Saturday, February 25, 2017

Anthony Trollope ~ "The Press"

Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) was born in London, England, the son of Thomas Anthony Trollope, a barrister, and Frances Milton Trollope, a writer.  In 1841, Trollope took a position as a clerk for the Post Office.  Seven years later, he moved to Ireland where he married and began to write, publishing his first novel in 1847. The Warden, published in 1855, was the first of his novels to achieve success. The “Barsetshire” novels and the “Palliser” novels are considered his masterpieces. 

The following is an excerpt from The Warden.

Who has not heard of Mount Olympus–that high abode of all the powers of type, that favored seat of the great goddess Pica, that wondrous habitation of gods and devils, from whence, with ceaseless hum of steam and never-ending flow of Castalian ink, issue forth fifty thousand nightly edicts for the governance of a subject nation?

Velvet and gilding do not make a throne, nor gold and jewels a sceptre.  It is a throne because the most exalted one sits there–and a sceptre because the most mighty one wields it.  So it is with Mount Olympus.  Should a stranger make his way thither at dull noonday, or during the sleepy hours of the silent afternoon, he would find no acknowledged temple of power and beauty, no fitting fane for the great Thunderer, no proud faรงades and pillared roofs to support the dignity of this greatest of earthly potentates.  To the outward and uninitiated eye, Mount Olympus is a somewhat humble spot–undistinguished, unadorned–nay, almost mean.  It stands alone, as it were, in a mighty city, close to the densest throng of men, but partaking neither of the noise nor the crowd; a small secluded, dreary spot, tenanted, one would say, by quite unambitious people at the easiest rents.

“Is this Mount Olympus?” asks the unbelieving stranger.  “Is it from these small, dark, dingy buildings that those infallible laws proceed which cabinets are called upon to obey; by which bishops are to be guided, lords and commons controlled, judges instructed in law, generals in strategy, admirals in naval tactics, and orange-women in the management of their barrows?”

“Yes, my friend–from these walls.  From here issue the only known infallible bulls for the guidance of British souls and bodies.  This little court is the Vatican of England.  Here reigns a pope, self-nominated, self-consecrated–ay, and much stranger too–self-believing!–a pope whom, if you cannot obey him, I would advise you to disobey as silently as possible; a pope hitherto afraid of no Luther; a pope who manages his own inquisition, who punishes unbelievers as no most skillful inquisitor of Spain ever dreamt of doing; one who can excommunicate thoroughly, fearfully, radically; put you beyond the pale of men’s charity, and turn you into a monster to be pointed at by the finger.”

Oh heavens!  And this is Mount Olympus!
Writers possess a powerful tool; may they wield it wisely and well.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I appreciate my brain cells; they go out of their way to think good thoughts for me.  For this reason, I never take them for granted and always strive to make them feel valued.  I do this by giving them various thinking tasks to perform.  Several months ago, I was curious about social compacts in stories.  I wanted to know (1) if a social compact exists and (2) what specific elements does it contain.  So far all the stories I have read do have a social compact.  As for the specific elements, I decided to use the elements of the social compact I developed for teaching.  These worked well in the classroom community, and I wondered if they worked just as well in novels.

Effective communicators convey messages in a variety of formats.  They take responsibility for the clarity, purpose, and the meaning of the messages they send.  They also seek to interpret messages they receive objectively and accurately.

Complex thinkers recognize patterns and make conjectures, applying both deductive and inductive reasoning.  They transfer prior knowledge to new contexts.  They synthesize multiple concepts and evaluate their relationship.  They can analyze an idea and examine its various components, reflecting on the process and the results.  Complex thinkers are not threatened by diverse ideas – they welcome them.

Self-directed learners are autodidacts.  They set goals, monitor their progress, and evaluate their results.  They take ownership of their learning and, to that end, manage their time, establish benchmarks, and take risks.

Collaborators give of their time, talent, energy, and resources for the good of the community.  Collaboration requires effective leadership, respectful interaction, and compliance with group norms in order to produce the best results.

Community participants are fully engaged members of their community and work for its benefit.  They know what is expected of them and their importance to the community.  They understand the impact their attitudes and actions have on the other members, either for their benefit or their detriment.

Thus far, every novel I have read or am currently reading has a social compact with one or more of these elements.  What’s more, the plot and/or the conflict revolve around the social compact.  Often there is a demonstration of it, a rebellion against it, a deviation from it, or a dysfunction within it.   Recently, I decided to see if this is true for fairy tales.  It turns out that it is.  Here are some examples:

·      Effective Communication ~ The Emperor’s New Clothes
·      Complex Thinking ~ The Princess and the Pea
·      Self-Directed Learning ~ Goldilocks and the Three Bears
·      Collaboration ~ The Bremen Town Musicians
·      Community Participation ~ The Woman and Her Pig

I am curious to know what you think.  Is there a social compact in the book that you are currently reading?   Which of the elements is central to the plot?  Can you think of a fairy tale that relates to one of the elements of the social compact?  I would like to know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gunslinger Ridge Experiment

The rider stepped away from Jane, moving out with the same slow, measured stride in which he had approached, and the fact that his action placed her wholly to one side, and him no nearer to Tull, had a penetrating significance.
“Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet.”
Tull fumed between amaze and anger.
“Meddler, we have a law here something different from woman’s whim–Mormon law!... Take care you don’t transgress it.”
“To hell with your Mormon law!”
Zane Grey ~ Riders of the Purple Sage

The rider made a swift move that left his hat on the ground and his gun-sheaths empty.

“LASSITER!” cried Jane.

Keeping his guns trained on Tull, the rider called Lassiter acknowledged Jane with a slight nod of his head.

 “If you know me at all, then you know I always give people a choice,” said Lassiter. “Here is yours: You will come with me to Gunslinger Ridge or your body stays where it is.”

Tull started to protest, but Jane stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What are you going to do to Elder Tull?”

“Ma’am, if you will accompany us, you will find out. I promise I will see you safely back to your home.”

Gunslinger Ridge rose before them like a flat-topped sentinel.  Lassiter dismounted and motioned for Jane and Tull to follow him.  He led them up a switchback to the top of the ridge.  If Tull considered bolting for freedom, he made no outward sign.  Lassiter’s reputation bound him more securely than any rope. He scanned the horizon, noting the distant peaks and hints of canyons.  The valley below was mottled with purple sage. The sight comforted him. He was still Elder Tull and ruled this land.  He turned to the rider.

“Well, Lassiter, I’m here. State your purpose.”

 “You hold to Mormon law,” Lassiter said, “and I say woman’s word is law. This day will reveal which one is stronger. Up here on Gunslinger Ridge, I control the elements: fire, water, wind, and earth.  To you and to the lady, I will give power over fire, water, and wind.  Show me what you can do with them, and I will decide which law is the more powerful.  Tull, you go first.”

Lassiter stepped back and motioned to Jane.

“Ma’am, I think it best if you stay close to me over here.”

Jane hesitated. Lassiter! Everyone in Utah territory knew of him. It was said that he left it to others to keep track of all the men he had killed; he forgot about them as soon as breath left their body. Yet a second look at his face revealed lines of sorrow, which Jane perceived was born of compassion. She drew a deep breath and inched closer to him.

“That’s right, ma’am.  Over here, you’ll be safe.”

Once Jane was by his side, Lassiter pointed at Tull.

“You got power over fire, water and wind.  Let’s see what you do with it.”

Tull stiffened. He felt his neck hairs rise.  He lifted his hand. It tingled with warmth. He was afraid that Lassiter was making a fool of him and was about to refuse. Then he remembered Lassiter’s guns. He was more afraid of them.

“Alright then,” he said. “I call forth fire.” 

Immediately a geyser of fire burst from the ground at his feet.  Startled, Tull jumped back. The fire towered over him like a pillar. Hesitantly, Tull stretched his hand toward the horizon.  His action directed the fire over the valley where its flames began consuming the sagebrush, the trees, and the grasses.  Tull cast a fierce look of joy at Lassiter and Jane.

“Water!” he said.

The sky opened and waters rained down.  It quenched the flames, sending billows of steam to the heavens.  Water filled the valley and mounted the walls of the canyons, drowning all wildlife. Tull waved his arms.

“Wind!” he shouted.

A gust of wind swept over the ridge and into the valley, driving back the waters.  It swirled on the ground and roared through the canyon walls. It caught birds in flight, scattering their feathers in a whirlwind.  Tull threw his hat into the air and caught it, laughing.
Suddenly the wind ceased. Tull looked at the valley below; it was purple with sage.  He whirled on Lassiter.

“What sort of devilry is this?” he said. “Did I or did I not have power over fire, water, and wind? Or was this some sort of low trick?”

“It’s no trick,” said Lassiter. “You showed what you would do with power just as truly as you are standing here. But now you have to see what the lady will do.”

Turning to Jane, he said, “Ma’am, you now have the same power as Tull here. What will you do?”

Jane walked to the middle of the ridge and turned in a slow circle.  She saw the valley, the distance hills, and the canyons in a panorama below her.  The valley was her home; its inhabitants were her people–family, friends, and neighbors.  She thought about what she could do to show her power; she wondered whether she wanted that kind of power.

“Lassiter,” she said, “if you give me power over fire, will you also give me a sheaf of wheat, a grinding stone, and a cake of leaven?  For if you give me fire, I will use it to bake bread.”
Lassiter shook his head.

“Sorry, ma’am, I don’t have those things at present. You’ll have to wait til you get back to your place.”

“Fool woman,” Tull muttered.

“Well, then,” said Jane, blushing, “I’ll make do with water.  Can you show me where the elderberry bushes grow on this ridge?  If you give me water, I will dig a channel to water the elderberry bushes.  When the elderberries are ripe, I will pick them and make elderberry wine.”
Again, Lassiter shook his head.

“As much as it would please me to oblige you, ma’am, I can’t guide you to an elderberry bush.  None grow up here–only in the valley.”

“Ha!” said Tull.

Jane shuddered and looked at Lassiter.
“Ma’am,” he said, “you’re doin’ just fine. You still got power over wind.”

Jane felt him supporting her, giving her strength, even though he made no move to touch her.  She felt a slight breeze on her cheek.  Wind!  She would use the wind.

“Lassiter, I have a field of sunflowers that are ripe for harvest. May I use the wind to turn my mill to press the seeds for oil?”
Lassiter held out his hands.
“Ma’am, you need the wind of the valley. I only control the wind up on this ridge.”

“That’s it!” cried Tull.  “It’s plain that Jane has no more sense of power than a child.  Lassiter, you are witness.  I alone could control the elements–my law is stronger.”
He strode over to Jane and grabbed her by the arm.

“Lassiter, help me!” cried Jane. 
There was no response except the sound of a shovel striking dirt.  Lassiter was digging a hole.

“Lassiter” shouted Tull. “I’m leaving now and taking Jane with me.  You hear?  I won! You can’t stop me!”

Lassiter stopped digging and leaned on his shovel.
“That ain’t the way it goes,” he said. “I’m the one who decides who’s stronger, and I still say, Jane’s word is law–over your Mormon law.”

“What!” said Tull. “You saw with your own eyes what I did. I burned up the valley, then I flooded it, and finally I blew the waters away.  Jane couldn’t command that kind of power.”

“She didn’t have to,” said Lassiter. “She had the power in her own hand to make the bread, the wine, and the oil just by honoring nature’s own laws.  She won.  And I’m keepin’ my word to her and seein’ her safe back home.”

“Wait!” said Tull, “That’s not fair. You said nothing about keeping to nature. There’s still one element left–earth! Give us power over earth to settle the matter.”

Lassiter shook his head.
“I’m the only one with power over the earth.”
He pointed to the hole.
“There’s your grave. The only way you’ll leave this ridge alive is to admit you were wrong. All your power is an illusion–it’s not real. You’ll remain here until you realize that.”
Lassiter saw Jane safely back home.
“Why?” Jane asked.

“Well, ma’am, it’s a grand experiment I’m doin’,” said Lassiter. “People all have a story about themselves–you, me, everybody. No harm in that; in fact, our story gets us through life. And as life goes on, most people change their story to keep it real.  But people like Tull make the mistake of writin’ the ending of their story. Then, no matter what the facts are, they make it fit their narrative, even if it means believin’ a lie. So far, you’re the only one who has ever returned from Gunslinger Ridge.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Long Way Home

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap

The sound of running feet echoed across the desert.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

After years of threatening to do so, Leonard’s legs finally ran away with him.  And he was suffering for it.  His bones ached, his lungs burned, and his blood beat a steady tattoo in his ears.  He glanced down at the road and groaned.  He had crossed another state line.

Leonard was annoyed with his legs; this was a most inconvenient time for them to leave.  He had deadlines to meet–appointments and obligations.  Although he felt the burden of his responsibilities, apparently his legs did not.  They didn’t seem to understand that if one is a writer, then one has to…well…write!  His legs were so unreasonable!

And yet, Leonard had to admit that they had a point.  He had grown increasingly distracted, like he was in another world.  Well, he was sometimes.  Actually, he always was, but lately the occasions that he emerged from his little cottage had diminished.  It made contact with the outside world even more challenging; it was like having to learn to speak all over again.  He groaned.  He had become so disconnected that he recently misunderstood a writing prompt from a blogger.  The blogger had asked for three-word titles; Leonard thought he was supposed to write a three-word title story.  He wrote a lovely story with a three-word title and posted it on the blogger’s website. He wondered why there were almost three hundred responses to the prompt.  Then he began reading them and realized they were all titles, not stories.  How humiliating! 

It was such a nice story, too, thought Leonard.  It really cracked me up.  All about that bull moose at Cabela’s.  I even included a picture I took at Cabela’s when I visited there with my brother.  What a shock that place was!  Stuffed animals everywhere!  I saw the lion my cousin killed in Africa mounted on one of the shelves.  Strange seeing that lion in Cabela’s–I first saw it at my cousin’s house, along with his other trophies.  The rhino was the worst; I hated seeing the stuffed rhino head.  I love rhinos.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

 Why?  he thought.  Why are my legs doing this? Was Chesterton right?  Must we propitiate the barbaric god of legs with fire and wine?

A few days ago, Leonard’s arms got wind of what was happening, and they wanted a piece of the action.  They demanded that the legs stop every hour so that they could do push-ups.
Oh, Lord, no, pleaded Leonard.  Not that–I just couldn’t.

So far, the legs had refused to listen to the arms’ demands.  Leonard’s arms were not pleased, and to show their displeasure, they waved themselves about as Leonard’s legs ran.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

It’s just like that play I saw–“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”–and the scene with Ophelia, running back and forth across the stage waving her arms.  I was in Ophelia’s section of the audience, chanting “Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe, maybe not.”  I guarantee that if you say that a hundred times, you will remember Ophelia running and waving her arms.  Now that I think of it, my arms were with me at that play; that’s probably what gave them the idea.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

I saw both versions of the play, one with three male leads and another with three female leads.  I wonder which version my arms preferred–or my legs, for that matter.  See, this is just the sort of thing my legs are protesting.  I never even asked!  I should have talked about the play with them.  We could have compared the two Hamlets.  I loved the female Hamlet; she reeked of sincerity and forthrightness.  Did my legs feel the same way?  Strange, but I liked the male Ophelia as much as the female one.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

It bothered Leonard that he did not prefer the male Ophelia; it upset his sense of balance.  He reviewed the two performances, looking for differences between the male Ophelia and the female Ophelia. 

“Aha!” he shouted.  “I have it!”

The female Ophelia was too easily persuaded to go to that nunnery, Leonard thought.  The male Ophelia had just the right touch of resistance.  That’s probably because the guy was channeling his personal repugnance at entering a nunnery.  I don’t blame him.  Nunneries are strange places, housing fierce women.  Our fifth grade class met in the basement of the nunnery.  We were forbidden to go upstairs.  Funny.  However curious I was to see where the nuns ate, slept, and had their being, I never entertained the tiniest idea of crossing into the forbidden territory.  It was holy ground.  I had this idea that if I ever did go upstairs to the nuns’ quarters, I would be lost forever.  There are some places that even a child knows are best left alone.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

Leonard wondered how long before the dawn.  He was tired of running and wanted to go home.  Suddenly Leonard could no longer feel the impact of his feet slapping against the pavement, although he could still hear the sound.  He looked down.  No wonder!  He was miles above the ground!  Somehow his feet were still running, but he himself was floating above the Earth.  A slender thread was all that held him bound to his feet.  He continued to soar upward, the thread growing thinner even as it grew longer.  He was a long way from home.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

How easy would it be to break this thread?  Leonard thought.  It wouldn’t take much effort; it’s stretched so thin.  Just the slightest pull, the faintest tug, and POOF! I’m gone.  My arms and legs can go on without me…but do I really want to let them go?

Leonard floated in space for a while.  Then, with a sigh, he began to reel himself in. 

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Slap.

Next town–Albuquerque

Writing Prompt from Terrible Minds: