What a portrait! Victor Hugo (1802-1885), the great man of letters, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1832) and Les Miserables (1865), and champion of Republican government and the downtrodden. What a writer! RT
Photograph: Victor Hugo (1876); Etienne Carjat. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Short stories, at least from RT’s perspective, get short shrift in the literary world. Short apparently means smaller sales and so the form produces only limited income, as is the case with its sibling, poetry. What marks both is their intensity, and this may in fact be what scares people away. Whatever else you say, short stories are often powerful fiction, and it’s great that the Swedish Academy is giving this genre the recognition it deserves. RT
Photo: Cropped version of press image of Alice Munro, Author: Derek Shapton. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.
great recommendations from a fine reader and writer…RT
(reposted from The Librarian who doesn’t say “shhh”!)
Molli’s back story; enjoy!! RT
(reposted from Unbound Boxes Limping Gods)
This story is pretty much RT’s first dollar bill, framed. In his salad days, RT was deeply influenced by Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths, and the stories in this collection plus extended searches through dictionaries of symbols resulting in “The Contest.” Understanding the connections between symbols, RT opines, is one of the basic skills of poetry, and today he would consider this story to be an example of a prose-poem. As might be expected with such writing, the story came quickly, and RT typed it out the next morning on a floppy-disk computer at work. Of course, he immediately wanted to write other stories in the cycle, but they appeared only after much more reading and reflection. Inspiration, often in youth, gets things going; deep study (plus a healthy dash of persistence), gets them over the finish line. RT
THE CONTEST FOR SHEL (told by Neb the Poet)
The Poets say that the first of all things was the night, and the firstborn of night was Shel, daughter of the night.
Shel danced, and with the joy and beauty of that dance the stars came forth. So Zochi the Dreamer and Aruna the Singer desired her. They came to her and declared their love.
But Shel could not choose between the two suitors, and she told them that she would accept the love of whoever brought the finest gift to her.
Zochi and Aruna went away and considered what they would make. When each had given long thought to his love, and put forth all his powers, each made a gift.
Aruna brought a harp of gold with seven strings. The harp shone brightly, and Aruna played a lament that told of his loneliness without Shel. But Zochi brought a silver swan, and the swan shone with a pale and lovely light.
Shel could not choose between the gifts, so she said that they would have to make a home for her.
Again Zochi and Aruna went away, and they made the earth. The two spirits made oceans, rivers, streams, and lakes. And beside the shore of an ocean Aruna made a golden city.
The city rose in three tiers from the water to the summit of a tall hill. The lowest tier was built around the wharves, and in the wharves were sixty ships that would not run aground, or burn, or sink. The second tier held perfumed and jeweled gardens. In the gardens were trees of gold and silver and copper. On the branches of the trees flowers of crystal and sapphire and ruby blossomed, and in the garden sang birds whose beaks were cunningly inlaid with golden and brazen wire. In the highest tier Aruna built the Palace of Shel, and next to the palace he built a tall tower from which one might watch the stars of the lady. And when Aruna finished the city, he went into the palace and played the golden harp.
But Zochi the Dreamer went north of the city, and there he made a forest of trees and animals that grow and die. The trees of the forest were close together, and there was little light, so Zochi made a pond of clear water in the center of the forest. And the Dreamer took the silver swan, and he placed it on the pond, so that its light filled the dark forest. And when he was finished, the Dreamer wandered though the forest thinking of Shel.
Yet Shel still could not choose between Zochi the Dreamer and Aruna the Singer.
Zochi thought of the shining city that Aruna had made, and he guessed what the Singer would next make. So Zochi took water of the pond, and he made a man and woman. But the Dreamer wrought poorly, and the couple were ill-made. They were ugly and crippled; and they were frail and mortal. Yet despite their flaws, Zochi loved his children, and he brought them to Shel and Aruna.
Now Aruna rejoiced when he saw what Zochi had done. Then the Singer took light of the golden harp, and he took its music, and he made from them a man. The man Aruna made was beautiful and skillful of hand; and Shel was pleased with him, and because of him decided to accept the love of Aruna.
Shel went to the shining city, which she named Anados, and stayed with Aruna in the palace. And the man Aruna had made lived in the city and was happy–for Shel did not tell Aruna or his child of her estrangement from En, or that suffering had come into the world.
But Zochi placed the man and woman he had made into a sleep of forgetting; and he wandered in his forest thinking of Shel. And the golden harp and the silver swan were hung in the sky as a memorial of the contest. So were made the sun and moon.
Copyright © 2013, The Rag Tree.
Engraving; Cygnus Columbianus; James Audubon (Birds of America). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Waking people up, as we all know, can be difficult. Often what they need is not less, but more, sleep. Unfortunately, to some extent, writers are in the business of rousing people. So when we rush that cup of coffee to those of our audience who have pulled the comforter over their head, the morning joe had better hit the spot.
And as regards the story that follows, the second installment in RT’s incomplete cycle of creation stories, the term “morning joe” is appropriate. Even more so than the opening story of the cycle, “The First Words,” “The Messenger” has been a labor of love. How to encapsulate fundamental truths in a way that carries authority and delivers its message quickly? The great problem of all short story writers, of course. But when the stage is cosmic, the stakes go up. So here is a cup of extra-strong morning brew:
2. THE MESSENGER (told by Min the Poet)
Shel floated on the waves; En breathed in, out, in, out.
“Open your eyes,” she whispered.
“What are you thinking about?” Shel asked.
“Language,” En said. “Now that we have it, why don’t we make something?”
“Because we just did,” Shel said.
“What do you mean?”
“Wait and see.”
It didn’t take long. Over the course of a day Shel’s body swelled until the next morning she gave birth without pain. She took the child, a girl, and gave it to En to hold.
The couple cared for the child, creating whatever food she needed. They called her Shelen.
Splashing woke En up. Something was splashing water into the boat. Now on the left side, now on the right side, En looked over once, twice, then saw a flashing silver tail beat the water. Then a fish stuck his head up out of the water and said: “I am Utara, the messenger of the uncreated world.”
En was too shocked to speak for a moment; then he recovered and said, “How can you exist? We didn’t make you!”
“That doesn’t matter,” replied Utara, “I’m here because your daughter won’t be happy. She needs a world to play in and explore. You’ve forgotten about making the world, and the world is getting impatient.”
“Of course you’re right,” said En, realizing that Shelen had driven his desire to make the world clear out of his mind. Then he raised himself up and said with an expansive gesture: “Earth, be!” Immediately large continents and islands rose up from the ocean. En and Utara went to the new land and continued creation….
Ice and rock and tree bark, moon rabbits and talking spiders and feathered serpents, people big and tiny, brown and black and green and white, all these things En and Utara made. They lost count of all the things that had made, and yet they did not slow down or grow tired. Everything was fine until, until
a tree got sick and died, the earth shook and a crack opened up in it and swallowed everything near it, people made weapons and killed each other. En looked at Utara and said: “Why is this happening?”
“There are more purposes in you than you know,” Utara said. “We need Shel’s help to do it right.”
En agreed, and to stop more suffering he unmade all the things that he and Utara had made. They were back at the boat, and only Shel was there. She was crying uncontrollably.
“She’s gone!” Shel said, “Our daughter just disappeared. What happened?” When En told her what he and Utara had done, Shel was furious. “You killed her! You killed our daughter! Get out, get out, I don’t want to see you ever again.”
En said that they could start over again and make a new daughter, that they could make the world better than they had done the first time, but all the time Shel flailed at him, beat him about the shoulder and then En lashed out and struck Shel on the mouth.
It was over. What they said to each other no longer mattered. Utara said, “You shall not see each other for long ages, and the worlds you make shall be caught up in bitterness and suffering. And yet there is hope of healing your Estrangement, for the world desires Reconciliation.”
When these things had happened Shel rose up into the sky, and En continued on his way in the boat. God was broken and the Divine Purpose forgotten. In this way suffering came into the world.
Copyright © The Rag Tree, 2013
Painting: Leaping Trout (1889); Winslow Homer. WikiCmns; Public Domain.