Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Nightfall in Winter that Comes Without a Star"

Near the end of last week I wrote “The Air Loom Gang,” and yesterday morning I completed “The Bower of Delights.” Today I go forth to attempt Chapter 10. I believe it will be primarily engaged with the emotions I was feeling during Christmas in anticipation of the dreaded year to come. In writing the first half of the chapter on Corey’s collapse and Booth’s return to reason at the end of January, I eventually reached a dead end because I realized that I hadn’t yet explained what I was fighting for, nor why the circumstances seemed so dire. They were truly dire. Thus when I wrote “The Bower of Delights” I strove to explain, with logic and clarity and a certain amount of emotional force, how I had come to believe that [[ Meredith ]] and I would be sexually tempted during third trimester, and why it was necessary to prevent this fearful fate. In order to do so, I had to accomplish two things: I had to convey the emotional stakes in a manner that would be understood, and perhaps even deeply felt, by a general audience (thus my assertion that in averting the immediate temptation, I would be preventing the untimely death of my beloved in the distant future), and I had to explain why having sex with [[Meredith]] was a Bad Idea. This last I attempted to tackle in two different ways: by explaining why having sex at all, with anyone, was a Bad Idea for me; and why, in particular, it was wrong to engage in amours with [[Meredith]]—because I knew her motivations for providing those delights would be primarily self-centered, rooted in her insecurities. So even people who disagreed with my understanding of chastity (although I feel I explained it in a fairly presentable, pleasing, and logical manner, I’m aware that many will disdain it from the hardness of their hearts), even those who have qualms about my Christian sense of honor should at least understand and respect that I wished not to prey on the emotional vulnerabilities of someone whom I deeply cared about. And I can feel the momentum of the narrative flowing towards the question of, “Will he be able to do it? Will he be able to show [[Meredith]] her value as a person, and prevent her from encouraging something that would hurt them both?” That momentum will flow into the chapter following, the final “Christmas” chapter, and by the time we return to the time of Booth’s return, I’m hoping it will have formed an avalanche of sorts. (My understanding of what makes a novel powerful is shifting from a focus on its “literary,” and in particular stylistic merit, to its intellectual, spiritual, and emotional force. In all the reviews I read of Inception over the summer, what seemed to move the critics the most was Christopher Nolan’s brilliance at simply explaining difficult, trippy ideas, and his ability to continuously raise the emotional stakes until your whole heart was gripped by the direful spectacle).

In which case, I need to determine what remains to be explained before we reach that point. December 2003 was the point where my life became truly mythological at last, although the act had been in process for a space of several months; where I found myself living in some surreal, epic wasteland where the whole world was in peril and I was responsible for holding back the rising tide of darkness which threatened to devour me, my closest friends, my school, and then, beyond even that, the earth itself. How did it come to this?

In the previous chapters I established that, however it might have been happening, and for whatever purpose, I was living in a story with supernatural dimensions. All my predictions about the beginning of the second trimester, about [[Meredith]], about Priscilla, had now come true. For the moment, I wrote, it was safe to assume that I had been given some kind of prophetic understanding. Near the end of Chapter 8 I elaborated on the reasons why I chose to view these circumstances from within a Christian framework—any other explanation would have been too crazy; would, indeed, have MADE me crazy. It wasn’t entirely unreasonable, considering that I appeared to be dealing with prophecy and demons, to determine that religious explanations must have lain behind the riddles.

But to this point I’ve been holding off that portion of the puzzle which was added (most surreally) by the situation with [[Mortimer]] and [[Petunia]]. Their emergence was the central plotline of the sixth and seventh chapters. When I called [[Mortimer]] to tell him what was happening in Alvin, he reported that the same things were happening to him in [[Toronto]] (several hundred miles north). Indeed, they had been happening for the same length of time. He said that on more than one occasion demons had assaulted his body with the evident intention of possessing it. He said he had been tempted (as I was) to dabble in Finnish magic. He was just as surprised as I was to discover that this was going on elsewhere, with someone he knew very well. When I asked him what it meant, and why this was happening to us, he told me it appeared that the forces of heaven and hell were gathering up their forces for a major battle—possibly the final battle—and that we were being summoned to fight in the conflict ahead.

I did find it odd that [[Mortimer]] and I were both experiencing the same apparent supernatural phenomena, but found his reasoning fallacious. Granted, it only made sense that if we were being singled out for attack with such severity, and at the same time manifesting the power of God to a parallel degree, then something was in preparation. But to deduce from thence that we would be figures of import in a major spiritual conflict, let alone the end-times conflict, was a step too far. At least that was my feeling until [[Petunia]] wrote her letter explaining that she had been having these experiences as well, and that her visions had revealed that she was destined to marry, and then murder, the Antichrist himself.

So what was I supposed to think? That we were entering a time of global tribulation, that the people close to me would be among its chief participants, had been affirmed now by my own unusual experiences and those of two other people, none of whom at first had known about the others. Yet, at the same time, it just couldn’t be true… it was absurd, unthinkable… it was an age-old deception adapting itself with insidious force to the circumstances of our times. There are few more susceptible temptations for a radical, eschatologically-minded young Christian than to believe that he’s being called to participate, to fight, in the events of Revelation. It’s inconceivable to us that we would have to live and die and fade away from history into the all-devouring oblivion of time like the great mass of common men. There is a potent exhilaration in believing that we stand on the wheel of the world at the end of time; that ours it is to break the seals and bring about the end. Yet if that was all we were experiencing now, then why was there such a prevalent sense that this was happening, and why it had been affirmed with so many miracles and oracles and visions? What was all this madness? What did it portend?

That was my central dilemma, abetted and bolstered, as we have before proven, by the inexorable iron of a single irresistible idea. It’s likely that I shall attempt to tackle that dynamic again on some level. Yet what I really want to do with this chapter, above and beyond all other considerations attendant on it, is to create metaphor on the level of myth. It ought to be fundamentally focused on my tumultuous emotional state during the weeks immediately prior to the beginning of 2004, and it ought to convey those emotions through clear, vivid images. And it seems to me that in order to do this, I need to speak simultaneously from two contrasting points of view: one, that I see myself being pulled with potent, ineradicable force towards something I can scarce comprehend, still less resist; two, that the end of the world is coming, but that before the dusk falls on the earth, it will fall on my school, and my personal sense of a battle awaiting me when I return in January—a battle to prevent [[Meredith]] from destroying herself and me, a battle to save Corey, a battle to keep the whole school from edging downward into darkness. In all my previous assaults on this chapter it seems to me that I’ve written primarily from the first place, when the second is the strongest, and most entertaining, but even the second is incomplete without the other, and the tension created between them is what lends this section of the story weight and depth and substance.

As a consequence, the reality that lies around this chapter ought to be something akin to the sense you feel in the middle of The Two Towers, at around the point where Elrond and Galadriel have given their expository speeches, and the two hobbits (Pippin and Merry) witness the march of the Ents to Helm’s Deep. (It certainly helps, of course, that [[Mortimer]] and [[Petunia]] both speak like Tolkien, now and through the rest of our adventures).

* * *

"If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true, he will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or by the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death, an image of the splendor of the kings of men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.

"But you, my daughter… you will linger on, in darkness and in doubt. As nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell, bound to your grief, beneath the fading trees, until all the world is changed and all the long years of your life are utterly spent."

"The power of the enemy is growing. Sauron will use his puppet Saruman to launch an assault on the peoples of Middle Earth. Isengard has been unleashed. His eye now turns to Gondor, the last free kingdom of men. His war on this country will come swiftly. He senses the Ring is close.

"The strength of the Ring-bearer is fading. In his heart, Frodo begins to understand—the quest will claim his life. You know this; you have foreseen it. It is the risk we all took.

"In the gathering dark, the will of the Ring grows strong. It works hard now to find its way back into the hands of Men—Men, who are so easily seduced by its power. The young captain of Gondor has but to extend his hand, take the Ring for his own, and the world will fall. It is close now, so close to achieving its goals. For Sauron will have dominion over all life on this earth, even unto the ending of the world.

"The time of the Elves is over. Do we leave Middle Earth to its fate? Do we let them stand alone?"

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