Infection

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_angel_of_death_striking_a_door_during_the_plague_of_Rome_Wellcome_V0010664.jpg

The fear of infection, pollution, contagion is one of the primordial fears. It lives at the root of human nature responding to one of the most insidious traps of Nature. It’s the fear of an invisible, incomprehensible enemy: the disease that passes from one sufferer to another, the evil spirit that works in the dark recess of the cells; pestilence, cholera, flu or hideous leprosy seen through time as curses coming from a cruel God, or from several cruel gods, vengeance sent from the Other World. All animals, including our own species, share the fear of the monster, and the monster is the predator when it turns on us or leaps from the ambush. To learn the fear of the microscopic predator a culture based in articulate language is required so the menace that can only be read in hints and relations never as clear as the relation between death and claw can be communicated inside the group. Then it is the turn of poetic and mythic imagination to enter the stage and give explanation to these things for which there is no explanation yet. Religion and magic infuse Dream into the order of wakefulness and the connections among meanings turn into beliefs. Biblical curses, plagues envisaged as God’s wrath, the power of witches and sorcerers, the sway of evil spirits, the contagious thirst of vampires, the snares of Evil where physical and moral corruption are intermingled in a perfect metaphor: all these run and expand through the cultural net. When Humankind arrives to the knowledge of the microscopic world and even makes it visible though technical devices, the invisible world of the spirits and incarnate emotions retreats but does not surrender. There will always be people who choose blind faith and dogma instead of reason and anyway the decisive influence of science and reason is no obstacle for that old, invisible territory to be alive in the mind, where it is real and, moreover, true. There it teems with messages and shapes, weaving visions, narratives and advices so we can see the world through the laws of Dream. In any case, who can tell which relations the different orders of reality keep among them in the secret places where the law of Day does not prevail and the chains of fanaticism are of no use.

Phantastes

I can’t remember where I found out about Phantastes, that strange, wonderful book written by George MacDonald (1824-1905) at a time when adult fiction was supposed to be realistic and the idea of fantastic literature made people instantly think of children or young readers. One author leads to another, a book to another book in the huge net of Literature. Which book, which author, which comment lead me to George MacDonald’s Phantastes? MacDonald called it “A FAERIE ROMANCE FOR MEN AND WOMEN”. The title highlights two connections and an advice: a connection with medieval romance, a second one with faerie tales from the folklore legacy, an advice to make clear that the world of imagination contained in the pages which lay ahead is not intended for children. MacDonald’s Fairyland is a world of dreams and mystic paths that open a secret dimension of reality. It translates the ways of the spirit into a dreamland where secret battles take place. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in other world in the same way he did or if you think other worlds are here and now: when you enter Phantastes you’ll find yourself in a strangely familiar place, the kingdom of the mind. Such an experience reminds of the nightly quests, sorrows and joys we go through during our dreams when we are asleep. But under the frame of fiction MacDonald builds up Fairyland is not a dream as we know them. It is real. Not a world of the five senses, not either the bizarre visions of a dreamer. Lewis Carrol’s books resort to the dreaming world of the sleeper, as Jamie Williamson says in The Evolution of Modern Fantasy. MacDonald takes a different stance on the nature of the fantastic world, both in Phantastes and in his much latter work Lilith. A Romance.

Binding of the first edition,
published by Smith, Elder & Co.
London, 1858
Cover of the so called “Suppressed Edition”
1894, London, Chatto & Windus
1916 Edition by publishers J.M. Dent and E.P. Dutton & Co.
The Ballantine 1971 Edition
with an introduction by Lin Carter

“Both Alice books are dreams in a quite straightforward sense: Alice falls asleep, has a dream, and wakes up at the end. This is not the case in either of MacDonald’s romances, where the invented worlds would be more aptly described as alternate dimensions outside the continuum of the five senses. Precisely the relation between the primary and the invented worlds is ambiguous, but the latter are not the product of a simple sleeping dream.”

(…)

“…in either of MacDonald’s romances (…) the invented worlds would be more aptly described as alternate dimensions outside the continuum of the five senses”.

(Williamson, Jamie. The Evolution of Modern Fantasy (pp. 115-116). Palgrave Macmillan US. Kindle Edition).

Phantastes is somewhat a predecessor of modern fantasy, for all the main elements are there, at least at the more literal level.

“The book’s Fairyland is an imaginary world, in which Anodos the protagonist encounters magical beings and spells. With its castles, rustic homesteads, dark forests, and knights; its journey structure; and its rather pre-Raphaelite medieval atmosphere, the vocabulary of romance and fairy tale is marshaled unambiguously. In terms of MacDonald’s own inspirations and “sources,” this vocabulary to some degree relies on elements from actual medieval, and particularly Arthurian, romance; however, Spenser and much else from the Elizabethan period and the seventeenth century inform MacDonald’s treatment of his medieval vocabulary. The traditional fairy tale is echoed in many of the book’s motifs and is explicitly alluded to in places; specifically Scottish patterns underscore the battle of Anodos and the two brothers against the three giants. The inset ballad of Sir Aglovaile is clearly modeled on the border ballads. MacDonald was deep in Romanticism, both English and German, and in varying capacities, Shelley, Coleridge, Novalis, Hoffmann, Fouqué, and many more can be scented behind sections of Phantastes.”

Williamson, Jamie. The Evolution of Modern Fantasy (p. 115). Palgrave Macmillan US. Kindle Edition.

Williamson gives us a lot of clues in this paragraph: the constituents of fantasy fiction as we understand it today, the sources of vocabulary and motifs, the influences and kinships.

In order to get lost properly in the magic woodland of Phantastes I resorted to that huge source of literary supplies named Delphi Classics where I bought the Complete Works of George MacDonald. I still have to read his other fantastic narratives (and maybe some of the realistic ones), among them Lilith, a Romance, which belongs to the end of his literary career (only two other books were published after it).
Delphi provides all the lot nicely packed with indexes and extra content for a small price, but you can also find MacDonald’s works totally free at Gutenberg.org.

The Victorian Website has a page with very interesting content providing material for learning, if learning is what you want to do. They have the complete text of Phantastes and a bunch of links that make a web inside the web to go all round through related works and topics.

I suppose I’ll have to go round several times, as I have such a bad memory. I still can’t recall the thread that took me to Phantastes and the fact that I got lost in MacDonald’s woodland probably added to whatever other facts were covering the track behind me. So today I only remember a room being turned into a passage that lead to a different world, and then the trees, so alive and restless, and the night, as alive and restless as the trees, and the sense of being surrounded by creatures that maybe were part of me, maybe not.

My roaming begun with the journey of Anodos.

A Geography of Dreams

A Geography of Dreams is a project of mine which has just begun to develop. I imagine it like a mix of poetry, essay and narrative. It has just begun to take form, but it has been on my mind for a long while. I have read some books written by scientists or by journalists who have interviewed scientists. The mind at night, by Andrea Rock, is my favourite. It’s highly enjoyable, rigorous and all the information it contains is still valid. But I suppose I read it more because of my interest in the matter than for its usefulness concerning my purpose. Because my project is an exploration of dreams from a certain viewpoint and under the frame of literature. It’s the space and the places in dreams that I want to talk about because I’ve realised they are important characters in the plot of the night cinema. So if every character in the dream is the dreamer itself, the places are also the dreamer, a manifestation of his or her mind, a way in which revealing emotions embody themselves in forms and colours and meanings. I’ve decided to put words to work in this web, which is a way to kindle them and see them grow. Let’s see what kind of dreams are born from the spirit of dreams.

And this is the entrance.

Geografía de los sueños

Geografía de los sueños es un proyecto, y de ese proyecto tengo notas, esbozos y visiones. Creo que una página web es un sitio muy adecuado para que crezca. Es como ir echando las palabras en una tierra donde pueden arraigar, como poner las ideas a desarrollarse en una finca que espera de ellas un parque, un bosque, un paisaje. ¿No os habéis dado cuenta de que en los sueños el espacio es uno de los protagonistas, y que, si todos los personajes con los que soñamos somos nosotros mismos, como se ha dicho más de una vez, los lugares del sueño también son el soñador? Si la vieja palabra “alma” no se hubiera quedado tan fuera de lugar en este mundo donde nuestra forma de entender las cosas parece excluirla, podríamos decir que esos lugares son nuestra alma. Por eso están traspasados de emociones. Los lugares del sueño no son sino emociones convertidas en imágenes que atraen hacia sí lo que sabemos y lo que no queremos saber de nosotros mismos, el significado de los escenarios del mundo de la vigilia, la historia secreta y nocturna de nuestras vidas.

GEOGRAFÍA DE LOS SUEÑOS

SCHIELE, Egon_Casas junto al río. La ciudad vieja, 1914_739 (1978.81)

The Walking Forest

Farmgor Wood marches to War, by an anonymous contributor to this web

The vision of a walking forest is one of the gifts that await us inside The Lord of the RingsJ.R.R. Tolkien loved trees. Machines he didn’t love very much. His love for the modern world was scarce and his works are pervaded with a longing for pre-modern ages. It is logical that when creating the universe of The Lord of the Rings heplaced it in a primordial time where Nature is overwhelming and magic very often plays the part of technology. Sauron’s work, which is a work of destruction, leaves behind the wastelands that resemble the landscapes of mining and industrial activity. The Orcs fell trees. Elfs are fond of trees. Hobbits plant them in the Shire. Sam is a gardener. The book starts with a prologue where we can read: “They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skillful with tools”. This first section of the prologue (“Concerning Hobbits”) also warns us that: “A well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt”. By contrast, the forests of Middle Earth are remnants of an archaic world even much older than the remote and mythical one where Frodo and his companions struggle against darkness. 

These forests represent primitive powers, either beneficent or maleficent. Three of them have a strong presence not only as places but also as collective characters: the Old Forest, Lórien and Fangorn (for Mirkwood is much more important in The Hobbit than in The Lord of the Rings). All of them are full of magic, but only the third is the walking forest. Merry and Pippin go into it hiding from the Orcs, and there they meet Treebeard, the most important of all Ents, so much that his real name is Fangorn, because he is the Guardian of the Woods, and also it’s Spirit,it’s consciousness or something of the like. Old as the world, wise and kind, Treebeard is an ancient power that, when roused and infuriated, will hardly find a match. And the news that Pippin and Merry bring make him angry. So he calls all Ents to an assembly and they discuss minutely for three days what to do (time is long for these creatures that count the duration of their lives by thousands of years) until they decide to march to war against Saruman. “We may help the other peoples before we pass away”, declares Treebeard.The Ents march to Isengard (against Isengard) and Treebeard carries Pippin and Merry on his shoulders.

Pippin looked behind. The number of the Ents had grown – or what was happening? Where the dim bare slopes that they had crossed should lie, he thought he saw groves of trees. But they were moving! Could it be that the trees of Fangorn were awake, and the forest was rising, marching over the hills to war? He rubbed his eyes wondering if sleep and shadow had deceived him; but the great grey shapes moved steadily onward. There was a noise like wind in many branches. The Ents were drawing near the crest of the ridge now, and all song had ceased. Night fell, and there was silence: nothing was to be heard save a faint quiver of the earth beneath the feet of the Ents, and a rustle, the shade of a whisper as of many drifting leaves. At last they stood upon the summit, and looked down into a dark pit: the great cleft at the end of the mountains: Nan Cururnir, the Valley of Saruman.
“Night lies over Isengard,” said Treebeard.

(End of chapter 4. Treebeard. The Two Towers).

“I have always for some reason -I don’t know why- been enormously attracted by trees. All my work is full of trees. I suppose I have actually in some moment… I should have liked to make contact with a tree and find out how he feels about things”.
Tolkien chuckled while saying the last sentence. He was walking with John Izzard and a BBC crew around a tree garden in Oxford. They were filming a documentary that was aired in 1968 and that I have been able to watch thanks to the person who uploaded it to Youtube (it is an episode of the series “On Their Own Words. British Authors”). So this is first hand information on Tolkien’s love of nature and vegetal life, who seemed so appealing to him.
But we also know (because the author himself said so in one of his letters) that he was bitterly disappointed when, as a young scholar, he found out the way Shakespeare made the prophecy of the witches materialise in the play Macbeth. Which was by moving not the forest of Birnam itself, but the soldiers disguised under a camouflage of branches and leaves.
In June 1975 Tolkien wrote a letter to W.H. Auden in which he commented on Ents:
“Their pan in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill’: I longed to devise a setting in which the trees might really march to war”.
These were his actual words. Therefore, the epic and magic vision of a walking forest was born from the frustration of a boy at what Shakespeare seemingly didn’t dare to fulfil. When Tolkien writes The Lord of the Rings, the child that lives still inside the adult makes him create those Ents and Huorns so that Fangorn Forest may do what Birnam Forest never did: that is, to march to war.

El bosque que camina

Treebeard, by Alan Lee

La visión de un bosque que camina es uno de los regalos que nos hace Tolkien en El señor de los anillos. J. R. R. Tolkien amaba los árboles y detestaba las máquinas, sentía nostalgia del mundo premoderno y escaso amor por la modernidad. Es lógico que al crear el de su novela lo situara en un tiempo primordial donde la naturaleza ocupa mucho más espacio que la técnica y la técnica es sustituida con frecuencia por la magia. La obra de Sauron, que es una obra de destrucción, deja siempre un resultado similar a las tierras baldías que son el paisaje de la minería y de la industria. Los orcos derriban árboles. Los elfos aman los árboles. Los hobbits los plantan en La Comarca. Sam es jardinero. En el prólogo del libro, en el apartado “Sobre los hobbits”, podemos leer: “No entienden ni entendieron ni sienten gusto por máquinas que tengan mayor complejidad que un fuelle de herrero, un molino hidráulico o un telar manual, aunque son hábiles usando herramientas”. También sabemos por este prólogo que “un paisaje rural bien ordenado y cultivado es su hábitat preferido”.

En la novela, los bosques son los restos de un mundo arcaico todavía más antiguo que el universo remoto y mítico de la Tierra Media, y representan una fuerza primitiva que puede ser benéfica o maléfica.Tres son las selvas con calidad de personajes colectivos: El Bosque Antiguo, Lórien y Fangorn (Mirkwood tiene mucha más presencia en El hobbit que en El Señor de los Anillos). En todos ellos habita la magia, pero el bosque que camina es el tercero. Huyendo de los orcos, Merry y Pippin se adentran en él y allí conocen a Treebeard, el más importante de todos los Ents, tanto que su nombre verdadero es Fangorn, pues es el guardian del bosque y algo así como su conciencia o su espíritu. Viejo como el mundo, sabio y bondadoso, Treebeard es un poder arcaico que, cuando se agita y enfurece, difícilmente encuentra rival. Y las noticias que Merry y Pipin le traen despiertan su ira. Por eso convoca una asamblea de Ents. Morosamente discuten sobre la decisión a tomar (el tiempo es largo para estas criaturas que cuentan su vida por miles de años) y finalmente acuerdan declararle la guerra a Saruman. “Debemos ayudar a los otros pueblos antes de que desaparezcamos”, afirma Treebeard. Los Ents marchan hacia Isengard (contra Isengard) y Treebeard lleva a Merry y Pippin sobre sus hombros.

Pippin miró hacia atrás. Los Ents habían aumentado en número —¿o qué sucedía?. Allí donde deberían estar las penumbrosas laderas desnudas, creyó ver grupos de árboles. ¡Pero se movían! ¿Sería posible que los árboles de Fangorn hubieran despertado, y que el bosque se estuvieran alzando, marchando a la guerra sobre las colinas? Se frotó los ojos mientras se preguntaba con asombro si el sueño y la sombra le habrían engañado; pero las grandes figuras grises avanzaban a un ritmo constante. Había un sonido como de viento que atravesara infinidad de ramas. Los Ents se acercaban a la cresta de la cordillera y las canciones habían cesado. Caía la noche, y se extendía el silencio: nada se oía salvo el débil temblor de la tierra bajo los pies de los Ents y un crujido, la sombra de un susurro como de muchas hojas arrastradas por el viento. Finalmente se detuvieron en la cumbre y miraron hacia abajo, hacia la hondonada oscura: la gran hendidura al final de las montañas: Nan Curunir, el Valle de Saruman.
“La noche cubre Isengard”, dijo Treebeard.

Final del capítulo IV. Treebeard. Libro segundo: Las dos torres.

“Siempre he sentido, no sé por qué” le dijo John Ronald Reuel Tolkien a la BBC en 1968 “una enorme atracción por los árboles. Toda mi obra está llena de árboles”.
“Supongo” añadió con una risita “que me hubiera gustado establecer contacto de algún modo con un árbol y saber lo que siente acerca de las cosas”.
Mientras paseaba por los jardines de Oxford, le hacía estas confesiones al periodista John Izzard.
Pero también sabemos, porque Tolkien lo dejó escrito en una de sus cartas, que en su época de colegial se llevó una soberana desilusión cuando descubrió la forma en que Shakespeare hizo que se cumpliera la profecía de las brujas en Macbeth: el gran bosque de Birnam se desplaza a la alta colina de Dunsinane porque lo que se mueven no son árboles, sino soldados disfrazados con un camuflaje de hojas y ramas.
La visión mágica, épica, maravillosa de un bosque que camina nace de la frustración de un niño ante lo que Shakespeare no se atrevió a llevar a cabo. Ese niño que el adulto guarda en su interior cuando se pone a escribir El señor de los anillos le hace inventar los Ents y los Huorns para que el bosque de Fangorn pueda hacer lo que el bosque de Birnam no hizo: marchar a la guerra.

Artes marciales

Delacroix, Jacob luchando con el ángel.

Hay que luchar con las palabras para que nos entreguen su secreto, como Jacob luchó con el ángel. Las palabras son herramientas precisas, trabajadas por los siglos y las generaciones. Los diccionarios convierten las palabras en otras palabras para cercar su sentido, sus límites, su extensión, sus parentescos, incluso las posibilidades de su ambigüedad. Llamamos a esto “definiciones”. Las definiciones de los diccionarios son un trabajo de artesanía arriesgado y sutil. En ellas buscamos el significados de los signos que forman el lenguaje, pero las palabras tienen además conexiones y cerraduras: no pueden encajarse de cualquier modo entre sí; si las usamos bien dirán cosas llenas de sentido, si las encajamos de cualquier manera chirriarán como un mecanismo mal ajustado. Hay que luchar con las palabras y con sus cadenas, las que forman al enlazarse, serpientes de palabras a las que debemos exigir precisión y armonía, expresividad y sorpresa. Incluso la obra más humilde merece el mejor esfuerzo.

American Gods

Estaba leyendo American Gods en español. Iba por la mitad cuando la traducción empezó a ponerme aún más nerviosa que al principio. Algo no iba bien. Entonces me encontré dos frases seguidas que empezaban con “pero” y tres dequeismos como los de Paco Marhuenda. Es que los traductores trabajan con prisas y están mal pagados. Me fui a una librería virtual y conseguí la edición inglesa por un precio más que razonable. He comprobado que Neil Gaiman nunca puso seguidas dos frases empezando por “but”. Y que en conjunto el trabajo de la traductora es bueno, pero no sé por qué no consigue que suene natural la cosa. Suena a traducción. Moraleja; no leas una traducción si puedes leer “the original stuff”. A no ser que el traductor sea un escritor al menos tan bueno como el autor. Por ejemplo, leer los cuentos de Edgar Allan Poe en la traducción de Julio Cortázar sí es buena idea.

Homenaje a Ursula K. Leguin

Ursula K. Leguin murió en 2018. Hasta entonces sabíamos que estaba en alguna parte de este mundo haciendo algo. Tal vez pensar una nueva historia o tal vez sobrevivir. Ahora sabemos que está en algún lugar de este mundo, pero en el pasado y, sin embargo, sus obras están vivas a nuestro alrededor, vivas una y otra vez en la mente de sus lectores.