BOUND FOR GLORY

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. Among the leather-bound books in a writer's study rages a very emotional dispute: Which of the tomes might claim the title of being the most important of them all? Arguments are brought forward, counter-arguments follow, and in between a blank booklet and a quill try to make sense of it all.

 

ne Prayday afternoon in the writer’s study there was quite a commotion. Which was peculiar, because there wasn’t even anyone there! Well, no regular soul of sorts at least, only shelves full of books and a whole pile of them stacked on the desk, plus a tiny booklet. But the fact that they were just things didn’t prevent these fellows of the printed kind from having an animated discussion. It all started with a simple question:

“Say, who’s the most important of you lot anyway?” the tiny booklet asked the other books. To tell the truth, it felt somewhat inadequate lying in the middle of the desk, thin as it was, surrounded by all those heavy tomes. So being new and intimidated, all the booklet really wanted was to strike up a bit of a conversation with its bigger brothers; it was still completely blank and thus inexperienced, and the question was quite innocent, really.

“The most important book you want to know?” an extremely thick leather-bound volume from somewhere in the middle of the stack on the desk said. It even had its spine supported with plates of metal, and a dainty bookmark tassel stood out at the bottom. “Why, that would be me of course, little one! My title says it all. Isn’t it obvious?”
 

A stack of books

View picture in full size Image description. A stack of "very important" books. Illustration drawn by Quellion.

The booklet looked at the title of the imposing volume written prominently on the side. It read “The Complete Chronicles of Caelereth, compiled by Thymlin Thaemersdyn and others”. “Ah, it’s about history!” the booklet remarked, impressed. “Does it really contain the history of the world? I mean the history of the whole world? The whole of history?”

“You bet!” the tome said. “Can’t you see I have ‘complete’ in the title? I have detailed accounts of all the wars and go way, way back to the Era of the Anvil, of Harmony, Sorcery and Sundering, even to the Age of Silence, long before humans even existed! Besides, I’m the unabridged edition. Too bad my little brother is not around, so that you might compare us two. Anyway, I have a large family, you should know. Half dozen cousins specialize on the history of various continents, but I’m the most comprehensive tome of them all. I contain everything they do – and more!”

The booklet was overwhelmed by all that. He felt so amazed actually that upon pondering all the things that might be written in such a book a spell of dizziness befell it. Recording everything that had ever happened – what a task! The booklet was proud to find itself on the very same desk with such a celebrity; and it said so to the quill which was lingering in an inkwell nearby.

“Quite an important book, I agree,” the quill gave its opinion. “However, most important of all? I’m not so sure.”

Indeed, just after the quill had spoken, another book covered with pale sandy suede leather didn’t want to let the matter rest at that: “My esteemed and valued Chronicle!” it said. “Certainly you can’t put forward your claim in all seriousness to be the most important book of all! Without me all your history, complete or not, couldn’t even be written!”

“Who’re you to make such a bold remark?” the Chronicle raised its voice, which suddenly turned loud and booming. The tome frowned disgruntledly, for it considered any discussion on who might earn the title aside from itself a complete waste of time. “Who’re you to doubt that my 1573 pages – not including appendices! – don’t make me the most important of you all?” it boasted. The history book was massive, there was no doubt about that, almost a behemoth, and the suede leathered one was only half its size – if at all!

“Well, size isn’t everything, in case you haven’t heard yet,” the new contender maintained resolutely. It was not only tinier and more elegant than the Chronicle, but wieldier too, and had its way with words as the Chronicle was about to find out. “I’m a dictionary, my historic friend, and on top of that also a thesaurus: two in one, one in two parts. All-comprising is the word! And I comprise all words, so I should know…” The book smirked, amused by its own clever play on words.

“Ha! I know what a dictionary is, but I’ve never even heard of a ‘thesaurus’ in all my life on the shelf. Sounds more like some kind of monster to me,” the Chronicle responded, a tone of contempt in his voice. “So how could a book like a dictionary, or whatever else you say you are, possibly be more important than a volume filled to the brim with the world’s complete history?”

“Because everything you can read in books is made up of words,” the dictionary explained calmly. “So whatever grand or small events might be described on your 1573 pages – not including appendices! –, you need to put single words together to form sentences and paragraphs. And words and all their meanings are documented, well, in a dictionary. So that’s why I’m clearly more important than you are,” the Dictionary elaborated bursting with self-confidence, “because I mark the foundation of everything there is text- and thus book-wise." Fervently it went on: "Besides, isn’t it telling that I’m not surprised at all that an ignorant history book has never heard a term like ‘thesaurus’? Couldn’t happen to me, you see, I know even the oddest and rarest of words! A ‘thesaurus’ by the way is…”

“…a book containing systematized lists of synonyms and related terms. It’s right here on page 361 and following,” a new voice finished the sentence matter-of-factly, only to add: “The way you talk you sound like a pretentious know-it-all, Dickie! But if you want to have it, I can compete. Just so you know.”

The Chronicle and the Dictionary glanced at the book that had just chimed in intrepidly. It was yet another bulky, expensive looking leather-bound tome, and like the others it was also convinced of its own importance. Unlike the first two this one even had embossed ornaments all over its cover and beautiful gilded metal edges, which made it beautiful to look at – a veritable treasure of every library it resided in. The title read “The Great Santharian Compendium”.

The booklet let out a little whistle when it noticed that the tome’s spine also specified a volume number: “Vol. VIII – Letters S-U” was written there, broad and shiny. The Compendium consisted of more than eight parts! Each single one of them probably about a thousand pages or so!

“Well, it's true, you might know everything about history,” the Compendium stated, addressing the Chronicle. Then it turned to the Dictionary: “And you might think that simply because you are all about words, that this makes you the most important. But history is only a part of everything else there is, and a dictionary is just a tool to build something out of the words it contains! A dictionary doesn’t record history or describe things like people or beasts and plants. Neither does it express any ideas, categorize them, link and order them, makes the world more comprehensible. That’s what I do, the most detailed encyclopaedia that ever existed, and no other book does it so well.

Therefore, in the one form or another, the Santharian Compendium can be found throughout the lands in academies, libraries, schools, in inns, ships travelling the seas, at the Santhran’s palace as well as in many commoner’s homes, and – last not least – at this very writer’s desk! For everyone has a need to understand, and thanks to the Compendium they can. That’s what’s really important! Not just to be able to understand, Dickie, but to really understand how the world works the way it does.”

“Now what about this one?” the booklet asked the quill after it had listened to the Compendium’s speech. “That makes sense, doesn’t it? That encyclopaedia must be the most important of them all!”

The quill wiggled undecidedly in its inkwell. “Well, maybe. Then again maybe not.”

The booklet looked at him quizzically.

But before the quill could answer, the Chronicle and the Dictionary had begun speaking at the same time, belligerently trying to defend their own claim, and attacked the Compendium from their respective angles. The Compendium didn’t understand a word of all the babbling going on all of a sudden, but it felt nonetheless obliged to join the heated debate and defend its stance – which had the effect that all three were now talking over each other and nobody was actually listening. Maybe that’s the trouble with voluminous books: They have a lot to say, and once they start, they go on and on; but none of them has ever cultivated how to listen properly. So the three of them indulged in bickering, which went on for quite a bit, for neither of the disputants wanted to cease its arguing, lest it seemed that they’d give in to someone else’s argument.

At some point however, as if by behest, there happened to occur a quiet moment though in this lively and emotional discussion. Everyone paused to collect their thoughts. It was just an instance, but enough to give yet another book the opportunity to chip in. “What a pointless squabble you’re having!” it complained. That book dealt with the subject of philosophy and religion, and it was quick to remind the Compendium that an encyclopaedia only touched upon how the world works, while a book on philosophy of course went for looking behind everything that was, attempting to fathom the why. And because of that, so at least this particular book concluded, and according to the laws of logic established therein, such a tome must clearly be more important than any other book; after all its subject was what’s real and what’s not, it discussed ideas that thought itself was based on, and thus it also dealt with everything that preceded language, history or the categorization of things. Its matter was truth on the one hand and spiritual fulfilment on the other, and what else could be more important than that?

“Pshaw! Ideas… categorizing… chronicling… Just listen to yourself! What about matters of the heart and soul?” a smaller book chock-full with acclaimed poetry of the last centuries interjected hereafter. “Philosophy!” it sneered especially at the latest contender and alleged that whatever scholars thought up in their ivory towers wasn’t of actual importance to anyone except to, well, scholars in ivory towers. According to the poetry tome everything people felt was what people really lived on, not concepts and constructs and systems and their like. “All that thinking, and thinking about thinking, merely comes down to putting stuff in drawers”, the poetry tome argued. “Drawers are a convenient place to stow away all kinds of things, and notions and problems alike, but life is meant to be lived! Scrutinizing it is only an exercise for scholars. To live and enjoy life another kind of book is needed!” The noblest thing a soul could strive for would be romantic love, the collection expressed its conviction, and hence edifying lyrics that served the purpose of spreading love and understanding would be of the essence. “Face it,” the tiny book proclaimed confidently. “I’m the most important among us! If you're smart enough and have feelings at all, you'd admit it too!”

And so it went on. Also various spell books, guides and even anthologies compiling fairy tales found that they had reason to believe they were absolutely indispensable compared to the whole rest: because they either gave instructions how to alter reality, or helped readers to achieve their practical goals, or taught people morality lessons and incited their imagination and thus contributed substantially to the betterment of mankind.

The whole ruckus of books arguing and counter-arguing only came to an end when the study received a visitor: Later in the afternoon the writer entered the room. Suddenly every single book fell quiet and watched the master get to work with bated breath.

The man, a stern looking, graying fellow, took a book from the top of the pile on his desk. First he looked up something, and, after finding it, read for a while, before turning to another book, through which he then leafed leisurely as well. A couple of notes found their way onto a sheet as he checked a passage here and there, and thereafter the writer went on to consult yet another tome. When he was done he put all the books back on top of the pile and finally turned to what he came for – writing.

Dipping his quill into the inkwell the man wrote the first lines of a new tale, looked at them, changed a few words, added some more. As it turned out, he would be writing way into the night; sometimes he was thinking long and hard before committing just a few words to paper, at other times the lines almost dripped from his quill and the person sitting in front of the page appeared to be just watching. Needless to say, the master of the written word filled quite a few pages of our booklet that way. When he blew out his candle sometime around midnight, the story he had set out to put down was already halfway done – or at least a first draft.

Peace and quiet settled again in the study once the writer had left. Listening to the constant soothing scratches of the quill on the paper the books had all dozed off by now. Only the quill and the booklet were still up.

"Quite a day's work," the quill said to his companion. It was whispering in order not to wake the other books.

"Aye," the booklet replied, beaten, but happy. "Just a few hours ago I didn’t have a single letter on any of my many pages, and now there's that marvellous story, well, at least half of it! Would you believe it? Oh, I wonder where that tale is heading... – May the Gods bless this talented writer!"

The quill smiled. "I'm sure you'll know in no time how the story ends. He's very dedicated, you know; whatever he starts, he'll try to get finished right in time before the inspiration for the next tale arrives."

The booklet was pleased to hear that, it was so looking forward to the story's conclusion! Certainly it would dream all night about this… But before it wished the quill good night, the booklet felt it had to ask another thing that it still found bothering. "Say, and what now about the end of that argument we had the whole afternoon?" it queried. "Will we ever find a winner?"

"I doubt it," the quill replied. "Come tomorrow they'll all be up in arms again. Each and every member of this exclusive leather-bound club is convinced to be the most important, that's just the way it is. Even if a book hasn't made a claim yet, I bet they're all convinced of it nevertheless, and will eventually come up with something to support their own cause."

"And what do you think?" the booklet asked, recalling some cryptic comments the quill had made earlier.

"That importance lies in the eye of the beholder," the quill said. "And if each of these books only looks at itself from its own point of view, each will find that it must be the most important one of course. Now, from a quill's perspective, all who brought forward their arguments today are rather important books – for the one or the other reason, there's no doubt about that; but the most important one for me isn't among them."

"Really?" the booklet looked at his friend incredulously. "But we've got them all here, haven't we?"

“In a way, yes…” The quill stooped to the booklet. "Let me explain: Just think about the writer when he came in today. He looked at quite a few of these tomes, for he needed a couple of things to make his text work, right? Maybe he was looking for a specific date to place his story, perhaps a certain word, or an idea, some inspiration to get his imagination going, could be all of that... So all these books served their purpose, didn't they?"

"Aye, I guess so," the booklet agreed.

"But whatever he had learned in books in all his life, whatever he was looking for right now, and whatever he found," the quill went on, "he finally got down to writing himself.”

“Glad he did,” the booklet answered with glee.

“And isn't that what's truly important? The book he's going to write, not so much all the ones that are already there, as important they may be? Isn’t it about creating something new from what there is? To put together ideas in a way never done before? Be it in scholarly fashion, or as a poet writing romance, or a novelist weaving tales? That's at least what gets me excited."

“Me too,” the booklet nodded.

The quill whirled enthusiastically in his inkwell. "The books on these shelves and the ones piled up here on the desk are the way they are, they don't change anymore, they don't set out to undiscovered lands, aspire to higher goals. They are done, and all they're left with is an attitude – and not the best, I might add! They might be wise and deep and wonderful and whatever – even the classics, of which readers can't get enough. But once they are leather-bound all they do is to simply bask in their own glory."

The booklet thought about this, remembering how narrow-mindedly the books had behaved. Once the discussion continued it wouldn't be any different, it thought.

"Well, I might be biased," the quill continued. "But as far as I'm concerned I'm more interested in helping to write rather than judging what has been written. You see, the future of books doesn't lie in thick tomes gathering dust on the shelves, busy with being important, but rather in these many, many empty pages still ahead – and they have to be filled! We wouldn't have any new books if it weren't so... As a quill, I'm here to help things along, get down history, philosophy, lyrics, stories, whatever the writer pleases. Maybe what is being written now on these blank pages will end up in a bound tome someday, who knows? But for me books mean more than to be bound and live in glory happily ever after."

The booklet was stumped, for all of a sudden its many empty pages seemed to take on an entirely new meaning. “You’re saying the most important book…” The booklet’s words trailed off.

"You'll figure it out," the quill said curtly. "And now grab a few winks, comrade – we’ve got some more work to do tomorrow!"
 


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