FROM HER EYES A DOCTRINE
And now... a Folkish novel for adults!
What if America's future looks more like South Africa? A race of pioneers, builders, and creators, brought low and targeted for judgment. Forget reparations. This is Retribution.
Imagine a world where most of Europe is no longer recognizable, a world beset by ethnic conflict and economic ruin. Imagine the last throes of a dying race, consumed by self-loathing, bred out of existence, and undone by its own self-destruction.
Born into this darkness, Phoebe is unaware that anything else is possible. Until the day a man takes her on a journey from the white ghettoes of Minneapolis to an outpost of freedom hidden deep in the Northern Woods. Here, an ancient religion has been resurrected, and a way of life as unexpected as it is uniquely natural to our people. And here Phoebe will fall deeply in love with the most dangerous man alive.
Enter a world that mingles dystopian horror with life-affirming hope. A world of thrilling romance and heart-pounding peril. A world as ancient as our race, that may well turn out to be our future....
The Music of From Her Eyes a Doctrine
Music plays an important role in this novel, as it does in the history and spirit of our Folk. The community Phoebe finds evokes the frontier setting that so often recurs in our history, whether it is 10th-century Iceland or the 19th-century American West. In thinking about what kind of music such a community would have, I found myself drawn to the folk songs and sea ballads of the 19th century. As Phoebe observes, "Some of these songs were melancholy; others were full of fun; but all of them told a story."
One such song that appears in the book is Canadee-i-o. The lyrics that appear in the book occasionally differ slightly from these performances. In each case, I tracked down the oldest surviving versions from the Bodleian Library's "Broadside Ballads Online."
Another song in the book is sung by Brigid, accompanied by a man who does this for a living. As Phoebe notes: "This was, in fact, his trade, to know the songs of the folk and to keep alive their memories and spirits with music. Feeding the spirit was as indispensable a trade as feeding the body." The song is Jamie's On the Stormy Sea (scroll about two-thirds down that page to find the sound file).
Then there is Lady Franklin's Lament. In it, a sailor dreams of Lady Jane Franklin calling out for her lost husband, John Franklin, who was lost with all his men trying to find a Northwest Passage. The version I present in the book became popular around 1850, when a frantic search to find the two ship's crews was undertaken, spurred by Lady Franklin herself. I tell the story of this in my book A Race for the North. There have been many renditions of this song, but my favorite is Paul Cornwall's.
Finally, there are songs that are mentioned by title but not presented. These include The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (see "Great Lakes History" article below) and The Death of Bowie Gizzardsbane, a wonderful retelling of the Alamo in skaldic verse, from John Myers Myers' book Silverlock. The events at the Alamo are especially important to one clan in the garth:
"Aethelstan told her that their clan maintained a strong connection to what had once been called the Lone Star State, before Whites there were overrun. He nodded at their aged clan mother, sitting in a place of honor, her hair a beautiful mix of gray and the raven black of her youth. 'She is the oldest daughter of the man who founded this clan. The family all these people are descended from came to Wolf Garth from Texas. Some say our Founder named it Raven Clan after her mother, who had the same hair, while others say it was in honor of Houston the Raven.'
"Phoebe looked more closely at the tapestries on the walls, which the women of the clan had added to over the course of a half century. Depicted there were those early events from Texas history as well the Retribution: here was the family’s move from Texas during the Darkening, with the dark-haired mother and her daughter clearly discernible; over there was the Founding of the garth, when the current clan leader was only five. Visible here, amidst this peace and plenty, were their struggles during the Hunger; and over there, Phoebe could see the arrival of Leonidas after the fall of Bear Garth, his one eye clearly identifying him."
The connection with the Alamo is drawn even tighter, as Phoebe, after hearing The Ballad of the Alamo, goes outside to hear a song sung to the same tune, telling the tragic story of Bear Garth.
Similar music that does not appear in the book but fits the mood includes that of Nic Jones and Kate Rusby. So grab your chicory coffee or blackberry wine, and let this music evoke the world I have tried to make as real as our own.
Geography in From Her Eyes a Doctrine,
Part I: Hungary
Part I: Hungary
Geography is a theme running through all my books, including the spiritual bond formed by time between blood and soil. In Blut and Boden, this observation appears:
"To Boden, you see, it was the soil that mattered most, the magic of this spot, this place, of being able to say, 'Here is where my mother nursed me; here is where I grew up; here is where my father is buried.' To remember by seeing, and to hand down a place made sacred by time to your children and grandchildren."
In From Her Eyes a Doctrine, this idea is manifested in the book-within-a-book, the journal of Leonidas, a Hungarian who eventually found his way to the garths around Lake Superior. As death approaches, he recalls the lost world of his childhood, growing up in the vine-covered hills around Lake Balaton in Hungary in the 2050s and 60s:
"I remember the vineyards from those days, green rows running forever toward mountains purple in the shadows thrown by sunrise. I grew up in the shadow of St. George Mountain and dreamt of fighting the dragon. In the ruins of Castle Szigliget I wandered, looking down at the lake and knowing that, somewhere off to the South, my older brothers had gone to fight. One by one they departed, to wage a war every bit as heroic as the one that once brought crusading knights out of this castle, bound for Jerusalem."
Later we learn that Leonidas was born in the village of Hegymagas. In the last entry for his journal, Phoebe observes,
"Leonidas had conjured up the lost world of his childhood, the land that generations had tilled, the village where he was born, the people whom he loved. But it was a boyhood lived on the knife-edge of existence, for he watched as, first his father, then his three older brothers, went off to fight and never returned.
"Despite all this, his memories were not the stuff of nightmares. Clearly, he was proud, proud of his people who refused to give up. Phoebe could see that in its last, desperate stand, his nation had stripped itself of everything that was not essential to survival. As he put it,
'The Hungarians, at least, recognized that by an iron law of nature, a race whose women do not bear children and whose men do not fight will vanish. Nature has not set aside any portion of the earth for any creature, reserving it in perpetuity, regardless of that creature’s ability to fend for itself. Rather, every piece of land belongs to those, and only to those, who can hold it. Many have forgotten this basic truth.'"
Later, facing the threat of Muslim invasion, his mother takes him and his younger sister to Budapest. It is a city under siege, surrounded by a Muslim horde rampaging across the Balkans, and bombarded by airplanes from France and Britain, now fully under Muslim rule:
"Budapest had been under siege for a year on the day I was sent to fight. First the city had called up the boys on the edge of manhood, then it drafted the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds, and then the thirteen-year-olds were armed, and I among them. We stood in the square before St. Stephen’s Basilica. Its spires had been hit by artillery, and there was a hole in the dome, but the walls still stood. Smoke from that day’s bombardment filled the sky and the streets about us, making it seem that this square and the buildings facing it were all that existed."
Young Leonidas is sent off with his comrades to the Pest side of the river, crossing the great Szecheni Chain Bridge. On this side of the Danube, the walls of the city, formed in haste, are in danger of being overrun:
"We marched across the Danube on the ancient chain bridge, and then we were in Buda. All the families had long since been moved to Pest, on the eastern side of the river, so now we were among soldiers only. The tolling of the bells became distant, but now we could hear a different sound, growing in volume: the sound of explosions, gunfire, and screaming....
"That night seemed to stretch on forever. The flash of artillery and streaks of anti-aircraft rounds made it seem like a kind of horrid daytime, and in my imagination I thought the sun would never come up again, that this would be the only light the earth would ever know."
In my next post, I will look at the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the main setting for the book.
Geography in From Her Eyes a Doctrine,
Part II: Copper Peak
One of the most important locations in the book is Copper Peak, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The world’s largest ski flying hill, and the only one outside of Europe, the Copper Peak ski jump was built in 1969 but has not been active as a ski jump since 1994. A first-person view of it, from top to bottom, can be seen here.
Copper Peak first appears in the book as a symbol for the stupendous engineering achievements of Whites before the Retribution. Later on, it appears as an earthly analogue for the High Seat of Odin, Hliðskjálf. Below is the passage describing Phoebe’s thoughts as Aethelstan leads her up to the top.
The poem Aethelstan recites is the “The Ruin,” an Anglo-Saxon poem which I have translated anew for this book. In doing so, I have slightly altered Anglo-Saxon poetic alliteration so that each half-line alliterates.
It was time to resume their journey, and follow the windings of the Black River as it flowed on. Up ahead, on their side of the river, a great hill loomed out of the surrounding plain. Atop it stood something man-made but impossibly tall. As they neared, the structure began to resemble a giant slide, extending the hill’s slope perhaps a hundred meters higher. Aethelstan told her it was Copper Peak.
“Long ago they made that slope for skiing, where you slide down the snow on long slats. You would take a lift to get to the top of the hill, then ride an elevator hundreds of feet up. It’s been decades since any of that worked, but you can still climb to the top. From up there, you can see for hundreds of miles, even to the other side of the Northern Sea. Leonidas called it the High Seat.”
He looked back at her, and his eyes sparkled. “I’ll to take you up there. We’ve got time, and you may not get the chance again.” She was unable to resist.
When they reached the base of the peak, they came to an abandoned building, its roof partly caved in. Following Aethelstan inside, Phoebe found herself in a large room that had once offered visitors food, gifts, and pictures from the past. The steep V of the high ceiling made it appear like an ancient hall. Looking at the pictures of men and women long gone unnerved her, and she walked back outside into the sun.
Aethelstan came out soon after, and they continued on to a sign. It read “Copper Peak Adventure Ride” and identified 1970 as the year it was built, nearly a century and a half ago. A hulking metal contraption, once painted red but now rusted and chipped, connected the cables that followed the slope of the hill up from this point, but the machine no longer ran, and the chairs swung idly in the wind. They left their packs there and began to walk up the hill underneath the cables, where forest growth had reclaimed the ground. The climb was steep, but Phoebe had overcome many challenges in five and a half days of journeying. At the top of the hill, they paused for breath, and she looked up, marveling at the slide or ski jump as Aethelstan had called it.
Taller buildings stood in Many Apples, she knew, but there was something about the structure’s shape and position that made it appear even more massive than its already impressive size. Extending upward in a slope that veered more and more to the vertical, it seemed to be an unfinished bridge to the sky, pointing to the space where once the White man had orbited the Earth and set his foot upon the Moon. Leaving the planet was surely a more stupendous achievement than building this, but that feat was hard for her to imagine, rendering it unreal for all practical purposes. This, however, she could see and touch, and the fact that it was built purely for amusement made its size even more outlandish.
What had the Whites been thinking before the Retribution? Were they amusing themselves right up to the very end, too busy to notice the shifting of the earth beneath their feet, unwilling to face the certainty that everything they built, everything they cared about, would one day be handed over to people completely unlike themselves? Or maybe, she speculated, they were so anxious to fill the emptiness inside that amusement became the only reason worth living, a purpose comfortably limited to one human lifetime. Then they need not worry about the future. In fact, they might even envy their descendants for the technological wonders they would surely amuse themselves with.
She recalled something her grandma had said, that Whites used to treat their dogs better than their own children. They had built resorts for their pets where they were pampered like rich people. They would even call them their children. But actual offspring they had little time for. Instead, they used their technology to find new ways to render themselves infertile. Now the descendants of those pampered dogs roamed the depopulated towns in feral packs. Before the Retribution, Whites’ biggest concern was being able to alter their sex at will, denying their gender since they could not so quickly deny their race. With righteous indignation, they demanded the right to take any drug they wished in order to escape the reality they had made.
It was said that when the Retribution came, Whites were busy using their most ingenious sciences to make robots that looked like women and even spoke and moved like them. In this way, men could seek their pleasures in a fruitless union, leaving no children, no sign that they had ever lived. Phoebe had heard rumors that some of these engineers, shunning the redneck fate, still worked on perfecting these lifeless women. From workshops in the worst part of the Seeds, they sold the services of these machines to men whose posterity was cut off not by choice, as before the Retribution, but by necessity.
She looked up at this awesome edifice of metal and wood that extended toward the heavens. No, this was not like that, she decided. There was something about this that challenged you, dared you, made you better if you could overcome it. And so she resumed the climb.
A rope hung down several meters from the end of the ski jump. Aethelstan climbed up first, then hauled her up as she hung on. Weather and lack of care had aged the structure, and wind-blown soil had taken root, enough for weeds to grow. The wood groaned underfoot, and the steel frame creaked, yet the work of the pre-Ret engineers held as the frigid wind whipped about their heads. Halfway up, she had to stop, for the steepness of the slope here was unforgiving, and the muscles in her thighs burned.
Aethelstan stopped with her, and as she looked about, he began to recite a poem she had never heard:
Wondrous these walls, destroyed by Destiny,
the city smashed, the work of giants laid waste,
roofs going to ruin, towers toppled,
crossbeams caving in, cement scored by weather,
ceilings storm-torn, ravaged and wrecked,
feast for the fire. Earth embraces
the mighty makers, dissolved and departed,
gripped by the ground. Legions of life-times,
a folk faded away….
Bright once these buildings, scores of spas,
spires soaring, voices valorous,
merriment in the mead-hall, packed with people,
until force of Fate ended everything.
Men fell far and wide, days of war and disease,
death dealt the brave a lasting blow.
Their battlements abandoned, their farms fruitless,
towns torn down. The menders met death,
hosts of men heaped up.
This is why these dwellings are dreary.
“What is that from?” Phoebe asked, mesmerized by the words.
“It is a poem called ‘The Ruin.’ It was written many centuries ago, when the poet beheld the ruins that the Romans left behind.”
“I would like to learn it one day.”
They continued up, to heights that made her swoon, so she kept her eyes glued to the wooden planks in front of her. At the top, a metal gate swung in the wind, banging against its frame, and she followed Aethelstan through it. Looking back down the slope, even though a fence now enclosed them, panic seized her at the thought of falling down, so steep it was. She gripped the side and walked away from the edge out onto the metal walkway, but the holes in the metal tread revealed nothing beneath but treetops far below. Only when she had caught her breath did she dare to look around. There she saw the Black River, a thin break in the trees extending into the distance, until it met a blue darker than the sky.
“Is that – ?”
“The Northern Sea.”
“Still a good three hours’ hike, but we will camp by its shores tonight.”
The sea extended in either direction, commanding almost half the horizon around them. To the West she could see beyond it to land, which Aethelstan identified as Wisconsin and Minnesota, but to the North, the water seemed endless. There, far away, lay the shores of Canada, but they could not be seen. Turning about, she saw that they had nearly reached the edge of a different kind of sea, a sea of trees in dark green, dull yellow, and rust red. The Iron Wood, Aethelstan called it. He pointed southwest, where trees ran on forever; that is where they had come from. Then he directed her gaze northeast, where low peaks broke up the horizon.
“That’s where we’re headed. The Drakensberg. The Dragon Mountains.”
Geography in From Her Eyes a Doctrine,
Part III: The Path to Wolf Garth
Part III: The Path to Wolf Garth
This book is very much one about journeys - through space, through time, and through a people's spirit. All three come together in Chapter 3, as Phoebe and Aethelstan journey through northern Wisconsin and Michigan. I will write about the spiritual aspects of their trek at another time, but for now I'd like to focus on Phoebe's observations about the contrast between the forest and the city of Many Apples (Minneapolis), in which she grew up:
"She was surprised at how quickly she had gotten used to the daily rhythm, the required actions now becoming habits. The forest seemed completely natural to her. It held its share of dangers, but so did Many Apples. The key difference, she thought, lay not so much in the nature of the threat but in how she felt in facing it. The city was filled with teeming masses of people indifferent to each other, living amid impersonal, ugly structures that seemed to have been designed to convince the individual yet further of his own insignificance. But no one can survive long if he truly regards himself as insignificant, she reflected, so we survive by regarding others as expendable and worthless. We brutalize each other, yet when we are brutalized, we rage at its injustice.
"The forest, on the other hand, induced a different kind of awe, a different sense of one’s smallness. Death could certainly come here, with none to lament your passing or even know of it. But the forest also encouraged the means to overcome its perils, through self-reliance and industriousness. The city wants you to die, but first it wants you to know you are inconsequential. The forest holds death in one hand, but with the other it bids you become stronger, quicker, sharper."
Later, after climbing down Copper Peak, they follow the Black River past several waterfalls until they come to where the river empties into the Northern Sea:
"Walking downriver on this side, they followed a tight bend, and then the sea was before them once more. The trees, as if not wanting to surrender, grew right up to the water’s edge, where they rooted themselves in the rocks, their roots exposed. A line of rocks had been laid out far into the water, twinned by another rocky barrier on the other side of the river’s mouth, and together they formed a small harbor.
"Aethelstan went to gather wood for the fire, but when she made to help him, he insisted that she explore the beach before it got too dark to do so. As she walked along the sand, stepping over driftwood, the sun lay hidden behind a line of low blue clouds on the horizon, but its blaze reached beyond to paint the sky above in red, orange, and pink.
"She stepped out carefully on the line of rocks, until the water was all around her, save for the narrow line leading back to land. The vastness of the sea overwhelmed her. It had been impressive enough from the High Seat, but here it became a thing of awe. All of the lakes they had encountered could be poured in it and would not make it rise a millimeter. And it was deep, so deep, Aethelstan had said, that if it were poured out, its contents would cover the entire continents of North and South America in a foot of water. 'But then it wouldn’t be a sea,' he observed. 'Mixed in, shallow, it would lose its character and become a swampy sludge. Better that it is small, but deep.'
But it did not look small from where she was standing. It was as though they had traveled for days only to find they were on an island. Yet she knew there was land on the other side of this sea. A bird shrieked behind her, and she half expected Old Jeff to appear, but instead it was a white bird with a long beak that flew past her, on its way out to sea. Toward the setting sun it soared, almost motionless as it rode the winds. The cold breeze stirred something dream-like in her. Her thoughts were a dizzy mix of Boers and Werewolves, eagles and mountain lions, iron woods and copper mountains, boy-soldiers and radiant women, great battles and private acts of violence, the intimacy she and Aethelstan had shared and all that she wanted yet to share with him, until she felt that all this must be a dream. Surely she was lying in bed, in the South Seed of Many Apples, firmly in the clutches of the Retribution. Could one dream within a dream?
Not quite accustomed to the fact of the Northern Sea, she walked back to the beach, then took off her shoes to enjoy the feel of sand between her toes. The water was cold, but she enjoyed the feeling as she walked along its edge."
Further on, they come to the Dragon Mountains, known today as the Porcupine Mountains. A group of Boers, refugees from South Africa, passed through this area around 2050 before settling at Ou Toon (more on that in another entry). Facetiously, they named these low-lying hills and bluffs after a much more impressive range in South Africa, the Drakensberg. They eventually come to Lake of the Clouds, which bears that same name today.
"They climbed higher now, the Northern Sea at their backs. Near the top, they were above a fog that was gathering ahead of the storm, and she could no longer see the ground below. At the summit, Phoebe felt the ground flatten out. When she kicked at some of the soil, underneath lay asphalt. Here, nature had reclaimed its own, but the hand of man had eagerly assisted to hide any sign of a human presence.
"Aethelstan guided her out onto a rocky ledge. “That,” he said, pointing down, “is Lake of the Clouds.”
She peered down through the mists. “I don’t see anything.”
And then the bank of fog rolled away, and before the next one rolled in, there she saw the lake below. It stretched off to the East perhaps two kilometers, hemmed in to the South by a line of hills that rose less severely, but just as high as the ridge they were on.
“We’re close?” she asked.
“About four miles. It’s just a little ways beyond the other end of the lake.”
She strained her eyes to see what lay east of them, but fog once more enveloped the valley.
“And now,” he said with a grin, “we walk the Dragon’s Spine.”
Stepping back from the ledge, they returned to the trees and followed the ridgeline. She felt a chill, and the darkening sky left no doubt that a storm was on its way. Halfway down the length of the lake, Aethelstan pointed to the far shore. Her heart leapt as she made out human figures, the first she had seen in days – was it only six days since they left Many Apples? It felt like a year.
“They’re bringing in their fishing boats because of the storm. No evening fishing today.”
Beyond the lake, she could see that the river twisted this way and that, disappearing into the mist. They resumed their hike, maintaining their high elevation as they skirted the lake. There was a trail here, although the trees grew thick about, and only rarely did she catch a glimpse of the lake. When they reached its other end, they walked out upon a rocky ledge. On their left, to the southeast, she could make out a broad valley that the river meandered through. And there, on the other side, stood a huge fort, circular in shape.
“Is that – ?”
“Yes,” he said in a quiet, reverential tone. “That is Wolf Garth.”
Great Lakes History in From Her Eyes a Doctrine
The history and ambience of Michigan's Upper Peninsula figures largely in From Her Eyes a Doctrine. I will make a separate post on the garths themselves, but for now I'd like to show some of the background and events referenced in the story.
Leonidas' journey from Europe to America was aboard an Estonian freighter. After fending off an attack by Somalian pirates from Sweden in the Kat al' Gat (Kattegat), the two ships in the convoy cross the Atlantic:
"We were headed for America to sell food there, for it was 2070, and the Hunger was then in its fourth year. The ports along the Atlantic were unsafe, for there were occasional riots in the cities. As for the smaller towns, where there was no distribution of food, we had heard reports of ships landing only to be seized by force, their crews killed. So we went up the St. Lawrence, on into the great seas that carve a path to the center of this continent. Our destination was the great city of Chicano, for food could always be sold there for a good price. But in Toronto, a Chinese merchant paid us to go instead to Du-Liu, where his company did business. So we passed into the Northern Sea, but we never reached Du-Liu.
"A great storm came up all of a sudden and swept through the Northern Sea. Our huge ship, the Argus, was tossed about like a child’s toy, and we lost sight of our sister ship, the Hydrus. I learned then how puny men are, compared to the giant powers of the sea and the storm."
The names of these two ships are the same as two freighters that sank in the Great Lakes Storm of 1913. This, the deadliest natural disaster to affect the Great Lakes in recorded history, was a blizzard that developed hurricane-force winds and waves 35 feet high. Nineteen ships went down in what is remembered as the "Big Blow" (see map). Among these were the Argus (pictured) and the Hydrus, sunk in Lake Huron with the loss of all hands. Given Leonidas' classically-inspired name and upbringing on the stories of ancient Greek, I thought these names were especially appropriate.
The sinking of another ship is referenced during Phoebe's wedding feast, before they hear Canadee-i-o (see above entry on Music):
"Brigid told her that the garths around the Northern Sea had become enamored of the old folk songs in the seafaring style. On the long winter nights, they thrilled to such songs as The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, with its haunting story of a capsized ship long ago."
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald (see picture) was caught in another Great Lakes storm, this one in 1975 (both events occurred in early November). Voyaging from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit, the Fitzgerald was caught in conditions very similar to those that downed the Argus, with hurricane-force winds and 35-foot waves. The captain's last message was "We are holding our own." The ship went down with the loss of all hands.
Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed the folk song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which ends with these words:
"Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early."
Readers of Blut and Boden may recognize an echo of those words in the confrontation between Boden and the Fire Giant.
The Soo Locks, built in 1855, are mentioned in the book at a time of crisis, when Aethelstan reports:
"'I should tell you, that some on the council, including the Rangers, view this as virtually an act of war. I heard an ancient idea resurrected there, that the Soo Locks should be dynamited.'
"Phoebe asked what that would mean. Aethelstan explained that such an act would end all ship traffic into the Northern Sea. That would cripple Du-Liu, which was the Chinese outlet to the sea for exporting the agricultural products from the great factory farms further south."
The idea Aethelstan refers to is the fear, during WWII, that the German Luftwaffe might be capable of mounting a one-way aerial attack on the Soo Locks from a base in Norway, with a similar crippling effect on all the commerce along the Great Lakes. The U.S. and Canada devoted considerable attention to providing defense for the locks.
Two ethnic groups of our Folk had a major impact in shaping the history of the Upper Peninsula especially. Finnish settlers accompanied one of the first European colonies in North America, New Sweden, centered along the Delaware river from 1638 to 1655, when the Dutch conquered it. The Finns, beholding a land as rich in timber as their homeland, built the same kind of home they had known, the log cabin. This versatile and sturdy construction became the dominant form of residence for settlers of all nationalities.
Here are Phoebe's first impressions of what will be her new home:
"Now she had the opportunity to see their cabin in the light of day, although the sky was overcast and a light drizzle was still falling. Flowers had been planted, though none were blooming now. The cabin’s front, with its covered porch and banded windows, had an inviting look despite the grayness, or perhaps because of it. Here was a refuge from the elements, a place of strength and simple comforts in a time of chaos.
"In her textbooks, it was from cabins such as these that the racist pioneers poured forth to attack the Red Indians. She suspected that the cabins had more likely served the pioneers as a defensive shelter against such attacks. Something about its stocky solidity, fashioned directly from what lay at hand in nature, made it seem more permanent than the steel-framed buildings of the city, structures which seemed to be dying even while young, sentenced to an early death at the fickle hands of fashion. Looking at the cabin, somehow it made sense that this simple structure would attend the twilight of America as it had its dawning."
The second group mentioned are the immigrants from Cornwall. Valued for their skill in mining as the Finns were for forestry, the Cornish played a conspicuous role in the history of the U.P. One of their lasting contributions is mentioned in the book:
"Phoebe also made food for him to take with him when he left the garth on business with the Rangers or bucks. Centuries before the Retribution, the women of this area would make a portable meal for their husbands, the Cornish pasty, a durable pastry of meat and vegetables. This the men would take into the mines, for copper and iron were abundant here. Today, the women of Wolf Garth did so not just for the miners, but for all who ventured out: lumberjacks, herdsmen, farmers, Rangers. And so did Phoebe, as the scavenger’s wife."
Finally, I'll turn to Old Abe, the Wisconsin "war eagle" that won such fame in the Civil War. As Phoebe and Aethelstan make their way across northern Wisconsin, she catches sight of an eagle flying above them. That, Aethelstan tells her, is Old Jeff, who always seems to accompany him in these parts. He then speaks of a much older eagle in this region:
"Two and a half centuries before, he told Phoebe, an eagle had been captured not far from these parts. A great war was then convulsing the country, a war between the states, a war between brothers. This eagle was given to a unit of soldiers from Wisconsin. Naming him Old Abe, they placed him atop a perch and took him into battle as a kind of standard. He seemed to enjoy the strife, shrieking and spreading his wings as the armies clashed. Once a bullet cut the cord that held him, and he was shot through one wing. Freed from his perch, he soared high above the lines of both armies before returning.
"'That eagle,' he said, 'saw many battles and survived the war. He received great honor the rest of his days, there in the Capitol building of Wisconsin. Years later, a fire broke out, and he was the first to alert everyone before he died from the smoke. But as for Old Jeff, he has not seen any battles, at least none that he speaks of. He’s like me, looking for what others have thrown away, things which we find valuable.'"
Old Abe was present at 37 battles, and after the war was housed in the basement of the Wisconsin State Capitol, where many people came to see the famous eagle. The fire to which Aethelstan refers took place in 1881. Decades later, after WWI, the 101st Airborne Division was in Wisconsin for training. Seeing Old Abe, in stuffed form, on display, and learning about his story, they chose the war eagle as their symbol. The black shield that forms the background recalls the distinctive black hats worn by Wisconsin's "Iron Brigade," made up of soldiers from Wisconsin joined by men from Indiana and Michigan. They earned their name at the Battle of Second Manassas in 1862. Observing the unit fight, Union General McClellan asked, “What troops are those?” When told, McClellan remarked, “They must be made of iron." Those words will resonate with readers of From Her Eyes a Doctrine..
Geography in From Her Eyes a Doctrine,
Part IV: The Other Garths
Part IV: The Other Garths
SPOILER ALERT: Some points related to the plot in later sections of the book are mentioned here.
Although From Her Eyes a Doctrine is situated in Wolf Garth, there were three other such communities, as Phoebe learns, one of which - Bear Garth - was attacked and destroyed 35 years earlier. I wanted each of these to have its own story, or the hint of one, and its own distinct character. Aethelstan gives Phoebe an informal "Short History of the Garths" (a nod of the head to Jordanes' Short History of the Goths), in which we learn the following:
"The Boers were the first. They were the canary in the coal mine, Phoebe, only they flew out of the cage. They saw the familiar signs and knew what would happen as surely as if they had the script before them. It was during the first years of the Darkening, in the late 2040s. Their first settlement was east of here, what they called the Iron Triangle. It was the old Winter Proving Grounds, where pre-Ret engineers used to test vehicles. The Boers bought the land and made a start, only a few dozen families then. But as the Darkening continued, and the White population began to move, the Boers felt they were too vulnerable, too close to the Troll Bridge in case the flow should come the other way or someone else should decide to cross. Time bore out their fears."
If you use an online map (e.g. Bing Maps) of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and follow Highway 28 about 5 miles west of Raco, you will come to the Winter Proving Grounds or "Smithers Winter Test Facilities." There is no indication of it on the street view, but if you switch to aerial view, the triangle image to the right will appear as if out of nowhere. I have not been there and came across it in precisely this way, hunting for a place for the Boers to have their first home. Incidentally, this was the Raco Army Airfield in WWII, providing air defense against the feared German attack on the Soo Locks mentioned in the Great Lakes History entry above. It seemed only natural that it would be abandoned during the Darkening as the White engineers were ejected from the workforce. I can imagine the appeal of such a place to someone thinking about warding off an attack. But its interior is rather small, and as Aethelstan says, too close to the Troll Bridge. So the Boers wandered west. Earlier Phoebe learned about the situation of Jackal Garth:
"Earlier we learned Far beyond those mountains, nearly as far as we’ve walked so far, lies a peninsula that the Boers call the Ou Toon, after Houghton, a town that used to be there. It means ‘Old Toe’ in their language, for the point juts out into the Northern Sea like the end of a foot. Mid-way down the foot, the peninsula is cut off by a river, formed partly by nature, partly by man. There the Boers have built fortifications, and they guard them well."
There, we learn, the Boers built fortifications behind the Keewenaw Waterway, which they call the Danevirke. This last term is a reference to the giant earthwork built by the Danes (but now located in German territory) whose construction Phoebe witnesses during one of her trances. Although the idea of a defensive earthwork on the Jutland peninsula goes back centuries earlier, it was the threat of the Franks, who had already conquered the Saxons and Frisians to the south, that prompted the Danes to undertake this massive construction project. I wanted to invoke the parallels between the Boers on their peninsula and the Danes on theirs. We also learn:
"The Boers, flanked on three sides by the sea and on the fourth by the Danevirke, had less need for a body of rangers. Their farms are more spread out, but they have their militia, the Kommando, which can mobilize at a minute’s notice."
The word kommando was an Afrikaans term to describe the militia of Boer farmers, who proved so hardy during their wars against the Zulu and the British alike. Later, it became the modern English term "commando" and took on more of a special-forces flare.
The Boer settlers in the Keewenaw Peninsula or Ou Toon named their new settlement Jackal Garth, after the coyotes they found there that so reminded them of the jackals of South Africa. The residents of Jackal Garth and Wolf Garth have a formal way to pair off eligible young men and women in marriage, called the Ring Match:
"Aethelstan, who knew the Boers’ language, said that their title for the Ring Match was 'Jakkals trou med wolf se vrou.' This, apparently, meant 'Jackal marries wolf’s wife,' an expression that in their language had originally described when it rained while the sun was still shining. But the fittingness of the ancient phrase was too good to pass up, and the Boers thought the whole thing quite funny."
The more somber side of the Boers is evident in the events surrounding Bear Garth's destruction, and the work of vengeance that fell to them.
Aethelstan goes on to tell Phoebe that Wolf Garth was the second to be founded, in 2055, soon followed by another in Canada: "Elk Garth across the sea was third, only it was the last to become linked to the others. It lies along the peninsula they once called the Sleeping Giant. "
The dramatic geography of the Canada's Sibley Peninsula, location of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, seemed perfect for the location of Elk Garth, and an eminently defensible location. We learn more about the Elks here and there, including that fishing is important there. They have a body of men, the counterpart to Wolf Garth's rangers, known as the Mounties, but dressed not in red but in black from head to toe. One of these plays a role in the dramatic ceremony that attends the graduation of Wolf Garth's boys into men:
"Far to their right, she detected movement. Out of the forest burst four horses, but only three of them had riders. They rode abreast, and as they neared the center, between the crowd and the formations, Phoebe could see that only one of the riders wore the wolf-skin of a Ranger. The first in line on the left wore black, and on his head was an antler headdress. This, then, was an Elk, come from far across the Northern Sea. After him came a Ranger of Wolf Garth, and on his right rode Koos in coyote furs. She scarcely recognized him, for not just his head, but nearly every part of him was covered in fur, crisscrossed by brown leather straps.
"The fourth horse, a shining white stallion, was riderless. As they passed by, she saw that a bear skin was laid over the saddle, and Koos held its reins in addition to his own. Here, then, was Bear Garth, present in spirit. Koos now let go of the horse’s reins, smacking its rump and giving a command, and the stallion veered off to the right. As the other three rode on to the end of the field and beyond, the white horse took its own course into the tree line, vanishing into the fog as surely as Bear Garth. Aethelstan whispered in Phoebe’s ear 'the missing man formation,' and the hair on her neck stood up. The sight of that white horse stayed with her long after."
Sometime around 2060, the fourth garth was established, although, as Aethelstan admits, "There were actually many attempts, Phoebe, to carve out places of refuge for Whites, and most did not bear the name of garth." This includes the Ark, a White ethnostate carved out of Appalachia. Since that is not a garth, I will pass on for now:
"Bear Garth was fourth and last, the youngest of the garths but also larger than the others back then. By this time, the Darkening was well advanced, and more people were willing to join in the founding of a garth. And more than a few of the Bears had come over from Ireland, where the Atonement was in full swing among a people who had nothing to atone for. These settlers, mourning the loss of beautiful Erin, had followed the path of their ancestors’ kin and crossed the ocean. They found a suitable place north of the old Boer camp, near the lighthouse the pre-Ret Whites called Crisp Point, the White Tower along the sea."
Crisp Point offered not only a picturesque location, and a bit of a nod to Tolkien, but a remote setting. Getting there requires following some little-used roads and foregoing the use of GPS.
The mention of Bear Garth brings us to the "Troll Bridge," aka Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula. As Aethelstan explains,
“It’s the great span that divides the Southern Sea from the Eastern Sea. ‘Mackinaw’ they once called it, back when those who lived north of it referred to those who lived south of it as trolls, since they lived ‘under the bridge." He looked ahead. “Little did they imagine that trolls would indeed cross that bridge one day.”
I will forego discussing the dramatic role this bridge plays in the history of Bear Garth and instead pass on to another garth, this one only in the planning stage:
"A new garth was going to be established, something that hadn’t been witnessed in decades. Wolf Garth had grown from a population of just two hundred at its founding to ten times that number, and the other two garths had flourished as well. For some time, they had been planning to establish a new garth on an island in the Northern Sea. Isle Royale, the Outlanders had once called it, but the Elks called it Islandia, and the latter name stuck. Before the Retribution, Whites had set it aside as a nature preserve, never dreaming that they themselves would need more immediate saving.
"The Elks had sailed there often and found it teeming with trees and wild animals. In addition to having a natural defense, the island was over forty miles long, large enough to sustain a good-sized population once land for farming was cleared. Wolf Garth would provide several dozen settlers, mostly younger couples, and they would be joined by settlers from the other two garths. Initial construction and settlement were to begin in the spring."
Finally, I'd like to close with an image that ties together all the three surviving garths in a tradition partly rooted in Scandinavian custom:
"About seven weeks later, Midsummer was the longest day of the year, when the folk of Wolf Garth would light bonfires on the beach that would burn through the night. The children would look far to the northeast, to see the bonfires lit by the Boers mid-way up the Ou Toon, just as the Boers would peer across the water, searching for the fires visible beyond Islandia, high atop the great Sleeping Giant. The girls would gather flowers to put under their pillows, hoping to dream of the man they would wed."
Classical and Literary References in
From Her Eyes a Doctrine
From Her Eyes a Doctrine
There are many references to other works in From Her Eyes a Doctrine, some of which I intended simply as a nod of the head in gratitude, while others reflected more significant parallels. I will address the more obvious ones here, but there are more than I can properly identify. This is because, as any author writing in English comes to learn, our debt to the massive wealth of literature in our language is more than can be properly identified, tagged, and cataloged.
Chapter One is unique in that it openly evokes the phrasing and style of the King James Bible, more specifically the books of Kings and Chronicles. This 17th-century religious language had, I felt, the required heft and resonance with most readers whereby I could properly tell the story of the Retribution, or the catastrophic undoing of our Folk in the generations ahead. But some readers may be surprised to learn that there is a parallel evocation of classical literature in the first two chapters.
Phoebe begins the chronicle of history as she understands it with the following words:
"All of the Evil Times can be divided into three parts: the Prime Evil Era, the Mid-Evil Era, and the Evil Rights Era. All these differed from each other only in the means by which Whites subdued other races."
This parallels the famous opening lines of Caesar's Gallic Wars:
"All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws." [tr. W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn, 1869]
For centuries, Latin learners have cut their teeth on the Gallic Wars, and the Roman fascination with "bagging and tagging" the peoples they conquered comes in for sharp criticism in Chapter 6.
At the same time, the Romans made contributions that are worthy of our respect, one of which I quote from in Chapter 2: the Aeneid. As Phoebe prepares to leave Minneapolis/Many Apples with the pitifully few possessions worth keeping, she recalls lines that Aeneas spoke, recalling his own flight from a crumbling city:
"Hearth-gods I brought with me from Troy, from the midst of the burning city."
Just before this moment, Phoebe wonders what there could possibly be beyond this, the only world she has ever known:
She felt the warm tears running down her cheeks as she looked up at him. Softly she said, "Aethelstan, what are we to do?"
"Let us turn our back on the City. There is a world elsewhere."
"Oh, please take me there."
These lines paraphrase those of Coriolanus, in Shakespeare's play of the same name. In this play, the ungrateful Roman plebeians, stirred up by demagogues, turn their back on the very man who brought them victory in battle. Sentenced to exile while the Senators meekly stand by, Coriolanus curses them all, before he departs on a path that will take him to the Romans' enemies, to lead their fight against the country he once called home:
For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere." [Act III, Scene 3]
The similarities between Aethelstan and Coriolanus go beyond their rejection of the City. Both men are martial prowess incarnate, a comparison I invite with the quote before Chapter 7, also from this play:
“These are the ushers of Martius: before him
he carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears.
Death, that dark spirit, in's nervy arm doth lie,
which being advanc'd, declines, and then men die.”
[Act II, Scene 1]
The references to Shakespeare do not end there, for they are more than references; they reflect way the bard profoundly shaped our modern language, and by doing so equipped us with the vocabulary to express the full range of our thoughts and emotions. Others, including Tolkien, have expressed regret at all the glories of Anglo-Saxon language and culture that were lost after the Norman Conquest, but Shakespeare has helped to soften that blow somewhat. In Chapter 7, Phoebe is deeply affected by the reading of a poem:
"She had always known that the English language could be beautiful – the King James and her grandmother’s book of poetry were proof of that. But all that had been written centuries before the Retribution. Many Apples was divided into language ghettoes of Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Hmong, Tagalog, Somali, Vietnamese, and dozens of other languages. In such a state of affairs, English belonged to everyone, and thus it truly belonged to no one. The language of Milton and Shakespeare had come to resemble a public toilet: one used it for a purpose, but no one would ever think of it as beautiful. But here, far from the city and its Babel of tongues, the English language had regained a place of affection and respect in the hearts of its speakers."
Shakespeare is even the source of the book's title:
“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world.”
[Love's Labour's Lost, Act IV, Scene 3]
The language of Hamlet is employed to describe the disappointing and monstrous purposes to which our race's great technical prowess has been put:
"The high technology that Whites had created, its great promise to enlighten and entertain and ease pain, had all ended in this. The race that had once boasted of mastering nature, that had sent mighty vessels across the seas and across the solar system, had degenerated into men enslaved by their own perverse desires. From being kings of infinite space, their cramped imaginations were now bounded in a nutshell."
"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."
[Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2]
There are, I suspect, more of these connections than I am consciously aware of, so I would like to turn to more modern works to which I am indebted. There is, of course, a whole genre of apocalyptic (and post-apocalyptic) literature, but there were two works in particular to which I wanted to doff my hat. The first is William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, published in 1912. I could not possibly hope to do this work justice; you must read it for yourself. But I wanted to capture some of the solemn horror of a world gone dark, which in Hodgson's work is quite literally true, as the Sun itself has ceased to burn. Readers of that book may recall the moment the Ten Thousand go out of the Great Gate to rescue the Youths who had left the Great Redoubt on an ill-advised mission. A similar moment of majestic horror and bravery appears when Leonidas, prepares with his fellow 13-year-olds to break the siege of Budapest, surrounded by Muslim armies:
"I see a sergeant-major, a huge bear of a man, and hear his deep voice singing the Attolite Portas. It was the ancient hymn Open the Gates, taken from the Descent into Hell. Other veterans joined in. When the line came, 'It is the Lord, strong and mighty in battle,' those heavy gates creaked open. There, before us, lay the Night Land."
Like the men of the Great Redoubt, Leonidas and his fellow youths must undergo a spiritual purification before undertaking what will almost certainly be a fatal mission, and also like them, they are equipped with the means of taking their own lives rather than be captured by the enemy. As Hodgson writes,
"But to all such as went forth into the danger of the Night Land, there was set beneath the skin of the inner side of the left forearm, a small capsule, and when the wound had healed, then might the youth make the adventure.
"And the wherefore of this, was that the spirit of the youth might be saved, if he were entrapped; for then, upon the honour of his soul, must he bite forth the capsule, and immediately his spirit would have safety in death. And by this shall you know somewhat the grim and horrid danger of the Dark Land."
I called this book to mind again in the term for the area of Eastern Europe that holds out against the Retribution/Atonement: the Great Redoubt. As in Hodgson, there is a Lesser Redoubt, far from the other, which in my book comprises the garths themselves. Looking back, it is clear to me that much of the inspiration for Aethelstan's desperate run, recounted in Chapter 8, comes from the harrowing efforts by the narrator in The Night Land, carrying his beloved, to make it back to the Great Redoubt.
The other post-apocalyptic book I reference is A Canticle for Leibowitz, written by WWII veteran Walter M. Miller, Jr. In this novel, a group of monks preserve knowledge of the pre-WWIII world, including copying blueprints whose original purpose is completely unfathomable to them. One of these documents plays a central role in the book, and that is the Transistorized Control System for Unit Six-B. In From Her Eyes a Doctrine, Aethelstan uses the back of it to write a poem for Phoebe:
...From his pocket he pulled out a piece of paper. As he unfolded it to four times its size, she saw that on one side was an intricate diagram of white lines on a dark blue background bearing the strange title “Transistorized Control System.” Aethelstan flipped it over to the back side, which had originally been blank but was now filled with words hand-written in print.
Another modern novel, albeit not apocalyptic, to which I pay tribute, is Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine:
Brigid got up and served them wine. Made from blackberries, it had a delightfully sweet taste. Phoebe had never had anything like it.
“I didn’t know you could make wine from blackberries.”
“You can make wine from almost anything,” Brigid said, “even dandelions. Bear Garth was known for its blackberries, and for Connor and me, it brings back memories."
Fans of Bradbury's book will recognize my skepticism toward the modern world and its promise of technological marvels.
Another work that inspired me is John Myers Myers' Silverlock.
The re-telling of the Battle of the Alamo in skaldic verse, just a small scene in the glorious pageantry of Myers' work, is recited by the members of Raven Clan as they recall their own connection to that battle (see the entry on Music above). I even named a minor character after the namesake of that novel.
Although not a literary work as such, the famous reply of Francis Pharcellus Church to Virginia O'Hanlon's question about Santa Claus ("Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus") finds its way into the book, and not only in the opening quote to Chapter 9:
"You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart."
That sentiment is central to the book, and I evoke the wording directly in Brigid's words to Phoebe:
"No one is asking you to believe anything. You have all the proof you need in your own body. How can you doubt in Freya, when you can feel her stirring inside you, the quickening desire? How can you doubt in Frigga, the mother of us all, when you feel that pull, stronger than the moon’s? How can you doubt in Heimdall, when you feel his blood flow in your veins, and see nothing like it in any other race? How can you doubt in the Gods, when you bear their gifts? Yes, Phoebe, daughter of Virginia, there really is an Odin. Like him, you have sacrificed yourself to yourself, pleading through tears for the strength you lacked, only to find the secrets have been given to you."
Readers of Tolkien will find a sprinkling of references in the book, such as the White Tower in Bear Garth, but as much as I appreciate Tolkien's work, I am in greater debt to the source-material that inspired him - namely, the lore of the North. So, for instance, the Seat of Seeing in The Fellowship of the Ring is something Tolkien took from Norse mythology: Hliðskjálf, Odin's own High Seat, from which he can look out upon the Nine Worlds. The High Seat plays an important role which I cannot fully delve into it here, but its earthly parallel in the book is Copper Peak (see Geography, Part II above).
There are, in addition, numerous references to classical authors, such as Herodotus, Aristotle, and Plutarch, which I cover in the notes to the book, apart from the lengthier sections quoted from Tacitus' Germania. When Phoebe sees the children of Wolf Garth play a game that involves circling around an opponent's base to free those inside, she is reminded of something she has seen before:
"But as she heard the children on one side shouting 'Adrian' and congratulating their rescuer, she was certain that somewhere she had seen this, not as a game but as fatal reality."
The historical incident this hints at is referred to again when Phoebe has a vision:
"I see… a hill, and wagons drawn up in a circle. Men are making a barricade, and the women and children inside are desperate. I am among them. We start a grass fire, signaling for help."
Who are they fighting, Phoebe? Red Indians? Zulu? Turks?
"I see men wearing metal shirts, with shields and swords, bearing a standard, and atop it an eagle."
"Yes. I see them attack the wagon-circle, but they do not take it. And as they fight, others arrive, men on horseback, men of the North. The Romans turn to defend themselves, but because of the smoke, they cannot see the others, those who are riding behind the broad wagon-circle and coming around the other side. The Romans are pressed together, cut down where they stand. I see an emperor’s body trampled by horses."
So it was, Phoebe, so it will always be.
What she sees - or, it is hinted, perhaps recalls - is the Battle of Adrianople, fought in A.D. 378, in which the Gothic cavalry inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman legions and left the emperor Valens dead on the battlefield. This incident is recounted by the Roman officer and historian Ammianus Marcellinus.
Then we come to the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, but here we are out of the realm of references and into lengthier expositions of meaning. Even here, though, sometimes the connections are more subtle, and I will share one example, from when Phoebe is brought into the Hall of Men:
As her eyes adjusted to the light, she realized that the side of the fire opposite to her was occupied, as well. On three tall chairs that looked rather like wooden thrones sat three men much older than those seated on the benches. The one in the middle wore an eye-patch, while the other two, seated just as high, had his same weather-beaten face and gray beard.
From the Prose Edda, in the Gylfaginning:
"He saw three high-seats, each above the other, and three men sat thereon, one on each. And he asked what might be the name of those lords. He who had conducted him in answered that the one who, sat on the nethermost high-seat was a king, "and his name is Hárr [High]; but the next is named Janhárr [Just as High]' and he who is uppermost is called Thridi [Third]." [Tr. Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur]