Notes Ignota: Part the Second

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Page 14 Chapter the Second: A Boy and His God
Oh, thank goodness. The story has actually started! Hopefully, this note taking lark will settle down after awhile…but not yet! The good news is, that while the novel does keep referencing things, it loops back to the same people, myths, places etc. so later chapters need shorter notes. This first page proper of the story has quite a few though.
•    ‘Carlyle Foster’ – another first name that derives from a surname (a variant spelling of the North of England town that is near the Scottish border). Most likely [later confirmed by the text] a reference to Thomas Carlyle 19th century Scottish philosopher and essayist. Carlyle expounded the great man/hero view of history (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Heroes,_Hero-Worship,_and_The_Heroic_in_History ) At times seen as a liberal, he also later became notable for his reactionary view particularly on slavery https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occasional_Discourse_on_the_Negro_Question The character of Carlyle in the novel seems to be quite unlike Thomas Carlyle in most things other than intellectual curiosity.
•    ‘March the twenty-third was the Feast of St. Turibius, a day on which men honoured their Creator’ – There are several St. Turibius but the one mentioned is probably Turibius of Lima who died on March 23 1606. A Franciscan missionary who notably sided with the indigenous population of Peru (up to a point obviously – he was also trying to convert them to Christianity. The Fansciscans were one of the three major Catholic orders that swept through South America along with Spain’s invading armies. The other two were the Dominicans (aka Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) and the Jesuits. When dragging a pair of teenagers around the churches of Cuzco I differentiated the three orders as Franciscans = Gryffindor, Dominicans = Slytherin and Jesuits = Ravenclaw. Yes, trivialising but it works surprisingly well.
•    ‘Fisher G Gurai’ – note another first name derived from a surname. ‘Fisher’ is a common name in English and in German ‘Fischer’. I note it is a noun from a verb from a noun (fish – to fish – a person who fishes) and we’ll meet other names like that (Bridger, Sniper). Don’t know why.
•    Cousin – My note here says ‘A sensayers title? Like ‘father’ or ‘brother’ for a priest or monk’ This is incorrect but it is explained later in the text.
•    ‘Thisbe’ – a main character, whose name you may recognise from the play within a play “Pyramus and Thisbe” in Shakespeare’s a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. However, the story of frustrated lovers is actually from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the great trio of ancient Roman poets (the others being Virgil and Horace), Ovid notably found himself exiled by Emperor Augustus and ended up living in what is now Romania (the Black Sea port of Constanta has a very statue of him. For extra bonus trivia: the influence of Rome goes beyond statues of poets in Romania, the language is also a Romance language appropriately enough. Later writers influenced by Ovid, relevant to these notes, include Petrarch and Cervantes (and Shakespeare obviously).

Page 15
•    ‘each five centimetres tall’ – approximately two inches and suggestive of the standard 54 mm size of 1:32 scale toy soldier scale (1 inch of toy equals 32 inch of real person). Larger than the small plastic soldiers but smaller than the GIJoe/Action man style.
Page 16
•    ‘Bridger’ – another noun-verb-noun name and surname as first name.
•    ‘Voltaire’ – The pen name of Francois-Marie Arouet. The name is an anagram of Arovet-Li a latinised pun on ’The young Arouet’. In 1700, Voltaire would have been 6, so the learned crowds that Mycroft mentions would have been right to be sceptical and Voltaire probably wasn’t a wordsmith at that point or called ‘Voltaire’ but I’m just being picky. We all get Mycroft’s point. By the end of the century that 1700 presages, the dynasties of Europe would be much more worse for wear than the start including missing a few heads and/or colonies.
•    ‘Thou too, Mycroft Canner?’ – reputedly the last words of Julius Caesar after being stabbed by his former friend Brutus. Widely cited prior to Shakespeare, but the use in the titular play is probably the most famous use of it. Caeser was stabbed March 13 (the ides of March) 44 CE, i.e. 10 days and 2410 years before the setting of the story – which is nice if you like round numbers. Note that Mycroft makes us speak to him using the familiar ‘thou’ perhaps to better match the Latin (although he sticks with it). Thee’s and thou’s are now archaic in English but they lingered on in some dialects e.g. the “tha” in Northern English (increasingly vanishing).
•    ‘How can your servant answer you, good master?’ Mycroft casts himself as the servant and us as his master
Page 17
•    ‘…the priests of Pharaoh when Moses’s snake…” – I assume you all know this one but the biblical story is notable as it implies that Moses’s god was one of many gods but more powerful than the gods of Egypt. Also, in the context of the story, an overt BIBLICAL reference is possibly a tad scandalous given the way people of this era avoid things that suggest ‘cult’ associations.
•    ‘Ockham’ – William of Ockham 1287-1347 was a Franciscan monk (another one!) and logician who lived in Britain in the fourteenth century. Most famous for his principle of parsimony known as Occam’s razor.
•    ’No!’ Spanish punctuation
•    ‘a polylaw’ – explained later in the text
•    ‘a Mason’ The freemasons attempt to date their movement back to many time periods including antiquity. However, the movement really sprang up in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In context, it’s spread through Western Europe and Britain’s North American colonies is contemporaneous with The Enlightenment.
•    ‘Sensayers live for metaphysics’ – Metaphysics is the study of being and what it is to be named after the main topic of the book by Aristotle that followed “The Physics”. By back-formation “meta’ has become a prefix to describe a subject beyond that of another, for example “meta-mathematics” is study of the structure of mathematics. Aristotle is, as you all know, the three of the big trio of Greek philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
•    ‘the nonexistent Latin verb senseo’ – Latin, verbs turned into names and what ’sensayer’ means all appear here.
Page 18
•    ‘Mertice McKay’ – I’ve got nothing, sometimes I guess a name is just a name.
•    Romanova – looks like New Rome [text later confirms this but also looks like Romania.
•    ‘Let us create a new creature’ – which reminds me of Frankenstein aka The New Prometheus by Mary Shelley, which you all know as a central text in the origin of Science Fiction. Written in 1818, it is also a work of the Romantic aesthetic movement in the arts, which was to some extent a reaction against some aspects of the Enlightenment (e.g. Frankenstein as a man whose spirit of natural inquiry dehumanises him). In this case the ‘new creature’ is also a reaction to a social movement and comes in the form of the sensayer – a secular priest-like person. [Yes, I wrote this before Frankenstein makes a less subtle appearance later!]
•    ‘to diagram the derivation’ – ‘to diagram’ is usually applied to the grammar of a sentence than to the derivation of a name but Mycroft has a point.

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27 comments

  1. Cora

    If you’ve studied Latin at some point (4 years of Latin in highschool up to the small Latin certificate) and/or speak Italian, you can read Romanian well enough to get the gist of it.

    My Dad has been to Constanta a few times BTW. I’ll have to ask him if he ever saw the Ovid statue.

    Really enjoying your notes BTW.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      I visited Romania in the 1990s and got some use out of my very poor Spanish (I think ‘where is’ is something like ‘Unde Esta’.

      British tourists were unusual there at that time (not that long after the end of Communism), so people often assumed I was German! I think there had been a Saxon minority ethnic group in Romania until after the war as well.

      I did visit Constanta 🙂

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      • Cora

        Yes, there was a German minority group in Romania, the Transylvanian Saxons who have been living in what is now Romania since the 12th century. Most of them emigrated to Germany in the 1980s and 1990s – Hertha Müller, Nobel Prize winner for Literature, is one of them. A few are still in Romania and in fact the current Romanian president has German roots.

        My Dad has done a lot of business in Romania, starting in 1992, i.e. very shortly after the end of Communism.

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  2. Mark

    Interesting that she starts with the plot strand she develops the least.
    There’s a little mention that Mycroft is no longer a popular name – one of a number of hints that get dropped by our bashful narrator.
    The original Carlyle being a proponent of the Great Man theory is very interesting – I think the book is at least in part discussing that theory or at least populated with characters who turn out to believe it. I think the link is made explicit in a later chapter?

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    • camestrosfelapton

      Yes, there is a future-past person called Thomas Carlyle descended from the original – which was gratifying to see as the original note felt speculative, so having it confirmed suggested that things like names are worth following.

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  3. Andrew M

    Do you know the story about he two Benedictines, the two Dominicans, the two Franciscans and the two Jesuits when the lights went out? (And does this mean that Benedictines are Hufflepuff? Come to think of it, who are Hufflepuff?)

    On another note, my first reaction to ‘Romanova’ is that it was the feminine form of ‘Romanov’, but I’m fairly suer that’s irrelevant.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      I think the Benedictines are Hufflepuff. Easy to assume that with all the fluffy animals that the Franciscsns are Hufflepuff but they did some scary shit.

      I don’t know the story you mentioned but I’m eager to hear it!

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      • Andrew M

        (I think Hagrid was Gryffindor anyway, wasn’t he? And he’s the obvious Franciscan.)

        Two Benedictines, two Dominicans, two Franciscans and two Jesuits were sitting together saying Vespers (which is very improbable when you think about it) when the lights went out.
        The two Benedictines went on saying Vespers.
        The two Dominicans entered into a theological disputation on the nature of light.
        The two Franciscans fell down on their knees and called out to the Lord to send them some light.
        The two Jesuits went out and mended the fuse.

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      • ligne

        if we’re telling Jesuit jokes:

        one day a Franciscan gets caught out by a storm while travelling back to his friary, and takes shelter in an inn, where the family takes great care of him. when he comes to leave, he goes to pay for the room and dinner, but they pointedly refuse — it was an honour to be able to provide hospitality, and they couldn’t possibly charge him for it. once home he discusses it with his community, and they decide to send the innkeepers a beautiful, hand-bound bible.

        soon after a Dominican gets caught out by a storm while travelling back to his priory, and takes shelter in the same inn. same excellent hospitality, same refusal of all payment. once home he discusses it with his community, and they decide to send the innkeepers a delicately carved rosary.

        a few days after that a Jesuit priest gets caught out by another storm while travelling back to his house, and takes shelter in the same inn. same excellent hospitality, same refusal of all payment. once home he talks about it with his community, and they decide to send the innkeepers a delegation of 10 more Jesuits.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. JJ

    Mark-kitteh: There’s a little mention that Mycroft is no longer a popular name – one of a number of hints that get dropped by our bashful narrator.

    I thought that all of the hinting was very heavy-handed. Two-thirds through, at the “Big Reveal”, I was just rolling my eyes and thinking, “Yeah, are you really expecting this to be a big shock and surprise to the reader?” Of course, by that time, I had decided that none of the characters other than Bridger was particularly interesting to me — I just found them all utterly tedious, most especially Mycroft Canner — so whatever the desired effect on the reader was supposed to be, it didn’t have that effect on me. 🙄

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    • camestrosfelapton

      A lot rests on how the reader finds Mycroft. I find him likable, so the author’s reveal feels like a mean trick but he is also a pompous show off and if you find him unlikable then I’d imagine the reveal is ho-hum. But is he who he is? I can’t judge the book without knowing more.
      There are big hints at Frankenstein early on and then that is underscored and pointed at with big flashing lights. So misjudged monster? A new new prometheus? Is this actually a horrible story that will rationalise torture? Or will it be something else?
      Don’t know – I guess I have to read the sequel (ie the actual rest of the book).

      I know it isn’t getting 1 on my ballot even though I am thoroughly ensnared by it.

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      • Contrarius Est

        “I know it isn’t getting 1 on my ballot even though I am thoroughly ensnared by it.”

        Why not?

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      • Mark

        I found Mycroft ok-to-good as a character, and although there was clearly *something* being set up I really didn’t expect the precise thing. I found it very odd, in part because his treatment by the characters who know him properly didn’t support it, but I guess there are plot reasons behind that
        Torture – there’s a mention of its use by the pseudo-Roman emperors iirc. I started to have a theory about how that might fit in to Mycroft – was he deliberately put through an ordeal? – but nothing else later in the text supports that.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Contrarius Est

    I have not yet read the second book — I started the audio version, but could not stand the new narrator, so it has to wait until I have time for eyes-on-the-page reading — but I think folks need to remember the flashback scene where the kids are discussing whether there is something in their lives that they would do absolutely anything to save. If that’s not a hint, I’ll be terribly surprised and disappointed.

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      • Contrarius Est

        ” I may change my mind after I read Seven Surrenders but that’s sort of the issue. ”

        Okay, I can understand the criticism of it being only half a book. I’m still putting it #1 because it’s so brilliant, but I understand your position.

        “And Amazon tells me that Book THREE is out in December! Zoiks!”

        Not to worry. The series is written as two duologies — Mycroft’s story ends with Seven Surrenders.

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      • Cora

        That’s my view of it as well. I probably won’t rank it number 1 on my ballot, but it’s definitely a highly ambitious work and very deerving finalist.

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      • JJ

        If I don’t feel that a book stands well on its own, it usually goes below No Award for me. Especially now that there is (if it passes at Worldcon75, as seems pretty likely) a Best Series award. I’m pretty sure that Too Like The Lightning will be below No Award on my ballot this year (as may one or two other of the Novel finalists as well, which makes me sad; I’d much rather love books than dislike them).

        Ambition isn’t enough for me; a book has to do it well, keep me absorbed, and stick the landing in order to merit “Hugo-worthy” in my judgment. I thought this book was really muddled, and I kept falling asleep while trying to read it — which never happens to me, usually I’m staying up til 2am on a work night to finish books even though I shouldn’t.

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      • Mark

        I’m not sure I’d NA it, but I have to judge it on its own, and it simply didn’t stand alone. I’d contrast it to e.g. Fifth Season or Ancillary Justice, which both had a strong internal plot that was resolved in the first book despite going on to be part of a longer story. TLTL is at the other end of the spectrum. (It may well be that after reading SS I agree that this was the best way to present the story and sell the books – PNH knows what he’s doing after all – but that’s not what I’m judging here)

        On the other hand, Palmer is up for the Campbell as well, and I’m not holding any of that against her there. Also, my feeling for judging the Campbell is that you look for the potential, and although I’ve got some other favourites on the Campbell list I’m going to be thinking very seriously about Palmer.

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      • JJ

        Agreed; my criteria for the Campbell are different than for Best Novel. I didn’t feel that Too Like the Lightning or Infomocracy were Hugo-worthy novels, but I won’t be No Awarding their authors in the Campbell, which is going to be a tough category for me (apart from the author of the religious fanfic).

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      • camestrosfelapton

        Yeah, I can see business reasons for splitting books – particularly as this novel still doesn’t seem to have distribution outside the US. Just at a basic level, the Hugo nomination has got to help.

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