Every door, and Nowhere

The desolate labyrinth. No footfalls, only the resigned eternity of silence. A small clicking at a constant tempo, a grandfather clock at the end of the hallway. The pitch of the clock’s mechanic staccato varied slightly every few beats, almost a cryptic melody unheard as he strained his eyes against the benighted hall.

The weathered timber windows were all open, but no wind carried in to dance with the curtains. The very air about him was lifeless, oppressive and quiet. He stepped cautiously down the hallway, gently easing the pressure of his steps with trepidation against the musty carpet. What he took for moonlight splashed in each open window, casting muted silhouettes across the walls about him. He continued creeping along the hall, his eyes fixed upon the door at the end.

He neared the grandfather clock, and turned to glance at the austere, stoic face as he passed it. The hands dutifully ticking in sequence, endless and perennial, neither rumination nor commiseration to offer. A soft scraping noise echoed down the hallway from where he had entered. He paused, mid-step, and turned to cast his gaze back down the long, eerie thoroughfare. The door at the other end lay ajar, the mildewed bottom dragging across the ancient floor.

He held his breath, an anticipatory reckoning of what must come; an emergence of some inexorable thing amidst the shards of lunar radiance slashing through the murky gloom. Nothing ventured forth, no nascent ruin or salient suddenness to accost him. Silence and emptiness, just as before. He looked, almost absent-mindedly, to his watch, noting the late hour, before he turned back to the clock, frowned at his own dissonance, and resumed his measured pace toward the door. He reached one withered hand forward, taking a firm hold of the cracked, brass doorknob, and turned it carefully.

The door had suffered serious neglect, and stuck firmly in place despite leaning more and more of his weight against it. Finally, he slammed his shoulder against the door, busting the hinge and flinging the withered, swollen door open violently. A wide platform opened out abruptly in front of him, mottled with dark stains and the torn, ragged wreckage of a book sundered terribly.

Thorny plant-limbs curled in a serpentine pageant across the dilapidated planks of the platform, and at one side a heavily rusted outdoor setting of chairs and a table stood resolute in their decay against the brilliance of a moon alien to his eyes, iridescent and magnificently large, but utterly indifferent to the mandates of geometry, of physics, of aesthetic compliance. Another enigma to abuse his precious proclivity for order.

There was no sign of the sentinel or warden of the motionless wretches; his only companions these fading vestiges of furniture, chained and bereft of sentience, in the sprawling, tenebrous exterior of this place that had become a prison. A tomb, perennial. He sat wearily, contemplative of the empty expanse beyond, and the illusion of the lunar blossom silently mocking him. A sigh of resignation sluiced unconsciously from his mouth, a final condemnation of his own mortality.

Agon

Nightscape-dream becomes one with the starlight

The Fires of Sun, Stars and Moon are aligned,

Abstract in absentia, the formless eternal

Surreptitiously echo the cries

Climbs the Scardrake; a mountain of hunger, salival and yearning

To expunge and devour;

A Champion arises, cosmic-born, with no sire,

Dauntless virtue and courage, stalwart one thus aspires

Sweeps the starlight of the Champion into the cavernous emptiness

Ancient sentience awakening, stretching, from where it has lain forever

Sprawling for centuries in every direction

Scardrake yearns; so it has hungered,

So it must feed

Upon all light

The Champion, wandering nether-realms of darkness and hate

Assailed by foes, courage prevailing, cleaving the swarms

Scardrake strikes, a chasm to devour the world

The Champion raises the weapon to wrathfully smite the foe

Vibrant scar-fires thrashing and writhing,

Resplendent the Champion’s blade rises and falls

Shale-scaled Lernaean drinking the future and past; downcast, and one

Stymphalian, ever-wrought bronze, the threnody screech, the stultified thrall

Scardrake lay gutted and sundered, viscerally dissected

The Champion has bested timeless malevolence

To reach, and fall, to tear the very heavens asunder

Twin-willed; appositionally birthed and bespoken of

All that could never endure

In defiance of beckoning silence, serenading the exultation

The hero climbs wearily to stand, and fight, once more

Fieltnoss

Negation of light, for remains only the chasm

Abjuration of meaning, for everything withers and falls

Deny the illusions projected thus, for nothing will endure

Aloft in the currents of time and the infinite spectrum, the void devours all

Existence drowns, wordlessly crushed by monoliths of emptiness

Nothing is all and one

Extinguishing the final flames, a sombre pyre for life itself

In the charnel waste and future ruin, no destiny yet persists

Time buries entirety, all becomes the end

Drowned in torrents of dust and the temporal chasm, the abyss gnaws the bones

Decaying, crowned, excoriated; agony, bereft

Nothing is all but one

Death of sound and sight, the realm for one, as none,

Emptiness nascent, denuding from the ruined ones their All,

The sprawling oblivion of Timelessness that naught shall survive to observe

Guttered out, the animate forces of energy and movement,

The future ruin

Failing, silent, gone

Nothing is all, and none

The Riddle of Trees

The eyes that see no breath misting before the air beneath,

The sound, whispers of the trees, ancient and weathered their frozen stare,

The secret, cryptic riddle scored and carved into the timeless skin,

The rope, the way to breach beyond; those limbs reach deep beneath the world

Heedless of footsteps in the wild the branches creak and sway,

Needle-pine carpet now threadbare;

Birch and Willow, Oak enthroned,

Seeing, singing silently of All That None Shall Know

Calling softly into whispering woods, the longing uttered silently,

Threading through thicket, stand and grove; the spirit journeys on,

To Birch and Elm and Oak behold,

Traveller, where no human thought has dwelled

The eyes behold the death of life renewed in empty air,

The sound, whispers of the heart unlocked, ensconced the wooded realm,

The secret, cryptic spirit-song inscribed in timeless kin,

To grow, to stretch, transverse beyond;

Those limbs reach deep within the world

Lychen-coats and moss-clad arms unfurl, embracing eternity,

When gone is man, the bark-clad stand, alone, to watch the ages

They ask the question without speaking,

They know the answer without hearing,

They shift the world without moving,

They hold secrets without knowing.

The Champion of Man

Zeus, son of Cronos, vies for power with the Titans of the preceding generation. Fearing the eclipse and truncation of their own divine power and position, the Titans fight back. All but two, rather; Prometheus, and his mother Themis. Why, one might ask, has such prominence been given to this Prometheus when the myth-cycles of the ancient Aegean are discussed? He’s no Olympian, nor is he a ferocious fighter or even a secondary participant in the belligerence of the Titanomachy.

To begin, one must place Prometheus in the context of the myths. Etymologically his name is ‘Forethought’, a powerful asset the Titan is delineated as utilising on multiple occasions in the myth-cycles. Of equal importance is the prominent role Prometheus plays in the fate and tribulations of mortals – a curious feature, given that such interference and influence is an Olympian habit that one might argue is almost exclusively their realm. So, Prometheus already stands as something of an iconoclast, a rebellious figure who refrains from the epic conflict between his race and the Olympians, and again as a divine agent of action and interaction regarding the mortals of the world beneath.

The importance of Prometheus in the ancient Greek myth-cycles cannot be overstated; like Zeus, Athena, and Ares, the consequences of Prometheus’ intervention in and intercession on behalf of mortals and their affairs carries substantial weight. Dependent, of course, upon the variation of the early creation myths one presumes, Prometheus is either directly responsible for the creation of mankind, or is present at their creation and notes that the Olympians have distributed all of their respective gifts to the animals preceding mortal man. In this circumstance Prometheus grants them the gifts of a civilised mind, encompassing art and literature, science and mathematical cognition, agricultural aptitude – the very tools needed by man to overcome the savage, primal gifts bestowed upon the animal kingdom.

The concept of bestowing ‘gifts’ upon mortals, men in particular, is also an important concept to bear in mind, for Prometheus’ next great boon is stealing fire, to then pass its secrets down to mankind. Some interpretations see this not as literal fire, with which to cook, heat, and chase away the primordial darkness of night (Nyx), but something more profound; in that the ‘fire’ represents the passion for inspiration, for the ceaseless pursuits of life and survival where the race of men may be threatened by potential extinction as other of the ages preceding them (particularly the irreligious iconoclasm of the Silver Age). Prometheus’ granting of gifts to mankind could also be seen to usher forth progress, across these demarcated ‘ages’; wherein each epoch or new generation is granted slightly more wisdom in civilising arts, paradoxically, as both Hesiod and Ovid remind us, tend to propagate man to further acts of dominion and self-sufficiency, ameliorating their sense of honour and gratitude to the divine powers, as well as eroding the bonds of friendship and the immutable laws’ of hospitality set down by Zeus (particularly those regarding safe haven and sanctuary, sharing the fruit of one’s oikos with a stranger, and the negative reception of the xenos in one’s lands).

Such gifts as Prometheus grants are not in isolation. The sacrifice at Mekone, seen to settle the dispute and supposed lovelessness between Zeus and mortals of the Iron Age (Hesiod’s supposed era), could be seen perhaps as Prometheus seeking to forestall the destruction of yet another age/race of man that the Emperor of the Olympians finds distasteful, rebellious, ungrateful; an increasingly self-reliant and capable age of man that approach the Gods not as supplicants seeking to propitiate and receive aid, but as a race beset by hardships that they struggle to overcome in their own capacity, blaming the Gods for the burdens of their mortal tribulation and adversity. Asabeia, if you will; a literal and wilful display of irreverence and contempt towards the Olympians whom mortal man is yet indebted to for the marvels created by the divine Pantheon, including the very animals that sustain man in his hunger.

We know from Homer and the Trojan myth-cycle of the Heroic Age, as elsewhere, the unpleasant consequences of hubris, and the immense affront to the Olympians that man’s pride in his own abilities and competence engenders. Diomedes’ rampage (Iliad V), the daimon upon him and super-powered with Athena’s divine favour, fells many a Trojan, wounds Aphrodite, but oversteps Athena’s mandate when he attacks Apollo. With Athena’s revocation of her condition to only attack Aphrodite, Diomedes’ great raging spirit ensures that even mighty Ares, god of war, flees the battlefield… from a mere mortal. Diomedes’ ultimate fate is less certain, though most traditions conclude that the great hero never made it home, nor saw his beloved wife again. Not as heavy a price as some, but as a favourite of Athena one could assume that divine favour provided commensurate protection against.

With the Goddess in mind, her dear friend Pallas nearly overcame her in practicing the arts of war; enraged, Athena kills Pallas, later taking the name as one of her (many) epithets. So too with the aetiological myth of Arachne, a weaver of such immense talent as to declare herself better than the goddess – Arachne’s fate, once bested by Athena in weaving, is to spin forever, the silken threads of the spider, a transformative damnation. The prevarication Agamenmnon displays upon finally reaching home after the Trojan war, where his adulterous wife Clytemnestra goads him into walking upon Tyrian purple (a gesture of such excessive pride to mar or soil such opulent finery beneath one’s road-dusty feet) nonetheless gives way to the man’s hubris, and ensures the leader of the Achaeans a violent, unpleasant end. Indeed, few of the Achaeans return home inviolate and safe after the sacking of Troy; most encounter and succumb to myriad punitive circumstances at the hands of the Olympians or their agents for the violation and sacking of Troy’s temples and the rape of Cassandra (dragged as a sanctuary-seeking supplicant from a statue of Athena). So too does man’s disrespect toward the Gods or excessive pride in their own cleverness warrant divine retribution – Sisyphus’ perennial toil with the great rock up a hill that would simply roll down again should prove sufficient a lesson to not attempt to deceive the Gods.

Returning to Prometheus and the Iron Age of man, the Titan seeks to resolve the dispute between man and Olympian amicably, in that man will offer sacrifice to the Gods in respect and worship, yet will partake and thus enjoy some of the offering. Zeus, as the God-King of the Olympians, is given the first choice of which part to accept hereafter, Prometheus’ intercession to benefit man being the deceitful arrangement of the portions, dressing the delectable, nourishing meat of the sacrifice in the stomach, whilst covering the inedible bones with the glistening fat – the latter, for appearance’ sake, appearing the easy choice. Zeus accepts this, either deceived by the Titan, or knowingly to engender sufficient grounds for retribution against an age of man he already is displeased with. Thus, Zeus takes away fire from man, leaving man cold and reeling in torment of the darkness.

It is this outcome that serves as the catalyst for Prometheus’ greatest gift, the fire, which he steals from Zeus and returns (or grants) to man; Zeus in his rage binds Prometheus to a mountain, there to have an eagle devour the Titan’s liver each day, only for it to regenerate each night – and thus is Prometheus destined to endure, until a (semi) mortal hero (Herakles) one day frees him. Prometheus is not the only one with gifts to bestow, for man’s woes and harms are multiplied from the supposed ‘boon’ of Pandora (all-gifts), the race of woman who Epimetheus (after-thought) accepts on man’s behalf, despite warnings from our favourite benefactor. Pandora, who carries the jar (pithos, or perhaps an amphora, if one were to take a remarkably pessimistic extrapolation of wine and the ills and excesses alcohol can create), opens it and releases all manner of additional suffering upon man, it is not merely toil and physical hardship from the elements and the Gods, so too must man now contend with disease and sickness (among other innumerable evils). What remains in the jar is hope – synonymous with the very fire that animates man’s conscious rejection of retreat, of relenting in the face of insurmountable obstacles. It is this gift that is Prometheus’ greatest benevolence of all.

My preferred interpretation, such as it is, stands to reason that Prometheus intercedes time and again on man’s behalf to save us, to increase our ability and capacity to care for ourselves, to endure privation and hardship, to strengthen and improve and ultimately, survive. In mankind does Prometheus see the future; for the Titan, fore-thought is his great burden, yet with such an immense talent, he also possesses the sole opportunity to intervene and alter events. While the modern world may yet retain an appreciation for the Olympian pantheon and the mythic traditions of ancient Greek culture, the daily worship of, and obeisance to, such divine powers has all but faded from the world in millennia past. Thus, Prometheus, his race wronged by the heavy-handed wrathful might of Zeus, sees in mortal man a mirror of himself – a rebel, a wilful iconoclast seeking to overcome the oppressive tyranny and the hypocrisy of Zeus’ rule.

In mortal man has Prometheus found his avenger, and though such vengeance takes hundreds of years to truly unfold, Prometheus plants the seeds for an age of man, imperfect and flawed as the Titans, to overcome the divine hegemony of the Olympians, to re-shape the world as they desire, and ultimately, to abandon Zeus and his pantheon as dusty artefacts, legends and myths, never again to receive their apportioned share of the sacrifice.

For further reading, I recommend:

Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days

Homer Iliad & Odyssey

Aeschylus Prometheus Bound

Euripides Oresteia, Elektra, & The Trojan Women

Ovid Metamorphoses

Ken Dowden’s Uses of Greek Mythology

Morford & Lenardon’s Classical Mythology (9th ed.)

J Larson Ancient Greek Cults

Guest post composed for the ‘Catalogue of Heroes’ for fellow Fantasy author, D E Olsen, of the excellent (and free) Eagle’s Flight: First Chronicle of Adalmearc.

Viman

I dream the ancient highlands, those rugged distant peaks,

the chilly sighing river-wash flowing through the sprawling trees;

of craggy grove-capped heights, and sullen, mist-wreathed glens,

a silent longing swells the heart, the yearning melody;

as climbing daunting stony towers wrought from wind-hewn rock,

and iron shards and broken years a legacy laments;

that spectral, weathered home.

I see those sacred highlands, the greying cairns that speak,

the fens and boggy mires trod by none but ghostly, fading feet;

of withering hail and gentle clouds, sunlight bereft of heat;

as winding threads of aeons past and sundered futures spent,

and stirring coronachs that onward echo whence inscribed on timeless stone;

a final, sombre tome.

The Promethean Benevolence

When the Titan Prometheus stole both nourishment from propitiatory animal sacrifice and fire from the Olympians, to bequeath both benevolently to mortals, he set a precedent in some regards. The iconoclastic and independently minded hero; delineating the extant potential for the third edge of the coin toss, where neither heads nor tails comes down, but the balancing aspect betwixt and between.

This is the shadowy possibility, and the most slender of chances, however remote or unlikely that remains in every decision, to simultaneously be a force for good and positive accretion for the innocent, a force for ill-will and detraction toward the overbearing excess of the corrupt or greedy, and the selfless embrace of whatever punitive consequences are engendered through the act of ensuring balance.

In Prometheus perhaps we can see the complicated nature of man more than any other of the Titans, Gods, or other mythic figures. Son to a dethroned scion, relegated to an ignoble or understated fate of idle tolerance or dismissive neglect as the Olympians take centre-stage in the Greek pantheon, Prometheus beholds the possibilities of the future and seeks to actively embrace them, to usher them forth and cultivate harmony and balance between the Gods and mortals. Thus, the proverbial wheel of destiny and evolution may continue to spin without deleterious disequilibrium; the sort that typically precludes the ongoing existence of sentient life as cataclysmic rupture (or rapture, perhaps) ensues.

This noble Promethean altruism, specifically the notion that a Titan, a demiurge, or a particularly sympathetic psychopomp would pursue the wilful restoration of balance, and promote humanity’s interest in advance of their own deified kin, is a charming fantasy, and one that resonates with the timeless nobility of heroic sacrifice. It is in the acts of such heroes that we can find an almost euhemeristic inspiration; that once great figures of antiquity were willing to risk their all for the betterment of lowly mortals; that a being of such immensity and power might choose suffering and ruin, damning themselves to an unpalatable fate for their transgression against the supreme authority or condition to restore balance.

How marvellous must these stalwarts long since relegated to myth and legend have been? Through their efforts they would ensure that lesser folk may yet endure, the mortal burdens lessened and their grime-studded humble faces, even if only temporarily, might yet cast a gaze upward, hearts and minds skybound, while the seeds of hope for tomorrow could take root in the most fertile soil of the human heart.

And beyond the dying twilight of the Gods of antiquity, we find now the world over many an enthusiastic recreationist or resurrectionist celebrating Blot, Samhain, or otherwise, supplicating the Gods for benevolence and favour in spans to come. I cannot help but wonder if the fallen, neglected deities of millennia past yet hear these prayers and paeans. If enough people believed in one of the Old Ones, might that be sufficient to restore them to their ethereal dominion in guardianship over man and the Earth, or is this merely an optimistic prognostication?

Perhaps it is truly a euhemeristic gift from benevolent souls long since forgotten; a prominent didactic legacy to educate and inspire in man the importance of harmony and balance, of the noble curatorship of this scarred, imperfect paradise we inhabit. To continue fanning the embers and cinders of hope, that one day, it may erupt into an all-consuming, all-cleansing conflagration of the most noble aspects and elements of humanity.

In any case, the Promethean heroes of the ancient world have set a profound example. May the world find others upon whom to bestow this mantle in millennia to come.

Inspiration Ethereal

I walked alone through the sand, sharing the intimacy of the early morning with none but myself. Clouds, distant and voluminous, betrayed the commencement of the sun’s lambent ascendancy. And as the creeping tide swept in about my legs, the crisp chill of the ocean’s infinity ensconcing, a suddenness overcame me. I continued, allowing myself to wander deeper inward, whilst my body paced forward methodically across the shore-break. Rockpools punctuated my journey; an occasional downward glance to check the stability of my footing and the surfaces upon which I was treading, heading in a direction I felt, rather than consciously selected.

At the precipice of the foremost rock formation, barely inches above the water level, I knelt, eyes closed and head bowed in solemn reverence, communing with the Gods, extolling their virtues, and offering in propitiation my earnest gratitude. Neither subservient nor undignified in my obeisance. The waves rolled in. The infinity of the ocean embraced me. A breath, an exhalation, and I opened my eyes. The sun rose, majestic and awesome, to imbue the world with light and warmth, to renew the energies of living motion once more.

And at that threshold of a spiritual singularity, I felt the stirring notion that I had seen this before. That I was not as I am, or was, but as I might yet become; and in that edifying moment, a recognition, imagining that I could almost see the first of the twin suns had risen to grace the dawn of Anaimon.

A fanciful notion propagated by introspection and a deep, humble appreciation of the sacred natural energies that govern our world. So fixated upon the modern, many overlook the fundamental essence that facilitates life. In that fleeting, all-encompassing sense of oneness, I found a familiar visage staring at me through the veil. The concordant suns a blossoming radiance behind. And I recalled what must become of that face, and the one who wears it.

One pares the veil, seeking those roots which no man can know. And in sacrifice, one sheds past, present, future; a becoming of an otherness unto oneself.

Until Melrakki claims.

Atmosphere and Imagination

The cognitive power of the human mind never fails to astonish and bewilder. We can subsume mere words upon a page into a vivid and firmly ensconcing ‘Otherworld’ that delights and enchants the wakeful consciousness utterly. We can peer through small symbols inscribed in ink upon recycled tree-pulp and see an entirely different world than the one we know and recognise as reality.

We can even transcend conscious awareness of the bounds of our constructed idea of the living world around us, finding the absurdity and comic, the tragic and the heroic, the epic expanse and the infinitely detailed in a wondrous synergy of ideas and emotive delineations. Such is the magnificent grandeur and forceful energy of literature.

Atmosphere is a precarious and vital element in building and sustaining an ‘Otherworld’ that will engage the imagination commensurately and retain this deep interest. All writers have their various techniques and stratagems for cultivating and crafting this atmosphere; both tone and content are remarkably valuable for shaping the way a reader might access and connect with a particular scene or chapter. But how does the author find this atmosphere and channel it? Does it come from within, or without; a product of introspection and pure creativity, or is it malleable, shaped and influenced by external stimuli?

For my part, the most rewarding scenes and creations are wholly drawn from my imagination, much of it from dreams and nightmares experienced in the long watches of the night, or from peripatetic meditation and contemplation in the early hours before dawn breaks. That said, when it comes to capturing these scenes and images from my mind, I often draw on music to complement the task of writing. The style of music that informs my writing mood can, at times, actually steer me into a completely different scene or delineation than that I’d originally envisioned; the external tone and atmosphere of my writing soundtrack can imbue further inspiration and tonal consistency.

Of course, the ‘Otherworld’ need not be indirectly shaped or influenced by music alone. Impressive and captivating visual stimuli, particularly the natural environment, I find compelling; some of my favourite scenes have sprouted as loosely defined ideas that a wander through the woods or a quiet pre-dawn stroll along bluffs that tower above the ocean helped to further refine and frame to a most satisfactory and enjoyable state.

There is a palpable energy, almost magical, to such quiet places and secret spaces of the soul that only solitude, at a remove from all the noise and overwrought distractions of the modern world, can propagate – and it is when I am surrounded by this atmosphere that I do my best work, and that my imagination races furiously to all manner of colourful and creative notions.

De Iucundus Opus

I broached, and indeed, traversed beyond the threshold of the first third of my current efforts composing the sequel to Anaimon: The Starfall. Having broken the 100k word mark on the sequel, the manuscript is taking shape nicely, with substantial elucidation and elaboration punctuated with some heart-palpitating moments that developed rather organically.

As such, there were a few scenes that were originally unplanned or in a differential sequence; such was the inspiration that they mandated my concerted focus which was commensurately applied. Few things in life are as compelling or delightful as crafting and cultivating a work with the written word; doubly so when the framework and narrative of the aforementioned work are drawn wholly and solely from the imagination of the author. So it is that the sophomore novel continues in develop with an end goal of, a little optimistically, year’s end – replete with this gleeful and animated author writing in furious bursts between life’s wonders and the small novelties of daily life.

I must also extend my sincere gratitude and appreciation to another local author and indefatigable community commentator Mark Booker, who has provided a small feature of Anaimon: The Starfall in the September edition of his compact community newsletter. There is sadly a conspicuous absence of news and interests from my local town in much of contemporary mainstream media, so it makes for a humbling reflection indeed to find one both amiable and consistent in its focus (and certainly doesn’t hurt to get a positive nod in my direction).

Have a browse of the article, and for the locals, more of Mark’s excellent coverage of all things relating to the village here: Lambton Local.

Finally, I’ve uploaded some of the character art and corrected the purchase links for the Paperback and E-book editions of Anaimon: The Starfall. Should your artistic proclivities be so inclined, I’d love to see some more pieces. It’s one thing to visualise a particular character in your mind, and another to see that character so vividly fleshed out before your eyes.