Hymn to Nautilae

Written and performed by my bard during our D&D Fifth Edition Session. 

If you listen to the chiming laugh of a brook in the wood, 
and follow where the Moon-drake winds,
you will find a cavern, and an ancient bridge, 
with a rock visited by many kinds.

Elves and Minotaurs, Satyrs and Beastmen, 
and all manner of other fey,
they’ve come, like you, to the shimmering disc above, 
where her calm waters hold sway. 

There, she comes to you, smooth and cool,
from an offering dropped into her pool.
Silver given to a silvery sheen,
the Faerie comes with intention keen,
her magic strong enough to let her glean
your wishes that are yet to be seen. 

She’s like a Nereid, a Nymph, a watery Queen,
the finest that you’ve ever seen. 
Beautiful lady, ending with a tail,
to this vision, this humble bard sings this modest hail.

Her silken hair from her head crests out in waves,
like the glimmering veins of the world hidden in secret caves.
Rocks crumble, fires die, and winds move on,
but water, Terra-life’s blood moving, is never gone.

If you are wise, and your manners are fine,
with silver presented she may grant you a blessing undine. 
For with her touch, an axe might shine,
a staff made clear of evil’s brine, 
a hallowed bow’s soul no longer confined, 
each item freed from age or taint or temporal decline.

Yet above all, if you believe only one word of mine,
the Faerie holds the guidance of the watery line.
She offers a map under temples long grass,
sunken cities that mortals can no longer pass, 
traveling down roots where no stories tell,
or to a place of lost souls through an ancient well
where hope, thought long gone, may still yet dwell. 

Such are the mysteries you might find, where rock and waters play,
if you pay homage to the underlake of night and day,
for silver to a silvered tongue is yet the best way,
to court the favour of the Good Queen, Nautilae. 

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.

A Traveler’s Account of Katrina Elisse Caudle’s Darkmoon City

On the surface, Twine is about making games. But that is just one way of looking at it. To be more specific, Twine software allows one to hyperlink from one page or another through the click of a word. Words link together different pages and, ultimately, different ideas. Now, take that bare-bones concept and link together not only Twine narratives, but short stories and real time events. Essentially, in doing so, you would be creating a reality from multimedia.

Someone at the Toronto Global Game Jam made this suggestion to me after I showed him the Twine game I made at that particular event. However, what he didn’t realize is that others have already thought of this idea, and have utilized it.

In creating Darkmoon City, Katrina Elisse Caudle is one of these people.

I am not entirely sure how I found Darkmoon City, back when it was called Faerie Dark and focused more on its own content and less on outside activities. Katrina’s site itself has evolved quite a bit. At one time it was a textured grey interface in which you had to input the names of the Twines or stories that you wanted to see in a search bar. It was arranged in such a way that inputting the title of the work was a lot like participating in an agreed-upon ritual or the casting of a particular spell or evocation that would interact with the world of words and code that Katrina embedded into that world. I will admit that sometimes it confused me and it was hard to search for what I wanted back then. I even had the odd error or two. But, eventually, I “said” the words and found a part of her world.

At the time, there was only one Twine game: one interactive hyperlinking story. It was, and is The Edyn Project. I played this game during a time when I was still beginning to figure out how Twine games worked and attempted to see the different kinds and qualities of such that existed. Essentially, you find yourself in the White City: the former seat of arcane learning before the plague that wiped magic, and a good portion of the global population, off the face of the earth. The Edyn Project is an attempt by various powers to utilize technology in order to create a utopia from a Dark Age.

It was here that I began to see a different world-view emerging: especially with regards to how the White City’s new bitcoin economy is supposed to function. To this day I’m still confused about bitcoin, but the game did succeed in introducing me to the layout of the City and some of its history: including the presence of an ambiguous artificial intelligence program guardian named Edyn. I didn’t know, then, that the game wasn’t completed yet and indeed I reached a point where I didn’t know what else to do and got caught in a looped event at one point when going back to deal with my character’s blood work.

I really got to know the world of the White City through its short stories. Liminal Creatures of Heaven depicted something of a creation mythos and a different cosmogony from that of our own solar system. It even has its own astrological charts and celestial cycles.

But it wasn’t until The City With No Animals that the spirit of what would become Darkmoon City really began to slowly and subtly set into my mind.

Imagine a world where animals no longer exist: to the point of them becoming legends and myth. Now imagine a world where homosexual, bisexual, queer and polyamorous relationships are not only seen as commonplace but as part of an unquestioned norm. Then consider a place where there are more than two kinds of gender, where people can alter themselves in an almost transhuman sense, all of this is an ingrained and understood part of that world as well. The pronouns of he, she, and they are simply there in sentence and conversation. Now add to the fact that magic once existed and is in the process of being replaced (or complemented) by science and technology of questionable nature and a new bitcoin economy while the vestiges of the supernatural remain as ghosts, and faeries, and other things.

Now imagine writing this world with characters that experience varying degrees of emotions while exploring old and new secrets, and each other. You would basically be creating a whole other kind of paradigm or mentality from our own world. Katrina basically does all of this. It takes some getting used to and sometimes there is even still a bit of culture shock, but once you watch the characters’ interactions with the world and each other you begin to focus on them a lot. What I really loved about “The City With No Animals” is the fact that Katrina captures well that feeling of sweet confusion when you are discovered by those you know are special and could be, or might not lovers even as she also depicts the warmth of intimacy between childhood friends. “The City With No Animals” is a long story of four-parts, it has a unique writing style, and it is definitely worth reading.

I said a whole lot of other things about this story to Katrina herself, but unfortunately much of this correspondence was lost and now I can only focus on my impressions of what I read from that time. Indeed, Katrina changed the layout and name of the site from Faerie Dark to Darkmoon City. I’m not sure if she reloaded all of the older stories that I can’t recall, but she did add some newer elements to the new layout that she has created.

In addition to another interactive Twine called Happy Birthday Smoke!–in which you play as a character from “The Edyn Project” who is discovering her uncle’s creation of bitcoin and thus giving you a tutorial into what it is for the very first time–there are the addition of more creation myths and legends in the form of new stories.

I mentioned earlier that Katrina has a very unique writing style. I think what really stands out for me is in addition to a world with different ideas of gender, economy, science and magic, there is this very fascinating blend of Far East Asian and ancient Western culture, philosophy and mythology that exists in her overarching, and interlinking, narrative. If each world of fantasy and science-fiction is part of a multifaceted lens looking at an alternative perspective of reality, then Katrina’s world of Darkmoon City feels like a pale violet-tinted part of the cosmological kaleidoscope. Her language and sense of pacing are languid, flowing, and beautiful: and they put you into an “alien” and external mindset intimately and to the point where you realize it may not be that dissimilar from your own.

There is one more thing I want to mention before I wrap this retrospective up. A little while ago, while Faerie Dark existed, Katrina had another Twine game called Chrysalis. There were a few interesting elements about this game. First of all, and as far as I know, it was the only game that required payment: the small amount of $2.99. Secondly, it was a Twine that incorporated images and audio into its structure. But the third and most important element that I want to look at is what the about was about.

Essentially, Chrysalis was a Twine game in which you visit a courtesan named Rabbit. Its premise is almost an answer to the questions that the Canadian comics creator Chester Brown seems to pose in his graphic novel Paying For It: what kind of world would result from the creation of a society without the stigma of paying for sex, or even on non-conventional relationships? What kind of morality would exist where an exchange of services for intimacy and learning is condoned, honoured, and even encouraged as healthy?

You had to progress by learning various lessons through interaction with Rabbit. Should you have not been interested or wanted to skip ahead, you were always invited to leave if the terms no longer suited you, or if you could not follow or respect them. I didn’t always understand the astrological elements within the game itself which, may or may not have made Chrysalis into part of Faerie Dark (or Darkmoon City now) or as a standalone in and of itself. Sometimes the audio did not work and it did verge into some specific areas of sacred sex and spirituality. Sometimes the audio segments seemed long as well. But what really struck me about that game, aside from being a creative attempt to depict a different form of society where sex work is an inherent part of the culture and you learn about intimacy, sensuality and just what constitutes as an important exchange between consenting adults, as well as navigating the places between different emotions and a process of personal growth, is how Katrina applied her own experiences and the paradigm of her creative world, and bitcoin, to the scenario of Chrysalis.

It was not an explicit game, but it was definitely a very involved and thoughtful meditation on pleasure. Sadly, my words aren’t doing this game any justice as I can no longer access this game. It came in the form of a code I purchased for Faerie Dark‘s search bar that now no longer exists. All that is left are Katrina’s above account and ethereal fragments of audio to give you some idea of what this game was like. But it, and the other stories, were an excellent look into the creative mind and imagination of Katrina and what could be.

Darkmoon City is still very much a work in progress, with its own Patreon page, and as a fellow traveller into the realms of fancy, I look forward to walking where the White City journeys from this particular foundation.

When Reading High Fantasy, Travel Light

Back in the early twentieth century, two journeys began. They both began in England. One was the story of a Hobbit cleverly manipulated, though not necessarily against his will, into joining a company of Dwarves to confront a Dragon. The other story is one of a young girl, raised by bears and dragons, that sees heroes as her enemies, talks to a Valkyrie,  and must travel the world to find and understand her place in it. One of these stories was made by a male Anglo-Saxon and Linguistics professor, poet and novelist, while the other was created by a female Liberal, Socialist, novelist, poet, and an early founder of some of the first birth control clinics in London. One of these stories survived and helped found a genre of high fantasy. The other story, however, was all but forgotten.

But fantasy author Amal El-Mohtar has not.

Naomi Mitchison wrote the 1952 novel Travel Light. While Mitchison is an interesting figure in and of herself, and she possesses many contemporary sensibilities about war, sex, and women’s rights, it is this particular novel of hers that fascinates me even more. Obviously, up until I read the above linked io9 article I neither heard of her nor this story. Travel Light is the story of a young girl named Halla, formerly the daughter of a king, who is rejected by her family and fostered by bears before, finally, being raised by dragons. It is after living amongst dragons and legendary monsters, and being taught to despise the heroes that hunt them, that she is approached by the All-Father Odin (The Wanderer),  and is forced to make a choice: whether she wants to hold onto the parts of her life that define her, or to shed them and wander as well.

It is actually because of the io9 article and Amal El-Mohtar’s own beautiful article Crossroads And Coins: Naomi Mitchison’s ‘Travel Light’ that I read this book. It is an interesting story in a few ways. First of all, unlike Tolkien and his other contemporaries such as C.S. Lewis, Mitchison makes her mythological and historical references clear. Halla’s world is very overtly the world of Nordic and Mediterranean mythology. Also, there have been mentions of Greece, Constantinople, and Novgorod. Mitchison manages to subvert, perhaps tweak these beings ever so slightly and succeeds in making the reader look at them from another perspective. In fact, not only does she very smoothly subvert some tropes, she may well have made a few of her own. At the same time, she makes it so that Halla’s story seems to take place in our world, as much as fiction, fantasy or otherwise can allow, and that in itself speaks volumes.

As such, Mitchison also does not shy away from the very real dangers and moments of grief and vulnerability that Halla faces and comes to understand as a girl, a woman, and essentially as a human being. There is one quote that really gets to me after Halla faces a particularly horrible situation where it is stated “It was as though the murderers who had killed the old dragon had also killed a dragonishness in herself and she hated them all the more for it.” Mitchison makes sure that that while the dangers and consequences are not gratuitous in detail, she makes abundantly clear that they are serious and very real. At the same time, as all of these events happen to Halla, proving how strong and how vulnerable she really is, there is another element of Mitchison’s writing to consider.

While Halla is immune to fire, has knowledge of all languages that are animal or otherwise, and even comes to be given a piece of the Wanderer’s cloak, the most striking thing about her as a character is how many times she sheds her sense of identity, even as she collects epithets–surnames–to become and learn something new. It very much critiques and averts some parts of “the hero’s quest,” and heroes themselves, but at the same time Halla’s journey maintains its own rules. Simultaneously, when the story does come back full circle, it makes for a very awe-inspiring realization and where the narrative begins as a fairytale, and heroes and monsters fade into mutual legend, it all ends in mythology.

Travel Light is a story that works on so many different levels of physical detail and emotional depth: a tale with a sentence structure and language flow that you sometimes have to pay attention to, that doesn’t shirk away from background intrigue, or dare I say Byzantine scheming,  but at the same time provides dimensions to characters and an interesting notion of spirituality. I have this temptation to state, in a similar way to Amal El-Mohtar, that Mitchison’s novel makes an excellent story for young girls trying to find someone they can identify with in literature and fantasy. Unlike Tolkien’s heroines Eowyn, Arwen, or even Galadriel in Middle-earth Halla is the protagonist of her own world and her journey.

But what I really want to say is that Travel Light works on many different layers, as most great stories do, and Mitchison says something to everyone. I do think that young girls should read this story, but I also think that boys and adult audiences would also definitely appreciate the depth and resonance that it provides.  In fact, I would definitely classify this novel as an obscure classic, as a narrative that can be read by someone as a child and read again as an adult with a different kind understanding but still somehow managing to retain a sense of timelessness.

In the end, Travel Light is a work that deserves to be on a shelf next to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and all the great timeless stories of fantasy: that is, when a parent is not reading it to their child, or when their child is not reading it for themselves and imagining themselves stripping away all their preconceptions of reality … and traveling light.

The Dark Crystal Author Quest

Jen Dark Crystal

If you were a child that was either born or grew up in the 1980s, chances are you watched the 1982 film called The Dark Crystal: a movie in which Jen–the last of the Gelfling race–undertakes a quest to repair the broken Crystal of Truth in the strange world of Thra while evading its many dangers and the horrors of the evil Skeksis and their Garthim minions. The world of The Dark Crystal–of Thra itself–was created by Jim Henson: the master puppeteer and creator of the Muppets, Labyrinth and many other shows and films.

The Dark Crystal is a world onto itself and despite talk about a sequel this world has only been expanded on so far in two graphic novels: Tokyopop’s Legends of the Dark Crystal and Archaia Entertainment’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths. In addition to Brian Froud’s The World of the Dark Crystal–an art book illustrated by the conceptual designer of the film itself which expands further on the actual identities and roles of the Mystics and Skeksis as well as the lore of Thra–there had been no other official creative forays into the world of The Dark Crystal

Until now.

author quest

On October 1, The Dark Crystal Author Quest began accepting submissions for the next Dark Crystal novel. It is a writing contest created and organized by the Jim Henson Company and the publisher Grosset & Dunlap of the Penguin Young Readers Group–While the Rules for this contest can be found under the Author Quest Rules and Regulations section on the site, basically anyone can submit a 75,000-10,000 word entry–either a short story or chapter excerpts–to the Contest in order to qualify for review by the Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap. Then of all those entries, five writers will be selected and go to the second round where–with revisions and editorial suggestions–they will expand their story into a 50,000 word manuscript. After that process, and in the immortal words of Highlander, there can be only one. The winner of The Dark Crystal Author Quest will thereby receive a $10,000 book contract for the next Dark Crystal young adult novel.

This story is not supposed to be a sequel. It is a prequel event that occurs during that the time of what is called The Gelfling Gathering: in which the Gelfling people, once ruled over by the Skeksis Empire, realize what their overlords truly are and begin the process of creating the Wall of Destiny or the Prophecy that will one day liberate them. It is a time where the Skeksis still rule over Thra and have supporters among the Gelfling that they will one day commit genocide against. During this time there are seven distinct Clans of Gelfling, sixteen pairs of Mystics and Skeksis that are still alive and a lot of world-building toys to work with: found in both The Gelfling Gathering Author’s Resource and the still-developing Encyclopedia, Mythological timeline and other goodies at darkcrystal.com.

As I said, submissions opened October 1 and will close December 31, 2013, so feel free to join this wonderful Contest, or the official Dark Crystal website listed above.

As the urSkek at the end of The Dark Crystal film states, everything is connected. I myself am a participant in The Dark Crystal Author Quest and as a new writer to G33kpr0n I thought I’d be very remiss in neglecting to mention the existence of such a Contest. It is a rare thing for an established creative world to be opened up like a playground to prospective writers to make what has so far generally been fanfiction into a possible literary and fantastic reality. At the top of the page is The Dark Crystal Author Quest Panel from the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con if you would like to hear about some of what it is going on from the Contest organizers themselves.

Whether as a participant or an observer, or a dedicated fan or someone coming in new to the franchise, I hope that you get to experience the expansion of cult-classic mythos that has been so inspirational to so very many.