Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Poor, Down-trodden Teratologists

Taylor - by email - asked this recently:

"I have a question that has been rankling at me for a bit as I've become immersed in Monster Blood Tattoo, and it is this: In a world as monster-ridden and monster-phobic as the Half-Continent, why do people tend to have a negative view of lazhars, skolds, scourges, and any kinds of terotologists? I realize people might be a bit afraid of them due to their powers, but, for example, why does Felicitine refuse to allow Europe to stay at the Harefoot Dig? Or why, when Europe comes to see Rossamund at Winstermill, do most people "habitually disapprove of her trade"? It always seems that people are disdainful of those who have altered themselves for the protection of the Half-Continent, and in a land where showing the slightest bit of sympathy for monsters gets a person exiled or worse, this seems a bit narrow-minded of the population. What do you think?"

To which I responded:

I think you have hit the nail firmly on the head - people are inconsistent, and no less so in the Half-Continent. I found this very tension an excellent vehicle to quietly explore this inconsistency, which is essentially: people do not want the problem but neither are they happy about the solution.

What-is-more, while we certainly have Madam Felicitine being snobbish, Master Billetus is not; Madam Oubliette has established an entire wayhouse for the patronage and support of the teratologist (albeit because they are generally not wanted in the towns). There I go again: Why are they not wanted in the towns when they do such a service? Teratologists with their much-needed yet dangerous powers are seen as the "necessary evil", like a rat catcher or a garbage collector. They kill the monsters but have to have contact with them in order to do so, placing them in a kind of half-way status.

Skolds will receive the best reception (indeed in some parts of the H-c they are truly revered), then pistolleers, laggards, lurksmen, peltrymen, tractors - your more unaltered types; followed by scourges (who, while appreciated for their efforts are mistrusted for the deadly power of their chemistry and that they look so odd wrapped so completely in their fascins) and then falsemen (no one likes to think that the person they are talking to knows what they are thinking).

Of lahzars, the disapproval goes much deeper, for there continues a rigourous debate as to what exactly they are - some hold that through the surgeries they have become a kind of gudgeon - and no one likes gudgeons - something other, whose capacities make them hard to control, place them outside the existing caste system, therefore upsetting the status quo, and very few in the H-c appreciate this (especially those of the higher situations, or with aspirations of social climbing).

So what we find in the Half-Continent is a lot of ignorance riddled with rumour; add to this "classists" snobbery - like Felicitine with her airs and graces - and the fact that a large proportion of the population are naivines (ie: never seen a monster) - and I reckon such inconsistency is valid (and a bit fun too - for me at least).

And never fear, there are those who are indeed fans of the lahzars - the obsequines, some of whom you might meet in Book 3.

Thank you Taylor!

... to this I might add (more in response to the query from Ben Bryddia) that the strange status lahzars have - the position of needful and powerful outsider - is an excellent mechanism for women to improve their lot in the commonly more patriarchal H-c / Haacobin society; hence there being a greater proportion of girl-lahzars. Never-the-less there are still plenty of boy ones too (the black-eyed wit, the Boanerges, the Knave of Diamonds - all in Book 2), it is just that they have not become the focus of my tale yet.

A question to the lady readers (if I may): how would you feel about changing your eyes by becoming a leer?

Breakfast = Vita Brits [TM] with Milo [TM] sprinkled on it and a cup of free-trade tea.


anna said...

I wouldn´t mind if I could spot people who lied. It might perhaps be a problem to see it all the time, There are white lies...which are necessary sometimes.

R.J. Anderson said...

I would totally become a leer. I think the eyes are the coolest part... but then when I was a kid I always thought it would be brilliant to have chrome contact lenses, so I may not be quite your average lady respondent. :)

Sam Hranac said...

I'm not a lady, nor a woman, so I can't answer the question. But I did have a reaction to other topic raised.

Lahzars remind me of bounty hunters. Nobody trusts or likes having bounty hunters around, but entire towns will hire them in to do a job they either can't do, or don't want on their hands. However, despite being seen as less than moral (killing for pay, not need or even vengeance), they are too dangerous to not be respected, face to face. And seeing them face to face also forces a person to confront their own hypocrisy - that they would pay someone to do something they do not want on their conscience.

monday said...

yes yes yes
in all amity i confess
tho a laggard's yellow-brown
makes our makeup kit a mess

Sapphirefly said...

This was a fascinating post.

I thought becoming a leer the hot ticket for women (more appealing than becoming a lahzar or a skold). I think the change in the eyes would be welcome because it would make their emotions and views a little less obvious to the observer while they sense or smell the sincerity of those around them. As for the appearance - how could it be worst than losing all their hair?

S R Wood said...

This is very, very interesting. There's a whole body of study in anthropology that looks at "outsider" status and the ways that people (or things, or ideas) that don't fit in one place or another can be truly unsettling.

I don't just mean that we're made uncomfortable by things we can't define, but rather the idea of core-liminal. That the in-between areas (frontiers) or people (lahzars) are fundamentally dangerous and powerful and unpredictable precisely by virtue of their being neither one thing or the other.

An example is when I leaned in the doorway of my professor's office -- we had just studied this idea -- and she said, "Come inside or go away, you're liminal there in the doorway and it's making me nervous."

(The notion of core-liminal also pertains to the idea in many cultures that the passage between child and adult, for example, or single and married, is a moment of great import: a between-state.)

Forgive the academic lecture; I'm a reformed student of anthropology who is still fascinated by the "in-between" liminal places ... and people.

monday said...

in-between-ness is in sooth fascinating + terrifying all at once...really many traditional 'monsters' [not the estimable mr cornish's] are halfway between this and that. the whole concept of faerie or what you have it is defined by its other-ness and between-ness and familiarity crossed with unknown.
i love the idea--um, i sort of reside in it. this may be why i write so many werewolf stories

Susan said...

about having a leer's eyes- i think would be awesome XD. I myself wish to one day buy a nice pair of icy blue contact lenses... lol I've always wanted by eyes to creep people out... don't ask why, but I'm a bit weird.

The whole thing about people hating monster killers is fascinating because it really does happen! I s'pose we're always scared they're going to hurt us, or infect us (for instance a rubbish collector might give you garbage coodies, or a bounty hunter might shoot you for the fun of it.. lol) but it is a very strange state of mind (and I would probably be a sedorner, so therefore would hate teratoligists for that reason alone.. but shhh.. lol)

I s'pose with people hating teratoligists though, is just they have such inhuman powers that can seem scary to some people?

oh.. and free-trade tea? I'v heard of fair trade, so I s'pose they are similar? (and if they are, i pat you on the back for supporting the underpaid workers)lol... I would buy it myself but I can never find it, and when you do it's that overpriced I can't aford it... though I am planning on buying fair trade coffee beans soon...

Coz said...

It's very common in the real world for there to be prejudice against people who have unnaturally altered their bodies, imagine if the alterations were as extreme as in MBT.

Alyosha said...

Perhaps another way of looking at why folks don’t like the teratologists is because the symptoms of a disease are not something that people like to think about? I’m not a big Freud-fan, but if the monsters are like the Id and the everymen are like the Ego... well, everybody knows what comes of repressing the Id-nature and pretending that such vile, animal impulses couldn’t be part of one’s personality. But the monsters are a part of the empire’s heritage! Though I don’t know for sure, there’s more than a small hint that Haroldus, one of the heroes of the empire’s founding days, was part monster-blood. So, the empire was founded, in a sense, by accepting and using its monster-nature, and repressing that memory is causing an empire-wide mental disease, of which the teratologists are a symptom. If the empire falls, it won’t be because the monsters actually have a goal of destroying the empire, but because the empire is rejecting part of its own nature. Caveat: I’m not saying that this is some kind of statement that Monster Blood Tattoo is making, just that it’s something that could be read between the lines. The truth is that the only reason I’m spending time coming up with theories like this is that Monster Blood Tattoo is so much fun to read.

D.M. Cornish said...

All of you, this is such excellent stuff - I am having a blast reading it all and it is very much helping my writing at the moment (one could suggest I am at a point in the story where this is pertinent) Thank you very much! More please!!

Kate said...

First, leer eyes. At first I was taken aback by the fact the question was for the ladies. After a moment's thought I realised that, though I'm not particularly appearance-oriented and spend precious little time admiring my own reflection the idea of changing my eyes did give me pause. Then I realised hey, I hate being lied to so as a falseman (falsewoman?) that's something I would no longer have to worry about. So short answer, yes I would certainly consider changing my eyes by becoming a leer.

Second, teratologists. I'm getting the impression I haven't given the issue anywhere near as much thought as perhaps I should have. I had just assumed the source of the unfriendliness lay in the nature of teratology itself. Killing monsters is a violent pursuit and those who kill monsters must therefore be violent people. Add to that the tricks of the trade they use in order to overcome the often larger and much more powerful opponents. After all, how would one take down an insane teratologist?

monday said...

i wonder if some of the enmity toward teratologists might be simply [for lack o/a better word] political. tseems that in times of duress the attitude directed at power or authority follows a pattern: seeing it, wanting it, getting it, and suddenly hating it. up until civilized humankind actually has someone to tell him what to do, he pays attention to nothing but what he wants to see, and then what was perfectly obvious before of a sudden becomes dishonesty on the part of the bearer of power. [at least this is how it apparently works in the US]

...and i lost where i was going. NE way.

Anna said...

Now, I can be out in the blue but weren´t there lots of protests and so on some decades ago when they started to use pig-parts in human when they (the humans) needed transplantations? Perhaps it´s the same in The H-c? Just the though of foreign parts in humans must seem unnatural to them.

Why shouldn´t the people in the book be just as prejudice (is that the correct word?) as we in this world?

As my previous post, I´d like to see if people lied to me. I´m very loyal to my friends, backing them up 100% and unfortunatly I expect the same from them. As we all know people are not the same. Everybody has flaws and other points of view. Loyalty for my friends are perhaps different from mine, if you know what I mean. (Yikes, my english!).

D.M. Cornish said...

Thinking about I am not so sure I would like to see if people lied to me, because, if we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we hold back at times even from those dearest to us. We don't neceesarily mean to but it happens and a falseman friend would be able to "read" this hesitation and quite possibly be hurt by it.

Controversy time, but I do believe it is a mercy that our thoughts are our own, that gut reations are not always the truest, just the first, because I believe that the real oppinion of a person lies not in initial response but in the full range of their thoughts and feelings, some of which need to be thunk about and fossicked through to be properly known then expressed. A falseperson only knows when some one is lying does not actually give you the contents of the lie unless they ask. On the flip, it can be annoying enough being around a psychologist, who has the tools to better guess where you are coming from; imagine if you were speaking to someone casually who could tell ever minor exageration or slight evasion.

Therefore I reckon a falseperson's life would be a lonely one ultimately, that amoung friends they would have to - if they wanted to keep these relationships - stay mum much of the time about the things they could see were not being said true. Either that or its drama drama drama as said falseperson is going about challenging everyone to tell the truth = drag! What a burden either would be.

It occurs to me that this is perhaps what endears Sebastipole to Rossamund - the boy with a girls name finds it hard to lie and rarely tries, and this would be some kind of relief for ol' Sebby (the same would be true of Numps too, a chance to let down the guard, to not have to be vigilant - a relational 'holiday').

I too would like to know if someone was lying to me (and other thoughts too) but I wonder if this might be (watchout controversy time again) not more to do with control and insecurity rather than anything friendly or loving..?

As to taking down an insane teratologist - or to one that went all "Joker" on us and did not care for anyone's rules or norms anymore - very very hard indeed, especially if they were a wit: how do you get someone if they know you are coming before you can see them and even do something to stop you before you ever get a chance to do something about them... And even when you did get near, a well set up wit will have excellent proofing. Scary. With such nigh-unstoppable potential threatening this adds greatly to the predjudice arguement of everymen against ubelmen. My friend, Will (of Book 1 dedication fame, thinks some laggard pistoleer (a lockstrait, I believed we called them) might be an excellent foil to such a ravening wit. Hmm... I have pondered this quite a bit: could make a great short story... hmm...

Kate said...

Hmm. I hadn't thought of it that way. The ability to "see" major lies, important, significant lies would be helpful in many situations. But sometimes it's nice to be lied to. "Does this outfit make me look fat?" is the example which first springs to mind.

There is a fine line between holding the truth in high regard and wanting to control those around us and know their secrets, too. After all, Sebastipole may use his abilities nobly but what about Laudibus Pile? He's a far less charming customer. More food for thought.

Perhaps being a falseperson would be fine if you could turn it off when you're fishing for compliments. :)

Anna said...

I meant those lies that comes out in the end and are pretty hurtful, as you KATE, say, major lies.I would rather be prepared for the bad stuff than to get hit in the head with it.
And I agree with you Mr Author,there is need for white lies sometimes to protect people you care about.

But I have a question. Is it possible for a leer to choose not to read a person? A sort of "turn-off" button?

Alyosha said...

I would guess two answers to anna's question: a) that leers can chose not to read a person, but b) that it's not so much a "turn off" button as that it takes an act of will to focus their talents. Is a fulgar always sparking? Do mathematicians calculate odds for every action? Are soldiers always ready to fight? Leers probably can't always be reading people just as a matter of conserving energy. But I may be wrong; only Master Cornish can say for sure.

D.M. Cornish said...

My call is that a falseman can choose to ignore the information their sight is telling them - but they can never "swtich it off" as it were.

And I'd just like to say that I do not personally like nor endorse "white lies" - honesty all the way for me (hard at times) though neither do I like that kind of honesty some folks bang on about which seems more to me just self-indulgent bluntness.

I do try (with varying success) to be as honest as I can, but there are times where what you really think needs to be sorted through, right there and then, before you say something - and a falseperson could see this figuring, which I reckon might be a drag for both you and the falseman... and so we come back to a leer being able to ignore what they see if they want, but they will still know.

Concomitant with this I think the privacy of our thoughts is a gift from God - with the world the way it is there would probably be no end of strife should we be completely transparent to each other. This discrete character of the thought life also works to allow appropriate levels of relationship, and deeper still perhaps, the everyday opportunity of each person to show the strength of their character and thier love through their appropriate honesty.

Here endeth the lesson... (rolls eyes at self)

Zakk said...

Well - why become a stupid fulgar or leer - be a skold! No dangerous surgeries but all the cool potions and considered a hero rather than a freak. I like the skold hats too.

monday said...

yes. the hats are incredible, mr cornish.

Ben Bryddia said...

Speaking of hats I need to find myself a good green thrice-high. Anybody know where I might find one? ;)

As to the telling the truth and the privacy of the human mind, I say lying save to preserve life is wrong. Explanation: the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 were blessed by God for lying to Pharoh, saying so to preserve the lives of some of the Hebrew children. Rahab and Jericho also come to mind to illustrate this. For a more recent example, were the people who hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II sinning? As to the privacy of the human mind, I agree with Mr. Cornish that God has given us this privacy for some very good reasons.
Now, can I go off topic and ask some more questions? Thanks. Don't mind if I do.
Is it just my obsession with swords, or would it make sense for a fulgar to have a copper plated sword (something fairly light as swords go, no zweihanders) treated with some sort of corrosive or...man, what's the stuff that keeps blood from clotting?
It just seems rather strange that these teratologists don't have a close-quarters blade rather than a bludgeoning weapon. Obviously one couldn't wield a ten-foot sword, so the pole would be more practicable, but at a few paces, why not have something which both shocks and cuts?
I'm also wondering if Rossamund's peculiar aversion to the contents of Europe's treacle box has something to do with his...unusual status. So far no one else seems to have felt uneasy around the stuff. Sallow comes to mind...

madbomber said...

gday mate,

I finally summoned my courage and opened Book 2 for some serious reading. Having completed it, I feel safe to return to the blog, knowing now I will not stumble upon any spoilers.

I see you are working furiously on book 3 going over the characters motivations etc. I'm looking forward to finding out more about Threnody, and the staff of Winstermere, also the little old lady...you've left so much still to answer. Its like a cruel and unusual punishment!

Hopefully the wait won't be too long for us to find out the answers, but if you do as well as you have done on number 2, I will gather my patience for however long is required to get it right!

For whatever its worth you have my congratulations.


E N Reinmuth said...

I would think that they're feared more for the idea that they undergo surgery to implant the organs that are suspected unternoid, and in so doing become what everyone fears. Which reminds me (as my own story making has come to a halt as all I can imagine is the happenings of book 3) ...

What would the outcome be if rossamunderlings were revealed to the entire of the half continent? Untermen appearing everymen to me would arouse the questions concerning whether they are to be accepted, after all, aren't wits and fulgars by chance related to rossamunderlings? I guess it would raise some debate but my point is, the line between the everymen and monsters has been blurred.

To tell you the truth, there is just so much people want to know about your story that I strongly doubt you could satisfy with just three books :D

Anonymous said...

does it hurt to become a leer?

Pearlius said...

About the eyes-- Yes, I'd very much like to become a leer; a falesman (falsewoman?!) more than a laggard, because red and blue are the snazziest eye colours ever. I would go to the extent of putting on elaborated make-up each day just to emphasize my eyes. Aside from the attention, its also handy for useful on good lookin' men waiting to confess their love or checking if the merchant had made mistake on the prices of clothing. In short, for all the wrong reasons... mostly. I'd behave sometimes. Hahaha, I am so strange.

Now onto teratologists... I suppose the everyday folk of the H-C have a pretty good reason to be afraid and dislike them. I mean, how would the poor people know that one day the mutated humans abuse they're powers and attack the oh-so-peaceful towns and countries!? But personally, if I were to be a commoner in H-C (and not an insane leer, haha), I'd probably be extra nice to lahzars.. because they need more sympathy and love, the poor darlings. Going through all that pain for humanity's sake and all.

And as someone has mentioned in one of the previous posts; I agree. I don't think you can really satisfy us fussy readers with only three books. Maybe.. split book three into several books? ;)

D.M. Cornish said...

... or write other books about other characters in the H-c maybe...?

And yes it does hurt to become a leer - though not as much as it does to become a lahzar.

And swords for fulgars is brilliant! (and good point about the women of Exodus and Rahab and those who hid the Jews... a tangled topic in some ways!)

...and you pearlius have just made yourself a character in the the H-c with such an excellent character summary.

Once again, thank you everyone for joining in my process, this is most excellent and helpful indeed!

And here here! Zakk hoorah for skolds!

Alyosha said...

While having unnatural eye color or losing hair may be unpleasant for most ladies, I wonder if a bigger problem with becoming a teratologist would be having children. If caffeine and alcohol can cause problems, imagine the issues with stuff like Cathar’s Treacle. Granted, some ladies don’t want children, but many do. Can the operation be reversed? If so, I can imagine Threnody manipulating the family-zealous Lady Vey into letting Threnody take up some non-chemically-dependent profession!

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, D.M., I know this comment/question is completely out of context, but I've been reading Lamplighter and during the chapter where Mister Numption is introduced you keep reffering to the old seltzerman as a "glimner?" I have looked through both explicariums and the dictionary (no, not one of those extremely small student ones)and have yet to find a discription for this baffling word. Is it just me? Is my comprehension of the alphabet and its ordering incorrect? Could you please respond to me with an answer(or two, if you like). Also, as a huge fan of fantasy as a whole, I find your fresh and original concepts enthralling.(I especially like gudgeons, as a fan of zombies, frankenstein and the sorts.)Oh, and one more thing, there should be some fulgars that have great, long wires in each hand, wrapping or lassoing the bogles and zapping the snot out of them! From,
A concerened fan.

D.M. Cornish said...

Dear concerned fan,

Be concerned no longer: a glimner is a cleaner and tender of windowlights - that is, the panes of glass that are fixed into a brightlimn or great lamp or any other artificial light source.

Apologies for the omission.

And I do not mean to freak you out at all aloysha, but being transmogrified is not truly reversable, that even removing the organs (an even riskier proposition than putting them in) still leaves the patient dependant on Cathar's treacle the rest of their lives. Worse yet for girls is that being transmogrified either makes the patient at worst sterile/infertile, at best produces massive complications during birth. I have always thought that for women to become lahzars was a chouce to forego motherhood... (am I freaking anyone out yet?)

D.M. Cornish said...

...Oh and I wanted to add that the wig-wearing for calvines (bald wits - ie, all of them) in a land where wig-wearing is all the fashion is not some kind of stigma but a proud badge of trade. Such baldness too is usually regarded as a fashion aid as they do not have to keep shaving their heads to keep their hair short enough for a wig to be comfortably worn.

Ben Bryddia said...

Pearlius, would your...(man how do you spell it?) be a plain box like Sebastipole's or, considering your insane falsewoman persona, would it be slightly more decorative...possibly even ornate? Well for a box full of arcane organs worn over the entire face that is?
As for the damage suffered by lazharines: it seems logical to me. Truly unfortunate, but consistent with the world your creating.
While on the subject of the side-affects of such things, do the potives used by leers to sharpen their eyes and other senses wear out the eyes quicker? It would be a dreadfully wonderful irony for a leer to go blind from his own profession. And considering Licurius's disfigured visage when the Grinnlings tear his sthenicon off, wouldn't those nasty little organs in the bow damage the face and senses prematurely as well, particularly if they were used continually?
One final note on the concept of fulgar swords. They would probably be straight, slightly shorter that the wielder's leg for use in tight corners. Any handguards should be minimal considering how easy it is to get a crosstree snagged on clothing. The blade should probably be double edged as well; more of a stabbing sword, since swords simply for slashing would have trouble puncturing think hides. The hilt should have room for, at maximum, two and half hands since it must be long enough to facilitate proper leverage but again, small enough to avoid snagging. As for how the fulgar could electrocute the blade without directly touching it, why not have the hilt bound with leather, but have several vertical pieces of copper running along the grip and then joining the copper plating of the blade itself... I write a lot of work concerning swords…

Pearlius said...

"Excellent character summary"-- Oh, you made me blush!

Ben Bryddia: If I was an insane falsewoman, I'd have a bright purple sthenicon (I had to use reference to spell that...) with very elaborated carvings and acid green feathers sticking out of it, nicked from the behind of some large monstrous beast-bird...thing. Maybe I'd put on a Darth Vader-like voice when I have the sthenicon on, just to freak everyone out?! :D

E N Reinmuth said...

To Ben Bryddia and D M Cornish...

This talk about swords for fulgars has piqued my conceptual brain:

Why not have two blades sprouting from the hilt (each facing opposite directions) though about an inch in width, leaving a gap between, where two copper prongs line their inner edge? This way you can maintain the swords like any other blade (sharpening, stainless etc.) but the acting fulgar can also use them as items of conduction.

I can just imagine a very skilled fighter posing with two of these suckers and a huge amount of energy starts welling at the arms and exploding along the channel towards the target.

..... I might just make my own personal character with these!

Vahlaeity said...

Altered eys wouldn't bother me... but i like the idea of becoming a wit, cathar's treacle and no kids included... but I'm terribly vain about my long locks... lol, i'd have them turned into a wig before the op ;)

I agree with S R Wood about the importance of liminal space. I studied YA literature at uni and often it was the fantasy books that occupied the children's book category (or young adults) because there central characters were liminal characters. The books themselves were seen as liminal and therefore placed in these categories because people didn't quite know what to do with them.
Good fantasy deals with unsettling ideas. Ideas that are relvant to reality and yet exist in a complete and seperate world of imagination. The nexus of reality and imagination, I would suggest, is a liminal space.

portals said...

About leers, is the process of eye-soaking very painful, or just a nuiscance, because i would think that many more people would dip their eyes in chemicals if there were no consequences and the results were so amazing.

Ally Mitchell @ Hagley said...

It would be well worth it!

But of course it would be better if it wasn't painful.

Also it would be awesome if you could turn it on and off!?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I actually put down "False(wo)man" in the What would you be pole...=D

As has been mentioned, it such a patriarchy, setting yourself outside the standards of society AND having such a vicious edge over any threats to your self...ah, I'm sure it'd be a relief after life as usual (as far as I cfan guess it is) in the HC.

Also, this has nothing to do with this topic but...would you consider editing the MBT entry in Wikipedia? It's a bit of a mess...