Yaunsi 10: Perhaps, otherwise

וַיּאׁמֶר יָוּנְסִי בְּלִבּוֹ אוּלַי אֶע ֱרֹק אֵת הָאִישׁ מִוִּים־תִי כִּי יַעֲזֹר לָנוּ : פֶּן־יִהְיֶה כִּתְמוֹל שִׁלְשׁוֹם : וַיִּרְמׂשׂ אֶל־הַפֶּתַח בִּשְׁרֹק הַבֻּד־נֻזָּרָד : פ

Yaunsi said in his heart, “Perhaps i will gnaw the man from Vim-Ti, that he may help us. Otherwise, it will be as it was before.” So he crept toward the door, while the Budge-Nuzzard hissed.

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.

A bit of nerdy commentary

Now then, dear readers, yesterday i promised you some commentary on a few of the nerdier aspects of Yaunsi episode nine. Since that time my boy Andrew’s Kickstarter has defied the laws of physics and has exsplatterated the brains of every third backer, and rendered the remainder unconscious. i alone am left to describe to you this scene of horrific and inevitable magnificence, and this is only due to my latent Pan* heredity; i slupped out of there as quick as i could when i saw the tidal wave of psychic gravitational forces heave toward me. (“Heave not!” i said during that moment’s long squirting, but they heeded not.)

*Yes, it is true that i was born and raised in the Green Hollows, but my family is largely of Pan-Weem descent. It is a scandal of which we do not speak broadly. You cannot imagine the dramatics and contretemps (i mean that literally) around holiday dinner tables.

So to calm my mind as the incomprehensible forces of Andrew’s Kickstarter continue to be unfeld, i shall regale you with the following nerdy bits of heresy-writing. If you also would like your sanity shattered by the ravenous glories of a fully-funded pilot for the Wingfeather Saga Animated Series, i encourage you to click over to his Kickstarter and see the many-splendored devastation for yourself. Meanwhile, on to the heresy.

Yesterday’s episode contained a pun, the likes of which i could not have conceived but was gloriously conceived in me during a moment of mad scribbling right before Hebrew class last week. “Oh my word. i love my heresy!” i whisper-shrieked to myself there in my seminary classroom. Then things got a little awkward.

The word in question is בֶּגֶד (beged). It’s a common enough word (it occurs in the vocabulary list in chapter 11 of our textbook), and in every biblical occurrence but two, that word is correctly translated “clothing” or “garments.” The exceptions are in Isaiah 24:16 and Jeremiah 12:1 where it is instead rendered “treachery.” Consider what we know of Yaunsi the Pan—what little clothing he wears. Consider that he and Cheresh are fellow Pans (Panim, in Hebrew). Consider the horror such a word would certainly convey to these Pans of grand descent. Fie on those treacherous cake-turners!

Now while we’re talking about the Pan tradition of going scantily-clad (our family has left that tradition behind; worry yourselves not), Cheresh’s word choice when describing Yaunsi’s potential shame is quite strategic. You may recall that in episode one of my heresy, our narrator (is that me or not? you decide) said that Yaunsi did not cover himself with much clothing. The same word, “cover” (כסה, kasa), Cheresh uses here. Is this another reference to the Pannic feelings of repellence toward clothing? Hrrmm.

Oh, one more thing. In Hebrew, pronouns and verbs always agree in both gender and number with the nouns they represent. When i have referred to the Budge-Nuzzard in the past, i have thusly used a masculine singular pronoun and verb conjugation (third person, in Hebrew, is used for he/she as well as it. You may recall some consternation regarding this in episode eight). This time, however, Cheresh refers to “The Budge and its Nuzzard.” Which pronoun, which number, does he use? Plural, yes? Nope. Still singular. ::shudder:: (i had a very bad moment a couple of weeks ago while rereading the original Budge-Nuzzard episode “Gloaning.” But what horrors i saw in those words will have to wait for a later commentary. You are not yet ready to hear my brain’s ravings on this matter.)

Now then, let us all go forth with greater insight, fear, and glee. And while you go, do consider giving yourself up to the inexorable resplendence of Andrew’s Kickstarter.

See you next week. (Unless Andrew’s Kickstarter swallows the sun.)

Yaunsi 09: Visiting wickedness

וְהַדָּבָר רָעָה בְּעֵינֵי יָעוּנְסִי וַיּאׁמֶר לֹא עָשׂה אֶעֱשֶׂה אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה כִּי הוּא הוּזָר לִי : וַיִּשְׁרֹק חֶרֶשׁ וַיּאׁמֶר הֲלֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ כִּי מִן־יְמֵי עוֹלָם הַבֻּד וְנֻזְּרָדוֹ פָּקַד עַלֵינוּ רָשָׁע : הוּא לֹא חָס וְעָשָׂה דְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר לִשְׁמֹעַ לַחֲרֹד : אוֹ הֲלֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ כִּי הֶהוֹפְכוֹת־הָעֻגוֹת עָשׂוּ בֶּגֶד עַלֵינוּ : וְעַתָּה תָּחוּס לוֹ : אִם עוֹד הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה רִשׁעוֹ כִּי רָק עַתָּה תְּכֻסֶּה בְּבּוֹשָׁה אֵין מִסְפָּר : עָרֹק תַּעֲרֹק אֵת הָאִישׁ : וַיָּפָס : ס

But the thing was displeasing to Yaunsi, and he said, “i will certainly not do this thing, for it is loathsome to me!”

Cheresh hissed and said, “Have you not heard that in days long ago, the Budge and its Nuzzard visited wickedness upon us? It showed no pity, but did things which to hear are to tremble. Or have you not heard how the cake-turners dealt treachery upon us? And you would show it pity! If it again does its wickedness, you alone will be shamed beyond measure. You will certainly gnaw the man.”

He vanished.

*Stay tuned for a bit of nerdy commentary tomorrow!

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.

Something beautiful

i am going to cry my way through this post, i promise you.

A little over two years ago, Andrew Peterson launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish the last book in his YA fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. i loved Andrew already as a singer/songwriter and author, and since that Kickstarter i’ve come to love him as a brother and friend as well. i’m grateful beyond words for his trust as he has welcomed me into his books’ story.

And now that story which i love so much has taken a huge leap forward. This morning, Andrew launched the Kickstarter campaign to create a pilot episode for an animated series. This has been in the works for months, and now within the first six hours of the campaign, over six hundred backers have joined forces to raise more than 40% of the initial fundraising goal. That number climbs every second. Andrew and his story are easy to to love, and are well-loved. i knew this. But what a thing to watch unfold.

This morning i learned all over again what a gift it is to love and to serve and to be trusted. i learned what a holy thing it is to be undone by the overwhelming support of one’s community. i learned that librarian shoes are running shoes. And we are running. Run with us. 🙂

In the words of Andrew Peterson:
Rabbit Room
Wingfeather Website


Yaunsi 08: Wafting contemplations

וַיַּחֲשֹׁב חֶרֶשׁ וַיַּעֲלוּ מַחֲשַׁבֹת כְּעָשָׁן מִּלֵּבוֹ הָעִלִּי : אַחֲרֵי מַחֲשַׁבָה אֲרֻכָּה וְחֹשֵׁב מְאֹד וַיּאׁמֶר תַּעֲרֹקוֹ : וַיּאׁמֶר לְיָעוּנְסִי תַּעֲרֹקוֹ הָאִישׁ : פ

Cheresh thought, and thoughts rose like smoke from his upper heart. After long thought and much thinking, he said, “You much gnaw it.” (!) He said to Yaunsi, “You must gnaw him—the man.”

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.


A noun is born

Warning: Extensive nerdery ahead.

Last week’s Yaunsi Heresy episode (#07) required me to create a brand-new Hebrew noun. i wanted to reference the contact nodule in the Budge-Nuzzard, but there’s no such word as “nodule” in Hebrew.

Since a nodule is a round growth (like we get on our aspen trees around here—five thousand feet is not quite high enough for the poor things), i looked around for words that had to do with roundness or swelling. There were a few (mostly in Leviticus). But then i found a particular verb root—בעה, pronounced ba’ah—with a parsupplimous lexical range. It means to swell, boil, bulge, inquire—even to inquire of a prophet. Perfect! Now, how to make a noun out of a verb root? Easy, right? i mean, i have an 800-page syntax textbook here.

Well, it turns out that there’s about a billion ways to make a noun. There are several different ways to vocalize the three consonants of a verb root. Plus, there are also a few different prefix forms—all of which come with their own assortment of vocalizations. According to that 800-page textbook of mine, some vocalization patterns tend to be found in particular classes of nouns, such as occupations or abstractions. Two of the weirder categories are colors and sounds/noises. (!) Many of those patterns could be tossed right out.

After all this i still had a few options left, but finally (and with the help of not one but two professors), i settled on a mem-prefix form. (A mem is the letter that looks like a little cat: מ. It sounds just like our letter M.) This form is one of the more common ones and, according to said 800-page tome, is often used of instruments such as keys or knives. A contact nodule seemed to me to be right at home with that sort of device.

Done, right? Nope. Next problem: Vowels. Out of three consonants, two of mine were weak. This introduces two levels of vowel changes! And did i want a masculine or feminine noun? There are some reasons to prefer one over the other, but none seemed relevant in this case, so it was my choice. In the end, those weak consonants and their pesky vowel changes made the decision for me. Feminine it is. It would’ve taken too much trouble to figure out which vowel to use for a masculine version.

This whole process took about two weeks, but hinneh! Now there exists in the world a very flexible Hebrew word for “nodule.” Be assured that you will see it in action again in a later episode. 🙂

My brain has children. Mav’ah (מַבְעָה) is one of them.

Yaunsi 07: Calling

וַיִּזְעַק אֶל־חֶרֶשׁ בְּמַבְעָה־הַקְּרִיאָה : וַיֵּרָא חֶרֶשׁ וַיַּעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי יָעוּנְסִי וַיּאׁמֶר לָמָּה קָרָאתָ לִי : וַיּאׁמֶר יָעוּנְסִי לֹא אוּכַל לִלְכֹד אֵת הַבֻּד־נֻזָּרָד כִּי הָאִישׁ מִוִּם־תִי שֹׁמֵרוֹ : הוּא לֹא עָלַה מִזֶּה מִבֹּאוֹ וְעַד־עַתָּה וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב קַנֵּן בְּנֶכֶד רִשׁוֹ : לֹא אֵדַע מַה־אֶעֱשֶׂה : פ

Yaunsi cried out to Cheresh with the nodule of calling. Cheresh appeared and stood before Yaunsi, and said to him, “Why have you called me?” Yaunsi said, “i am not able to capture the Budge-Nuzzard, because the man from Vim-Ti is guarding it. He has not gone up from here from his arrival until now, but dwells nustlingly with his wicked progeny. i do not know what i should do.”

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.

Yaunsi 06: Agonizing

וַיּאׁמֶר בְּלֵבוׂ מַה־אֶעֱשֶה וְאֵיךְ אֲנִי מוׂשִׁיעַ אׂתִי וְאֶת־עַמִּי עַל הָאוׂיֵב הָרָשָׁע הַזֶּה : גַּם־עַתָּה נׂכֵל הוּא עַלֵינוּ וְגַם־עַתָּה הוּא שָׁמוּר הָאִישׁ מִוִּם־תִי : וְהָאִישׁ מִוִּם־תִי יוׂשֵׁן מֵעֵבֶר הַפֶּתַח וְלֹא־יָדַע כִּי יָעוּנְסִי הָיַה בַּבַּיִת : ס

He said in his heart, “What shall i do? And how am i to save myself and my people against this wicked enemy? Even now it is plotting against us, and even now it is being guarded by the Man from Vim-Ti!” (Now the Man from Vim-Ti was sleeping on the other side of the door, and he did not know that Yaunsi was in the abode.)

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial.

The poetry of the Budge-Nuzzard

The language of the Budge-Nuzzard never ceases to amaze and delight (and sometimes choke) me, but there is one passage in particular which causes me to go into raptures every single time.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch, and yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung. Fear took me. Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

Glorious. Ack. i’m just going to lie here for a bit until the room stops spinning.

Okay. i think i can sit upright again. Let’s walk through a bit of the poetry.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket

Here are two sets of alliteration: CC, PP.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch

And then we continue reading and find a phrase which echoes that alliteration: CC, PP, CP.

…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb

And here we have chiastic alliteration: CBBC. Mind. Blown.

…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung.

In the same line, there is a very nice bit of assonance. When reading aloud, the emphasis naturally falls on these two highlighted words, which heightens the effect of the assonance.

Fear took me.

Dread is so simple. Amidst the complexity of this passage, this three-word sentence rises up to grip the reader. Because of the length of the previous sentence, it’s natural to pause before this one. And each word here is weighty, yet most of the weight hangs on that first word. i find this appropriate.

Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

And this near-rhyme echoes the assonance above. Again, to strengthen the rhythm as well as the near-rhyme, the major emphasis is on the last syllable of each sentence. But the rhythm here is not as simple as the assonant line above.

Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

The march of the first half of this line is inexorable, mirroring the inevitability the narrator conceives. Then the rhythm pauses on that first instance of the word “slay.” The sentence hangs on that word until the fall of the very last syllable.

Now read the whole thing again, aloud, and let the language do its work.


Note: A.S. Peterson, the author responsible for the Budge-Nuzzard, has also written a set of historical novels, several literary short stories, a blog post that literally changed my life, and a poem cycle which has undone me again and again. He writes good sentences soaked through with sehnsucht and absurdity. i want to be just like him when i grow up. Go forth and read.

Discovering Hebrew narrative, Part One

i am a pantser. My modus operandi, writing-wise, is just to dive right in and find out how things work. i have always done this with my English writing. The joy of discovery is too great to bother with outlines; if i already know what is going to happen, what is the point? And i started my Hebrew fiction-writing career this way, too, almost as soon as i started learning Hebrew. What else is language for but storytelling? And when the very fibers of my being all vibrate with glee at words like “robiderant” and “lobidious,” when a story causes my mind to be constantly running away to make connections both internal and external, when i am confronted at every turn with the delight of ordinary cereal or hunger or travel reimagined into something alien and (literally) breathtaking, well, what else am i supposed to do? Write, of course, and the sooner the better. There’s no time to wait.

This week, i started my Hebrew narrative independent study. i’ve read two chapters in a great classic work—The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter—and am starting to realize what an audacious thing it was to write fiction in a language i hadn’t yet internalized. Ancient Near Eastern fiction has its own literary conventions! Nothing could be more obvious once they’re pointed out, but i had given no thought to this when i was starting my story.

Type-scenes, for example: Mini-stories that occur over and over again, in a certain sort of way, which leads the reader to expect how things will play out. We do this on a larger scale, repeating whole stories with wide variation (orphan-with-destiny, for example). Biblical type-scenes are smaller-scale, like the elements of the hero’s journey. But where the hero’s journey type-scenes are just templates (inciting-event, threshold-guardian, return-with-the-elixir), biblical type-scenes are very specific (meeting-one’s-future-betrothed-by-a-well, annunciation-of-the-hero’s-birth-to-his-barren-mother, epiphany-in-a-field), and every detail matters. The brilliance, of course, is in the many ways one can vary the convention to highlight or suggest or surprise or subvert. And now my mind runs away again, and i must run to catch it. What are the type-scenes in the Budge-Nuzzard? What about in its literary progenitor, Lovecraft? Can i use these type-scenes in my own story? Can i make them Hebraic? Can i identify any Hebrew type-scenes in the Budge-Nuzzard? Are there any ancient type-scenes which will serve my story, and can i make them nuzzardous?

And dialogue! Hebrew narrative, it turns out, is dominated by dialogue. The characters discover and reveal themselves through what they say, how they say it, what they avoid saying, how they spin and how they lie. This isn’t particular to Hebrew narrative, either; read any good literary novel in English and you’ll find the same thing: Subtext. Hebrew authors don’t tell you what people are thinking; they let their characters absolve or hang themselves without interference, and they employ quite a bit of subtlety and ambiguity in the process. This is a thing i want to work on in general, in Hebrew and English. One particular thing i neglected to consider in Hebrew is how to introduce my characters through dialogue. The first words out of their mouths should tell the reader something about them. What impressions do my readers have of Yaunsi, or of Smithers/Cheresh? What sort of men are they? Are these impressions what i intended? Do my introductions lead me, and my readers, further into the story, or will i have to work against these impressions, or even contradict them, as i develop my characters? What about expressing emotions and attitudes and bearing? What about speech patterns? Can i draw distinctions, deepen sympathy or reservations, heighten tension, by contrasting the way my characters speak to one another and to themselves? These are all things Hebrew authors do. Again, we expect this in English, but it does look different in Hebrew, and i had given it no thought before this week.

A week in, and i am already thinking of whether i should start over from scratch—a thought both exciting, because of what i am learning that i could apply, and frustrating, because i want to get on with the story and explore what happens next. And i haven’t even started the second week’s reading yet.

One of my goals for this semester is to develop a more authentically Hebraic writing voice. And one of the things i hear consistently around the Rabbit Room is that revision is not a threat to be feared but a friend to embrace.

i wonder what Yaunsi and i will be like when we’re finished. We might both need a little revision.