Sunday, April 29, 2012

Inklings Lecture Series

If you're interested in the Inklings, you should check out Malcolm Guite's five-part lecture series "The Inklings; Fantasists or Prophets?". Guite gave the talks at St. Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge and, according to the description on his blog, "explor[es] the thesis that far from being backward-looking, reactionary or escapist, the Inklings were fully and prophetically engaged with the main streams of modernity, that they forsaw the coming crisis of meaning in the materialist West, and in particular the attendant crises of violence and environmntal degradation."

The series consists of an introductory lecture followed by single lectures devoted to C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Each talk is a little over an hour in length. There are links on his blog to audio and YouTube versions of the lectures. If you watch the YouTube versions, you feel like you're in a small-group senimar with everyone sitting in chairs arranged in a circle. Give it a listen, it'll be well worth your time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Story of the Week: The Battle of Sablat

Barb Siples's "The Battle of Sablat," which appears in the April 2012 issue of Lacuna, is a beautifully written work of historical fiction with a fantastical twist. Siples considers the conflicts between duty, conscience, and freedom and the sacirifices or accomodations one makes to obtain the latter. The action takes place in seventeenth-century Bohemia during the Thrity Years War and specifically the days leading up to the Battle of Sablat. Fought on June 10, 1619, the battle pitted a Roman Catholic Imperial army led by Charles Bonaventure de Longueval, Count von Buquoy against Protestant forces under the command of Ernst von Mansfeld. Buquoy intercepted Mansfeld, who was in route to reinforce the seige of Budweis, near the village of Sablat. In the ensuing battle, Mansfeld lost his baggage train and almost half his troops were killed or wounded. Buquoy suffered considerably fewer losses. Buquoy's victory thwarted Mansfeld's plans and the seige of Budweis was lifted.

Siples's tale centers on Madame Katja Pomeroy—a spy in the service of von Buquoy—and Lieutenant Sebastian Maibach—a young officer from a noble family that has fallen on desperate financial circumstances. Sebastian is the first-person narrator of the story. He performed heroically in a previous battle but may now be suffering from post-traumatic stress. He does not seem to have a heart for war and killing. Von Buquoy asks Sebastian to assist Pomeroy with a sensitive mission, a commision that Maibach gladly accepts. Their task is to transport a locked crate to Sablat in advance of von Buquoy's army. Katja and Sebastian spend their first night of the journey together in a barn and become lovers, although Katja insists there is nothing in their relationship beyond the physical. A disturbance during the night leads them outside. They find myriad forest animals gathered around the crate. Katja gives Sebastian the key to the padlock. When Sebastian opens the crate, a strange-looking man with an iron shackle on his ankle leaps forth and then falls.

“When von Buquoy told me,” Katja said quietly at my side, “I took it for a jest. A misfired shell, exploded in the wood; a man who was not a man, found dazed beside the crater. When the count insisted on his story, I feared him mad. The pressures of his post, you see. But then I saw—” Her hands jerked toward our cargo. “I saw for myself.”

“What you are saying…” I began. It was inconceivable.

“The erlenvolk. They’re real. They’re real, Sebastian.”
Sebastian's first inclination is to insist that they release the erlenman but Katja insists that they are taking him to Seblat as planned and threatens Sebastian with a pistol. Katja refuses to tell Sebastian why von Buquoy wants the erlenman. A rider from von Buquoy catches up to them with a message and a change of plans takes them to Bulgravad, where a friend of von Buquoy lies dying from a gunshot wound. Sebastian sees firsthand the horrible fate that awaits the erlenman, whose blood, which "appeared luminous in the glass cylinder, like quicksilver," has miraculous healing properties. As they ride in the cart on the way to Seblat, Katja explains von Buquoy's plan.

“Emperor Ferdinand’s army marches at our back. We’re headed toward the front, toward a mighty battle. Many men will be wounded. Theirs will perish, Sebastian, but ours will live to fight another day. Don’t you see? We’ll set up a surgery in Sablat. In the cathedral perhaps, or under tents upon the main square. We’ll be well prepared. The erlenman will be well milked—”
Sebastian faces a hard choice: free the erlenman and betray his country, family and doom his future or allow the mission to continue and betray his conscience.

"The Battle of Sablat" features beautiful writing and imagery as well as a compelling plot, but the study in contrasts between Katja and Sebastian is the story's most intriguing element. Both characters are trapped in their own ways by their respective circumstances and positions in society. The futures of both are in the hands of von Buquoy.

“What is it von Buquoy gives you?”

“A certain amount of freedom, Sebastian. More than someone in my circumstances should expect.” [Katja's] face grew solemn. Her eyes dipped to my mouth. “If you let me, Sebastian, I can help you.”
Katja urges Sebastian with her words and body to follow her lead and play along with von Buquoy's plans. Nothing good can come from opposing him, but Sebastian's conscience will not rest easily.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tech Tip for Amazon Associates

Sorry to have gone AWOL for a few weeks but I've been mucking around in the dark ages of Denmark with Absalom and David. It's a long story, literally. I also attended the Festival of Faith and Writing, which was inspiring and fun. Now that the festival is over and that story is done and submitted, I can return to regular programming.

If you're an Amazon Associates member and you use Blogger, you've noticed that the nifty gadget for inserting Amazon links into your posts stopped working last fall. You can still put in the links, but you have to craft them by hand which is tedious at best. I quickly tired of the tedium and wrote some JavaScript to do the grunt work for me. You can find the gadget with instructions here. I hope it's useful. Comments for improvement are welcome.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Story of the Week: Stone Eater

In "Stone Eater" from issue 42 of Abyss & Apex Brent Knowles tells the story of a dwarf and master builder who finds himself forced to do the unthinkable. The story begins with Ongar secured to a stake in the desert, left to die from the elements. He was the master builder hired by a wizardess to build a tower of stone on the site of an ancient fortress. Once lush with life, the building site has become a cursed desert that continues to expand. The Wizardess believes she can stop the desert and heal the land, bringing back its verdant life, but she must have the tower to carry out her plans. For Ongar, the tower becomes an obsession and his drive for perfection leads him to neglect his family, who abandon him, and then a stranger arrives, a Charlatan who turns the Wizardess against Ongar. He watches in agony while work continues on his tower. He watches the workers make mistakes. The tower will never achieve his dreams of perfection. A badger brings Ongar river pebbles, which replenish his energy, keeping him alive, prolonging his suffering he comes to believe. Why does the badger help him? Perhaps an affinity between burrowers?

Ongar contemplates giving up, but the badger persists in bringing him stones and forcing them into Ongar's clenched fists. A group of soldiers arrive to arrest the Charlatan. The Wizardess dispatches them and their captain is staked near Ongar. From the soldier, Ongar learns something about the Charlatan's identity. The soldier devises a plan to foil the Charlatan, but it requires Ongar to destroy the tower, his last and most perfect creation. The badger assists in the plan, transferring a ring from the soldier to Ongar.

First the ring unraveled, parting at an invisible seam, the finger falling to the sand. Next [Ongar] urged the metal to extend, thinning it to a fine blade. What blood remained was absorbed by the metal, Ongar’s will insufficient to completely smooth the surface. It was as if the blood had rebelled in that final moment, distorting the blade with a rough and contoured surface. No matter, it would cut. The ensorcelled bonds were no match for the stonesung blade. Ongar fell to the sand and crouched there in shock, the impact wonderful, invigorating. The stone sang its welcome and his body thrummed, his blood rejoicing in the reunion.

The captain said, “Be crafty. Confront the conjurling directly and it will be your undoing. You must destroy the tower.”

“I will be careful,” Ongar said, avoiding a lie. He would not destroy his tower. He would find another way.

Ongar still has much to learn and little time to do it.

"Stone Eater" is a meditation on folly, obsession, and sacrifice. The tower, built to turn back the forces of nature and to celebrate Ongar's craft, reminds me of the Tower of Babel. The Charlatan easily twists the bloated ambitions of Ongar and the Wizardess to his own evil purposes. Ongar's obsession robs him of his wife and children, leaving him with no meaning in his life except the tower. The power of sacrifice proves the Charlatan's undoing in the end. The soldier gives up his finger, chewed off by the badger to transfer the ring, and Ongar gives up everything he has left only to discover a new gift far greater than what he has sacrificed.

To learn more about Brent and his writing, check out his blog at