After witnessing her in person, Rincewind and Twoflower were not able to agree upon what she had looked like, other than that she "appeared to be beautiful" and had green eyes. Her eyes are her defining feature: no Discworld God can change the nature of their own eyes, and hers are green from edge to edge, without iris or pupil. When playing games with mortals, The Lady never sacrifices a pawn, and doesn't play to win, but rather plays not to lose. Rincewind, who refuses to believe his continued survival against the odds is anything other than coincidence, is one of her favourites.
This would seem to jibe with a commonly-held superstition among gamblers that if they talk about their luck it will desert them. Given Pratchett's fondness for setting things in opposition it might also be appropriate to refer to her as "Fortune," the opposite of Fate — he cannot be cheated, but she cannot be beaten. The one time Fate loses a contest with a mortal, it is with Cohen the Barbarian, another of the Lady's special favorites she uses him as a pawn in an earlier novel and he almost certainly has her aid in doing it. Incidentally, Cohen wins in the same way as The Lady did in The Colour of Magic —rolling a seven on a six-sided die—although Cohen's means were rather less magical.
The Blacksmith of the Gods. Offler is a crocodile god originating from Klatch and is worshipped in most hot lands with great rivers, and even other parts of the Discworld where the people have never even seen any crocodiles. Offler is given as an example to the series premise that belief, which creates gods, is a reflection of people. Thus Offler rather uncreatively resembles a human with a crocodile's head for example, the ancient Egyptian crocodile god Sobek , which forces him to speak with a lisp.
He is attended by sacred birds, who give him news from across the Disc and also clean his teeth. His followers are called Offlians. The traditional sacrifice to Offler when praying is composed mainly of sausages per Punch and Judy. The sausages are fried, allowing the "true sausagidity" to ascend to Offler by means of smell, while the clergy eat the "earthly shell" of the sausages, which the clergy claim taste like ash as Offler has eaten their essence.
Atheists and non-Offlians are suspicious of this claim, although Moist von Lipwig commented that this could be the reason that frying sausages always smell more appetising than they actually taste. Offler is described as having developed a greater degree of common sense than the other gods in his long existence. This leads him to take a more pragmatic approach to most problems than others do, such as limiting his list of Abominations to a few undesirable foods so as to attract more worshippers. Despite his traditionally moderate behavior, Offler was described as 'trigger-happy' by Hughnon Ridcully, High Priest of Blind Io, when he struck the golem Dorfl with lightning after the golem doubted the gods; a lightning bolt almost struck the priest as well, but as he was the head priest of Blind Io the lightning was averted and hit the ground harmlessly a few feet away.
The second month of the Discworld calendar , Offle, is named after Offler. The Ephebian Goddess of Wisdom. She is shown holding a penguin this is due to an incompetent sculptor getting a statue wrong. The Goddess of Football, first mentioned in Unseen Academicals , in which a statue of her suddenly appears in the basement of the Ankh Morpork Museum, along with an ancient urn painted with a picture called "The Tackle". It is implied she may have been influencing the events of the book to make modern Ankh-Morpork street football closer to the game played by her worshippers.
Her name is a play on " pedestrian ", someone who uses his feet.
From Ancient Egypt to the Italian Renaissance
The god of a country near Omnia where the people believe there are only 51 people in the world, therefore at least he believes he has 51 worshippers. Appears to be very stupid, probably because of his country's very simple inhabitants. Resembles a newt. Briefly appears in Small Gods. The God of Club Musicians. Mentioned in Soul Music. Possibly a parody of Set. The eleventh month of the Discworld calendar, Sektober, was probably named after him. The God of Cut Timber who prohibited the practice of panipunitiplasty among his followers, even though in actuality very few of his followers knew what panupanitoplasty was he didn't have a clue, either, but did it because it worried his worshippers.
A minor deity mentioned in several novels, including The Last Hero. The Ephebian Goddess of "negotiable affection," worshipped by ladies of the night. This could also be a reference to the word "tailor" seeing as all Discworld ladies of negotiable affection refer to themselves as "Seamstresses". Also wears a dress that by present circumstances is too low and 'skimpy' translucent. She appears in The Last Hero. The ancient Ankh-Morporkian goddess of being sick.
Mentioned in The Last Hero as having faded away from lack of worshipers. Featured in The Discworld Almanak , Wilf is the god of astrology. Few people believe in him or worship him any more, so, in an attempt to keep belief in astrology going, he personally writes the horoscopes for the Almanak every year. The God of Slight Breezes. The Ramtops are a series of high mountains that, due to their position near the Cori Celesti, lie like a live circuit directly over the point of origin for the Disc's magical field.
Reality in the Ramtops is an even more negotiable proposition than for the rest of the Disc. It is not surprising therefore, that gods can also be found there. The God of Hunted Animals. Herne appears as a small figure with floppy rabbit ears, small horns and a good turn of speed. He has the unfortunate job of being the constantly terrified and apprehensive god of all small furry creatures whose destiny it is to end their lives as a brief, crunchy squeak; it has been said that he arose from the feelings of prey animals during the hunt, whereas other gods of the hunt arose from the passions of the hunters.
He is a parody of Herne the Hunter and is mentioned in Wyrd Sisters and appears in Lords and Ladies , where he shows that he may sometimes serve as champion and protector of hunted animals, when he defended a nest of newborn rabbits by distracting the elves torturing them. A nature god usually found haunting the deep woods of the Ramtops, in which he manifests himself as an oak tree or a flute-playing half-man, half-goat figure.
Thought of by many gods and people alike as a bloody nuisance and a bad practical joker, he was eventually banished from Dunmanifestin for pulling the old exploding mistletoe joke on Blind Io. His name may also be a pun on " hokey ". The barely inhabited Forest of Skund is also home to a surprisingly large number of gods, probably due to its high level of residual magic. Why this should be is unclear, though since at least according to Count Casanunda it is also home to a certain Queen Agantia, there might be more to it than initially apparent.
This Druidic Goddess fancies drinking mead from a silver bowl in the company of young virgins, among other things. The Druids of Skund Forest celebrate the Rebirth of the Moon a ceremony dating back thousands of years by sacrificing a young virgin to the Moon Goddess. The virgin, dressed in a ceremonial white robe and golden torc, is led by a procession of trumpets and percussion instruments to a large and flat stone altar, situated in the centre of a circle of standing stones, where she is summarily sacrificed, using a knife.
Mentioned in The Light Fantastic , when Rincewind, Twoflower, and Genghiz Cohen the Barbarian save the sacrificial virgin, who then complains of "eight years of staying home Saturday nights down the drain". She may be the same as the Mother Goddess who, according to Pyramids , is worshipped by some believers in her aspect as the Moon and by others in her aspect as a big fat woman. In the depth of Skund Forest he is referred to as the Spirit of the Smoke. Local tribesmen believe you must first see Skelde before you can become a shaman.
Mentioned in The Light Fantastic. The name may be derived from Cotopaxi , a potentially active stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains , which is familiar to English-speakers from the poem "Romance" by Walter J. Turner ; it contains the repeated line "Chimborazo, Cotopaxi". In the depth of Skund Forest he is referred to as the Soul of the Forest. Local tribesmen believe you must first see Umcherrel before you can become a Spirit Master. These gods are still widely believed in, but no longer openly manifest or play an obvious role in mortal affairs.
The Great God Om is an omnipotent , omnipresent only within the boundaries of the Omnian church god in the country of Omnia. His temple is situated in Kom, presumably the capital, and his followers are known as Omnians. Unlike the major gods, who exist within a pantheon, Om is a monotheistic deity whose followers insist that he is the one and only true god. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Omnians also insisted, up until a hundred years ago, that the world is a sphere. Omnianism is the most oft-mentioned religion in the Discworld series.
The desert country of Omnia is a theocracy on the Klatchian continent, ruled by the Cenobiarch. At the time of Small Gods a hundred years previous to the time explored by other Discworld novels according to Thief of Time , the Cenobiarch was a very old man, and the country was actually ruled by his advisors, chiefly Vorbis. A major factor in Omnian affairs at this time was that very few people actually believed in Om himself, only in the clerical hierarchy and in the superficial trappings of religion. Because of this lack of belief — the "food" of the Discworld gods — Om had virtually no power for most of Small Gods and was trapped in the form of a tortoise.
He only vaguely remembered the seven prophets who claimed to have delivered his commandments and precepts, and Brutha , his last believer, had to come to grips with the fact that the Great God Om was, in fact, insulting, arrogant, frivolous by self-admission when he manifested to one of the prophets, his words had been 'Hey, look what I can do! Om was also selfish and in some regards, amoral. Difficulties also arose because Om would immediately recognize other gods, even tell Brutha some gossip about them, but the Omnian religion put to death anyone who suggested other gods existed.
The god at first cared for Brutha only because Om's own survival depended on Brutha's belief, but eventually grew to the realization that individual people are worth fighting for and agreed with Brutha that there would be no commandments unless Om adhered to them as well. Although no one in Omnia at the time of Small Gods actually believed in Om himself, they all believed in his clergy; in particular the Quisition, and in particular what the Quisition did to unbelievers. What the Quisition consisting of the Inquisition and the Exquisition, or people who can say "exquisite" with a straight face largely did was torture people, as evidenced by their unofficial motto, "Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum," which Pratchett loosely translates as "When you have their full attention in your grasp, their hearts and minds will follow.
Thompson to Richard Nixon counsel, Charles Colson : "Once you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow. The Book of Om says that witches shall not be allowed to live, although this may be a mistranslation since it also says that they may be caught in traps of treacle. This has led some to believe the word may in fact be cockroaches. A theory has also been advanced suggesting that, in a later passage stating they bring lascivious dreams, the word might actually be translated as "boiled lobsters ".
The reason for Omnianism's previous intolerance was not that Om was an intolerant god, but because he was largely an indifferent one. After spending some time trapped in the shape of a tortoise in Small Gods , his perspective was changed, and he allowed Brutha to turn Omnianism into one of the Discworld's more moderate religions, although they still insist Om is the only real god, or at least the only god worth worshipping. Om now refuses to manifest directly and demands that his followers develop their own theology and ethics based on faith in his existence and his last few commandments, redacting the former Omnian creeds into a simple code of nonviolence and moral uprightness.
Omnianism now demands that Om triumph over competing gods not through military force but in the "marketplace of ideas". The church has thus become more evangelical in its methods, and its followers can be seen going from door to door to convert unbelievers. Omnianism is consequently proving popular, because a god that doesn't actually do anything is somewhat comforting.
Owing to Brutha's allowance of opposing viewpoints, the church also schisms every couple of weeks. This in contrast to older Omnians, who were given bloodier names. In Monstrous Regiment , Vimes refers to Om as a "very popular" god, in part due to the fact he "imposed very few abominations and no special clothing, and was rather loose on prayers". The creator god of the dwarfs , first mentioned in Thud! The dwarfish creation myth states that Tak first "wrote himself", then "wrote the Laws," then "wrote the World", then wrote a cave and a geode.
The geode hatched and from it emerged two brothers. One left the cave and saw the sky; he was the first Man and he was enlightened. The other went deeper into the cave; he was the first Dwarf, and he was endarkened. Here earlier forms of the myth differ from later forms; in the earlier version, Tak notices that the geode is striving to become alive, and as reward for the service it had given, makes it into the first troll ; in a later, reedited version written by dwarfs as propaganda , the geode comes alive of its own accord and is left to wander the world without purpose.
Although the dwarfs believe in Tak as a creator, dwarfs are not religious; Tak left as soon as he created the world and doesn't demand eternal loyalty or followers. One dwarf — Grag Bashfull Bashfullson — gives a Deistic summation that "Tak does not require us to think of him , only that we think. Some cultures, particularly the non-human races, have their own pantheons of gods completely separate from the mainstream of Discworld mythology. The Kings of Djelibeybi are believed by their subjects to be gods amongst mortals as Teppic had corn grow in his presence and was able to part the River Djel.
Most of Djelibeybi's gods were likely to have been invented by the High Priest Dios. Paradoxically, many of them exclusively perform the same godly duties, with a large number claiming functions such as supremacy over the other gods and the right to push the sun. When they manifested in Pyramids while Djelibeybi was temporarily in its own set of dimensions , they spent most of their time fighting each other or tormenting humans for fun. They include:. The Voodoo religion of Genua has a wide range of minor gods, or loas ; the voodoo practitioners understand where gods come from and can feed small gods intentionally.
Amongst those mentioned in Witches Abroad are:. Similar to the Jotuns of Norse mythology , the Ice Giants are apparently necessary for the Apocralypse. When this came close to occurring during the events of Sourcery , the Ice Giants, described as huge beings made of ice with tiny, coal-like eyes and riding tame glaciers, hurtled down towards the civilised world. They spoke with a pronounced Nordic accent. Nowadays seemingly redundant, they engage in small conflicts with the Gods on the smallest pretext, currently their refusal to return the lawnmower and not turning their loud music down.
While they may be opposed to the Gods of Dunmanifestin, by the Discworld definition, the Ice Giants are nonetheless gods, and are worshipped whenever one of their rather inaccurate effigies snowmen are made. Pratchett suggested in The Discworld Companion that they might be a kind of troll. Small gods are a special classification of deity unique to the Discworld. They are the gods of slightly significant places, say the point at which two ant trails cross. On the Disc, the power and presence of a god waxes and wanes according to the number of believers.
A small god therefore is a god without enough believers to manifest in any significant form. There are two very different kinds: those who have yet to accumulate enough believers and those who were once powerful but have been forgotten. Of the former there is an almost infinite number on the Disc; Pratchett compares their hidden ubiquity to that of bacteria in our world. The other may still have memory of its former days, but its identity will be almost completely lost, even to itself. A god may become small even if it has a large following. It is well established in the novel Small Gods that while many people call themselves Omnians, this has more to do with the participation in the religious institution rather than actual direct belief.
Therefore, while the following is large, the god Om himself is very small, both in size and power. A household god on the Discworld is a small god that has a limited number of committed believers, perhaps only one, but nonetheless enough to manifest in a specific visible form. The Unseen University was plagued by a plethora of household gods in Hogfather when a surfeit of belief caused by the Hogfather's absence led to their uncontrolled random generation.
It could be argued that the great god Om, having been reduced to just one true believer, was a household god for most of Small Gods. The city of Ankh-Morpork has a Temple of Small Gods, which provides spiritual solace to those who, while they may accept the idea of a deistic presence in the universe, don't really have a clue what it might be. Its cemetery is the favoured burial ground of the City Watch.
The following is a list of those gods named so far which could be considered small gods or household gods:. Some of the Clan believe that if a rat has been a good rat, then when the Bone Rat comes, he will take them to the Big Rat, who has a tunnel full of food.
Most of the rats who think about this are continually questioning it, so it's not clear if there is enough belief for a god to form. Still, one rat's near-death experience seems to suggest there may be something similar to the Big Rat Underground waiting for the Clan beyond death. A "rather liberal" god in the opinion of Constable Visit , "not big on commandments". His followers died out fighting some of the most gruesome wars in the history of the Unnamed Continent. An excerpt from the Cenotine "Book of Truth" was the Chem of the golem Dorfl, until Carrot Ironfoundersson purchased him and set him free by replacing it with the receipt of the purchase.
The goddess Czol was an ancient goddess of Thut before that land sank under the sea some 9, years ago. One does not ask about her. Mentioned in Going Postal on a list of things that a messenger can't deal with. She is an ancient form of Mrs. The Howondalandish tribe of this Goddess believed that their ancestors resided in the Moon. After a signal from their ancestors an unusually large flare from the Moon they were urged to kill anyone who didn't believe in Glipzo. Three years later the tribe was destroyed by a rock falling out of the sky, as a result of a star exploding a billion years before.
Mentioned in The Last Hero. The paradoxical God of Evolution appears briefly in The Last Continent , where he is found 'sculpting' animals. Since he hasn't figured out reproduction yet, he makes every animal unique. Although no-one believes in the God of Evolution, he survives thanks to his own strong belief.
He does not believe in himself , because he is an atheist , but he believes in what he does. During events detailed in The Last Continent , he briefly takes on Ponder Stibbons as an apprentice, but scares him off when he reveals his most perfect creation to be the cockroach. The Goddess of Shoes. Mentioned in Reaper Man and Discworld Noir.
Hyperopia is the defect of vision commonly called farsightedness American English or longsightedness British English. The Goddess of Interminable Opera. She is one of the many gods and goddesses recognised in the Temple of Small Gods. He usually sports a fussy little moustache. His holy writ the Book of Nuggan is a Living Testament, into which more material is added on a regular basis. All believers regularly add pages to the ring binder Appendices, which then eventually fill with more commandments, usually Abominations unto Nuggan. By the time of Monstrous Regiment , his commandments were becoming rather nonsensical—among his ever-growing list of Abominations which even the other gods of the Discworld thought are a little over the top were cats, the colour blue, Dwarfs , oysters , mushrooms , chocolate , garlic , babies, cheese , the smell of beets , ears, jigsaw puzzles , crop rotation, shirts with six buttons, and rocks.
He is also very opposed to the clacks system, as it interferes with the prayers of the faithful. This is the local belief; however, the climax of the novel reveals that Nuggan's actual involvement in the Abominations has been next to nil for years if not decades, and the true source was simply fearful echoes in the minds of the populace. I sat down to read it once again, taking elaborate pains to make copious remarks, usually derogatory, in the margins ; after spending a month or so at this vain task I dispatched the book to England.
And that was the last I heard from him. Droie d'histoire! There are some very celebrated confessions, however, which I have never been able to wade through. One is Rousseau's, another is de Quincey's. Only recently I took another stab at Rousseau's Confessions, but after a few pages was forced to abandon it. His Emile, on the other hand, I fully intend to read— when I can find a copy with readable type. The Httle I did read of it had an extraordinary appeal.
I know that there are several universities which base their entire curricula on such select lists. It is my opinion that each man has to dig his own foundations. If one is an individual at all it is by reason of his uniqueness. Whatever the material which vitally aflfected the form of our culture, each man must decide for himself which elements of it are to enter into and shape his own private destiny.
The great works which are singled out by the professorial minds represent their choice exclusively. It is in the nature of such intellects to beheve that they are our appointed guides and mentors. It may be that, if left to our own devices, we would in time share their point of view. But the surest way to defeat such an end is to promulgate the reading of select lists of books — the so-called founda- tion stones.
A man should begin with his own times. He should become acquainted first of all with the world in which he is Uving and participating. He should not be afraid of reading too much or too Uttle. He should take his reading as he docs his food or his exercise. The good reader will gravitate to the good books.
He will discover firom his contemporaries what is inspiring or fecundating, or merely enjoyable, in past Hterature. He should have the pleasure of making these discoveries on his own, in his own way. What has worth, charm, beauty, wisdom, cannot be lost or forgotten. But things can lose all value, all charm and appeal, if one is dragged to them by the scalp.
Have you not noticed, after many heart-aches and disillusionments, that in recommending a book to a friend the less said the better i The moment you praise a book too highly you awaken resistance in your listener. One has to know when to give the dose and how much — and if it is to be repeated or not. The same sort of strategy might well be applied where the reading of books is concerned. Discourage a man in the right way, that is, with the right end in view, and you will put him on the path that much more quickly. The important thing is not which books, which experiences, a man is to have, but what he puts into them of his own.
One of the most mysterious of all the intangibles in Hfe is what we call influences. Undoubtedly influences come under the law of attraction. But it should be borne in mind that when we are pulled in a certain direction it is also because we pushed in that direction, perhaps without knowing it. It is obvious that we are not at the mercy of any and every influence. Nor are we always cogni- zant of the forces and factors which influence us from one period to another. Some men never know themselves or what motivates their behavior.
Most men, in fact. With others the sense of destiny is so clear, so strong, that there hardly seems to be any choice : they 1 create the influences needed to fulfill their ends. I use the word i " create " deHberately, because in certain startling instances the j individual has literally been obUged to create the necessary influences. My reason for introducing such an abstruse element is that, where books are concerned, just as with friends, lovers, adventures and discoveries, all is inextricably mixed. The desire to read a book is often provoked by the most unexpected incident.
To begin with, everything that happens to a man is of a piece. The books he chooses to read are no exception. He may not have read them if he detested this aunt. Of the thousands of. The books a man reads are determined by what a man is. If a man be left alone in a room with a book, a single book, it does not follow that he will read it because he has nothing better to do. If the book bores him he will drop it, though he may go well- nigh mad for want of anything better to do. Some men, in reading, take the pains to look up every reference given in the foomotes ; others again never even glance at footnotes.
The adventures and discoveries of Nicholas Flamel in connec- tion with the Book of Abraham the Jew constitute one of the golden pages in literature. As I was saying, the chance remark of a friend, an unexpected encounter, a footnote, illness, solitude, strange quirks of memory, a thousand and one things can set one off in pursuit of a book. There are times when one is susceptible to any and all suggestions, hints, intimations. And there are times again when it takes dynamite to put one afoot and astir. One of the great temptations, for a writer, is to read when engaged in the writing of a book.
With me it seems that the moment I begin a new book I develop a passion for reading too. In fact, due to some perverse instinct, the moment I am launched on a new book I itch to do a thousand different things — not, as is often the case, out of a desire to escape the task of writing. What I fmd is that I can write and do other things. When the creative urge seizes one — at least, such is my experience — one becomes creative in all directions at once. It was in the days before I undertook to write, I must confess, that reading was at once the most voluptuous and the most pernicious of pastimes.
Looking backward, it seems to me as if the reading of books was nothing more than a narcotic, stimulating at first but depressing and paralyzing afterwards. From the time I began in earnest to write, the reading habit altered. A new element crept into it. A fecundating element, I might say. As a young man I often thought, on putting a book down, that I could have done much better myself The more I read the more critical I became. Hardly anything was good enough for me. Gradually I began to despise books — and authors too.
Often the writers I had most adored were the ones I castigated mercilessly. There was always a fringe of authors, to be sure, whose magic powers baffled and eluded me. I read cold- bloodedly, with all the powers of analysis I possessed. In order, bcHeve it or not, to rob them of their secret. Yes, I was then naive enough to beUcve that I could discover what makes the clock tick by taking it apart. I learned something about style, about the art of narration, about effects and how they are produced. Best of all, I learned that there really is a mystery involved in the creation of good books.
To say, for example, that the style is the man, is to say almost nothing. Even when we have the man we have next to nothing. The way a man writes, the way he speaks, the way he walks, the way he does everything, is unique and inscrutable. The important thing, so obvious that one usually overlooks it, is not to wonder about such matters but to listen to what a man has to say, to let his words move you, alter you, make you more and more what you truly are.
The most important factor in the appreciation of any art is the practice of it. In reading Van Gogh's letters to his brother, one is struck by the vast amount of meditation, analysis, comparison, adoration and criticism he indulged in during the course of his brief and frenzied career as a painter.
It is not uncommon, among painters, but in Van Gogh's case it reaches heroic proportions. Van Gogh was not only looking at nature, people, objects, but at other men's canvases, studying their methods, techniques, styles and approaches. He reflected long and earnestly on what he observed, and these thoughts and observations penetrated his work. He was anything but a primitive, or a " fauve. It happens that Van Gogh, without having any literary pretensions whatever, wrote one of the great books of our time, and without knowing that he was writing a book.
His life, as we get it in the letters, is more revelatory, more moving, more a work of art, I would say, than are most of the famous autobiographies or autobiographical novels. He tells us unreservedly of his struggles and sorrows, withholding nothing. His life, in that it makes clear the value and the meaning of dedication, is a lesson for all time. Van Gogh is at one and the same time — and of how few men can we say this! He may have been obsessed, or possessed rather, but he was not a fanatic working in the dark. He possessed, for one thing, that rare faculty of being able to criticize and judge his own work.
He proved, indeed, to be a much better critic and judge than those whose business it unfortunately is to criticize, judge and condemn. The more I write the more tolerant I grow , with regard to my fellow writers. I am not including " bad " writers, for with them I refuse to have any traffic. But with those who are sincere, with those who are honestly struggling to express themselves, I am much more lenient and understanding than in the days when I had not yet written a book. I can learn from the poorest writer, provided he has done his utmost.
Indeed, I have learned a very great deal from certain " poor " writers. In reading their works I have been struck time and again by that freedom and boldness which it is almost impossible to recapture once one is " in harness," once one is aware of the laws and limitations of his medium. But it is in reading one's favorite authors that one becomes supremely aware of the value of practicing the art of writing. One reads then with the right and the left eye. Without the least diminution of the sheer enjoyment of reading, one becomes aware of a marvellous heightening of conscioumess.
In reading these men the element of the mysterious never recedes, but the vessel in which their thoughts are contained becomes more and more transparent. Drunk with ecstasy, one returns to his own work revivified. Criticism is con- verted into reverence. One begins to pray as one never prayed before. One no longer prays for oneself but for Brother Giono, Brother Cendrars, Brother Celine — for the whole galaxy of fellow authors, in fact.
One accepts the uniqueness of his fellow artist imreservedly, realizing that it is only through one's uniqueness that one asserts his commonness. One no longer asks for something different of his beloved author but for more of the same. Even the ordinary reader testifies to this longing.
What gratitude for even the tiniest posthumous fragment! Even the perusal of an author's expense account gives us a thrill. The moment a writer dies his Hfe suddenly becomes of momentous interest to us. His death often enables us to see what we could not sec when he was aUve — that his Hfe and work were one. Is it not obvious that the art of resuscitation biography masks a profound hope and longing? We are not content to let Balzac, Dickens, Dostoievsky remain immortal in their works — we want to restore them in the flesh. Sometimes it seems as though the influence of the dead were more potent than the influence of the living.
If the Saviour had not been resurrected, man would certainly have resurrected Him through grief and longing. They were alive and they spoke to me! That is the simplest and most eloquent way in which I can refer to those authors who have remained with me over the years. Is this not a strange thing to say, considering that we are dealing, in books, with signs and symbols i Just as no artist has ever succeeded in rendering nature on canvas, so no author has ever truly been able to give us his Hfe and thoughts.
Autobiography is the purest romance. Fiction is always closer to reaHty than fact. The fable is not the essence of worldly wisdom but the bitter sheU. One might go on, through aU the ranks and divisions of Hterature, unmasking history, exposing the myths of science, devaluating aesthetics. Nothing, on deep analysis, proves to be what it seems or purports to be.
Man continues to hunger. Is it not strange to understand and enjoy what is incommunicable? Man is not communicating with man through words, he is communing with his feUow man and with his Maker. Over and over again one puts down a book and one is speechless. Sometimes it is because the author seems " to have said everything. It is from the silence that words are drawn, and it is to the silence that they return, if properly used.
In the interval something inexpHcable takes place : a man who is dead, let us say, resuscitates himself, takes possession of you, and in departing leaves you thoroughly altered. He did this by means of signs and symbols. Was this not magic which he possessed — perhaps still possesses? Though we know it not, we do possess the key to paradise. Wc talk a great deal about understanding and communicating, not only with our fellow man but with the dead, with the imbom, with those who inhabit other realms, other universes. We believe that there are mighty secrets to be unlocked. We hope that science will poillt the way, or if not, religion.
We dream of a Hfe in the distant future which will be utterly different from the one we now know ; we invest ourselves with powers unnameable. Yet the writers of books have ever given evidence not only of magical powers but of the existence of universes which infringe and invade our own Httle universe and which are as famiUar to us as though we had visited them in the flesh.
These men had no " occult " masters to initiate diem. They sprang from parents similar to our own, they were the products of environments similar to our own. What makes them stand apart then? Not the use of imagination, for men in other walks of Hfe have displayed equally great powers of imagination.
Not the mastery of a technique, for other artists practice equally difficult techniques. No, to me the cardinal fact about a writer is his abihty to " exploit " the vast silence which enwraps us all. Of all artists he is the one who best knows that " in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Pretending to communicate with his fellow creatures, he has unwittingly taught us to commune with the Creator. Using language as his instrument, he demonstrates that it is not language at all but prayer.
A very special kind of prayer, too, since nothing is demanded of the Creator. Here on eartli they may have been practicing. There they are perfecting their song. Our future Ues in Universality, not won by violence, but by the strength derived from our great ideal — the reuniting of all mankind. Hamsun, as I have often said, is one of the authors who vitally affected me as writer. None of his books intrigued me as much as Mysteries.
In that period I spoke of earher, when I began to take my favorite authors apart in order to discover their secret power of enchantment, the men I concentrated on were Hamsun first of all, then Arthur Machen, then Thomas Mann. When I came to reread The Birth of Tragedy I remember being positively stunned by Nietzsche's magical use of language. Only a few years ago, thanks to Eva SikeHanou, I became intoxicated once again with this extraordinary book.
I mentioned Thomas Mann. But it was Mann's skill as a writer of short stories, or novelettes, which most intrigued and baffled mc during the " analytical " period I speak of At that time Death in Venice was for me the supreme short story. In the space of a few years, however, my opinion of Thomas Mann, and especially of his Death in Venice, altered radically. It is a curious tale and perhaps worth recounting.
It was like this. During my early days in Paris I made the acquaintance of a most engaging and provocative individual whom I beHeved to be a genius. John Nichols was his name. He was a painter. Like so many Irishmen, he also possessed the gift of gab. It was a privilege to listen to him, whether he were discussing painting, Hterature, music, or talking sheer nonsense. He had a flair for invective, and, when he waxed strong, his tongue was vitrioHc. One day I happened to speak of my admiration for Thomas Mann and, before long, I found myself raving about Death in Venice.
Nichols responded with jeers and contempt. He admitted he had never read it and thought my proposal an excel- lent one. I shall never forget this experience. Before I had read three pages Thomas Mann began to crumble. Nichols, mind you, had not said a word.
But reading the story aloud, and to a critical ear, suddenly the whole creaking machinery which underlay this fabrication exposed itself. Half- way through I flung the book on the floor. Later on I glanced through The Magic Mountain and Buddenhrooks, works I had regarded as monumental, only to find them equally meretricious. This sort of experience, I must quickly add, has happened but seldom to me.
There was one outstanding one — I blush to mention it! How on earth I had ever managed to find that book " funny " is beyond my comprehension. Yet I had, once. Indeed, I remember that I laughed until the tears came to my eyes.
Magic Tales and Fairy Tale Magic
The other day, after a lapse of thirty years, I picked it up and started to read it again. Never have I tasted a shoddier piece of tripe. Another disappointment, though much milder, lay in store for me on rereading The Triumph of the Egg. It came near to being a rotten egg. What I started to say is that, in rereading, I find more and more that the books I long to read again are the ones I read in childhood and early youth.
I mentioned Henty, bless his name! Imagine not having read any of these men since boyhood! It seems incredible. One of these, I recall, was about our great " hero " for a day — Admiral Dewey. Another was about Admiral Farragut — probably about the battle of Mobile Bay, if there ever was such an engagement. Regarding this book I recall now that, in writing the chapter called " My Dream of Mobile " in The Air-conditioned Nightmare, I was actively aware of this tale of Farragut's heroic exploits. Without a doubt, my whole conception of Mobile was colored by this book I had read fifty years ago.
But it was through the book on Admiral Dewey that I became acquainted with my first Hve hero, who was not Dewey but our sworn enemy, Aguinaldo, the Fihpino rebel. My mother had hung Dewey's portrait, floating above the battleship Maine, over my bed. Aguinaldo, whose likeness is now dim in my mind, links up physically with that strange photograph of Rimbaud taken in Abyssinia, the one wherein he stands in prison-Hke garb on the banks of a stream. Little did my parents reaHze, in handing me our precious hero. Admiral Dewey, that they were nurturing in me the seeds of a rebel.
He was the fu-st Enemy Number One to cross my horizon. I still revere his name, just as I still revere the names of Robert E. Lee and Toussaint L'Ouverture, the great Negro hberator who fought Napoleon's picked men and worsted them. Or Emerson's Representative Men? And why not make room for another early idol, John Paul Jones? The spectacular story of this man's life is one of those projected books which Cendrars has not yet written and probably never will. The reason is simple. Following the trail of this adventurous American, Cendrars amassed such a wealth of material that he was swamped by it.
In the course of his travels, searching for rare documents and buying up rare books relating to John Paul Jones' myriad adventures, Cendrars confessed that he had spent more than tenfold the amount given him by the publishers in advance royalties. The first person to whom I ventured to read aloud was my grand- father. Not that he encouraged it! I can still hear him saying to my mother that she would regret putting all those books in my hands.
He was right. My mother did regret it bitterly, later. It was my own mother, incidentally, whom I can scarcely recall ever seeing with a book in her hand, who told me one day when I was reading The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World that she had read that book years ago herself— in the toilet. I was flabbergasted. Not that she had admitted to reading in the toilet, but that it should have been that book, of all books, which she had read there. Reading aloud to my boyhood friends, particularly to Joey and Tony, my earhest friends, was an eye-opener for me.
I discovered early in hfe what some discover only much later, to their disgust and chagrin, namely, that reading aloud to people can put them to sleep. Either my voice was monotonous, either I read poorly, or the books I chose were the wrong sort. Inevitably my audience went to sleep on me. Which did not discourage me, incidentally, from continuing the practice. Nor did these experiences alter the opinion I had of my little friends. No, I came quietly to the conclusion that books were not for everyone. I still hold to that view. The last thing on earth I would counsel is to make everyone learn to read.
If I had my way, I would first see to it that a boy learned to be a carpenter, a builder, a gardener, a hunter, a fisherman. The practical things first, by all means, then the luxuries. And books are luxuries. Of course I expect the normal youngster to dance and sing from infancy. And to play games. I would abet these tendencies with might and main. But the reading of books can wait. To play games. Ah, there is a chapter of life in a category all by itself I mean, primarily, out-of-door games — the games which poor children play in the streets of a big city.
I pass up the temptation to expand on this subject lest I write another, very different, kind of book! However, boyhood is a subject I never tire of Neither the remembrance of the wild and glorious games we played by day and night in the streets, nor the characters with whom I hobnobbed and whom I sometimes deified, as boys are prone to do.
Time and again, in my writings, I have made mention of the amazing acumen we displayed in discussing the fundamental problems of Hfe. Subjects such as sin, evil, reincarnation, good government, ethics and morality, the nature of the deity, Utopia, life on other planets — these were food and drink to us. My real education was begun in the street, in empty lots on cold November days, or on street comers at night, frequently with out skates on.
Naturally, one of the things we were forever discussing was books, the books we were then reading and which we were not even sup- posed to know about. It sounds extravagont to say so, I know, but it docs seem to me that only the great interpreters of Uterature can rival the boy in the street when it comes to extracting the flavor and essence of a book. In my humble opinion, the boy is much nearer to understanding Jesus than the priest, much closer to Plato, in his views on government, than the political figures of this world. During this golden period of boyhood there was suddenly injected into my world of books a whole Hbrary, housed in a beautiful walnut bookcase with glass doors and movable shelves, of boys' books.
They were from the collection of an Englishman, Isaac Walker, my father's predecessor, who had the distinction of being one of the first merchant tailors of New York. As I review them now in my mind, these books were all handsomely bound, the titles embossed usually in gold, as were the cover designs.
Money Superstitions From 13 Countries: Will It Make You Rich? -- The Motley Fool
The paper was thick and glossy, the type bold and clear. In short, these books were de luxe in every respect. Indeed, so elegantly forbidding was their appearance, that it took some time before I dared tackle them. What I am about to relate is a curious thing. It has to do with my deep and mysterious aversion for everything English. I beUeve I am telling the truth when I say that the cause of this antipathy is deeply connected with the reading of Isaac Walker's Httle Hbrary. How profound was my disgust, on becoming acquainted with the contents of these books, may be judged by the fact that I have completely forgotten the titles.
Just one lingers in my memory, and even this one I am not positive is correct : A Country Squire. The rest is a blank. The nature of my reaction I can put in a few words. For the first time in my life I sensed the meaning of melancholy and morbid- ity. All these elegant books seemed wrapped in a veil of thick fog.
Not one ray of light issued from these musty tomes. It was the primordial slime, on all levels. Senseless and irrational though it be, this picture of England and the EngHsh lasted well into middle life, until, to be honest, I visited England and had the opportunity of meeting EngHshmen on their own native heath. When I came to Dickens, these first impressions were, of course, corroborated and strengthened. His books were sombre, terrifying in parts, and usually boring. Of them all, David Copperfield stands out as the most enjoyable, the most nearly human, according to my conception then of the word.
Fortunately, there was one book which had been given me by a good aunt,f which served as a corrective to this morose view of England and the English people. I remember distinctly the pleasure this book gave me. There were, to be sure, the Henty books, which I was also read- ing, or had readjust a Httle earHer, and from which I gained a wholly different notion of the English world. Sombre, tragic, full of mishaps and accidental or coincidental misfortunes, Hardy's books caused me once again to adjust my " human " picture of the world.
In the end I was obhged to pass judgment on Hardy. For all the air of realism which permeated his books, I had to admit to myself that they were not " true to life. But this is a book by an Irishman, and an unusual one it is. At any rate, Claude Houghton has done more than any Englishman, with the exception of W. I have by now read the majority of his works. Whether the performance is good or bad, Claude Houghton's books captivate me.
Many Americans know I Am Jonathan Scrivener, which would have made a wonderfiil movie, as would some of his others. It is called Hudson Rejoins the Herd. In a lengthy letter to the author I explained why this seemed to be so. The outer circumstances were " disguised," but the inner ones were hallucinatingly real. I could not have done better myself For a time I thought that Claude Houghton had in some mysterious way gained access to these facts and events in my life.
In the course of our correspondence, however, I soon discovered that all his works are imaginative. Perhaps the reader will be surprised to learn that I should think such a coincidence " mysterious. Of course. But still I am impressed. Those who think they know me intimately should have a look at this book. And now, for no reason, unless it be the afterglow of boyhood reminiscences, there leaps to mind the name of Rider Haggard. There was a writer who had me in his thrall! The contents of his books are vague and fuzzy.
This adolescent period over, it becomes increasingly difficult to strike an author capable of producing an effect anywhere near that created by Rider Haggard's works. For reasons now inscrutable, Trilby came close to doing so. Trilby and Peter Ibbetson are a unique brace of books. That they should have come from a middle-aged illustrator, renowned for his drawings in " Punch," is more than interesting. I can imagine with dread what Henry James would have made of such a subject.
Oddly enough, the man who put me on the track of Du Maurier also put into my hands Flaubert's Botiuard et Pecuchet, which I did not open until thirty years later. He had given this volume and the Sentimental Education to my father in payment of a small debt he owed. My father, of course, was disgusted. With the Sentimental Education goes a queer association. Somewhere Bernard Shaw says that certain books cannot be appreciated, and should therefore not be read, until one is past fifty. One of those he cited was this famous work of Flaubert. It is another of those books, Hke Tom Jones and Moll Flanders, which I intend one day to read, particularly since I have " come of age.
Strange that a book such as Nadja, by Andr6 Breton, should in any way be linked with the emotional experiences engendered in reading Rider Haggard's works. Each time I read it I go through the same inner turmoil, the same rather terrifyingly deHdous sensation that seizes one, for example, upon finding himself completely disoriented in the pitch blackness of a room with every square inch of which he is thoroughly famiUar.
Perhaps the association is not so far-fetched after aU, considering the peculiar sources from which the Surrealists gathered inspiration, nourishment and corroboration. Nadja is still, to my way of thinking, a unique book. The photos which accompany the text have a value all their own. At any rate, it is one of the few books I have reread several times with no rupture of the original spell. This in itself, I do believe, is sufficient to mark it out.
Many is the time I spent whole days at the pubHc Hbrary looking up words or subjects. Here again, to be truthfiil, I must say that tht most wonderfiil days were passed at home, with my boon companion Joe O'Regan. Bleak, wintry days, when food was scarce and all hope or thought of obtaining employment had vanished.
Mingled with the dictionary and encyclopaedia bouts are recollections of other days or nights spent entirely in playing chess or ping pong, or painting water colors which we turned out like monomaniacs. As usual, one word led to another, for what is the dictionary if not the subtlest fonn of " circuit game " masquerading in the guise of a book i With Joe at my side, Joe the eternal sceptic, a discussion ensued which lasted the entire day and night, the search for more and more definitions never slackening.
It was because of Joe O'Regan, who had stimulated me so often to question all that I had blindly accepted, that my first suspicions about the value of the dictionary were aroused. Prior to this moment I had taken the dictionary for granted, much as one does the Bible. But that day, shifting from derivation to derivation, thereby stumbling upon the most amazing changes in meaning, upon contradictions and reversals of earUer meanings, the whole framework of lexico- graphy began to sHther and slide.
In reaching the earUest " origin " of a word I observed that one was up against a stone wall. Surely it was not possible that the words we were looking up had entered human language at the points indicated! To get back only as far as Sanskrit, Hebrew or Icelandic and what wonderful words stem from the Icelandic! History had been pushed back more than ten thousand years, and here were we, stranded at the vestibule, so to speak, of modem times.
That so many words of metaphysical and spiritual connotation, freely employed by the Greeks, had lost all significance was in itself some- thing to give us pause. To be brief, it soon became apparent that the meaning of a word changed or disappeared entirely, or became the very opposite, according to the time, place, culture of the people using the term.
The simple truth that life is what we make it, how we see it with our whole being, and not what is given factually, historically, or statistically, appHes to language too. The one who seems least to understand this is the philologist. But let me get on — from dictionary to encyclopaedia. It was only natural, in jumping from meaning to meaning, in observing the uses of the words we were tracking down, that for a ftiller, deeper treatment we must have recourse to the encyclo- paedia.
The defining process, after all, is one of reference and cross-reference. To know what a specific word means one has to know the words which, so to speak, hedge it in. And this is probably because the original source is never known. But the encyclopaedia! Ah, there perhaps we would be on firm ground! We would look up subjects, not words. We would discover whence arose these mystifying symbols over which men had fought and bled, tortured and killed one another.
But you will never penetrate the mystery! Who, after all, are these pundits entombed in the encyclopaedias i Are they the final authorities? Decidedly not! That's why I have to live off what my daughters provide me with. It wouldn't be the first time. So the boy was disappointed; he decided that he would never again believe in dreams. The day was hot, and the wine was re- freshing. The sheep were at the gates of the city, in a stable that belonged to a friend. The boy knew a lot of people in the city. That was what made trav- eling appeal to him —he always made new friends, and he didn't need to spend all of his time with them.
When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a part of that persons life. And then they want the person to change. If some- one isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. He decided to wait until the sun had sunk a bit lower in the sky before following his flock back through the fields. Three days from now, he would be with the merchant's daughter.
He started to read the book he had bought. On the very first page it described a burial ceremony. And the names of the people involved were very difficult to pronounce. When he was finally able to concentrate on what he was reading, he liked the book better; the burial was on a snowy day, and he welcomed the feeling of being cold. As he read on, an old man sat down at his side and tried to strike up a conversation. Actually, he was thinking about shearing his sheep in front of the merchant's daughter, so that she could see that he was someone who was capa- ble of doing difficult things.
He had already imag- ined the scene many times; every time, the girl became fascinated when he explained that the sheep had to be sheared from back to front. He also tried to remember some good stories to relate as he sheared the sheep. Most of them he had read in books, but he would tell them as if they were from his personal experience.
She would never know the difference, because she didn't know how to read. Meanwhile, the old man persisted in his attempt to strike up a conversation. He said that he was tired and thirsty, and asked if he might have a sip of the boy's wine. The boy offered his bottle, hop- ing that the old man would leave him alone. The boy was tempted to be rude, and move to another bench, but his father had taught him to be respectful of the elderly.
So he held out the book to the man for two reasons: first, that he, himself, wasn't sure how to pronounce the title; and second, that if the old man didn't know how to read, he would prob- ably feel ashamed and decide of his own accord to change benches. The old man knew how to read, and had already read the book.
And if the book was irritating, as the old man had said, the boy still had time to change it for another. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie. That's the world's greatest lie. The old man, meanwhile, was leafing through the book, without seeming to want to re- turn it at all. The boy noticed that the man's cloth- ing was strange. He looked like an Arab, which was not unusual in those parts. Africa was only a few hours from Tarifa; one had only to cross the nar- row straits by boat.
Arabs often appeared in the city, shopping and chanting their strange prayers several times a day. That's where I was born. He looked at the people in the plaza for a while; they were coming and going, and all of them seemed to be very busy. But he knew that Salem wasn't in Andalusia. If it were, he would already have heard of it. Sometimes it's better to be with the sheep, who don't say anything. And better still to be alone with one's books. They tell their incredible stories at the time when you want to hear them. But when you're talking to people, they say some things that are so strange that you don't know how to con- tinue the conversation.
He could see that the old man wanted to know more about his life. I can't help you if you feel you've got enough sheep. He wasn't asking for help. It was the old man who had asked for a drink of his wine, and had started the conversa- tion. The old woman hadn't charged him anything, but the old man maybe he was her husband —was going to find a way to get much more money in exchange for in- formation about something that didn't even exist. The old man was probably a Gypsy, too.
But before the boy could say anything, the old man leaned over, picked up a stick, and began to write in the sand of the plaza. Something bright re- flected from his chest with such intensity that the boy was momentarily blinded. With a movement that was too quick for someone his age, the man covered whatever it was with his cape.
When his vi- sion returned to normal, the boy was able to read what the old man had written in the sand. There, in the sand of the plaza of that small city, the boy read the names of his father and his mother and the name of the seminary he had at- tended. He read the name of the merchant's daughter, which he hadn't even known, and he read things he had never told anyone. But let's say that the most important is that you have succeeded in discover- ing your destiny. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their destiny is. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives.
But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their destiny. But he wanted to know what the "mysterious force" was; the merchant's daughter would be impressed when he told her about that! It's your mission on earth. Or marry the daughter of a textile merchant? The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness.
And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation. All things are one. It was the old man who spoke first. But he decided first to buy his bakery and put some money aside. When he's an old man, he's going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.
Parents would rather see their children marry bakers than shepherds. There was surely a baker in her town. The old man continued, "In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own des- tinies. The boy waited, and then interrupted the old man just as he himself had been interrupted.
And you are at the point where you're about to give it all up. Sometimes I appear in the form of a solution, or a good idea. At other times, at a crucial moment, I make it easier for things to happen. There are other things I do, too, but most of the time people don t realize I've done them.
The miner had aban- doned everything to go mining for emeralds. The miner was about to give it all up, right at the point when, if he were to examine just one more stone — just one more —he would find his emerald. Since the miner had sacri- ficed everything to his destiny, the old man de- cided to become involved. He transformed himself into a stone that rolled up to the miner's foot. The miner, with all the anger and frustration of his five fruitless years, picked up the stone and threw it aside. But he had thrown it with such force that it broke the stone it fell upon, and there, embedded in the broken stone, was the most beautiful emer- ald in the world.
But that's the way it is. This is what the Warriors of the Light try to teach. And I will tell you how to find the hidden treasure. Good afternoon. The boy began again to read his book, but he was no longer able to concentrate. He was tense and upset, because he knew that the old man was right. He went over to the bakery and bought a loaf of bread, thinking about whether or not he should tell the baker what the old man had said about him.
Sometimes it's better to leave things as they are, he thought to himself, and decided to say nothing. If he were to say anything, the baker would spend three days thinking about giving it all up, even though he had gotten used to the way things were. The boy could certainly resist causing that kind of anxiety for the baker. So he began to wander through the city, and found himself at the gates. And he knew that Egypt was in Africa. If he sold just one of his sheep, he'd have enough to get to the other shore of the strait.
The idea fright- ened him. In two years he had learned everything about shepherding: he knew how to shear sheep, how to care for pregnant ewes, and how to protect the sheep from wolves. He knew all the fields and pastures of Andalusia. And he knew what was the fair price for every one of his animals. He decided to return to his friend's stable by the longest route possible. As he walked past the city's castle, he interrupted his return, and climbed the stone ramp that led to the top of the wall. From there, he could see Africa in the distance.
Someone had once told him that it was from there that the Moors had come, to occupy all of Spain. Curse the moment I met that old man, he thought. He had come to the town only to find a woman who could interpret his dream. Neither the woman nor the old man were at all impressed by the fact that he was a shepherd.
They were solitary individuals who no longer believed in things, and didn't understand that shepherds become attached to their sheep. He knew everything about each member of his flock: he knew which ones were lame, which one was to give birth two months from now, and which were the laziest.
He knew how to shear them, and how to slaughter them. If he ever decided to leave them, they would suffer. The wind began to pick up. He knew that wind: people called it the levanter, because on it the Moors had come from the Levant at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The levanter increased in intensity. Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.
There was also the merchant's daughter, but she wasn't as important as his flock, because she didn't depend on him. Maybe she didn't even remember him. I left my father, my mother, and the town castle behind. They have gotten used to my being away, and so have I. The sheep will get used to my not being there, too, the boy thought. From where he sat, he could observe the plaza.
People continued to come and go from the baker's shop. A young couple sat on the bench where he had talked with the old man, and they kissed. The levanter was still get- ting stronger, and he felt its force on his face. That wind had brought the Moors, yes, but it had also brought the smell of the desert and of veiled women. It had brought with it the sweat and the dreams of men who had once left to search for the unknown, and for gold and adventure —and for the Pyramids. The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom.
There was nothing to hold him back ex- cept himself. The sheep, the merchant's daughter, and the fields of Andalusia were only steps along the way to his destiny. The next day, the boy met the old man at noon. He brought six sheep with him. When you play cards the first time, you are almost sure to win. Beginner's luck. The boy explained that it wasn't important, since that sheep was the most intelligent of the flock, and produced the most wool. The old woman had said the same thing. But she hadn't charged him any- thing. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.
He re- membered something his grandfather had once told him: that butterflies were a good omen. These are good omens. The old man wore a breast- plate of heavy gold, covered with precious stones. The boy recalled the brilliance he had noticed on the previous day. He really was a king! He must be disguised to avoid encounters with thieves. Always ask an objective question.
The treasure is at the Pyramids; that you al- ready knew. But I had to insist on the payment of six sheep because I helped you to make your deci- sion. From then on, he would make his own decisions. And, above all, don't forget to follow your destiny through to its conclusion. The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain.
It was there that the wise man lived. The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours be- fore it was his turn to be given the man's attention. He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library? His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had en- trusted to him.
He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in de- tail everything he had seen. The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and " never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.
He had understood the story the old king had told him. A shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget about his sheep. The old man looked at the boy and, with his hands held together, made several strange gestures over the boy's head. Then, taking his sheep, he walked away. At the highest point in tarifa there is an old fort, built by the Moors.
From atop its walls, one can catch a glimpse of Africa. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, sat on the wall of the fort that after- noon, and felt the levanter blowing in his face. The sheep fidgeted nearby, uneasy with their new owner and excited by so much change. All they wanted was food and water. Melchizedek watched a small ship that was plowing its way out of the port. He would never again see the boy, just as he had never seen Abra- ham again after having charged him his one-tenth fee.
That was his work. But the king of Salem hoped desperately that the boy would be successful. It's too bad that he's quickly going to forget my name, he thought. I should have repeated it for him. Then when he spoke about me he would say that I am Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He looked to the skies, feeling a bit abashed, and said, "I know it's the vanity of vanities, as you said, my Lord. But an old king sometimes has to take some pride in himself. He was sitting in a bar very much like the other bars he had seen along the narrow streets of Tan- gier.
Some men were smoking from a gigantic pipe that they passed from one to the other. In just a few hours he had seen men walking hand in hand, women with their faces covered, and priests that climbed to the tops of towers and chanted — as everyone about him went to their knees and placed their foreheads on the ground. The boy felt ill and terribly alone. The infidels had an evil look about them. Besides this, in the rush of his travels he had for- gotten a detail, just one detail, which could keep him from his treasure for a long time: only Arabic was spoken in this country.
The owner of the bar approached him, and the boy pointed to a drink that had been served at the next table. It turned out to be a bitter tea. The boy preferred wine. But he didn't need to worry about that right now. What he had to be concerned about was his treasure, and how he was going to go about getting it. The sale of his sheep had left him with enough money in his pouch, and the boy knew that in money there was magic; whoever has money is never really alone. Before long, maybe in just a few days, he would be at the Pyramids.
An old man, with a breastplate of gold, wouldn't have lied just to acquire six sheep. The old man had spoken about signs and omens, and, as the boy was crossing the strait, he had thought about omens. Yes, the old man had known what he was talking about: during the time the boy had spent in the fields of Andalusia, he had become used to learning which path he should take by observing the ground and the sky. The sheep had taught him that. IfGod leads the sheep so well, he will also lead a man, he thought, and that made him feel better.
The tea seemed less bitter. The boy was relieved. He was thinking about omens, and someone had appeared. The new arrival was a young man in Western dress, but the color of his skin suggested he was from this city. He was about the same age and height as the boy. We're only two hours from Spain.
I hate this tea. He almost began to tell about his treasure, but decided not to do so. If he did, it was possible that the Arab would want a part of it as payment for taking him there. He remembered what the old man had said about offering some- thing you didn't even have yet. I can pay you to serve as my guide. The boy noticed that the owner of the bar stood nearby, listening attentively to their conversation.
He felt uneasy at the man's presence. But he had found a guide, and didn't want to miss out on an opportunity. I need to know whether you have enough. But he trusted in the old man, who had said that, when you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favor. He took his money from his pouch and showed it to the young man. The owner of the bar came over and looked, as well. The two men exchanged some words in Arabic, and the bar owner seemed irritated. He got up to pay the bill, but the owner grabbed him and began to speak to him in an angry stream of words.
The boy was strong, and wanted to retaliate, but he was in a for- eign country. His new friend pushed the owner aside, and pulled the boy outside with him. This is a port, and every port has its thieves. He had helped him out in a dangerous situation. He took out his money and counted it. Everywhere there were stalls with items for sale. They reached the center of a large plaza where the market was held. There were thou- sands of people there, arguing, selling, and buying; vegetables for sale amongst daggers, and carpets displayed alongside tobacco.
But the boy never took his eye off his new friend. After all, he had all his money. He thought about asking him to give it back, but decided that would be unfriendly. He knew nothing about the customs of the strange land he was in. He knew he was stronger than his friend. Suddenly, there in the midst of all that confu- sion, he saw the most beautiful sword he had ever seen. The scabbard was embossed in silver, and the handle was black and encrusted with precious stones. The boy promised himself that, when he re- turned from Egypt, he would buy that sword.
Then he realized that he had been distracted for a few moments, looking at the sword. His heart squeezed, as if his chest had suddenly compressed it. He was afraid to look around, because he knew what he would find. He continued to look at the beautiful sword for a bit longer, until he summoned the courage to turn around. All around him was the market, with people coming and going, shouting and buying, and the aroma of strange foods. The boy wanted to believe that his friend had simply become separated from him by accident.
He decided to stay right there and await his return. As he waited, a priest climbed to the top of a nearby tower and began his chant; everyone in the market fell to their knees, touched their foreheads to the ground, and took up the chant. Then, like a colony of worker ants, they dismantled their stalls and left. The sun began its departure, as well. The boy watched it through its trajectory for some time, until it was hidden behind the white houses sur- rounding the plaza.
That morning he had known everything that was going to hap- pen to him as he walked through the familiar fields. But now, as the sun began to set, he was in a different country, a stranger in a strange land, where he couldn't even speak the language. He was no longer a shepherd, and he had nothing, not even the money to return and start everything over. All this happened between sunrise and sunset, the boy thought. He was feeling sorry for himself, and lamenting the fact that his life could have changed so suddenly and so drastically. He was so ashamed that he wanted to cry.
He had never even wept in front of his own sheep. But the marketplace was empty, and he was far from home, so he wept. He wept because God was unfair, and because this was the way God re- paid those who believed in their dreams. When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy. People saw me coming and welcomed me, he thought. But now I'm sad and alone. I'm going to become bitter and distrust- ful of people because one person betrayed me.
I'm going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine. And I'm going to hold on to what little I have, because I'm too insignifi- cant to conquer the world.
- The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Modern Plays).
- Anni quaranta (Italian Edition).
- a wolf in holy places!
But all he found was the heavy book, his jacket, and the two stones the old man had given him. As he looked at the stones, he felt relieved for some reason. He had exchanged six sheep for two precious stones that had been taken from a gold breastplate. He could sell the stones and buy a re- turn ticket. But this time I'll be smarter, the boy thought, removing them from the pouch so he could put them in his pocket. This was a port town, and the only truthful thing his friend had told him was that port towns are full of thieves.
Now he understood why the owner of the bar had been so upset: he was trying to tell him not to trust that man. They were his treasure. Just handling them made him feel better. They reminded him of the old man. The boy was trying to understand the truth of what the old man had said. There he was in the empty marketplace, without a cent to his name, and with not a sheep to guard through the night. The old man had said to ask very clear questions, and to do that, the boy had to know what he wanted. So, he asked if the old mans bless- ing was still with him. He took out one of the stones.
It was "yes. He stuck his hand into the pouch, and felt around for one of the stones. As he did so, both of them pushed through a hole in the pouch and fell to the ground. The boy had never even noticed that there was a hole in his pouch. He knelt down to find Urim and Thummim and put them back in the pouch. But as he saw them lying there on the ground, another phrase came to his mind.
An omen. The boy smiled to himself. He picked up the two stones and put them back in his pouch. He didn't consider mending the hole —the stones could fall through any time they wanted. He had learned that there were certain things one shouldn't ask about, so as not to flee from one's own destiny. He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less desperate than before.
This wasn't a strange place; it was a new one. After all, what he had always wanted was just that: to know new places. Even if he never got to the Pyramids, he had already traveled farther than any shepherd he knew. Oh, if they only knew how different things are just two hours by ship from where they are, he thought. Although his new world at the moment was just an empty market- place, he had already seen it when it was teeming with life, and he would never forget it. He remem- bered the sword. It hurt him a bit to think about it, but he had never seen one like it before.
As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. He was shaken into wakefulness by some- one. He had fallen asleep in the middle of the mar- ketplace, and life in the plaza was about to resume. Looking around, he sought his sheep, and then realized that he was in a new world. He no longer had to seek out food and water for the sheep; he could go in search of his treasure, instead.
He had not a cent in his pocket, but he had faith. He had decided, the night before, that he would be as much an adven- turer as the ones he had admired in books. He walked slowly through the market. The mer- chants were assembling their stalls, and the boy helped a candy seller to do his. The candy seller had a smile on his face: he was happy, aware of what his life was about, and ready to begin a day's work. His smile reminded the boy of the old man —the mysterious old king he had met.
He's doing it because it's what he wants to do," thought the boy. He realized that he could do the same thing the old man had done —sense whether a per- son was near to or far from his destiny. Just by looking at them. It's easy, and yet I've never done it before, he thought. When the stall was assembled, the candy seller offered the boy the first sweet he had made for the day. The boy thanked him, ate it, and went on his way.
When he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish. And they had understood each other perfectly well. I've already had that experience with my sheep, and now it's happening with people. He was learning a lot of new things.
Some of them were things that he had already experienced, and weren't really new, but that he had never per- ceived before. And he hadn't perceived them be- cause he had become accustomed to them. He realized: If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world. Relaxed and unhurried, he resolved that he would walk through the narrow streets of Tangier.
Only in that way would he be able to read the omens. He knew it would require a lot of patience, but shepherds know all about patience. Once again he saw that, in that strange land, he was applying the same lessons he had learned with his sheep. The crystal merchant awoke with the day, and felt the same anxiety that he felt every morning. He had been in the same place for thirty years: a shop at the top of a hilly street where few customers passed.
Now it was too late to change anything the only thing he had ever learned to do was to buy and sell crystal glassware. In those days it had been wonderful to be selling crystal, and he had thought how he would become rich, and have beautiful women at his side as he grew older. But, as time passed, Tangier had changed. The nearby city of Ceuta had grown faster than Tangier, and business had fallen off.
Neighbors moved away, and there remained only a few small shops on the hill. And no one was going to climb the hill just to browse through a few small shops. But the crystal merchant had no choice.