Doctor Who made me think, of shame, disgust, beauty and phobia. I felt horror I had not felt watching the programme this century, and waking in the night had to find ways of making the renewed horror and fear less, so that I could go back to sleep.

“Praxeus” in the show is a virus which eats plastic within bodies, first of birds then of people. Scales grow across the human bodies, onto their hands and faces. As the camera lingered on Matthew McNulty’s face, looking sick and miserable, I felt my guts twisting with revulsion. In the night, I told myself repeatedly that he is an actor and imagined him peeling off the makeup and going for a drink with the rest of the cast. I thought of him in Deadwater Fell on Friday night, as a disgraced policeman launching himself across a room at former Doctor David Tennant who was playing a doctor, then chatting as friends on the side of the set. It’s fiction. It hasn’t wholly worked. I still feel perplexed distress, so decided to write it out here.

Silly right-wingers were irritated with Doctor Who being “woke” again, with Warren Brown as the McNulty character’s husband, and a plot around plastic pollution being a bad thing, but that pleases me. Doctor Who has shown sick people before, in Spyfall lying in bed surrounded by monitors, where the Doctor after a quick wave of her sonic comments that all their DNA has been rewritten and they’re not human any more. But they looked like people in comas and hardly bothered me. I have binged Pose recently, with Blanca in hospital with an AIDS related illness, and felt sympathy.

So if it is about illness, that’s not all of it. I like to think of people recovering. The human tends to health, healing injuries, fighting off infection. Here the scales grow over the face, and death seems remorseless, slow but certain. McNulty, who as a working class actor has a particular forte for incomprehending misery, has a strong TV career, so possibly as a good actor engaged my empathy and conveyed his character’s distress, and I think it was more than that.

I want to look beautiful. I see someone looking repulsively ugly so that I want to look away, and I imagine myself looking so ugly, so that others reject me. I can imagine myself like that, and it gars me grue. I have rarely felt beautiful. I do not feel repulsive, but others sometimes show their transphobia so that I know they are repelled, and that is a horrible feeling.

I loathe the idea of feeling disgusted by another human being in such a way as to break sympathy. That is a strong part of it, the fear of rejection which we suffer so much. I think the worst of it was the scales, a parasitic and destructive thing, were obscuring the face. I imagine something creeping over my face like that and am horrified. The humanity is obscured.

And the virus seemed effective, so that it would certainly kill. It didn’t, always, but the anticipation of death and being weak and powerless before it, is ghastly. I pause to think again of McNulty peeling off his prosthetic, giving the glue a quick wash off, and going to do something else. Stephen Moffat’s Doctor had moments of awe and wonder, and moments of triumph, but Chris Chibnall’s Doctor never seems to get anything better than exhausted relief, a slight respite from the grind before some other task starts. She’s still in control, but she seems to have to work harder. I liked Russell T Davies’ Doctors, when as soon as they started running you had the feeling that the monsters were left hopelessly behind, but with Chibnall they seem certain to catch up. The running seems exhausting, the long lines explaining what is going on delivered with misery and fear. I want more joy, more careless derring-do and panache. Even the delight of Missy in The Magician’s Apprentice, killing someone to make a point, is preferable to this.

Added: the end of the season, with the Master, shorn of all Missy’s character development, destroying the citadel of the Time Lords and turning all the Time Lords into cybermen who could regenerate, was so mean and nasty it may have put me off Doctor Who. At least while Chibnall runs it.

Doctor Who is Trans

The Doctor is Trans.

Doctor Who is left wing- see the Evil Capitalists in Space plots, such as Oxygen, where air is discharged to preserve market value. But the first trans character was a satire. Lady Cassadra, the malevolent trampoline, had had hundreds of operations, the latest bleaching her blood so that veins did not show. I get it- lots of people find vaginoplasty or FFS repellent to imagine- but it is a vicious swipe at trans from a gay writer. And I might not have realised, until she said “When I was a little boy”.

Missy, however, explains The Master perfectly. He is trans, pre-transition. He wants to destroy things, he is so angry; he wants to control, in a horrid caricature of Manliness, and eventually he goes mad.

Then he transitions, and she is playful. This is the first time the character has shown joy. She dresses like a tranny with poor dress sense. She dresses in a particular style- cameo brooches were fashionable in 1996, wasn’t it? Those skirt suits with maxi skirts, the pussy-bows, the high collars, all very trans. I have worn suits like that. I still have a skirt like that. I like it, I wear it occasionally.

She is lonely, and wants her friend back. She despises human beings, thinking less of killing us than we would of killing a spider, but wants to be friends with the Doctor. Her first plan was to give him a present, an army of cybermen so he could “do good” all over the galaxy.

The broken, insane character transitions, and is still broken and insane, but slightly less violent. She might even become sane.

And now The Doctor will be female. This is a mature transition, the gentle, peaceful Doctor who will sacrifice self over and over again for friends, becomes a woman. She is beautiful and retains the deep sanity of the character. This is a transition for now, not the poor persecuted broken trans of the past but a trans person never broken by the world, fulfilled by transition, effortlessly herself.

Her first line when she sees her reflection is “Oh Brilliant!”

In Demons of the Punjab, she acknowledges the change. Yaz’s grandmother is going to get married, and the night before:

Umbreen: So, come on. Women with me and Mum, men over at Prem’s house.

The Doctor looks quizzically at Yaz, who nods. They get their hands henna painted.

Doctor: This is the best thing ever! Never did this when I was a man.
Yaz (warningly) Doctor. You and your jokes.
Doctor: Yes. That’s right. My references to body and gender regeneration are always in jest. Such a comedian.

Then they change the subject.

Say… something nice

To Stanwick Lakes, for the Doctor Who costuming group. Missy is my favourite fictional trans character. I could dress in her style with my own clothes, for she dresses like a trans woman.

The David Tennant character has his hair like that all the time. Perhaps just a little more gel today. His friend is in the Sealed Knot, and they really take it seriously, live it for a whole weekend then pack it away in the car.

Queen Victoria, in her wheelchair, absolutely refused to play Davros. Victoria appeared in the story “Tooth and Claw”- she reminded me, and I remembered the story, including why the Koh-i-noor diamond was repeatedly cut, to be far smaller. Only repelling aliens could justify such vandalism. We chatted away, and her UNIT soldier stood by her without speaking, but when she got fed up with her lace cap and took it off, he folded it carefully and put it in a pocket.

Lisa as Sarah-Jane Smith had the hand of fear, which became Eldrad. It was the hand of a mannequin which she had spray-painted with rock-like paint. Someone else had badges which were given free with cereal in the early 70s: the set of six is £750 on e-bay. Lisa’s favourite Master was Roger Delgado, always failing, his mind control did not work because people were too strong, his allies were always betraying him. She did not like John Simm. We both love Michelle Gomez, and quote lines at each other.

I was sad their Peter Capaldi lookalike was not here. He tends to be more Malcolm Tucker than the Doctor when in costume. Ace’s baseball bat was signed by Sophie Aldred.

What do you do? Dress up and take photographs.

Missy would not be fazed by a cyberman. The voicebox produces a cyber voice too.

There are conventions most weekends. The actors come- Billie Piper was in Birmingham last weekend, “David Tennant” had met Julian Glover- so we reminisce about his episode, forging copy Mona Lisas to free himself from being shattered through time and space.

And- a female Doctor!

Rules for survival

How might we survive the new world order? In the UK, we are six months ahead into the darkness the US is entering.

Maria Alexandrovna Gessen would know, having lived under Mr Putin, and left Russia in 2013 because she feared as a lesbian that her adopted son would be taken from her. The day after the election, she wrote her rules.

1. Believe the autocrat, when he says something ridiculous or vile. He may lie as he will, pretending to consider more sensible views. He met Mr Gore before appointing Mr Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He met Mr Romney before appointing Mr Tillerson. He was playing with you. Yes, he means to lock her up. He will twist judicial appointments to that end.

2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. The world has not ended, and life proceeds; but calamitous change has begun.

3. Institutions will not save you. Trump will work to undermine and control them. Honest journalists will lose access.

4. Be outraged. Maintain your capacity for shock. There are some things which people do better together, through government, than by unaccountable and opaque foreign companies. In the UK market fundamentalism rules, seeking support from Nationalist stoking of hatred of minorities and foreigners- winning support through nostalgia for strong civil society even as it uses its power to destroy it. Probation services should be carried out impartially by the state, as rehabilitation is too important for the grasping incompetence of MTC. The sell-off continues.

5. Don’t make compromises. Trump will corrupt all who work for him.

6. Remember the future. Resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be normal.

The Electoral College will not save you. All those minor Republican electors will vote for Mr Trump, or enough for him to have a majority, despite Alexander Hamilton’s hope in [people] most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. They will not vote for Mrs Clinton, and if enough deserted Trump it would be for the House of Representatives to select a president.

TV drama gives a lead. There is the charmless, endless NCIS, in which the police, trusted authority figures, find awful criminals and put them away; but three new shows seem more realistic. We have seen two episodes of This is us in the UK, and it seemed to me to have sweet outcomes while raising subjects which could end very very badly. Spoilers for those episodes. A woman tells her husband to stop drinking. He does so, because he loves her. A man finds his father, who abandoned him as a baby. He wants to say “screw you” and storm off, but instead invites the man into his home. The father spends all day away- he could be drinking or taking drugs, but instead he is feeding his cat. In each case we get the happy outcome where Love wins, and are left to imagine how bad it could have been. Timeless is hokum, in which a woman is told she has to save humanity by going back in time to thwart a master-criminal who wishes to change the timeline. It could be the good guys, authority figures, a government agency and a billionaire tech genius, saving the world, but already there is moral ambiguity. Already we see we cannot trust them.

And Class, a children’s spin-off from Doctor Who, already shown in Britain Canada and Australia, to be shown by BBC America, has teenagers saving the World, but it’s a darker, stranger world than children’s programmes when I was a bairn. The authority figures, teachers, are not trustworthy, and anyone can die.

Drama matters as part of the national conversation, affecting how we see events. Powerless despite our facebook grousing, I find some hope in dismantling trust. We have to look out for each other.

Masha Gessen.

The “Classic” Doctor Who fan

I love Doctor Who, and not just Missy the trans woman. My friend is a fan of “classic” Doctor Who, not the show this century. When I asked why, he mentioned those creatures which farted all the time- the Slitheen of Raxacoricofallapatorius- which he called ridiculous. But that was 2005: have you watched it since then? The Magician’s Apprentice- [spoilers]

Consider the “hand mines”, a semantic game leading to a dark flight of fancy, and the image of hands coming up through a sea of mud, to pull a man down. The soil flubs back as if he had never been there. The hands have eyes on the palm. It is a simple, throwaway idea, beautifully executed over half a minute, shown that we see the details in turn: I understand hand-mines, even though they might do something new. They create the threat for the central encounter, between the Doctor and the “child who’s not going to die today”.

Having watched it twice, of course, I see more in it: Colony Sarff is a slave of the Daleks, so glides like a dalek; he is a colony of snakes, so the gliding is in curves not straight lines. “Your powers do not work here” says the Sister on Karn- a reference to The Brain of Morbius and the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration which this Doctor Who nerd appreciates- as his face twists and he looks worried. This is meaningless until the second viewing, after you have seen him dissolve into a myriad snakes. The snake effects look real, unlike in Kinda or Snakedance.

-How does she do that?
-Some kind of psychic projection?
-That’s a great help.

The pseudo-scientific jargon served to indicate that the Doctor knew what was going on and would deal with it, often with a machine which might emit sparks or small explosions. The threat is revealed, but the Doctor puts the invaders into a “time loop”, you know the kind of thing. In Flatline last year, the Doctor simply shouted “I’m the Doctor” at the invaders, who disappeared. Sometimes the jargon is used, and sometimes it’s laughed at. Well, I like a bit of variation.

So much invention. The planes stop in the sky: but that is Missy’s way of getting UNIT’s attention, to get help finding The Doctor, who knows he will die so throws a three week long party in the twelfth century, at one point playing a bass guitar on a tank. Some of the ideas are silly, but Doctor Who has always been silly, or playful. The ideas are knitted together, each having meaning, each having beauty or interest in its own right, around the central moral dilemma:

Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?

The former answer was, the thousand year war created that level of hate and fear linked to that creative will, perpetuating the hatred in a creature whose only desire is to survive. We have seen the Doctor and the child Davros together twice, and having avoided or deprecated spoilers, I had the full weight of the shock when he announces his name. I don’t expect the answer to be discussed in depth, only for one or more possible answers to be suggested. I expect to be entertained.

Welcome insanity

I need to tell you this. I don’t know how. I imagine uncomprehending laughter at the ridiculous trans.

There are things I could do, but there is nothing I have to do today. The forecast is heavy rain until late afternoon. I feel some lassitude and imagine I will spend a great deal of time watching TV.

By the way, I love Missy on Doctor Who. Not only has she changed sex, she dresses like a tranny. And she has that wonderful volcanic take no shit personality: “No, I have not turned guid“, she says, going Scottish and killing someone just to make her point.

It might be better to tidy my room, or sort my weekend- I can go dancing if X, so I would be well to check the possibility of X. It would be lovely to see B again. Instead, I want to dress up. I want to dress in a feminine fashion, though I will not be going out or seeing anyone. I want to manifest as utterly girly, simply for myself.

My enraged contempt at this desire stuns me. So it really is all about the clothes. It affirms the theory of autogynephilia: it is how the clothes make me feel, nothing more. It is not rational or sensible- though neither was transition, of course- to put on the heating rather than to put on a thicker sweater. Well, I don’t want to put on a sweater, I want to wear something pretty.

I overcome my enraged contempt, and do what I want. It makes no sense except that it is what I want.

I don’t rate my dress sense highly. That is why I said Missy dresses like a tranny- flamboyant but completely unfashionably, that cameo brooch at the neck was fashionable some time in the 90s. This long, soft skirt which I call “feminine”- well, Suzy passed the message on that I should show off my legs, and that is more fashionable, in leggings or short skirts. Well, this skirt is what I have. I don’t know what other clothes I would want.

It seems to me this is the only way I know how to pamper or affirm myself. All that resistance- it is stupid, pointless, ridiculous, imagining the raucous laughter of tout le monde- So now I am sitting, writing, and this is all I have done: I paced the floor, I made my decision, I showered and dressed, and it is lunch time. And I am exhausted by that work, such that this afternoon I will do little beyond watching telly or perhaps staring into space. Ruminating, thinking this over, noticing the truth of it.

(I’m NOT RUMINATING!!!! I thought this morning. I AM MAKING PROGRESS!! I DO THIS FOR ME!!!)

Hundreds of people come here from t-central, and some of them click several links in my menu, and none of them ever leaves a comment. Does this speak to you, at all? This is the only way I have to value myself, this is the only thing I know to do, purely for myself. I feel such delight and misery, pride and shame- that this is all I know, and that I am doing it.

Titian, Venus of Urbino

Of course I have been here before. I like to think I am making progress, but perhaps not. So I care for myself in some inchoate way, just in this moment, and delight in it, not doing anything which my inner rationalist would approve of. I sense the resistance. I am aware how much I fight myself. I seek to find patterns, it is the human thing to do, and perhaps there are none. And yet- right now I am doing what I want to do, rather than what makes sense, and I hope that is a good thing.

Logic problem

In The Pyramids of Mars, Sarah-Jane Smith is trapped. There are two switches, one of which will release her, one of which will kill her. There are two guardians,  one of which tells the truth, the other always lying. The Doctor can ask one guardian one question. He asks,

“If I asked the other guardian which was the life switch, which would it indicate?”

The liar will lie about the truth-teller, and so indicate the death switch. The truth-teller will tell the truth about the liar, so indicate the death switch. The Doctor presses the other switch and Sarah is released.

John Finnemore did a sketch in which the guardians are fed up because everyone now knows what to ask- so they introduce a third guardian who strictly alternates, lying in one answer then telling the truth in the next. You will not know whether the alternator will lie or tell the truth, because you do not know which it did last time, to the last intrepid explorer. It will only change from lying to telling the truth if asked a question. There are still a life switch and a death switch. The only permitted questions are those which can be answered by a guardian pointing at a switch.

If you ask the first guardian, which is the Life switch, then ask the first the same question again, and the answers are different, you know that the first is the alternator, and you can ask the second guardian the Doctor’s question about the third. If the first’s answers are the same, and you ask the second guardian the same question twice, if the second’s answers are the same the third is the alternator: ask the first the Doctor’s question about the second; but if the second’s answers differ then it is the alternator, and you ask the first the Doctor’s question about the third. So you can always identify the life switch in five questions, and sometimes with three.

However, I can always identify the life switch with three questions.

What questions do you ask so that, whatever the answers, you can always find the life switch with three questions?

Call the guardians 1, 2 and 3 and the switches X and Y. Kudos to anyone who answers this. If anyone asks, I will answer it in a week, in the comments. (Added: The answer is now below, in the comments.)

I have no idea if anyone else has worked on this puzzle. It seems likely someone has. I thought I had answered it, then found a flaw in my argument, and scheduled this post for 1 April; but now, I am clear that I have answered the puzzle.

I love my illusions 💋

I love my illusions. They do me good. Or I would get rid of them.

There are the atheists, blogging away. Some just want to feel clever and right, but Victoria Neuronotes wants to save us poor benighted Christians from atrophied brains and self-abuse, others might want to save us from idiotic falsehood, they might all prefer us thinking better and living happier, and under it all, they want to make us more like themselves. Confident their way is best, they want us approximated to it, for our good or for the good of our victims. Or, they want to justify to themselves their way of being. These motives may co-exist.

My friend Andy went from quite a conservative Christian, knowing being queer is Wrong, to a wildly liberal one, accepting his queerness, back to being conservative again, apart from the Gay bit. He is not alone.

Finding I liked so little what I thought I ought to, and continually surprised by how much I liked what I actually did- dressing female, for example- I decided what I needed more than anything was to know myself and accept myself as I am.

I cling to my illusions, thinking they are true, because the alternative is frightening: illusions like

 everything's going to be alright. 

Perhaps, even, believing those is good for me, giving me

 courage to continue
in the face of adversity.

There are things I haven’t realised yet. Perhaps I never will. Or I accept intellectually, but can’t accept emotionally.

Wonderful bit in Doctor Who:

Missy: say something nice.
Chang: You’re going to kill me, aren’t you? Please don’t kill me, I don’t want to die
Missy: I’ve got all day! And I’m not going to kill you until you say- something nice.
Chang: It has been an absolute pleasure working with you and I truly believe that you will not be able to find it in your heart to murder me.

Missy fires, Chang vanishes. Someone said when she explained like that, he would not “say something nice”, but I thought that “You’re going to kill me” is too difficult to grasp but “say something nice” is easy so he does that. Watching it again to get the dialogue, I find it worse than I remembered: he works out she will kill him from her hints. And he still says something nice.

I want to know who I am, and groping towards this I use words. In the shower this morning I was seized with the desire to write them down- access my unconscious, whatever, I think it a good exercise. Not on the blog, obviously, even I know that is going too far, but here are some:

 Gorgeous, Right, Worthy, Gifted, Truthful, 
Intelligent, Perceptive, Creative, Loving, Able, Musical, Poetic, 
Humorous, Forceful, Valuable, Relaxed.

And some aspirations:

Spontaneous, Successful, Admired, Engaged,
having integrity…

Returning to this hours later, I remember the Sheriff at Forfar sentencing a man who had been chucked by his girlfriend, and made a nuisance of himself outside her house. He said “He cannot understand how a person as attractive as he could ever evoke this reaction, and the way the rest of us convince him that he does, is prison.” At my advanced age, though, I can happily believe something without needing everyone else to believe it too. Thank God! At Last!


Trilobite 1

trilobite 2When I was on holiday, my mother had the dog put down. Arthritis in her back leg made it difficult for her to stand up, though I would still like to have been told beforehand. But it might have affected me even more that when I was at University, my parents moved, and without telling me my mother took all the books I had left at home to a second-hand bookshop. I told Gregor, and he was shocked: “Sixty Doctor Who books! Sixty!” Gregor had got cable TV because it was showing old Doctor Who each night, had a notebook with the names of the actors writers and directors of each serial, and was busking to pay off his overdraft at £5 a time, never knowing where his next Doctor Who book was coming from.

One needs to practise with small losses.

What do your possessions say about you? I was proud of my hi-fi, a Mission amplifier and speakers, and Marantz CD player, and my TV, small and black-and-white, which all proclaimed that I am a cultured and educated person, at least in my own mind. That might be why I keep so many books. I am pleased to have read On Becoming a Person, it was life-changing, but I won’t read it through again, and I have not even dipped into it for years. On the other hand, a friend recognised its distinctive spine and we discussed it.

Through and through th’ inspir’d leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings;
But O respect his lordship’s taste,
And spare his golden bindings!

But books do not need golden bindings to show off taste.

You might think this net-book my most treasured possession, the time I spend with it, but eventually I will replace it, and chuck it away happily. It is a tool. I value it for what it lets me do, rather than for the thing itself. Only a few books are tools. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is more reliable than the Internet, and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary-

There’s something I can prize in a possession, I who thought myself too practical, Roundhead, rational to relate emotionally to things, and at the same time too Spiritual to idolise them.

At £70 in the Nineties, it involved some sacrifice to get it. It is not beautiful exactly, but imposing on the bookshelf, two volumes 11¼x5¼”. It has had practical use at least monthly, hundreds of times since I bought it. And it does say something about me, to anyone who might find out something about me from looking at my bookshelves.

I am proud of my quirks, and have an 18th century edition of Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity, still the pre-eminent work of Quaker theology. I could not afford a 17th century edition. Rufus Jones’ histories, and my 19th century Books of Discipline, alongside recent Swarthmore Lectures, give a definite message to other Quakers. But generally, books are disposable. I value the experience of reading them, but afterwards there are others to read; the message a visitor gets from one s/he might get from another, and after, they are so much dead weight, to carry around if I move. Better to have an e-file.

There is the piano. I would not be without it, but do not play it much. However, what I value is the experience, not the object- if I look with pleasure on my bicycle in the hall it is because I imagine riding it.

I have mementoes. That picture of a camelSphinx by the Sphinx-

-will it scan? Yes. There it is. The colour is not right, and I did not take it out of its frame-

I remember where it hung, in my grandparent’s house, but it is not, usually, a madeleine for me. I do not find myself back, there, looking at it. Keeping it may be a way of honouring them, but perhaps it is more that throwing it away or selling it would dishonour them, or something. It is the same with my mother’s silver teapots. I have found out what EPNS stands for, but they were created to be valued. They have the look of something designed to be looked at, but I don’t quite get it, and I don’t keep them polished, they tarnish too quickly.

These family bonds are something to free myself of, at the same time as something to venerate. Something which matures in my mind as I mature, part of me which does not limit or define me. Those things, the symbols, relate to them somehow, and I need not know precisely how. The photograph from my parents’ wedding reception, though- as I journeyed from dependency to loathing and resentment of them, then back to Love, it was a tool for me, to see them at their brightest and happiest, and it touches me when I look at it.

There are other things, which have meant so much to me at one time, and after, not. The full-fed beast shall kick the empty pail. I went to see the psychiatrist in London, and bought a silver bangle. I was moving forward towards transition. This was something I wanted to symbolise and celebrate. That bangle became invested with all the meaning of my coming liberation. Then it got a bit battered, and vanished in a burglary. The symbol loses meaning when reality comes; it was a cup of water in a desert, and now I have high-pressure taps in a temperate land. I can invest a thing with meaning, then it has that meaning for me. Then I need that meaning less, and the echo of it dwindles, and I think Oh! Yes, that. But I could not throw away this old battered plastic key-fob, the first gift from my greatest friend.

Rublev Trinity: Angels at MamreI have things which I bought for their beauty. Those crystal wineglasses which I got in my first home make a wonderful rich sound if I flick them. I still get pleasure from them, though it has changed as I have changed. Beauty varies. I have a trilobite embedded in slate, 450m years old. I love the detail of its segments, but it symbolises for me three centuries of effort to wrest meaning from such perplexing stone, and 450m years of coincidence, that it still exists.

And I have a copy of Andrei Rublev’s Angels at Mamre. It is hand made with gold leaf on aged wood on Mount Athos, so it is a record of centuries of self-sacrifice and reverence. So I must treat it with respect. In a sense, though, it is just a thing, and if I no longer owned it for some reason it would be no great loss for me. That practice in loss has freed me from some pain. The icon is never of greater value to me than when someone notices it and comments on its beauty. Like the net-book, it is a tool, to make a connection, to another person or to God. The connection matters. The tools are replaceable.

What of The Rake’s Progress? There it was on the wall of The Foundling Hospital in London, and people came up close to it to examine it, for it is an art-work to hold in your hands and appreciate each tiny detail, ideally over a period of months. But if I owned it myself, and showed it only to visiting friends it would be wasted. It is too great for me. It deserves to be seen, by all the people who can gain from seeing it. I felt excitement in the gallery which I might not feel, if it were on my wall. There is no need to possess a thing to treasure it and take delight from it.

I treasure, too, the Quaker meeting house; but it would be almost nothing but for the people who meet there. And if I moved, there would be another meeting house, and even another community of people. This is a world of abundance, beauty and wonder, none of which needs be possessed.

Of myth

Paul Mu’ad Dib walked into the desert, where he must surely die. Why would he do that? I can think of reasons, from his character, experiences and desires, and possibly he is giving his life for his people. Rational and emotional explanations meld into myth. I swill that metaphor round my mouth like a fine single malt, and appreciate the different notes of its lingering aftertaste. More possibilities emerge from consciousness. Perhaps I will dream of it.

Dune is all about myth and religion. There are the created and merged religions of the Zensunni and the Orange Catholic Bible, and the myths spread by the “Missionaria protectiva” so that any Bene Gesserit witch can tap into them, and pretend to be an apostle or a God. Knowing of their origin, Jessica does not appreciate that on Dune, the myths have become true. In Dune, the rationality of the “Mentat”, a human computer, is kept separate from the spirituality of the Reverend Mother, but in the first sequel Dune Messiah they are united.

Wisdom-sayings litter the book:
The most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error.
The clear safe course that leads downward into stagnation.
I told him that to endure oneself may be the hardest task in the universe.
Do not be trapped by the need to achieve anything. This way, you achieve everything.

Does the prophet see the future or does he see a line of weakness, a fault or cleavage that he may shatter with words or decisions as a diamond-cutter shatters his gem with a blow of a knife?

Atmosphere is more important than action for the second novel. Dune has battles and knife-fights, Dune Messiah has one exercise with a fighting-machine more to show the character’s mood than be “exciting”, and has council meetings and conspiracies. What would knowing the future, and the horror of the best path through it, mean? The deliberately created religion has meaning for the pilgrims: perhaps, for some of them, it even has value.

Doctor Who has been playing with myth, during the Eleventh doctor. There is the Last Centurion, guarding the Pandorica for two millennia, and Clara jumping into the Doctor’s time-line, to merge with his life. The Doctor spends six hundred years in a town called Christmas, where the day is only minutes long, and the night hours, saving it from attack. Then there is the Ultimate Question- “Doctor-Who?” on which the Universe depends. For the plot, that question and its significance needed to be explained, and having one explanation it lost all its power.