good idea, and so after a great deal of bribery, they managed to get another ship and sail to Arandu. It was still uninhabited, and so they settled there.

Today Arandu definitely retains its religious heritage. The Schesian church is extremely powerful and is very involved in the government, and the vast majority of Aranduis are practicing Schesians. However, the flavor of modern Arandui Schesianism is very different from the flavor of the original settlers’ Schesianism. Those Egeldish Schesians were big on equality, and practiced an almost Communist system of sharing resources. However, over time, as more and more Aranduis got into business and trade, the Arandui church began to define the ideal of “equality” as “everyone has the same opportunities to get into business, get a job, etc.”, not “everyone has the same amount of money, food, etc.”. If you did well in business, the church began to reason, that must be God’s reward for your obedience. So of course you should get to keep your profits. If you were poor – well, everyone has equal opportunities, so you’re either not taking those opportunities or you’re receiving God’s punishment for something. Either way, the government certainly shouldn’t intervene and give you something. And so Arandu morphed from a near-Communist state to a pretty intensely free capitalistic society.

Now, while in the new thinking, businessmen should get to keep their profits, the church still insisted that it was important to give to charity. So the government, tied up with the church as it always has been, began to institute a special kind of tax that is still in effect today. There’s no income tax, you see. But you’re required to give a percentage of your income to registered charities, depending on how rich you are. Since the church ran the charities, it soon got quite rich. In the end, the Arandui government today is actually quite small. I haven’t worked out yet exactly how it works, but I do know that it’s not that large. But the Arandui church, on the other hand, is quite the organization. Honestly, it’s really more like the government is an extension of the church.

Arandui society today, despite the founders’ ideals of equality, is quite stratified. At the top are important church leaders and government officials. Then there are the landowners and merchants. Next there’s the educated middle class that those merchants get their managers and clerks from, and that the church gets its priests and administrators from. Then there are the skilled laborers, and then the unskilled laborers. Near the bottom of the totem pole you have independent farmers, most of whom live in southern Arandu, south of the Naa Jaisil and the Śasa Shaes (two rivers I have on the map). And finally, at the very bottom are the farm workers who work on land they don’t own, most of whom live and work on the rice farms in northern Arandu. Many of these northern farm workers are part Suclapoi or Väolki (e.g. from Katon Ko Väolk, or, as it’s labeled on the map, Catoon Co Falaca), which is part of why Arandui landowners don’t have a big problem with treating them badly. While they are paid, they are very restricted in where they can travel and what they can do, and they lead pretty miserable lives.

Right now Arandu is pretty stable, and indeed is the most advanced and successful Lufitanthan country at the moment. But I have plans for Arandu to get into a civil war very soon, mostly fueled by the poor classes’ dissatisfaction with the church and with their lot in life. So you might see some articles about Arandu’s civil war soon; in particular, I’m thinking to write some newspaper articles about the incident that sparked the civil war.

Now that I’ve given a bit (okay, fine, quite a lot) of an introduction to Arandu, what do you say we actually look at the map? I’ve colored it more or less according to what people use the land for there. So the dark green areas are rice-farming areas where those unfortunate farm workers live; the light green areas are predominantly made up of independently owned farms; the grey areas are mostly industrial; the red areas have a lot of industry and trade going on; and the brown areas are mountains, where there’s a bit of everything except rice farming. All the labels for cities, towns, rivers, lakes, etc. are in Arandui, except the map key in the box. As always, my signature is whited out, and you can click on the image to see it larger.

If you’re curious about how to pronounce all those names, here’s a quick guide. Stress is always on the second-to-last syllable, unless there’s a vowel marked with an accent (e.g. á or é), in which case the syllable with the accented vowel is stressed. “dy” and “ty” are a bit like G and K, but pronounced further forward in the mouth, in the same place where you pronounce Y (they’re palatal). “đ” is pronounced like D, but with the fleshy middle part of your tongue instead of the tip (it’s laminal). “zh” is a voiced “sh” sound. “ź” and “ś” are pronounced like Z and S, but again, with the middle part of your tongue instead of the tip. “zy” and “sy” are like Z and S but in that same place where “dy”, “ty” and Y are pronounced. “ń” is like N but with the middle part of your tongue. “ny” is like N but in the same place as “dy”, “ty”, “zy”, “sy” and Y. “j” is pronounced like Y. “gh” is kind of like Y, but in the place where you pronounce G and K; it’s a velar approximant. “e” is always pronounced “ay”. “i” is always pronounced “ee”. “o” is always pronounced “oh”. “u” is always pronounced “oo”. And finally, “c” is always pronounced like a K, never like an S.

Arandu - web

Fire or Light

This is a random short story, about 3 pages long, that I originally wrote in March 2013. As I was daydreaming one morning while washing up, the first line occurred to me, and I started to create a story in my mind starting from that first line. This peculiar symbolic tale is how it ended up.

Fire or Light

This story starts in complete darkness. You can see nothing, nothing at all but blackness, devoid even of swimming, shadowy memories of past light. For all you know, you could be in a room so small that the walls are almost touching your head and the hands at your sides, or in a room so large that you could not find the walls for a long time.

Then, with a swashing sizzle, I light a torch. You can see the brilliant, living fire. It blinds you for a moment, doesn’t it? But then, slowly, objects fade, still shadowy, but their outlines visible, into view. My face must look grotesque in the unpredictably flickering light of the torch, adding lumps to my nose and blackness under my eyes.

“Can you see where you are now?” I say. I move the torch close to the walls, and now you must be able to see the grains of the earthen walls, enlarged and blackened with shadows.

“You cannot see them right in the glare of this torch,” I say. “Touch the wall and feel it as it really is.” I imagine that you can feel how hard-packed the soil is, and when you dig your fingers into it, pull some out, and loosen the dirt in your hands, you must feel the smooth lumpiness of it. You press the soil back into the wall. I gather from your exclamation and the way you rapidly jerk your hand away, brushing it off and shaking your fingers, that you felt something wet and slimy, something unknown and strange, there.

“It is an earthworm,” I say. “I know you are not afraid of earthworms.”

I walk around most of the room with the torch, and you can see that it is small, but not claustrophobically so. But where is the exit? Where is the door? Where is the ladder to the trap door? Or is there no trap door but merely a trap?

“Do you wish to see what is above?” I say.

I can feel, I can hear quivering in your voice, your hesitation. The small, underground dirt room, the earthworm lurking in the wall, the light from the deceptive torch – they may not be pleasant, perhaps, but they are known. But above? What could be above? You don’t know anything, and even if I told you something, what evidence would you have to prove that I am trustworthy?

I say: “Do you wish to stay in this little room, your eyes being tricked by the torch, unable to tell what you are touching, overwhelmed by the smell of smoke and fire and kept from being able to breathe the scent of the soil, your hearing of the outside marred by these infinitely thick walls and your hearing of the inside marked by the sputters of an impulsive torch, your mouth dry with dirt and smoke? I agree that it is much better than some things that could be outside; stay if you will. But I know that what is outside is much better, if it is ever so much larger and ever so much more complicated. I will tell you this: there is more light.”

Does the thought of light tempt you? Perhaps it does, because you say that you do want to venture outside. I walk to one wall of the room, and there, brandishing my torch, you can see the very bottom of a flight of stairs. You cannot see farther than where the torch throws more shadows than light. For all you know, the door could be directly after the flickering boundaries of the ring of light ends; or the flight of stairs could go on forever and ever up. The stairs are uneven, as well. Some are thicker or thinner than others; some tilt to the right or the left, or upwards or downwards. Again, I can hear the hesitation in your voice.

“I am here to go up these stairs,” I say. “No – that is not true. I am here to go up these stairs with you. If you will not go, I will stay and wait a little longer. I can wait; I have already been waiting a long time.”

It has been a long time indeed. I do not know if you can tell how long you were in the darkness; how long you existed merely with the torch; how long you waited, curiosity satisfied for the moment, after having felt the walls; and how long you were quite happy to stand and remain in the familiar darkness before inquiring about the way out. But I can wait. If I were impatient, I would not be who I am.

You finally agree to go up the stairs, and I begin, carefully feeling and stepping my way up the stairs – they are hard, but ultimately they are of shifting soil, and I go cautiously. You are behind me, occasionally pressing a hand to the wall for support. The torch reveals stairs, and more stairs, but in its playing, flickering way. It shoots one way, and then the other; it flashes bright light on my face, and then leaves it in gloom. I keep it low, so we can see our way, but at the expense of seeing our ending.

Even though I am ahead of you, I can imagine your discomfort. Are you worried that with all these stairs, one is sure to be unsteady and make us fall all the way back down? Are you worried that the stairs will go on forever? Or are you worried about what you will find at the top? Are you thinking that perhaps it would be a good idea to go back? A safe idea, I assure you, but not necessarily a good one. If you ever hope to escape from that room in the earth, you will have to go up these stairs sometime.

Do your fears disappear now as I raise the torch to reveal a door of wooden planks? Or are you looking back and seeing the great length and steepness of what we have left behind? I will wait until you have turned your face back to the light – the rough, red, unrefined, capricious light – of the torch to open the door. Yes, you looking again now, and so I reach forward and lift the catch that holds the door. This door must have been set in wrong, for when I lift the catch, it begins to slowly drift towards us with a wailing creak. You step backwards quickly, then wildly grasp at the wall for support – you must be remembering again that long flight of stairs.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. “I left room for the door to open. Here, it’s open now. Do you see the light out there? Come on.”

Can you tell how different this new room is? Can you feel the cool stone under your feet? Can you hear the airy emptiness? Can you smell fresh-cut wood and maybe a distant sweetness of flowers? Most of all, can you see the cracks of white light shining here and there, sending glowing beams onto the floor? Does the torch seem dim and crankish now, as it spits here and there for seemingly no reason?

You ask where you are. I respond, “Look around; you’ll see where you are in a moment.” This place is so bright after the last one – I am sure you can see at least the outlines of most of the objects within it. I am sure you can see the arches curving like eyebrows over the tall room, the deep, octagonal wooden basin at one end, the rows of polished benches, the dais at the other end, raising itself up in even stairs, culminating in a great rectangular table covered by a cloth, shadowy guardian candles on either side. And between those candles is a tall, thin sculpture, curved and carved, but unrecognizable in the remaining darkness.

Do you know where you are now? Of course you do. You have been going to this church since you were a baby; you were baptized in this church; you went to this church every Sunday of your life – that is, until last week. This is why you can tell that something is amiss. You ask where the great stained-glass windows are, and what that sculpture on the altar is.

“The stained-glass windows are boarded up,” I say. “That is why there are only cracks of light coming in. They were boarded up because your priest, Father Louis, was afraid they would be broken by the revolutionaries. As for the statue – well, I shall show you the statue.”

I go to one of the hidden windows, a low chunk of stubborn light shining me in the face as I pass. I raise my torch. Is it a surprise to see that torch again? Is it strange to see its red, shifting light next to the calm, white-yellow, steady beam coming from outside? Well, I shall do something now that you may consider even more strange. I lift the torch to the boards covering the window, and touch the fire to them. They flare into flame, spitting and hissing. Perhaps it passes through your head that the flames sound like the revolutionaries themselves, the way they spat and hissed at the glass windows of the church.

I go to the next window, and light the boards covering that one on fire. And the next, and the next, until all the windows are covered with flame. The fires grow and lengthen, sending a swimming red glow over the whole room. You must be able to see better now, but the question is, are you seeing what really is? Do the cool floors really have that bloody glow to them? Does the baptismal really have such a protruding lip on the edge? Is the cloth on the altar really white or not?

“Look at me,” I say – I must say it loudly, over the roaring of the flames.

You look at me. I imagine what you must see: a strange, shadowy face in a sharp, angular form, hung with the same red glow that drowns the whole room, perhaps even appearing warlike and violent, holding high the torch that is a microcosm of the inferno flaming about the walls – spectacularly unpleasant.

Then I go to the baptismal and immerse the torch in it. It dies with a hiss, and I bring it up again, soaked, dripping. There is a small basin next to the baptismal that I pick up and fill. As I go to the first window, I pass by you. “Feel the water,” I say. You immerse your hands, and you must feel and see how it is cool and clear to the bottom of the basin. You take your hands out, and they drip on the floor.

Now I go to the window. I heave the baptismal water at the roaring flames, and they spit. I splash water all over the window, and you see that all the boards have been burned away, leaving the glowing panes of glass in the brilliant colors of the rainbow. How serene and strange it must look next to a window aflame with now even angrier fire! Again I fill the basin from the baptismal, and immerse the next window in water. It is left fresh, dripping, the uninhibited sun glowing through with steady glory. And on and on I go, dipping the basin full of baptismal water, and splashing it on the fiery windows until all their flames are gone and leave only clear glass.

The room grows brighter and brighter. There are colored shapes on the white floor, but I am sure you can see now that the floor is white, you must be able to see the bright purity of it surrounding the shapes. The baptismal, undisturbed by the water I take from it, is now clearly a perfectly proportional octagon, a delicately curved lip on the edge. The cloth on the altar is white as snow. And that sculpture on it – you can see it better now. It is a wooden sculpture of a woman holding a torch, as angry and violent, angular and sharp as I appeared in the glow of the flames. In fact, the jut of her nose and the thrust of her arm are eerily similar to how you remember me. At the very bottom of the sculpture, on its base, is carved in large letters: “REASON.”

I step next to the sculpture that shows me as I was in the light of the flames, and the bright sunlight from the stained-glass windows falls on my face. “Look at me,” I say again.

I am not sure what you see this time – different people see me differently. But however I appear, I am very beautiful. My face is perfectly even, my eyes are clear and sharp, all of me is flowing even as it is symmetrical. Yet even now, you can tell in the tilt of my nose and the lines of my arms that I am the same person you see in the sculpture and saw in the fire.

“You see me now as I really am,” I said. “You did see me before, when we were underground, and when you looked at me in the light of the fire. But here I am as I really am, in the light of the windows.”

~

Do you realize now that this was all a dream?

Are you waking up now as the picture of me standing tall in the light next to the sculpture of me in the fire fades away?

Will you shiver at the strangeness of a cryptic dream and lock the memory of it away to be forgotten someday to make room for something more straightforward?

Or perhaps will you smile at the memory of something ridiculous concocted from random elements of an overactive imagination, messily juxtaposed in sleep?

Or perhaps will you even laugh at the impossibilities that your sleeping self had taken as somber fact, reasoning that such windows would be boarded from the outside and after all, one could not burn the boards off like that?

But when you go to breakfast and learn that the windows of your church had indeed been boarded up for fear of the revolutionaries, will this uneasy memory stir? I think it will. Yet the question remains: what shall you do about it?

Shall you see me in the eager fire of the human revolutionaries?

Or shall you see me in the light of the stained-glass windows baptized out of fire, something beyond your own humanity?

The Sheesans

You may have wondered as you’ve read about Sheesania on this website: how is it that Sheesania, not being Earth, can be populated by humans? Well, there are many fantasy worlds with humans that don’t have an explanation for how they got there, so whatever, that’s not particularly important. But then how do the Sheesanians also have various inventions and ideas and so on that are from Earth? Lazy world-building? Okay, yes, that is partly why – in my earlier years I was not very careful to make Sheesania different from Earth. But I’ve come up with an explanation. And as usual, I’m rather glad I was lazy in the first place, because the explanation makes things a lot more interesting than if I had merely been careful about making Sheesania different from Earth in the first place, and so hadn’t needed an explanation.

What’s the explanation? The Sheesans. They are a race of beings that look fairly similar to humans, but they are more advanced in their logical thinking skills and love organization, structure and knowledge. At the time when humans were just beginning civilization on Earth, the Sheesans were already venturing into space and investigating other planets. They originally lived on a planet called Keb in another solar system, but around 2180 B.C. our time, they detected an asteroid that would soon crash into Keb and obliterate them. So for the next twenty years, until the asteroid was timed to hit Keb, they moved themselves onto spaceships and basically completely left Keb. Today Sheesans still primarily live in space, travelling, exploring, and studying the things they find. There are a very few Sheesan settlements on actual planets, but these are the exception – most Sheesans live on spaceships.

Sheesans, following their predilection for organization, lived in highly structured communities with their jobs, spouses and homes mostly picked out for them. But there is no central ruling authority that does all that picking. Instead, there’s a hierarchy of elected councils that decide on everything by consensus. The power is spread out very carefully among these councils so that it’s impossible for any one person to ever get that much of it. Now, realistically, a lot of the picking of jobs, spouses, etc. is done by automatic systems that were established by the councils, rather than the councils themselves…but the point is that while Sheesan society is very controlled, the power over that control is quite evenly distributed. The founders of this society hoped that by doing this, they could encourage Sheesans to concentrate on their jobs instead of spending their energies trying to get more power.

Sheesans generally grow up in communities with several married couples as well as several other children, including their designated spouses, with the married couples dividing the business of taking care of the children between them. From childhood, Sheesans learn the basics of the Sheesan Code – a set of laws and goals for the Sheesan people that encourages systematic scientific investigation and achievement and self-control. They also study math, science, a little history, how to read and write, and are taught lots of practical skills useful for running spaceships and conducting experiments. When Sheesans are about twelve, they’re assigned to a job and then leave the community where they grew up to pursue this job. As they get older, they will hopefully get better and better jobs and eventually be in good enough standing to gain the best job a Sheesan can have: leader of a new scientific investigation.

As is clear, Sheesan society devotes most of its energies to scientific research. Sheesans particularly focus on exploring and observing other planets, especially those with intelligent life. In their time they’ve visited Earth, Sheesania (more on that later), the planet housing one of my friend Rachel’s imaginary worlds, the planet of Intonia, which another associate of mine created, and many, many others. Why do they want to study these planets so much? Well, asking a Sheesan “Why do you want to know about other planets?” is like asking a human “Why do you like to look at things you find beautiful?”. It’s just innately satisfying to Sheesans.

Sheesania and the Sheesans

Today Sheesans have the technology to travel very far very quickly, so they can visit lots of planets with different intelligent life. But in earlier days, they did not have this technology, and they could only reach two such planets: Earth, populated by humans; and what would become Sheesania, populated by seakitties (which are smart, yes, but not nearly so smart as humans and certainly not as smart as Sheesans). Sheesan scientists, after studying the humans on Earth for many years, began to wonder how human civilization could develop differently. And then it occurred to them to bring some humans to Sheesania and see how things turned out there. So about 2500 B.C. our time, they took some people from Mesopotamia on Earth, brought them to Sheesania, and left them. Not very considerate, but the Sheesans didn’t really care about what the humans wanted; they just wanted to see what would happen to them.

The humans, after some perfectly understandable surprise, were able to adjust to their new home, and they soon established their own new civilization on Sheesania. Over the years, Sheesans continued to watch the parallel development of society on Sheesania and Earth. Occasionally they secretly brought technology from Earth to Sheesania, or from Sheesania to Earth, to help make their environments more similar and so improve their studies of how human civilizations can develop different ways even in the same general situation. This is why Earth and Sheesania have so much of the same technology.

As time went on, the Sheesans developed faster methods of travel, and they were able to find other planets with intelligent life. They were eager to study these planets, too, but because Sheesania had been the first non-Earth planet with intelligent life that they had found, and the site of their first large-scale experiment, they named it “Sheesania” after themselves. And the fact is that Sheesania is still the object of more Sheesan study and Sheesan interference than any other planet, including Earth.

“Amazing Grace” with three Alisons and four pennywhistles

I didn’t have much free time this weekend, but I really wanted to spend some time playing pennywhistle, and I really wanted to post something on my website…so I decided to record myself playing and singing a song from the hymnbook and post that. This arrangement of “Amazing Grace” is nice because I can play all four parts on the pennywhistle…but I can only sing three, as I decided that you probably do not want to be subjected to my rendition of a high G. So in the end, the pennywhistles do the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts, and I just sing the soprano, alto and tenor parts. I initially planned to just sing the melody, but since I’m only singing one verse, the whole thing is quite short. So I thought I might as well sing some other parts, too, and I quite like the result. Though there’s a weird buzz going on in some bits that I’m not sure how to combat. Hmm.

Hope you enjoy!

Carnivorous, Slippery Socks

Pattern: A combination of TATU Sock by Carolyn Kern and Tern by Pam Allen
Made for: My mom
Yarn: 2 balls of Elann Esprit in Tarragon
Made in: 2013 and 2014

My mom wearing the natty socks! With beautiful cords and other electronic paraphernalia in the background.

My mom wearing the natty socks! With beautiful cords and other electronic paraphernalia in the background.

I’ve knit socks before, and I’ve knit socks with this yarn before, but I’ve never been particularly excited about them and I’ve never worn them that much. But my mom really admired my knitted socks, so I decided to make her a pair in her favorite color, green. I had her pick out a pattern (she chose TATU Sock) and then I finished them in just a few months – they went really fast! As it turned out, I didn’t really use the pattern she picked out – I went by the Tern pattern instead, but I used the TATU Sock design thing on the leg, and I made some other changes to the Tern pattern, too.

I do like this yarn – it’s nice to have a cotton yarn I can use for socks, and it’s quite soft – but it is still a bit heavy for socks, and it leaves fluffs all over my clothes while I’m using it! If I ever knit socks again for my mom or anybody else who’d be living in the climate I do at the moment, I’d probably use it again…but partly because it’s the only reasonably priced cotton sock yarn I could find.

I call these my “carnivorous, slippery socks” because the bottom part of the first sock reminds me of listening to an audiobook of The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket…

Note the pen sticking out of her toe.

Note the pen sticking out of her toe.

…and the top of the first sock reminds me of listening to an audiobook of The Slippery Slope, the next book in the series.

I'm actually quite proud of how that heel turned out on the side, too. Certainly an improvement on my earlier socks.

I’m actually quite proud of how that heel turned out on the side, too. Certainly an improvement on my earlier socks.

The second sock doesn’t remind me of anything in particular.

The pen has migrated.

The pen has migrated.

Of course, I can’t really tell apart the two socks unless I look closely, so functionally both socks remind me of those things.

IMG_5006-1800

My mother was rather alarmed at the name and wanted me to call them my “natty green socks,” but I can assure her that I do think they’re very natty green socks – calling them carnivorous and slippery is a compliment, since I so enjoy having memories of books wrapped up in my knitting.

The awesome Nastasia theory: a crazy but nevertheless rather workable theory about Super Paper Mario

This is part of a planned series of posts analyzing, discussing and generally having fun with Super Paper Mario, my favorite Wii game. If you find it ridiculous that I am spending a great deal of thinking time trying to fill up plot holes in a very cheesy Mario game, you should probably ignore this.

VICIOUS SPOILERS HEREIN!!

Do you remember how way back, at the very beginning of Super Paper Mario, in the prologue – you know, the bit that will play if you don’t press 2 when you start the game up – that bit of music at the beginning of it will haunt me forever – anyhow, in the prologue, the narrator says of the Dark Prognosticus: “No person, after obtaining this amazing book, ever found happiness.” Yet, at the very end of the game, it is strongly implied that Count Bleck and Tippi are living in happiness, despite the fact that Count Bleck certainly had obtained the Dark Prognosticus at one point. So what should one conclude? Are all those characters at the end of SPM who insist on Bleck and Tippi’s happiness just deceiving themselves? Or perhaps they sincerely think Bleck and Tippi are happy, but we enlightened players are supposed to know that this can’t possibly be the case because of the Dark Prognosticus? Or is there some way we can still honestly think Bleck and Tippi are happy?

Well, you could say that Bleck broke the curse that had previously afflicted all people who obtained the Dark Prognosticus; after all, one of the themes of Super Paper Mario is that prophecies, curses and the like aren’t final and unchangeable. Or you could take a really cheap way out and say that Bleck wasn’t a person, exactly, he was a member of the Tribe of Darkness and not human. So even if no person could ever find happiness after having obtained the Dark Prognosticus, he could since he wasn’t a person. Or you could explain it another way. A way that fills up several other plot holes, too. And a way that gives a very important role to poor unfortunate Nastasia, who I think is probably my favorite character from SPM for no particularly good reason. I call this explanation the “awesome Nastasia theory,” because I personally think it’s awesome, but I leave it up to you to decide if it really and truly is.

So. Let’s begin with an assumption. This assumption is worth it, because if we just make this small adjustment to our interpretation of that prologue, we can satisfactorily explain a lot of holes that the more obvious interpretation leaves open. The assumption is: when the narrator in the prologue says that “no person, after obtaining this amazing book, ever found happiness,” they mean that no person ever found happiness while they actually had the Dark Prognosticus. One’s first interpretation would probably be that if you had ever obtained the Dark Prognosticus at any point in your life, you could never be happy, whether or not you still had it. My new little slightly-modified interpretation says that if you actually currently own the Dark Prognosticus, you can never be happy. Now, stay with me. This will work out.

Let’s now go far ahead, all the way to the beginning of the ending of SPM, the bit in Castle Bleck where you finally enter a room and meet Count Bleck and Nastasia. Now, have you ever noticed that Count Bleck doesn’t have the Dark Prognosticus with him in this scene? The other times you see him in Castle Bleck, he does have the Prognosticus. Yet at this point he doesn’t. So presumably, knowing that the heroes were coming – remember Nastasia’s warnings that “that hero’s gonna collect the Pure Hearts and come here. He’ll come for you”? – he put the Prognosticus in a safe place where it wouldn’t get in the way. He may have also wanted to get it out of the way of the coming battle because he had some protective instinct for it, but that’s not important; the point is that he put it safely away. Then, right before he begins fighting you, he sends Nastasia away, despite her initial hesitation. But where does Nastasia go? Perhaps to the same safe room where the Prognosticus is…?

Now imagine this. Nastasia is standing there alone, knowing that Count Bleck will probably fail, yet also desperately hoping that he won’t succeed and destroy the world; terribly worried for him, unsure of which prophecy to trust, not wanting either of them to come true, and completely unable to do anything. And there is the Dark Prognosticus sitting right there – the Dark Prognosticus that has all the answers. And then suddenly she remembers that no person can ever be happy while they own the Dark Prognosticus, and so as things stand, Bleck, her dear, unfortunate, tragic Count Bleck, can never find happiness. But if she takes possession of it and reads it, the curse would be lifted off him and put on her instead…Put on her, who could never be happy anyways while his heart belongs to Timpani…

What do you think she would do? Take it and read it. And then inside she would discover that Dimentio would betray Bleck and send him to Dimension D, but if Bleck and his other minions were together again, they might be able to restore the Pure Hearts, and if that happened, Tippi and Bleck would be happy together, albeit separate from everyone else. Now, you may ask, how is it that Nastasia could read something in the Dark Prognosticus that Bleck apparently never saw? I appeal to Carson’s story about Dimentio. Carson says that Count Bleck turned Dimentio away “until he read in the Dark Prognosticus about the role of someone similar.” Yet – assuming Dimentio joined Bleck relatively recently (a hypothesis supported by the story of the bat and the man who rescued her) – Count Bleck had a great deal of time to read the Prognosticus before he read this bit about somebody like Dimentio, as he says to Tippi that he “searched long…searched and searched” for her. All this searching would quite certainly be after he had acquired the Prognosticus and, it seems, killed his father. And he would probably have been reading it quite a bit, considering that even when he first acquires it he says, “Speak, Dark Prognosticus! Teach your dark history!”

So despite all this reading he did, and the great familiarity he seems to have with the dark prophecy judging from how often he quotes it, he didn’t see this bit about Dimentio until fairly recently. And the Dark Prognosticus, from how it looks in the game, doesn’t look like it was long enough that he could possibly not reach the bit about Dimentio until recently. So then presumably the contents of the Dark Prognosticus actually shift and change. After all, Count Bleck never shows any sign of having knowledge from the Dark Prognosticus other than the knowledge of the dark prophecy, despite the fact that it must have had such information at one point: “Over the years, many have fought over it… Entire countries have fallen. And the fall of those countries was already predicted in the book,” Garson says. Garson also says in the same story that “everything that’ll happen in the future is written down in this book.” So how on earth could it be that small and have all that information? Its contents must change.

So, back to Nastasia. Now, having learned all this, she could finally act and help to prevent what she dreaded. So of course, eager to try to save Bleck, even if she could never be with him, she would rush off to tell Mimi and O’Chunks to go to Dimension D, telling them that she “FELT” Count Bleck would be there since she would not want to admit that she had stolen the Dark Prognosticus from her master. Then she would rush back to the room where Count Bleck was being defeated, hoping to be able to shield him from Dimentio when the time came.

And so that is why Nastasia knew to shield Bleck from Dimentio, and why she knew that Blumiere and Timpani were living somewhere in happiness together as she says at the end, and and why she is so sad if you speak to her after you finish, saying that she knows what it was like when Blumiere became Count Bleck, because she too lost someone she loved and was corrupted by the Dark Prognosticus. And that is why Count Bleck and Tippi can actually live together in happiness after the events of the game, despite the fact that Count Bleck had owned the Dark Prognosticus for quite some time.

This theory could also explain why Nastasia was able to survive Dimentio’s blow. The Light Prognosticus reveals that Count Bleck had some sort of “dark power”: “Naught can stop [the Void]…unless the one protected by the dark power is destroyed.” Could this power have come from owning the Dark Prognosticus? After all, the Tribe of Darkness, according to Garson, may have “used the book’s power to enhance their dark magic.” If this power came from the Dark Prognosticus, when Nastasia took ownership of the book, she received the dark power…which could have then helped to protect her from Dimentio’s magic.

And so there you have it: my grand theory, my favorite crazy theory I’ve come up with to date, my lovely theory that explains the plot holes of how exactly Count Bleck can be happy, how Nastasia knew Bleck would be in Dimension D, how Nastasia was aware of the whereabouts of Bleck and Tippi after the end, and how Nastasia could have survived Dimentio’s magic blast, but best of all, my theory that makes dear, unfortunate, tragic Nastasia important. My theory that is, perhaps, just a bit awesome.

Thanks to:
BFarmer for his Garson/Carson story guide
Super Slash for his Super Paper Mario game script

An experimentation with chords on the piano

For almost a year now, I’ve been learning to play piano, going through a normal piano instruction book but also playing songs on my own just using chords. Per my usual habit of messing around with things and making up my own stuff whenever I’m learning anything, I started to play different random chord progressions, inventing arpeggio patterns, improvising a song to sing along while I went, seeing what interesting effects I could achieve by doing different things with either hand. I became especially fond of the Bm – A – G chord progression for no particular reason, so I did a lot of playing around with that.

Then eventually I started to put together all my different arpeggio patterns and harmonies and the like into a song, and then I played around with the song until it began to take own its own life. That’s always what happens with the best things I make up. Take my languages – I mess around with a few linguistic features, draw a phoneme chart, bat around some ideas for the morphosyntax. But then eventually I get this feeling of what the language should be, and the language just takes on its own personality and life. Same with characters and stories I create. I can do all sorts of things with the characters and the story, but it’s only when they start to come alive and seem to think for themselves that things really get good. So anyhow, the song started to take on its own shape and feeling, and then it started to take on a feeling that reminded me very much of the feeling of the books I’d been reading. This, also, is normal – my stories always have bits of theme and character that come from what I’ve been reading, and my languages always have bits of phonology or morphosyntax that come from languages I’ve been researching. And eventually, after a lot of messing around with it, I felt like I had reached a good finishing point with the song. Here’s a recording of me playing the result.

This song is, naturally, not very exciting or amazing or anything of the sort. And my performance of it is certainly lacking. Indeed, I’m not even sure there’s much of a point in putting it up on my website for the world to see. But I have to admit that I rather like it, and I love the distinct feeling it has…though more likely than not that’s just because it brings back memories of the books I was reading as I worked on it, not because it itself has much emotive power. At any rate, I decided to put it up in case any of my readers should be interested in the music I’ve been making. I hope you find it at least mildly pleasant.

I call this song “an experimentation with chords in D” because, well, that’s what it is. But if I thought it was decent enough to merit a dramatic name, I think I’d call it “The Corruption of Innocence,” as that’s the story I hear, at any rate, when I play it. If you’re curious about the books it makes me think of…well, honestly, it makes me think of A Series of Unfortunate Events, most particularly The Penultimate PerilThough the bit near the beginning where the right hand is playing “ACB ACB AC…” makes me think of The Wide Window, for some reason.

By the way, I also wrote up the sheet music for it, really just as an exercise for myself, but I have a link to it below in case anybody is curious.


The sheet music