yotg discussion (spoilers)

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Tue Jan 9 13:03:15 EST 2001

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> time again to pick over details with Philip Belben:

And a happy new year to you too, Tanaqui!

>+ I think the underlying assumption that <you go to the magical school/
>+ university and they don't teach anything but magic> stood out for me
> I can't think what other universities might be expected. Magic is the meta-
> skill which encompasses 'most anything, just as an abstraction of the
> scientific method would equip people to accomplish stuff in biology or bio-
> chemistry or chemistry or metallurgy or materials sciences (those headers are
> all Oxford Uni courses, and each one blends into the ones next to it). And
> university education is, after all, about Abstraction rather than Skills,
> which is what used to separate Universites and Polytechnics (of course,
> came into play because concrete stuff is insufficiently valued).

I disagree.  Magic is _A_ meta-skill which...

In this world, there are plenty of universities that are not "universities of
science".  Indeed, they are in the majority.  And you've shot yourself in the
foot with the list of Oxford courses, illustrating that they _don't_ teach the
meta-skill per se!  Your argument would be better backed at the other place -
Cambridge offers merely a course in "Natural Sciences", encompassing all those
you listed.  And even there, you take options in the subjects, rather than a
blanket course in scientific method.

> Callette can make things without needing a degree.  Derk has come rather to

Not relevant.  My immediate colleagues are mostly experienced electrical
engineers.  Whether we have Ph.D.s, B.Sc.s or no degrees at all (examples exist
of all exist) has little bearing on our jobs.

The point I was making is that universities don't just teach meta-skills.  There
are plenty of other things to teach as well.

I could add that (a) the scientific method is applicable to magic as I
understand it and (b) The world in question is susceptible to study by way of
the traditional sciences.  Indeed, returning to your original statement, I would
put magic _alongside_ physics, chemistry, biology, maths as one of the major
scientific branches in a reasonable organisation of subjects in that world.

> despise the University which can't Educate ("e ducare" - to lead out) and its

"e ducare"?  I once took issue with a classicist on that one, and he waffled a
lot but shed very little light, so I shall throw it into open discussion.

I am not aware of any standard form of Latin in the Classical period or since in
which "to lead" is "ducare".  To lead - "ducere" - is third conjugation,
"educare" is first (as is its hypothetical root, "ducare").  According to my
headmaster at secondary school (age 11-18) the oldest meaning of "Educare" he
could find was "to nourish".

But I digress...

> student-loan liens, since Querida chose to regard the griffins as objects more
> than people. Of course, Derk himself has an element of "let's tinker with this
> neat thing" objectification in his thinking, but he also seems to be a pretty
> considerate agonising human being who considers social impact, too. His
> internal dialogues with the Mara-in-his-head were rather familiar.

Yes to everything in that paragraph!  But I'm not sure I see the relevance of
all of it.

>+ Fine, as far as it goes.  But I still don't like the deus ex machina
>+ presentation.  In fact I don't much like deus ex machina endings in any
>+ circumstances.  I agree that something is needed to sweep away the old order
>+ - this is something the students spend most of the book discovering;
> Well, um. What is needed is a righting of the world after Mr Chesney has been
> allowed to remove its essence. The New Math, sorry, New Magic, has been shown
> to be seriously wanting in inherent merit: it was used to prop up the theme
> park and became a sort of magickal business school, turning out middle
> and training the workforce. I agree that Policant's books are shown to be
> sufficient in inspirational merit that he himself is unnecessary, but I don't
> think that revivifying him is naughty on DWJ/the gods' part: they want someone

I didn't see the hand of the gods in this.  I think it is naughty on DWJ's part
- Polycant's appearance (with no warning except for the brief incident when they
knocked the statue over) is presented as if this is the solution to everything.
No, I'll take that back.  Polycant's appearance is presented as if it _ought_ to
be the solution to everything.

I think what it boils down to is the implication that no-one from the present is
up to the job, and someone from the past has to be revived.  I agree with
"dwarves on the shoulders of giants" [1] - it is the great figures of the past
on the foundation of whose work we build our own achievements - but I also
firmly believe that you cannot _rely_ on them.  It is poor little us, in the
present, who actually have to get down and do the legwork, putting right our own
mistakes and pushing on little by little.

[1] Another digression.  Who the heck said that?  I've looked it up several
times, and promptly forgotten the answer each time.  It is often attributed to
Newton, probably because he quoted it out of context to annoy Hooke, but it is
actually much older.  Bacon?  Grosseteste?  Any offers??

> who will help the world flesh out again, and won't do it by making the theme
> park over into their own version. Querida has been rather falling down on the
> job - by wandering off and doing her Anti-Witch-of-the-Waste duty rather than

:-)  I love it!

> her Uni duty, she has been prettifying rather than getting at fundamentals in
> the way Scales and Policant can manage, and the gods presumably set up the
> circumstances of Policant being in stasis against future need (given the way

Possibly.  But the gods jolly well ought to be able to produce someone from the
present, rather than the past, for such a function.  Indeed, I'd claim that
Anscher as much as said that was what Derk and Mara's children were for.  What
say Angelo and Flo have special destinies as messengers (angeli) of the gods?

Scales and Flury could both help.  And no, I don't think either need be
chancellor.  Querida was a rotten chancellor, but I think the uni. should just
have to live with that...

> the One plots, this is spot-on). She was rather forcefully reminded that
> griffins are Not Nice to Own, as well. So, now we have more statues |-)

Also :-)

> He didn't have to return in person, but I can see why he does. His books are
> helpful to those who defy Authority and read them, that his being in Authority
> and asking provoking questions are useful to the meeker types, who are still
> redeemable. DWJ and the gods like to use what is to hand, rather than drafting
> from scratch! It is *neat*, and besides magic and creativity being in the same
> Venn space (not you, Ven, the diagram-maker), implicit structuralism is rather
> required. After all, the University exists to promote structured learning:
> the Blades and Kits are lucky to have Scales instead, and I can certainly see
> Elda the good learner (as _Dark Lord_ stipulates) getting rather a lot from
> Flury, Policant - and even from having had awful exemplary teachers.

I see what you're getting at, but I don't agree that "liking to use what is at
hand" justifies writing off the present in favour of the past, or excuses the
need of the present to work out its own solutions without such a fallback.

>+ For example, Flury is an excellent teacher.
> but would he be equal to being Chancellor quite yet? It's rather nice not to
> have to be in Authority, but have a chance to read and talk. Policant has done
> it already, and can hack it, so it's not too cruel to use him.

See above.

>+ without a deus ex machina to do it for you.  About the only thing Policant is
>+ needed for is to demote Querida to vice chancellor :-)
> That's deus ex machina for you. Accepting that there are gods, and that the
> Higher Powers/Upper Room lot are actually beneficent, leads one to believe
> that it is for the best. It's the eternal dilemma of Authority: sometimes it
> is OK, often it is horrid.

I hope you don't mean what it looks like you mean - don't question the motives
of the gods, just accept that they're doing things for our own good.  I'm not
questioning the gods' motives, anyway, just DWJ's.  (Which I suppose is almost
the same thing, but...)

As Nat said, it's not the Deus I object to so much as the Machina.  This is a
good way of putting it - I don't object to the actions of the gods guiding the
world, but the presentation thereof in the form <out of nowhere comes he who
will solve the problems> has little to recommend it.

> I think the over-neat jinx resolution was forced by the rather urgent
> circumstances. DWJ doesn't want to sell her travel jinx, even the Proper Way,
> because she still hasn't finished with its implications and isn't sure that
> Efficient Travel matters sufficiently - but if she were running out of air,
> she might be persuaded! These teenagers are pretty damn sure that they have
> Will to be directed, not vague wishing that things might be otherwise).

You are letting the author be ruled by the book as if she herself was a
character.  I seem to recall you took a similar attitude in our discussion of
Mary Gentle.

I certainly believe that an author - like any craftsman - can only work within
the limitations of the material.  I don't agree that DWJ _needed_ to get her
characters into a situation where the therapy session she described was forced
upon them.

In short, DWJ was not running out of air!!

> Anscher is not responding to prayer here - we have a different deus ex
> I can't see why you prefer the first one, rather than accepting the ongoing
> commitment of the People Who Matter to doing what is necessary to regrow the
> biodiversity of their world.

Well, I don't much like either of them.  And perhaps I prefer the first one
_because_ Anscher is responding to prayer there (I'm not sure exactly what to
substitute for "here" when parsing your sentence, I'm afraid, but I'm taking it
to mean "in YotG")

I think I disapprove on principle of the concept of "people who matter", simply
because of its implied complement, "people who don't matter".

But probably the best way to explain it is that I'm not refusing to accept the
commitment to do what is necessary - I am merely questioning the necessity of
some of those actions.

>+ slightly less ex machina (he is responding to prayer).  On the other hand,
>+ since at the end of DL the gods stepped in, I would have expected to see them
>+ at work more in YotG, but they seem to have retired to the background again.
> They are being less obvious. Godly appearances do seem to be pretty much once-
> in-a-lifetime specials. They do seem pretty reserved: I would want my gods to
> be a little more pro-active if a Chesney came along. Perhaps they reflect
> people, who allowed themselves to yield up their self-determination once.

Hmm.  God in the image of Man?

One day I shall post in more detail some of my thoughts about gods in DWJ.  I
think I'll have to leave any thoughts on this bit until then.

>+ all, I don't like the deus ex machina; I also think that ending things too
>+ quickly is one of DWJ's weaknesses (someone mentioned this in connection with
>+ Ogre Downstairs; Power of Three suffers similarly).
> mm. I rather like it when the final pieces of the ethical/story puzzle start
> to make sense. I find it so hard to point at definitive DWJ stances (she's
> so magnificently subversive and prone to moving on in a debate faster than
> my brain can scamper) that it's nice to see that there is obvious structure
> before one has had a chance to process all the stuff tugging at previous
> threads, or lying about until months later the brain says "hang on! Twit! You
> missed this completely!". DWJ has so many insides.

Oh, yes, definitely!  But sometimes she has too many things coming together at
once.  Not too many for the reader to enjoy, I hasten to add, merely too many
for plausibility.  A more concrete example is the way both Gladys and King
Rudolf cotton on far too quickly to what Marceny has done to Herrel in SWM.
It's almost as if DWJ is saying, I'm fed up with my characters working at cross
purposes - whom can I get away with using to bring them together?


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