Sunday, 25 November 2012


If Poul Anderson had written his sequel to The Broken Sword, then one of the issues that it would have addressed was going to be the end of Faerie. This issue at least did get to be addressed in his The Merman's Children. John Keats wrote a similar passage in Lamia about science measuring the mystery out of the rainbow etc and Neil Gaiman has the mysterious places retreating before cartography. I disagree (another English poet wrote, "The angels keep their ancient places...") but let us first consider Anderson's account.

On page 148 of The Merman's Children (London, 1981), the magical is associated with the natural which is contrasted with both the supernatural and the artificial. Christianity exorcises magic; technology excludes it.

On the side of nature are:

time ordered by sun, moon or stars;
beauty, wonder, mystery, wilderness, awe, magic, hob-sprites, the halfworld, Faerie;
knighthood, a social convention, not a natural phenomenon, but one that had ever linked warriors to that mysterious "Otherworld" as against this measurable empirical world;
ships guided by "...birdflight, landmarks, a mariners sense of oneness with the billows."

Against this are:

time ordered by clocks - hard, artificial, "...devoid of mystery";
bombard, rocket, sapper, "...the doom of knighthood";
ax, plow, cities, artificial environments;
ships in yearly greater numbers guided by compass and astrolabe;
such ships rounding the earth so that Christian steeples rise above the last Faerie refuges;
learned men measuring the tracks of the stars more closely than the ancients, calculating the architecture of the universe;
spectacles, telescopes and microscopes;
men questioning God's ways and questioning Faerie out of the world.

There are three stages in this advance against magic:

Christianity (church bells and steeples);
Deism (Masonry, "...architecture of the universe...");
atheism (questioning God's ways).

It is a false dichotomy. Beauty, wonder, mystery and awe are with us still and expressed by writers of fantasy. The beauty of a rainbow is neither diminished nor devalued but enhanced by scientific explanation.

Someone said, in the light of modern science, that "clocks are clouds", i.e., that what looks mechanical is ultimately chaotic.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    It is also a false dichotomy to say that men questioning God's ways must lead to atheism. Few men have asked questions more probingly and deeply than St. Thomas Aquinas, but he was certainly no atheist. And I only need to cite examples like Louis Pasteur and Fr. Georges Lemaitre (who worked out the "Big Bang" theory of cosmology), among others, to show how there are many scientists who do believe in God.


  2. (I have just added a couple of sentences to this post.)

    I agree that questioning God's ways need not lead to atheism. The prophets questioned a lot and certainly did not doubt God's existence, in fact forged the tradition that diverged into Judaism and Christianity. The prophetic experience of Exile was repeated even more so in the Holocaust. I heard a Holocaust survivor speak of God going into the camps with His people and coming out with them as Christians believe Jesus went into the tomb and came out of it.

    When I wrote "Atheism (questioning God's Ways)" above, I was trying to summarise and paraphrase from p. 148 of THE MERMAN'S CHILDREN where Pavle thought that science, apart from eliminating Faerie, might even challenge God by not only questioning His ways but also by doing so "too closely". Questioning "too closely" could imply coming to question God's wisdom, goodness or even His existence. Of course, I am also extrapolating in the light of my knowledge of subsequent history.

  3. Hi, Paul!

    Thanks for clarifying what you said. Been a long time since I read THE MERMAN'S CHILDREN. Apparently, Pavle Subitj thought intensive study the physical phenomena of the universe could or would mean questioning or denying God's goodness or existence. To which I would have to say that idea does not logically follow or is deduced from that. The Catholic Church denies nothing that is true or is likely be true, as discovered by science. The Church does not believe physical, scientific truth contradicts revealed truth.


  4. PA's introductory Author's Note says, "The background here is Catholic, but the religion does not conform to the theology of St Thomas Aquinas. Rather, it is the naive, half-pagan mythology of peasants and seafarers in the early fourteenth century..."

    Pavle says that, when his descendants turn telescopes on the heavens and microscopes on themselves, "Perhaps God will then terminate the world, lest men question His ways too closely." So Pavle, as imagined by PA, fears that science will be a new Tower of Babel.

  5. Today, we attended a Requiem Mass in Maltese with God addressed as "Alla".

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Not sure what you meant. Perhaps what you actually heard was "alleluia"? Or perhaps you heard the Mass in Arabic, in which language the word for God is "Allah."


    2. I forgot to add that I don't agree with what Poul Anderson had Pavle Subitj saying. I would have argued with him along the lines I said previously, that knowledge discovered by science does not contradict revealed truth.

      And all this makes me wonder what the real, historical Pavle Subitj thinks of this discussion from wherever his soul is in the next world!


  6. I have just posted "Aquamen" on Comics Appreciation. When this post has been illustrated, it will be copied to Poul Anderson Appreciation because it is in praise of PA's description of aquatic characters submerging and functioning underwater.

  7. Sorry. I meant I heard the Mass in the Maltese language where "God" is "Alla". It just sounds strange in a Christian church!

    I have limited use of the Internet here. Am in Malta till Saturday. I have been meaning to google Pavle Subitj but will do this next week.

  8. At the Tower of Babel, the gods ("...let us go down...") feared that there would be nothing that men could not do if they succeeded in building the tower to Heaven. So that story seems to show divine fear or apprehension at the possible achievements of mankind.