Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Well That About Wraps It Up for God

"...Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
"The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
"'But,' says Man, 'the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
"'Oh, dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next pedestrian crossing.
"Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up for God."
-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sunday, February 15, 2009


So... I watched Bill Maher's docu-comedy "Religulous" with the wife last night. She is an agnostic, so the film was good fun for her; Maher is heavy on the "doubt," rather than being a declared unbeliever or atheist.

It was all right. Maher stole some of the film's approach from the good short film "The God Who Wasn't There," which is a more informative and less hyped movie. Maher has the benefit of a bigger bankroll, and it shows, since he goes all over the place -- Israel, the Vatican, Grand Central Station, er... North Carolina. It's all good fun, but it is less effective than it could be. About halfway through, it begins to lose some focus, and skips around a lot, so that even were one not smoking pot (which we see Maher and some Dutchman doing, which does little to move the film along), one begins to wish one were. Near the end of the movie, Maher suddenly cranks up the seriousness, and hard. By then, unfortunately, we are too bewildered by the heavy editing to want to be bothered by the thought of radical Muslims going nu-cu-lar.

Whatever its flaws, "Religulous" is a necessary film. He correctly connects religion to many of society's evils. I doubt it changes the mind of one single religious devotee, but my hope is that it may give the millions of agnostics out there -- who outnumber the zealots many times over -- the push they need to keep the nutjobs where they belong: on the fringe.

It is odd, how religion dulls people. I have lost a few friends to it. At first, it seems they become simply less interesting people. They lose a spark of life, a vital part of themselves, when they submit to a collective faith. It's no less than a bit of a hive mentality, not to mention a cult mentality. One person in particular stands out in my mind: a person brimming with life, with curiousity, with humanity. That person couldn't have given a damn what people thought; that person had the power to change lives. That person lost all that when religion became paramount, for whatever reason it was allowed to do so. It is very sad. I miss that person, sometimes, and wonder: what if the cult of religion had not taken hold?

I say "cult of religion" because that's how it seems to me, when a friend goes that route. They suddenly are not themselves. They are detached from reality, disengaged from society. They become very insular, and slowly, surely, less... intelligent, for lack of a better word. They let the doctrine and dogma do their thinking for them. Now they will deny that, and try to prove they are perfectly rational, because they cannot, cannot be wrong. If they are, their lives mean nothing -- at least in their minds.

But "Religulous" is not for them. They are beyond saving, pardon the pun. But hopefully it will let the logical, the intelligent, the rational folk out there know that they are not alone. And that is a comfort. It is for me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What is the Eye of Bombasharna?

It is a strange thing, but references to the Eye of Bombasharna do not appear in the old books until after the Downfall of Numenor and the War of the Last Alliance; and few (if any) scholars in the North know of it. What little is known of the Eye is recorded in some Gondorian travel accounts from the early Third Age, kept in the great libraries of Osgiliath, Umbar, and to a lesser extent, Minas Ithil. By the middle of the Age, all those works were lost, with the possible exception of the Book of Pellardur in the Tower of the Moon; but that library is beyond the reach of simple scholars, and after T.A. 2002, it is lost to all the Free Folk.

Based off the historical record alone, it would seem the Eye of Bombasharna is not old, as artifacts go in Middle-earth; but this assumption must be quickly abandoned after only a cursory knowledge of its properties. Its form is that of an indestructable crystal sphere, in size similar to the Palantir of Annuminas: quite small, and thus easily transported, unlike the great Stones of Osgiliath and Amon Sul. Unlike the Palantiri, however, the Eye of Bombasharna is not clear, or dark: it resembles more a swirl of grey mist.

Moreover, the Eye does not seem to be an Eye at all, like the Palantiri; at least, not an eye for seeing in the normal sense. By all accounts, one cannot see anything simply by staring into the Eye, no matter for how long, or how strong the user's will may be.

I can only conclude that the Eye of Bombasharna is of similar workmanship to the Palantiri, which would make it an artifact of the First Age, and maybe of Valinor. But the Palantiri appear sparsely throughout the historical record, from Feanorian times in the First Age, to their status as heirlooms of Numenor in the Second Age, to their eventual long homes at various points in the Dunadan Kingdoms in Exile in the Third. The Eye is never in the historical record until the early Third Age, and yet it is surely as old as the Palantiri. What accounts for this?

Part of the reason, perhaps, is that the Eye has always been associated with the Far South, where scholars and scribes are few. But this conflicts somewhat with the scholarly tradition in the Harad, which saw several periods of "flowering" during the Second Age; moreover, the Numenoreans wrote extensively of the peoples and legends of the South during their periods of exploration and colonization during that Age. Furthermore, among many Numenorean scholar-adventurers (and most especially the more sorcerous Black Numenorean lords), the pursuit and discovery of items of Power was paramount.

What, then, accounts for the long absence of the Eye of Bombasharna from the annals of the South? Possibly the very thing that makes the Eye of such interest: its one great property, which sets it somewhat above the "simple" Seeing-stones of the North -- to go beyond mere observation of distant places and times, to actual teleportation, a thing unheard-of elsewhere in the legendarium of Middle-earth.
Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"