THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # ONE HUNDRED AND TWO -- 15 DECEMBER 2016

This all-holiday edition of our newsletter is composed as fog-like snow squalls howl about the towers of Casa Maywrite. Wordsworth declared winter loved a dirge-like sound, which could well be the reaction of our subscribers when this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener appears on their virtual door-step, shakes snowflakes off its shoulders, stamps its feet on the doormat, and comes barging in....


ERIC'S BIT or MERRY MITHRAS

It's a rather well known little known fact that Jesus shares his birthday with the Roman God Mithra (or Mithras) and the later Roman emperors appropriated the celebration of the unconquered sun for Christmas to match their religious leanings.

The detective Mary and I write about, John, Lord Chamberlain to the sixth century emperor Justinian I, is a secret Mithran. He needs to keep his religious beliefs hidden because the Eastern Roman Empire was officially Christian. Justinian wasn't tolerant of Christians who didn't agree with orthodox views on such matters as the nature of Christ, let alone pagans.

A historian might quibble over whether a Lord Chamberlain -- we use the term Victorian translators employed to describe the position -- could have been a secret Mithran, but we're writing fiction and it's useful to have a protagonist who's somewhat of an outsider. Besides, our own high officials today get up to all sorts of antics in secret, to judge from the few we find out about.

There's also been doubt expressed as to whether the Mithraic religion survived until the sixth century, there being no record of it by then. To which we reply that it was a mystery cult which purposely left no record even during its heyday a few hundred years earlier.

Mostly it's the physical artifacts that survive -- the cave-like underground mithraeums where followers worshipped and the statuary and bas relief depictions of the god. There were no writings, no recorded liturgy. What little information we have is gleaned from church fathers who mentioned Mithraism in order to criticize it.

Mithras is usually shown slaying a bull and so bull sacrifices have been postulated to be part of Mithraic ritual, although few surviving mithraeums would have been large enough to accomodate such a ceremony. The mithraeum beneath the grounds of the Great Palace in Constantinople had room, however, as rather graphically depicted in One For Sorrow.

We were chided about that scene once, told that the Mithrans had got a bad rap. They weren't so horrid as to kill bulls. That was just a myth. They probably sacrifice nothing larger than a chicken. As if chickens don't bleed!

Sacrifices aside, Mithraic virtues such as loyalty, bravery, and self sacrifice could pass for Christian. One of our conceits is that John, as a practicing Mithran who takes his religion seriously, acts in a more Christian manner than many of the Christians he encounters --people who call themselves Christians simply because it is the state religion.

John's elderly and devout servant Peter worries about his employer's soul, but insists, if pressed, that John merely chooses to call the Lord by a different name. Peter believes, as Mary and I do, that a person defines themselves by the way they live rather than what they say or how loudly they say it.

Merry Mithras!


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

Due to technical difficulties, the previous Orphan Scrivener may not have reached some of our subscribers. However, it's now online and may be consulted on our website at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/tos101.htm Meantime, here's the latest goings-on at Casa Maywrite....

RUINED STONES or GRACE BAXTER'S NEXT ADVENTURE

Since the last newsletter Ruined Stones, the sequel to The Guardian Stones, was trundled off to Poisoned Pen Press and is currently poised at the top of the slipway for publication in July next year.

It is December 1941 and Grace Baxter, now a member of the Women's Auxilliary Police Corps, is living in Newcastle-on-Tyne in north-eastern England. Living in the grimy industrial city is about as great a contrast to life in her home village as it is in its distance from it, and she has hardly set foot in Newcastle when she's involved in solving a death in the blackout...and that's just the beginning.

YET MORE GOLDEN AGE REVIEWS or FROM THE ALBERT GATE TO AN ANGEL OF TERROR

Since the October issue of Orphan Scrivener more reviews of Golden Age mysteries have been uploaded to our blog. This latest batch includes Edgar Wallace's The Angel of Terror, From Whose Bourne by Robert Barr, R. Austin Freeman's The Stoneware Monkey, and The Albert Gate Mystery by Louis Tracy. Last Sunday's review dealt with Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries. Edited by Martin Edwards, the collection offers a helping of the murder and mayhem so popular during the holiday season.

http://ericreedmysteries.blogspot.com/2016/12/review-crimson-snow-winter-mysteries.html

AN ANSWER TO A QUESTION or HOW WE BECAME CURIOSITIES

The recently redesigned Poisoned Pen Press website features in-depth articles on writing and related topics as well as mysteries in general. There's also a section dubbed Curiosities, so it was inevitable a reprint of our poetic explanation of how we write together would appear there on October 28th. We've been asked about our method on more than one occasion and yes, this short piece really does describe the way we co-author fiction. With renewed apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, then, here it is:

https://poisonedpenpress.com/how-we-write-mysteries/


MARY'S BIT or AND A PENGUIN IN A FIR TREE

This is the time of year when those who celebrate Christmas will be setting up and decorating their festive tree.

Many of our ornaments are, well, not your usual manufactured baubles, although we do have some plain glass globes now elderly enough to be losing their colour. But as in many families there are particular favourites and these are a few of mine.

Two of these ornaments travelled with me to America. Made of plastic resin of some sort, they arrived in the family well before I did. One's a flat silhouette of a blue antlered deer and the other a three-dimensional decoration created by slotting two red star-shaped pieces at right angles to each other. It always reminds me of the star on the iconic label of Newcastle's famous brown ale. There's another and much larger star -- or more precisely an attempt at one which came out more resembling an amoeba -- crayoned on a piece of paper by a young relative thirty years or so ago.

Then there's a small v-shaped basket made from two pieces of paper. Decorated with depictions of sprigs of berried holly, this basket was made by folding the pieces, cutting parallel lines into them, and interweaving the results. This somewhat arcane skill was one I learned as a youngster, along with making little handbags or tanks from dad's empty cigarette packets. Happy days!

I must not overlook a couple of shells picked up from the Florida beach opposite the building where I lived my first year in this country. They hang up on thread passed through holes made by the sea, but the hook for a penguin ornament is a bent paper clip. Creating it was one of my more ambitious craft projects. Imagine a red and white striped ball with lengths of silver cord attached to it supporting a small gondola represented by a basket originally holding dishwasher detergent. The 'guin in the gondola is about an inch high and stands daringly loose in his aerial transport, so he has been known to occasionally fall out.

Then there's a couple of green felt ornaments stuffed with cotton wool and decorated with sequins. They date from the same period as the ballooning penguin, as do several painted balsa wood ornaments. Yes, I was a fiend with a glue gun in those days! Notable examples of the woode oornaments include flat children riding three dimensional sleds and a Santa whose hands emerge at right angles from his sleeves as if in surprise or horror at realising he was about to be run over by the aforementioned sleigh. After all, when we get down to it do we really know what happens on Christmas trees when everyone is abed and darkness shrouds the house? Our cats always got the blame if ornaments tumbled off the tree overnight but what if they were not the culprits?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once talked about night hovering all day in fir tree boughs, and this was certainly the case in the Reed household. We did not have tree lights as long as we lived at home. Instead when the big marmalade tin holding decorations came out of the sideboard small candle holders were clipped onto the tree's branches. Made of tin, they had scalloped edges and they held tiny twisted candles little bigger than the sort decorating birthday cakes, but much to our childish disappointment were never lit for safety reasons.

There's also a small fairy doll who may not have been among Shakespeare's moonshine revellers but is certainly one of his orphan heirs of fixed destiny, given she's topped Reed trees in one house or another for decades. Despite losing one tiny red shoe at some point over the years and being forced to wear a greying tattered net skirt decorated with gold paint being as it's glued to her, as is her small wand topped with a battered gold star losing its glitter, a few glorious days are still hers each year.


AND FINALLY

Speaking of shoes, a week or two hence will see Time put its best foot forward and shoo the new year in. May it be a good one for all our subscribers! Meantime, the next Orphan Scrivener will arrive in subscribers' in-boxes on February 15th next year.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Our joint blog is at http://ericreedmysteries.blogspot.com/ Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!