Letters Column for March 2011, Part 1: “The Covenant of the Sharks”

Posted on July 13, 2011 by Jenna

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Hi everyone!

As so often happens, just replying to the comments on the last letters column is enough to fill the first installment of the next one.

Donations for Hitherby since February totaled $155, plus $15 for Chibi-Ex. Thanks for all who donated! I’m particularly grateful to Mr. Eure; being able to feed your clockwork donations into credit card payments for an old debt has preserved my access to a bank account with the same company (and is slowly winning against the debt itself.)

It’s possible I missed a donation if it came in during the Limited Edition sale; nobody at Eos Suzhou but me had a working paypal account in March when we needed one.

I tried to actually answer everyone’s post on the last letters column, if I hadn’t answered at the time, so I’m not going to have a separate section of thanks this time. Maybe next week.

Similarly, next week I hope to update you on print run status. Right now, it’s the same as it’s been for 6 weeks or so: I’ve seen proofs from the printer but I have not yet seen the books.


//I’ve been reading the archives and noticing that there are at least a few tags which don’t make the cut for display above. “Shelley”, for instance, who appears as Shelly or Shelley or Sheila in a number of legends, but who I don’t recall appearing in a history. Shelly often seems to be linked with John, and it wasn’t until I looked at posts tagged John that I realized John is Tainted John whom Liril transformed.

(There are a few tags with only one entry, such as “Ogre Express” and “Ginette”. I wonder about that.)

(And of course writing this comment I went off looking at some other tags. Seems like Tigers in their Cages and Coming Home ought to be tagged “Iris”, along with the other two that already are….)//
— David Goldfarb

Agreed! Thank you.

The tags are kind of haphazard. My general optimism was high for a while in … 2009?, and then again for a while after getting to China, and that gave me a fair bit of energy to work with and get the tags into this kind of shape, but finishing up work on them will have to wait for my next bit of optimism.

That said: the reason that there are some tags that don’t appear up above is simply that the tag list at the top only covers the top 50? 100? Or something.

Oh! Question for the community: as of 3-4 months back, I have what seems to be a blank tag in my tags collection. It’s making it hard to tag new posts properly! It doesn’t show up on my list of tags; it keeps me from selecting other tags from the list; and when I select it, I get tag: “#teot {position:absolute;overflow:auto;height:0”. Anyone know what’s up?


[The Nobilis limited edition sale is the b]est news I’ve had all day.
— jazzfish

// fantastically wonderful news!//
— Nyren

I hope these sentiments still hold, both now and when the book actually gets to your hands.


// I don’t have a good answer to suffering, but [.. a] quick google on “wordpress google” turns up this: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/ (which might be of service, though).//
— mneme

Your suggestion is appreciated! The problem seems to have resolved itself to some extent with a wordpress update, but I appreciate your stepping forward.


Call me a small-souled nitpicker if you like (hmm, I feel like I’ve said that before recently) but I feel compelled to point out that “dwelleth” is a correct (if archaic) form only for the third person singular present active indicative. Your sentence here wants an infinitive.
— David Goldfarb

Now and then I don’t have a choice. ^_^

(I’m serious! I tried really hard to make it more correct because I knew you would say that but it hurt my head. It wanted to be dwelleth. Maybe it means something.)


Somewhere in the long series of histories about Ink beneath the earth’s crust, she says something about having been about development of the self. As I was going to sleep last night, it occurred to me to connect the darkness symbolized by Ink’s name with the shadows in which Mei Ming lives. (And perhaps with the shadow from whose womb Mei Ming was pulled.) I wonder whether Ink’s legend was about what Martin wishes for Mei Ming? Ink being short for “Incompatible Precepts” and her father being her worst terror would fit in.
— David Goldfarb

David – You know, that’s really interesting to think about, given how the Imago’s birth directly relates to Mei Ming. Or, maybe, indirectly. The Nest of Mirror Pieces (5 of 5) is important. I’m not sure why, or how Persephone, who can also be seen as relating to shadows, is involved.
— Nyren

“I was an investigation of the nature of the self.”
Ink Interrupted

Ink is certainly connected to Mei Ming and to Persephone. ^_^


A letters column, now that’s a blast from the past. A taste of old wine in a new glass, even.
— Penultimate Minion

I drink mine from a boot!


It seems relevant, given the story’s focus on power and its abuse, that a six-year-old can’t engage in equitable relationships because she isn’t self-sufficient. Any adult is going to be at least somewhat in a position of relative authority to that six-year-old, and they can’t really be equals. At least I’m assuming that Jane is not self-sufficient, although I might be wrong. Who does the accounting and pays the taxes, Martin or Mr. Schiff?
— Rand Brittain

… Martin, I think. Mr. Schiff is still the more ascetic of the two.


If gods are philosophical stances, then I suppose the reclamation of Iphigenia is a way of saying “That philosophical stance was totally workable! I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling monsters- and your Melanie!”
— Rand Brittain

“It’s what people do,” Liril says. “They keep their own gods.”

Micah looks tired. He is still recovering from torture. He is not at his best. But he tells everyone where to find the supplies he stole from a grocery store on Saturday. They find the cache.

“I should have realized,” Micah says, “about the milk.”
The Old Man of the Sea

Stupid milk. Always going bad! And then you drink it!


So here’s the deal.

Reclaiming one’s gods is probably closest, in the real world, to making a claim of self-ownership; to saying, “I will exist in the fashion inherent to me, and pursue the dreams and wishes of my own heart, rather than allow you to pervert those things and call your purposes and identity my own.”

I mean—

Remember that the monster did not disprove Iphigenia. Tina took Iphigenia, who was born from and remains entangled with Jenna/Jane, and used her to kill. There wasn’t even a fig leaf, like, it’s not as if Iphigenia were naturally constructed to kill, or pushed to kill things she wanted to destroy anyway; Tina wanted the power to kill, but she took from Jane the power to keep the sun going, and then abused that.

She treated Jane—

Let’s say Jane, today, and not Jenna or Jenna/Jane—

Anyway, she treated Jane as if she were an object of physical science, as if “Jane is driven to create a power of flame to heal and protect” and “Jane is driven to create a power of flame to kill” were commeasurable, practically identical processes. She took away the association between intention and action, not because mortal fallibility makes our outcomes uncertain but in the manner of an evil logician, arranging things explicitly and consciously so that a willfully benevolent and self-sacrificing action would produce an evil outcome. Basically, she reduced Jane to a black box of stimulus and response. That’s the meaning of taking somebody’s gods from them.

Reclaiming your gods, in turn, is insisting on the ability to have intentions, and have them matter; to have purposes, and have them matter; to exist as yourself rather than as another person’s conceits. It’s insisting that one’s internal experiences and drives should matter; it’s refusing to allow other people to define your experiences and purposes for their own convenience. Oh, in practice, you’re staking your claim to your past self and not your present one, and that’s going to bring you troubles commensurate to your actual rather than imposed past errors—but still, the point is to say that others don’t have the right to coopt the fire that burns within you for their own and alien ends.

Obviously intentions and outcomes correlate poorly at best—that’s part of why they’re “gods,” not “spells”—but to the extent that intention and willpower can act as a control system on one’s outcomes, reclaiming one’s gods boils down to saying, “That’ll be my intentions and my will.”

The core of the monster is to use negative feedback to make that impossible. Anyone can use someone else to their own ends; it takes a monster to come up with the idea of making sure that the target’s attempts to use themselves to their own ends have no, or no desirable, effects.

But that’s because I don’t think of gods as philosophical stances. Estates, sure, those are stances! Gods are closer to methodologies.


I saw on DriveThruRPG that Nobilis was out in a new edition. I immediately blogged about it, then came to check here and make sure you were still affiliated with it (one never knows). Glad to see you are, still.
— bblackmoor


Hopefully it’ll even be printed by the time I finish letters columns for the month.


//Jenna Moran wrote:
“P.S. Why do people suffer, hurt, and die?”

Because the Special Edition sold out :(//
— villum

Sadness! I’ll let you know if I somehow end up at 332 when all is said and done.


//thanks for the appreciation. I had hoped to draw some of the nicer characters from hitherby too, but the image of the yellow tie was just stronger, and then i got distracted…

I will, someday, somehow, make more hitherby fanart.//
— villum

I love fan art. Seriously. ^_^


(and here is the place to ask something I’ve been wondering: is Jane 6, the way that Martin is 13 and Liril is 8? I have a past comment where I assumed that Jane was 6 because it had been six years since Martin remade her, and that in 2005 she would be 7, but that might not be so)
— David Goldfarb

Jane is 6 in much the same way that Martin is 13 and Liril is 8. She’d probably have to become something else in order to change that, which she isn’t planning to do unless she wins and possibly not even then. You’ll see below what some of the costs of changing herself might be.

She died in 1974, aged somewhere in the 5-6 range, had some experiences in between, and was remade in 1995.


//The man in the gray suit said, “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…Forbidden A, you have control of the board.”

Erin sighed. Her special ability was starting to get on her own nerves. “I’ll take ‘Siddhartha’ for $200, Alex.”

The man read, “‘He’s a washed-up bald monk who lives in an ENLIGHTENMENT BALL.’”

Erin rung in. Alex said, “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…Forbidden A.”

“‘Who are you to seek the freedom of all people from suffering and desire?’”

“Correct! I know I shouldn’t say this, but…Forbidden A, again.”

Erin said, “I’ll take ‘The Line of Monsters’ for $600.”

Alex read, “‘Fifteen’.” The lens propped up near Erin…well, it didn’t ring in, having no hand to ring with, but it managed to make a ringing noise.

“The Lens ‘Necessity’.”

The lens said, “‘How many of these insults must I bear?’”

“Correct! Choose again.”

“‘Sid and Max’ for $1000, please.”

A piercing electronic noise resounded. “A Daily Double! Lens Necessity, you have $12,400. How much will you wager?”

The lens replied, “Alex, I’ll wager $5,000.”

Alex read: “‘Walk in like you own the place.’”

“‘How can you enter the land of guilt and the distant glebes of suffering and the leeds of the kells of the knowledge of your sins, and walk away unscathed?’”

“Correct! That puts you at $17,400. Choose again….”//
— David Goldfarb

Ahahaha awesome.


So, one of the most important things about Jane being six instead of forty is other people’s expectations of her, reactions to her, and where she fits into their worlds?
— Nyren

“It is the dharma of a god,” Martin says, “to view certain moral and causal relationships from the other side.”


The thing that Martin turned Jane into isn’t purely internal to her; it wouldn’t really make sense if it were. It’s a social or dharmic stance. It’s not just how she interacts with people, you understand, it’s also how she interacts with the world.

It’s like how you’re not supposed to think about Forbidden Angel. That’s technically part of her nature, but it conditions how others react to her, how she fits into their worlds, right? Jane’s age constrains her, to the extent that I’m able to write it correctly—

I freely admit, as I’ve admitted before, that it’s possible I made her a couple of years too young, although I’m not actually convinced of that, I’m just willing to allow you my fanship to call me on that if by the time we’re done you think it just—

But it is much more important that she, and how she, pulls everything around her into her world. She can’t do it by being greater than everybody else; the Buddha tried that and maybe it worked for five hundred years but it’s not the right answer now. She can’t actually do it by being less than anything else, either, because Mylitta tried using weakness and it … well, didn’t work any better than the Buddha’s answer, at least. But she can and does rely on not having to share the same epistemic community as the people around her.


So just what does happen with the knife, given Jane at 40? Presumably she’d explain what it was and why she was giving it to him, instead of just giving him the box and giggling. What effect that would have, I don’t feel competent to extrapolate.
— David Goldfarb

Oh. Hm!

Let me think about how that would go.

So, here’s the original version:

And Jane is waiting on the grass to see him off. And she is looking at him with her brow furrowed in thought, and she says, “You’re here.”

Max nods.

She looks at him.

“You had bad things in your closet. Then Sid chased them away. Then you were King of the playground. Then you played basketball.”

She is being careful with these words. She is slow and deliberate, even with the easy words and simple things.

“Then you were brave and saved Mr. McGruder. Then you loved Sid. Then you saw another siggort and talked Sid into helping Ronald Reagan become President. Then you fought a King. Then you ran away. Then you read a book and afterwards you went to the place without recourse. Then you called Sid there. Then you got out but he didn’t. Then you came here to help him put on plays. Then you shot him and now you want to sail west.”

“Yes,” says Max.

He grins a little. “And what does that mean to you?” he asks.

“The world’s bright and spits up super beauty everywhere,” says Jane.


“And so there are things that Max. That go Max. Like you. That is what it means.”

Max grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“Thanks,” he says.

Jane holds out a box. It’s like a cribbage box, but bigger, with a slide-open top.

“Here,” she says.

“What is it?” Max asks.

Jane begins giggling. Max watches in perplexity.

Finally, she stammers out, “Severance pay.”

There are more giggles.

“Ah,” he says.

He takes the box. He frowns at her. But he can’t keep frowning.

She’s smiling at him so brightly that he hugs her.

Then he sails to the west.
Max Sets Forth to Kill God

So if Jane were 40, let’s say, and a wise and beautiful lady, naturally—because let us face it, she lives in a magical tower beyond the world. That is the natural domain of wise and beautiful princesses, not heroic tomboys, and certainly not of more realistic, balanced people. It’s vaguely possible that she’d be wise and carry-herself-like-someone-beautiful while actually being homely or something but even that’s mythically problematic. Basically, I’m projecting a little: if I were stuck in Gibbelins’ Tower with Martin and the rest, I’d either crack up, or I’d become a heroic tomboy and go out and kick evil’s butt, or I’d become wise and elegant and start wearing sweeping dresses and having random forest birds help me put them on and stuff because how the heck else do you cope? They have a snake machine.

And, hm.

So she catches Max along his way down to the water, and she says, “Hey.”

And he says, “Hey.”

And here I’m afraid that if I don’t put a little bit of romantic tension in the air you’ll think Max and Sid are an item, and if I do, then you’ll think they’re not. And I don’t want to open that can of worms again.

So I’m going to ignore all of that. Maybe she’s got other stuff going on. Maybe she thinks Max and Sid are an item even if they’re not. Maybe they tried it and it didn’t work because he doesn’t have an adequate appreciation of Pokemon.

Heck, when I come back to this aside now after writing the rest, I think that maybe I’m wrong, and a 40-year-old Jane would have something going with Sid, even though that’s just weird.

And maybe she’s more of an ice princess than I thought? Huh.

Maybe it’s not all just about being beautiful and wise and magical, being 40 years old in a tower beyond the edge of the world. Maybe there’s a hard edge there too. Maybe this story is all sharp edges, then, knives and siggorts and Martin, Max, and even Jane.

Certainly you’ll notice that gender roles are coming into things a lot more heavily at a later age. I’m not entirely sure why that is; I don’t think they’re very instructive in the real world. So I’m going to say that maybe my brain is a lot more likely to want to revert to standard cultural tropes when talking about adults living in magical towers beyond the world, and maybe that’s not really actually very relevant to anybody but myself, or maybe it means something important.

I don’t know how much time I have before the television comes on and I can’t write any longer, I’m stuck a guest in a full and busy home while I wait for the printing, and they are good people but a good place to write and later edit this is not, eloi eloi lama sabachthani I cry out, dramatically, too dramatically, maybe: my Word, my Word, why have you forsaken me so?


Right, so, anyway, the point is, this isn’t going to be totally polished and I’m going to accept some cultural biases showing through in this and I’ll be moving right along. I want to fix it all and have it perfect but you’re going to have to live with me writing in a desperate hurry and with only a single editing pass to follow.



That’s how it is.

So she catches Max along his way down to the water, and she says, “Hey.”

And he says, “Hey.”

And she says, “A long time ago, when the Buddha and Belshazzar and all the rest changed the world, there were people who had to deal with that. There were people who had to say, ‘How do we live, in this world that is severed from its gods?’”

“Yeah,” he says.

He’s feeling pretty severed right now himself. It’s like his arm is missing, it’s like half of Max is just cut off, right now, the way things stand with Sid.

“Here,” Jane says.

She’s holding out a box. She’s propping it up reverently, in both hands. It’s like a cribbage-box, but bigger, with a slide-open top.

“What is it?” Max asks.

“It’s one man’s answer,” Jane says.

He takes the box.

“What is it?” Max asks.

“Do I have to?” Jane complains.

Max narrows his eyes. He stares at her with his gunman’s gaze.

She sighs.

“‘We must try to be good,’” she says.

He looks blankly at her.

“That’s it?” he says.

“That’s it,” she says. “Even if we can’t be ourselves. Even if we can’t do anything that means anything; even if we can’t reach, can’t touch anything that means anything; even if we’ve lost everything that would let us be good— well, we’re supposed to try. Because.”

“What the hell good is that?” Max asks her.

She looks away.

“I’m sailing off to kill the good,” Max complains.

“It’s also a knife,” Jane says.

What isn’t?

He sighs.

“Sid’s hurt,” he says. “You know. I’m going. Because I have to go. But Sid— you’ll take care of him, right?”

That’s the price, isn’t it? I leave, and I die, and maybe Sid comes back?

Martin had called him a ridiculous dolt. Max, he’d called himself worse. Jane, though, she just laughs.

Her laugh is cold.

Her laugh is more cruel than the sea.

She touches his face, as she always touches his face; and she leans in close, as she always does; and she says, as she always says, when he speaks of Sid:

“What business is it of thine, my covenant with the sharks?”

And Max goes down to the stormy sea, and he’s clutching close to his chest the knife; eloi eloi, lama sabachthani, thinks he; and yet, we must trust in the good.