Certainly Mythically True

I was looking over my last post, about the squirrel, and the word “mythical” leapt out at me. I’d used the term to describe the characters and beasties who appear in mythology. The gods and heroes whose doings make up the maybe-history-maybe-tutelary-story around which many religious and cultural traditions are wrapped.

And it occurred to me I might not have been careful enough about using the word — or at least defining it in the context.

First of all, I said mythical, where it might have been better to have said mythic. Despite a firm relationship the words don’t mean quite the same thing. Both might well apply in the context of my post, but there’s a definite difference in connotation.

Mythical means, in effect, appearing in myth or the subject of myth. So we can rightly say that the Kraken, for example, or Medusa the Gorgon or Pegasus, is a mythical being, appearing as they do in Greek mythology.

But mythical carries the connotation of “fictitional”. They’re generally not considered to have been real entities, although that would be cool. Ludicrously dangerous, but still undeniably cool. So when we say, “Don’t bother polishing that shield any more: Medusa is mythical”, we’re basically saying she’s not real.

Mythic, on the other hand, means that something is fit to be or become the subject of myth. And mythic doesn’t directly imply that the person, object, creature or event we’re talking about is made up — although the use of mythic rather than historic does suggest more than just a straightforward record of what happened. Mythic things go beyond and above historic things.

(On that point just quickly: roughly the same difference in meaning applies to historical versus historic. A historical day is one that features in history. The day of my birth was a historical day. Nothing very special about it, but it’s logged in certain records and is therefore a very tiny part of history. A historic day is one on which history, or part of it, hinges: the day the Armistice was signed, or Apollo 11 landed on the Moon yes they did — these are historic days because they made history.)

Myth is a tricky thing to deal with, especially in our modern culture here in the ‘developed’ ‘West’. We’re used to looking for the distinction between truth and falsehood. A story is considered to be either one thing or another (post-truth politics aside). And where mythology is concerned we seek to make the same judgement: is a story true, or is it false? This dichotomy causes us problems when we’re faced with religious mythology in particular. For example, many Christians take it that everything they read in the Bible is literal truth — a historical record of events that actually happened — because to acknowledge a story’s status as myth would mean it was false. A lie.

Similarly, some atheists take it that the whole of Christianity’s belief structure is based on lies because it’s impossible for a man to walk on water or rise from the dead — and if the story isn’t historical truth, it must be lies.

But mythology, by its nature, is blurrier than that. The stories in mythology might not be true — but that’s not necessarily their purpose. Their purpose is to convey truth. Truth about what people are, and should be; about what a society expects, and how humans can achieve their potential. Greeks didn’t read the stories of Perseus and think all his adventures were fact. They read his stories to find out what a good Greek should be and strive to be.

The same applies to Roman mythology. Romulus and Remus weren’t raised by wolves. There’s a school of thought that links the term lupa, a female wolf, to prostitutes in Roman society, so there’s that possibility. But it fits the Roman self-image to imagine the city’s founder as this embodiment of natural vigour, this combination of lupine ferocity and the social order of the pack. So a Roman might well have ‘believed’ the story of Romulus’ upbringing — even though it almost certainly wasn’t actual historical truth.

This is mythology. It’s a story that might not be historically true — though it could still be! — but it is certainly mythically true. Perhaps it’s morally true. Perhaps it’s idealistically true. But it doesn’t sit well in our modern age to shade the concept of Truth with idealism and morality; and that’s probably no bad thing. Truth deserves some reverence. It deserves to be held sacred, in a sense — especially in times like these, where it’s constantly exploited and manipulated and subverted by all sorts of interests and agendas.

But the concept of myth also gives us a good way to talk about those things that we believe are true or should be true: the oughts that might fly in the face of the ises (no relation) and the ares (no relation).

So I can refer to Yggdrasil, the Norse world tree, or to Ratatoskr the squirrel, as mythical without implying they weren’t literally true or committing to believing that they were — but I’m likely to be read by others bas suggesting they’re fictional. Not so much if I say they’re mythic because, whether literally real or not, they are undeniably the subject of myth.

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Their Deranged Sciurine Thing

One of my long-time head-characters — those several people who inhabit my brain and nag me to write about them, but never quite give me enough detail to actually make a story — is a spacecraft pilot. Probably obviously. She’s a dreadfully cliched muddle of Han Solo/Mal Reynolds stereotypes, only she’s a gurl.

And she has a squirrel. Initially the AI robot avatar of her ship, the Serious Mouser (I have literally no idea), the squirrel evolved and became a character in his own right, until a friend pointed out he was basically Rocket Raccoon. And, on watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I realise he was right.

This is why I don’t write fiction.

Anyway, the point is, I have a fondness for squirrels. Not an unhealthy fondness, I should point out: we’re just good friends. But I do find them the most utterly adorable flea-ridden, verminous little rat-bastards — even the grey ones whom we here in the UK are supposed to hiss and shoot at when seen. (The greys are an invasive species who’ve largely displaced our native red squirrel, which I admit is a shame. Reds are beautiful, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life). From my office, there are a few green spaces visible, and some trees, and it genuinely makes my day when I see squirrels barrelling around the place doing their deranged sciurine thing. Also bunnies. We have bunnies. You can see them at silflay, bouncing about in the evenings and early mornings. There are definite plusses to my workplace.

My wife’s Asatru. It’s not the screeching non-sequitur it sounds like. Asatru is a name for the religion of the Old Norse: a faith centred on the (for want of a more popularly descriptive term) ‘Viking’ gods, such as Odin, Thor, Freyja, and countless others. And the Asatru tradition possesses a vivid and distinctive mythology, in Europe perhaps rivalled only by that of the Greeks: stories of heroic deeds and terrible battles and monsters and trickery and dragons and elves and a primeval cosmic cow for some reason and a great tree. The tree is the “World Ash”, Yggdrasil, and it serves as the Norse axis mundi, the pillar which connects earth and sky. In the case of Yggdrasil, it reaches up through the Nine Realms of Norse cosmology.[1]

It’s honestly not a non-sequitur.

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I Will Map

After all the fuss of working up to the rank of Baron in order to get hold of one of those shiny shiny Clippers, that selfsame ship has now been put in storage, just for a while. The practicalities of exploration mean that the Clipper must be put aside to make way for my stripped-down 40-light-year-at-a-time Diamondback Explorer for my first real survey.

I intend, as one of those people who haven’t even been out that far yet, to go out and map the living be-daylights out of the Coalsack Nebula. Oh, yes. I will map the murky nebulous pants off it, have no fear about that. I will boldly go where half the pilots of humanity have been before, because when I map something it stays mapped.

And besides, it looks like a handy secluded spot to dump all these terrible cliches.

An Agile and Capable Craft

Experiment, Exioce

“Registration has been completed for vessel VR-404, registered name, ah… Serious Mouser.” The dumpy little clerk smiled winningly, and pushed a datastick across the counter. “This is your confirmation document, Master Drowe. Please ensure you keep this aboard the vessel along with your spaceframe warrant and ship’s log. These documents must be presented for inspection at the request of the Imperial Flight Operations Bureau or other authorised agent. Will there be anything else today?”

“No,” she replied. “No, that’s all I need, thanks.” Ceit reached out and picked up the stick. She held it up and gazed on it for a few moments in the fluorescent light of the office. This was it. This was her new life. New opportunites; new avenues to explore. The light glinted from the stick’s translucent casing and for a moment she appreciated it as a precious gemstone, a glittering jewel in the office’s institutional fluorescent light.

She noticed the clerk watching her with an amiable expression, and she felt rather silly. She realised he’d been speaking.

“Your pardon?”

“I said,” the man repeated, “That I hope you enjoy many fruitful years with your new vessel. You’ve chosen a fine Imperial class, if I may say so,” he added. “The Courier is an agile and capable craft; excellent handling, and beautiful lines. I’m certain it will serve you admirably.”

Ceit stood up, and the clerk followed suit.

“I’m sure it will,” she said, and with a bow of her head, she turned to leave.

“Hail the Emperor,” the clerk called out behind her. She stopped, turned, glanced up at the man, and remembered her manners. She shot him a grin. “Bask in her glory,” she replied, and stepped out into the street.

She spent most of the journey back to the airport rolling the datastick around in her hand. The train snaked its way along the edges of the glassy Lake Strazow. Beyond the waters and the forest lands on the far side, the Ecrosia Mountains, renowned throughout the sector for their haunting natural beauty, shone bright in the late afternoon sunlight. But if the landscapes of Experiment were trying to impress Ceit, then at least this time they fell short. For now, in terms of importance, candles could not be held by mere geography to the stick resting in her hand.

This was the final piece of the documentation she needed, and the culmination of a run of surprisingly good days. This week had already seen her granted the full citizenship of Imperial society. Last week she’d been a serf: a subject, but not a citizen. This week, in boilerplate and impersonal thanks for her dedicated service to Imperial logistics organisations, the Emperor herself, prompted by a faceless database and a number of layers of bureaucracy, had chosen to bestow upon Ceit the status of Master.

Which sounded, Ceit reflected, a lot grander than it was. “Master” wasn’t a rank so much as it was a basic courtesy title: in Imperial Society, Ceit could now expect to be addressed as “Master Drowe”. It wasn’t a noble title, by any means, but in theory it represented full citizenship and granted certain rights — most of which were archaic and largely irrelevant in the modern day. Though, it did allow one the right to petition one’s system’s governor, or the senator in whose domain the system lay. And it did, admittedly, serve as a stepping stone to greater heights. As a full citizen Ceit was permitted to begin climbing Society’s ladder. If she impressed a higher-ranking patron she could be sponsored, which could lead to a position as a squire, and perhaps, eventually, even a knighthood.

But these were dizzy thoughts. Citizenship didn’t guarantee such advancement. There were, after all, millions of Imperial citizens, millions of “masters”, and only a small portion of them, relatively speaking, ever moved up.

The sky was darkening as the train rolled, slowing, into Rasa Rho Terminal. The lights of the carriage reflected from the windows, but here and there the gathering dusk was lit by engine flares, as ships climbed away from the terminal and began boosting themselves towards the heavens.

And somewhere, in one of the hangars built underneath the terminal, sat a ship that would soon be carrying Ceit herself away from this planet. The Serious Mouser, newly registered, all fitted out and ready to go. And now, all she had to do was decide where to.

The Nazi Appropriation of Symbols

This post contains swearing, and is quite long. You have been warned.

Now I did promise that this blog wouldn’t be political. I’ve long had a tendency towards writing about politics and current events. And as much as it might annoy you to read it, it also isn’t what I want to spend my time doing. While my conscious preference has always been to write stories and stuff about games and films and such, my subconscious — let’s say it’s that — has always pushed me back towards commenting on what’s in the news and what this or that party or country has done or not done. The entirety of the world’s media and social media is writing about politics and current events all the time, so what is there for me to add, really?

But needs must, because some things are important, and today I’d like to talk to you about Nazis.

Recent events both here in the UK and in the US — I won’t beat about the bush here: it’s the Brexit vote and the election and sort-of-presidency of Donald Trump, respectively — have given rise to an upsurge in what’s being called “far right” activity and sentiment. This has recently culminated in the white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the worldwide anger at Trump’s apparent embrace — or at least absence of condemnation — of the rabble of Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen responsible.

I think we can all agree that Nazis are bad. All of us other than Nazis, I mean, but what do their opinions matter? Nazis are shitty people. In fact, they’re traditionally viewed as being amongst history’s shittiest people. By the way, a point on definitions. I hear a lot of euphemistic shenanigans in media about how they’re the “alt-right”, or the “far right”, or — most egregiously apologetic, in my view — “conservatives”. No. Here, they’re Nazis. Or fuckwads, if I’m feeling unprofessional. And I’m not open to debate about how “Hitler was actually left wing” or how “the Nazis were actually socialists“. I’m not interested in how the shitbags and their shitbag-in-chief tried to present themselves. They are what they did — and so are those in the modern day who would, given the opportunity, do similar things.

With that out of the way — taking it as axiomatic that modern Nazis, like their historical forebears, are repugnant people promoting a repugnant worldview — let’s focus down a little, because there’s a specific element of historical and modern Nazism that I want to concentrate on today. Now this particular issue might seem of peripheral importance to you, but please bear with me.

I want to talk about the Nazi appropriation of symbols.

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A Pome Not By Me

When You Meet A Member Of The Ku Klux Klan
By Robert L. Poston (1921)

robertlincolnposton

When you meet a member of the Ku Klux Klan,
Walk right up and hit him like a natural man.
Take no thought of babies he may have at home:
Sympathy’s defamed when used upon his dome.
Hit him in the mouth, and push his face right in;
Knock him down a flight of stairs and pick him up again.
Get your distance from him and then take a running start;
Hit him, brother, hit him — and please hit the scoundrel hard.
Pour some water on him, bring him back to life once more.
Think of how he did your folks in the days of long ago.
Make a prayer to Heaven for the strength to do the job,
Kick him in the stomach: he, a low, unworthy snob.
Call your wife and baby out to see you have some fun,
Sic your bulldog on him, for to see the rascal run.
Head him off before he gets ten paces from your door.
Take a bat of sturdy oak, and knock him down once more.
This time you may leave him where he wallows in the sand:
A spent and humble member of the Ku Klux Klan.

(Kate’s note: Not that I’d ever condone violence, obviously, not even to fascist xenophobes who literally want to oppress and kill people for being different. Obviously.)

Through The Walls

A recent writing exercise gave me a first line — “They’re doing it again; I can hear them through the walls” — and asked me where it went then.

This is where mine went.


They’re doing it again. I can hear them through the walls. It’s been months now and nothing’s been done about it. It really isn’t good enough. Honest, hard-working, decent people shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of outrage. I just don’t need it. But the council won’t do anything. They say it’s not their remit. The police just laugh at me. I even rang the local radio station but they wouldn’t put me through.

I think it’s a disgrace. I pay my taxes: I’m entitled to have someone put a stop to this. But even our useless MP won’t listen; though what can you expect from one of that lot? Well, I’ve had enough. If no-one else will listen, I’ll have to bring out the big guns. They had their chance. They could’ve stopped it before it came to this, but they chose not to. Well, be it on their own heads. They’ve no-one to blame but themselves. I wouldn’t do this if I weren’t driven to it. Now, where’s my pen?

Dear… Daily… Mail…