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Richard

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(AUTHOR NOTE: My publisher told me I could post a chapter from the new book. There were 25 chapters to choose from, but I chose this one. Because I wanted to give you a love letter. And it seemed like the most appropriate love letter to give you would be an extremely indirect one that screams, "DO NOT FEEL SCARED—I AM JUST INTERACTING WITH YOU!!") 

                                                                            ---------------------------------

For the first few years of my life, the only people I knew how to find lived in my house.


We had a neighbor, Richard. But Richard was quiet and rarely outside for long, so I didn't know about him. 

One afternoon, though, Richard went outside.


That's how I found out about him.


I did not interact with Richard. I just saw him. He probably didn't even know. He stood in his driveway for a minute or two and then went back into his house. But I saw him. I think that was the main thing.


It was very exciting. A person lives next to us!  person!  He lives right there! And I SAW him!  When will he go outside again?  What else does he do?  Does he know about dad? Who is his friend?  Does he like whales?  Is his house the same as ours?  Which room does his grandma live in?


Desperate to catch another glimpse of him, I'd lurk near the windows all day just staring at his house.


I think I expected it go somewhere. You can't find out there's a person living right next to you and then never get any answers. Maybe if you're 100 and you know everybody, but not if you're 3. Not when it's the first stranger you know how to find. I just wanted to know more. Anything.


And this is as far as it would have been able to go if it wasn't for the dog door.


My grandma usually supervised me while my parents were at work. She'd drink screwdrivers and do the crossword, I'd run around the house and do whatever. If she hadn't seen me in a while, she'd check to make sure I still had all my fingers, but escaping wasn't a big concern. The doors were locked. Just in case, there were jingle bells on the handles. 

The dog door was the single weak point in the fortress.


The revolutionary impact the dog door had on my ability to observe Richard was second only to the discovery of Richard himself.  

I was cautious at first. 

I just wanted to get a little closer. Just a little. I'd sneak out through the dog door and go stare at his house from the edge of our driveway, hoping this would summon him. When it didn't, I'd sneak a little closer. Maybe it'll work if I stand in Richard's driveway…. or, actually, maybe I'll just go over to this little window here and see what I can see… 


I started sneaking out more frequently. I started sneaking out at night. And the fact that I was sneaking seems to suggest I might've been at least partially aware that this type of behavior should be a secret, but I don't think I'd reached that crucial developmental turning point where you're capable of recognizing how creepy you're being. 

However, on the night I found the cat door in Richard's garage, even my undeveloped, fish-level brain could sense that a boundary was about to be crossed. A tiny, instinctual trace of doubt—the wisdom of my ancestors whispering through the ages: This might be too weird of a thing to do… 


Of course, one of the main features of undeveloped, fish-level brains is poor impulse control, and before I could complete the thought, I was in Richard's living room. 


I hadn't prepared for this possibility. I'd dreamed of it, sure. But I wasn't expecting it to HAPPEN. So I just stood there for a little while and then retreated to regroup.


A concrete objective never emerged, but the missions became bolder and more frequent. I started bringing things back with me. Richard's things. 

They seemed valuable, somehow. Richard likes these things…. perhaps they contain the secret to Richard…. 


A nonsensical collection of Richard's possessions slowly accumulated at the back of my toy drawer. 

This would prove to be my downfall. 

Long before that, though, my mom noticed that I'd mysteriously disappear sometimes. She wasn't worried yet because she didn't think I knew how to get out of the house, but one day she asked me where I'd been. 

And I said: 

"Hanging out with Richard."


"Hanging out" was a misnomer—Richard had been hanging out by himself and I had been standing in his hallway just out of view—but this was concerning news for my parents. They didn't even know that I knew Richard, let alone that we'd been "hanging out." They went over and knocked on Richard's door and asked him about it, probably with thinly-veiled suspicion regarding Richard being a child predator. And Richard, who was still somehow unaware of all the hanging out we'd been doing, told them he didn't know anything about that.


I imagine things were tense for a bit. The suggestion that I'd been hanging out with Richard was disturbing for both my parents and Richard. But the clues piled up. I couldn't control myself. I took more things, bigger things. I also branched over into hiding things for Richard to find. Pretty rocks, pieces of string, letters I'd tried to write. At that age, I didn't know how to spell very many words, so the messages were fairly cryptic: the entire alphabet, followed by the word Mom and a drawing of the sun. Rampant scribbling, hundreds of tiny circles, and... is this a spider?? 

The spider was supposed to be Richard. I hadn't figured out how many arms and legs people are supposed to have yet, so I just put a whole bunch on there and hoped it was enough. I didn't want him to feel offended because I shortchanged him on legs. 


It must've come off like being haunted by a defective but well-meaning ghost. 


The connection should have been obvious. But, when faced with a mystery like, "Where did my remote control go? Why is there a piece of paper with a child's handwriting on it hiding in the VCR? And how do these rocks keep getting in here?" almost no rational adult would jump to the conclusion "because a child has been sneaking in through my cat door and leaving these for me to discover." Not even with clues. I don't know what theory Richard came up with to explain it, but it almost certainly wasn't that one. 


Similarly, when faced with a mystery like "why does our child keep disappearing? And why has our child been "hanging out" with our 40-year-old neighbor?" almost no rational adult would jump to the conclusion: "because our child has become obsessed with our 40-year-old neighbor, and 'hanging out' is a loose term to describe the activity of spying."


The thing that finally blew my cover was stealing Richard's cat.

Stealing it wasn't the original plan. The opportunity presented itself, I seized it. 


It was a strong animal. Getting it into the drawer was difficult. I didn't have a plan for what to do with it, but I knew I had something valuable, and I think the thought process was that I should save it for later. For when I figured out how to capitalize on the probably unlimited potential of this. 


It lived in the drawer for a while. I don't know how long. Hours, probably.


And now it is time for a quick fact about cats: cats aren't good secrets, because, under extreme duress, they have the ability to make a sound like:

YAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAO

My parents eventually realized the sound was coming from inside the house and located the source of it.


They weren't expecting to find quite so many of Richard's things.


I don't know if they put the pieces together immediately, or processed them individually as they came up—"first of all, there's a cat in this drawer; How about that. Next up: there appear to be a considerable number of objects under the cat. This one is a shoe. This one is a piece of bread. This one is a credit card bill. Huh…it's addressed to 'Richard The Neighbor….'"—inching closer to the truth with every clue until the ultimate answer to "What does 'hanging out with Richard' mean?" was revealed. 

There was more than enough evidence to answer the question. 


That's got to be a strange moment for a parent. There's this omnipresent fear of predators and monsters, and you just… you never quite expect to find out the monster is your kid.

They confronted me after a strategy meeting about how the fuck to handle this. That's not something the books prepare you for. There's no chapter on what to do if you suspect your child is a predator. There's no Hallmark card for "Sorry we accused you of being a molester; we didn't realize our kid was sneaking into your house and stealing your spoons and animals and watching you while you sleep. We're really, really sorry."


That primal instinct I'd felt in Richard's garage flickered back online a little bit. Looking at the objects, and the freaked out cat, and my parents' confused faces, I realized that yeah, maybe this had been a weird thing to do....


I felt like I should explain why I had done this, but I didn't know either.

So we all just stood there, feeling weird about ourselves and each other.


The cat was stoked to be free, though. 


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Thus spake Nietzsche: Danyl McLauchlan on the superman philosopher

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Book of the Week: Danyl Mclauchlan reviews a brilliant new biography of Friedrich Nietzsche, who declared, “I am not a man. I am dynamite!”

It ended in Turin, on January 3, 1889 when Friedrich Nietzsche shuffled into the Piazza Carlo Alberta. Nietzsche was a sad, solitary figure; he spent his days in Turin’s bookshops, reading but not buying the books, or roaming the streets dressed in worn, shabby clothes, his eyes – nearly blind but agonisingly sensitive to light – hidden behind thick green-lensed sunglasses, a green visor jutting out from his head like a beak. At the edge of the Piazza he created a disturbance: no one knows what happened: a story circulating after his death claims he saw a cart horse being flogged, ran to it, threw his arms around the animal to protect it then fell to the ground, weeping.

A crowd gathered. Two policemen led him back to his room; a tiny lodging above a newspaper shop, filled with manuscripts, volumes of philosophy, musical scores. He’d passed the last decade in places like this, drifting around Switzerland and northern Italy, living in poverty, borrowing money to self-publish his increasingly strange and blasphemous books, which nobody read.

He spent the next few days secluded, singing, raving, sending deranged letters to his family and friends signed “Caesar Nietzsche” or Dionysus or “The Crucified One”. At night his hosts heard him dancing. Peering through the keyhole they saw him capering, naked. He was 44-years-old with an enormous bristling moustache, powerfully built but emaciated from years of sickness. Last year he’d spent weeks confined to his bed, unable to sleep, existing in absolute darkness, devastated by migraines, hallucinating, vomiting blood, self-medicating with opium and chloral hydrate. Now he danced, chanting in Ancient Greek, performing the holy rites of Dionysus; rituals no one had celebrated for over two thousand years.

A friend arrived – Nietzsche had sent him a letter announcing he was about to take over the Reich – and escorted him back to Germany. He spent time in psychiatric clinics and was eventually released into the care of his mother, who had seen most of this before. Nietzsche’s father was a pastor and an acclaimed musician but in his mid-thirties he experienced a series of agonising headaches accompanied by fits of vomiting and blindness. He died at the age of 35; Nietzsche was five years old. Shortly afterwards his infant brother suffered a series of seizures and died of a stroke. Mental illness and suicide haunted the bloodline.

Nietzsche studied at the Pforta School, one of the most elite academies in Europe, where his teachers thought he was the most brilliant student the ancient classrooms had ever seen. At  24 he was the youngest professor ever appointed to a position at the University of Basel in 400 years. He taught philology, the study of classical languages. To his students he was more like a resident of the ancient world than the modern: he spoke about Pre-Socratic Greece as if he’d lived there. His closest friend was Richard Wagner, the most famous composer in the world: they walked together in the hills above Wagner’s estate discussing their plans for the rebirth of European culture.

And then it all unravelled. His books were mocked then – worse – ignored. His health deteriorated. His friendship with Wagner ended when Nietzsche saw that the composer was more interested in a new Germany than a new Europe, specifically a Germany made stronger by purifying it of Jews. His university paid him a sickness pension and Nietzsche began his years of wandering; roaming the Swiss alps in between bouts of sickness; hurrying to record his insights before the next attack came. His journey led him to uncover staggering new vistas of thought but ended in his childhood bedroom being tended to by his mother. When she died Nietzsche had regressed to a persistent vegetative state. He was given over to his brilliant but monstrous sister Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, who loomed over his life and cast a malevolent shadow over his legacy. He spoke little; never wrote. By the time of his death in 1900 he was one of the most famous philosophers in the world.

Sue Prideaux (Image: twitter @faberbooks)

There have been many studies of Nietzsche but I don’t expect to read a better biography than I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche. Prideaux is not a philosopher; her previous works are about Strindberg and Munch, both of whom intersected with and were influenced by Nietzsche. And she’s a beautiful writer, often coming as close to a non-fiction novel as a biography can while remaining a work of historical scholarship. She’s especially good on the women in Nietzsche’s life, his cultural background, the relationship with Wagner and the labyrinth of artistic, philosophical, political and sexual mazes Nietzsche blundered into with amusing frequency. She knows just when to paraphrase and when to let Nietzsche – who is a great writer; one of the very few philosophers whose work functions as literature – speak for himself.

Most non-philosophers encounter Nietzsche through his aphorisms. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” “When you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Some people admire these sentiments so much they tattoo them onto their bodies in heavy gothic lettering – and you can admire them via a google image search – but what’s his overall message?

That’s difficult to say. Some of his books contain nothing but aphorisms, in no particular order or relation to each other. “I say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book – what others do not say in a book,” he boasted. Most philosophers promote their ideas via logical arguments; Nietzsche mocked this approach. Real insights are not achieved through mere reason, he scoffed. They are intuitive, inspired; all the neat arguments are just post-hoc justifications.

Many of his ideas seem contradictory. Other philosophers – normal philosophers of the 19th century – constructed systems: holistic, internally consistent logical frameworks that attempted to make sense of the world. Nietzsche is an explicitly anti-systemic philosopher. Systems constrain you. Systems and ideologies give people the illusion of understanding more than they think they do. “Conviction is a more dangerous enemy of truth than lies.” Instead he is “the philosopher of perhaps,” and he “philosophises with a hammer”. He wants to smash things apart, not put them together. Yet, despite all this internal contradiction and smashing of things there is a generally accepted core set of important ideas in Nietzsche’s work. They concern values, the death of God and nihilism.

One of the things that’s wrong with us as a species, Nietzsche argues, is our persistent belief that there is another, higher world; a spiritual world. This belief in fictional systems – religion, philosophy, astrology – devalues the real world where we live our actual lives. We’ve trapped ourselves in “an architecture of fear and awe, whose very foundation is the terror that death might lead to nothing more than oblivion”. These foolish superstitions are the basis for our civilisational values but they are life-denying values. Especially the values of Judaism and Christianity which are forms of “slave morality”.

The Jews and the Christians were slaves, first in Babylon then in Rome. They were powerless to impose their will upon the world but they lusted for power, as all living things do, so they were consumed with resentment against their masters. That is why both faiths are decadent inversions of true morality: they deny the reality of human nature and celebrate slavery and misery and suffering and victimhood.

*

When I was a teenager all I knew about Nietzsche is that he was the guy who said “God is dead,” and I assumed he was the first atheist philosopher, and that this must have been a big deal back in the day but was of little importance now. But philosophers had been making the case for atheism for centuries prior to Nietzsche: what he said about God is far more interesting.

God is dead, he tells us. But the statue of the dead God casts a vast and gruesome shadow over our civilisation. All of our values, our institutions, all of our assumptions about the world: our politics, our culture, our customs, our languages, or systems of thought – these are all inherited from earlier generations and they all have the assumption of the existence of God built into them. But all of those values are obsolete. Few believe in them but we behave as if we do. Thus we live in the age of “incomplete nihilism.” And when Nietzsche talks about religious values he isn’t talking about trivial prohibitions against stealing or committing adultery. He’s talking about the really big, deep stuff that we still take for granted. He’s talking, for example, about truth.

He argues that the idea of truth is a religious one based on the idea that there is a God who created the world and can directly apprehend it. But in the search for ‘truth’, philosophers and scientists revealed that this God does not exist. Instead of destroying religion, however, scientists have substituted themselves for priests and their discoveries for moral dogma.

But science is only an interpretation and arrangement of the world. “There are many kinds of eyes. Even the sphinx has eyes – and consequently there are many kinds of ‘truths,’ and consequently there is no truth.” Scientists claim to discover the truth, but if another more powerful theory about the world comes along they must abandon that truth for a new one – meaning it was never true at all. “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth.

Maybe you’re not interested in debates about science and truth. Maybe you’re more committed to kindness, or compassion or equality. Maybe you assume your investment in these values make you a good person and those who don’t share these values are flawed, or evil? But where do your beliefs come from? Why do you value them? Is the eagle evil for hunting its prey? Why then is the strong man evil for preying upon the weak? Are not the very ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ religious values? Do they have any meaning in this post-religious world?

Most of us respond to these arguments with indignation and exasperation. Of course we should have compassion for each other! Of course everyone should be treated equally! And how can scientists make such accurate predictions if they aren’t discovering some form of truth about the nature of reality? How can it be true that there is no such thing as truth? But when you read Nietzsche’s mature works – On the Genealogy of Morals or Beyond Good and Evil – you quickly learn that Nietzsche is much, much smarter than you are, that he’s anticipated your objections and has frustratingly sophisticated arguments against them. Steven Pinker, in his book Enlightenment Now, an apology for liberal humanism and scientific rationalism, urges people to simply stop reading and teaching Nietzsche. He must be wrong, Pinker feels. It’s just very hard to say why.

Nietzsche is comfortable with your discomfort. If you want to go on believing in compassion and truth then he’s fine with that. Really. His books, he assures readers, are not for everyone. Truly they are not for the cowardly, the weak minded, the simple, bleating creatures of the herd who cannot think for themselves. His term for anyone who does not believe in God but still lives by religious values is ‘the Last Man’ (if you’re a woman Nietzsche gives even fewer shits about what you think: his mature philosophy is, Prideaux admits, deeply misogynistic). In one of his most famous passages he prophesies the safe, comfortable but meaningless lives of the world given over to the Last Men, passages that seem like a very accurate description of middle-class life in the liberal democracies of the twenty-first century.

Who are Nietzsche’s books for? They are for the superman. Man is the sick animal, “a hybrid between a plant and a ghost”, but he is also a rope across the abyss of nihilism: a bridge between the ape and the superman. Being human is a condition that can be overcome if we ignore those who offer extra-terrestrial hopes or the false promises of reason and materialism. The superman creates his own life-affirming values. He can scrub clean the shadow of the murdered God. “Become who you are”, Nietzsche urges his readers. Abandon religion and reason. “To give birth to a dancing star you must have chaos within.”

What on earth are we to make of . . . any of this? Anything we like!, was the giddy response of 20th century artists and intellectuals. Everyone borrowed from Nietzsche. Second-wave feminists took the idea of value creation in a direction he would never have imagined, would have barked at in fury; gender, they said, is a created value. Michel Foucault – arguably Nietzsche’s greatest disciple – went further. Sanity is a created value. So is sexuality. So is the very idea of ‘the human’. Everything we believe, everything we take for granted as ‘natural’ is a social construct – but they’re not religious constructs, Foucault declared: they’re manufactured by the institutions of the modern nation state. It was an idea that complimented the paranoid style in radical left-wing politics. After Foucault, schools, hospitals, universities and the media all became ‘vectors of power’, which manufactured values at the service of dominant ideologies – capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy – while concealing themselves behind a neutral sign.

To religious conservatives Nietzsche’s warnings about the post-religious descent into nihilism are all the argument you need to return to traditional religion and the moral guidance of the church. Bolshevik intellectuals were delighted with the notion of the superman, which transformed into the ‘New Soviet Man’ who rose above bourgeois values. If you had to kill a lot of humans to give birth to the post-capitalist superhuman – well, those are the breaks. Ayn Rand’s novels are pure Nietzsche: The Fountainhead argues that creative artists exist outside any moral framework; in Atlas Shrugged the supermen have transformed into heroes of capitalism. Through Rand the notion that business leaders transcended conventional morality helped poison the corporate culture of the west, apotheosising itself in the Silicon Valley motto “Move fast and break things.” How else would a superman with no responsibilities to the mediocre cattle of humanity do business?

*

One you start looking for Nietzsche he’s everywhere. But his most notorious ideological association is with the Nazis: a connection that began with his family.

Nietzsche was a great hater of women, the great enemy of compassion, but he was also utterly reliant on the compassion of the women in his life for his survival – a point generally overlooked by his male biographers but well documented by Prideaux. In the case of his sister Elisabeth this care came with strings attached, and the strings were sticky with poison.

Elisabeth used her brother’s connections with the Wagner family to manoeuvre her way into the anti-semitic circles of the German intelligentsia. From there she made contact with Bernhard Forster, a rising star of the far right. Forster, disgusted to the extent with which Jews had infected the body of Germany decided to create Neuva Germania – New Germany – in a remote region of Paraguay he arranged to lease from the government. Elisabeth married him and funded the plan with her dowry. She proved herself a master publicist, promoting the utopian society via the far-right press.

Pure blooded Aryan migrants to Neuva Germania were disappointed to discover that Elisabeth’s promised El Dorado, described in her articles as blessed with fertile soil, a gentle climate and humble and obedient natives was actually an isolated and inhospitable rainforest pulsing with clouds of mosquitoes, alligators in the rivers, snakes in the grass, more snakes coiled around the trees, jaguars roaring outside their tents at night and torrential rains regularly turning their model society into vast, trackless mudslides. All food and other goods had to be purchased through the Forster-Nietzsches, who presided over the debacle from a handsome newly-built mansion filled with servants. Once word of the appalling conditions in the colony reached Germany the funding collapsed. Forster suffered a nervous breakdown. He poisoned himself in a hotel room in San Bernardino.

Elisabeth returned to Germany. Her poor mad brother needed her! Nietzsche never had a publicist prior to his breakdown. He had one now: he just didn’t know it. Elisabeth demanded his letters back from all his correspondents and asserted legal ownership of them. She prevented publication of his autobiography Ecce Homo because she disagreed with most of the content, instead assembling a jumble of his unpublished notes into a book called The Will to Power, carefully edited and marketed to present him as a prophet of Elisabeth’s brand of militaristic nationalistic anti-semitism. She published highly dubious Nietzsche biographies and established the Nietzsche Archive, where she exhibited the ageing philosopher – now completely non-verbal, dressed up in a white linen shift, like an ancient prophet – to dinner guests.

Elisabeth outlived her brother by 35 years. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times. During World War I she convinced the government to issue Thus Spake Zarathustra to German troops, along with Faust and the New Testament. She befriended Hitler, gifting him Nietzsche’s favourite walking stick, and staffed the archive with Nazis. The notions of a racial superman whose actions are “beyond good and evil” and driven by a will to power became core doctrines of the Third Reich.

Prideaux ends her book on the balcony of the Nietzsche Archive. “I know my fate,” Nietzsche wrote. “One day there will be associated with my name the record of something frightful – of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified. I am not a man, I am dynamite.” The vista from the balcony where he once sat in his white shift, looking out over Munich: the streets and trees and fields and villas ends with the smoke-blackened crematoria chimney of the Buchenwald concentration camp.


I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux (Faber, $60) is available at Unity Books.

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Verses Composed Upon Reading A Review From TripAdvisor

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Source is this page

The Tourist Board of Xanadu
Did recently impose a fee
On those who travel far from home
To visit Kubla’s pleasure dome
Of $20, 9 – 3

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With fence and wire are girdled round
And signs proclaiming “ENTRY AT THE GATE”
Where gather many a camera-bearing crowd
And here are docents, who in solemn state
Explain the Mongol histories aloud

But oh! That deep romantic chasm protracting
Into a hill, athwart a cedarn cover
A savage region, visitors attracting
By actresses, forever reenacting
A woman wailing to her demon-lover

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil spilling
Crowds of old men in fat thick pants are milling
And there, a fountain momently is forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Groups of eight to ten people, screaming ever
White-water-raft upon the sacred river

Five miles continuing to a crashing climax
Through wood and dale the sacred waters run;
I didn’t think this part was too much fun,
So skip the crowds, and head down to the IMAX,
Where in surround-sound, you can hear from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Stands reflected in the mere;
Take some photos there to treasure
As a special souvenir
It is a miracle of rare device:
A tourist trap, but also pretty nice.

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes! His floating hair!
Hide the sight from eyes profane,
And weave a circle round him thrice
For he hath tasted Paradise,
5/5, would taste again.

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TFW when your outfit perfectly matches land, sea, and sky

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August Ostberg

I know many photographers have taken similar photos, but August Östberg’s Lover in Disguise is a particularly good instance of fashion camouflage.

See also people who dress like their surroundings and Dressed to Match.

Tags: August Ostberg   photography
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A History Of The Silmarils In The Fifth Age

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[Spoiler warning for The Silmarillion]

I.

The Silmarillion describes the fate of the three Silmarils. Earendil kept one, and traveled with it through the sky, where it became the planet Venus. Maedhros stole another, but regretted his deed and jumped into a fiery chasm. And Maglor took the last one, but threw it into the sea in despair.

Well, Venus is still around. But what happened to the latter two? Surely over all the intervening millennia, with so many people wanting a Silmaril, they haven’t just hung around in the earth and ocean?

After some research, I’ve developed a couple of promising leads for the location of the Silmarils in the Fifth Age.

II.

I previously sketched out the argument that Maglor’s Silmaril probably belongs to a Los Angeles crime lord.

The movie Pulp Fiction centers around a mysterious briefcase. We’re never told exactly what’s inside, but we get some clues:

1. It’s described as “so beautiful” and captivates anyone who looks at it
2. It shines with an inner light
3. When Jules and Vincent are trying to get it, all the shots aimed at them miss, implying they’re miraculously immune to bullets, implying that they’re on some kind of divine quest.
4. Marsellus Wallace really wants to get it, and keeps killing anyone else who has it

So far this is only suggestive, but there’s more. While searching for the briefcase, Jules (!) keeps quoting a verse:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.

They describe this as Ezekiel 25:17, but it isn’t. In fact, it isn’t anywhere in the Bible, and it doesn’t match any Biblical story. This isn’t from the Old Testament at all. It’s a description of the life of Maglor in the Silmarillion!

During the First Age, Maglor ruled “Maglor’s Gap”, a valley which connected the lands of the Elves and the lands of Morgoth. Maglor held Maglor’s Gap for 450 years until Morgoth finally conquered the valley; Maglor led the retreat of his people, thus “shepherding the weak through the valley of darkness”.

He fled to the fortress of his brother, Maedhros, in Himling, where he helped defend Maedhros’ lands and people in battle – making him “his brother’s keeper”.

In the ensuing battles, he captured the young Elrond and Elros, who had been orphaned after their parents fled across the sea, and adopted them – making him “the finder of lost children”.

As for “striking down with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers”, that’s about as Noldor as it gets.

What is going on here, and why do we keep finding these connections to Maglor?

Maglor is unique as possibly the only Noldo still remaining in the world. According to Wikipedia:

Maglor, along with Galadriel and Gil-galad, was the greatest surviving Noldo at the beginning of the Second Age. There is speculation that he remained even after the Third Age in Middle-earth, forbidden forever from returning to Valinor.

If he were still alive in our times, he would remain bound by his oath and be hunting the Silmaril. So: could Marsellus Wallace, the mysterious gang boss who wants the briefcase so badly, be Maglor himself? Given that the name “Maglor” is a Sindarinization of his birth name “Makalaure”, “Marsellus” doesn’t even sound like much of a pseudonym.

The main argument against this point is that Tolkien’s elves are usually depicted as fair-skinned and lithe, but Marsellus Wallace is shown in the movie as a big black guy. Does this disprove the theory?

It would, unless Marsellus were under some kind of magical glamor to hide his true appearance. And there’s actually some evidence for this.

There’s one character in Pulp Fiction who is clearly able to cast illusion-related magic: Mia Wallace. In the parking lot of the restaurant, she tells Vinnie “Don’t be a…”. Then she traces a square in the air with her finger, and the square appears in glittering light. Marsellus Wallace is married to someone who can cast visual illusions.

But why should we believe Marsellus’ appearance is itself such an illusion? Well, in the scene with Jules and Brett, Jules puts a gun to Brett’s head and asks him what Marsellus looks like. Brett says he looks like a tall bald black guy, which seems to satisfy Jules.

The hit men try to play this off as some kind of intimidation thing, but they’re just going to shoot Brett anyway – there’s no need to intimidate him. It would only make sense if they’re actually checking how Marsellus appears to Brett – ie whether a certain illusion he’s projecting is working. When they follow up with “Does he look like a bitch?“, this is their foul-mouthed way of asking whether he looks androgynous. When Brett confirms that he looks masculine, this seems to satisfy the hit men, who then go ahead and shoot him. Unclear why they’re expecting the illusion to fail in Brett’s case, but it seems like if it has they’ll need to interrogate him further and maybe track down anybody else who might have learned too much.

How is Mia Wallace able to cast these illusions?

I would guess that “Mia” is actually Maia, ie one of the Maiar who is sent from Valinor to guide Elves and Men with their good counsel and magic powers. There’s a previous example of a female Maia marrying an elflord to guide him: Melian and Thingol. Mia is following in this tradition, and just as Melian granted Thingol’s kingdom invulnerability to attack, so Mia grants Maglor/Marsellus the ability to look like a big muscular black guy.

We actually have further proof of this in the movie. Mia overdoses on heroin and goes unconscious. It looks like she goes a really long time without breathing. You get anoxic brain injury in like four or five minutes; Mia was out way longer than that. But once they give her adrenaline, she instantly and completely recuperates in a medically implausible way. Suffice it to say that she’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she doesn’t have a human circulatory system, and given us at least strong evidence that she is literally immortal.

I would guess that Maglor survived, found his Silmaril, lost his Silmaril again, and that Pulp Fiction is an account of him getting it back. “Quentin Tarantino” is probably a made-up pen name for a group of elvish historians – the name “Quentin” obviously deriving from “Quendi”, the elvish word for elves. “Tarantino” is more obscure, but it may be a reference to Tar-Atanamir, the Numenorean king who refused to die when his time came – which must bear a lot of relevant metaphorical associations for any elves remaining on Earth.

If all of this is true, Maglor’s Silmaril probably remains with Maglor in his Los Angeles mansion.

III.

The fate of Maedhros’ Silmaril is less clear, but one promising possibility is linked with the fate of Utumno.

Utumno was the fortress of the dark god Melkor during the First Age. It was built in the far north of Middle-Earth, “upon the borders of the regions of everlasting cold”. Tolkien Gateway writes that “the frigid temperatures of the northern regions were thought to originate from the evil of [Melkor’s] realm”.

What was Utumno like? Like most of Tolkien’s villains, Melkor was at least partly a technologist; his realm was one of forges and smithies ceaselessly building weapons for his war against the gods. This page describes it as “a fortress for war, with many armories, forges, dungeons and breeding pits.” Some of the descriptions sound like it was emitting pollution, destroying the land around it: “The lands of the far north were all made desolate in those days; for there Utumno was delved exceeding deep, and its pits were filled with fires and with great hosts of the servants of Melkor.”

Who manned these factories? Enslaved elves. As per the book, “All those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved”.

Eventually the gods decided enough was enough and marched against Utumno with a mighty host led by Tulkas, God of War. He wrestled with Melkor, defeated him, and bound him with a mighty chain.

What happened to Utumno after this? The Silmarillion is vague, but in retrospect it’s super obvious. What happened to the magical factory at the North Pole run by elves? Everyone knows the answer to that one!

Presumably Tulkas and the other gods, after defeating Melkor, decided it was poetically appropriate to turn Utumno from a place of darkness to a wonderland of holiday cheer. The elves agreed to stay on to help, and they repurposed Melkor’s forges to create toys for children around the world.

“Santa Claus” supposedly derives from St. Nicholas, on the grounds that “Santa” means “saint” and “Claus” is short for “Nicholas”. But “Santa” means a female saint; a male saint is “San”. Santa is male, so a more reasonable derivation would be “San Tulkas”. Once a year, Tulkas goes forth and distributes the toys created by the elves of Utumno.

(remember, the Silmarillion describes Tulkas as a huge bearded man who “laughs ever, in sport or in war, and even in the face of Melkor he laughed in battles before the Elves were born”. And remember, of his wife Nessa, it says “Deer she loves, and they follow her train whenever she goes in the wild”. Having deer follow your family around everywhere seems sounds pretty annoying, but at least it gives you a ready-made supply of draft animals.)

Since we never see Santa’s workshop, it must be hidden from the world in the same manner as the Undying Lands. How does Tulkas cross back into the mortal world to deliver gifts?

The only successful example of such a journey we have from Tolkien is that of Earendil, who travels from Middle-Earth to the Undying Lands using a Silmaril worn on his brow. Later, even after the two worlds are separated entirely, he is able use the same Silmaril to voyage through the sky in his flying boat. “The wise have said that it was by reason of the power of that holy jewel that they came in time to waters that no vessels save those of the Teleri had known”. So presumably any living being with a Silmaril upon their head can fly through the gulfs between the worlds safely.

Tulkas is a god and should have no trouble finding the only unclaimed Silmaril, the one Maedhros dropped into a chasm in the earth. His main issue would be preventing the surviving Noldor from learning what he has and invoking their vendetta. He would have to disguise it as something else, something so ridiculous that the stick-up-their-ass Noldor would never think to identify it with their holy jewels.

So…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows…

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Repton
1036 days ago
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francisga
1035 days ago
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Tolken, Pulp Fiction, and Santa crossover
Lafayette, LA, USA
denismm
1036 days ago
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You may have seen the first half of this before. The second half is as excellent.

Area man uses telephone to fight back against sleazy debt collectors

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When Andrew Therrien told off a sleazy debt collector for calling about a debt he didn’t owe, the collector called back to threaten violence to Therrien and his wife. Therrien got mad and reached for the most potent weapon in his arsenal: the telephone. Over the course of the next two years, he charmed and bullied his way into the debt collection world in order to learn how it worked and how to take it down.

When the scammers started to hound Therrien, he hounded them right back. Obsessed with payback, he spent hundreds of hours investigating the dirty side of debt. By day he was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken — using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate. Therrien didn’t punch anyone in the head, of course. He was simply unstoppable over the phone.

Great story…read the whole thing. This is perhaps not your takeaway from it, but reading this, I wonder how much different my life would be if I knew how to talk on the telephone 1/10th as effectively as someone like Therrien.

Tags: Andrew Therrien   telephony
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Repton
1052 days ago
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