- Ellie Rubin, in January Magazine
Image by Stefan-Xp.
Finally we got a spot of what the Vikings would have called “weather-luck.” It did snow last night, as described, but it lost interest after about three inches. And through the day most of it gradually liquefied and returned to the bosom of the thirsty earth. Right now the sun is shining cheerily. I took my evening walk. The forecast actually calls for 70 degrees this weekend. Maybe our long regional nightmare is over.
But I’m not putting the snowblower away just yet.
I thought about The Boy With the Red Pencil today.
That’s not what the title of the book was, I’m pretty sure. I never actually read it. I was too young. It was a book I remember lying around the house when I was very small. Somebody must have read it to me, I’m sure, but my chief memory of it is seeing it on the couch in the sun porch, picking it up, and looking at the pictures, following the story through them.
It was about a little boy who got a red pencil that had magical powers. Whenever he drew something with it, that thing would become real. Complications ensued, but I’m unclear on what they were after all the years.
All I remember is how fascinated I was with the idea of using a writing instrument to create real things.
I suppose my whole life since then has been an effort to emulate that boy with the red pencil. At first I drew pictures, like him, but eventually I moved on to writing stories, which (for me) produced results more like real things.
Tolkien called it “subcreation,” the compulsion of the created being to emulate his Creator by creating things of his own in turn. Such an impulse, like all our impulses, can be turned to good or evil. Creativity is a power, capable of corruption like any other power (the aesthetes never seem to grasp this point).
But whether you’re a computer programmer, or a tailor, or an architect, making things is essentially good. It’s part of what God put us here for.
It's snowing again. Coming down pretty heavy. The weather man says five to eight inches this time.
I was going to call it an insult, but no. The last one was an insult. This is the one there's no alternative to laughing over. Even if it puts down a foot, I declare here and now I won't shovel it. It'll be gone in a couple days anyhow.
I'm beginning to think we need to draw lots to figure out who offended the Almighty.
Only I'm afraid it's me.
Anyway, our friend Grim at Grim's Hall has posted a review of Hailstone Mountain, with a call for discussion on a theological point which I, frankly, had never actually connected to the scene in the book he's talking about. But now that he mentions it, I guess he's right.
Gustav Dore, "Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls" (1866)
I started reading the Book of Nehemiah again the other day, and I got to thinking about walls.
Walls are unfashionable in our time. “Open plan” homes are trendy (or maybe that trend has passed. I’m not exactly up on architectural fashions). For years, businesses have believed – in the absence of any evidence whatever – that productivity and morale can be improved by putting employees in big bullpens instead of giving them offices (management, of course, gets to have offices). When people talk about “tearing down walls,” they generally mean walls of prejudice and misunderstanding. This trend of thought goes back a long way, at least to Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down!”
I myself, on a far lower level, wrote a song with the same sort of theme back in my college/musical group days. And no, I won’t tell you the words. You’ll never hear it, and I’m fine with that.
There’s an assumption in a lot of Christianity, too, that walls are uniformly bad. All walls need to go. Joshua knocked down the walls of Jericho. Christ, as we are told in Ephesians 2:14, destroyed “the dividing wall of hostility.” So the reflexive assumption is that Christians are against all walls, at least in the moral and cultural sense.
But it’s not at all that simple in reality. If you actually read the Bible (and one of the problems I’ve faced increasingly, on the rare occasions when I can be lured into an argument, is that I’ve found myself arguing a book I’ve actually read with people who only know it by hearsay) you’ll see that walls in Scripture are just like any other temporal thing. They’re good in the right place, and bad in the wrong place. The whole Book of Nehemiah is about restoring a wall that’s been torn down. The wall itself is a symbol of the religious law that stands between the Jews and their pagan neighbors. This wall is a necessity if the nation is to survive; it has God’s blessing. In the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-41, Jesus tells of a man who plants a vineyard and builds a wall around it. This land owner represents God, and his wall is a perfectly reasonable barrier to keep unwanted pests, human and animal, out.
There’s a perception about in the world today that Christians have no sense of nuance. Everything is black and white for us. We can’t see shades of gray.
But that’s only true if you’re selective in your observations. In the matter of walls, for instance, Christians see them as either good or bad, depending on who builds them, where, and for what purpose.
Or, as G. K. Chesterton said in Why I Am a Catholic, “There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
When I wrote my article on Christian Fantasy for the Intercollegiate Review, I made a disparaging comment about “wanabee George R. R. Martins.” I received a friendly e-mail shortly thereafter from none other than Vox Day of the Vox Popoli blog, wondering if I had had his novel Throne of Bones in mind. I hastened to tell him that I hadn’t. I’d seen the book on Amazon and thought about checking it out, but hadn’t done so yet.
The upshot was that I sent him a copy of Hailstone Mountain, and he sent me a copy of A Throne of Bones. It should be noted for the record that if our reviews of each other’s books are positive (I don’t know whether his will be, assuming he does one) that we have both received free books in the deal and may have been corrupted thereby.
Most anyone who starts reading Throne of Bones will realize that it’s very much the same sort of thing as George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books, and Vox makes no denial of this. But he’s trying to do the same sort of thing in a very different way, which for me makes all the difference.
The story takes place in an alternate world called Selenoth (it has two moons). The general situation seems to be something like that of the Roman Empire in the late Republican period (as best I can figure out), though there are differences. The time period seems more medieval than Roman, and the Amorran Empire (spell Amorr backwards) has believed in a religion which seems pretty much the same as Christianity for four centuries. The two most powerful houses in Amorr are the Valerians and the Severans, conservative and liberal respectively. The Valerians want to preserve the old form of the empire, while the Severans want to expand citizenship to the provincials. But General Corvus of the Valerians sets off a break within his own family through a necessary act of military discipline.
Meanwhile the Sanctiff of the Amorran church dies, and the conclave convened to elect his replacement is massacred by some kind of demonic attacker, something that’s not supposed to happen in Amorr, where magic is strictly prohibited.
Far to the north, the Viking-like Dalarans are being driven from their home islands by the Ulven, a race of wolf-men. They agree to submit to the king of Savondir (a heathen land where magic is legal) if he will give them refuge and help them reconquer their homeland. But strange shape-shifters have appeared among the Ulven, and pose a threat to Savondir as well.
And Corvus’ soldier son Marcus survives an army coup, managing to wrest control from the mutineers and finding himself, though woefully inexperienced as a commander, the general of an entire army, facing not only orcs and goblins but rebel Amorrans.
And there are dragons. And dwarves. And elves.
Pretty much all you could ask.
I enjoyed it immensely. Vox Day isn’t the prose stylist George R. R. Martin is, but he's not bad. On the plus side we have a complicated, complex story with interesting and sympathetic, fully rounded characters. There are few out-and-out villains – everybody is doing what they think right. And unlike Martin’s stories, the fact that someone is virtuous and noble does not guarantee them a painful and ignominious death. In terms of pure story, Vox Day’s book is much more rewarding. And Christianity is treated not only with respect, but as a true part of the cosmos.
Amanda Thatcher, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's granddaughter, sent many media voices chattering by her reading of Ephesians 6:10-18 at her grandmother's funeral yesterday.
Author David Mamet intends to self-publish his next work this year. He will be using a new service offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, which will be using Argo Navis Author Services.
“Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon,” he told the N.Y. Times, “and because publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”
With this service, Mamet has more options. The Times reports that self-published books were about a quarter percent of the bestselling books on Amazon in 2012. With the ICM Partners deal, Mamet's book may published in ebook and print-on-demand paperback for 30% of sales.
The final figures on our free offer of Hailstone Mountain yesterday show upwards of 1,000 downloads, which strikes me as pretty good. We’ve gotten a fair number of sales in the backwash today as well.
So in a mood of thanksgiving, I offer the video below, the best version I could find of a Christian song that (in my opinion) has never gotten the attention it deserves, Rest Within His Sanctuary.
You can also download the MP3 from Amazon here, which I did. This professional version, also, is not quite up to the original I remember from the radio some years back. I’m pretty sure it was recorded by the Lillenaas Singers (Haldor Lillenaas, by the way, was born in Bergen, Norway. Just thought you’d like to know that).
If you sometimes wonder what makes me smile, well, the answer is that few things do. But this song does. I endorse it even though I strongly suspect its purpose is to promote the schismatic Calvinist doctrine of Eternal Security.
Broad-minded, that’s what I am.
Glenn Stanton talks about the truth behind two quotes, one attributed to C.S. Lewis (which was the pseudonym for Mark Twain), the other attributed to G.K. Chesterton (who has been rumored to be the brains behind Shakespeare).
I'm happy to report that our free book day (not over yet, you can still get it here until midnight, I think) seems to have been a success. We've given away more than 750 downloads, last time I checked, and one may hope that this might attract a few readers and referrals. Hailstone Mountain reached #2 on a couple of free Christian fantasy books lists today as well.
To put the cherry on the sundae, Loren Eaton posted a review at I Saw Lightning Fall. And we got a link from Vox Day of Vox Popoli.
Now I shall lean back and let all this adulation go to my head.
Thanks to everyone who helped promote it.
Five books recommended by artist Makoto Fujimura. "Literature that reveals what art and beauty ought to be."
In our infinite benevolence and generosity, Ori and I are making my new e-book, Hailstone Mountain, available for free download on Tuesday, April 16.
One day only! Act now! Unless it's not Tuesday yet. Or it's Wednesday.
Free on Tuesday. That's the deal. Tell your friends.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the appalling violence at the Boston Marathon today.
Let us turn now to our Hubris Corner. I’ve decided to make another of my legendary long-term predictions.
As you may recall, I have (or believe I have) a kind of knack for spotting long-term social trends. I’m no good at picking lottery numbers (actually I’ve never tried), and I generally get elections wrong. But over the long haul I seem to be able to sight along the lines of current events and predict what’s coming in a decade or two. I have a good record with that sort of thing. Or so I believe.
So here’s what happened. I woke up from a dream early Saturday morning filled with a sense of conviction about the future of the liberal churches and their seminaries.
I speculated a while back about why liberal churches even exist anymore, since their theology makes piety unnecessary and their social views turn charity over to the government. I read an article recently – wish I remembered where – which pointed out another aspect of the same situation. That was that, while conservative churches seem to be winning what might be called the “church wars” (in that conservative churches are experiencing growth, at least in some areas, while liberal churches are steadily declining everywhere), the liberal churches are winning – or have won – the culture war. That means that while a majority of the people in churches may believe what conservatives believe, the majority of people not in churches believe what the liberals believe. And there are more people not in churches than in churches.
So will the liberal churches just die, like a salmon that spawns and expires? Read the rest of this entry . . .
Thanks to Richard Pearson for pointing out a Times Literary Supplement article on Dickens meeting Dostoevsky. We talked about it a good while back. It appears this story of a meeting of great authors has been repeated by reputable news outlets a few times, while the scholars who should know all there is to know about it say it never happened.
Eric Naiman writes, "The newspaper’s collective unconscious was unable to give the story up. It demands retelling, and by now Dickens and Dostoevsky can be found meeting all over the web. Their conversation appeals to our fancy while, as Gates realized, comforting us with a reaffirmation of what we already know."
Tomalin regarded publication of the article in the Dickensian as an authentication of the encounter; moreover, the meeting had subsequently been mentioned in monographs by two leading Dickens scholars, Malcolm Andrews and Michael Slater. “We were all caught out”, Tomalin wrote. “The hoax was a clever one precisely because it convinced so many Dickens scholars.”Apparently, Michael Slater's biography brought this encounter to the attention of book reviewers, which raised it's profile among scholars of Dostoevsky. Then, the koshka was out of the sumka.
This is odd, backwards logic. The hoax wasn’t clever because it convinced so many Dickens scholars; rather, it was clever for the same reason it convinced them: because it was modest.
But there's more. If you read Naiman's lengthy investigation, you will discover that the name of the writer who foisted this mythical story on us is but one pseudonym of many for an independent scholar who could never get hired to a British university. The story of how Naiman tracked him down is incredible and vulgar, but if you want a literary mystery, read this one.
Just a couple links tonight.
First of all, Kevin Holtsberry of Collected Miscellany has posted a review of Hailstone Mountain.
Also, it isn’t often I see personal acquaintances in national stories. There’s been some outrage on the conservative side over an article in Rolling Stone Magazine about how the firearms industry is supposedly seducing kids to buy guns (which of course they can’t actually do legally). Patrick Richardson of PJ Media deconstructs the article here.
The little girl with the pretty pink AR-15 in the Rolling Stone photo is Morrigan Sanders, daughter of my friend, Baen author Michael Z. Williamson. I met Morrigan once, long ago, when she was very small. I paid little attention to her at the time, but remember thinking she was likely to break some hearts in a few years.
Little did I know she’d become a celebrity.
Mike Williamson is a libertarian, so we agree on some things and disagree on others. But he’s a powerful writer, and he’s always encouraged me. Good luck to him and Morrigan both.
"How has your decision to write affected your health? Has it had negative effects on your personal life?” asks a survey. Kvetch for us about your life, they say, to which Neal Pollack responds, "How do I even know whether writing has had negative effects on my personal life? Maybe I would have been a jerk no matter what I did, and my being a writer at least keeps me in a room by myself so I can’t bother other people as much."
Trevin Wax has eight reasons to explain media editors' decision to ignore Kermit "the Ripper" Gosnell's trial over the past several days.
1. The Gosnell case involves an abortionist.Keep reading. One reason Trevin doesn't give is that a 15-year-old girl helped kill babies too.
Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the abortionist must be portrayed as a victim of hate and intolerance, not a perpetrator of violence. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps “abortionist” separate from testimony about dead women and children.
2. The Gosnell case involves an unregulated abortion clinic.
Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the clinic must be portrayed as a “refuge” for women in distress, not a “house of horrors” where women are taken advantage of. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps “abortion clinic” away from negative connotations.
3. The Gosnell case involves protestors who, for years, stood outside 3801 Lancaster and prayed, warning people about what was taking place inside.
Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the protestors must be portrayed as agitators and extremists, not peaceful people who urge mothers to treasure the miracle inside them. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps the abortion protestors from looking like heroes.
On a note related to Lars' last post, here are ten American habits which at least one Brit cannot understand. Take flossing, for instance, or talking to strangers.
By contrast, here are ten British habits which apparently don't jive with Americans. Take avoiding eye contact and direct intentions. I wonder how many times I'd be tempted to tell a Brit to shut up.
Over at Lileks.com, my close personal friend* James Lileks was complaining about paint today. He’s repainting his office, and can’t seem to get the color he wants, once it actually dries. I have no comment on that subject. I moved into a pink office in the library several years ago, and have just lived with it because getting it repainted would be a lot of work.
What caught my attention was that, by my count, he used the word “gray” twice, but he spelled it “grey” both times.
I’ve seen this spelling come up more and more frequently lately, and it amuses me. All my life (which is another way of saying “from time immemorial”) I was taught that “gray” is the American spelling and “grey” is how the English do it. But “grey” seems to be winning out now. I suppose that’s because of the Fifty Shades of Grey books.
This may surprise you, but I’m not actually unhappy about this development. I’ve always thought spelling “grey” with an “e” was kind of cool. There’s something a tad bleaker, colder about that spelling. Grayer, you might say. Or greyer.
I remember reading an interview, probably in Writer’s Digest, with Colleen McCullough quite a few years ago. She was the author of The Thorn Birds, which was a big deal at the time. She mentioned that she always spelled gray with an “a,” except when describing people’s eyes. Gray eyes, she felt, should be spelled with an “e.”
I sympathized, though I’ve always used the “a” spelling myself. I have enough affectations already, without adopting English spellings.
But maybe “grey” will win.
I can live with it, in my grey old age.
*Editor’s Note: This is a lie.
Myron Bolitar, Harlan Coben’s sports agent mystery hero, is primarily a sports agent and (supposedly secretly) a former FBI agent. Once a top NBA draft pick, almost guaranteed a highly paid career and all the perks, he got injured in a pre-season game and never had the chance to play in a major league game.
But in Fade Away, he is to get his chance. A team owner who is also an old friend asks him to join his team temporarily – not actually to play (much), but to sit on the bench, schmooze with the players, and try to figure out what happened to Greg Downing, one of the stars, who has disappeared.
Myron agrees and begins an investigation that will lead to threats and further murder, and will uncover secrets involving drugs, old 1970s radicals and a betrayal in his own life. The plot gets pretty complicated.
But the great joy of this book – even for someone as apathetic toward sports as me – is Myron’s personal character arc. Though established in his new career, a competent, successful, and even dangerous man, once he’s on the basketball court it’s (emotionally) as if he were a kid again. The passion, the love of the game, the competitive instinct, are all back in full force, and his inevitable disappointment is all the crueler for it. This gave the book a genuine poignancy that made it moving indeed, simply as a piece of literature.
As usual with Coben, there are adult themes, but they’re handled in a fairly civilized manner. Highly recommended.
Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, has been blogging his critique of Douglas Wilson's 2005 book, Black and Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America. Wilson has joined in freely, and the two have charitably and thoroughly argued on the important issues of slavery in the American South, the authority of Scripture, and how the issues of 1860 were handled in relation to issues today.
Anyabwile posted a round-up of links to the whole discussion here. It isn't a simple argument, so I don't think I can adequately summarize it here.
Not much to tell you tonight. I have company, and it's rude to blog while someone is conversing with you. Or so they tell me.
Our friend Dale Nelson sent me a recording of a 1964 interview with J. R. R. Tolkien, from (I assume) the BBC. I listened to it today. An interesting aspect is that he was a very rapid speaker -- one of those people who seems to be thinking so fast his mouth can't keep up with him. Not actually what you expect from a language scholar.
Roberto Estreitinho writes about reading. "If by page 30 of a book I’m not hooked, I stop reading," he says, and if it's a long book he begins to have doubts about, he skips to the end. "If it’s worthy of understanding how the author got there, read it all. If not, congratulations. You just avoided wasting time." (via 99u)
On that note, The Unofficial #TGC13 Discount E-Book Store is open with many discounted eBooks from the authors at The Gospel Coalition Conference in Orlando this week.
Another famous woman died today – Annette Funicello, famous as an early Mousketeer, and as the star of a string of 1960s beach movies.
I remember her well. I wasn’t one of those who had a crush on her, since her wave crested before I hit adolescence, but I was well aware of her. After working many years with Disney, she got cast with Frankie Avalon in a string of silly beach blanket movies. She also had a successful career as a singer.
Through all her career she was never – so far as I’ve been able to tell – involved in a scandal. The bikini movies were a little risque by the standards of the day, but she never did anything that crossed the line. Her image remained wholesome, and in time she faced the terrible disease that killed her with all the courage and grace you could ask of a human being.
The question occurred to me today – what would have happened to her if she’d been born later, and had come to fame in our own time?
That’s not a hard question to answer. She did appear again, in a sense, in the person of Britney Spears. And Lindsey Lohan. And Miley Cyrus.
Why was Annette able to live a life of dignity, while these younger women, born with the “advantage” of a culture that claims to promote the dignity and rights of women, have quickly made public jokes (and dirty ones) of themselves?
Not to say the younger girls didn’t have lots of “help.” Hollywood is certainly a field well-strewn with pitfalls. Money and fame at an early age are dangerous drugs in themselves, even before you get to the pills and powder.
But Hollywood was no convent school in the 1950s, either. Anybody who worked there in those days will tell you the predators were out in force, and there were ample opportunities for partying.
Annette, I think, benefited from Puritanism. She benefited from a double standard. She benefited from repression, and hypocrisy, and all those awful social constraints we despise the Fifties for today.
A girl in Annette’s position, if she wanted to be a “good girl,” actually had social resources available to her. America was in her corner, back then.
Nowadays, America’s peering through a hole in the Women’s Room wall, with an iPhone camera.
It’s called Progress.
You’re probably already aware that Lady Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, passed away today at the age of 87.
I think most American conservatives would be surprised to learn how hated this woman remains in her own country. On the basis of my own sampling of English culture, Mrs. Thatcher is commonly portrayed as a human ogress who closed factories, destroyed jobs, and snatched bread from the mouths of the hungry out of sheer hatred for the poor and their noble Socialist protectors.
This, for me, is the lesson of her life – if you do right in our time, do not expect any thanks. If you get away with a mere public shaming, you’ll be lucky. These things call for the endurance of the saints.
Death, it seems, is all around. On Saturday I attended my boss’s funeral. It was, I think, the largest I ever attended. He was a man much loved by many, many people.
Sometimes I think God is taking the best of us out of the world now, so they won’t have to see the evil that is to come.
I apologize for the cliffhanger ending on this one, but only out of politeness, because I did it on purpose. You can buy the book here. It doesn't cost much.
One of the thralls came to me then with a complaint. As you may recall from my earlier tales, Erling had a plan for his thralls whereby they bought their freedom through labor carried out in the evenings, after their day’s work for him was done. As his priest and the only man about who knew letters, I was in charge of running the thing (granted, the Norse have a kind of writing of their own, but I don’t know it, and Erling wanted me to do the job since it had been, in part, my idea, thus earning me the headache). The thrall was unsatisfied with the plot of ground he’d been given to sow barley on. I ended having to go and inspect it with him. I can’t recall now how I resolved the matter, but I suppose I must have. It was evening and suppertime when I headed back to the steading at Sola, entering the loose oblong of buildings that surrounded the yard. My goal was the new hall, set end-to-end with the old hall which we used only for great feasts these days. The day had cooled enough that I wished I’d worn my cloak. I was wearing layman’s clothes, as most priests in Norway did in those days, except for special occasions.
I went into the entry room, then turned right and stepped over the threshold into the high, smoky hall. It was peat smoke, a homely smell. A long fire burned in the hearthway down the middle. Pillars of wood that marched down either side of the hearthway upheld the rafters. Fixed benches for the diners to sit on ran down both side walls and across the far end, and before them trestle tables had been set up for eating. Erling’s high seat was midway down the bench on my left, between two specially carved pillars. My place was on his right. Erling’s wife Astrid Trygvesdatter, fair headed and great with child, had her seat on the women’s bench at the end. Their little boy Aslak sat beside her, when she could get him to sit still. Erling’s mother Ragna sat on Aslak’s other side.
The seat for the honored guest was on the bench across from Erling. Our honored guest tonight was in fact a woman–Thorbjorg Lambisdatter, a young widow who owned her own trading ships and had gone from being a prosperous to a very wealthy merchant. (Lawfully the business belonged to a brother I’d never met, but he’d been lamed in battle and was home-bound.) Thorbjorg was a tall, robust woman with a strong face and fiery red hair. She might have looked almost mannish were it not for her slender hands and graceful walk. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I think I mentioned that I did a podcast interview for Baen Books a couple weeks back, about the "Vikings" TV series. I wasn't aware it had been posted -- last week, I think. Anyway, if you go here, you can scroll down and listen to the one second from the top.
Hailstone Mountain can be purchased for Kindle here.
I returned my attention to the fine day. Sola farm, named for the sunny southern slope on which it stood, gave a generous view of the country south along the Norwegian coast. Looking that way I had the blue sea to my right, bending into Sola Bay whose wicked surf was our constant chorus. We tasted the brine in the air always, like breakfast fish. Stretching southward was the unremarkable but rich country of Jaeder, flat by Norwegian standards and rocky, good country for raising grain and digging peat.
I could not see north as I stood, but just so you’ll know, there was more of the same kind of country in that direction, interrupted by the great water of the Hafrsfjord, the land stretching northward toward the tip of Jaeder, which is a peninsula ending in the Boknafjord. Off to our east was more of the Boknafjord and Erling’s winter market of Stavanger, with mountains beyond, and north over the water was the rest of Norway, a rocky and mountainous country fit only for goats and trolls if you want my opinion.
I tell you this to explain why Erling was a busy man. Norway, “the north road,” is a long land, and ships go ever up and down the coast, for trade mostly, but also for war. If you’re coming from the south, around the southern tip at Lindesness, you pass the regions of Agder and Jaeder. Agder and Jaeder are niggling for harbors. The first good harbors are up in our country, at Risa and in the Hafrsfjord.
So if you mean to make that trip, it’s good to be on friendly terms with Erling Skjalgsson, lord of Sola. One may, with luck and a fair wind, pass by Erling’s country on a long summer day, but it’s not a thing to gamble on.
All this had been true even before the late King Olaf Trygvesson gave Erling, his brother-in-law, lordship over the country from Lindesness all the way north to Stad, thus adding another good day’s sail to our reach.
True, this lordship was disputed now, Olaf Trygvesson being dead at the bottom of the Baltic and his enemies Jarl Erik and Jarl Svein ruling up in Nidaros as sworn men of Svein Forkbeard, the king of Denmark.
But Erling Skjalgsson was not a man to give ground to trifles like kings and mortality. He ruled as he had ruled, and his enemies had failed to take that rule from him. Change seemed even less likely now that Jarl Erik had been summoned to help his king chastise the English.
Hailstone Mountain can be purchased for Kindle here.
At last the girl Freydis came into view, yellow-haired and buxom, leaping the fence lightly (giving me a glimpse of a pretty ankle whether I liked or not) and running lightly through the grass to her uncle, Lemming. Her uncle stopped what he was doing and gave her his full attention, as he ever did.
“I need a new ribbon,” she said. “A blue one, to braid in my hair. Deirdre has some she wove. She’ll trade me one for one of your bronze pins.”
Lemming summoned his strength and said, “No.”
Freydis pouted and asked, “Why?” She was a master pouter, that girl. God had given her a fair, plump mouth and she knew how to use it to get her way, as many men had learned, even men better defended (like me) against her whims than Lemming. Read the rest of this entry . . .
Kenyon High School, photo: LakesnWoods.com
They have begun tearing down my old high school in Kenyon, Minnesota, pictured above. Nobody needed a building that size in the town, and it was full of asbestos, I understand.
I'm less sad about this than I was when I first heard the idea broached. As I think back, I realize that I don't actually have a lot of good memories of the place. Although it's sad that future tour guides will not be able to show pilgrims on Lars Walker heritage tours the place where the author studied and skipped the prom.
I wonder if there's a cosmic maximum number of alma maters I'm allowed to have. I cheated by going to three different colleges, so now that I've signed up for graduate school one of the previous ones has to go.
I should mention that if you have an established book blog and would like a free review e-copy of Hailstone Mountain, I can arrange to get you one.
I sat on the stone home-field fence, watching Lemming in the meadow. The big, ugly smith was doing his sword drill, as was his daily custom. Dividing an unseen circle in the air again and again, swinging Smith’s Bane, the heirloom sword Erling Skjalgsson had given him, with a corded arm that never seemed to weary, making whistling sounds in the air. It was a beautiful bright day in spring, an uncommon enough event to make me wish to sit in the sun and revel a bit. A seagull lit a little distance away to make a meal of something he’d snatched. Another gull flew in to dispute it with him, and they squabbled loudly, using their beaks on one another. The disputed prize, I saw at last, was a bloody seagull chick.
“He’s good,” said a voice, and I turned my head to see Erling Skjalgsson coming up behind me, tall and fair, dressed in a blue linen summer shirt.
“I suppose he is. He’s been in fights enough and he still lives. I’m no judge of swordsmanship. My folk weren’t fine enough for swords. An axe for me, when I must needs fight.”
“Would you like to learn?”
I smiled. “Steinulf once told me, ‘Seven days to learn to fight with an axe. Seven years to learn to use a sword.’”
Erling smiled too. “That’s about right. Still, you’ll be that much older seven years hence whatever you do. If you’d like to add swordsmanship to your skills, you’ve but to ask.”
“Thank you, but I think there are better ways for a priest to spend seven years.”
“Please yourself.” Erling settled his elbows on the stones and watched Lemming. “I wonder where he learned,” he said.
“What do you mean? He practices every day.”
“As you yourself pointed out, it takes seven years, more or less. It’s not been that long he’s had the sword. He was skilled from the day he filched that weapon from my father’s dead hand, though only new-freed, and no thrall is trained to the sword.”
“How do you explain it then?”
“I think Lemming wasn’t born a thrall. I think before his enthrallment he was raised as a warrior. We contrived to get a little of his story from him, as one pries meat from a mussel, how his brother was sacrificed and how Freydis is his niece, but there’s more to the story.”
“I suppose we could ask him.”
“Do you think it would do any good?”
“With Lemming? No.”
“I agree. But I do wonder.”
“And now so do I.” Read the rest of this entry . . .