Letters Column for March

Posted on April 2, 2005 by Jenna

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Donations for March totaled $30. Thank you! Also, thank you to everyone who bought the first monthbook. I’ve finished edits and bonus content for the second, so it should be ready pretty soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who posted their kind words. I read every comment, except for the endless spam on merin. And I’d like to sneak ahead and answer rpuchalsky’s question from next month:

If you have time, I’m interested in hearing more about what kind of comments you’d like to have here. I think that the idea of writing our own legends with our ideas about what is going on is great. Does that mean that you’d rather that we didn’t post lots of normal comments trying to puzzle out meanings of the entries?

Oh, no!

At some point this week, I’ll post an open thread for you to put some legends of your own in. And people are always welcome to tell random legends that occur to them, here, with the necessary legal caveats: you agree by posting that any derivative works you post do not damage my copyright to my text, and you also agree not to sue me based on anything like “wow, this new entry is similar to my post—she must have stolen my idea!”

But telling legends here is its own thing; it’s not that I’m seeking that as a replacement for normal comments. I’m seeking that as a plan to free up a few hours for monthbook work by having my readers entertain themselves. ^_^

I like the normal comments because, to be honest, my writing process is functionally dependent on feedback. I can pretend when doing professional writing that this is a disposable quirk, but history shows that it isn’t—I write more words per day and better words per day when I have a suitable mix of writer food in the form of vigorous compliments for the very good parts, expressions of confusion at the confusing parts, and less vigorous compliments for the parts that are not as good. For Hitherby, there’s a peculiar blankness to posting something without feedback; it takes a fair few months before I can directly recognize a typical entry as good. (When I post something and actually think that day that it was good, that’s a special reward from my muse. It isn’t normally that way!)

It’s neat when there are a bunch of comments that kind of wander off into my readers talking amongst themselves. That makes me feel accomplished.

A Discussion of History

There was recent “uproar” (read: the upper class news publications pretending they care) in Australia over a high school exam paper changing “BC” to “BCE”
— Nerje

We live in the present, and assume the existence of a past in order to explain our memories and our circumstances.

The raw data that we have is not enough. It’s never enough. It can’t be enough. It’s raw data, and raw data is fundamentally susceptible to any interpretation. We are Godel numbers. We live in a world of a Godel number. The raw bits and bytes of sensory data that stream into my mind are exactly analogous to the raw data for any universe you care to name; it is simply a matter of interpretation.

So we build histories.

Science is the craft of credibility. It is the craft of modeling the world in a way that is not dependent upon one’s personal bias. Science wants verifiable or at least falsifiable theories. Science wants universally reproducible results. Science wants its experimental procedures and reporting mechanisms to be credible, not as an incidental quality, but as the central tenet of the scientific ideology.

Scientific history starts there. It’s a history that wants to be credible. It’s a history where the most important thing is credibility, and specifically credibility to the ideal rational observer who makes a large number of randomized spot-checks of the details, processes, and primary sources in question.

Once you have that, you start evolving a model of history based on scientific fact. (This is very similar to basing your history on generic “fact” but it skips all the philosophical issues involving what facts really are and just uses the credibility of the investigation as the measure for truth.) This is a model that’s going to have dates and times and names and groups and it will often let you trace through a series of events or reconstruct much of the quality of some historical person’s life.

This is not the only history. It’s just the most neutral history. It’s just the most credible history. It’s just the history that’s easiest for everyone to agree on.

The truth is, every historian departs from this history as soon as they try to explain it, and begins creating narrative. They tell stories. They tell stories because there is nothing useful to humanity in a list of facts, names, and dates, without the narrative that surrounds them. It is a truth that if Hitherby focused on historians, it would make them mythical creatures and their bane would be that narrative, that it would be their life but also their consumption, because inevitably they would succumb to the temptation to adjust the facts to fit the narrative and in so doing unmake themselves as historians.

People are not wholly concerned with credibility. Even the smartest, most rational people—especially the smartest, most rational people—care about many other things.

God is not falsifiable. Morality is not reproducible. Wisdom is not universal. And truth is not identical to facts.

If your history starts with Christ, then your history is about making sense of the past in terms of Christ’s love, his life, and his sacrifice. It begins and ends with this understanding. It is not a scientific history, because there is a very real risk that assuming that history should reflect the meaning of Christ and assuming that history should be derivable according to the scientific ideology will result in a contradiction. It is, by most reasonable measures, scholarship; but it is a scholarship where the fundamental measure is not validation but elucidation, not power but growth, not certainty but faith.

I think it’s appropriate to label the scientific history in terms of BCE because it is not about Christ. It is, as histories go, a very human and rational work. And, when I give numeric dates, it is a specific allusion to the scientific history of the real world—and, if I deliberately chose to give a date in BC or anno domini, it would probably be a specific allusion to where those events stand relative to the life of Christ. It’s easy to screw up, so this isn’t gospel; it’s just that that’s the decision-making involved. For example, A Very Special Episode is set in 1212 the year of our lord, not 1212 CE, because it is a legend with a heavily Christian context. Conversely, I poked a little bit at some Buddhist ideas of time in The Summoning of the King. At some point I’ll do the necessary research to properly integrate that kind of thing; it’ll be a nice break from genealogy, genealogy, genealogy. ^_^

Some Notes on Classification versus Description

So, Martin was born in 1995 at the age of thirteen? Does this mean that he’s 22-23 now? (Depending on how precisely 13 he was at birth.)
— Jennifer

Martin is born in 1995, and he is thirteen years old in 1995, and one’s age measures the number of chronological years since one’s birth.

There is a contradiction here, and when a set of assumptions leads to a contradiction, you can negate any single assumption of your choice.

For the purpose of these histories, I negate the third.

Martin is 13 as an act of classification. There are certain indicators attached to his nature as a person. These classify him as 13. (Except when they classify him as other ages.) He is inherently in the category of 13-year-olds in the moment of his birth, and the meaning of that description is updated to match the classification.

It is possible to negate one of the other assumptions, or to rewrite the assumption set and choose additional possibilities for removal.

For example, you could start your process of history by declaring that the ages listed are accurate measures of chronological existence. I am pretty sure that the distance between Martin and Jane’s ages varies; if so, then you might decide that the interactions between them are not measures of literal events but of symbolic meaning. Alternately, you might argue that Martin is wrong to consider himself created, because his existence is still attached to woglies—in particular, the wogly that has him 13 and 0 simultaneously, with all the implications that would have for a consistent world.


Although Ella, herself, became a hero through a method that would normally seem to produce an angel, by promising to kill the monster. She defined herself, whereas some of her descendants have had their nature defined by Ella’s self-definition.
— Eric

In similar fashion, characters are angels or demons as an act of classification rather than description or definition.

Angels are not creatures of the promise, any more than heroes or demons are; rather, gods are classified as angels, demons, fiends, ghosts, or whatever else they are based on the answer they give to the emptiness that gives them birth. Magical A is created not simply by her promise but by her hope; Maya is shaped not only by her promise but by the dharma of acceptance by which she seeks to fulfill it.


So, if I’m right in my suppositions, the fact that Lisa is carrying the jacket instead of wearing it symbolizes her fallen nature.
— Ben

This is actually pretty solid. Lisa is carrying the jacket because she is not angelic enough to merit the normal motif.

Here we come to another interesting issue of classification, though. To you, she teaches acceptance—you think that she is an argument for leaving things as they are. To me, it’s more important as a character trait that she still speaks of everything in terms of hopes. (Both directly, in the form of “I hope”, and indirectly in the form of “Maybe.”)

I would classify her as an angel. A bad angel. And if Hitherby ever states what she is, that is almost certainly what it will state.

But it’s valid to say that she’s a demon, given what she means to you; and to suggest that this is because she is fallen; and, because there has been little discussion of “falling” in Hitherby per se, it’s even reasonable to go with medieval theology on such things and assume that as a fallen angel she fell in the moment of her creation, and in that moment became both damned and demonic. This would lead to the argument that hoping suffering is for the best is an inherently sinful sort of hope, and that would sort out through the implications of everything else in Hitherby in no doubt interesting ways.

As a side note, which may reveal something about the author and something about the metaphysics, the classification of gods is designed for inclusive accuracy and not exclusive accuracy—that is, it is my desire that traditionally angelic creatures should be angels, not that all angels should be traditionally angelic.


I really// want to know: when Martin says “I’m not some pathetic kind of angel” — does he mean that he’s an angel, just not the pathetic kind; or does he mean that he’s something else?//
— David Goldfarb

Well, let’s start with what you think he is. ^_^

Should he be an angel? Should he be something else we have a category for? Should he be a new category?

Metaphor and Meaning

//Martin’s story gets weirder and weirder.

We know that he does get out of the underworld. (Don’t we?) So is he beloved of the one who sits on the throne? Is that one perhaps named Rebecca?

And we learn about two new brothers that have never been mentioned before.

I’ve been thinking about Jane’s brothers. It’s come to me that they are each a metaphor for a way to cope with abuse.//
— David Goldfarb

I am not on the throne of the world.

It is, in fact, possible to determine who is sitting there; but the evidence is really subtle, and I don’t consider it to be “what the reader knows” at this point.

As for the rest … hm.

Your theory on Jane’s brothers is a good legend. It’s a good way of understanding what happened and why they failed.

But it is important to note that you have to assert facts not in evidence to get there—that you have to imagine that Mr. Banks did not die of Daniel-related complications; that you have to look at Daniel’s history as something that didn’t happen at all, and that the narrative conceit that allotted him more reality than Alan actually meant that he had less.

So it’s a good legend to tell, but you should also tell yourself legends that start with the notion that Jane’s brothers are—not metaphors—but direct and literal attempts to cope with abuse by a person with a facility for creating gods; and perhaps a version of the story that makes Mr. Banks’ death a thing far more important than the history noted, in addition to a version that denies that it ever happened.

See, it makes a lot of sense to think of Daniel as denial, but you have to be careful not to deny that he’s also an angel—that is, to say, a god that answers emptiness with hope—and a brother / manifest god who knew what to do to save his sister but did not have the intrinsic ability to act effectively on that knowledge. These three things are connected, and in a real sense, the weight you place on each of them is going to change the story you’re reading.

He’s also an isn’t, a con artist, and a kid.

Then what results in an isn’t?
— GoldenH

The birth of a god whose existence is incompatible with itself or with the world, and who can therefore only exist in the fuzziest of senses. That is where little isn’ts come from!

More on Christianity

It would truly be blasphemous, for example, if she said that Jesus was not the Son of the Lord, and I would be offended, and might find it difficult to retain composure. And it would change everything about Jesus, and she would tell stories of a name and not of a thing that lives in my heart.
— GoldenH


Here are the reasons that I would write about Jesus and not present him as the Son of the Lord.

First, it might be the best reflection of what Jesus means to me.

Second, it might be the best reflection of what Jesus means to the characters of Hitherby Dragons.

In either of these first two cases, I think that such stories as you find in Hitherby Dragons are either there or they are not. It does not matter what I think I’m writing about. You could and possibly should construct a version of this history based on your own beliefs. You could start with “Hitherby Dragons is a story told in ignorance of God, but look, even in that darkness, the faithful can see the actions of God’s hand.”

Third, I might write such a thing as a legend, a fiction, something that is, in fact, literally about the name and not the person.

Fourth, I might write something deliberately disrespectful.

I try not to do that last. You would have reason to be offended if I did. I may laugh at my own faith; I may laugh at others’; but I strive for the kind of laughter that offers strength and not the kind of laughter that cuts it down.


I can only talk about what lives in my heart. There are no words in me to talk about what lives in yours. If I see you, I see you with my eyes, with my soul, with my heart; I do not see you with immaculate knowledge, and my stories will always be my own. You must make of them what you will, or, if you will, what your Lord wills for you; trying to make of them what I do would force you to be me, and that would be awkward.

If Jesus Exists as a character (and is neither liar nor lunatic, either of which would cheapen the symbol)— then that seems to imply the existence of an all-powerful, benevolent proper-noun God. Then the work has to deal with the tension between the problem of evil (or, rather, here, suffering) and the existence of God– rather than the search for (for what? peace? meaning? release? deliverance?) for something given a world in which suffering and death are inevitable.
— ADamiani

It’s tricky!

There is an argument that an all-powerful benevolent God was inherent in the setting the moment that I asserted that the world had a purpose, regardless of the temporary aberration in the status of that purpose. I haven’t written out the argument yet, though, so I can’t say whether it’s a Dr. Lancor style argument or an actual inevitability that I have to cope with as a writer.

Other Answers

It’s odd that in “Bob (III/IV)”, where the firewood world was created, Bob’s sister is Jane, but here she’s Jenna.
— David Goldfarb

Your confusion is an artifact of timing—Bob (III/IV) was an early story, and it wasn’t a good place to explain the connection between Jane and Jenna.

That said, Bob (III/IV) is written very carefully, because I knew who she really was, and I prefer reliable narrators. You might want to doublecheck your assertion. ^_^


This series on the Buddha is really excellent. I hope that it’s OK to post a poem as a sort of comment(.)
— rpuchalsky

Of course!


So if a sage-king turns a treasure wheel, a buddha turns a woglie?
— GoldenH

You can’t have a dualism about Buddha! That’s like eating your coffee right from the bottom of the pot.


Hmm. I wish we knew at what point in the “story” timeline the legends are performed. Has the Monster been watching the recent performances?
— Eric

I suspect he has seen parts of Chapter 1. If he’d seen Chapter 2 he would have seen Saul, and that would be a wogly!


So, is Persephone still waiting to destroy the world? Or has she already destroyed the world of Hades and replaced it, transforming as well as destroying it?
— mneme

Is death a mystery or a truth?


I felt hopeful reading (the retelling of Persephone’s abduction), although looking back at the myth, and then once again at the story, I don’t really see any reason why. Except maybe Cyane… .
— tispity

I think there is always hope that people in dark places may leave them behind.


Out of curiosity, RSB, have you ever watched any Melody of Oblivion? It seems to have similar things to say about the nature of monsters.
— Egarwaen

Nope! I have never even heard of it.


It’s odd that Martin released Tantalus in the same way he persuaded the monster to join the hero in The Chorus of Definition (1 of 1). I think this may be some way in which he releases the someone from bonds (of suffering?) – Tantalus from the underworld, and the monster from Amiel’s promise.
— Graeme

See also Shame (I/II), Priyanka (I/II), and the chapter opener.

That’s all for now!

One of the reasons that I am writing this is that I have faith in you. That each of you, each person who does read this, each person who will read this, each person who could read this, each person who shares a world with me, is good.

I hope this faith will prove contagious.