Sunday, December 12, 2021

Abyss & Sea: Author's Note, Table of Contents

 It is often interesting to look back at how a story develops. Sometimes things happen too quickly to pin down exactly how things came together, but in this case the development is quite stretched out. In middle school, reading Lord of the Rings and (what I liked even more) The Silmarillion, as well as Stephen R. Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle, I started working on a set of stories about a kingdom. Most of those are not relevant, but what is relevant is that the kingdom was called Taran Dis, and it was (under the obvious influence of Tolkien's Akallabeth and Lawhead's Taliessin) founded by a legendary hero, Disan, who came out of the west from the fall of Atlantis to aid the natives against a terrible foe. The people who arrived with Disan could speak to ravens and had a number of wondrous treasures. They built an extraordinary castle called Neyat Dis, which was bigger inside than outside and which had indoor gardens that seemed as if they were outdoor gardens. And in those stories there were spirits associated with the natural features of the universe, among whom were Fath, Fulnë, Trethin, and the like. Thus we have what would eventually become the first fixed point for this story: Disan, a king under the protection of the spirits of the natural world who can speak to ravens, who survives the fall of Atlantis, or Taran Atal, as it later was called. 

That was about it, but it was inevitable that bits and pieces about the disaster that had led to Disan's flight would start cohering, and about Taran Atal itself, derived from Tolkien, or Lawhead, or Plato (second-hand at first, then later directly). Nothing very specific or precise, except for one thing. When I was in high school, this connected up with a completely different line, due ultimately to reading Lovecraft, about what I called the children of Nu (the name coming from, but the substance not very influenced by, Egyptian mythology). As Lovecraftian creatures go, they were very toned down, but the essential idea was that their existence is inconsistent with the existence of the world as we know it; whatever they may be in themselves, they can only manifest in the world as a sort of negative space. There were (I think) six of them, each with different features; the Lovecraftian origin is shown by the fact that one of them was called the Goat, but the two most important for those stories were the Keeper and the Hound. As that idea developed, the Keeper acquired the destiny that at the end of history he would destroy and be destroyed by the greatest hero in the world, who was an independently growing idea. And that independent line of thought was that Taran Dis would rise and fall, and then after a long interval an even greater Empire would arise, partly building on the foundations of Taran Dis, and then fall, and the greatest hero in the world was the last heir of that Empire. Given that, it was natural to connect the circuit: the Keeper destroys Taran Atal and leads to Disan's flight; Disan founds Taran Dis, which rises and falls; Taran Dis makes possible the splended Empire, which rises and falls; the Empire makes possible the great hero who destroys the Keeper. Thus the second fixed point: Taran Atal is destroyed because it is seduced by the Keeper. The picture of the Keeper locked in granite, through which one can see his form, goes back all the way to this.

The final fixed point of the story arose in 2014. My students were taking an in-class Ethics test, so I had time on my hands, and I wrote the earliest version of the poem that ends the story, "Abyss and Sea". And with it came the idea of Baia and the story. And therefore the third fixed point: The story must end with Disan, having barely survived, not knowing what we know, that Baia is already dead.

Everything else was put in as the story grew, although some parts were from Plato, and I think the semblance of life is a much-modified version of an idea from Rudolf Steiner's account of Atlantis (or maybe it's one of the other lost continents that the thought existed, I don't recall exactly) -- basically he claims that at some stage of civilization a very different kind of humanity used not mechanical power but vital power for engineering. The Courts of Day and Night are versions of the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court -- this is why the powers associated with treasures taken from the Court of Night are all fairy-powers. The pacts and the covenants are probably influenced by Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and its occasional mentions of the Raven King's pacts with the natural world. Other things were just improvised. But this was not in any real way set beforehand; it's what happened to crystallize around the three fixed points, along with everything else. Some of this works; some probably will need some tweaking eventually.

Given how the story was written, there's not really any chapter-structure, but the story is in any case organized more like a poem than like a plot.


Stanza 1: Disan's First Visit to the Porphyry Mountain; Baia's Circuit
 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Interlude: The fleet is built and signs of something wrong with the realm accumulate
 10 11 12 13 14 15

Stanza 2: Disan's Second Visit to the Porphyry Mountain
 16 17 18 19

Ending: Disan and Baia make the fatal mistake of agreeing to delay the flight
 20 21 22