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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

 

From The Women of Andrôs
Buy the book!The final excerpt of Bright Orange Sweater-Coat Month is from the last and longest piece in the book, the novella The Women of Andrôs. The novella is an odd little thing, actually: a surrealistic, highly symbolic story, which is the only piece in the book that would be unsuitable for a "family audience." It was most consciously influenced by C. S. Lewis' allegory The Pilgrim's Regress, and shares more than a few similarities. Like Andrôs, Regress was Lewis' first lengthy fiction, and his most overtly allegorical. It's a fairly wide ranging allegory that sets up, more or less, the worldview that the rest of his books flow out of. I think many writers have a story like this one inside of them, and I think it's important to get it out before anything else of weight can come out smoothly. The following is the first chapter.
The Women of Andrôs

Chapter 1: The Two Pastimes of the Time Traveler


Not too far away, and not too long ago, a man sat alone in front of his Machine. It lit his pudgy face dimly in an eerie bluish glow, and revealed an unkempt thicket of curly dark hair, two darting eyes behind a chunky pair of eyeglasses, a lumpy nose and a chin to match. While not the most appealing sight one could think of, it could make a claim few others could. This sight was the sole visual indication of this man’s most unusual hobby—time traveling.

Time travel, sought for by dreamers since before Wells, abhorred by practical men since before Clemens and pondered by men of science since before Einstein, perfected by an undereducated, melancholy, obese man sitting in his living room right around the turn of the 21st century may seem distinctly improbable. It may also seem a bit unfair—not to mention dull.

And while an unattractive face lit up faintly is underwhelming enough, the sounds produced were even less interesting. It consisted of only two sounds, each emanating from the Time Traveler’s Machine: a low, quiet whir dancing just at the edge of his consciousness, a sound that few today would recognize—not because it is heard rarely, but because it is heard so very often; and a tiny clicking noise occasionally piercing the air.
This may disappoint those who, while neither scientists nor poets, were still expecting something more exciting. Expecting, perhaps, strange theramin-like sounds, or at least a sound resembling the rushing of air, or anything that brought to mind fast physical travel. Or maybe colorful vortices, flashing lights or floating objects such as clocks, Roman soldiers or dinosaurs. But, alas, it was not so.

Nonetheless, every evening while eating a haphazard dinner of microwave-heated, deep fried foods, the Time Traveler would engage in time travel, his First Pastime. Ten thousand poets would have endured countless hardships that would have made Sisyphus, Atlas and Prometheus wince for a taste of such travel. Ten thousand scientists would have forsaken their families, nations and souls for the tiniest knowledge of its workings. However, neither the Time Traveler’s heart nor his head were stirred by his doings. In fact, there was nothing particularly poetic, let alone scientific about anything he did.

More than the aesthetics and motives were minimalist. The flexibility of the entire system was equally limited. In fact, the time traveling worked in only one direction—forwards. And it also only worked one speed—very slowly. This lack of options did not disturb or frustrate the Time Traveler, for he did not even notice that he was traveling at all. If he had noticed, it is unlikely that he could have continued. And so there he sat, not quite comfortably, doing nothing but very, very slowly traveling forward through time.

This was the Time Traveler’s First Pastime, which gave him his title, albeit unofficial. It was unclear why he engaged in it, even to himself. He gained no particular joy or sense of fulfillment from it. Perhaps it sprang from some odd sense of obligation. He did, after all, own the Machine, and such Machines are expensive. If he was going to own it, he might as well use it—in fact, he really ought to use it. Or, maybe it was the fact that there was little else to do in the Time Traveler’s sparsely decorated apartment. There were a few books, of course, and a deck of cards or two, though those sparked no interest. There was even a door, but the thought of using that for anything but leaving for work in the morning and returning from it in the evening had not occurred to him for a long while. None of these activities held any real allure for him, and hadn’t for some time.

But there was one other activity that did partake in regularly—the Time Traveler’s Second Pastime. While the First was experienced by few and spoken of by many, the Second was experienced by many and, especially until recent times, spoken of by few. Even in times such as these, it is joked about in sitcoms and high schools, glorified in artistic movies that think highly of themselves, and spoken of with hushed and uncomfortable tones in church-based accountability groups, but mentioned few other places. It was a pastime shared by thousands of teenage boys, a children’s television star or two and (some claim) St. Paul, among others.

The Time Traveler engaged in this pastime during breaks from time traveling, and it was the only thing that he did aside from that between six and midnight on weekdays, and on weekends from noon to midnight. A key component of time traveling, and a main source of that bluish glow, was gazing upon various pictures of women in semi-nude to completely nude states. As he was a male, his pituitary gland spewing out testosterone every second, he desired these women fiercely. An ancient passion consumed him, one embedded deeply within his psyche, his DNA and all his glands, to fulfill all sorts of biological functions with these women—and some functions not quite so biological. But they were only a compilation of many colored points of light, making this impossible. So in loneliness and quiet desperation, the Time Traveler turned to himself.

This turning, the Time Traveler’s Second Pastime, was a poor substitute for what he would liked to have made the Time Traveler’s Third Pastime, but it was the only thing he could see to do. This may have been because he never really looked. But his Second Pastime was so accessible that it had never crossed his mind to do any looking.

The Time Traveler’s life consisted of these Two Pastimes plus work. As little joy as his Two Pastimes brought him, work brought him even less. It was a mind numbing eight hours of irksome papers and memos, and equally irksome co-workers, bosses and other assorted irritants. The juxtaposition of this drab, joyless time and his Pastimes was all that made the latter seem at all enjoyable. They were not, of course.

Despite the fact that his work brought him no fulfillment and his recreation brought him no joy, the Time Traveler was not severely unhappy. In part, this was because he had subconsciously concluded that a lack of joy and fulfillment was the norm, and so he was, in a sense, content with his discontent.

While this would have proved a paradox for some, it did not for The Time Traveler, mainly because he didn’t know about it. In fact, all these observations would have meant nothing to him. If, by some great improbability, he had run across this chapter, it is doubtful he would have even recognized himself being described, so great was his unconsciousness.

This unconsciousness was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it prevented him from becoming completely miserable. On the other hand, it prevented him from doing anything about it, or even thinking about it.

One day, however, he did think about it. And when he did, everything changed.
And for any more from The Women of Andrôs, or anything else in Bright Orange Sweater-Coat, you'll just have to buy the book at any one of these fine booksellers.
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