An Author's Notebook

In which the author shares various notes from his regular reading and writing.

An Author’s Notebook

Welcome, Dear Reader, to this first edition of An Author’s Notebook. In the last letter, I experimented with the microblog format. This week I'm trying out a collection of curiosities using materials drawn from my notebooks. I hope you find them interesting.

In the Wilderness

I made a start (500+ words) on the Wilderness essay I’m working on. Along the way I picked up some more sources/references that I hadn’t considered at first:

Now, it's outside of the scope of this presently planned foray to read, say, Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon from cover to cover, but the book reminded me that protagonists also go out into the wilderness to explore, survey, and map.

From the Poe, I am specifically thinking of his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket – thus why I placed the book besides The Terror. In both stories we have ships and icefields and terrors. There's some interesting resonance between Doyle's Lost World and the Roosevelt biography (specifically Teddy's harrowing Amazonian expedition). The Muir is more of a naturalist's diary.

We'll have to see how these sources help define the essay's final shape.

Rumor Full of Tongues

I recently finished reading Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I and started on Henry IV Part II for the second time. I had forgotten that the Induction concerns the appearance of Rumor personified, a being full of tongues who strides out to set the stage of our play:

Open your ears, for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commencèd on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
I speak of peace while covert enmity
Under the smile of safety wounds the world.
And who but Rumor, who but only I,
Make fearful musters and prepared defense
Whiles the big year, swoll’n with some other grief,
Is thought with child by the stern tyrant war,
And no such matter? Rumor is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wav’ring multitude,
Can play upon it.

The Bard’s Rumor spreads “false reports” of peace where there is war and war where there is peace. It is a “blunt monster with uncounted heads.” But Shakespeare’s sketch is but an echo of Virgil’s Aeneid, where the role of the goddess Rumor is similar, yet the description is far more mythic and monstrous:

Straightway Rumor flies through Libya’s great cities,
Rumor, swiftest of all the evils in the world.
She thrives on speed, stronger for every stride,
slight with fear at first, soon soaring into the air
she treads the ground and hides her head in the clouds.
She is the last, they say, our Mother Earth produced.
Bursting in rage against the gods, she bore a sister
for Coeus and Enceladus: Rumor, quicksilver afoot
and swift on the wing, a monster, horrific, huge
and under every feather on her body—what a marvel—
an eye that never sleeps and as many tongues as eyes
and as many raucous mouths and ears pricked up for news.
By night she flies aloft, between the earth and sky,
whirring across the dark, never closing her lids
in soothing sleep. By day she keeps her watch,
crouched on a peaked roof or palace turret,
terrorizing the great cities, clinging as fast
to her twisted lies as she clings to words of truth.
Now Rumor is in her glory, filling Africa’s ears
with tale on tale of intrigue, bruiting her song
of facts and falsehoods mingled . . .
“Here this Aeneas, born of Trojan blood,
has arrived in Carthage, and lovely Dido deigns
to join the man in wedlock. Even now they warm
the winter, long as it lasts, with obscene desire,
oblivious to their kingdoms, abject thralls of lust.”
-The Aeneid, Book IV, 219-244

Virgil’s Rumor is the “swiftest of evils,” she is “a monster, horrific, huge and under every feather on her body…an eye that never sleeps and as many tongues as eyes and as many raucous mouths and ears pricked up for news.” She is a mythic being with history: the Last Daughter of Earth.

Another reminder that our popular vision of classical mythology doesn’t really capture the bizarreness and alien character of the genuine article. And further proof that not every monster need rend, tear, and slaughter to be an agent of sorrow.

Swords Against Everything

Still working my way through Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books. I’m on the third volume, Swords in the Mist. And the leadoff story, “The Cloud of Hate,” just didn't deliver. Certainly a disappointment after the strong showing from Book Two, Swords Against Death.

What went wrong? Spoilers and Musings Ahead:

Some cultists of the hates are mad because the city of Lankhmar has been at peace for too long. One night, they conjure a cloud of hate – a white mist that slinks through the night streets, menacing all it meets with sinister tendrils. It wanders, dominating killers, gathering a force of murderers to work its hateful will.

In the midst of its campaign, having collected some foot soldiers and accomplished only a handful of minor tragedies, it comes upon the Twain (Fafrhd and the Mouser) and tries to dominate them. It fails. There’s a fight, steel settles the matter – as one expects. Fifteen pages with a little black sorcery, some swordplay, and then the curtain falls on another victory.

What an underplayed concept. The priests of the hates and the powers they serve seem deserving of a fuller and more imaginative expression than what is offered here. It is a story with one idea – a murderous mist that preys upon hatred and begets sorrows– that needed a second idea to give shape to an interesting tale. The specific involvement of our heroes doesn't even seem necessary except for the need for someone to stop the monster. (Though it is consistent with their characters that neither Fafhrd nor the Mouser are that interested in tracking down the source of the mist.)

I'll have to reflect more on how I would retell this story, if I was to do the concepts justice...

Here we close the notebook for a time, Dear Reader. I hope this missive finds you well.

Best regards,


Want more words, Traveller? Come visit my website at, or take the direct route to the blog.

Want to throw me some coin to support me financially? I have a Busker's Hat to help buy coffee and used books.

Was this email forwarded to you? Come and visit my outpost to choose a path through Perilous Realms.

Perilous Realms

Well met, Traveller into Perilous Realms. I am your guide Bryan Rye, Game Master and Author. Stay awhile and let us speak of many things.

Read more from Perilous Realms
Time Life's Third Reich series

In which the author speaks of childhood beasts of war. A pack of books, bristling with arms... Let Us Speak of Playing with Wolves We begin with two words: “Wolf Packs” It was one of those phrases that captured my imagination as a child. Yes, I drew wolves and worgs growing up – they joined falcons, snakes, and sharks as the animals that fascinated me most. And my older sister even painted a little picture of a wolf howling at the moon that I still have (somewhere). But I’m not talking about...

Fortresses we shall raise.

In which the author speaks of childhood castles. Fortresses we shall raise... Let Us Speak of Building Blocks I built castles when I was younger. And so I dreamt of becoming an architect – for that was the profession that was allowed to “play with blocks” when you grow up. At first, I largely raised the same castle – over and over again – as I did not have a great variety of blocks to work with. And endless repetition to children is not the terrible burden that adults feel. Later on, when I...

The quick brown fox jumping.

In which the author addresses a particular jumping fox. "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," by Lauren Alane Design. Let us Speak of the Quick Brown Fox “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” There are four things that interest me about the preceding sentence. First, I like foxes jumping over dogs, and so am pleased by the substance of the sentence. Second, the sentence is a pangram, meaning it contains all the letters of the English alphabet. I am interested in that...