Success, Freedom, and Castles in the Air

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

I’ve lived with this quote, the first sentence of a paragraph from Thoreau’s Walden, the past several months. It’s written on the inside cover of my pocket notebook. Yesterday, I read the passage again from the secondhand paperback on the shelf. It goes on and ends with another familiar citation. Between, the text is more complicated and less quotable, though it is, in my experience so far, equally true.

“He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

View from a castle in the airView from the parapet of a castle-in-the-air, foundation under construction

Photo from the ruins of a Turkish fort atop a hill above Kounoupitsa, looking over Kissamos and the Gramvousa and Rodopou Peninsulas on either side of Kissamos Bay, Crete


Preface to Little and the Rescue of Gwenevere

Following is the preface to Little and the Rescue of Gwenevere, the first story in the Littlelot series of adventure books for children and the grown-ups who read to them.

A young reader himself, Littlelot feeds his imagination on legends, myths, and classic tales. So inspired, he tells the stories of his games and adventures in this children’s series for ages 6 to 10.

Preface

The valiant knight in shining armor rides a resplendent steed on dangerous adventures. He surmounts overwhelming obstacles, rights terrible wrongs, and rescues the damsel in distress.

That’s what I want to be when I grow up!

Alas, I was born centuries too late. As were you, Young Reader, if such might be your own grown-up ambition. Left to us in our times are stories of those chivalric heroes, models that we may yet apply to our modern lives.

The quintessential tale of noble knights is that of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table as told by Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur. Reputedly a knight himself, Malory compiled his fifteenth-century rendering from various sources, among them, the Vulgate Cycle, the Prose Tristan, and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur. Each of these drew on earlier works, including Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and a collection of stories by the French troubadour Chrétien de Troyes. In turn, Malory’s work inspired a profusion of novels, narrative poetry, films, and other forms, collectively known as “Arthurian legend.”

The first story of Littlelot recounts the adventure of the most renowned of all the Round Table knights, Lancelot, and his rescue of Gwenevere, drawn from Book VII of Le Morte d’Arthur. My own retelling differs from Malory’s in length as well as in certain details.

Stephen Wendell
December 14, 2016
Paris, France

Littlelot and the Rescue of Gwenevere
Coming Soon to Bookshop

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Also available at these retailers.

Littlelot
and the Rescue of Gwenevere
Littlelot Book 1

An Arthurian legend with knights and damsels and other action figures.

In his game of make-believe, a boy must make a choice—break his oath to the king or break the heart of the woman who gave him the most meaningful gift.

Available in paperback and e-book wherever you buy books.

 

Disclosure: This page and linked pages contain affiliate links to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and Kobo. As an affiliate of those retailers, Stephen earns a commission when you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for your support.


Blue Flame, Tiny Stars: Now Available on DriveThruRPG

If inspiration for everything I write comes from a source, this book is about the source.

 

“Stephen’s delightful memoir makes you want to travel upstream to your own formative D&D headwaters, dig out your old graph-paper maps and worn dice, and rediscover the gateway to what the author calls ‘the fantastic path.’”
—Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms

“A vibrant recollection of what it’s like to encounter Dungeons & Dragons for the very first time.”
—Dan “Delta” Collins, author of Book of War and co-host of Wandering DMs

 

Book cover, Blue Flame, Tiny Stars

 

Warning: Reading this book will make you want to play D&D!

Now Available on DriveThruRPG in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF

 

Thirteen-year-old Stephen is growing up in a mundane world until, during one fateful week in 1982, he discovers a new kind of game. It’s called Dungeons & Dragons, it’s a role-playing game, and under his best friend’s tutelage, he learns to play it. Now, he enters a world of medieval fantasy, where knights in shining armor perform heroic deeds, where monsters lurk in the shadows, and wizards wield powerful magic, where fabulous treasures lie hidden behind cunning traps, and deadly pitfalls await the unwary. In this game anything is possible, and by week’s end, Stephen knows it will change his life forever.

 

Praise for Blue Flame, Tiny Stars

“I recommend this book not just to fans of ‘Holmes Basic’ but to anyone who enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons. The author’s clear prose captures the excitement of those early, half-remembered adventures when everything about the game was new and awe-inspiring.”
—Zach Howard, author of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus and archivist at Zenopus Archives

“From his first glimpse of those strange dice, Stephen paints a picture of a young gamer’s friendships and adventures as he finds his way into a new world. The book is both a wonderful narrative and a personal history.”
—Tony Dowler, author of How to Host a Dungeon: The Solo Game of Dungeon Creation

“Stephen’s essays take me right back to those heady days. You will recognise many of the moments in this book, from figuring out weird dice, employing outside-the-box tactics, inventing new spells and monsters and magic items, drawing sprawling maps—but, most of all, you’ll remember the freshness of a completely new kind of play.”
—Michael Thomas, author of BLUEHOLME

“A celebration of dice, maps, friendship, and, above all, imagination—the very stuff from which the hobby of role-playing is made.”
—James Maliszewski, author of Grognardia: Musings and Memories from a Lifetime of Roleplaying

 

Now Available on DriveThruRPG in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF

 


Frozen Memory: A True Story

I will always remember the sound: The shrill pitch. Anguish. Utter loss. It must be twenty-five years ago now. Still, a shiver runs down my spine, makes the hair stand on the back of my neck, goose pimples raise on my arms. I have to set my jaw to keep the teeth from chattering. Sudden tears cloud the vision.

I was at work one day. It was the afternoon. A workday afternoon like any other. A coworker got a phone call. A preteen boy, his best friend, a gun in the house, a mother’s scream frozen in time.


Littlelot and the Rescue of Gwenevere

The First Story of LittlelotIn 2016, I published my second book. The first in a series, its title is The First Story of Littlelot. Neophyte self-publishers tend to accrue regrettable decisions. Either by careful choices or dumb luck, I am fortunate to have few of these regrets.

One of them, though, is that title—a small one, as far as regrets go in the self-publishing world. One advantage reserved for self-publishers, on the other hand, is the power to change a title at will. With that power, I am making the necessary amendments at vendor sites. The new title should be available at retailers within a few days. Once the process is complete, I will pull the old title. The story will live on under a new name, but it will no longer be available as The First Story of Littlelot.

Changing a book’s title makes a new edition. While editing the package, I could not resist a few small revisions to the text where I saw opportunity for improvement. But the story is the same. The First Story of Littlelot becomes Littlelot and the Rescue of Gwenevere.

Littlelot and the Rescue of Gwenevere - cover e-book

The first story in the Littlelot series of adventure books
for children and the grown-ups who read to them.

Available in paperback and e-book wherever you buy books.


A Road Formerly Known as Roman

“What’s that?”

The archaeologist flung an arm out the car window, pointing. I braked. Tires scraped the gravel in the road that runs from the west Crete village of Rodopos to Menies Valley on Rodopou Peninsula.

“Where?”

She pointed just behind. “Back there.”

I reversed the gear and backed slowly.

“I see three big rocks,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Let’s go look!”

Her enthusiasm was all the prompting I needed. I pulled the parking brake, and we jumped out. Midday summer sun beat down on the car in the middle of the road as well as on our heads. A north wind cooled the skin and brought the scent of thyme from across the Cretan maquis. A chorus of chirping cicadas thrummed to a steady beat.

We were here to see exposed parts of what I used to call the Roman road on Rodopou. A milestone was unearthed near Rodopos village at the beginning of the 20th century. Dated 129-132 AD, it bares an inscription in Latin. From a translation, we know the ancient road was eleven (Roman) miles long and “built or rebuilt” by the emperor Hadrian, who also receives credit for rebuilding the temple at the end of the road in Menies Valley on the peninsula’s northeast coast.

Straight rows of stonesAfter nineteen hundred years, the ancient road looks like a jumble of rocks. I always look for stones in a straight row that line the edge or middle of the road. In this photo are two such rows.

Yours truly spent a large portion of the previous summer traversing the peninsula, finding bits of the ancient road, discovering its path through the crags of crystalline limestone. Because, as I often say, “You gotta have a hobby.”

When I mention the road, many local archaeologists dismiss the topic. Roman—which is to say, the former empire dating from 69 BC to 380 AD on the island—isn’t old enough. Much richer fields for Roman-era sites lie elsewhere. Archaeologists come to Crete to study Minoan sites, which are from 3000 to 5000 years old.

We began the day from the village square at Rodopos, where the milestone now stands. We drove along the modern road, which was graded gravel, full of holes and washed out gullies. At several points, we stopped the car to walk on flat paving stones in mosaic patterns, bordered by straight rows of edge stones, all laid in centuries—or millennia—past.

Whenever her feet touched ground, the archaeologist, whose name was Jenny, scanned the ground before her. During our walks, she showed me flakes of obsidian (not found naturally on the island, therefore imported) and smooth stones that fit in a cupped palm (tools for grinding grain or sharpening blades) and bits of terra-cotta pottery.

From the shape of a potsherd, Jenny could tell whether it was from a pot’s base or neck. From the curve, she could tell its circumference; from marks on the inside, whether the pot was turned on a wheel or shaped from kneaded clay. From the coarseness, she could tell the era in which it was made.

Now we scrambled up a steep embankment. Jenny, shod in ankle boots, went to the right across a precarious slope. I, in sandals, went to the left, up a gentler slope to come around to the sighted rocks from above. I grabbed the sturdy branch of a lentisk shrub to pull myself up. My eyes passed a rounded shape in the earth, terra-cotta in color. Its perfect curve peeked between gnarly roots.

I hurried over to where Jenny surveyed a straight row of large, gray stones, roughly cubicle. At the row’s end, another stone lay at a right angle to it.

“This wall goes through here,” she said, indicating a mound covered in brush, “and up that hill.”

Another stone, similar to the others, clung to the slope.

“A building of some kind?” I said.

“You see the size of the stones. If a stone is heavier than what two men can carry, it’s probably ancient.”

I didn’t see how enough men could even get around one of those stones to carry it.

“Ancient? You mean Roman?”

“Or earlier. It’s hard to say. If we could find some pottery, we might be able to narrow down the period.”

“I saw something interesting on the way over here.”

Jenny’s eyes lit up, and I started back the way I came.

On the slope beneath the shrub again, I stood on a flat rock at the edge of the precipice. I pulled a camera from my pocket and took a photograph of the object. I hoped I wasn’t taking a picture of a nicely shaped dirt clod in situ. Then I picked it from crumbling dirt. The curve was as long as a hand. Three edges were jagged. The unbroken edge, rounded and smooth. Even an amateur eye could discern the lip of a jar or a vase. I handed it to Jenny.

Examining the potsherd, she pointed with a pinkie. “The coarse, white fragments tell us it’s Minoan. And you’re standing on a threshold stone.”

I looked at my feet. The flat rock was a long rectangle, the top smooth. The middle was indented, worn by years of passage.

Jenny said, “There, more potsherds.”

I followed her eyes just up the slope. The ground was encrusted with them, like fish scales.

As we made our way back down the slope, Jenny pointed out more potsherd-strewn patches. From one such patch, she lifted a small, oblong piece, blunt on one end, capped with a flat piece on the other.

She held it between thumb and forefinger. “This is one foot of a cooking pot.”

I had seen the three-footed pots in museums. They had handles on two sides and a cover.

“People lived here,” she said. “The stone walls we saw could have been a farm house or a villa. Because the ancient road passes so close, it was probably here long before the Romans.”

Now I just call it the Rodopou Road.

Potsherd foundPotsherd found near the ancient road.
“The coarse, white fragments tell us it’s Minoan.”


Help Defeat Real-Life Demons, Game Therapy UK

Are you a military veteran? Are you also a Game Master? Would you like to run role-playing games as a therapeutic tool for fellow veterans suffering from psychological trauma?

Game Therapy UK is starting a pilot project you might find interesting. It’s a volunteer project. They are to offer several training modules, from basic through advanced, including mentorship.

From their website:

Game Therapy UK is an exciting new charity providing innovative, evidence-based therapeutic games (“Dungeons and Dragons Therapy”) to groups across the UK, including people experiencing homelessness, people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and military veterans exposed to psychological trauma/PTSD.

Military veterans of any country are eligible to participate, whether it’s to run games or to play.

For more information, visit Game Therapy UK and sign up for their newsletter.

Defeat demons with D&D!


Epimenides’ Paradox

Cretans, as a people, are kind and proud and fierce. I said so to a friend after one of many sojourns to the Isle of Myth.

“All Cretans are liars,” he said.

I said, “That’s a lie.”

“Of course it is; a Cretan said it!”


Epimenides is a legendary figure. He lived in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. He was a poet, philosopher, ascetic, wise man, prophet, and—according to his own countrymen—a god.

Diodorus Siculus, first-century-BC historian of ancient Greece, called Epimenides a theologian and a trustworthy authority on Cretan affairs (Epimenides Fragment 20). In the second century AD, Christian philosopher Clement of Alexandria wrote in The Stromata that Greeks of his time counted Epimenides among the seven (or nine) men most admired for their wisdom.

In the third century, Diogenes Laërtius treats Epimenides in The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. Most of what we know about his life comes from this biography.

Of his youth, Diogenes tells the following legend, which I summarize: While tending sheep one summer day, Epimenides sought shelter from the sun in a cave, where he took a nap. He woke up fifty-seven years later, untouched by age. When folk heard the story, they took him for a favorite of the gods.

His parentage is disputed among ancient historians, but all agree that Epimenides was born and lived in Knossos. Unlike Cretans of the day, he let his hair grow long, and tattoos covered his skin. He ate rarely, in small quantities, and only food provided by nymphs. He purified cities, built shrines and temples, and was given to prophesying.

Though age caught up with him fifty-seven days after his waking, Epimenides lived on to write poetry as well as prose, which Diogenes describes:

He wrote a poem of five thousand verses on the Generation and Theogony of the Curetes and Corybantes, and another poem of six thousand five hundred verses on the building of the Argo and the expedition of Jason to Colchis.

He also wrote a treatise in prose on the Sacrifices in Crete, and the Cretan Constitution, and on Minos and Rhadamanthus, occupying four thousand lines. (Lives, 51)

None of these writings, however, survived the intervening millennia. We know of Epimenides through biographers and fragments of his work in later texts.

One such text is St. Paul’s Letter to Titus, then bishop of Crete. The epistler calls on Titus to reprimand those who rebel against the faith.

They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith. (Titus 1:11-13)

Clement, again in The Stromata, identifies Epimenides as the Cretan prophet of Paul’s letter:

… Epimenides the Cretan, whom Paul knew as a Greek prophet, whom he mentions in the Epistle to Titus, where he speaks thus: “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are always liars…” (Stromata 1.14)

Some 300 years after Epimenides, Greek poet Callimachus writes: “The Cretans ever feign.” In his Hymn to Zeus, it is the tomb of the father of gods and men—which the Cretans say is in their country, therefore blasphemy—that prompts the denigrating remark.

The Cretans ever feign - Callimachus“The Cretans ever feign” from “The Hymn to Jupiter” translated by William Dodd in The Hymns of Callimachus (London: T. Waller and J. Ward, 1755).

Callimachus doesn’t mention Epimenides. We will see below, however, that the scenario is borrowed from the Knossian prophet—or at least the two writers share a common source.

Though Epimenides’ work is lost, Paul’s Letter to Titus was collected into a large volume, which is both respected for its veracity and widely circulated. And so, what has become known as Epimenides’ Paradox[1] comes down to our times.

In the early twentieth century, biblical scholar and manuscript hunter J. Rendel Harris found evidence linking Paul’s quote with the scenario given by Callimachus. The discovery was made in successive steps. Here, I make short the process, which Harris documents in three articles over five years in a theological journal.[2]

Ishodad of Merv was a theologian of the Nestorian Church, a branch of Eastern Christianity. In the ninth century, he wrote extensive commentary on the Old and New Testaments.

Among Ishodad’s commentary, Harris discovered a familiar refrain concerning Cretans: “Liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.” It is one of a four-line verse describing the same scenario given by Callimachus. And the verse is part of an excerpt summarizing the work of a fourth-century theologian, Theodore of Antioch, called “The Interpreter,” because Theodore’s works were considered heresy.

Furthermore, the excerpt gives the verse as dialog, part of a speech by Minos, mythical King of Crete.

In one article (The Expositor, Oct. 1912), Harris reproduces the text, of which the following is part:

The Cretans said about Zeus, as if it were true, that he was a prince, and was lacerated by a wild boar, and was buried; and behold! his grave is known amongst us; so Minos, the son of Zeus, made a panegyric [speech of elaborate praise] over his father, and in it he said:

The Cretans have fashioned a tomb for thee, O Holy and High!
Liars, evil beasts, idle bellies;
For thou diest not; for ever thou livest and standest;
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

So the blessed Paul took this sentence from Minos.

The final phrase, according to Harris, intends a work by Epimenides, possibly a short title for “Minos and Rhadamanthus,” mentioned by Diogenes.[3]

The tomb of Jove - Callimachus“They have built the tomb of Jove…, who bears no dying frame” from Dodd, who translates the Greek Zeus to the Roman Jupiter and Jove.

If we accept the character’s existence at all, Minos was a first generation Cretan. So, while we now better understand the context, the paradox remains.

Diogenes writes that Epimenides died at 299 years of age—“as the Cretans report.”

 


[1] The paradox is sometimes called the “Fallacy of Mentiens,” especially in turn-of-the-twentieth-century textbooks on Logic, e.g. Fowler (1883), Gibson (1914), Bartlett (1922). Diogenes, in another entry of Lives, gives a long list of works by Chrysippus, a philosopher who wrote 200 years after Epimenides. A few of Chrysippus’s titles, grouped together, refer to “the Mentiens Argument.” Among this group, another title is “Reply to those who hold that Propositions may be at once False and True.”

[2] I refer interested readers to Harris’s articles published in The Expositor available on the Biblical Studies website: “The Cretans Always Liars” (Oct. 1906):305-317, “A Further Note on the Cretans” (Apr. 1907):332-337, and “St. Paul and Epimenides” (Oct. 1912):348-353. For more about Harris’s quest for ancient texts, consider his biography by Alessandro Falcetta, The Daily Discoveries of a Bible Scholar and Manuscript Hunter: A Biography of James Rendel Harris (1852–1941).

[3] Ishodad’s excerpt comes from his commentary on Acts of the Apostles. In the text above, “this sentence” refers to the last line of Minos’s dialog, which St. Paul quotes in his speech to the Areopagus (Acts 17:28). For more about references to Epimenides in Titus and Acts, see Paul Davidson’s informative article, “Lying Cretans and Unknown Gods: Allusions to Epimenides in the New Testament,” on Is That in the Bible?

 


Twenty-first-century author Stephen Wendell is writing a novel set in mythological Crete.