Yoharie: Neverers (part two)
Here was the special vocabulary. The character, by the author, had not been made male or female. Hearty debate in the World, did Southey have a preference, did he/she plant clues, were phrases such as “…an ex-slave, bearing his mark…”, evidentiary, or only grammatical, was the use of “it”, and “creature” a sign the character was not even human?
No, with emphasis, per Roberta.
(“That is a language equivalent; those are ways of speaking to an inferior. Not without affection, as Pytta, for example. We see several words of the actual languages of the first and second countries… And the structure of the narrative tells us the character writes from a third place, has become by then something like an Abbott/Abbess, or Bishop, in status, and gained…elderhood, if you like. Chronicler of these events. So, going by my own theory, we might take English as a stand-in for proto-Latin…”)
The character had no name, so always was discussed as such, otherwise The Foundling, Tollhouse-Keeper, or, of course, The Totem-Maker. As to appearances—
“Well, there…some of our group make a good case for North America. Southey lives in New Brunswick. The indigenous people near St. John would be Algonquian, Micmac…the word totem is Algonquian. Which may not mean a thing. Totem was written in the 70s…people weren’t over-conscious.”
Roberta held Giarma’s eye for a moment, as if to say this was it—the moment—if she felt inclined to represent. (The How Dare generation? No.)
“But, Central America, also North Africa. You have people who are used to themselves, dark-skinned, dark-eyed, amazed then, to see the parents of Darsale, so pallid, and…probably…red-haired as well as freckled. Does that need to mean a Germanic people versus a Mediterranean people? The geology of the first country is volcanic, a subduction zone; the second…the mountains described must have been formed by continental collision. And the ‘map’ fits, the direction traveled, west to east. If you think of Etrurian Italy, and then Croatia. And lost civilizations, as I was saying…
“You see that in ancient times the thing truly lacking was global trade. If you had developed metalworking, but were forced to leave your home, you might not recreate that level of civilization, supposing the new country had no metal ores. Think of the apocalyptic scenario, the human race scrapping for survival in nuclear winter. We would not forget we’d had computers, we’d had TV, airplanes… We wouldn’t just become knuckle-dragging morons…quit smiling, Trevor—
“Inside ourselves, as it were, we would still be advanced.”
“So you could look at the Cascades and the Rockies. And even Mount Mazama being eight thousand years ago, the huge Crater Lake eruption. Because actually, witness of it has come down…the Klamath Indians have stories. She rags me cause these things have been hashed over in Totem-World ten thousand times. And maybe I am a knuckle-dragging moron.”
Trevor, earnest of eye-contact: “We used to have a ‘thon’, where everyone would make their best case. Actually, the thread’s still live on the blog. In post ice age times you could have a body of water, that would be like a sea, between the two mountain ranges. Or Vikings, being the first Europeans in North America…”
“Only…” Giarma said. “It’s fiction. It’s fantasy.”
“Southey has channeled the ancient spirit, from the lost continent of Atlantis. So it’s all true history. You just have to read the signs.”
“No. We don’t allow it.” Trevor, to Val, a little bit losing patience. If he’d added, “Stay or go”, inside herself, Giarma would second him.
This little book club was a saving grace, she felt it. Life right now reminded her of a huge snowstorm from when she’d been a kid, she and her mother holed up in their apartment. Plenty of good junk in the fridge, nothing to do but watch TV. And then the power went out.
Why was her brother, once regressively anti-social…going back, in some way?
Not over his job. He, she, as long as Dad and Dawn let them under their roof, didn’t need jobs. Need need, knock wood…
Glance over shoulder.
Neverers wanted no movie, no TV series, no prequel, no sequel, no reimagining, no fan fiction, no take-offs, no CGI, no cartoon version, no graphic novel version, no stage version, no video game version, no merchandise. No conventioneering, no costuming, outside their own group’s pilgrimages. (Fair? Well, stay or go.)
And the sanctity of these was preserved by the Neverers Creed: the only dress must be that actually described in the book, the only enactments scenes verbatim from the text. Theories on the War-Maker’s game, and the games of fortune-telling, were acceptable fodder for debate; also after-fates of characters, and these excursions into history, and…topography.
“We don’t allow,” Roberta said, “witchy stuff. Mystical signs and wonders, whatever. People taking the book in that vein. You feel a certain sympathy…with fantasy on general terms, because it reaches people who badly want mysticism. They want to belong and feel safe in the world, and they’re pushed so far to the outside, that a sign, some proof, the kind that fits so tidily anyway, within the tropes of fantasy, is terribly appealing. But you have a problem, one, that this detachment gets encouraged, and people who may need help…
“Um, well, there is a point where the human mind can convince itself apart from what it knows to be true. Believing a book, movie, et cetera, speaks to one in a personal way…”
She did not, in her pause, make either Val or Trevor conspicuous by looking at him. She spoke to Giarma.
“Because magic has always been real, you know. Culturally accepted, practiced. It still is. Now, be comfortable. I mean magic we believe in has psychological power to change our expectations, and so our decisions. And so, our outcomes. In Totem, it is never clear what the iron seeds are. They seem to have wills of their own, that guide or reject the character’s shaping them into idols, to bestow on faction leaders in the war. Their faces and powers may be hallucinatory. Second, then—and I’m not hopping around—you have Todwillow. You know how people who think they’re smart will drink in the wisdom of some tin pot who pulls them into a little corner and says, you don’t believe in witches, I don’t believe in witches. But there are people out there…”
Tap on the temple, mimicking some wiseacre signaling Mat Busby would practice, more than Todwillow. Maybe. Giarma didn’t actually know Todwillow. She thought he was a behind-the-scenes player, Busby his stooge…Hibbler…
“Giarma. Cathlyn is an atheist, she says so.”
Giarma, not to look uncomfortable, drank dregs of cold coffee, nodded.
“She has this nook in her garden, where she has a statue, a trio of female figures. I think even nudes…I don’t know what for. No one would know unless they asked. And I don’t. But. You can imagine.”
“She’d shut him down, though…”
“You’re an optimist, dear. Cathlyn is a perfectly nice person. I would shut him down. But remember there’s Todwillow’s clown, Hibbler. Now look at this.” She picked up her phone; a few seconds later turned face-out an Egyptian god, a dog-headed figure, created so in resin. “Anubis. I made my own shrine. Solidarity.”
Puppet-master, stooge, clown. The hierarchy seemed apt.
“How much? I have to do this.”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)