Kipling and . . . Dante?

The textbook I use to teach history has a picture of Dante in the section about the Renaissance. This year (September 14 to be exact) is the 700th anniversary of his demise. He is most famous for a series of three epic poems detailing a soul’s journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise, and then back to the world.

The third chapter (Canto) of The Inferno describes souls and angels who are tormented, but are not in either Hell or Heaven, because the angels would not choose between G-d and Satan, and the people were neither good nor evil. They can’t go up because they lack virtue, but they will be lorded-over by the truly damned in Hell, which isn’t just (and would reward some of the damned, so that’s not acceptable, either.)

For some reason, this year I was skimming over bits of the Inferno to use in a lesson about education and the Renaissance, and thought of someone who was neither good enough for heaven or bad enough for the infernal realm.

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys.
“Stand up, stand up now, Tomlinson, and answer loud and high
The good that ye did for the sake of men or ever ye came to die —
The good that ye did for the sake of men in little earth so lone!”
And the naked soul of Tomlinson grew white as a rain-washed bone.

“Tomlinson” by Rudyard Kipling.

The poem is much longer than the excerpt above, but Tomlinson, the newly dead, can’t get into heaven or you-know-where because he never did anything. Now, [spoiler] since Old Scratch is a lawyer at heart, he finds “the roots of sin” in the unhappy Tomlinson and sends him back to go, you know, actually commit a sin and earn his place among the damned.

Both Dante and Kipling are riffing off of Revelation 3: 14-22, the letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, they are rejected. “Go do something!” Preferably good, of course, but anything is better than nothing. Dante finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the Inferno because he is guilty of acedia (sloth). He knows what is good, what he ought to do, and . . . can’t be bothered. He’s spiritually lazy. He doesn’t do any good (” . . . those things which we have done and those which we have left undone,” as one confession puts it.) That’s Tomlinson’s sin as well. Acedia, “sloth,” not doing what should be done. In Tomlinson’s case, he hadn’t bothered to do anything but read about other people’s activities. Dante . . . spent a wee bit too much time on politics, but he claims sloth/acedia.

I’m sure that Kipling had read Dante. Everyone did, in those days. I know Kipling knew the Biblical reference. And he probably had met more than one Tomlinson, people who lived only in books, and never thought for themselves. “This I thought that another man thought of a Karl in Norway,” Tomlinson claims. But he, himself, never did.

Be either hot or cold, a saint or a sinner, choose G-d or Satan. But don’t just sit there!

Oyez, oyez!

Oops, wrong announcement.

Now on sale!

Nominally Familiar, the next installment of the Familiars’ tails!

Er, tales, that is.

Leaping lemurs, snarking kit foxes, a judicious jeweler, a sighing (giant) skunk, and more await fans.

Will AndrĂ© hide a present where Lelia can’t find it? Will the hospital computer network accept a system update? Will Deborah survive her freshman year without needing a SANity roll?

Read and find out.

Call for Beta Readers

I need a few beta readers for Nominally Familiar. Please contact me at the e-mail on the about page if you have not contacted me before.

Thank you!

UPDATE: Thank you to those who responded, I now have a full slate of readers! ‘Tis much appreciated.

Music Review: The Life and Times of Scrooge

I had no idea quite what to think when I discovered that Tuomas Holopainen, the composer and keyboardist for Nightwish, had done an album based on the adventures of the Disney character Scrooge McDuck. Or more correctly, inspired by a series of comic books that became a graphic novel about Scrooge McDuck.

It’s neat.

[For my readers who are wondering, Scrooge McDuck is the richer than rich character who has a bin full of gold coins that he swims in, and who is a bit of a skinflint. The “McDuck” is a clue that he’s one of those Scotsmen who watches every coin that goes out or comes in, and dies richer than Croesus. He earned all that gold.]

The album starts in Scotland, with McDuck describing where he came from, and then “follows” him to the goldfields of Australia, the Yukon, and the American West. It is a bit of a cross between a movie sound track and one of those New Age “landscape” albums (without the ambient sounds.) It uses uillan pipes and other folk instruments appropriate to the setting (I get the feeling that Highland Great Pipes and an orchestra don’t always get along) along with a full orchestra.

The music is fun, and the vocals are not too bad. The last piece is a meditation about time and wanting a little more of it. The entire work forms a life story, full of adventure, hardship, beauty, danger, and wonder. In several interviews, Holopainen said that the graphic novel had a lot of character depth and made him think fairly deeply about some things. That shows in the music.

If you are a Tuomas Holopainen fan, are a Nightwish buff and curious, or enjoy soundtracks and “epic music”, this is for you. The MP3 comes with a booklet download with more information. The album cover was done by Don Rosa, the same artist who did the graphic novel.

A sample (some tracks have vocals, this one does not):

FTC NOTICE: I purchased this recording for my own use and received no remuneration from the composer or record company for this review.

Milton’s Satan: Analogies and Culture

When David M. Potter wrote his book, The Impending Crisis about the politics and social forces in the lead-up to the American Civil War/War Between the States, most educated people had read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Potter, describing the “great triumverate” of Henry Clay, Danial Webster, and John C. Calhoun, described Calhoun as “the greatest champion of error since Milton’s Satan.” Potter could do this, knowing that everyone reading his book would understand the reference. When I first read the book 15 years or so ago, all the grad students in the seminar got the reference, because we’d either read it in high school (me) or in undergraduate English classes. Or out of curiosity (the Marine. That’s when I discovered that the guys in Southwest Asia read anything that didn’t try to flee under its own power.)

Today, if I wanted to assign the book, I’d probably also have to copy Satan’s speech from Paradise Lost and have the students read it as well. No one, outside of a very few charter and private schools, reads things like Milton in their entirety in high school English. Or almost their entirety. When I went back as an adult and read the unexpurgated epic, I found all the anti-Catholic, anti-Church of England bits that the HS edition omitted. The point being, the cohort behind me in the schools likely doesn’t know the story, or Milton’s character, and why Potter made the comparison. Knowing Calhoun, he’d be flattered, based on what I’ve read of him. (Andy Jackson would probably say that Potter gave Calhoun too much credit.)

When given a choice, to the surprise of a number of college administrators, undergrads ask for Great Books courses. You know, Aristotle, Plato, Milton, Adam Smith, Machiavelli, Mary Woolstonecraft, Dante, and others of what is sometimes called “The Western Canon.” Over the years I’ve gone back and filled in gaps, sometimes discovering as I did with Milton that what stood out as a teenager and what I catch as an adult are rather different. The students want to know the references, the meaning of analogies, and where ideas and culture came from. This is unwelcome among many administrators, because 1) it requires faculty who know their stuff and know the Great Books, and 2) there are a lot of Dead White European Males in the list. There are no federal awards or grants for Great Books courses. The very fact that the DWEMs are Frowned Upon by the Establishment is part of the lure. If you ban it, they will try to read it, just for shock value. Like a student I had who showed up with a copy of Mein Kampf. I congratulated him on taking on the task, and assured him that no, there are no good translations. Hitler needed an editor. The student later admitted that the book was, on the whole, rather boring and repetitive. (As one of my colleagues said, “Wait till he gets to On Capital by Marx. Then he’ll really know what boring means.”)

Seventy years ago, everyone who would have read Impending Crisis at least had a passing knowledge of Milton. Today? I’d be happy if an undergrad confused him with Milton Friedman. There was a common culture that is fading, or being eroded. “Great Triumverate” “Milton’s Satan.” Those references are slipping away, with a lot of other things. We lose them at our peril, because reading Satan’s great monologues gives such a perspective on the people who have that mindset today. Old Scratch really did have all the great lines.

WP Delenda Est

I had a post for today, and ended up finishing it in the older WP interface. That version disappeared and cannot be restored, as I just discovered after multiple attempts to get it to post.

My bad, I should have triple checked. Content resumes tomorrow.

April ’21 Author Update

Wolf of the World is done, at least as a draft. It’s at 27K words and I plan on leaving it as a novella. I might market it under a different author name, just because it is so very different from my more recent work. People expecting the humor of the Familiars stories might be very unhappy at the darkness in Wolf. Even though romance is a major element, I’ll sell it as dark fantasy. I fear there is room for spin-off stories, alas, alack.

I’ve started three Familiars stories, no idea where they are going to go. Two are about Deborah, one about Art. And there’s the little piece that was excerpted yesterday.

Once I finish going through Clearly and Distinctly for print, I will get busy on the Merchant and Empire book. I know I’ve been promising, and have fallen through. I do intend to finish it and get it out this year.

I’ve also started a Shikhari short story to submit to an anthology. We’ll see how that goes.

Surviving April is my primary goal. This is contest month at Day Job, and I’m either judging events, or working around events, or grumbling about why events have to be back-to-back. I’m sure none of you ever feel the least bit like that, especially if you have multiple offspring.

(I do wish Arthur would quit popping up demanding vignettes. He scares me. And he’s very, very hard to write as a point-of-view character.)

To my Canadian Readers

Once y’all are able to get out and about, would you mind closing the gate? Some of your winter air made a break for it and has taken up residence down here. You don’t have to fetch it home, but I’d appreciate not getting any more of it.

Ditto my readers in Colorado. Fix the [redacted] fence!

Last night was -9 F (-22.7 C). It’s 9 F right now. Tonight will be -1 F. Texas is having rolling black-outs due to the cold (and due to too many wind turbines, but that’s a whine for another day.)

Vienna Post

So yes, I know the area of Monday night’s attack like the back of my hand. It’s the old heart of the old Roman part of Vienna, one block from St. Rupert’s Church, on Judengasse and Salzgasse. The specific site where the shooting began, Seitenstettengasse, I have not gone through because it is a (usually) heavily guarded access to the synagogue and Simon Wisenthal’s offices and the Jewish community center, and the nice men with guns don’t really appreciate strangers drifting in and out.

There are a number of very small clubs and neighborhood bars there, many of which put tables on the streets after six PM and are open until midnight or so. It is all pedestrian, and the facades of the houses and buildings run together so there are not a lot of nooks and crannies to hide in, unless you really know the area well. Several of those are blind passages to courtyard gates.

In a way it is good, because the guy was NOT on the Graben or Kaertnerstrasse, the two huge shopping/pedestrian ways with thousands and thousands of people on them. On the other hand, it is the true historic heart of Vienna/Vindobona. The synagogue is over Roman ruins, as is the entire neighborhood.

You are looking straight, from Salzgasse across Salstorstrasse. The street is the original ground level, Roman era.
The view from the Vienna 1 side of the canal, with St. Ruperts. From:

Continue past the church, between it and the modern block one street, cut to your left, and go half a block. That’s the synagogue. Your back is to the Danube Canal.