Monday, May 11, 2015

Do we all have our salt? It's important that we should.

  "What is your line, Long John Tong Tyrone?" Terpsichore asked.
  "History," I said, for I am Long John Tong Tyrone, the probably Eurasian peg-leg. "Do we all have our salt? It's important that we should."
  Slowing for our landing at Klepsis Third Port, we came over a little arm of the ocean. The oceans of Klepsis lack salt, and all visitors to the planet must make a token contribution.
  "I don't have any salt," Terpsichore moaned. "I'd forgotten about that requirement."
  "There's a man in the whiskey bar who'll sell you a hectogram of salt for one thousand Klepsis thalers," Gold Coast said with perhaps a touch of cruelty. "You can't leave the ship without making a ritual offering of salt, you know."
  "Oh, oh, I can't afford one thousand thalers," Terpsichore complained. "And I can't afford not to disembark here either. Oh, oh!"
  "I got some, pet," Conchita told her. I thought I'd better bring an extra pack. Here. You have to pour it into the ocean yourself. Good. I bet that makes it a lot saltier. But there isn't any history on Klepsis, Long John Tong Tyrone."
  "Then I'll find some," I said, "or I'll make some."

This is my favorite passage from Chapter 1. I love how compactly it communicates so much. This adventure is a bring-your-own-salt adventure. If you've got no salt, you may as well go home.

Salt is spoken of literally in the story, but it's also surely a metaphor.

Salt indicates experience, worthiness, maybe even a lustiness. Especially in a naval context, these resonances will be present. Familiar to us are phrases like "salty sea dog" and "worth his salt" and, from a different angle, "salt of the earth."

Salt is also a component of the human body, most prominently featured in our blood, sweat, and tears, semen and urine. Salt is an indication of effort and a sign of life. We extrude salt when we work, when we bleed, when we cry, when we procreate. We have so much of it that we cast off excess as waste product.

So, the most lively of us are the saltiest.

Here we get a subtle moment of character development. Terpsichore doesn't have any salt. Conchita has an overabundance, enough for herself and to cover others.

Finally, there's even more to the metaphor. It is a "ritual offering" of salt. This makes the ocean of Klepsis an altar and perhaps sets up the characters as having a priestly role to play on the planet.

You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. - Leviticus 2:13

All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you." - Numbers 18:19

And all of this salt talk is sandwiched between Long John Tong Tyrone's statement that he is looking for history, so that at the end of the section, when he says, "I'll find some or I'll make some," we are inclined to believe him. 


 Some more rambling thoughts on Ch 1: 

 1. I love the opening line, "Remember these things, burn them into your mind, think of them always:" Surely up there among the great Lafferty first lines. The list of things and people that follows is also lovely.

2. It's all very funny, the "tall tale of the peggies" especially. Much of the humor is based on ethnicity, something that Lafferty's generation was perhaps both more comfortable with and more sensitive to. And of course Lafferty had firsthand knowledge of being an "inferior race."
"If they have Irish names, they are Irish altogether," Brannagan laid it down. "Few of the other breeds would be caught dead with an Irish name." 

 3. Ethnicity again. Lafferty wins all awards and passes all tests when it comes to the recent sf clamoring for diversity.

"Of the three peg-legs on the flight from Apateon Planet to Klepsis, one was clearly black, one was probably Gaea-Earth Eurasian, and one plainly Latino; their names were Andrew "Gold Coast" O'Mally, Long John Tong Tyrone, and Conchita O'Brian. Gold Coast and Long John had their left legs missing, Conchita her right. "When are you going to have your leg cut off, Terps?" Conchita asked Terpsichore Callagy. "There's several people getting amputated now down by the ship's handball court. You get a rebate on your passage after you get your leg cut off. You'd better go get it done now."
  "I wasn't going to have my leg cut off at all," Terpsichore said. "I'm very much against the whole idea. It'd hurt."
  "But you already got your name changed to an Irish one," Conchita reminded her. "That hurts more than having a leg cut off."
  "Callagy is my real name," Terpsichore explained. 
 "Nobody's real name is Callagy, Conchita insisted. 

Again, very funny. But the point of reproducing this here is to show off the diversity. 
One was clearly black, 
Andrew "Gold Coast" O'Mally 
Andrew is a manly name. 
"Gold Coast" is likely a reference to Ghana. 
O'Mally is a good bad Irish name. 

One was probably Gaea-Earth Eurasian,
Long John Tong Tyrone
(The "probably" is extra funny considering that this is a description of the narrator himself.)
Long John is a good pirate name. John refers to the graciousness of YHWH.
Tong and its variants is a fairly common Asian and Pacific Island name.
Tyrone is a good bad Irish name.

One plainly Latino,
Conchita O'Brian
Conchita is a Spanish name, either little seashell or little conception, a possible Marian connection, but the seashell connection makes it clear that this one belongs to the sea.
O'Brian is a good bad Irish name. 

Terpsichore Callagy
Terpsichore is a Greek name, one of the Nine Muses, associated with dance and music.
Callagy is a good bad Irish name.

4.There's a lot more to write about Ch 1: the My God What Grapes, the descriptions of pirate affectations, the properties of Klepsis, the "Prince" who recklessly courts death and wins big (also a prince as pauper or outcast prince trope going on there), the meaning and sources of history, the uses and abuses of maps. There really is a LOT packaged into one short chapter, but it is also a breeze to read and the best kind of fun. I'm more than ready to move to Ch 2.

5. I've noted this before on FB, but figured I'd note it again. Lafferty's individual sentences can rarely stand alone. Each is a brick in the building of something greater than itself. With some wonderful exceptions, one Lafferty sentence on its own can often be shrugged off. One Lafferty paragraph on its own must often be marveled at. A Lafferty chapter has a powerful cumulative effect that is greater even than the paragraphs. And one reason that I love the novels more than the stories is that this expanse is allowed to spread itself and build into something much greater than its component parts.


  1. Wonderful saline meditation! (Can't wait to hear your thoughts on wine when you get to chapter four.)

    'There really is a LOT packaged into one short chapter, but it is also a breeze to read and the best kind of fun.' That's how I feel about the whole novel. It seems so richly layered and dense and yet bursting with colourful events, images, ideas - a total page-turner that you can still stop and reflect deeply about.

    I'm going to have to continue to differ with you about your point number 5 above. I think there are many, many, many lone Lafferty sentences that shine completely without context. Indeed, some of them are far better than their immediate and sometimes even greater context. But even so, I don't have to disagree with you about the rest: many times the sentences, plus paragraphs, plus chapters add up to a vast chunk of sustained Laffertian gold that you just can't get from him at the short story level. I'm delighted you're such a champion of his novels, neglected and underappreciated as they are. If you have to slight his sentences to be their defender, I guess I can't complain.

  2. Three more things: two about Lafferty's sentences - I note that you mentioned the opening sentence of this chapter as worthy of being singled out (but, to be fair, you did admit their were exceptions to your rule about his sentences). I also note that when Gaiman was asked not long ago in a podcast what was so special about Lafferty's writing, his very first response was: 'first of all, the sentences'. FWIW.

    Thirdly, with your love of Laffertian gore, I'm surprised you didn't mention this little gem:

    '"The ten second warning! No, no, no. Give me time! I have the money with me. We will land on Klepsis in ten minutes and I can have the debt paid in fifteen. Give me time!" Then the man's head exploded. Well, it exploded all the way down to his waist, and only the lower members were left of him. There was a fine shower of flesh and blood all over us, a thing that was distasteful to all of us third-class passengers.'


  3. Yeah, I won't push "#5" too hard. Paragraphs are made up out of sentences after all.

    Part of my comment is a reflection of trying to tweet the novel. I can pick out isolated sentences, but alone they are often poor representations of the whole or don't quite capture the magic of the entire paragraph that they are a part of.

    So, sure, there are plenty of lovely sentences to be found everywhere in Lafferty's work and many of them can be enjoyed in isolation. But I'd argue that most of them can be enjoyed BEST in the company of their peers, where they were meant to be.

  4. And, yes, you are correct that I love the section that you quoted. I was trying to throw this post together during slow moments at work this morning so I couldn't capture everything, but there's really no excuse for me not mentioning the delicious violence here and in the wonderful card game that was almost a Russian roulette game.

  5. It's just going to get harder and harder to include even half of the juicy layered wonders in each chapter!