Story Time: The Right Sort of Flea

Today’s Story Time is a retelling of Beowulf, specifically an account of his final battle with the Great Wurm. The old king, long past his prime, taking up his weapons one last time because it is his duty and he’s the only one who can, except for one other with more courage than sense. For some reason this part of the legend always fascinated me more than the more famous part about Grendel and his mom. Maybe when I’m old enough I’ll figure out why, but this story was me trying to sort it out. I think I got somewhat close to the heart of it.

“The Right Sort of Flea” was my second appearance in Realms of Fantasy, back in April 1997. It’s never been collected, and now I’m wondering why. My bad.


Present…With an Explanation

All right, I’ll cut right to it–I had planned to have a review of Peter S. Beagle’s In Calabria (Tachyon, February 2017) before now. That the book is over a year old is as good an example as any of how useless I am to anyone as a review blogger, which makes me no never mind since that was never my intention here in the first place. Once I reviewed for magazines with deadlines and everything and I never missed one, but then I was usually getting paid for it. Now I pay for my own books, I review what I want to when I want to, thanks very much, and that’s all there is to it.

Ahem. Slight digression there. Regardless, I’m not ready to review the book because I’m not through reading it. That’s taking a while, and not because it’s a doorstop. It is definitely not. It’s a slim volume beautifully produced by Tachyon Publications, lovely to look at, and at first glance the sort of thing any halfway decent reader could tear through in an afternoon. So could I, if it was a book by almost anyone other than Peter Beagle. So some of you might understand that I am going slowly, savoring, and am in no bloody hurry to finish.

Another reason is that I always–always–approach Beagle’s work with a bit of caution, if not trepidation. Peter Beagle is never a light read, and I never come to it lightly. I understand that I might have my heart ripped out; it’s a risk that comes with anything of emotional depth and utter truth. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to get to his The Innkeeper’s Song, but in my defense I did so, but long after any such review would have served either the author or the publisher’s interest nearly as much as something less reverent but more relevant and–most important–timely might have. I’ll have to give my regrets in advance here, too.

Will I have it next time? Doubtful. But I’ll likely be a chapter or two closer, for what little that may be worth to anyone other than myself.

Sorry (Not a Bit Sorry).

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin

October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018

I haven’t written anything about the passing of Ursula Le Guin before now because I couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together. I’m still not sure I’m ready but I’m going to try, despite the cat purring in my lap demanding all the attentions. Living creatures have their own priorities and in that sense I’m no different.

I never met her. Other people who knew her best will have the personal remembrances of the woman herself, I can only speak of her work and its effect on me. I’ve spoken at times about influences that made me whatever I am as a writer, though as I look back on it these influences were more about teaching me something I needed to know at the time I was ready to learn it. Parke Godwin? He taught me lessons about humanity. Fritz Leiber? That the limits of genre were illusory, and there was very little it could not do. Ursula Le Guin? She taught me what magic was and—just as important—what it wasn’t.

There are other lessons, of course. Some I still may not be ready for. Take her classic, The Word for World is Forest. I’m going to have to come back to that one, I hope when I’m a little stronger and wiser. At the time I needed it, however, there was The Earthsea Trilogy, which later became the Earthsea quintet with Tehanu and Tales of Earthsea. Yet in the beginning, there were three: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. They were first marketed as “young adult,” probably because Atheneum, the original publisher, didn’t know what else to do with them, and it was true as far as it went. However, I read them in college, when I really was a young adult, or maybe just a kid trying to figure out what “adult” as in “grown up” really meant. Ged, the young wizard in Earthsea, was trying to sort out the same thing, and in the course of the three—then four—books, he does, even though all the books, especially the last few, aren’t really about him. Which makes sense—a lot of growing up isn’t about you at all, but everyone around you and your relationship with them. Some things I can see now that I couldn’t then, but that’s all right. The lesson was waiting for me.

Then there was her classic, The Left Hand of Darkness, which made me and a lot of other people think about gender and what it does and doesn’t mean. Her early collection of stories, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, which remains one of my favorite books ever.

Now Ursula Le Guin the person is gone from the world, but Ursula Le Guin the writer remains, and there is, I realize, a lot of her work that I have yet to get to, and I hope I will.

I hope I’m ready.


Story Time: Closing Time

Today’s Story Time is from the collection The Devil Has His Due, published in 2012. It’s a book I put together myself, and many of the stories were originals. There’s a reason for both. See, I’ve always enjoyed “deal with the devil” stories. They’re fun to write, but old-fashioned (read “cliche”) and not likely to find sympathetic editors in most conventional places these days whether the story is good or bad. But sometimes I wrote them anyway, just because. So I put them there. “Closing Time” is a bit of an exception. It is not a “DWTD” story. It’s a consequences story. The fact that it takes place in hell is incidental.

Standard Note: “Closing Time” will remain online until next Wednesday, March 21st, when it will be replaced by something else.

Real Life Considered in the Context of a Lewis Carroll Poem

I’ve been a fan of writers like Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear for years, simply because I enjoy a good bit of nonsense every now and again. The Victorians had a gift for it, probably in reaction to the sense of decorum and propriety that infected the bulk of that era—at least on the surface. One thing I especially liked were all the made-up words, words that sounded like they should mean something but really don’t. Like “jabberwock” and “vorpal” and “mimsy.”

One had to be careful with LC, though. He tended to mix real words with the made-up words, only the “flavor” of the real words and the fake words was so matched that it was hard to tell them apart. Take “mome” for example. It’s an archaic word meaning “fool,” but in context it seems just as made up as “rath,” though it’s possible that Carroll took “rath” from “rathe” which means to bloom early, and used it for a flowery sort of creature. Which explains why, for the longest time, I did not think “burble” was a real word.

Turns out I was wrong.  “Burble” means to make a murmuring sound, like a babbling brook, and had been in use since the 14th century. It’s also a technique in pennywhistle where you rub one finger back and forth over the holes quickly to get a similar sound.

If there’s a point to this, other than word play, perhaps one could point out that it is far too easy to confuse nonsense with reality. Which is the only thing that can explain the current political climate. Maybe we all need to listen and consider more carefully when decision time comes again. Nonsense may have its place, but real life isn’t one of them.