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Arkham House, Seabury Quinn, Roads

Wednesday 9/11/19

3000 word essay complete. It's for Christmas, and hopefully I will be able to sell it. I am still trying to get as much done as possible before doing nothing--or as close to it as I can get--save these books I am under contractual obligation to complete. Today I had absolutely nothing in my tank. It can be hard for someone to imagine what it is like to have to create so much every day, to do one work of genius after another, again, again, again, always new, always at the highest level, always with the greatest degree of invention. It's not about sitting around and waiting for inspiration. I cannot do that. I simply have to go, constantly, and it has to be done and it has to be what I have in me for it to be. This essay is about Roads, a book by Seabury Quinn, put out by Arkham House in 1948. Arkham House published a lot of weird fiction by people like Clark Ashton Smith, Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Sheridan Le Fanu. The editions are highly prized by collectors--people get way into Arkham House stuff. Roads is an origin story for Santa Claus, with Claus--Claudius--having first been a centurion in the time of Christ. It's an excellent book. Here are a few paragraphs from today. I am writing at a high level.


“'Claus, Claus,’ the softly modulated voice proclaimed, ‘because thou hast done this for me and risked thy life and freedom for a little child, I say that never shalt thou taste of death until thy work for me is finished.”


Note the last word—it’s a play on Christ’s final words, upon the cross, “It is finished,” which we will encounter later. Time has been thwacked here, it’s not in the order we associate with time. The infant is wise, the infant knows of its death as an adult, the infant understands how change may occur in a human and that it is the individual human, ultimately, no matter the prompt, that is the agent of change. Everything is before its time, and also of its time—which is to say, it’s not too late. Not too late for Claus, who is no maker of excuses. A time will come when Claus outlives the old gods, who will be forgotten—the Christ infant is a confident speaker—and live “so long as gleeful children praise thy name at the season of winter solstice.” Shorter days, longer life. Accepted thoughts are being challenged, doubt is arising, questions are being asked—something we rarely have the self-confidence to allow ourselves to partake in—and this person’s entire view of existence is one he realizes he might have to remake. That will take time and effort. He’s not all in, despite this experience. Our Claudius is no sheep. He’s also no victim of a co-opted life. This will not be a man who truckles to determinism, as we tend to do in our culture of obsessive self-victimization and denounced responsibility. He will listen to this little fellow, but he will still find his own way.


Claus ends up in the employ of Pontius Pilate, an ineffective, hen-pecked bureaucrat with his own set of problems and rivals with which to deal. Christ is nailed to the cross and it is Claudius who delivers him his mortal blow when he deems that he can no longer allow the suffering to continue. His spear pierces the heart, but once more, a voice speaks, one which no one can hear, save Claus within the bones of his skull. The same tone, the same cadence. “Thy work is not yet started, Claus,” says the voice. And then occurs one of the most remarkable moments I know of in literature in which the sacred and the secular are fused, with not a single belief—which can be so crucial to our identities—infringed upon. Differences are bridged, contrasting humans drawn to contrasting humans, in an expression of weird fiction unity, what I think of as weird fiction love and inclusivity.


“The soldiers of the guard and crowd of hang-jawed watchers at the execution ground were thunderstruck to see the Procurator’s chief centurion draw himself up and salute the body on the gallows as though it were a tribune, or the Governor himself.”


Again, to the road. Hastening “through the Street of David” to report back to Pilate, the world starts going way, way wrong, like it often does in a Charley Patton blues. There is an earthquake, Claus ends up saving a prostitute.


Deed completed, and having ascertained the woman’s current occupation, he wants nothing to do with her, until, again, the voice sounds in his head. You understand where this is heading. This is the future Mrs. Claus, and together with Claudius she will journey many roads, stand by his side in many battles, narrowly avert execution with him by returning to the road under cover of darkness after having performed a small gesture of kindness—the handing out of toys, in one instance—deemed to violate local religious decree.


Time, meanwhile, travels another road. “Emperors came and went.” Both man and woman live on. They certainly live by their own code. Despite what he has witnessed, Claus does not stop soldiering. He views—correctly—his conduct even as a solider as autonomous, the fruit of his purpose. He is a taker of responsibility. This inspires some, terrifies others. His progress never ceases, and as such the road—the journeying—is a metaphor. Constant movement is equated with perpetual growth. Destination is payoff, but destination is temporary; the next destination is central. And so on.