Although "Golden Age" means something very different to mystery fans, we believe there can never be too many festivals and since this Orphan Scrivener is bigger than usual, we'll delay you no longer -- so with the traditional shout of Io Saturnalia, let the fun begin!
I did. I can't remember exactly what it felt like to live in a world where a bearded guy in a red suit delivered presents with the help of flying reindeer. I do know that it was a very different world than the one I'm living in now.
It's hard to understand how I could have believed such nonsense, but then I believed in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too, and they're even more incredible than Santa.After all, how could the Tooth Fairy get those quarters under my pillow without waking me up? That had to be magic!
Kids aren't out of touch with reality, they just take a more flexible approach to it. Robert Kavanaugh, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts, explored "magical thinking" in a test involving an assistant, children aged 4 to 6 and an empty box. The assistant showed the children the box, then talked about a fox who lived in the box. When the assistant left the room some of the children, even though they knew the box was empty, began to hear the fox inside it and expected the imaginary creature to pop out momentarily.
My friends and I sometimes made up our own reality, in similar fashion. I remember particularly the Indian who was buried in the mossy mound at the base of the birch tree we could just make out, glimmering in the twilight, at the edge of the small patch of woods behind our homes. It was safe to poke at the grave during daylight but if anyone dared approach at night the Indian's outraged ghost would come flying out, all misty and amorphous and horrible, intent on doing whatever unnamable things ghosts do to the poor, foolish kids they catch.
Or so Johnny and I told Tommy one evening. Unfortunately, by the time the three of us had crept to within a few yards of the tree which glowed spookily in the gathering dark, Johnny and I were more convinced in the reality of our made-up phantom than Tommy was. The phosphorescent fox fire from some rotted limbs near the mound brought our invention to full, horrifying reality and sent us running for our lives.
Adults shape their own realities too but usually more subtly. However, writers and readers still experience some of childhood's outright reality molding. I'm not talking just about creating a bit of fiction or simply reading the words. When I'm contributing my part of the Byzantine mystery novels Mary and I have been writing, I find, to be successful, I have to work with a divided mind. A part of me has to remain outside the story, monitoring the words critically. Will they make sense to the reader, do they actually convey what I want them to? But another part has to be immersed in the tale, has to believe that John and his friends are real, that the ancient streets they walk and the dangers they face exist. If some corner of my brain doesn't believe in the story I'm making up, in the same way as most of my brain believed in Santa Claus when I was a kid, I can't make the writing come to life. Of course, readers also have to be willing to suspend their disbelief, to act as accomplices in the game for a few hours. I guess that's part of the deal writers and readers strike with each other.
Now, if I could only believe in Santa Claus again.
Having already been asked once or twice, yes, we've begun writing the third novel, which will rejoice in the title of Three For A Letter (from the variant counting rhyme with which Mary grew up).It will be set partly on the country estate of Anatolius' Uncle Zeno. Zeno is an elderly scholar but also (as John has observed) a man of eclectic credulity. Alas, he has the misfortune to be involved in a celebration attended by the empress, during which things go very badly wrong -- and so John must undertake another investigation.
Ladies first, then. Since Lady Jennie Churchill costumed as Theodora was mentioned last time, it's only fair this time around to see that Justinian gets his due. Tayfun Oner has created a computer-generated portrait of the emperor, based upon the Ravenna mosaics. This is the younger Justinian, looking enigmatic but there's a harder edge to his gaze as well. See if you agree -- it's at: http://www.byzantium1200.org/justinian.html Justinian's portrait is part of the Byzantium l200 website, which is devoted to reconstructions of the architectural bare bones of Byzantine buildings in Istanbul in l200. While this was several centuries after John's time, there are a number of places and edifices he knew, including the Chalke, the Milion and various forums. There are also several photos of a very impressive scale model of the Great Palace at: http://www.byzantium1200.org/greatpalace.html which gives an idea of the crowded landscape through which John, Anatolius, Felix and the others moved.
Constantinople's ever present stylites (some of whom play unfortunate although important parts in Two For Joy) were not of course able to move very far, reminding me that I was recently pointed towards Tennyson's poem about St Simeon Stylites http://home.att.net/~TennysonPoetry/stsa.htm
More than somewhat gritty, it describes Simeon's doubts as to his worthiness and along the way mentions the mortifications of the flesh he practiced before ascending his pillar. It would be interesting to discover why Tennyson wrote a poem about this saintly stylite, so if anyone has a clue, do let us know..
But it's a good job the First Footer doesn't have to hang about outside until the first Orphan Scrivener of 200l shows up, since it will trundle into your email in-box on February l5th, somewhat late for New Year celebrations. However, February l5th was the date upon which another festival, Lupercalia, was anciently observed by the Romans. The Luperci (male youths dressed only in the skins of recently sacrificed goats) raced through the streets as part of ceremonial purifications carried out during February (februare, to purify or expiate). As they went about, they struck female passersby with strips of goat-skin in a traditional fertility ritual, apparently in connection with, or inspired by, the goat's lecherous reputation.
While this issue of Orphan Scrivener will mercifully arrive sans goats, unfortunately it cannot cross your cyber thresholds clutching coal, coin or cake. Nonetheless, it does carry with it our hopes for a good new year for you all. May it be healthy and happy -- and we'll see you again in February.
Mary and Eric
whose home page lurks about at: http://home.epix.net/~maywrite/
Therein you'll find the usual suspects plus personal essays, an interactive game and an on-line jigsaw puzzle (at least for those who have java-enabled browsers) featuring One For Sorrow's boldly scarlet cover. For those who are new to the subscription list there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!