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The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Afterword

 
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 3:36 am    Post subject: The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story - Afterword Reply with quote

Stephen R. Donaldson opens his Afterword to The Real Story by saying most writers don't like to tell where they get their ideas. He explains the reason why is because the answers often sound mundane and tend to remove the magical aura around the creative process.

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However, once the magic of the imagination has been accepted as a given, any specific answer to the question often becomes almost violently anti-creative: for instance, "Well, I got that particular idea off a can of Lysol disinfectant in the men's room at Circle K." (I'm not making this up. One of the strongest scenes in The Power That Preserves was triggered in my head by a can of Lysol disinfectant in a men's room.) Such an answer may be perfectly accurate, but who wants to say it out loud? In these cases, the concrete source of the idea seems to demean its underlying imaginative magic. Hence the apparently arrogant or dismissive answers which writers have been giving ever since readers began asking the question.


[For any who don't know, a Circle K is a store that is part of a commercial chain of convenience stores, many of which have cramped bathrooms for customers which tend to be poorly ventilated, though some have exhaust fans installed. In situations where a store customer must use such a bathroom after a previous customer has just been there, leaving the Lysol disinfectant can there is truly a thoughtful move on the part of a store manager.]

This passage of the Afterword has some personal interest for me, as I was looking for a question to personally ask Stephen R. Donaldson while attending Elohimfest 2014 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I sure was enjoying meeting my fellow Kevin's Watch members, a great many of whom were a delight to know, and from them I learned that SRD would be attending a dinner with us and was willing to take questions from us. I remember discussing the options of questions to ask of SRD with KW members wayfriend, usussimiel, and duke while we enjoyed some draft beers in a downtown Albuquerque bar.

It was a lot of fun discussing SRD-related topics with them, and I recall saying that I might like to ask Mr. Donaldson why the phases of the moon are portrayed so strangely in the Covenant books. I will explain what I mean by that in this paragraph. In the real world, the phases of the moon as seen from Earth occur as a result of where the moon is in its revolution around the Earth, as a result of how light reflects from the sun to the moon's surface to the Earth. [Here, I wish to provide an outline as to how the moon's phases work in our world, and respectfully suggest to those already familiar with how it works to skip this outline, as they will likely find it to be, uh, un-illuminating: During the new moon phase, the moon rises and sets with the sun, and its side facing the Earth is invisible from Earth because it appears completely unlit, blending in with the color of the surrounding sky. Then the moon comes up shortly after the sun, in the waxing crescent phase, visible at first low in the western sky after sunset. Continuing in its waxing crescent phase, the moon comes up and goes down later and later after the sun as more of its surface is lit up as seen from our Earth. Then, about one week after the new moon, the moon goes to the first quarter phase (its eastern half dark, its western half lit) when it rises at noon and sets at midnight. Then the moon becomes more than half-lit as it rises in the afternoon and sets after midnight but before dawn (the waxing gibbous phase). When it reaches the full moon phase, the moon rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise. Then the moon's disc that faces the Earth starts darkening on the western side, as it rises in early evening and sets in the daylight morning time. When the moon is again half-lit in its last quarter, darkened on its western side and lit on its eastern side, it rises at midnight and sets at noon. Then in its waning crescent period, the moon rises after midnight and sets in the afternoon. When it gets back into its new moon phase, it rises at sunrise and sets at sunset, once again invisible.] Yet in the Chronicles, SRD writes that the moon rises in the east, soon after sunset, regardless of what phase it's in. So, the question I thought of asking Donaldson was why didn't the timing of the moon's rising and setting conform with how it does on our world.

Once I had formulated that question for SRD in my mind, I had doubts about asking it, and shared those doubts with wayfriend, ussusimiel, and duke while continuing to sip those beers and avoiding the outside summer heat. The doubts I had were that I'd be annoying SRD to no purpose, and that the moon's phases in the Land didn't have to follow the scientific rules of light reflection, being that the world of the Land was a magical place rather than a scientific world. In other words, I felt I was wasting an opportunity to ask Stephen R Donaldson a good question. So, I explained to wayfriend, ussusimiel, and duke, it might be better to ask SRD the other question that I had in mind. And after hearing that other question, they agreed that it was a better choice of question to ask Stephen R Donaldson, and I'm grateful to this very day for their good advice!

That other question, the one I actually asked SRD at Elohimfest '14: "In the Afterword to The Real Story, you wrote that a scene in The Power That Preserves was inspired by seeing a can of Lysol in a Circle K restroom. What scene was that?"

His first reaction was, "I said THAT?!? I don't remember..."

And I said, "Oh, you did, it's right there in print." He seemed puzzled for a moment, and the following silence that lasted about two seconds seemed awkward, so I tried to help jog his memory by saying something like, "Could it be the scene where Foamfollower is seen after being immersed in Hotash Slay, so that he is disinfected from all his self-doubts?" (I recall the room of Watchers erupting in laughter at this far-fetched guess of mine.) Perhaps making this wild guess was a good idea, though, because SRD then proceeded to correct me by telling me which scene in TPTP WAS actually inspired by seeing that can of Lysol disinfectant spray.

He replied [I'm just working from memory on this, so while the quote is unlikely to be verbatim, it's close enough for relative accuracy, being the gist of his answer to me], "No, I remember looking at the can of Lysol, reading the ingredients for moment, and thinking of the word, putrescence, while I was reading. And that inspired the scene between Covenant, Lena, and Pietten where Pietten is confronted by Covenant as the one who betrayed all the injured Ranyhyn, for Covenant is realizing that Pietten's love for the Ranyhyn has been made to putrefy by what the ur-viles had done to him after the battle of Soaring Woodhelven. Covenant's order for the Ranyhyn to stay in the Land so they can rescue him at need also putrefied into a death sentence for the Ranyhyn, as they couldn't flee Lord Foul's marauders for the safety of the mountains because they needed to stay around for Covenant."

In Chapter 10 of The Power That Preserves, entitled "Pariah", was wrote:
"Ringthane," Pietten shot back with sudden vehemence, "this night I will complete the whole sense of my life!"

The next instant he had returned to scorn. "I desire them to find us, yes! I desire them to see this blaze and come. Land friends--horse servants--pah! They torment the Ranyhyn in the name of faith. I will teach them faith." Covenant felt Lena jump to her feet behind him; he could sense the way she focused herself on Pietten. In the warmth of the fire, he finally noticed what had caught her attention. It was the smell of blood. "I desire the Giant my benefactor and Banner the Bloodguard to stand upon this hillside and witness my faith."

"You said that they are dead!" Lena hissed. "You said that we would not see them again."

At the same time, Covenant croaked, "It was you!" His apprehensions burst into clarity. "You did it.'' In the lurid light of the fire, he caught his first sure glimpse of his plight. "You're the one who betrayed all those coverts!"

Lena's movement triggered him into movement. He was one step ahead of her as she threw herself at Pietten.

But Pietten was too swift for them. He aimed his spear and braced himself to impale the first attack.

Covenant leaped to a stop. Grappling frantically, he caught Lena, held her from hurling herself onto Pietten's weapon. She struggled for one mute, furious moment, then became still in his grasp. Her bedraggled white hair hung across her face like a fringe of madness. Grimly, he set her behind him.

He was trembling, but he forced himself to face Pietten. "You want them to watch while you kill us."

Pietten laughed sourly. "Do they not deserve it?" His eyes flashed as if a lightning of murder played in back of them. "If I could have my wish, I would place the entire Ramen nation around this hollow so that they might behold my contempt for them. Ranyhyn servants! Pah! They are vermin.''

"Render!" Lena spat hoarsely.

With his left hand, Covenant held her behind him. "You betrayed those coverts--you betrayed them all. You're the only one who could have done it. You killed the sentries and showed those marauders how to get in. No wonder you stink of blood."

"It pleases me."

"You betrayed the Ranyhyn!" Covenant raged. "Injured Ranyhyn got slaughtered!"

At this, Pietten jerked forward, brandished his spear viciously. "Hold your tongue, Ringthane!" he snapped. "Do not question my faith. I have fought--I would slay any living creature that raised its hands against the Ranyhyn."

"Do you call that faith? There were injured Ranyhyn in that covert, and they were butchered!"

"They were murdered by Ramen!" Pietten retorted redly. "Vermin! They pretend service to the Ranyhyn, but they do not take the Ranyhyn to the safety of the south. I hold no fealty for them." Lena tried to leap at Pietten again, but Covenant restrained her. "They are like you--and that Giant--and the Bloodguard! Pah! You feast on Ranyhyn-flesh like jackals."

With an effort, Covenant made Lena look at him. "Go!" he whispered rapidly. "Run. Get out of here. Get back across the river--try to find Bannor or Foamfollower. He doesn't care about you. He won't chase you. He wants me."

Pietten cocked his spear. "If you take one step to flee,'' he grated, "I will kill the Ringthane where he stands and hunt you down like a wolf."

The threat carried conviction. "All right," Covenant groaned to Lena. "All right." Glowering thunderously, he swung back toward Pietten. "Do you remember ur-viles, Pietten? Soaring Woodhelven? Fire and ur-viles? They captured you. Do you remember?"

Pietten stared back like lightning.

"They captured you. They did things to you. Just as they did to Llaura. Do you remember her? They hurt her inside so that she had to help trap the Lords. The harder she tried to break free, the worse the trap got. Do you remember? It's just like that with you. They hurt you so that you would-destroy the Ranyhyn. Listen to me! Foul knew when he started this war that he wouldn't be able to crush the Ranyhyn unless he found some way to betray the Ramen. So he hurt you. He made you do what he wants. He's using you to butcher the Ranyhyn! And he's probably given you special orders about me. What did he tell you to do with my ring?" He hurled the words at Pietten with all his strength. "How many bloody times have you been to Foul's Creche since this winter started?"

For a moment, Pietten's eyes lost their focus. Dimly, he murmured, "I must take it to him. He will use it to save the Ranyhyn." But the next instant, white fury flared in him again. '' You lie! I love the Ranyhyn! You are the butchers, you and those vermin!"

"That isn't true. You know it isn't true."

"Is it not?" Pietten laughed desperately. "Do you think I am blind, Ringthane? I have learned much in--in my journeys. Do you think the Ramen hold the Ranyhyn here out of love?"

"They can't help it," Covenant replied. "The Ranyhyn refuse to go."

Pietten did not hear him. "Do you think the Bloodguard are here out of love? You are a fool! Banner is here because he has caused the deaths of so many Ranyhyn that he has become a betrayer. He needs to betray, as he did the Lords. Oh, he fights--he has always fought. He hungers to see every Ranyhyn slain in spite of his fighting so that his need will be fed. Pah!"

Covenant tried to interrupt, protest, but Pietten rushed on: "Do you think the Giant is here out of love? You are anile--sick with trust. Foamfollower is here because he has betrayed his people. Every last Giant, every man, woman, and child of his kindred, lies dead and moldered in Seareach because he abandoned them! He fled rather than defend them. His very bones are made of treachery, and he is here because he can find no one else to betray. All his other companions are dead."

Foamfollower! Covenant cried in stricken silence. All dead? Foamfollower!

"And you, Ringthane--you are the worst of all. You surpass my contempt. You ask what I remember." His spear point waved patterns of outrage at Covenant's chest. "I remember that the Ranyhyn reared to you. I remember that I strove to stop you. But you had already chosen to betray them. You bound them with promises--promises which you knew they could not break. Therefore the Ranyhyn cannot seek the safety of the mountains. They are shackled by commitments which you forced from them, you! You are the true butcher, Ringthane. I have lived my life for the chance to slay you."

"No," Covenant gasped. "I didn't know." But he heard the truth in Pietten's accusation. Waves of crime seemed to spread from him in all directions. "I didn't know."

Bannor? he moaned. Foamfollower? A livid orange mist filled his sight like the radiance of brimstone. How could he have done so much harm? He had only wanted to survive--had only wanted to extract survival from the raw stuff of suicide and madness. The Giants!-lost like Elena. And now the Ranyhyn were being driven down the same bloody road. Foamfollower? Did I do this to you? He knew that he was defenseless, that he could have done nothing to ward off a spear thrust. But he was staring into the abyss of his own actions and could not look away.

"We're the same,'' he breathed without knowing what he was saying. "Foul and I are the same."

Then he became aware that hands were pulling at him. Lena had gripped his jacket and was shaking him as hard as she could. "Is it true?" she shouted at him. "Are they dying because you made them promise to visit me each year?"

He met her eyes. They were full of firelight; they compelled him to recognize still another of his crimes. In spite of his peril, he could not refuse her the truth.

"No." His throat was clogged with grief and horror. "That's only part-- Even if they went to the mountains, they could still reach you. I-I"--his voice ached thickly--"I made them promise to save me-if I ever called them. I did it for myself."

Pietten laughed.


It seemed to me that there was a risk in asking this question, that SRD might not want to give me an answer, because it could make his imaginative work possibly seem a bit more mundane, given the inspirational source of a spray can for a potent confrontational scene. But the opportunity to personally ask Stephen R. Donaldson a question was rare, and I really did want to know the answer. I was mesmerized that Stephen Donaldson was actually answering a question of mine in a room full of fellow fans, so I stood there while he was answering, when it really would have been more seemly for me to sit down after asking the question, like all of the other Watchers did. I hope he really didn't mind, because if I'd never gotten the nerve to ask him the question, I'd still be kicking myself now for failing to do so.

I would like to comment on more of SRD's Afterword to The Real Story in future posts, but that's enough words for this opening post. Perhaps I'll be able to add more to this thread in the next few days.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing that. You told that well.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Indeed. Yours was one of the more memorable question-and-answer exchanges at this 2014 event.

Since there was video rolling of the Elohimfest post-dinner festivities, I look forward to the release of that footage so we can all relive that evening.

Not sure whether a Carly Simon or Frank N. Furter reference is more appropriate to express five years of "anticipation..."
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Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Has it really been five years? Sad
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