Universe R+1 Etc.

bg_editor had a great post recently, which provoked a fascinating comment thread, about Universe R, a parallel timeline where certain works that didn’t survive in our world remain intact, and where works that didn’t get made in our world (but should have) somehow were created. The best thing about the discussion was reading other people’s idea of work-that-should-have-been–all of that stuff I never would have thought of, but seemed so great (like REH and JRRT collaborating on a series about Strider). My Universe R interests me, naturally, but far more fascinating were the Universes R of other people: R+1, R+2, and so one.

Every now and then I’m startled to realize that this universe is that universe (at least some of the time). Exhibit A: Le Guin’s new novel Lavinia. (Salon.com has a review of the book here–cookies must be enabled, unless you’re a Salon subscriber.) In it Le Guin envisions the end and aftermath of Vergil’s Aeneid from the point of view of Lavinia, over whom the wars in the second part of the epic are fought. And apparently without revisionist hostility (of the kind that darkens Bradley’s The Firebrand).

Vergil and Le Guin both loom pretty large in my personal Pantheon of writers (Panpoeton?) but I never would have imagined their careers crossing paths like this. Looks like the bag I’m packing for Italy is going to be one book heavier than I’d planned…

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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12 Responses to Universe R+1 Etc.

  1. fpb says:

    If you’re willing to make that two, my only published book is about the origin of the Aeneas in Latium legend.

    As for books that should have been written, what about Lewis’ and Tolkien’s treatise upon language?

    • JE says:

      I’ll have to check out your book–the Aeneas legend (pre and post Vergil) is a big interest of mine.

      Lewis and Tolkien on language (or even just OE literature) might indeed have been interesting.

      • fpb says:

        That’s strange, I can’t find the link to its publishers (the Belgian Society for Celtic Studies). Title and data are:

        Gods of the West I: Indiges
        1999
        Societe’ Belge d’Etudes Celtiques, Brussels

        The format and printing are truly dreadful, and I call it a book for convenience. All the same, this is a legitimate and respected learned society with some important scholars among its members, and this is a genuine publication. If you cannot find it online, get in touch and I shall let you have an electronic copy.

  2. peadarog says:

    It was a fun thread. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about the new Le Guin/Vergil collaboration. As you know, Vergil also worked closely with Dante in the Divine Comedy 🙂

    • JE says:

      And those were the two best parts, too. The last third was not as much fun without Vergil shouting, “Non ti crucciare!” at anyone.

      • peadarog says:

        The last third is generally considered to be less fun, but more “joyful”. Whatever that means 😉

        • JE says:

          I’ve heard it described as more musical–there’s something to that, I think.

          • JE says:

            Also, it seems that Heaven is a a place near Cincinnati OH–which I must confess, as a longtime Ohiio resident, I never would have suspected.

          • peadarog says:

            Oh yes, there is.

          • fpb says:

            You really have to speak Italian, which I seem to remember you do. The incredible thing is that, in spite of being 700 years old, Dante has every later Italian writer beat for the sheer pertinence of his inner rhythm, sounds, usages, flow, metre, to spoken Italian; you can practically hear the sound. He has performed the miracle of a language with no artificiality – even when he does adopt poetic or rhetorical devices such as inversion, riddling description, etc – and if you think that’s easy, try it! And in the Paradiso, his words, his imagery, his descriptions and debates and similes, burn like flame. Just think of Chesterton’s motto:

            (Par.5.19-21)
            Lo maggior don che Dio per Sua larghezza
            Fesse creando, ed alla Sua bontate
            Piu’ conformato, e quel ch’Ei piu’ apprezza –
            Fu della volonta’ la libertate!

            The greatest gift that God gave in His greatness
            And closest to His shape of goodness still,
            And that in His creating pleased Him best –
            It is the freedom of the thinking will!

            Or to point out that the Dante of the Paradiso is still the polemical journalist of earlier canti, here is an outburst against rotten preaching:

            (Par.29.103-120)
            There’s not so many men who are called Bindo
            Or Lapo in Florence, as of this kind of fables
            Are shouted in a year from preachers’ lecterns;
            So that the sheep, who can’t know any better,
            Return home from their pastures fed on wind,
            Yet not excused that they can’t see their harm.
            Christ never said to His first preachers gathered:
            “Go forth and preach the world any old rubbish,”
            But in His own firm truth He did well found them.
            And to such purpose words came from His mouth
            That they moved forth to fight to fire up faith,
            The Gospel preaching their shield and their spear.
            NOw they go forth with jokes and bad one-liners
            On preaching duty, and if they get a laugh,
            They preen their hood, and nothing more they ask;
            But there’s a bird sits perching in that hood
            Would show the people, could they only see it,
            What pardoner it is in whom they trust!

            And I’d better stop here; the sublimities of the canto are so many, and so easy to quote, that I could go on till midnight and not be finished.

          • JE says:

            Thanks–certainly some stuff to think about while rereading (and reading aloud).

            I don’t exactly speak Italian–just sort of mumble it and look hopefully at people. All languages become dead languages in my mortifying grasp. It all comes from having no native language, I feel: in Minnesota, where I grew up, the only form of communication in general use is Denial. (And Ice Hockey, but that’s seasonal.)

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