Ancient Epic and Future Fiction

Ancient Epic and Future Fiction
Epic Deprivation Syndrome

Here follows the notes for a speech given at Franciscan University of Steubenville an evening in April of 2016. The speech as given differs from these notes in several respects: for sake of time and clarity, certain segments were omitted, or words changed. The prose below is unpolished, for I present my readers with my raw first draft that I wrote that afternoon in haste.



This evening I would like you to entertain the proposition that as humans, we need epics, but that in the modern age, we suffer from what we might call Epic Deprivation Syndrome.

I propose epic depravation is a disease not of the mind or body, but of the soul, and it afflicts not one men or faction of men, but whole cultures and generations. Nations can go mad just as men do.

I propose that the primary symptom of Epic Depravation Syndrome is a social pathology something like colorblindness or tone-deafness, where the moral sense of the consensus of society can no longer register correct stock responses in the face of moral qualities: it is neither attracted to great good nor repelled by great evil.

If all generations need epics and this generation suffers from epic depravation, this leads to the additional questions:

  • First, what is an epic?
  • Second why do we need them?
  • Third, what is causing the current epic depravations,
  • Fourth, what has been done hitherto to alleviate the symptoms, and,
  • Finally and most importantly, should be done to cure it.

For the hour is late, and the prognostication is grim:

I fear the final result of this syndrome, if the disease is allowed further to grow unchecked, is the destruction of our civilization and the damnation of our souls.


Now, I hope this prognostication is so dire and dreadful that it will provoke your instant skepticism. If your scholarly minds have been properly trained by this wonderful institution, you should be thinking that it is impossible that something so frivolous as the lack of a certain type of poem or story would have such vast and morbid consequences.

Let us begin, as all proper skeptical scholars must, with a definition of terms. What is an epic?

1                                     EPIC WHAT?

Flying to my dictionary, I find Mr. Webster defines the term this way: An epic is extended narrative tale in elevated or dignified language, in which heroes of great importance perform valorous deeds, vast in scope and of lasting historical significance to the nation or the world.

The elements here are the extended length, the elevated language, the heroic character of the protagonist, the scope of the setting and the historical stakes of the action. No one writes an epic about a whaling expedition out of Nantucket or about a cuckold wandering the streets of turn of the Century Dublin except as a parody, or an ironic anti-epic.

2                                     EPICS WHY?

Do we need epics, and if so, why?

To answer that, we need to take a step back, and ask a deeper question. Do we need stories? If so, why?

I would like you to imagine that we discover intelligent life on Pluto some time later this year, and find the Plutonians to be remarkably like us, with the one difference that they tell no fictional stories of any kind. They have news reports, and may even have abstracts or summations, thought experiments or hypothetical scenarios, which speak of events in a general way. Perhaps the Martians even have parables as a rhetorical device, or to use as concrete examples, or to make a point. But imagine, even if they are as intelligent as Man, the Pluotnians tells no stories, no poems, no tales.

All they do is talk shop.

This is something like imagining a race that never sleeps and never celebrates, has no festive days and no feasts. While something like this is certainly possible, while and anyone attempting to build a utopia on Earth, from the Massachusetts Puritans to the Chinese Communists, has delighted in eliminating delight from life, we are at somewhat at a loss to say why Men could never live like the hypothetical Plutonians, who tell no stories and have no poems.

Certainly there are adults on earth, very hard working and practical people no doubt, who have no time for stories.

But surely even they played pretend in their youth, and imitated their elders, pretending to tend dolls as mothers are seen tending babies, or pretending to kill Nazis or Japs as their fathers did to preserve the nation, or kill Redskins or Redcoats to found the nation.

Now, if anyone in the audience bristles at the fact that I assume it is normal and right for little American boys to pretend to shoot bankrobbers or to fight Hessians or American Indians or Japs or Nazis, I would like to draw your attention to how rarely you have bristled of late.

Because my boys have never played cops and robbers in their lives, nor cowboys and Indians. Their imaginations are concerned with Power Rangers, Pokemon, and ninja dinosaurs.

It seems to be rare and getting rarer. How many little girls play house or play with dollies also seems to be on the wane, or, at least there is a coordinated and deliberate effort to discourage little girls from playing dolls and encourage little boys.

Now, if you are tempted to bristle at the assumption that little girls like babies and little boys like bloodshed, first, I can assure you that parenthood will open your eyes. But the question of why your eyes are closed on this point, when you are observant and awake on so many other issues, is also a significant question.

Make a note of your bristling when someone assumes normal things are normal, because it is the byproduct of your having been exposed to a school of thought, a philosophy, and a spirit, which is antithetical to stories in general, and epics in particular, and epics of Christendom most of all. More on this point later.

Young children play pretend to learn. (There are other reasons why they play pretend, no doubt, but the learning aspect is the one that concerns us this evening.) Playing pretend is a live action version of the story telling man have shared since the first campfire was lit in the Paleolithic.

Stories create a miniature model of creation each man carries in his heart.

Our Plutonians will no doubt have histories and scientific theories, but without a story-world to tell them what is significant and what is not, their histories will be lifeless and dry recitations of fact without meaning, and their theories be pointless.

The live action stories little girls and little boys play out in their play teaches that babies are cute and must be cared for, the home is precious and must be maintained, that bankrobbers are evil, the savages must be fought if civilization is to prevail, and that British soldiers, or German, or Japanese, must be slain if freedom is to be won.

More to the point, stories in general are vectors by which the values and virtues, judgements and wisdom of generation is passed to the next. The stories we enjoy from other cultures are those that address the universal values common to all men; those of our own culture are those that address our particular values, and pass them along.

It is not simply natural that men would like springtime and sunlightshine on leaves of trees, or the voices of beautiful women singing, or the glories of knight on horseback in full career, or the sanctity of monks in prayer.

There are people to whom the sight of a mommy singing a lullaby to a baby makes them sick, and the idea of portraying cops as heroes for fighting bankrobbers makes them jeer and sneer with satanic disdain. They have learned the wrong stock responses. To them the bread of elfland tastes like dust and ashes.

Those who would be trained in the virtues and wisdom of this, our culture, have additional stock responses to which the culture must be acculturated, if the culture is to be passed on.

Allow me to dwell on this point for a moment, and describe two examples in some detail. As it happens, both examples are from the epic genre, so their details will make a number of questions clear:

2.1             Lord Of The Rings

The first is Lord of the Rings, and if I need to summarize the plot to anyone going to a Catholic University, he needs to read more fairy tales.

The story is the tale of Frodo Baggins, a member of the smallest and weakest of the races of the free peoples of the West, the chubby halflings. He is a country squires in a cheerful little country tucked in some overlooked nook of Middle Earth.

He acquires a dread and dreaded ring of power, the ruling ring, which can smother and dominate the souls of men and rob the world of hope.

This ring, so fair to the eye, was crafted in ages past by the Sauron the Great, into which he hid his life, and he cannot die while the ring endues. This deathless necromancer king has arisen once more in the world, and taken up his old stronghold in southern lands in the Dark Tower, and seeks to conquer the world. His strength is unparalleled: his eye sees afar. He need only the One Ring returned to him in order that he conquer everything under heaven until the end of the world.

The ring inevitably corrupts anyone who uses it, and ineluctably draws after it the ghostly and terrible Black Riders, fell spirits in service to the enemy. The ring can only be destroyed by returning it to the fires wherein it was created, a mountain of fire in the midst of the enemy’s land, where his strength is greatest.

Frodo, aided by varied companions from whom he is soon sundered, and followed by the wretched starveling Gollum, after greatest hardship and suffering and seeming death, carries the ever-growing burden of the ring through the barren ashes of the Dark Land to the brink of the unholy fires: there his strength fails.

By seeming mischance, brought on by what seemed at the time to be a misplaced sense of pity, Frodo is maimed and the ring cast into the pit by a design greater than any of the players could have foreseen: a great evil passes from the world, but the lesser evils must be scoured out by the little hobbits in their little land, and even then the wounds of the world are not cured, not by any balm found in Middle Earth.

The elves depart, and all the glories of the First Age fail, and Frodo goes with them, boarding the last ship leaving from the last harbor of the elves. Sam, his faithful servant, who had followed him faithfully throughout, is sundered from him and returns home to wife and children. Sam’s youngest child is named after a flower that once bloomed in the golden wood, but which will never be seen again.

2.2             Yingxiong

The other is the movie YĪNGXIÓNG staring Jet Lee, released in America as HERO.

The story is the tale of a most skilled assassin whose mission is to kill an evil tyrant and ruthless conqueror, the Qin Monarch. The conqueror had survived a prior attempt on his life by an assassin named Broken Sword, and therefore allows no man to approach him closer than one hundred paces.

A prefect named Nameless however, arrives with news that he has slain the Broken Sword and two other assassins, and asks permission to approach within ten feet, that he may tell the story of his duels whereby he overcame the king’s enemies, and display the swords he took from them as proof.

The king hears his tale-within-a-tale, but dismisses it as false: he suggests that the assassins volunteered to be killed in order to give Nameless a chance to approach the king.

Nameless then tales the truth: that two of the three assassins cooperated with him, but that Broken Sword did not, taking up the study of calligraphy after his failed attempt on the king’s life.

The brushstrokes of the calligraphy not only contained the secrets of his deadly sword technique, but the ideogram he draws reveals to him that all nations under heaven must be unified under the Qin monarch, and therefore the monarch’s career as conqueror must be aided, not hindered.

The monarch is moved by the tale and ceases to fear Nameless; Nameless is so impressed by the monarch’s courage that he now believes the vision of Broken Sword to be correct, and that China must be unified at all costs. He abandons his mission and spares the king. Another assassin attacks, and Nameless defends the king.

In return, the king reluctantly has Nameless condemned to death and executed on the palace steps. He is innocent of wrongdoing, and, in fact, a hero who preserved the king, but in order to maintain the appearance of the Monarch’s power and dignity, the omnipotence of law and order, the innocent man must be sacrificed to this noble falsehood. He willingly accepts this.

At the end of the film, the name of the king is revealed: he is the first Emperor who unified China after the warring states period. As the credits roll, the calligraphy praising the nation of all nations under heaven being unified in one rule is displayed while stirring music plays.

2.3             The Contrast Of The Two

Now, when I walked out of the movie theater, I admit I was most impressed with the action and spectacle and scope of the movie HERO. It was, in truth, an epic story.

The all-conquering monarch is portrayed not only as wise and dignified, but as impressive. He dresses in all black armor like Darth Vader, and is so insightful that he can tell from the way candles blow in the prayers racks arranged before him whether the words leaving the lips of those who address him are truthful or not.

But I also laughed, because as I walked, I realized I had just seen the only movie in my life I was ever to see where Sauron the Great was portrayed as the good guy.

Both tales portrayed, with admirable adroitness, a sense of life, a vision of the universe, too organic and complete to put into words. Describing a worldview is like trying to describe a beautiful women: you can praise some of her features, but there is always an elusive quality not to be captured in words.

The worldview of Jet Lee’s HERO is alien to the worldview of Professor Tolkien’s Middle Earth, as different as the writings of Confucius are from the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

In the legendary Middle Kingdom of the movie, the little man, so little he does not even have a name, is nothing. Cruelly and unjustly sacrificing both his life and his honor to maintain the appearance of dignity in the ruler is considered right and good by all parties.

In the Middle Kingdom, the empire is all: the person is nothing.

In Middle Earth, the Halfling not only has a name, he has a genealogy chart reaching back to the founding of the Shire, and his little land troubles the counsels of the strong and the great, for all things depend on his moral choices, and in the end, the blind moral choice of mercy and pity: for even the wise cannot see all ends.

There is a scene where the loyal servant Sam, weary, hungry, and frightened during endless nights of creeping and sneaking in the enemy’s land behind enemy lines, looks up from where he is hiding, and in one break in the eternal cloud cover of poisonous smog and ash that hangs over the dark land. There he sees the light of a single star shining in all its purity, and realizes that all the evil empires devised in mortal lands, ultimately, must fail and pass away, as must all mortal things: but whether he finds the strength to do what that eternal light demands of him is all important.

The empire is nothing. The soul of one little man is all.

Sam beholding the star and finding the resolve to continue is parallel to the scene of the Nameless beholding the calligraphy of the sword, and abandoning his resolve to slay the tyrant, but instead to serve and uphold tyranny, even at the cost of his life and honor.

The bravery of both is universal, and any man of any culture or background should be able to see and admire such things: the glorification of the weak and meek is a Western ideal found only in Christendom, and a Chinaman should be, if he is loyal to his own culture, as puzzled and nonplussed by the climax of Lord of the Rings as I was by the climax of HERO.

2.4             Creation Myths

Buttressed by these examples, even though one is of a legendary China and the other of a wholly imaginary past era, we can answer both what Epics are for and what the depravation of them does.

An epic is a miniature creation story: in this case, the creation of China out of the Warring States period, or the creation of the Fourth Age, the era of Men, out of the Third Age, when the glamor of the elves of the Golden Wood and also the danger of the Dark Lord of the Dark Land passed away.

Creation stories are the story of how the cosmos came to be, and they provide the listener the stock response to take regarding the fundamental enigma of life in this universe.

That enigma, in case you have never lived in this universe before, is why life can be so beautiful and so full of love and glory and great things, and yet at the same time be overshadowed the by the terrors of disease, death, war, and famine, terrible suffering and appalling expanses of pathless wastelands, cold seas, cold stars, so evidently inimical to man. How can life be so good and so bad at once?

Why do we know in our hearts that we are immortal when every evidence of life shows how horribly mortal we are, that all we cherish is vain and passing, doomed like us to die?

These deep questions are beyond the scope of this present talk to address: I mention them only in passing to draw your attention to the fact that, for example, the account of creation given by Moses in Genesis asserts that the universe is good and very good, adorned by a divine power who filled heaven, ocean and dry land with sun and stars, fish and foul, leaf and flower, beast and man as an architect might adorn and fill a temple. The evil of life is produced by man’s foul rebellion against God.

The stock response produced by such a worldview is one of immense gratitude and immense guilt, and a divine hope in the better world to come.

This is somewhat at odds with the pagan notions of gods arising by accident out of a primal chaos, and either building the world in the corpse of a giant, as the Norse have it, or by driving heaven away from the earth in an act of cruel patricide, as the Greeks tell, followed by titanomachy and rebellion, and the gods quarrelling over who should rule heaven, sea and underworld.

The Babylonian neighbors of the Jews told a story about the sons of the dragon of chaos slaying their mother to establish the world, creating man as slaves, and destroying them in the deluge because of their noise and commotion.

The stock response produced by such a worldview is glorification of victory through strength, and deep despair over the futility of it all.

Oriental notions of infinities piles on infinities of years reaching in endless circles of endless returns proffers a different stock response yet, which buttresses the fatalism for which the East is famous, both the pragmatism of the Confucian, the mysticism of the Taoist, the crushing despair of the Hindu, and the mystic, otherworldly quietism  of the Buddhist.

A creation story is to tell tale of what all men are, and what all have in common. It is meant to be universal.

2.5             Epic As Local Creation

An epic is for a nation. (By this, I do not mean a nation-state which is a modern, and, to my mind, an uncouth invention springing from unhealthy parochialism.) I mean the old sense of the word nation, meaning a body of tribes with a common ancestor, sharing a language and a culture. I mean a way of life.

When the creation story tells what man is, and what his place in the universe, the epic tells who your founding ancestors were, for what causes they fought, and why your way if life is what it is.


To bolster the proposition that epics act as miniature creation stories, let me propose a few observations about the history of epics which, no doubt, you have probably encountered in your lessons heretofore:

The most famous epics in the West, foundational to Western literature, are the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY. Nearly all the local foundational myths of the various city-states of Hellas are mentioned, at least in passing, and the basic heroes.

The interesting thing here to note is that the Iliad begins in wrath and ends in death. It runs from the quarrel of Achilles with Agamemnon over the division of spoils, to the mercy shown Priam by the bloodstained hands of Achilles, and allowing the noble Hector to be buried with honor. It is to be noted that all the quarrels in these epic are provoked or urged on by the gods and their petty jealousies, but also the singular act of military courtesy shown by Achilles to the foes is debated in heaven, and arranged by his divine mother, Thetis, who promises him rich ransom from Priam’s hand in return. Priam is escorted through the enemy lines by a god in disguise. But there are no gods around when Achilles is moved by Priam’s demeanor and courage, and both men weep mortal tears for their losses in this war.

The depiction of the Homeric combat is so realistic that some scholars wonder whether Homer was a battlefield surgeon.

Consider the grisly realistic description of in BOOK 13, line 640-653 of Harpalion, a prince allied with the Trojans. Harpalion is struck from behind by an arrow through the right buttock, which misses the pelvic and pubic bones, and hits the bladder to lethal effect. Some 150 spears and arrows strikes to specific internal organs according to their point of entry and trajectory are described. Homer knew which wounds were lethal.

By way of contrast, in the Song of Roland, the exuberant French poet describes the hero plunging Durendel, his indestructible sword, through Saracen shoulder, breaking all his ribs and cleaving his body in two, also killing the horse beneath him.

Mallory in LE MORTE D’ARTHUR is only slightly less unrealistic with knights flung from saddles rather than simply being impaled by foemen’s spear; Ariosto in ORLANDO FURIOSO is deliberately absurd: he has one of his superhuman knights spear six men at arms on the same lance on after another like a boy threading frogs on a spit, and with tremendous understatement mentions the knight tossing the heavy lance aside.

Homer also portrays his Hellenic heroes in so realistic and unflattering a hue that some scholars speculate Homer to have been a partisan of Persia: we can dismiss those scholars as being unable to apprehend the clarity of self-criticism for which the two most insightful races of man, the Greek and the Jew, are famed.

The contrast with BEOWULF is instructive: the hero there is portrayed as a flawless example of Germanic courage and courtesy, and the unsightly quarrelsomeness and squabbling with which the Greek heroes conduct their business is notably absent. The bad dragon sits on a hoard never to be spent, whereas the good king rewards valiant deed with openhanded payments of gold, well forged swords, cups and steeds and other fine gear. Ironically, the poem is written by a Christian about his pagan ancestors, and he treats of them with great respect, as all Christians tend to do with pagan things, but does not blink at describing their rites as devil worship. They are portrayed as great, sad, stoical, and doomed. Homer portrayed his heroes as men, warts and all. The Beowulf poet, perhaps coming from a less civilized or cynical time, reports the deeds of the heroes with no overt reference to any tragic flaws.

Stark stoicism is present in Homer’s poem, and the larger message told in the surrounding material of the Trojan cycle speaks volumes about the Greek character. If the theory I propose that the epic poem was the primary vehicle for passing that worldview to younger generations is correct, the poem also established that character. Greece arises as a nation in its defiance of a more powerful foe in the East, for Persia was the eternal enemy of Hellas until the final triumph of Alexander. The message in the Trojan story and the returns in the Odyssey is of the tragic consequences even for the victor.

Odysseus dwells in a world of monster-haunted wilderness and hostile neighbors, disloyal retainers and ambitious youngsters, with his single goal his return to a kingdom, house, and wife that can be won back only by his deceit, his self-humiliation as a beggar in his own house, and then by his heroic strength, his reliance on his son, and, at the very end, by the divine intervention of the goddess of wisdom cowing his rebellious retainers and restoring order. The picture is a poignant one.

The dire melancholy of the pagan character is evident throughout Homer. His evident love of such things as well kept homes and well-tended fields has almost a Japanese poignancy concerning the fragility of such things.

The poems glorify heroism while never blinking at the terrible costs of war, in a fashion that few other since can match: every lesser poet tends either to glamorize the combat unduly or unduly to undermine the heroism involved in marching alive into the roaring hell of battle.

Nonetheless, when all is said and done, what is accomplished? The wrath of Achilles is appeased, but the terrible war will continue. Odysseus finds his weary way home, but there will be other wars in his son’s time, or his son’s sons, and next time it might be their homes burned and plundered, their wives and daughters carried off weeping and Cassandra or Briseis.


The AENEID was Virgil’s knockoff copy of the Odyssey, but with two differences, one obvious, and one subtle.

The obvious one is this: At the end of the Iliad, nothing was settled. Nothing is settled at the end of any Greek tale, because the idea that anything would be established forever is alien to the Greek view of history.

Their view, not unlike the Hindu, was that history was static: cities would rise and fall, and be forgotten, and the wars surrounding the Mediterranean were of no more significance than the wars between frogs and cranes surrounding some pond in the forest. Only the Egyptians where old enough to remember Atlantis, and even they would pass away some day. The gods themselves were the conquerors of the older Titan, and would be overthrown themselves someday.

This element of Oriental despair is absent from the AENEID for the simple reason that Imperial Rome, by the time when Virgil took up his harp to sing of her earliest days, was the unparalleled queen of the known world. Rome had no predecessor in history except, perhaps, the mighty and doomed greatness of Troy, whose walls were built three quarters by a captive god, hence never could be overcome by force. The Roman idea of history was of an obscure and unrecorded period when pirates rules the seas and nomads the land, and, after the fall of Troy, the rise of Rome and her great rival and opposite number to the south, detestable Carthage. The favor of the gods blessed Rome and established her as the eternal city. There is no prophecy of a Twilight of the Gods in Roman mythology, no promise that Rome would one day fall.

The subtle one is more strange: for some reason, the Romans counted their founding ancestor as Aeneas, a minor character in the Iliad, the son of Venus and Anchises, who escapes the burning of the city, and flees to the barbarous West. IN true Roman pious fashion, he carries his father in one hand and his household gods in the other. The enmity with Carthage is established in the episode where Dido falls for him, but the divine command of destiny calls him away, and she commits suicide, calling down the wrath of all Carthaginians upon Aeneas and his breed forever.

But it has confused the human heart why the poet, or the tradition he followed, would select a fugitive who lost the war as the figure to be the founder of the greatest city in the world. There is something almost Christian in the paradox.

I pass over the PHARASALIA because no one has ever heard of it. BEOWULF was already mentioned in passing.

I will say nothing about the Matter of Britain or the Matter of France except to say that the triumphant stories of Charlemagne and his superhuman paladin prevailing against the paynim knights, or King Arthur establishing a round table of equality and a sword of justice only an innocent boy could draw from the stone but then failing to prevail against treachery among his kin, reveals as clearly as a miniature portrait the national character of France and England. They are creation stories for those peoples and summaries of their notions of the fair and foul of life.

With the Advent of Dante and Milton, the epic turns a corner, and becomes something of another form.

Neither are national epics: Dante is not describing the first ancestor of all Italians climbing through hell, up purgatory and into heaven, but of himself, a single soul.

He performed the event, unique, as far as I know, among poets of using romantic love as an extended metaphor and introductory trial by fire for divine love. He is establishing far more than the stock responses one should have toward one’s homeland: he is summing up the Christian world, everything from astronomy to astrology, to Aristotelian moral theory to theology to history, cleverly comingling classical pagan mythology with Christian prophecy, metaphor, and drama, into one exquisitely structured and architecturally balanced whole. The epic is about hell, purgatory, and heaven, and hence about justice, hope, and love.

Likewise, Milton is not writing an epic except as a shell out of which to break: he is using all the tropes and habits of the epic poet — including the Homeric conceit of beginning each poem with a prayer to the muse to aid the poet — to tell of something greater. Not his explicit rejection of the matter and approach of his forebears in Book Nine, where he turns from the tale of the creation of the world to the matter of the Fall of Man:

                                  … I now must change
Those notes to tragic—foul distrust, and breach
Disloyal, on the part of man, revolt
And disobedience; on the part of Heaven,
Now alienated, distance and distaste,
Anger and just rebuke, and judgment given,
That brought into this World a world of woe,
Sin and her shadow Death, and Misery,
Death’s harbinger. Sad task! yet argument
Not less but more heroic than the wrath
Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued
Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage
Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused;
Or Neptune’s ire, or Juno’s that so long
Perplexed the Greek, and Cytherea’s son:
If answerable style I can obtain
Of my celestial Patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse,
Since first this subject for heroic song
Pleased me, long choosing and beginning late,
Not sedulous by nature to indite
Wars, hitherto the only argument
Heroic deemed, chief maistrie to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabled knights
In battles feigned (the better fortitude
Of patience and heroic martyrdom
Unsung), or to describe races and games,
Or tilting furniture, emblazoned shields,
Impreses quaint, caparisons and steeds,
Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights
At joust and tournament; then marshalled feast
Served up in hall with sewers and seneshals:
The skill of artifice or office mean;
Not that which justly gives heroic name
To person or to poem! Me, of these
Nor skilled nor studious, higher argument
Remains, sufficient of itself to raise
That name That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp my intended wing
Depressed; and much they may if all be mine,
Not Hers who brings it nightly to my ear.


Milton’s true genius was lost on later and more worldly ages who did not appreciate his subtlety. Some rather pagan poet of a later age who himself praised Hell as somehow worthy of admiration for its animal energies (an idea unsurpassably absurd, considering that demons are purely spiritual beings, not animal at all) displayed his lead-footedness of wit by saying that Milton was of the devil’s party.

What Milton did, of course, was portray Lucifer with all the trapping of an epic hero of the tragic mold: an allegedly great figure with the greatest of an Achilles or an Aeneas. He embarks on a voyage across chaos more daring than Odysseus, he faces Michael the Archangel with the boldness of a Hector, he makes speeches worthy of Cato and Seneca, and his palace, build by Mulciber, is finer than that of Priam.

And … then he gets to paradise, and sees the children of blessedness, and is ashamed and awed by the simple pastoral happiness of our father and mother.

His palaces and pomps and fine speeches about it being better to reign in an empire of endless pain than to serve in a kingdom of infinite joy, to the properly tuned ear, should ring as hollow as a brass coin at that point.

Anyone to whom they still ring like gold should have his ears checked, and still to simpler poets in the meanwhile.

Satan’s grandeur is a hollow grandeur, and readers who hear it otherwise are hollow men. Milton shows why are those old pagans with their tedious havoc of war are melancholy: because their pagan poets were deep enough to know their world was hollow.

The pagans knew their world was missing something.

The two hundred words or so in the creation story of Genesis, and two volume epic of the Jewish people that followed, had what was missing.

The moderns are hallow without knowing they are hollow: the world is not descending into paganism. It has reached something darker and worse. The postmodern is craven and smug and doomed where the ancient pagan was noble, melancholy, and doomed, because the modern world is hollow and small, but he postmodern men are too hollow and too small to notice.

3    THE DEPRAVATION: The Darkness of the Enlightenment

It is ironic that, after Milton, poets found themselves something at a loss for epic material:

Keats attempted to Miltonize the Titanomachy of the classical Greeks, marrying it to an unconvincingly evolutionary view of life reminiscent of Hegel, optimistic yet fatalistic, in his magnificent and incomplete HYPERION.

Wagner turned to the matter of Norse myths in his even more magnificent Ring Cycle of operas. While Wagner might have captured a common theme among intellectuals of his day who were growing discontented with Christianity, the worldview portrayed of strong heroes who fight boldly and die sadly is a huge step backward from the rather more sophisticated view of Milton and Dante.

Milton ends his great poem with a promise, even while the forlorn parents of mankind wander, hand in hand, into the wild; and Dante ends with a rapturous vision so great that the poet never bothers to tell us how, or even if, he returns to earth.

Compared to that, the ending of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG has the hero die, the villain die, the king die and his sister die, the girl die, and her horse die, and the mermaids of the Rhine get their ring back and they live happily ever after.

By pagan standards, Wagner’s RING is as deep and great as anything Homer ever did, but by Christians standards, it is shallow, because it only deals with the surface features of life, questions of fortitude, death and fate, not the deeper features of faith, eternity and grace.

Sometime between the French Rebellion and the end of World War One the West began to lose its mind – all the foundation ideas of the West no longer made sense to Westerners. Christianity had not stopped a war which, once it was done, no one could recall why it had been started.

Chivalry was dead, slain by the suffragettes: the imposition of civilization on the savage and backward peoples of the world was beginning to seem not only needless, but repugnant, more barbaric than the barbarism it halted.

Victorian belief in progress was dead, but, ironically, the maniacal belief in progressivism, the belief than man, unaided from heaven, could produce the heaven on Earth (something Heaven itself has not done) was firmly fixed in the mind of the West.

The modern West, one step at a time, has lost sight of God, lost sight of common notions of decency, lost all sense of balanced judgement and are even now losing the last vestiges of reason.

The great irony that mankind lived in an era when the greatest wars ever fought, world wars, and the greatest breakthroughs in medicine and science were being made, man learned to fly and in one generation stepped on the moon, was the generation where epics withered.

What replaced epic was an abortive form called realism.

3.1             Morlockery and Realism

Morlockery is a term I have coined to describe that soft-edged cloud of modern thinking beloved of the Progressive elite. There is no rigorous definition of Morlockery for the same reason there is no Magisterium for the Witches, and no Supreme Ruling Council of Anarchists. We are talking about a loose and incoherent alliance of incoherent thinkers.

The central principle of Morlockery is that it lacks principle. It is a disjointed admixture of Machiavelli, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Nihilism.

  • Its Machiavellian view of morals says that the ends justify the means, and says that noblest ends, such as world Utopia, justify the basest means, such as genocide;
  • Its Darwinian view of history says that races and bloodlines are locked in remorseless and eternal war to extinction, that men should be bred like a dogs, and the weak and unwanted be exterminated;
  • Its Marxist view of economics is that the free market is a Darwinian war between economic classes which must regard each other as implacable foes; modern feminism uses the same terms to describe romance, marriage and all male-female relations.
  • Its Freudian view of ethics says that to repress the natural and selfish impulses in a child leads to neurosis, therefore ethics is unnatural, whereas pride and lust and greed and ire and perversion are not only natural, but healthy.
  • Its Nietzschean theology says that God is dead and therefore Power is God.
  • Its Nihilist metaphysics says that nothing means anything, therefore no philosophy has meaning and no reasoning is reasonable.

The Christian idea of a brotherhood of man, or the Enlightenment idea of limits to government, is alien to Morlock thinking and abominated by them.

But such is the poisonous moral atmosphere of the modern age.

Ours is the first era in history which holds, as its basic metaphysical postulate of moral reasoning, that reality is optional.

If reality is optional, there is no objective moral law, merely arbitrary or useful social myths called ‘Narratives’, and no such thing as reasoning.

It is possible to raise a child to be a sociopath. A sociopath is a being without a conscience. He is able to avoid punishment, but he acknowledges no authority competent to impose duties on his behavior. Even the authority of reason is dismissed as suspect and partial.

It is possible to raise a generation of sociopaths merely by raising a critical number of sociopaths among them.

Possible? It is not even difficult. All one need do is teach no young how to reason nor how to reflect on their consciences. It is no more difficult than raising a generation of illiterates: merely teach no young how to read.

At that point, without recourse to reason and without recourse to conscience, and being unable to perceive or even to imagine abiding by any moral standard, mankind will be reduced to being merely an ape that talks.

It will indeed be a rational creature, able to calculate a sum or repair a motor, but it will not be human. It will be a creature that can be tamed, like a dog, not to injure its master’s kin, but also trained, like a dog, to kill its master’s prey, but the ability to reflect upon the moral meaning of its trained behaviors will be lost. It will be human in name only, if it deserves that name. A fitter name for the race replacing Man is Morlock.

Such forms the backdrop of assumptions, the starting point, of what any story teller or film maker expects his audience to accept unasked and unsupported.

How can one create a satisfactory drama against such a backdrop, with such intellectual furniture as the props?

3.2             Morlock Stories

What kind of tales can Morlocks tell?

The doctrine of Modernism holds that there are no utopias and no otherworldly realms, other dimensions, or other worlds. This not only robs tales of their most interesting locations (what would PARADISE LOST be without a paradise to lose?) but it robs even realistic locations of their realism. If you do not believe in heaven, a heavenly place on Earth, a quiet wood or a happy home, cannot seem realistic to you either.

The hellish scenery of NINETEEN-EIGHTY FOUR or ANIMAL FARM is removed from the mainstream of realistic fiction by being placed in the future. They are too extraordinary as scenery to tell a realistic tale, even though, honestly, they are as realistic as Soviet Russia or Cambodia.

Hence the scenery in realistic fiction must be drab and ordinary. Stories can no longer be set in the past as our ancestors, who lived in the past, understood their time: to be realistic, a story can only be set in the modern idea of the past. The stories cannot be set in the future, because there is no realistic consensus as to what the future will hold. The future can only be imagined with an act of speculation, and realism relies for its effect on the absence of speculative or imaginary elements that are found in normal story-telling.

Realism does not lend itself easily to adventure stories, which rely for part of their appeal on the exotic locations, unclimbed mountains, impassable jungles, vast deserts, artic wastes, oriental realms of splendor.

Setting a realistic tale in China brings too much of hint of the air of Cathay, which smells like the air of Elfland to those of us from the West, or contains the charm of Arabian Night’s Tales, or the menace of Fu Manchu. Realism relies for its appeal on the pseudo-Darwinian conceit that man is not so extraordinary a creature, and this naturally makes writers of Realistic fiction shy away from exotic locales. The mysteries of the Sphinx are not for them; the gold of Ophir is not in their tales. Realistic writers might set their stories in downtown Dublin, or fascist Spain, but not in Tir-n’a-Nogth or Eldorado.

The point here is not that realism necessarily excludes the exotic. One can find real adventure in the real world, in stories of espionage, war, exploration. But the close parallel between real world adventures and fantastic adventures tends to make realistic fiction shy away from them: they seem, oddly enough, to unrealistic. Neal Armstrong was a real person, and so was George Washington or William of Orange. No realistic stories will star such heroes, except in a way meant to discourage hero-worship, for heroes worthy of hero-worship have too much of the glamour of elfland about them, too much of the sacredness of the Temple of Mars.

MOBY DICK is set in the real world and is peopled by characters one could have met in Nantucket during the whaling days. And yet the more fantastic elements of the story, the eerie menace of the White Whale, the omens and prophecies that foretell the coming death of the Pequod, give the story an unrealistic flavor.

Here I must make an aside on the role of irony in realistic fiction. Irony is meant to rob any fantastic elements in a story of their fantasy, a thing realism finds disconcerting. So, for example, in MOBY DICK, when some omen, such as the loss of Ahab’s cap, or some prophet, the not-so-subtly-named Elijah, prophesizes doom, the event is told with humor and irony, so that the fantastic effect is diminished, robbed of its supernatural mood, and the event can be seen as merely one of those odd and unexplained coincidences. The colorless world of the realistic writer allows for odd coincidences and ironies. Indeed, for realists of the more nihilist school, the unexplained is a welcome element, provided it does not induce awe or respect in the breast of the audience. The realist seeks to produce disrespect for the world, not respect; confusion, not awe; a conviction that the world is mad, and incomprehensible, and that reason of man is too weak to grasp it. With irony, a realistic story teller can reintroduce magical and fantastic elements in his tale, but rob them of their force, so the tale is still bound within what the Modernist ideology allows as being realistic.

The irony and humor in MOBY DICK, the gravity of the theme, and particularly the pessimism of the theme, allows it to remain in the mainstream of realistic fiction. If the tale had been told without the droll exaggerations of Ishmael’s dialog, if the story had been a story of Christian redemption rather a paean to pagan fatalism and agnostic pessimism, it might have been too fantastic and too imaginative for the school of realism.

As with the scenery, so with the props. The great sword Excalibur, or the Ark of the Covenant, or Peaches of Immortality, cannot make an appearance in realistic fiction. The attempt to introduce a prop with some significance and grandeur tends to move the story outside of the stream of realism, and into Pulp Fiction or Boy’s Adventure Tales.

The special gadgets of spies and heroes, jet-packs or bulletproofs cars in GOLDFINGER or GREEN HORNET or even JONNY QUEST make the story less realistic, even though jet-packs and armored cars actually do exist. The “McGuffin” was Hitchcock’s word for whatever the object is that drives the plot: the thing the spies care about but the audience does not.

When the McGuffin is something that can save or doom the world, launch an atom bomb or decode all the enemy messages, it tends to have that glamour of elfland around it, like the one magic sword that can save the kingdom, the one magic ring that curses gods and heroes. Realistic fiction tends to do without props of any particular note. They don’t like McGuffins.

Modernism emphasizes that all objects are inanimate and fungible, merely goods for exploitation, not things of value in and of themselves. Tales about real things that exist, such as the Hope Diamond, which famously brought bad luck to all who owned it, cannot comfortably be fit into a realistic tale. Leopold Bloom is not going to come across the Hope Diamond in his adventures, because he does not have adventures. The fact that the Hope Diamond really exists does not mean it can appear in a realistic story, because realistic stories are never about the extraordinary.

A plot is a structure of events such that each event is a painful choice between two or more alternatives dictated by the previous events. All the events must be meaningful; crucial. A tense and fast paced plot moves from crisis to crisis with no room for error. A chessgame has a plot: each move is narrowed to specific possibilities by the move of the opposing side. Spy thrillers, detective novels, adventure stories, and other normal story-telling fiction outside of realism, all have plots and concentrate on plot reversals and surprises. In a chessgame, with its highly structured rules, reversals can be sudden and absolute. A chessman can escape from check and checkmate his opponent in one move.

This is why, in boy’s adventure stories, Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite: the presence or absence of the one glowing green stone can suddenly reverse the plot. This is why the One Ring can destroy the Dark Lord even at the highest peak of his dread power: because there is more drama, more hopes and fears bound up into a smaller space of time, if the villain is defeated at the moment of his utmost strength. The rare green rock, or the one magic ring, becomes as important as the King in chess: it is the one piece that can win or lose the game.

Realistic stories shy away from plots for the same reason they shy away from McGuffins. A plot requires that one event, a climax, determine the outcome of the story. A climax is hence an extraordinary event, not merely one meaningless happenstances following another meaningless happenstance. Realism shuns the extraordinary for the ordinary.

Hence, realism tends to prefer pointless and meandering stories, rather than plot-driven stories. ULYSSES by James Joyce has no more plot than ALICE IN WONDERLAND: things simply happen, one after the next, but no extraordinary events that reverse the direction of the plot or drive the plot to a climax.

This absence of moral meaning in the Modernist ideology makes stories loyal to that ideology uncomfortable with ascribing meanings even to simple acts. The effect is to rob realistic stories of their moral meanings. Even a simple moral, like a pulp novel’s ‘crime does not pay’ comes across as too fantastic, because unrealistically simplistic, to the sophisticate of realism.

Stories with an obvious moral meaning, where a hero prevails because he is faithful, or trusting, or pure, or does not break his word, moves out of the realm of realism and back into normal story telling. In the movie SIGNS by M. Night Shyamalan, what seemed to be unconnected coincidences actually turn out to be the signs of an underlying pattern of events, a divine providence unheard-of in realism, but common in ghost stories and other normal story-telling. Nothing is fated and no fate is deserved in realistic fiction. Normal story-telling, from OEDIPUS REX to RETURN OF THE JEDI is all about fate, and also in any time travel story where the character’s actions cannot break the pattern of events: Fritz Leiber’s THE BIG TIME or Heinlein’s ‘All You Zombies.’

Character development is likewise lacking in imagination in a realistic story. There are heroes in real life, from a soldier, to a fireman, to a boy scout lost in the woods who uses his wits to find rescue, displays some element of courage and greatness.

But Modernism, thanks to Freud, no longer believes man is responsible for the content of his character for good or for ill. If one man seems heroic, it is either a falsehood perpetrated by the press for propaganda reasons, or his lack of fear is due to a genetic accident.

There is no excellence and no honor in the world of realism: one is either irrationally afraid or irrationally lacks fear, and there is no rhyme or reason as to why one man has good character or one bad. So, not only have you no heroes in realistic fiction, you have no villains either.

A real villain, such as a Nazi war criminal, an apologist for Communism or a serial killer cannot be placed in a realistic novel without moving it into the realm of thriller, war story, detective novel or horror.

Character development in the modern novel is as lacking in development as the plot is in motion: character studies generally tend to look at the sick, the mad, the dipsomaniac, the loser, the fraud, the zero. The characters of realistic novels do not even contain the virtues and vices of real people, but instead turn out the inmates of Bedlam for their cast of characters. Heroism is regarded as unrealistic and childish.

Even such simple human emotions as love and romance, because these also contain a hint of the air of Elfland, a memory of paradise before the fall, cannot be tolerated in mainstream literature, but must be moved to their own special genre, that of romantic fiction. A realistic novel, such as LOLITA, must treat romance as some particular type of sickness, as something without meaning, not something that ennobles and uplifts. If the romance uplifts the hero to greatness, as in CYRANO, the story becomes too adventurous and too exotic for realism.

All these things combine to one theme, which is pessimism or irony. We can see a pattern in the realistic fiction:

  • the scenery is mundane and unimaginative.
  • The props and events are ordinary rather than extraordinary, and hence unimaginative.
  • The events also must lack the one thing the human imagination always reads into events, that is, a moral purpose or providential meaning. The way a dull and unimaginative mind sees life, as a flux of events in which no pattern can be found, is the viewpoint of modernism.
  • No extraordinary characters, no men of sterling virtue or villains of blackest vice, can exist in modernism, because there is nothing extraordinary in their world. It takes an act of imagination to picture the personality and behavior of a saint or a serial murderer.

In sum, the realistic novel is the novel that is as unimaginative as possible in all areas of scenery and setting, props and plots, characters and themes.

The only area left for the imagination is cleverness of presentation, symbolism, dialog: hence these are the areas on which writers and critics of this genre concentrate. It is all form with no substance. Even here their contempt for the extraordinary has prevented another Milton or Shakespeare from emerging from the ranks of the modernists. One can find, at best, clever gibberish or plays on words in James Joyce, but you will not find a St. Crispens’ Day speech which could be profitably read to a craven man to restore his flagging courage.

Fiction is an exercise of the imagination. Realism is that particular type of fiction which uses as little imagination as possible, and in ways means to inspire as little as possible.

And Epics are right out of the question. Our definition of an epic included heroic character, significant action, and moral gravity: all these things realism eliminates.

3.3             Postmodernism

Realism is not the final state of things.

If a Morlock is a creature unable to make or even imagine moral judgments, he only avoids injuring others to avoid punishment. He cannot imagine any other evil aside from injury, and he cannot but resent the lash of the master who inflicts the punishment. Only a totalitarian system of rewards and punishments can check his impulses. Conditioned to equate “goodness” with reward, and therefore the only good he can imagine is reward, usually physical pleasure, such as wine, women, and song, but sometimes psychological pleasure, such as praise, rank and dignities. The Morlock must be a hedonist.

A hedonist can strive to get pleasure, but he cannot make sacrifices properly so called. He can only delay current gratification for greater, later gratification. As a story, this is not much of a drama: a Morlock cannot tell a tale of greater moral depth than a tale about a heist or a caper.

The literature of defiance is mockery, irony, and satire. Morlocks can mock but cannot make.

Hence, there can be no heroes in a Morlock story, only victims.

The matter cannot be told in elevated or dignified language because elevation and dignity offends Morlocks as inegalitarian and inauthentic. Only the language of the gutter seems real and forceful to their degraded minds.

Morlocks also lack reason, a sense of proportion, and a sense of common sense. Seeking stimulus, and resenting any attempts at control, they seek indecency.

Nothing of national or world-historical importance can be at stake, because in the nihilist universe nothing is important because nothing makes sense.

The Morlockian rebellion against reason never ends, because the point is to promote ever more illogical and unrealistic offenses against the conscience. It is addictive: ever larger doses of grotesque ugliness, outrageous perversity, malign brutality, and inhuman cruelty are needed to produce the same rush of smug self-esteem.

4    THE ALLEVIATION: The Rise of Science Fiction

However, upon being driven out from the magazines and publishing houses that printed the modern and postmodern stories, the muses took flight and landed in the most unlikely places imaginable: the penny dreadful, the pulp magazine, the western, the detective story and the science fiction magazine.

Here were all the elements of epic, except, perhaps, for the elevated language. But the rise of modern fantasy, thanks to Lin Carter and to Professor Tolkien, has also allowed elevated language to return.

The Western is the epic of America because it is the creation story for modern America, at least, America as she was when she was confident in herself and her place on Earth. The basic theme of all Westerns is the spread of civilization across the wilderness. Both the savage Indians and the lawless cattle rustlers must be subdued for justice to prevail, and the actions on lonely and heroic men are those on which the effort succeeds or fails: there is a reason why the Lone Ranger is alone.

That a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do is the core virtue told by the Western and also the primary virtue such tales meant to impart to the young.

Likewise again, the story of Detective tales, especially of hardboiled detective tales of the type made famous by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had the rather bold moral that the law and order had to be maintained even in a world where the differences between right and wrong were unclear. Humphrey Bogart’s speech in the end of THE MALTESE FALCON says more about American moral views than anything else that curt.

Likewise, the basic theme of the Science Fiction story, those that are not dystopias warning of the dangers of the scientific age, is the conquest of the universe, the use of reason and scientific advancement to overcome all the troubles of nature, and perhaps of human nature. The primary value science fiction is meant to impart to the young is the sense of the grandeur and wonder of the universe, and the joyful hope that the soul of man is grand enough to study and learn those wonders, to understand and tame them.

Science Fiction, despite the fact that it was invented in France and England, is primarily American in spirit, because it is the type of tale told by the men who first learned to fly and first stepped on the moon.

The wonders of science, not of pagan gods, are displayed to the science fiction reader’s imagination, and the glories and dangers of the natural universe. Is Scylla any more terrible than the back hole at Cygnus X-1? Is the Cyclopes more fearsome than the Martians of H.G. Wells? Are the elves of Spenser’s FAERIE QUEENE any more piquant and mercurial than the Lunarians of Poul Anderson’s HARVEST OF STARS?

More to the point, science fiction serves the role of a creation myth for the American spirit, a myth rightly set in the future rather than the past, as befitting a pioneer race of unparalleled innovative accomplishment. This is no boast, but plain history: Between Robert Fulton, the Wright Brothers, Morse and Bell and Edison, the Manhattan Project and the Moonshot, Americans have shown a sufficient innovative ability to grant mankind fins like a fish, wings like a bird, messengers swift as Mercury, light bright as Prometheus, the fires of the sun, and footsteps on the moon. Small wonder that the wonder story returns in humble guise of scientific adventure tales: to what else could these things be likened, but fables of magicians and genii?

5    THE CURE: A Return to the Greatest Story Ever Told

Science fiction, at least the branches that are optimistic and cherish the innovative and pioneering spirit, are, of course, insufficient to ward off the lure of the Morlockian view of the universe. Indeed, if anything, the naturalism inherent in the mainstream of science fiction is powerless to fend off a corruption of Freudian, Darwinian and Hegelian mythologies since it draws from those sources for its effect, particularly the desolate visions of endless spaces and infinite futures seen in the works, for example, of Olaf Stabledon or H.G. Wells.

No, since the New Wave fiction of the 1960s at least, a concerted effort has been underway to interject modernistic themes, prose, and moods into science fiction, and, in the decades since, full-blown and highly politicized Morlockianism.

No hope to cure Epic Deprivation can be found here. Where, then?

Naturally, one must seek supernatural cures for supernatural ailments. The loss of epics entails a loss of knowledge of man’s self and his place in the cosmos. It is a spiritual wound. The recovery must be through spiritual means.

Christianity is unique among religions for two reasons: the first is that it is true and purports to be true, whereas pagan tales do not claim not to be the inventions of poets attempting to capture something finally ineffable. Neither is Christianity a ritualized form of philosophy, as is Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, or Confucianism. Second, it has the form of a story, and a penetratingly dramatic story at that, whereas the cosmos of the Hindu is an endless cycle without beginning nor end, or of the classical pagans, a tale of parricide and tyranny taking place in a world that rose from chaos without cause or purpose.

The allergic reaction of the modern mind against all things Christian prevents too obvious an intrusion of Christian themes into mainstream works, but the epic of man’s fall and (at a terrifying price) redemption and eventual triumph is the central epic needed to end modern man’s confused opium-dream of endless temptation and endless frustration as each temptation proves false.

Professor Tolkien showed how merely Catholic theme and sentiment is so powerful that, even when disguised and placed in a world of Middle Earth where Christ’s name is unknown, a whole generation can be electrified and uplifted, and vote his work the best of the century.  Christ’s power is so potent that it can raise the dead, and this applies to flagging nations as well as to dying genres and forms of art.

The New Age and its epigones, with no attempt to disguise their aim, announced their purpose was to subvert the dominant social paradigm and undermine the current social order, which they, for reasons not hard to guess, find intolerable.

However, one can only undermine so much, until one is half buried in a muck pit with rubble to each side. The literature of mockery and despair  and whining and absurdity can undermine and diminish what men love, but cannot build anything in its place. That requires a superversive literature, one that will build up what nihilism has torn down: one that uplifts rather than undermines.

What form this future epic literature of the superversive will take the muses assigned to inspire the next generation alone can say with authority.

Whether the creative efforts of superversive literature will prevail over the dragging dreariness of subversive literature, Heaven alone decrees. But we can take comfort in one great and golden truth: while it is so that the Devil schemes with infernal persistence and sullen energy always to pervert, subvert, and undermine the good gifts God grants, turning good to bad; it is also so that God makes beauty and virtue spring forth from the evils Hell inflicts, turning bad to good.

God the Creator gave man the gift of speech; the Devil perverted speech and inflicted the curse called lying; God in retaliation breathed the golden gift of artistic inspiration into man, and gave man the power to use lying in service of divine beauty, by crafting stories and tales and poems, so that lies were made into a wonder, and man is made into a creator like unto the Creator who made him.