Category Archives: History

State of the Lands: Getting There

Thou art wise to consider such a synthesis, Solemn. There are many worlds, yet only a single Nature.

-Final Judgement, “The Eye of Kog”

At first I thought this was not a truly worthwhile topic. Transportation, seriously? What could be more obvious; folks in the Alleged Real World can travel further and faster, duh. Well, except for the magic parts… and traffic jams OK. We use more metal when we travel; the Heroes of the Lands, oftentimes, take out the metal once they arrive. It’s a question of plane-cloudswhether the end is the means, when looking at moving in the two worlds I know of.

Here, We’re There

What lecture should I offer to fellow residents of the ARW about what it means to travel? I’ve been privileged to ride first class on train and plane, helped to sail a trimaran, looked down from a (safely-tethered) balloon, and pretended to be on all of those vehicles as a child, riding my bike for endless hours. Jumping in the car with the family and driving further than a wagon-train could go in a week? No big deal, be back home in time to feed the cats. I take travel casually, don’t you? We need to hit three cities in different parts of the country on business, an expedition that would have taken DeSoto or Polo weeks to arrange, forty men to support, and have no certain chance of success. Now, it’s click-click on a screen, ho-hum and what did you bring me? By any comparison to the Lands of Hope, traveling across the Alleged Real World means we’re already there.

commutersAnd gobs of us are there. We travel in myriad packs, we flow like water in and out of airports and carparks, released through gates at the sound of a bell like some plethora of greyhounds. The race is all, but we don’t expend much effort, mighty engines do the work. Heads half-down, we pass canyons and forests but stare at screens we already had back home. There’s a kind of horrid, undifferentiated sameness to the traveler, because nothing exists except the destination. Our name is legion.

A People Set Apart

In the Lands of Hope, the great majority don’t travel at all. The heroes of ancient days, much like the adventurers of more recent times, are distinguished by– and feared for– the distances they cover. Because it’s hard, for one thing. I have estimates, in my notes, about the space one can cover in a full day’s riding, or walking, and the numbers are pathetically small. The Lands are roughly the size of the continental US turned on its side, around 3,000 miles north to south and at least 1,000 wide between the Western Sea and the Swords of Stone. A few people, a very few, can use hoof or keel to move them about. The rest need to walk, and most, quite understandably, never bother.

Walk with Me

LoH_kg_1_map northern landsSolemn Judgement undertakes a great peregrination of three kingdoms in The Eye of Kog. Ejected from Conar (picture the “10” on a clock), he sails south (counter-clockwise) for more than three weeks in his one-man skiff to the Elven land of Mendel (“7”). There, he is denied the convenience of further travel up the River Sweeping and is forced to walk to the capital fourscore leagues inland. Being neither wealthy nor well-liked, Judgement needs to stop along the way and work off his passage at the estate of a local Theme. He receives mail from his friend Cedrith too late to arrive in the city before his wedding day. On to the ferry crossing and into Shilar (“4”), he hikes north across that kingdom to the foreboding wildlands of the Plains of Ranebruh (“2”), where he can at last hope to locate a dread secret that may protect the Children of Hope from the curse of necromancy. If he’s not eaten first. It’s five hundred leagues if it’s a step, at least half that distance solely on foot (pun). When Solemn Judgement approaches a village, the sound of his boots and iron-shod staff are enough to unnerve the inhabitants.

Tak ting-tak, tak ting-tak, a measured, relentless pace clicking closer and hinting at doom. Strangers always attracted attention here in the remote northern reaches of Shilar, and in winter they were as rare as warm days. Several dozen people had gathered between their cottages before they could even be certain whether it was man or woman who approached along the south road.

No one in the village of Barden had ever seen the Man in Grey before, but that made them only more certain what to do.

-Excerpt from The Eye of Kog

Judgement is a hard man despite his youth. The scary parts, the ones I tell you about with Created with Nokia Refocustombs and sorcerous bolts and ghouls in them, sometimes pale in my mind compared to the staggering alone-ness he suffers, walking endlessly from hamlet to town, varying the lack of company on the way only with the distaste of everyone he meets when he arrives. In the book I’m chronicling now, he has been in the Lands of Hope for less than eight months. In that time he’s covered enough miles on foot to get a free flight to Disney World. For two. But why would he ever go? And who could he possibly ask to come along?

How Slow Can You Go?

Yet Judgement sets a strong pace when he walks, alone and without treasure. Sometimes the price you pay for company in the Lands of Hope is moving at a crawl. In The Plane of Dreams, a party of adventuring types has arrived in the southern city of Wanlock, telling hiker2tales too tall to be believed if not for the priceless artefact they have with them. From deep in the desert, a party of nine would-be heroes  hauled out a human skeleton turned to solid gold, a distance of at least 50 leagues from the subterranean Despairing city of Jengesalamur. I was so fascinated by this exploit I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the weight and the strength of the party. It’s a staggering feat, and “stagger” probably best describes their pace for most of the distance they covered. But all that wealth… and did I mention the nine-foot animated iron statue pursuing them? No white Bronco could hold a candle to the drama of the low-speed chase I witnessed coming off the Shimmering Mindsea in 2002 ADR. It’s nothing we in the ARW would trouble with. We either move it at 60 mph or we leave it behind.

So in the Land of Hope, the journey is itself an adventure, not measured by distance so Created with Nokia Refocusmuch as the purpose (which on its face is often life-threatening) and by the company kept on the way. It can take what seems like forever. I often tell you about the part of the characters’ lives that you pay least attention to in your own. they can also cover limitless spaces in the blink of an eye. The major cities of the Lands are endowed with gates, and now that things are starting to pop as the Age of Emptiness ends, a few are using them. Poor beleaguered Cedrith, wanting nothing more than to return to his homeland and marry his beloved Kia, is able to win such a trip in The Eye of Kog. Immediately recalled to Conar, he insists on the ceremony, and is denied the honeymoon. His travails, as seen in his later letters from the road, sound somewhat modern as he frets over separation from his bride on the long overland route from Conar to Shilar– 10 to 2 in clockwise fashion– where the small towns have no gates and those at the destination have forgotten how to use them.

Between the Leagues

The heroes of later years sold that golden skeleton, then traveled without moving an inch, as they had to fall asleep to access the Plane of Dreams. But the first stage, finding the Chamber of the Troll Kings where their nightmare-trip could start, was a slog through many dangers and grim opponents. And the Plane itself is both nearer and farther than any terrestrial voyage could be. You’d have to ask Galethiel the specifics, or perhaps the Man in Grey she met there. But don’t expect either one to be too talkative.

No matter the distance, the journey itself, I find time and again is the part I need to tell you about. It doesn’t really matter if you drive or fly hundreds of miles a week, or never leave your own back yard; if you take your “where” for granted, then any time you have to think about it becomes an adventure. No conflict, no story sure; but maybe we should be a bit hiker1less focused (driven!) to “get there”, as if our whole tale lies at the end of the line. As a chronicler I hope to take readers on a kind of journey– like a dreamquest or vision– that could bring you as far away as you’ve ever been here. Yet you can stay on the couch the whole time!

Classics You’ve Never Read: Your Money or Your Life

Classic: a book that people praise and do not read.

– Mark Twain

CoMC_Treasure1Unless you live in Tennessee, I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that just like me, you did not win an unthinkably huge pile of money last month in the Powerball lottery. Instead, I contributed a modest amount to someone else’s dreams, and in return received the entertainment value of a few days mooning over what I would do if… I’m fine with it, of course, but that may only be because there’s the chance at another jackpot waiting in my future. I buy tickets on occasion, just one or two, and I enjoy the thinking, the dreaming. As much as I complain about vet bills and car repairs, I don’t truly need the money.

We all know and fear how wealth could ruin our lives: the two seem opposed. I’ve blogged before about Ebeneezer Scrooge, one of my favorite tales of all time. Among the funniest routines from the days of radio was the defining skit of famous comedian and infamous tightwad Jack Benny.

{sound effect, Jack walking home on the street}

Robber: Stick ’em up!

Jack: Don’t shoot!

Robber: Your money or your life.

{enormous pause, studio audience laughing}

Robber: I said your money or your life!

Jack: I’m thinking, I’m thinking!

This week I’m delving into the bookend piece of A Christmas Carol. Every few years I re-read the classic tale about the guy who gets it right, who uses an immeasurable pile of money to correct injustice, gain a much-needed revenge, reward the virtuous and win back CoMC2_Guy_Pearcehis life. It’s both, not either, for Edmond Dantes in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

The tale itself, I assume you know. If you have not read it, or at least seen it, I can have very little to say to you, on any subject. This is one of those books you’d have to have on the desert island: it’s seminal to my thought process and quite simply one of the most ripping good adventure tales ever told. I find longer and longer versions over the years and like its story all the more. It was decades before I realized it must have originally been written in another language. I still don’t know if I believe that.

Yes, a Fantasy

Let’s not argue about this. Edmond Dantes is first mate on board a merchant ship in the days just before Waterloo, with a fiancee’ in port and a secret letter in pocket, looking exactly like a character in a story about the Alleged Real World.

But come now.

He promises his dying captain to deliver a letter. One letter, he promised. And three unhappily-met enemies later, he’s been robbed of his position and freedom, deprived of his family and lover, and buried alive in the Chateau d’If while Napoleon’s return rocks CoMC6Europe. Yes, a bit far-fetched as bad fortunes go. Then he meets that combination of Sokrates, St. Francis and Da Vinci in the Abbe Faria (next cell over). A man who knows multiple languages, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy and history, but somehow tunnels too short, bringing himself to Dantes’ cell for the express purpose of turning our hero into a walking encyclopedia. The two men continue the tunnel (years of work), the Abbe dies just before they are done, and one body-swap-plus-near-drowning later, Edmond Dantes is free with CoMC5only the directions to a tiny island and its massive treasure to live on.

And by massive, I mean Powerball. Without the state and federal taxes.

Getting it Right

Now then, how many protagonists 1) get the treasure in the MIDDLE of the story AND 2) use it correctly? Aladdin, easy come easy go; not really good with money or power, he just loves the girl.  The Fisherman and his Wife, so not. The Dwarves in The Hobbit, almost no on both counts. But Edmond Dantes creates the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, CoMC_Treasure2appearing in Paris years later, to find all his enemies have become important people by climbing a ladder that had his heart on the bottom rung. The tale is just getting warmed up.

Dumas misses no opportunity to remind us what we already suspect: if people think you have money, a lot of doors open for you. Money is indeed power, over the spirit of weak and villainous people, and Dantes exploits this. He tosses around a gem the size of a swallow’s egg just to get an informant’s attention. A half-million francs is the price of one acting job from a villain who doesn’t realize how much truth he’s telling.

Yet everywhere you look, Dantes is not just getting his way with money, he’s passing judgment from it. Actually, his enemies are incriminating themselves: the wealthy banker jumps at each million the Count dangles like a treat before a puppy, and misses every time. By the same token, the noble and loyal from his former life are raised from poverty, saved from suicide, cleared to marry by Dantes’ wealth (aided, it must be admitted, by his love for theater).

The Obstacle of Wealth

CoMC4_Jim_CaviezelAuthors are often urged to throw down barriers to their heroes, for conflict. Chief among these I would say is poverty. Having a poor character creates sympathy, and brings in all its relatives like hunger, exhaustion, and spite from the “haves”; everything to do with time and distance is tougher because you can’t pay to overcome them. In Edmond Dantes, we’re looking at a man who has been horribly wronged, of whom it’s not too much to say that his life was taken from him. Now money, showers of it, and as much education as one might need, he already got that from the priest. It’s Batman without the mask– oh wait, he wears one of those too in the movies at times. And a cape of course. So it’s Batman, except his arch-villains have gotten themselves elected governor and federal judge and chairman of Gotham-Sachs. And who wouldn’t like to take down those guys?

Wealth brings a different obstacle.

Edmond Dantes is eagerly admitted wherever he goes, owns the fastest ship, employs the most loyal servants. Time and distance do not oppose him. His enemies are agog and ignorant of his intent. But he must be Justice itself: and who has sympathy for an avenging angel? The central question of The Count of Monte Cristo is whether he is after revenge or something more. By enacting his plans with perfection, he wreaks havoc on the lives of his enemies: you can hardly doubt he will succeed. It is not his goal, at first, to do justice. But when his perfect scheme causes worse than he intends, those plans must change. His next goal is not, at first, to survive. But a path to redemption opens when he places his trust in the one who wronged him least.

Mark these crucial moments in the unfolding of the plot, and you can see that beneath the layers of gold and jewels is still a man, named Edmond Dantes.

  • When his scheme to ruin the public prosecutor involves the man’s wife by indulging her CoMC3interest in poisoning, the Count fails at first to see that one of his worthy friends will be among her targets
  • He repairs the plan, but instead of simply humiliating or killing the prosecutor, he unexpectedly drives him mad
  • In the same way, his scheme for revenge upon the man who stole his fiancee’ centers around provoking their son to a duel, which the Count will of course win. But when Mercedes begs him with tears to spare the youth, the Count relents, and expects to be slain instead. Once again, for all his wealth and intelligence he fails to see the final outcome.
  • These blows to his omniscience bring Dantes humility, and in the end he even spares the man who robbed him of his position. He focuses instead on settling the fortune to his remaining friends (or their faithful children), and is himself stunned , as he re-enters the mortal realm, to find hope and a second life awaiting him.

Buying the Reader’s Love

So a staggering pile of loot is the means, rather than one of the ends of the story. How else can we sympathize with someone who has become rich and powerful, whatever he had suffered before? Edmond Dantes begins as a character with many admirable qualities,

Yes, it's me. Rodger Stebbins as Benedetto, Camp Dudley 1987. Sacre Dieu!
Yes, it’s me. Rodger Stebbins as Benedetto, Camp Dudley 1987. Sacre Dieu!

including courage, honesty, pride, perhaps much like the hero of your book. He suffers unjustly, in a way losing his life and passing through “death” in the Chateau d’If, then gains the means to balance the scales: most of us don’t know much about that, and in many tales when the hero gets rich we hear the happy-ending music. So the obstacle– indeed the peril of the mid-tale is that we will see thrills but lose this hero. The Count of Monte Cristo has wealth, but still no life. This angel of God’s vengeance comes down to earth again, where we can stop marveling and return to our affection. He is chastened, wiser, happier, and enjoys what is most important in human life, which is love and hope. Not wealth– or so those of us who didn’t hit the Powerball dearly want to believe!

When Edmond Dantes sails off to the horizon, it’s the end of the Count of Monte Cristo. But he is not yet forty years old. I think of his story often, as I re-read it often. Once since I began to chronicle the Lands of Hope, I thought myself at a crossroads and what came to me was his tale. Not because I sought revenge or justice, but I suppose I realized I was in the middle of a story (in fact, two of them). Dumas’ great classic can teach you a lot about where the end of the story lies. No matter what great tale you see, or how many you’ve told, there’s always an end whose place is “not yet”.  Like Dantes, you must always “Wait and hope”.sailing-into-the-sunset