Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Spanish History for Bujold Fans

Presumably most Bujold fans are aware that her two most recent fantasy novels, The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls, are set in an alternate fantasy world version of Spain. People who are interested in learning how things turned out for Iselle might wish to read Washington Irving's Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada. As Irving explains in his foreword, the book is a popular history which includes both references to a fake historian (as in Scott's novels) and real footnotes referring to real period chronicles. Irving also wrote the Legends of the Alhambra. For something a bit more rigorous and scholarly, try William H. Prescott's
History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic
. However, be aware that historians often show a great deal of anti-Catholic (or anti-past) bias against Isabella and Ferdinand. They were Renaissance rulers, sometimes better, sometimes worse than their peers. Here's a short version of their lives, while this page has some nice portraits of the two of them.

The military orders portrayed by Bujold were inspired by the four great Spanish military orders: Santiago de la Espada (red cross), Calatrava (red Greek cross with M for Mary making fleur de lys-shaped ends), Alcantara (dark green, same as Calatrava), and Montesa (black with red, same as Calatrava).

So you want to cheat and have all the equivalent characters spelled out for you? Okay. Spoiler-riffic equivalents below!

Chalion = Castile
Roya Orico = King Enrique IV (the Impotent) of Castile
Royina Sara = Juana of Portugal, Henry's queen
March Martou dy Jironal = Beltran de La Cueva, duke of Albuquerque
Roya Ias = King Juan II of Castile, son of Henry III of Castile and Catherine of Gaunt
(one of John of Gaunt's daughters)
Dowager Royina Ista = Isabel of Portugal, exiled second wife of the late Juan II of Castile
Lord dy Lutez = Alvaro de Luna
Royse Teidez = Prince Alfonso of Castile, Isabel's son
Royesse Iselle = Princess Isabel of Castile
Ibra = Aragon
The Fox of Ibra = King Juan II of Aragon
Roya Fonsa the Fairly Wise = King Alfonso X (called the Wise) of Castile and Leon
The Golden General = Muhammad Ibn Yusuf Ibn Nasr, founder of the Nasrid dynasty. He reconquered Granada for the Moors.
Brajar = Portugal
Darthaca = France
South Ibra = Catalonia?
Yiss = Navarre? Andorra?
Cardegoss = Toledo

Monday, March 01, 2004

The Columnist Side of Drury

While Drury was working as a reporter in DC, he also wrote columns for the Palo Alto Times, the Waterloo Courier, and occasionally for other newspapers. Some of these columns and some excerpts from them are collected in Three Kids in a Cart: A Visit to Ike, and Other Diversions. It is a remarkable collection of insight, foresight, and sometimes (in his retrospective comments) hindsight.

"A Gray Day at the Beach" (December 7, 1951)

It was a half-cloudy day and we were coming home from church. Somebody said brightly, "Turn on the radio and let's see if if we're at war with Japan." We did, and we were. Later we drove out to the beach and looked at the Pacific. It was as though we had never seen it. It looked gray and hostile. It didn't look as though it belonged to us anymore.

For a while, it didn't; and then after a while, it did again. We were all brave, with a bravery it is hard to conceive of or imagine now. Some of us were so brave as to put the rest of us under obligation forever. But eventually the bravery was no longer necessary, the dark and mysterious and terrible things no longer took place on the other side of the sea.

Where did it all go, the dedication, the unity of feeling, the hopes, the determination? How did we let it get away? Whose was the fault, where the error?

Well, it is all gone now. Across the same gray sea the terror is on again....For what purpose, and to what end?

Sometimes it is hard to see. We work and we strive and we worry and we hope, and it ends in nothing, or what seems to be nothing. We take refuge in cliches: we say, "Well, it is all very well to have hindsight." Or we say, "Well, it is only human to make mistakes." Or we say, "Would you have done any better?" Or we talk about the will of God, as though it were His fault that we have ruined the world.

This is how we hold off the raving madness of what we had, and what we lost, and what did and did not do.

Is this the way out?...It is possible to wonder. Perhaps this is the cowardly way, the way foredoomed to failure. Perhaps it is time for bravery again.

Perhaps it is time to look upon the last ten years with the eyes of absolute candor, flinching at nothing, rationalizing nothing, excusing nothing. Perhaps it is time to analyze the universal guilt. observing how each of us contributed to the weakening, the wavering, the glib glossing-over, the deliberate hiding from reality, the great national pretending that peace could be automatic and painless even when we knew in our heart of hearts that it would exact continued sacrifice and restraint and forebearance and daring and imagination. Perhaps we should start with the knowledge that to some peoples history has given the privilege of of placing all the blame on their leaders, but not to us. In our nation, we are the leaders...

...first comes humility. After that, we may possibly begin to approach salvation.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? And here's Drury in a prophetic mood, for all those who don't think it's appalling that many Democrats want all their conservatives and moderates well as being an admonition to those Republicans who'd like to drive all the liberals out of the GOP's big tent.

"Divide and Conquer" (Sept. 13, 1948).

....According to this theory it is often said that it would be a desirable thing to have a political realignment which would put all those on the left in one party and all those on the right in another. There could be no greater tragedy for America. With such alignment would come an end to the talent for compromise which is the foundation of our country. The talent would die because it would no longer have an opportunity to function. As people became pushed more rigidly and inescapably into conflicting compartments, a steady decline in social and political relations between them would occur. All or nothing would soon become the slogan; and those who succeeded in getting all would find themselves holding nothing.

Diversity of opinion on the part of individuals and within groups is one of the great checkreins on American government. Given sufficient diversity, there has to be compromise, for only by compromise can anything constructive get done. End the diversity and you end the compromise.

And here's a useful explication of American foreign policy as it should be, and will be, until and unless America is no longer America:

"A Shocking Proposal" (June 30, 1950)

So we can dismiss all the mistakes, running all the way back to Yalta and beyond...nobody is going to profit from a rehash. Probably nobody is even going to profit from one basic truism which underlies everything else -- namely, that the United States of America has always fought, and if it remains worthy of its heritage always will fight, in defense of human liberty, freedom and decency.

If that fact could just once be accepted by the leaders of other powers, none would dare to even begin the series of steps which inevitably lead to war with America. If it could just be accepted by the leaders of America, none would ever have to find the country with its back against the wall starting the long road back through an inexcusable war...

Time after time...the jeering questions have come back: "Are you in favor of going to war? Are you in favor of sending American boys to die?" And not once have the critics had the guts to come back with the obvious answers:

"Yes, we are in favor of going to war, if that is the only way to preserve human integrity. Yes, we are in favor of sending American boys to die, if...that is the only way human freedom can be saved."

We are always too cowardly to state the principle -- and we are always too brave to let the principle go down to defeat.We have always fought for it. We are fighting for it now. And please God, we always will fight for it.

...As far as the final reality is concerned, it doesn't matter in the least whether we approach this truism...with all sorts of crawfishing, dodging and self-serving rationalizations, or whether we simply announce at the end of one war that if human freedom is challenged we will fight another. As a matter of fact, we have never tried the latter is exactly what we have done.

We cover up our one consistent national principle under words and phrases and diplomatic double-talk dictator will believe it until too late. We confuse our enemies no less than we confuse ourselves...

...Many believe...that the one way to break the pattern is to bring the truth into the open and simply say, "If you attack the free, we will fight. We give you our word, supported by our entire national history. Attack at your peril. We will destroy you if you do."

The Blogger Side of Drury

NOVEMBER 21, 1943. There was a soft warm haze over the city when I got into Union Station at 4 this afternoon. In it the Capitol loomed up massive and domineering across the Plaza. Behind me as I stood in the doorway looking out the great station echoed with the fretful rendezvous of trains, the murmurous clatter of many feet, the hectic excitements of arrival and departure, while down from on high magnified ten times over came the imperious voices of women calling the place-names of America. Around me in unceasing flood passed the travelers. Daily they come in their thousands and daily the city absorbs them, vomiting forth other thousands to make room. Night and day unceasing, humanity on the move, closing in on this focus of its hopes, desires, ambitions, fears and worries from all over America and all over the earth.

I for one am here to see what I can, and appraise it as best I can; disillusioned like all Americans about their ruling heart, not too certain that it is taking us in any very worthwhile or consistent direction, yet possessed still of some inner faith and certainty of its essential and ultimate purposes. We muddle, we blunder, we fall on our faces, and we survive; how, or by what peculiar grace, no man can say exactly. This is where it is done, however, and this is where I shall watch it, fascinated I know, encouraged perhaps -- perhaps even, now and then, inspired.

NOVEMBER 22, 1943...The House guards are informal, hasty, unconcerned, slap your pockets, slap your coat, and pass you. The Senate police are much more formal, making you get in line, spreading your coat out on a table, challenging servicemen to show their furlough papers or passes, and generally being more officious. It is much easier to get a good seat in the House gallery than it is in the Senate, which does not seem to be any too well constructed from an audience standpoint.

The late Allen Drury was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and a good observer. But I never knew just how good until now.

You see, I got the sudden urge to reread his novels. Since they didn't have them at my branch of the library, I had to go down to the Main one and get them hoiked out of storage in the basement. But the catalog also listed some nonfiction books by the guy, and I decided I might as well check them out, too.

A Senate Journal: 1943-1945 is literally that. Drury had been a newspaperman in California, went into the Army during the war, then got wounded and sent back to the US. He decided to go to DC and try to get hired on there. But one of the first things he did in DC was to go to Capitol Hill and watch the Senate at work. He seems to have fallen in love. Somebody very wise at UPI not only hired him, but assigned him to be their Senate correspondent. Drury went to work, with the kind of delight and fervor I only wish every reporter could have. Meanwhile, he wrote down his impressions and saved them to show his family and friends.

JUNE 6, 1944. D-Day came today, for me at 6:30 in the morning when the office called. "Al," said someone on the desk laconically, "the show is on." Color at the Capitol might be needed, he said; I departed for the Hill forthwith. Subsequently it was decided that I would write none, for indeed there was none to write. Just a beautiful cool morning, the flag rippling in the wind, the sun slanting across the front of the huge old building, a few cars passing early from Union Station, green grass glistening, an air of quiet peace. Elsewhere time hung suspended and young men who would never see another day plunged into hell.

The result is that A Senate Journal reads very much like a political blog from the late days of FDR and the early days of Truman. It's fascinating reading, especially since most of us got very little information in history class about the end of World War II and the beginning of the postwar peace. I had no idea that the power struggle in Advise and Consent between the President and the Senate was based on actual events in 1944. Along the way, all the famous people are pen-sketched with the same skill as in his novels. So I watched in fascinated horror as truly scary legislation was introduced by the administration and then defeated by Senatorial determination, delay, or simple human whim. I found out that Yalta wasn't the beginning of Western concessions of territory to the Soviets, but rather the conclusion of a process. I met Truman when he was running his committee, saw him become vice president and learned that wasn't necessarily a powerless position, and then saw him become president as the nation reeled. Finally, I saw the UN begin.

JULY 27, 1945. For the first time something of the world's agony and its terrible tragedy were brought into the debate today as Walter George, overcome with emotion and the memory of his lost son, spoke for the Charter. It was not one of his best speeches, it didn't hang together very well, it wasn't very well-connected or rounded, but it came from the heart, and it was profoundly moving. There were moments when he was unable to speak at all, when he stood fighting for control at his desk, one hand gripping it tightly, the other tracing nervous patterns over the surface. There were times when he would begin to speak and then have to stop, too choked to go on. There were times when, almost dazed, he repeated himself and wandered in his words. But from Walter George, more than from any other who has spoken to date, there came the reason why it is such a desperate need and such a desperate hope that something, anything, prevent another war. When he had finished Tobey proposed that the Senate rise in silent respect and sympathy. Saltonstall and Hart, both of whom have also lost sons, passed by George's desk to shake his hand.

Like most people of my generation, I've been taught to see World War II in black and white, with a more heroic sort of American than the lesser mortals of our time. There is something immensely reassuring about learning that yesterday's Senate was not really all that different from today's, as well as something frightening about knowing that liberty and justice have always stood a hairsbreadth from tyranny in this land. And yet...and yet, we have not stepped over that hair, because ordinary Americans will not have it, and because even our statesmen have been ordinary Americans. Drury, in his journalism as well as his novels, often paused to sing the wonder and beauty of everyday democracy. I think these anecdotes show us good reason to sing.

The Works of Allen Drury

Allen Drury was dang good, yet his novels are disappearing from the shelves of our local library. Right now, when his ideas and observations are more cogent than ever, I would like to encourage you to read lots of Drury!

Policy Review ran an article on "Allan Drury and the Washington Novel", and the Washington Post on "Allan Drury, Father of the D.C. Drama". Also, here's a bibliography of Drury's works, both fiction and nonfiction. If you're wondering why an sf site would list Drury, it's because many of his works fit comfortably as science fiction. In fact, Drury was one of the few to predict the Soviet Union's sudden collapse -- though only as a best-case scenario. ;) Remember, political science is a social science, too!

Anyway, I'm not the only person who appreciates Drury. And thanks to that Power Line post, I found this post on A Mind That Suits, written by one of Drury's nephews. Pretty cool, no?

(And if the nephew comes here -- yes, I know I'm quoting huuuuuge chunks here, but it's so hard to pick out isolated quotes! And besides, I can't exactly convince people by taking my library books to their houses and reading out the good bits...well, unless there's an audiobook release of all the books. Hey, and wouldn't that be great? Dramatic readings on CD...yum....)

The best thing is that A Mind That Suits is busy archiving and protecting his uncle's papers (either these or whatever Drury didn't give to Stanford -- and it's not uncommon for an author to have several sets of apers around!), apparently in preparation for a book on him. Obviously I think a biography is badly needed. But I am also envious of the nephew's good fortune. There is something strangely intimate about going through someone's papers, as I learned as an archives intern. The little doings and thoughts of a stranger can become part of your life, and their times your own -- for a while. To do this service for a relative is overwhelmingly interesting and bittersweet. In point of fact, I couldn't bring myself to do it when I was asked to type out my grandfather and dead grandmother's WWII letters. It just got to be too much. (Well, that and I honestly couldn't read Grandpa's handwriting.) So I give A Mind That Suits my kudos for taking this on.