About the Faces on the Cutting Room Floor, Number Four: Books Within the Book

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In many ways, 1635: The Papal Stakes is a book dominated by other books and documents—by the Bible, by Vatican II, by learned commentaries, and even by The Lord of the Rings.

One of the major writings that remained largely unremarked were the lost accounts of the life and teachings of Duns Scotus, a major theological influence upon the Franciscan Order. The compositor of these works, one of the leading Franciscan theologians of his age, Father Luke Wadding, is exfiltrated from Rome by the Wrecking Crew, but once safe in Venice, he puts the challenge of preserving the complete works of Duns Scotus before the up-timers and their allies:

 

Father Wadding looked like he was about to squirm out of his own finely wrinkled skin in eagerness to be off. “I will leave Father Hickey here to attend to the unresolved matters we left behind us in Rome.”

Miro felt one eyebrow rise. “Unresolved matters?”

“Yes, of course: the books.”

“The books?”

Wadding folded his hands, regained his patience and composure. “At St. Isidore’s we were in the process of compiling what we hope to be an authoritative collection and commentary upon the writings and life work of Duns Scotus, one of the most important—”

“Oh, yeah,” Tom Stone interrupted with a cheery wave, “Larry—uh, Cardinal Mazzare—asked me to tell you that he’s having your work on Duns Scotus sent down from Grantville. What we have of it, that is. By looking at it, you should be able to determine what pieces of the complete collection we don’t have. So maybe you only need to work on those missing sections.” Tom evidently missed the utterly dumbfounded, even horrified, look on Wadding’s face. “Of course, Larry tells me that Father Heinzerling hadn’t finished combing through the boxes in his basement. A lot of his collection is still down there, I guess.” Then he saw Wadding’s face. “What’s wrong, Father?”

“It was completed? The Duns Scotus collection? And you have it—or much of it?” Wadding blinked. “So: my life’s work was a success in your world. Which makes it now mostly unnecessary in this one.” Wadding rested his head upon his hand. “This—this will take some getting used to. But never mind. It is good to learn that, no matter what now transpires in Rome, much of Duns Scotus’ work is preserved. But it is still imperative to remove the original manuscripts to a safer location. Maybe for safekeeping here, on the island—”

Miro leaned forward. “Father Wadding, just how many volumes are we talking about? Approximately?”

Wadding considered. “Well, they are not volumes, per se. Most of the documents are folders and collections of original manuscripts. But if I were to estimate their equivalent bulk as books, I would say not more than eight thousand. Or so.”

Miro’s were the only eyes in the room that did not widen. “I see. Father, I must tell you that I do not see any immediate way to secure their removal from Rome. However, we have some local resources there”—he glanced at Lefferts—“that may be able to keep watch over them from a distance, and ensure that they are not subject to acts of random vandalism. However, if the Spanish decide to—”

Wadding held up a hand. “I understand. And I will trust that between your help and God’s will, they will remain safe long enough for us to reclaim them.”

Harry was pointedly keeping a straight face. Obviously, the notion of taking any risks to reclaim a pile of dusty old documents was something only a bookworm would conceive of or understand. And Harry was no bibliophile.

 

The Gospel According to Tolkien

 

Another crucial element of the narrative is how Frank Stone resorts to an allegorical re-rendering of The Lord of the Rings to explore and expose the inequities of the aristocratic monopolies that characterized both the Papal and royal authorities of the 1630s. His wife Giovanna, seeing the potential for a revolutionary manifesto in these writings, was an eager if infrequent auditor of Frank’s tale. In the final manuscript, the completed version of the story was referred to in synoptic form, only. But here is Giovanna’s reaction to Frank’s finished magnus opus:

 

Giovanna folded her hands eagerly. “Now, as I recall, the orcs had taken Gondor and are enslaving its people. What happens next?”

“Well, while the people of Gondor are suffering, the hobbits sneak around and learn more about the orcs.”

“Ah, so is this also where we finally learn about what has made them the beasts that they are. Do we discover what makes them so evil? Are they born wicked? Violent? Cruel? Uncaring?”

“No,” Frank said slowly. “They’re just raised to be greedy. To grasp for themselves before thinking of what is fair to other people, both individually and collectively.”

“Ah! So it is a revolutionary tract, after all! You spit in the eye of capitalists and autocrats!”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” agreed Frank, who hadn’t really thought of that at all. “But people don’t like reading theory and preaching; they want a good story, ya know? So it’s really more of a plot twist, I guess. Like a lot of humans, the orcs don’t realize that greed will not make them powerful. What we learn is that greed was just a way to corrupt them, to make them believe that the only alternative to being alone and scared is to become a creature of pure selfishness.”

“What do you mean?”

“See, there’s a line—a philosophy, really—in an up-time movie which claimed that, in order for people to really succeed, they need to realize that ‘greed is good.’ Which is like saying that because we want things, we are driven to achieve. And so we do more and better work that way.”

“It is the taskmaster’s whip transformed into self-flagellation! It is a trick whereby the elites ensorcel the bourgeoisie to their own acquisitiveness, carried out by subverting the work ethic of the middle class.”

Yup, Giovanna Stone nee Marcoli sure was her father’s daughter, right down to the penchant for radical activism and muckraking. “Right. But I just let that remain implied. No use banging people over the head with moral preaching or economic theory, right?”

“Not as if they couldn’t use it,” Giovanna grumbled.

“Maybe, but writing a novel—a popular novel—isn’t about writing what people need to read, but what they want to read, right? So towards the end of the book, we start discovering that the creatures of Mordor started as normal men and women, but their greed has corrupted them.”

“They have become obese, their greed expressing itself as gluttony?”

Frank nodded. “Yeah, some do get pretty porky. But almost an equal number are as thin as rakes.”

“What? Why?”

“You know the saying ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’?”

“No. But it sounds contradictory.”

“Yeah, at first, it does. But think about it this way: there are misers who, no matter how much money they have, still insist on living like rats in a hole.”

Gia’s eyes lit up. “Ah, yes! Now I see. The paradox of wanting to keep everything we accumulate keeps us from spending and enjoying what we have. And so, the physical signs of the orcs’ corruption take on shapes particular to the specific kind of greed, of vice, that dominates each one of them?”

“Yeah, now you’ve got it.”

“And so, the greedy orcs of Mordor are vanquished by the noble men of Gondor, operating with the information acquired by the wily hobbits?”

“Well, sort of.”

She rose up on her forearms; her now-alarming cleavage swayed dramatically. “What? ‘Sort of?’ What kind of victory is ‘sort of?’ Are the orcs not slaughtered by a triumphant union of allied armies and rebel fighters?”

“No.”

“Do they drown in the filth of their own excesses?”

“Uh, no.”

“So they fall upon each other in a murderous frenzy to possess the last meager scrap of wealth?”

“No at all.”

“Then how are they vanquished?”

“By their own need for love.”

She was silent for a long time. “You are joking.”

“No, Gia, I’m not. Think about it: the hardest, least kind humans you’ve ever met will claim that they can live without love, but they really can’t. Everyone wants to be cared for, everyone wants to matter to someone else. We can’t get away from it: it’s part of our nature as social creatures. It’s coded deep down in our genetics.”

She sat up very slowly. “Tell me more.”

“So the orcs start learning that they can’t get away from love. Almost all of them want it, and lots of them start showing it. Towards each other, even towards the humans—particularly the old and the very young. They can’t really help it, because whenever they show any mercy to the humans, they begin to realize that the impulse behind it isn’t—can’t be—just guilt. Because you don’t feel guilt if you don’t also feel a sense of responsibility, and that, in turn, means that, deep down, there’s some tiny sprout of love for others. A sprout that just won’t die.”

“And how does this finally overcome greed?”

“Well, greed is all about ourselves; it’s about desire that is completely selfish. At its most extreme, greed is about the death of all love except self love. And when real love shows up, greed begins to retract and wither. So in the end, the orcs who are completely greedy have nothing left but all the stuff they’ve taken. None of their own kind even trust them anymore, much less love them. And they don’t trust each other. So they all shut themselves up in their towers of jewelry and junk and die there, miserable and alone, and in the dark—because they’re too stingy to burn a candle.”

Frank looked up and saw an expression on Gia’s face that he had never seen before: it was so grave and yet so passionate that, for a moment, he was almost a bit fearful. Then she nodded, “And so they turned their face from the light, from hope. And they died. Because, you know, your parable is only superficially about love, Frank.”

“It is?” he squawked.

She nodded slowly. “Why do we love? Why do women do this?” She caressed her increasingly round belly. “Oh, there are animal drives in us, to be certain. But even a miserable flea-ridden alley cat loves her kittens, and gives them to the world as a statement of hope, hope in the persistence of her own kind. And women must love more than that, for unlike the beasts of the field, we know full well the dangers of birth. And we know it so much better now, than in your time.

“Think on this, Frank: what purely selfish woman would ever consent to having a child? Why would they bear that risk, even if they were resolved to take no responsibility for the infant, to consign it to the hands of servants and wet nurses? Perhaps noblewomen of great houses have sufficient reason: they are driven to it by the need to cement alliances with comingled blood. But these are but a very few of the many millions of women who embrace new life in their own bodies. And why? For what?”

She came and sat next to him. He suddenly felt like a boy in the presence of a prophet—except Frank seriously doubted that there had ever been any prophet as sexy as his Giovanna. “I will tell you why we do it, Frank Stone, my husband. In the short-term, we do it to celebrate love, but from deep in our souls, we do it to embrace hope. And that is why your story will be read by, and leave its mark upon, millions of people.”

“It will?”

“Yes, Frank, and do you know why?”

“Uh…no. Not at all.”

She smiled. “Because women will understand it. Oh, men will read it and make speeches about how it reveals the moral bankruptcy of the Spanish and all the rest. But women will read—or, sadly, mostly hear—it as well, and they will know what it really means: that you have touched the cores of good and evil and laid them bare for us to see in this allegory of our current situation. And, hearing its message of hope, they will spread news of this book, will keep it in their husbands’ and childrens’ ears.” She smiled. “Men may believe they rule households, but women determine most of what moves through them, including the traffic of ideas. Once they embrace something, it will always be present there. And they will embrace this book, Frank.”

She stood, a little imperious again. “And many will want to embrace you as well, I’m sure. I suppose I must provide you with sufficient incentives to resist those temptations—in addition to leaving you uncastrated, that is.” Even though she smiled as she said it, Frank felt his scrotum contract and make a reasonable effort at ascending back into his body.

She put her arms around him very gently and held him tightly. “You know I am joking, my love, except in this regard: you are soon to become a very famous man, I think. And there will be many women who will want you in their beds, in their lives.”

Frank scoffed. “Well, that’s too bad for them—since there is only one woman whose life and bed I want to be in.”

She looked at him gravely. “Yes. I know. That is why I can joke about these things at all.”

He touched her face. “Thank you, Giovanna.”

“You thank me? For what?”

“For being the real genius behind the book.”

She smiled and shook her head. “No, Frank. I am no artist. I am not even a great thinker. You are both, and you have written a wonderful book. I simply told you what it was really about.” She laughed. “You have an up-time saying, ‘you cannot see the forest because you are too close to the trees?’ Each word you put on these pages was as if you were planting another tree in the forest that is your book. How could you also be expected to see the entirety of your creation when you are so very close to it?”

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