Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pan-Therion the Dream-Master (or "Boy, is that ever a Bearcat!")

'A world does not build itself.  It is built.  It is built knowingly by intelligent persons.  In Principio Erat Intellectus.  It isn't begun on chasm'd chaos though.  It begins on a globe; for all things, rain drops and fire drops, plasma globs and congregations of gasses, rock-worlds, and water-worlds, all assume the rough globe form.  The surface of the globe is bare, rock earth, slippery shale-in-formation, mud-earth.  And jagged diamond-scattered earth.  There are ghosts, but no organisms yet.

It begins then on the many-layered surface of the globe.  There is the muffled sound of footfalls.  That is the ironic beginning of it all:  "The world is empty and void of all life.  There are muffled sounds of footfalls," like the beginning of a short story.  The footfalls are those of Panther and his panthers.  And who is Panther?

Panther is Pan-Therion or Pan-Therium, the All-Animal, the prototypical animal.  He is the cool-fever-flesh from which all others diverge.  He is the composite ("you should have seen some of the things and pieces of things that went into him") and the generating force.  He is the red-clay which is clay-flesh.  He is also the Dream-Master.

But many mythologies say that it was the Bear who made the world.  Yet, there is no contradiction there.  The Bear is one of the very strong elements in the Pan-Animal.  This primordial dream-master beast is in fact the "Bearcat" who appears both in the Prophet Elias and in Mark Twain and who is found in the common expression of today "Boy, is that ever a Bearcat!"  It is Pan-Therium, the Bearcat that is in the beginning.  It's the flesh that is the red grass.  It belches the dreams out of its stomach and they battle for supremacy, whether they shall survive as "World,"  or not survive at all.'

-R. A. Lafferty, The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny, collected in Apocalypses (1977)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Planet Astrobe from above...

'And another sort of entrails were spread out for them to see.  It had come on first dusk as they stood there, and they drank in the view as though it were new apple-wine.  It was the entrails of the planet below them.  There were the Ferals, and the Glebe, and the String of Cities.  There was the black-green Astrobe of the feral strip they had just traversed, and the golden Astrobe of the cultivated regions.  There were the great golden cities at their close intervals.  And there was black Cathead and the gray Barrio.  All of them giant things!

The branch of the sea that cradled Wu Town and ended in a splinter of estuaries and canals at Cathead was a black-blue-green monster, writhing with strength and dotted with huge sea-harvesters.  There was Cosmopolis standing high and wide in a special golden halo - the heart of civilized Astrobe.'

-R. A. Lafferty, Past Master (1968)

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Trouble with Going Beyond Cliche

I write as clearly as I am able to. I sometimes tackle ideas and notions that are relatively complex, and it is very difficult to be sure that I am conveying them in the best way. Anyone who goes beyond cliche phrases and cliche ideas will have this trouble. (R. A. Lafferty)

More R. A. Lafferty quotes at

'Ah, I will go sly! I will devise a sign so I will know me if I meet me again'

'He surely came to his happiness in grumpy fashion.

The week was gone by.  The last evening for him was come.  The Dookh-Doctor ritually set his clinic on fire, and a few minutes later his house.

He burned, he scattered, he recited the special last-time recital.  He ate holy innuin and holy ull.  He took one glob of most bitter ash on his tongue:  and he lay down to sleep his last night under the speir-sky.

He wasn't afraid to die.

"I will cross that bridge gladly, but I want there to be another side to that bridge."  He talked to himself.  "And if there is no other side of it, I want it to be me who knows that there is not.  They say 'Pray that you be happily lost forever.  Pray for blessed obliteration.'  I will not pray that I be happily lost forever.  I would rather burn in a hell forever than suffer happy obliteration!  I'll burn if it be me that burns.  I want me to be me.  I will refuse forever to surrender myself."

It was a restless night for him.  Well, perhaps he could die the easier if he were wearied and sleepless at dawn.

"Other men don't make such a fuss about it," he told himself (the self he refused to give up).  "Other men are truly happy in obliteration.  Why am I suddenly different?  Other men desire to be lost, lost, lost.  How have I lost the faith of my childhood and my manhood?  What is unique about me?"

There was no answer to that.

"Whatever is unique about me, I refuse to give it up.  I will howl and moan against that extinction for billions of centuries.  Ah, I will go sly!  I will devise a sign so I will know me if I meet me again."'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Old Foot Forgot', first published in Orbit 7 (1970); also collected in Ringing Changes (1984) and Lafferty in Orbit (1999)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'an exhilarating statement of intent from a young and ferociously talented writer'

'Among the (numerous) apocryphal stories about Lafferty is this one: like many young, bookish folks, he set out at one point to be a writer, even enrolling in a night class to augment his part-time study in electrical engineering, as well as the innumerable languages he taught himself. The writing teacher took a look over his stuff and told him, you might have something here, but you need to go live your life for 20 years or so, and then come back and try it again. Being a literal minded person (something I’ll explore further later on), Ray took the prof at his word and put aside his typewriter for a couple decades. Nothing survives from this earlier period—nothing, that is, except this unpublished novel,Antonino Vescovo, dated in Lafferty’s hand “ABOUT 1935 TO 1937”.'

-from the Lafferty blog Continue on Next Rock 

Andrew (the blogger of said blog) sums up:  'It is, in many ways, an exhausting book; certainly not one to read in a single sitting. But it’s also an exhilarating statement of intent from a young and ferociously talented writer; albeit one, like O’Brien, well ahead of his time.' 

(In his subsequent blog post, Andrew relates another fascinating detail of Lafferty's writing apprenticeship:  '1957 was the year when R.A. Lafferty returned to writing after a twenty-year hiatus. He submitted stories to several magazines (all rejections), enrolled in and completed a correspondence writing course, and also sent several stories to dubious fee-charging literary agencies in the hopes of gaining representation.')

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'throw out pseudoserious abominations and use the seriocomic which is the only genuine thing'

'Chrysalis 4 contains the only authorized biographical information ever published about R. A. Lafferty.  The little additional data I could locate in my Lafferty Letters is as follows:  "As to  biographical stuff, I am an anonymous maker of medieval miracle plays.  Being anonymous, that's all the biographical stuff I can generate."  No help, right?

Try to Remember is a typical lafferty.  It makes a devastating point about the people who man our institutions of higher learning while also tickling the funny bone until it hurts.  In this context, I will quote from another one of my Lafferty Letters:  "The opposite of 'serious' isn't 'funny.'  The opposite of both 'serious' and 'funny' is 'squalid.'  As to a 'good idea' [for future volumes of Chrysalis], throw out pseudoserious abominations and use the seriocomic which is the only genuine thing."

Try to Remember was first published in Collage Magazine, December 1960-January1961.  Since Collage Magazine was a very little, little magazine with a circulation of well under 1000 and since nobody appears to have ever heard of it, I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be included in an original anthology.  Plus, we need all the lafferties we can get.'

-Roy Torgeson, editor, Chrysalis 6 (1979)

Monday, April 15, 2013

'hypnotic dream-memory wheels turning like incredible differential gears'

'The snakes did have style and charm and beauty.  They coiled and uncoiled with kaleidoscopic change.  They poured themselves, it seemed, as from one set of goblets into another set of goblets.  They fell like churning colored foam in water-falls, and they rose like slow-motion fountains.  They turned themselves inside-out and back again, swallowing and regurgitating themselves.  They were cascades of jewels tumbling down and then climbing up over themselves again.  They were dazzles, they were compositions in color and perspective, they were prismatic splitting and recombining of banded colors, they were hypnotic dream-memory wheels turning like incredible differential gears, they were wit-in-movement, they were outrageously colored jokes in rapid juxtaposition.

'They were persons with their diamond-bright person-eyes shining out in ever-new recognitions.  They were aromas, evocative and prescient, allegorical and impossibly foreign.  They could give out any odor imaginable, and they themselves had over-reaching imagination in this.  They could give odors on command or suggestion.  They were companionable, and yet they weren't pushy.

'They hadn't any voices.  But they could play pan-pipes and horns if these were fixed onto little stanchions for them.  They weren't as musical as might be expected from such colorful creatures, but they played with good spirit and heartiness.  They were about as good as Stoker's Seals in their execution, though they couldn't remember as many tunes as could the seals.  On original tunes, they couldn't come up with movements of longer than six notes, nothing at all intricate.

'They hadn't respectable minds.  Mentality wasn't their strength.  They were fuzzy.  There really weren't any other things to compare them to.  Even the older people had very skimpy memories of any snakes other than these, but there was always the feeling that these were snakes of a special sort.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'The Forty-seventh Island', collected in Basilisk, edited by Ellen Kushner (1980)

Kushner writes in the Introduction to the anthology:  

'There are new stories by some admirable crossovers from the science fiction division:  R. A. Lafferty and Michael Bishop, two original minds whose fiction often transcends classification, presented me with stories that are certainly about fantasy... The stories [in this anthology] range from the timelessness of Gray's purest fairy tale of an arrogant prince... on into the eerie distant futures of Lafferty and M. John Harrison.  All of them are excellent fantasy.'  

She also writes a little introduction to Lafferty's specific contribution:  

'R. A. Lafferty, a master of the unclassifiable, has written numerous novels and stories.  The best known novel is Past Master, in which Sir Thomas More is called into the future to solve the riddle of his own Utopia.  

Because of its trappings of planets and rocket ships, you may wish to call this a fantasy story about science fiction - unless, of course, you'd be more comfortable thinking of it as a science fiction story about fantasy.'

Sunday, April 14, 2013

'His eyes changed as he wrestled, and his whole form...'

'"He is an Angel," said Dadacus.  "He is an angel unrevealed even to himself.  That is what a typhonian is.  One of us here must reveal him.  Then he will be worth many of the others.  We receive the best of them in compensation for our losses."

The whine of the approaching chopper-cycle had become a scream.  The dust of it was a pillar in the air.  It came into sight as a howling dot at the bottom of the pillar, and it grew.  Riding it was the chopper whom several of them had seen while he was still far below the horizon.  He was a huge, bearded, slavering man, the whites of whose eyes were as big as apples, and the black pupils of them were like insane black holes.

His name, lettered in crazy print on his cycle, was Whole-Hog McCloud.  He was hairy and naked and obese, a mad and frothing giant.  But did he really look like that?

Only at first glance.  In reality he had the plastic smooth, primordial, unfinished look of a typhonian.  He could still be molded into anything.  But the noise of him and of his apparatus!

He had amplifiers on his exhaust; he had amplifiers all over his machine and all over himself.  He screamed to a skidding halt, throwing sand and rocks and gravel a hundred meters.

He was bloodied in his hairy nakedness from his skidding fall, and he had intended it so.  He arose and arose again, appearing more giantlike than was possible.

"We fight to the death," the big chopper roared through his amplifiers.  "I fight and kill you all at once."  And he came at them swinging a length of chain in one of his huge hands.

"No, we wrestle to life," Celsus said.  Celsus was the biggest man of his group of desert people.  "And you strive with myself only, not with all at once.  I'm a mightier wrestler than you'd believe, and my help is from otherwhere."

But part of Celsus' help was from those present.  Domitilla spread out her hands, and there was silence.  The fallen chopper-cycle coughed and its engine died.

The electronic noise boxes that were hung on the machine all conked out with their amplifiers.  There was left only quiet and little puffs of black smoke.  The throat amplifier of the giant Whole-Hog McCloud likewise went silent with a bigger puff of blacker smoke.  The giant tried to roar again, but his only noise was a weak, hoarse croaking.

"My noise, my noise, I need my noise," he croaked.  "My strength is in my noise."

Did someone laugh at him?  It may have been the desert itself, or the whitetailed deer or the ferrets; or those birds named bullbats that are unmannered birds.  The people of the desert group smiled at him with quiet compassion, though Domitilla still spread out her quieting hands.

It was tall, dusty noon, and the battle joined.  Whole-Hog came at Celsus swinging his chain, and he caught him a solid bloody blow with it.  But the strong wrestler, though staggered, had hold of the chain in the middle now.  He held two links of it in his wrestler's hands; he broke the chain.  (He really had strength or help from otherwhere.)  He held one half of the chain loosely in his hand now and left Whole-Hog with the other.

Then the wrestler Celsus smiled and threw his own length of chain away; but Whole-Hog kept his.  They closed, they grappled, and the pinioned Whole-Hog was more hampered than aided by his chain weapon.  Whole-Hog seemed less huge when the two of them were twined together, only a little larger than Celsus.  They wrestled for a great long while:  the naked hairy typhonian and the big youngish man in the bearskin cloak.

Jacob once wrestled with a Presence for a great part of the night and until dawn.  This was at a place named Phanuel near a stream called Jaboc.

Whole-Hog McCloud wrestled with Celsus from tall noon till near dark at a place that was very like Phanuel and was near a stream called Coyote Creek.

Cecilia, with her quick lilting voice, told the old and ever-new account of the erstwhile giant while he wrestled.  It was all new to his ears that had been stunned for so many years and were freed only in recent hours.  But he heard it and he changed.  His eyes changed as he wrestled, and his whole form.  Cecilia talked on and on (though it was necessarily a very compressed account that she gave) and Domitilla still held her quieting hands spread out.

Just as the sun touched down the two big men stopped their wrestling.

"Your name is no longer Whole-Hog," Celsus said.  "It is Whole-Man now."

"Here is water," said Whole-Man McCloud.  "What is there to prevent you taking me ritually into it?"

They did so.  And when they came out of the water, Domitilla wrapped Whole-Man in a bearskin robe.  By this he became, like the rest of them, a berserker.

They moved on in the early night.  There had been ten persons in this group; now there were eleven.

The people of the cities didn't understand how the desert epidemic grew.  It grew by such accretions as  this.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'And Mad Undancing Bears', collected in The Beserkers, edited by Roger Elwood (1973)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

'World, world, world, water, water, water, glub, glug, glub'

'The turtles in the tank I was put into did have a sound basic philosophy which was absent in the walking grubs. But they were slow and lacking inner fire. They would not be obnoxious company, but neither would they give me excitement and warmth. I was really more interested in the walking grubs.


I talked to the turtles while Eustace was painting my portrait on tent canvas.

"Is the name of this world Florida?" I asked one of them. "The road signs said Florida."

"World, world, world, water, water, water, glub, glug, glub," said one of them.

"Yes, but is this particular world we are on named Florida?"

"World, world, water, water, glub," said another.

"Eustace, I can get nothing from these fellows," I called. "Is this world named Florida?"'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'The Weirdest World' (first published in Galaxy Magazine June 1961; also collected in Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add, 1974)

Friday, April 12, 2013

'This is beginning, this is happening!'

'The world begins, not necessarily for the first time.

Not with a bang, but a tumble.  In the beginning was noise.  A cataract of worlds or entities rolling and cascading in fearful clatter.  The cosmic atom, the world-box, has disgorged.  Here is bursting galactic expansion into free area.  Avalanche of noise and bright color.  Not chaos, but thunderous exodus; and every particle bearing its own thunder sign.  This is beginning, this is happening!  Let no least part of it ever forget the primordial tumble that is the beginning!

Then, the stable state - and memory.  The first thought ever thought anywhere, anywhen:  It's as though I've been here before.'

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Symposium', collected in Omega, edited by Roger Elwood (1973)

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)