Tuesday, 27 October 2020


Another 'Goosified' monster for 'Goose-Gold & Goblins'.

Dragons are rare and distant creatures of golden beauty and shining charisma, they rarely interact with ordinary folk, at least to my knowledge. They move amidst kings and great mages, chill with princesses and mighty heroes.

They look magnificent and noble flying in the air. In daylight their metallic bodies shine in gold, silver or gleaming red copper, or dazzling gemlike scales glisten like fields of rubies or sapphires catching the light, whether it be noon, dawn or dusk and blaze like rainbows or falling stars. 

Even at night dragons will catch the light of stars and moon, seeming a second sky within the sky, gout out blasts of flame, or breath plumes of moonlit fog as they pass overhead. Hurl themselves into the sky to pause shadowed and heraldic against the circle of the moon, roaring like a great flute.

Whenever a dragon flies overhead, all the animals hide, the birds fall silent and all the people come out to look; "Oh!" they say, "a Dragon! How magnificent! How fortunate we are!"

Everyone who missed seeing the Dragon feels bad about it the next day.


Close up, Dragons are not that huge, they often seem bigger due to their magnificence and because you can't really tell how big things are when they are distant in the air.

Up close they are about the mass of a really big shire horse, but that lengthened out and seeming large due to the wings and snapping tail. That’s pretty big really, especially compared to a human being, but not like.. super big, or inconceivably big. Just large.

Still a dragon could probably fight most living things and have a pretty good chance of winning. They are incredibly hard to hurt , to stab one you need to find a special spot in their armoured skin and these always have some insanely specific, yet also somewhat vague, rule or prophecy about when and how it will happen; "When the Gackling Moon shines upon Cold Moon Keep, the Dragon Voluthax shall fall".
They are pretty fast and can bite most bones. Most of them can breathe something weird, a lot of them know magic, or they just *are* magic, and most of them are pretty rich and so can afford the best lawyers, which they actually need a fair amount as they are also very, very, very high strung and are continually getting into dramas and scandals.


There are innumerable types of dragon; most of the primary colours, most gems, most metals, most unified environments, many natural phenomena. If you can think of it then there may well be that kind of dragon, and most of them have special powers or something, or at least a cool look.

You probably won't meet any of these dragons, and you definitely won't meet more than one of any type, in fact you probably won't ever hear about more than one of any single type, which seems odd. Still, they will introduce themselves *as* a type; "Yes, I am a Night Dragon, and this is what that means to me."


More powerful and beautiful than anything else, able to go wherever they like whenever they like, everyone is obsessed with Dragons, everyone wants to be around them or to be close to them. They are never really alone.

Dragons are shallow, narcissistic, deluded and, outside of the magic they were born knowing, not that smart. They border on being low-key insane and genuinely have no idea how normal people live or what they really do all day. Why would they? Whenever they encounter smaller beings, the meetings are invariably all about them.

They can go wherever they want whenever they want, but generally they only ever go to a small network of places, largely places other dragons go, (you can't go there), and have dramas and beefs with other dragons.

They really need unending attention, but all other dragons are as narcissistic as they are and, apart from being dragons they really don't have much to talk about. They are used to being admired not actually having interesting conversations. They don't really know anything in detail that isn't mainly about them, so once they have complemented each other on how amazing they are, neither of .them have much to say, so they tend to end up resenting each other, even hating each other.

Secretly they are all incredibly bored. They have nothing meaningful to do except wallow in luxury, fly about and spend time with other dragons, who they often do not like. They can get obsessed with what the other dragon does or does not have, like a unique fossilised dog or a hot new syrup contract. 

If another dragon like them is doing well, they are not happy. They will often try to scheme ways of knocking them down a peg or two, like hiring someone to steal that fossilised dog, or making them look a fool so they lose that hot syrup contract.

If dragons as a whole could be persuaded to work for the general good in some way then many of the worlds problems could likely be solved, but they can barely work with each other for more than a short while, and then only if it gets them incredible attention and wealth, and then they will flip out and storm off, (sometimes in a literal storm if they are a storm dragon), because some other dragon is getting more attention than them, or more praise, or a bigger cut.


There are a number of ways to encounter a Dragon. 

Classically, you might meet one out in the wilderness. 

Some Dragons are 'Evil' and some Dragons are 'Good'. 

The 'Evil' Dragons live out in the wilds, take things without asking, are served by Goblins, Men-Of-Bones and other creatures. They sit on a big pile of treasure and talk a lot about how dark and mysterious they are.

The 'Good' Dragons live a bit closer to town, usually send someone to pay when they eat a cow, (though they still do not ask beforehand), are surrounded by Knights, Ladies, lawyers, portrait artists, hangers-on and accountants. They sit on a big pile of (legally acquired) gold and talk about how bright and positive they are.

They live a very long time and so ultimately they probably own most things. Your landlords landlords banker might be a dragon, or more likely work for one, since Dragons don't really know much about anything.

So a Dragon might have something you need or want, or a power you want them to use, in which case you will have to get through the security and legal team around them to make contact.

Or they might take an interest in you, maybe they actually got your fan mail or something. Usually if they come to visit you they are accompanied by a personal bard, a reporter, a lawyer, some bodyguards (it’s for the publics own protection), a portrait artist, scale polisher and hype man (at a minimum). All of these people need to be accommodated and fed.

Also every local with some time on their hands will also turn up to meet the dragon, (obviously, I mean they get to meet a Dragon), also some long-term obsessive fans of the dragon will turn up specially, (they follow the dragon around), and possibly a mad stalker of the dragon also.

A Dragon might just decide to move in next door, or into a nearby cave or something, (they are trying to get away from all the DRAMA), but again, their lawyers and hype men, or goblins and men-of-bones, will need accommodating.


If people know you know a dragon, they ALL want to ask you about them. 

Some people will resent that you know a dragon - "You don't even really know them that well". Some will want you to help them get close to the dragon, and be angry if you won't assist them. Some will try to drag you into conflict with the Dragons enemies. If you say anything negative about the Dragon, or anything which could be taken as intimate, the next day those words appear taken out of context and publicised everywhere.

The Dragon contacts you, you don't contact them.

The Dragon flies over to vent to you about their troubles and THE DRAMA. You never seem to get round to your problems.

The Dragon might actually help you, especially if it makes them look good. If it does make them look good, your part in the events will be left out of things and the Dragon will definitely bring this up the next time they want something from you and you don't have time for them.

If the Dragon helps you and you stop being friends with the Dragon, either you have to pretend to keep being friends, or a tell-all interview with the Dragon comes out that makes you look like a leech. (Everyone believes this interview.)

You do get opportunities from knowing the Dragon. If you are seen together, your social status goes up a notch, people are more likely to listen to you, you are regarded as more important and given more respect. The moment the Dragon loses interest in you, all of this evaporates and people refer to you as so-and-so who used to help you the Dragon X.

The Dragon always loses interest after a while. Then, a long time later, they might turn up and act as if you are still friends, as if nothing has changed. 

You are expected to put up with this. Better not to cause a scene.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Gelly Cube

(Another in my attempt to 'Goosify' the Top Ten Emblematic D&D Monsters)

More correctly, the 'Gelid Kjub', 'Silent Square', or 'Sorrowful Solid Square'.

Silent, hunting through the gloom, slipping through the moonlit trees, oozing in through front windows pickle-people bobbing and knocking on the door-frame as it seeps. A hunter of sorrow, the Cubes comes when you are sad.  Creatures of unstoppable nothing, remorseless, the Gelly Cube can not, will not, stop, until you are cubed, or until you cheer up.

Gelly Cubes vary in size according to their age, the youngest might barely fill a doghouse but the largest have been said to fill mansions. An average cube is about ten feet high and wide. 

The Cubes themselves are nearly-clear cubes of gel, or dim pickle, that move through tiny shuddering peristaltic action (like a snakes belly).  Its edges glisten slightly in moonlight, making it seem like the ghost of a gigantic box. Circling at the centre of the older cubes are small amounts of gold and gemstones, floating like a speckle of distant stars. Around them are the Pickle-People; those whom the cube has absorbed. All are pickled and silent, bumpy, as if they had been in the bath too long, and grown old there. Many are small. Some are the size of a shoebox, others as small as a nut, some are dots, like these ............

The Cubes can easily live in the sea and they use deep dark rivers as roads.


The cube has a kind of skin, about a foot to two-foot thick; its outer lipid layer. This is the surface it manipulates to move around. It can extend tentacles of this stuff a little way and make the layer sticky, like strong glue. It absorb whatever it touches with an unbreakable hold. For this reason, do not touch the cube.

Within this layer is the pickle-core, a more watery substance, like pickle-water, but more dense. Things and people float around in here, bobbing as if at sea, turning slowly as if they were trapped in a jar.

Like a Cat, the Cube can squeeze itself through any gap which will take its larges solid part, (usually its most recently absorbed Pickle-Person), and like a cat it has a good sense of exactly how big this is.

Yet this process can be excruciatingly slow. The Cube is never fast and it can take all night to ooze into a room. It will also never entirely divide itself into parts, always remaining whole.

The Cubes are dumb and shy, like an idiot dog, and no-one knows how they see but like bad cats they always know when they are being watched.

How is it thinking? There is nothing in there.. 


All the Cube wants, really, is to help those who are suffering, so that they no longer have to feel. So it finds them, oozes into their house and hugs them with its glue-touch, sucking them down to become one of its Pickle-People.

Is the Cube feeding off the sorrows of its Raisin-Men? It might be.


Nobody knows but I think Moon Mages have something to do with it. I have heard that the Cubes are simply the tears of the Moon, mixed with sad spirits and strong glue, then jellified in massive trays.


The Cube dissolves everything but gemstones, gold, underwear, hair and living flesh.

The gems and gold orbit at the centre of the Cube and are splurged out in dangerous situations, like the ink of a squid.

The hair remains attached to the people and the people are all pickled.

Being in the Cube is like being under still water, like at the bottom of a swimming pool, looking up. Everything is quiet and far away. Nothing is sharp, or cold, or warm. The world outside, like a world through glass, moves on, but you seem quite still.

In the cube they don't eat or poop, or fully breathe. They don't sleep or dream, or ever fully wake up. It’s like being half-awake on a sleepy Sunday morning. Neither up nor down. They hardly want to leave the cube. It only took them because they were terribly sad, and in here they feel nothing, neither pleasure nor pain. No fears, and no desires. Just slowly growing smaller, getting pickled.

The Pickle-People slowly become small, like black shrivelled Raisins until eventually they die, but this only happens at the end of a natural life. It can take a long time to get that pickled.

Some Pickle-People want others to join them in the Cube, to join them in Nothing. They wave slowly with thir pickle limbs, like underwater people asking you to jump in.

If you can get them out then you can rehydrate them. After an hour or so in a salty bath they will plump right back to normal size, absorbing all the bathwater, still with raisin fingers though, which they keep as a mark. Coming out dazed into the clear world.

Maybe they didn't want to come out?

What do you do with someone who didn't want to come out? Or with someone who is still so sad that they end up summoning more Cubes?


As shy and slow as they are, over time the Cubes can become cunning. At first they learn disguises. 

As it draws near to its sad prey a Cube can learn to hide itself in order to approach unseen. It picks up bits and pieces it moves over in its gluey outer skin and then piles it up around itself in a secret covering so that when day comes, no Cube is seen, but only its shell. If you find a the cube-shell empty, you know that one is near.

I admit, it is not a great disguise since all of its shells end up looking like a big pile of sticks and stones with a suspicious cubic shape. So, after they have learnt how to make shells, the Cubes become even more cunning, developing into Caddis Cubes, or even dangerous Hermit House Cubes.


This cube has managed to pick up enough of the right kind of stuff, and learnt enough about what houses look like that it can form something like a mad shack. It looks like a house made by a big bird, brick, stone, wood and tiles all jammed up like the twigs of a nest. Be careful if you see these isolated homes.


The most dangerous, subtle and advanced form of Sorrow-Seeking Solid Square. A cube might  "find" a house that fits it neatly, like a suit, (often after slurping up the inhabitants). Then it just grows until it fills the home and carries it around - moving slow.

These houses appear strangely and in strange places. A house with no road poking half out of a cave, under the surface of a pond, on a beach or up  a big tree.

Some of these cubes even send tendrils of themselves up the chimney to make fake smoke.

Are you being hunted by a House? 

A new house on the edge of town, one that no-one goes to? Do you turn around and see a city-house on the crest of a hill, then turn back to see it gone? Do barns get closer when you turn away? Or even a whole high street of small shops rising up out of the sea at midnight, the surf crashing around them, and slowly oozing up the beach to hunt? A wolfpack of homes!


The Cubes are very shy so noticing them and being very loud about it can drive them off for a while.

Point and shout; "Cube, I see you!", "Hey! What do you think of this CUBE over here?", "Come and look at the Cube!"

An aggressive poster campaign can ward them; huge posters on the edge of town; "CUBES! GOOD OR BAD?" and "HAVE YOU SEEN A CUBE? ARE YOU SURE?!?!?!" and  "LOOK TWICE AND DON'T CRY, IT MIGHT BE A CUBE!"

The Cubes are incredibly sensitive and find this all too awful. They shut down in a funk. Its cruel, but sometimes you need to be cruel to avoid being eaten by a Cube. If you go in to one you might not want to come out.

Noise and bother will often cause a Cube to hide itself. Lots of public jollity, talking VERY LOUDLY, having street parties and birthday parties every day, bell ringing, singing and dancing.

The big problem is making them go away forever. Since they are drawn to sadness, you would have to heal the sorrow that attracts the Cube, and that is a difficult thing.

Or, the Well-Dweller might say; "Just chuck them in the Cube. What good are they anyway. Once it has them it will leave."

Getting someone out of a Cube is a sticky problem, literally but also metaphorically. Maybe you could hook them out somehow? Maybe you could dry out the Cube with huge amounts of salt or the focused rays of the sun.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020


(I couldn't sleep, was literally lying in bed thinking "this should be made of rats" so now I'm re-writing it so it is made of rats.)

A Ratmaster is a big floating ball, about the size of half a cow, of sleek, black, writhing rats. The rats flow like a dense school of fish. It has a face with two eyes made from radially symmetrical arrangements of still rat heads and gnashing mouth, the teeth of which are open rat jaws and sharp rat hands. Several stiff tail stalks stick up around the rim of the Ratmaster.

A Ratmaster is created when many very bad rats eat a n extremely magical book, or more than half of a wizard. They live out in the wilds because they are horrible and no-one normal wants to be around them. They might try moving into a village but no-one will deliver milk to them and they rarely complete paperwork so the situation rapidly becomes intolerable for all so instead it lives out in a vast cavern which it has carved with its rays, surrounded, cheese, scribe-apes and terrified zero-hours contract employees.

A Ratmaster is a very powerful creature, almost always it is the master of several kinds of lesser being who do its bidding, either willingly or out of fear of being turned into cheese. Usually its bidding is the stealing of things and threats of legal action. The only good thing about a Ratmaster being nearby is that there is unlikely to be a second Ratmaster as they hate each other. They fear and resent each other so much that if one catches sight of another they lock all of their eyes together in a terrified staring contest each one thinks that if they look away the other will gain the advantage and turn them to cheese (which is correct, they will). Ratmasters also think all other Ratmasters are horrifically ugly.

But what is the desire of the Ratmaster? Ultimate tyranny and watching of everything. The Ratmaster hates everything they do not own and everything they cannot see, so they like to own everything they can, gather it all in one place and assume a high, central position so they can see everything all the time, (assisted by their own eyes, floating 'Peepers', magic mirrors carried by servants and non-magic mirrors arranged specially).

The rats of the Ratmaster no longer birt normal rats, but 'Peepers'. These are small hairless floating rats with swollen hydrocephaic skulls. Their heads are full of light gas, their bodies shrivelled and small and their eyes large. They move by spinning their tails like propellers. The Peepers they float about, watching people, watching everything they do, even following them into the toilet to see if they are doing it properly.

The Ratmaster sends really presumptuous letters, though it can't write them itself. It usually ha s a scribe ape chained up with a quill and an endless roll of parchment. Most days the Ratmaster spends screaming in the voice of a hundered rats, dictating letters to people, often about very minor matters, like it saw them  drinking milk right from the bottle before putting it back, not flushing the toilet or assaulting one of its Peepers. These letters are then sent to the offending party, nailed to local trees and pinned to the villiage notice board.

Since a Ratmaster doesn't have hands, and can't really do anything for itself all it can do is scare other creatures into doing what it wants. It thinks this is normal and doesn't really understand any other kind of relationship. It might think it wants friends or someone to spend time with but if any actual person hangs out with it the Ratmaster has very poor conversation, it can only really talk about the things it owns and how great it is, or things it wants to own and how terrible everyone else is. (You can sustain a conversation with a Ratmaster for quite a while by just agreeing with them and saying how terrible everyone else is). It is also extremely hypersensitive and utterly intolerant of criticism or correction of any kind.

The only way it can eat is by forcing someone to cook and serve it food. Then it has another servant tie a bib around its neck (which it doesn't really have), then it just throws itself face-first into a piled-up plate of food; GNA-NA-NA-NA-NA. Food goes everywhere but the Ratmaster is EXTREMLY upset if YOU do anything impolite. Really mortally offended. If, while it is chewing the glaze off a plate, you put your elbows on the table, or don't say please and thank you; SHOCKED I TELL YOU.

The Ratmaster terrible powers come from its Spells, which shoot out of the rat tails which stick from its ball like wild strands of hair.

Ape-Ray - Fires small monkeys. the monkeys pull your hair, get in your clothes, steal your shoes etc
Bad Ray - You must do wicked things each round until the effect lessens.
Bee-Ray - This fires thick, sticky honey which glues you in place and attracts ants.
Blind Ray - Makes you blind
Cheese Ray - self evident really.
Dance Ray - Forces you to dance everywhere.
Fold Ray - makes you a two dimensional paper person.
Glass-Ray - Turns you to living glass.
Gravity Ray - Makes your Up your Dawn and visa versa.
Long Ray - makes you long and thin, like a big long snake.
Love Ray - Makes you fall in love with what you see next.
Mad Ray - makes you think you are Napoleon, dictator of France
Mouse Ray - Turns you into a small mouse.
Pie-Ray - turns you to living Pie. (meat pies, not the American kind)
Pipe Ray - Turns you into a wind instrument. You can only speak when played by someone else.
Puff-Ray - Fires floating pufferfish like bubbles (they sting and you swell up).
Sad Ray - Makes you cry and be sad.
Sing Ray - Can't speak without singing.
Slow Ray - Makes you slow.
Thief Ray - Makes you steal whatever you can.
Wind Ray - (Is this even a ray really???). It fires blasts of hot stinking wind.

The Ratmaster usually constructs its lair by turning some caverns to cheese with its cheese ray and forcing its rats to eat it all. Fat, depressed rats and collapsed cheese prices are a sign that a Ratmaster is around.

The Ratmaster can vomit its own rats out and suck new ones up. It floats float over a writhing pool that looks like a shadow, but it moves. It is a flowing pile of big black rats with night-sleek fur who follow the Ratmasteraround and eat whatever it turns into cheese. Obviously, turning someone to living cheese and then vomiting rats is a bad end.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Village Shops

 Brainstorm for 'Goose-Gold and Goblins'. Trying to think of interesting things for a village without getting too clever with it, just staying within the general assumed concepts, and also staying broadly child friendly, hopefully without being boring. The economy doesn't really work, these are places for a small town really. Given in the order of conception;

art by Varguy https://www.deviantart.com/varguy/art/Shop-716694541


The smell of fresh bread, early in the morning. Flour everywhere, flour-covered arms, sacks of flour, puffs of flour, (bags of flour are handy for finding invisible people). Bakers get up early, they rise in the night when the stars are still bright and see by the moon. The smoke from their oven is in the sky before dawn. They are often the first to discover strange things that have happened in the night, they might see witches flying about, or bats, or ghosts, but never speak of them. Bakers also need to go to sleep very early and get very upset by noises in the afternoon and they tend to miss things that happen in the evening - so they like to hear gossip of what has gone on.


A windmill must be on a hill, maybe outside the town, everyone can see it and see if it is moving with the wind, while a water mill must be by a river. A water mill will have a run or millrace, a specially cut stream of dangerous fast-flowing water. Either way, the miller is deeply concerned with the mill itself. It seems that at the mill either nothing is happening and the miller is asleep with a cloth over their face, or everything is happening and the miller is running around desperately adjusting things, greasing things especially. The miller always needs more grease, and soon. The mill causes enormous friction and its parts have to be oiled and greased, often while still in motion or they will set on fire.


"Its actually Pâtissier." 
Pastry Makers are very fine and are somewhat posh and precise. They do not want you touching the pastries. The pâtissier thinks of themselves as a kind of jeweller for food. They make art, in a way, art that you eat. 


The dairy has cows, who are called in from the fields going loooo, bells jangling. The cows insist on being milked in a particular order (they are intensely hierarchal). The cows are called by yodelling and some dairies will employ a sub-yodeller for this. The dairy also sells butter, which requires relentless churning, cheese, which needs careful storage and other dairy products. The Dairy manager can be seen having long conversations with the Innkeppers about things fermenting slowly. Much of their job is waiting, but not waiting too long.


The Milkman, up not long after the Baker, travels from house to house each morning, bringing milk, very slowly, breath huffing in the cold air through their scarf, and very quietly; their donkeys hooves are muffled and silent on the cobbles. Is the milkman a force for order and reason, or a herald of the night? He carries a moon lamp for his pre-dawn work and treads the boundary between night and day.


The Butcher has a Red shop, all strung with sausages and animal parts freshly hung each morning. Butchers are always large and red, with strong tattooed arms. They wield a cleaver with incredible skill and could probably kill everyone if they wished, (and dispose of them too). They have a mincing machine which the small-butcher is always turning the handle of, turning one kind of meat into another. Fundamentally, the Butcher cuts things, especially meat. They are an expert in cutting. The nature of the Butcher is life-from-death, and they have a stoic temperament when it comes to the sufferings of the world. They value life, but accept death perhaps more easily than others, though you might not realise it from their simple manner. "Life, is death, is life", they might say, illustrating this with a ring of sausages, a concept they share with the wheelwright.


We may consider here the Inn, the Pub, and the Rival Pub, though they are not the same they all have a great deal in common.

The Pub opens around mid-day for anyone who wants a small beer and gets busier and busier throughout the afternoon. In the evening it is full of people gathered round tables, telling stories. If you want a story that is a good place to go. Pubs have low ceilings, black beams, heavy iron furniture, a fire roaring, animal tack on the walls, (no one knows why they do this), a couple of animals around, a dog, a ghost etc, and an old fellah who seems always to be there and who tells tales of the Sea. Huge barrels of ale are brought to the in and lowered through its mysterious hatch, this is then piped up to the bar. The Pub has games also, darts and snooker, gurning, wrestling and a mystery night where teams have to answer increasingly complex questions. There are rivalries amidst the teams. As the night goes on, the Pub is meant to close but will sometimes just lock the doors so the regulars can keep drinking. Sometimes there are dramas and someone, or a group are ejected from the Pub and say they will only drink in the Rival Pub, or the Inn from now on, and visa versa.

"Rival Pub" is pretty similar to the Pub, but contains many of the people who have been kicked out of there, or those who have experienced various dramas. Rival Pub has a team who compete against Pubs team at various times. 

The Inn, is essentially like Pub, and Rival Pub, but larger and slightly posher. Travellers from far away can rent small rooms in the Inn. The downstairs is like a Pub but slightly larger, more expensive, emptier and higher class.


The grocer has all the foods which the Baker and the Butcher don't. All the foods which will keep, anything you need, a shop full of stuff. What you need may be high up - the shelves are very tall and there is something different on each one, plus there is "round the back", a liminal and unknown space accessible only to the Grocer which might contain anything. If you ask for something in particular, the Grocer will purse their lips and look at a list; "we might have it, let me see.....". There is always more than one person in the Grocer and you are sure to meet someone there. The Grocers shop is a reassuringly normal and relatively drama-free environment.


The great rival of the Milkman, the Tinker also travels throughout the village and even the wilderness. Unlike the Milkman, the Tinker even goes out into the farmlands and the waste lands, you never know where you will encounter them. The Tinker carries a great pack full of things, and hung with jangling objects. They have a little of everything, anything you might need, many things you didn't know you needed. It seems they can do almost anything, at least a little; cut a key, sharpen a knife, shoe a horse, play a card trick, cook a meal. The Tinker is small and stooped over beneath their pack and they have a long coat, when they open the coat, there are some "very special items" hanging within, often things you find you need. 

It is generally accepted that the Tinker is allied somewhat with the forces of magical strangeness and the unknown. Its never clear exactly where they live, where they are going or where they are, (they just turn up in places), or where they get all these things. At least some of the things are somewhat magical, sometimes extremely magical, and there is rarely a clear warning given for this, or any explanation given, and the Tinkers habit of having strange and unique things that someone needs quite that instant is very odd. And there are rumours of strange prices being asked for these things, services, locks of hair, breaths of air, spiderwebs etc, and of dark fates when these prices are not paid. And though the Tinker seems slow and loud, stooped beneath their heavy pack and jangling, it also seems that they can move pretty quickly and quietly when they wish.

The Milkman, who fundamentally divides day from night, dream from real, what is known from what is unknown, has a deep dislike and suspicion of the Tinker, who mixes all these things up. The Tinker may be allied with, or at least familiar with, the Bookseller and the Apothecary, and is almost always "in cahoots" with the Pawnbroker.


The Blacksmith is, in some ways the small king of the village shopkeepers and craftspeople. Everyone needs the services of the Blacksmith for one thing or another, their forge is always burning, even a little at night, it can never be allowed to go out. When the smith is at work, the pounding of their hammer can be heard and gusts of black smoke come from their chimney. The smith is incredibly strong, with scorched, skilled hands and says little, but looks at you with a gleam or a glare, its hard to tell which. They have a spark in their eye (though not literally). Inside the forge is the pounding of the hammer, steam, smoke, sparks and an apprentice heaving on a bellows or fetching cups of tea. Often, gathered outside the forge, benefiting from its warmth and light, and close to it, )though not every crossing its boundary), groups of men gather, (its always men), often older men, sometimes even playing chess, the men discuss facts and argue over details, contesting their opinions at length. These arguments rarely break out into acrimony, and if they do a look from the smith quells such trouble. The smith speaks rarely and listens little to their talk, the words drift over them. If the smith does interrupt, their opinion always ends the argument, whatever it was, and the men gathered outside rapidly move to a new topic of discussion. Magical things do not love the Smith and rarely come there, fearing the iron, the fire and the Smiths strength and craft. The Tinker would not dare come near here.


The Cutler is simply a lighter, finer, slightly less glamorous Blacksmith who mainly makes cutlery and other small items. They rarely work with black iron. Their creations are more attractive, and less heavy, powerful and dangerous than those of the smith, yet they have their skills. No men come to gather outside their forge on a cold morning. Neither are they silent or strange as the Smith is.


Other than the Blacksmith, almost no-one is in as much demand as the Carpenter. Their floor strewn with sawdust, the smell of the workshop is incredible. Like the blacksmith, there is usually a rhythmic sound coming from the carpenters, in this case, chiselling, sawing, carving or the planing of wood, and unlike the blacksmiths, this room is light. There are no fires here, and no oil lamps, except sometimes in winter, the carpenter must do everything by daylight, which is why they have large windows and big doors, and often leave the doors open, swing wide to let in more light, even if its cold. 

If you want anything wooden fixed, replaced or made anew; doors, house beams, chairs, cupboards, wooden floors and wooden panels, here is where you come. The carpenter has a huge warehouse full of beams and planks of different woods, they are stacked there in the dry room  hanging from its rafters, piled on stands, all awaiting some mysterious process of age and time until the Carpenter says; "now is the time for that tree to meet its business". 

Like the Butcher, the Carpenter deals in death, in this case, the death of trees, and like the Butcher, the Carpenter knows a great deal about, and has sympathy with, the object of the work. The Carpenter can tell how old a tree is, in what conditions it grew, what it suffered in life and how this might affect its grain and structure. The carpenter always needs help cleaning out the sawdust, unlike the Blacksmiths there are few dangerous things here, the sharp tools are all correctly stowed and nothing burns, but everything is sensitive, to time, weather, temperature and condition, and the Carpenter knows all this; which woods need less damp, which will suffer in the cold or heat, which to warp and which to hold. The Carpenter is always thinking about their wood, like a shepherd about their sheep, their mind ticking away with conditions and time, "this wood is no good".


The wicker worker is to the Carpenter as the Cutler is to the Blacksmith, except more cheerful about it. All day they sit and weave, baskets, chairs, screens, whatever is needed, light and strong, fast and cheap, that is how they make it, stripping and weaving, building the structure in their mind before they build it with their hands, like other crafters. But with the Wickerworker you can sit and watch them work, chatting as they do so, weaving whatever it is out of thin air before your eyes.


(also dentist, also surgeon, also vet)
TEETH and HAIR, two things most people have, or at least they tend to have one of them, and either can be attended to in the same place! Even at the same time! What wonders! 

Pliers, scissors, some mouth mirrors and a strong but deft hand, true expertise! Not only that but the Barber can heal your animals and pets too! Or at least they will have a crack at it, the important thing, they think, is to have a try, no matter what it is, how else can anyone learn anything, except with PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE? Setting a broken limb? Sure, how hard can it be? Stitching someone up? Simple as! Pulling out a misfiring organ? "Now now", the Barber purses their lips, "that one might be tricky, money upfront for that one, and no promises, but I will attempt it!. After all, I have my skeleton here, and my diagram of the body here. Would you like a haircut at the same time?" (The Barber is a primary customer for the sawdust of the Carpenter).

Whatever happens at the Barbers, at the end, they hold up their mirror in the mirror, so you can have a good look and the customer says fine thank you, wonderful, great thanks fine goodbye. The Barber doesn't just pull teeth, they, you might say, recycle them. Teeth otherwise unused become fresh teeth for the old, a little mix and match, might be a few odd ones in there, but they work! The Barber also has a side-interest in Taxidermy, which they would be happy to show you, in the room at the back.....


She is not saying she IS a Witch. But neither will she say that she is not, if you get my meaning. The hat can come off or on, depending on your need. Baby delivered or fortune told? Uncomfortable abscess or love potion? A social dilemma or haunted by ghosts? (Could be the same thing). There is a lot of wiggle room in the description, by the way, would you help wind my yarn?

The Witch certainly knows the Tinker, may know the Apothecary and possibly the Bookseller, laughs at the Barber and won't go near the Smith. In turn, the men who gather by the Blackmiths forge scoff at the Possible Witch, while they are near the forge, then they turn silent and get home before dark, looking around for Black Cats. The Smith says nothing on the Subject.

The Possible Witch does have a lot of Cats around, though not all are black. Her cottage is small and low, with many things hanging from the rafters, and she has a hearth spirit which changes colour and winks suggestively. There might be a skull in there, who knows? No one is saying that the possible witch might possibly have poisoned anyone, (certainly not within earshot, of her, or her cats), but if anyone did get poisoned, well, she would be one to ask (politely). Herbs also, if you want to know about herbs, or want a Toadstool identified.


A member of the Village intelligentsia, often to be found with the bookseller, the Draper, the Cutler and tolerating the presence of the Barber. The Apothecary is a creature of science and system, weight and measure. The Apothecaries shop is wonderous, filled floor to ceiling with bottles and cases of rare and unknown substances, all carefully weighed and recorded precisely in the Apothecaries great book, only ever sold and prescribed with the most precise instructions as to their preparation and use. Whatever ails the body (serious ailments only please, for broken bones and bleeding veins, busy yourself with the Barber), the Apothecary considers themselves something of a detective of the body, that dark and mysterious fluidic space, which no eye may penetrate, but the steady lance of knowledge might. 
The Apothecary wishes to know absolutely everything about the ailment; times and temperatures
family history, blotches and marks, sweats and fevers, "a hot sweat or a cold sweat?" stools and urine, no laughing please, medicine is a serious business. The Apothecary takes in all this precise knowledge, and within their own dark body, they compare and match it with the great storehouse of knowledge recorded by Apothecaries past. There the secret must be, and there the secret is, lodged in line and letter, hiding in some book. Once a diagnosis is made, "take two of these twice a day, heat this oil gently and smear it on with fresh beeswax, drip this into your eye, but do not look up for a day, then all will be well".


The Draper stands at the head of the enclave of interrelated cloth-based trades. If they were a gang, the Draper would be the one in charge. Below them are the Tailor, the Haberdasher the Milliner and, somewhat adjacent, the Cobbler, (and beyond the pale, but connected due to the selling of old clothes, the Pawnbroker). 

The Draper is a creature of business, and of Quality. It would wound them to sell the wrong cloth to the wrong person. "One can always tell when someone is in the wrong cloth", they might say. This is unsurprising as, in a way, the Draper directly sells social status. Nothing indicates the differences in wealth, role and position, more than cloth, and the Draper is the source of cloth, so in a way, they order society, arranging the boundaries between groups and classes. For society to be out of joint, disordered or upturned, if the Tinker was seen in a suit like the Bookseller, or the Apothecary wore a heavy leather apron like the Blacksmith, ... horribe! too horrible, a world gone mad! In a way, the Draper exists to make sure this never happens, that the world never goes mad.


The tailor is a sympathetic creature, quiet, demure, deeply knowledgeable about everybodies bodies, about how they wish to be seen, and how they are seen. Their customers have never made a bad choice, "Splendid, simply splendid, though have you considered this?" The tailor comments very little on the doings of others, whether at work or in society, they always seem to be agreeing with whomever they speak, or at least, being sympathetic, and they are very pleasing to speak to, in a light way. Old ladies love to speak to them at length, the Tailor, and an old lady with her dogs, can stand and speak on a corner for upwards of half an hour, yet at the end of that, not a fact may have passed between them, or even a strong opinion, "Isn't it lovely though, just lovely..".

the Tailor is never dirty and is always precise. Their hands are cleaner than the Barbers (and their stitching better), though you will never get the Tailor to aid you in stitching up flesh, 
that would be absolutely impossible, not the done thing, no not at all. Though the Tailor has no prejudice against anyone, spending time even with the Tinker, they are very much a creature of the "done thing", their own standards, are high, and remain so, though they have nothing but compassion with those who cannot reach so high.


Small fabrics. We may find the Haberdasher with the cutler, the wickerworker and the pâtissier. On the lower rank of slightly-less vital services. The Haberdasher is an essentially a bright and pleasing individual, they live in a world of "little extras" and "finishing touches". Everything around them is a pleasing addition, a superfluous ornamentation, and occasionally a vital forgotten element. Their purpose in life is to please and fulfil, to garnish and ornament the lives of others and sometimes to save the day with a particular kind of thread or a rare needle type. The Haberdasher seems to float a little, at least in the Haberdashery, moving between shelves like a lost balloon, emerging silently and smiling behind you at strange times, sometimes trotting through the village at speed carrying a wicker basket packed with oddements and trailing ribbon, on their way to a Haberdashery Emergency.


Close ally to the Draper in the protection of social order and social roles, does anyone ever really need a hat? The Milliner certainly thinks they do, and several of them, some for daily wear, formal wear, weddings, funerals, specialist work wear, outdoor hats and indoor caps (it would be rude to wear a hat indoors). The Milliner lives for EVENTS, (and is therefore a good calendar for them), for at these times, everybody wants a hat and everyone wants a unique hat. Often people compete against each other for social precedence. Hat wars break out, with the Milliner carefully playing both sides, casually mentioning "the peacock feathers? of those are for so and so-s hat". The Milliner is only distantly aware of the existence of the rest of the human body below the head, they know the skull shape and haircut of everyone in the village, but could not always swear to their clothes, age, or gender. Though consumed with the human need for status, the Milliner is slightly connected to the lunar underworld of the village, something they try to keep quiet. Their need for extra bits and pieces gives them contact with the Haberdasher (who is always happy to help), but the extreme desire for some for a hat element beyond the normal or known means the Milliner must fare far to both provoke and fulfil such desires. They may enter secret negotiations with the Pawnbroker, the Tinker and even the Possible Witch. As well as this, hats, like shoes, often contain some residual magic, simply by virtue of being hats, and the milliner may play a secret role in guarding these prized fashion devices. (They would rather you didn't mention it, really, at all....).


Somewhat more magical than the other clothiers, sometimes seen with the Pawner and the Tinker, hanging around. It’s not clear what it is about shoes exactly that leaves the Cobbler a strange being, crabbed and small, deft and quick, open to dreams and tales, wise and crafty, indifferent to social status, unconscious of coin, but extremely obsessed with being paid what they are owed. Like many of the more magically inclined community members, the Cobbler will often make trades for strange services or unusual, even intangible things, and like those other trades, more so than with gold and coin, you better pay up, down to the letter and down to the date. The cobbler, oddly, is willing to make shoes for anything, they consider it a matter of pride (except horses, they leave that to the Blacksmith as a matter of ancient law), but anything else, birds, ladybugs, sycamore seeds, boats, bridges, bibles, they will attempt it. The cobbler judges everyone by their feet, and tut tuts when they see a poor wear pattern on a pair of shoes. They do not mind ugly feet, or old feet, wide feet or flat feet, "its all in the game", the cobbler might say, but every so often, they will see some feet that put them off, and no one ever knows why.


The bookseller is often also a bookbinder, a scribe and sometimes a publisher and editor, combining all roles in one. Bookshops are commonly more cold than one would wish and this is because they are secretly infinite. However the shop starts out, it always ends up as a warren of strange little corridors, odd turnings, forgotten stairways, unlocked doors where you are not quite sure if they are meant to be unlocked. By long defined physics, bookshops all burrow infinitely into space (L-Space as the Sage has defined), and link up with other shops in other places and times. The Bookseller stands guard over all of this, making sure that no-one goes too deep into the shop, or that if they do that they get lost in such a way that they come right back out again.

Few places are as quiet as a bookshop, and the booksellers eyes follow you around the room from behind owl-like glasses. As a guardian of written knowledge, it is the Booksellers duty to bring people into contact with the knowledge they desire, or think they desire, so long as they can afford it and don't damage the books, but the Bookseller really generally does not want to surrender any books. Reducing their store displeases them, they are perhaps the most sceptical form of shopkeeper, slightly troubled by the presence of customers, why are they even here, to cause trouble? Yes, by buying books. A curious quality of the bookshop is that the seller almost never has exactly the thing you are looking for, but they always have something close to it, or quite close, or not at all close, but useful none the less. And yes, the bookseller is quiet and thin fingered. Imagine them and you are probably right.


Ally to the Tinker, and known by the Cobbler and Possible Witch, the Pawnbroker is rarely visited openly. They have everything, like the Tinker, except the have more of it; odds and ends, you know, clothes, books, tools, jewels, kitchenware, walking sticks, cigarette lighter? fancy a meerschaum pipe? 

If anyone is criminal in the village, its the Pawnbroker, they are always under suspicion. Like the Bookseller their shop is small and dark and there is rarely anyone else inside. You can see oddments through the glass. The Pawnbroker is always ready to help somebody out, by taking things off your hands - things you don't need of course, and you can get it back, certainly, "when your luck improves, fortunes wheel and all that". They also have cheap versions of whatever you need right now, especially clothes, though the clothes the Pawnbroker sells are always slightly ... odd, a strange fit, an unknown material, foreign label or incomprehensible smell, almost always a foreign coin left in a pocket, or a desperate note sewn into the seams.

No place is more likely to begin or end an adventure than the Pawnbrokers, and like the Bookseller, the Pawnbrokers shop has a tendency towards infinity. A maze of shelves and hidden rooms which they keep safely locked away, and which you will likely never see. Magic also the Pawnbroker is familiar with, they know the value of anything and the history of almost all that falls into their hands. Are they good or evil? Whichever it is, they are certainly not lawful, (though no-one can prove anything). A jewellers glass in their eye and a cricket bat beneath their bench.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Beasts, Inconceivable (Alphabetised)

 Reading through a book about the back-parts of the Beowulf manuscript; a truly strange beastiary, even by medieval standards. It is pleasingly mad and incoherent but in a sad failure of Gygaxian energy, it is not systematised, therefore how can it be used in D&D?

So, I have soft-of Alphabetised it here.

(Its an adaption of a translation of a fire-damaged manuscript so this is very much my version).

Thanks to 'Inconceivable Beasts, The Wonders f the East in the Beowulf manuscript by Asa Simon Mitman and Susan M. Kim.

Ants, as mickle as hounds, they have feet like grasshoppers, have a red and black colour and dig up gold from the earth from before night until the firth time of day. Those who are bold and would that gold take, lead camel mares amid foal and stallion. The foal they seal up before they fare over the ford. The gold they tie fast on the mares. They sit astride and the stallion there leave. When the ants find them and are busy with the stallion the men with mares and with gold over the ford fare, they are so headlong in this they would think they do fly.

Asses, of Babylonia, these have horns as big as oxen.

Beasts, Inconceivable . Those beasts have eight feet, Valkyries eyes and two heads. If any man will latch one them then they set fire to their own bodies.

Catinos, a race of wild beasts by the sea who are very beautiful beasts.

Conopenas, half-hounds with horses manes, boars tusks, dogs heads and their breath is like the flame of fire.

Corsias, pepper-guarding horned serpents. They have horns as big as rams. If they strike or stroke a man he wilts in death. In their lands south of Babylonia lands there is pepper indeed. They guard the pepper in their eagerness. One takes the pepper by lighting up that place with fire, then down into the earth the serpents flee, and so the pepper is made black.

Dragons, they are in length an hundred and fifty feet long. They are mickle as great stone pillars. For their mickleness no man may easily on that land fare.

Hens, Red. Born like those with us of red hue. If any man will grab or touch one, they burn him all to cinders. These are inconceivable witchcrafts.

Lertices, wild beasts with ass's ears and sheeps wool and birds feet.

Men, (hospitable). In the left part of the kingdom which the beasts Catinos are ins, there are hospitable people, king, who have under them many tyrants. Their boundaries are near the sea. From there from the left hand part are many kings. This race lives many years and they are a generous people. If anyone comes to them then they give him a woman before they release him. The Macedonian Alexander, when he came to them was wondering at their humanness, nor did he wish to kill them nor do any harm to them.

Men, Donestre. They are grown like soothsayers from the head to the navel and the other part is like a man, and they know men's speech. When they see a man of foreign race then they call to him and his kinsmen the names of familiar men and with lying words they bewitch him and get him and after that they eat him up, all but the head, and then sit and weep over that head.

Men, Fan-Eared. In statue fifteen feet long an [unknown] broad. They have a mickle head and ears like a fan. The one ear they by night under them spread and with the other they cover themselves. Their ears are very light and bodies as light as milk. If they any man in that land see or perceive they take their ears in hand and flee swiftly, so headlong you would think they fly.

Men, Gewende (Imagined/Transformed) Men. Born in three colours, their heads are maned like lion heads and they are [unknown] feet tall and a mickle mouth like a fan. If they see one man in those lands, or any man will follow them, then far they fly, and blood they sweat.

Men, Homodubii (gentle), They are up to the navel in human form and afterwards in the likeness of an Ass, and they have long legs like birds and gentle voices. If they any man on that land see or sense then flee they far.

Men, Homodubii, (bearded) - they are a doubtful people -, six foot measures in length, they have ample beards to the knee and hair to the heels. By raw fish they live and eat them.

Men, Hostes. Beyond Brixonet are men born long and big, they have feet and legs twelve feet long with breasts seven feet long. Hostes they are called, for sure whatever man they grasp they eat him up.

Men, Lamp-Eyed. On a certain island people are born who their eyes shine such light as should light a mickle lamp in dark light.

Men, of Ciconia. Fifteen feet tall, with white bodies and two noses on one head, feet and knees scarlet-red, long noses, dark hair. When they wish kin they take ship to India, there they bring children into the world.

Men, Sigelwara, There is a race of man, they are of a dark colour in countenance. One calls them Sigelwara.

Men, without heads. They have on their breasts their eyes and mouth. They are eight feet tall and eight feet broad.

Quietus, the most still-souled Bishop who no other meat will taste but sea oysters and by those he lives in a temple of iron works and of pressed glass made in Beles days and Jobs at the same place as the suns rising.

Serpents, two headed, the eyes of which burn as brightly as lanterns.

Sheep, of Archemedon, as big as Oxen. Dwelling in the Medes city, Archemedon.

Women, Boar-Tusked. They have boars tusks and hair to the heels amply and Oxs tails on the loins. These women are thirteen feet tall and their bodies have the hue of marble and they have camels teeth and asses feet. For their mickleness they were killed by the great Macedonin Alexander, he killed them when he could not capture them while living because they are shameless in body and unworthy.

Women, Cat-Hunting. Woman who have beards as broad as to their breast and a horses hide they put them on as clothing. They are called great huntresses and instead of hounds they bring up lions and tigers and lynxes, they are the boldest beasts and they hunt with them.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

the noise in which it lives

 From "African Folktales - selected and retold by Roger D Abrahams";

Unfortunately, this quality of immediacy in an African story, including the noise in which it lives, is very hard to capture on paper. Among the attempts to record storytelling as it occurred at a specific time and place, and to record it in such a way that the other major situational factors are also conveyed, it is, perhaps, Laura Bohannon's "anthropological novel" Return to Laughter, describing her work among the Tiv of Nigeria, she provides us with a description of a tale-telling scene which, though not wholly characteristic of the look and feel of a usual storytelling - the scene occurs after a smallpox epidemic has passed through the village - is nonetheless especially vivid. Her description focuses not on the stories, but rather on the noise out of which the performance emerges, and the performers mastery of the tumult. She dramatizes the way in which the immediate situation is drawn upon in the stories and wedded to their universal qualities, and how the continuities and the interlayering of voices may be seen to work together in an actual performance context.

"A few nights later we sat under the cold moon of the harmattan in a circle in Kako's homestead yard. My pressure lamp was carefully paced, under Kako's personal direction, to illuminate the storytellers as they passed before us and the assembled elders. Gradually the people gathered from the neighbouring homesteads. They brought their wives and children, and the bought wood for the fire and stools to sit on. The homestead was full of preparatory bustle as people borrowed coals to start their fires and jostled each other for a place close to the front. Then, places staked out with fire and stool, people circulated to greet each other, as people do in a theatre lobby. The air was filled with happy hum of an audience sure of good entertainment.

Behind Kako's reception hut there was a great deal of coming and going, whispering and giggling, very much like the noise of people plotting charades. Cholo, who was to tell the first tale, squatted before us in brief, friendly greeting and gave me news of his sister: Atakpa was well; her co-wife had been blinded by smallpox. "It makes more work for Atakpa. They're both after their husband now to get them a little wife to help."


"I'm coming." Cholo shouted toward Kako's reception hut. He glanced at the gathered audience and left. he waved Ihugh to join him. Soon Ihugh was running towards his hut, consulting with his uncles, and then back to join Cholo behind the reception hut. people settled down to wait, with anticipation.

Cholo came out before the lamp, and, with many gestures, began the story of the hare and the elephant.

The hare went hunting one day. He armed himself with a club made of cane grass and, knowing his weapon weak, wore a ferocious mask to petrify his face with fear.

Here Chlo began to sing, stopping to instruct us all in the chorus of his song: nonsense syllables with a rousing rhythm and a lilting tune. I got interested. This would be far more fun than mere storytelling.

First the hare met a mouse. The mouse screamed with fear when he saw the terrible mask, but instead of standing trembling and ready to the hares club, the mouse turned to flee.

Again Cholo waved us into the chorus.

As the hare pursued the mouse, his mask slipped down over his eyes. But the hare has long ears, and he was able to follow his prey by the rustling in the dry grass. In his flight, the mouse ran straight into an elephant and the elephant also began to run. The hare, unable to see, now followed the elephant and beat him with his cane club. The elephant, thinking this was the tickle of the mouse's whiskers, ran ever faster.

Again the chorus. Then Cholo disappeared. I had enjoyed the song, and prepared for the next story. But this one was not yet finished. Cholo returned. This time he was the hare. To his head he had tied two waving fronds as ears, over his face a cloth daubed with mud, and in his hands a weak blade of cane grass. He mimed his story, dancing before us, searching for game, finding the mouse, and pursuing it blindly.

Then out came the elephant, roaring: a long bed tied to a man's back - those huge, splay feet could be no one's but Ihugh's - covered with two dark togas that swayed with the elephants dancing. The youngest children screamed most satisfactorily and had to be comforted by their parents, while the older children told them with great superiority that the elephant was really a man. Cholo now struck the elephant boldly with his grass blade, used it as a bat to wave us all into his song and chorus. One or two of the young men beat sticks against their chairs, the better to mark the rhythm while the hare and the elephant danced. In a final surge of enthusiastic singing and dancing, the hare and the elephant disappeared.

Immediately one of Ihugh's cousins sprang into the centre of the circle and began his tale of the goat who was a blacksmith and how he was tricked by the hare. He too had a song for his story, for the fables themselves are common property, and a storyteller makes his fame with his songs and dancing. Again I found myself laughing wholeheartedly and joining in the singing. I was enjoying myself immensely.

As the evening wore on, other men also rose to tell their stories, pressing brothers and cousins into service in the charades and commandeering props from the women of the homestead. A pot tied snoutlike over the face made a hippopotamus. Sheepskins, leaves and cloth-covered stools created strange monsters and sprites. There was not a single dull story. The audience wouldn't allow it. They shout down any fable teller who fails to hold their attention: "That's too long." "Your song's no good." "You've got the story wrong." "Learn to dance." Sometimes it needed only the momentary inattention of the audience to embolden one of the other storytellers to jump into the centre even while another fable was being told. Then for a few moments we heard two tales, two songs at once. Soon people would take up only the one chorus and the other fable teller would sit down.

Mainly it was a cntest between Gbodi and Ikpoom, who were the two great storytellers of the country. Gbodi, a short stock little man with a huge voice, excelled as a dancer and a tumbler. In the tale of the cricket and the praying mantis he danced holding a heavy mahogany mortar in his hands. First, as the praying mantis he held it over his head; then, placing the mortar on the ground, he continued to dance on it upside down, his hands grasping the edge of the mortar, his feet in the air - and singing all the while.

Ikpoom excelled in mime. His ugly face was extraordinarily expressive, and he was at his best when he could himself act out all parts of the story at once. Now he was telling the tale of a chief's daughter who refused to marry any man, for she knew she was far too good for any suitor who came to court her. Ikpoom's voice was shrilly angry when, as the girl, he warned lovers off the farm and threatened to shoot them with a bow and arrow. His voice was eerie and his song uncanny as he portrayed the chief of the underworld sprites, Agundu, who is a head with wild, red eyes and with gouts of blood on the raw cut neck that terminates the creature. He showed us how Agundu borrowed the radiance of the sun and moon and with them dazzled the girl, how she followed this bright illusion away from her own people whom she had scorned, and how at the very gates of the underworld Agundu gave back to the sun his glory and to the moon her beauty. Only then, when it was too late, did the girl see what a monster she had chosen, and then too late and in vain, she longed for a human mate.

I had no need to hear the shouted proverb that marks the end of each story. I knew the moral of this tale. Especially now, in this situation in which our common humanity and pleasure in amusement was so evident, the dangers of parting from one's own to follow beckoning strangeness loomed perilous and sad.

Ikpoom sang the lament of the girl whom blind pride had shut in a strange, dark world away from sun and familiar light....

Ikpoom sang for Agundu, for the grinning skeleton of the world that underlines all illusion. One can ignore Agundu. But those who follow him can never return, for they have seen and can never forget...they knew. All these people laughing around me. They knew how to come back. I still had to learn.

Gbodi was telling a tale now, of the hare's attempt to pass himself off as one of the bush sprites in their won country. Great a trickster as the hare is, infinite as is his ingenuity, he was unable to act and feel as did the bush sprites. At first this enabled him to deceive them the better and to steal the toga that bears one along like the wind, but ultimately this lack of understanding and this difference was his undoing. "This time," sang Gbodi, "the sprites killed the hare and ate him. The fable has killed the hare."

The hare would soon be resurrected in another fable. The trickster is immortal as a type no matter how often any one trickster tricks himself into disaster. But even the greatest trickster cannot transform himself. His personal habits always betray him, as they betray all of us for what we are; we ourselves are the only ones who see ourselves a what we think we ought to be or what we would like to be thought.

Many of my mortal dilemmas had sprung from the very nature of my work which had made me a trickster: one who seems to be what he is not and who professes faith in what he does not believe. But this relization is of littl help. It is not enough to be true to oneself. The self may be bad and need to be changed, or it may change unawares into something strange and new. I had changed. Whatever the merits of anthropology to the world or of my work to anthropology, this experience had wrought many changes in me as a human being - and I had thoughts that what wasn't grist for my notebooks would be adventure....

I had lost track of the fable being told. It was a long one, and I couldn't keep the characters straight. Neither, it seemed, could Accident - energetic as ever and quite unchanged save for a few pockmarks on his nose. Perhaps, though, it was just his sense of mischief that made him bound up from his seat beside his brother and take the stake with the storyteller. "I don't understand. Would you repeat more slowly?"

There was a startled gasp. Then a roar of laughter, even from the interrupted storyteller. "What was his great-great-grandfather's name? And where did he learn to perform that ceremony?" continued Accident, so broadly that I began to laugh, for it was me own accent and my own questions that Accident was imitating. Aware that he had lost his audience, the fable teller began to play informant to Accidents anthropologist. Accident in turn looked eager to baffled, scribbled in the air as though in a notebook, wiped imaginary glasses, adjusted imaginary skirts, and took off my accent, gestures, errors of grammar and habits of phrase with such unmerciful accuracy that even as I laughed myself sore I resolved on improvement. Accident finally sat down under a shower of pennies and approving applause..."


Bohannons description of an actual performance underscores the fact that the vitality of the storytelling lies in two characteristic elements: first the seizure of the role of narrator and the maintaining of it in the face of ongoing critical commentary; second, the constant interaction between storyteller and audience, maintained both through audience commentary and the periodic introduction of call-and-response songs. Thus, the occasion of storytelling calls for the same seizing of the centre, and the same kind of voice overlap and interlock as do the many other forms of audience behaviour taking place in front of the performer, who, through a sense of personal control, provide a focus for all the noise and random bustle arising on occasions of performance.


And if you liked that and want more, get all over this.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Piranesi and Vinland Saga

 I experienced two culture things recently which I genuinely enjoyed and thought were good - A RARE EVENT, so I have decided to record and express that unexpected pleasure.

Susanna Clarkes Piranesi, which I listened to in Audiobook format, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor,

and Vinland Saga, an Anime which I found hidden away on Amazon Prime, the only media subscription service I use (it gets me stuff faster in Pandemic conditions).

A strange unity, both are about faith and the human struggle to create and sustain meaning and a sense of moral order in a cold even terrifying and chaotic world


Piranesi; first person unreliable narrator, adjacents are Gene Wolfes Soldier in the Mist books and House of Leaves. Though the labyrinth in Piranesi is partly wonderful, partly frightening, an awe-inspiring enfolding otherness rather than nihilistic horror. The narrator reads to us from his journals, or his journals simply speak. The journals have clearly been edited and changed, he mentions himself that there are big chunks torn out and he makes it clear from the start that he doesn't know why though initially, he thinks his memory is correct.

The narrators loss of faith in his own memory and records, the opening up of terrifying (to him) possibilities and fissures, and how he deals with and process that, is fascinating.

The narrator lives in a labyrinth of huge proportions interspersed with gigantic statues of human figures, each different, their meanings unknown. The place is huge enough that the lower floors are swept regularly by the sea while the upper floors have their own cloud formation and weather.

There is only the labyrinth, which he, the Narrator, Piranesi, calls The House. There is the sea, which sweeps though the lower halls in vast tides, and has already collapsed part of the house, but there is no shore, no land, no nation, no bedrock, no end to the house other than sea, sun and the sky, and the stars at night, just the house, more chambers and corridors and vast statues.

(Its actually a bit nice that Carceri)

So far as the narrator knows, and absolutely believes, both as natural intuition and an article of faith, the House is all there is and all there could be, and he lives his life in perfect harmony with the House, fishing in its lower halls, weaving things out of dried seaweed, carefully and painstakingly recording and predicting its tides.

We, the readers, know something is up. The Narrator has a watch, various plastic items, a sleeping bag, his journals, and there is an 'Other'. One other person in the House, who meets the Narrator every week at a regular time to discuss their important work, and who calls the narrator 'Piranesi'


Vinland Saga is an Anime in what I think is called the Shonen style? Its set in the early middle ages/late dark ages, a generation or so before the Battle of Hastings and takes place around the north sea world of the Vikings, going from Iceland to the Faeroes to Britain in this series.

The story initially follows Thorfinn, the very young son of Thors Snorrison in what initially looks like it’s going to be an exciting adventure, then looks like its going to be a serial revenge quest, then evolves into a study on revenge, hatred, fate, faith, history tragedy and meaning.

It goes through some changes!

Mild Spoilers;

Thorfinns father seems to be the classic surprisingly advanced human who acts as protagonist in a lot of historical fiction, he has a reputation as some kind of badass but currently lives as a farmer in Iceland and mainly just raises his family and is surprisingly near-pacifist and merciful to slaves. (Vinland Saga has about as much slavery and common references to slavery as actual history, the first sign that this is something slightly unusual).

Thors is a deserter from a badass mercenary band, the Joms Vikings, and they turn up in Iceland intending to recruit him by force and manipulation for the planned invasion of England.

Thors sets off and Thorfinn, maybe six or eight years old, stows away on his ship.

Will this be an exciting father/son adventure?

Well yes, in a sense, but mainly no, not at all.

Thors is ambushed in the Faeroe islands and, in an intense and extended battle of wits, skills and moral force, he is killed by Askeladd, the leader of the mercenary scumbag legion attacking him. Thorfinn survives this, swears revenge and trails after Askeladd. Unable or unwilling to kill him by assassination, he swears he will kill Askeladd in a duel and Askeladd promises him one if he can perform services on the battlefield.

Which, over years, turns into a really weird, fucked up father-son relationship with Thorfinn gradually getting better and better, Askeladd gradually getting older and slower, them duelling semi-regularly and both knowing it can only end one way, Thorfinn locked into his hatred but simultaneously getting closer to Askeladd and more like him all the time.

And that’s just the prologue to the prologue.


I have watched a handful of the more -popular Shonen anime and know a bit more about the period in question. It’s a fascinating mind collapse watching the Shonen archetypes and style collide with a really surprisingly well realised 11th century north sea setting. The fidelity to arms, armour, culture, society and hierarchies is impressive, probably more than that is the fidelity to a morality which is, maybe not exactly that of the historical people, but a hell of a lot closer than most other popular retellings.
Religion and faith are commonly edited out of these things but Vinland Saga is in large part ultimately about morality.

Canute starting off as a Bishonen-hot Anime-femme guy;

Would you believe that this characters relationship with Christianity is a central axis of the later series and that its really well done?

Thorfinn does the Naruto-run at one point (I think its an in-joke from the creators).

It’s just very 'Anime' but also very, very, 'Dark Ages/Medieval', so there is a constant low cuturespasm in watching.

Take a look at the opening bit from Youtube


Both Piranesi and Vinland Saga are about people who are trapped and either don't know they are trapped, of who can intuit it, but cannot see it, yet are trying to escape. 

(The question of whether someone can escape from a moral or physical trap which they *don't know they are in*, and how to do that, how to imagine a reality, or a moral possibility outside anything you can comprehend, is an invisible axis of both fictions.)

Piranesi's mind and memory alteration, his inability to conceive of anything outside the house, anything that is not-House, or that came before it or which will come after it, is, to us, a kind of defence or protection from trauma.

We learn as we go on that many people have been left in the Labyrinth, and all who stay there too long have gone insane and died. Piranesi may arguably have gone insane, and the person he was originally may have actually genuinely died, or changed so totally and irreversibly that we can reasonably consider it a death, but he survives and even thrives in an environment and situation that has destroyed everyone else.

In fact he is even happy, though lonely. His life is fulfilling. He weaves webs of meaning for himself and essentially develops his own proto religion/philosophy. He finds the bones of those who have died in the House and orders them, bringing them gifts of flowers and stories, talking to them so they need not be alone. He measures, records and comprehends the tides to the point that he need not fear them. He knows all the statues in the House individually, has particular feelings and intuitions about each. In a strike of intuitive brilliance, when forced to think of things which might be not-House, he makes combinations of the symbols and actions of those statues, extending them into a meta-space to comprehend what is otherwise comprehensible. He assists a lost albatross couple in building their nest. He communicates, perhaps insanely, but perhaps with real shamanic ability, with the birds which fly through and inhabit the House. He sees himself as the Beloved Child of the House. He loves his home, and his world. He seems in this isolated existence, empathic, dutiful, industrious, philosophical, even noble. In many ways he is a man totally at peace with his reality and his place within it.

We know that Piranesi is trapped, and we begin to suspect before he does that he is being manipulated. But while I hated the idea of Piranesi being used or made a slave, in some ways I did not want him to change beyond his evolved life path. Reality, our reality, would shock, ruin and perhaps destroy him, so the reader, or listener is poised between a desire for Piranesi to develop the means to escape the House, and a deep sorrow at the loss of his innocence.


Audiobooks can sometimes live or die by the relationship between the reading and the text. There are quite a few on my account which I have only got half way through because the reading just sat wrong. If someone enunciates in a slightly 'off' manner, over tens of hours of listening, that's going to drive you fucking nuts.

Anyway, Chitwell Ejiofors reading of Piranesi if fucking *lovely*. One of the neatest synthesis between reader, character and text that I have experienced. He captures the soul of this innocent, careful, intelligent and very pure soul.


It’s really hard, maybe impossible, to make a true, popular, anti-violence, anti-war fiction. Because violence is fucking cool and really handy for drama and on a screen or in a book, contained by limited time, all of its actually destructive aspects are muted.

Even to see how violence destroys you would need to build a world large, deep and morally complex enough to illuminate the fine mycelium strands of the trauma it creates, AND sustain the viewers interest and empathy in both the agents of violence AND its victims for long enough, both in actual reading/viewing time but also imagined time in the fiction, that the viewer could begin to get some sense of what violence actually does to people over time.

Well, mission at least partially accomplished I think.

All the main characters in Vinland Saga are monsters in someone else’s eyes, and in fact do act like monsters at times. Yet, all (or most) are sympathetic when seen through their own eyes. 

There are no "evil" people in Vinland Saga, though almost everyone both suffers evil and commits it. Everyones rationale for what they do makes sense, and in a resource-poor world, no-one is ever entirely safe, either from violence, disease, starvation or enslavement. Everyone to some extent is living on a knife-edge, fighting over the scraps of a fallen world, amidst ruins they know they cannot repair.
(Not only that but most of the Christians think the world is literally going to end in about 20 or so years.)

"Revenge, tis a fucked up thing." - A Movie Protagonist.

Like ritualised gladiatorial child murder and high speed death races, revenge is one of those things people in fiction tell each other is bad while, from the evidence of that same fiction, its actually fucking BASED.

Watching Thorfinns gradual decay into someone so frozen in the instant of their trauma that it gradually degrades them into something awful and broken, is almost viscerally unpleasant, especially past the mid point of the series.

It is kind of fucking cool to begin with. The sheer willpower to survive, relentlessness and Throfinns gradual self-challenging and mastering new powers is kinda fun. But as we learn more and more about the characters, motivations and experiences of all the people linked in this great wheel of fortune, it turns more and more into a tragedy of meaningless hate.

This is made worse by the fact that literally everything Thors tried to teach his son is about not entering the cycle of death, hate and violence which he escaped from.


It’s one of the more impressive feats of popular fiction to take the guy who, in initial episodes looks like he is going to be Starscream; a scheming snakelike sidekick to the main enemy, and to slowly reveal more and more of him, in more and more complex situations, until he is something close to a terrible hero, the main character of the series.

Askeladd is the obverse side of Thors surprisingly-enlightened historical protagonist. Like Thors he is a badass, and he is highly intelligent, knowledgeable enough about the history of his world (at one point he delivers to a torture victim a brief history of the cyclic invasions which shaped Britain as justification for his own actions) and perceptive enough of its moral nature that he is one of the few people who can see the boundary of the way-things-are and realises how totally *fucked* everything is, and how trapped everyone in this world is.

He's also deeply alienated from his own culture by childhood trauma. Brilliant, manipulative, but wise enough to recognise in Thors someone who's intelligence and perception match his own, but who has found a way to live without surrendering his moral core. He tricks and manipulates Askeladds crew go from evil heavys, to cheery pirates, adventurous mercenaries, to soldiers to outright cold killers of innocents (but then they always were). Thorfinn betrays the woman who saved his life by lighting the fires to bring Askeladds raiders to the shore of her home. Two describe their own love as something like the love of god in a cheeky comedy interlude just before the Yule episodes.
The Yule episodes - which I won't spoil for you here.


The main characters of Vinland Saga are all intelligent, perceptive people facing a world shaped by chaos, violence and death. We slowly learn about each of them that, in their own way, they are trying to deal with the trauma of their experiences and reaching for some way to make meaning out of the horror around them.

Thorfinn is locked into his crushing revenge cycle with his dark father figure. Askeladd is poisoned by memories of he and his mothers lives as degraded slaves. Canute, the Price they get tangled up with, is deeply religious and crushed by the fact his Father essentially views him as a tool, and by the total lack of any justice or meaning in the world around him. Each of them is learning at different times to either hold on to, re-create, or surrender some inner totem or distant faith in *something* that might lend purpose and meaning to their lives.

Piranesi, in his unending labyrinth, has built his web of meaning and purpose, more perfectly than anyone in "Vinland", but we know it can only exist inside his fractured reality, and we know he himself is on a course to break out of that reality, and escape into a larger, but darker one where his purity will likely not survive.

Well, they are pretty good fictions. Worth a look if you get a chance and both likely to appeal to readers of this blog.