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Usage Note on God / The God


Update on The Great Galavar

A number of my readers have pointed out to me that it's a bit jarring that characters in The Great Galavar (and elsewhere) sometimes refer to Sourros as "God" and other times "the God."

At issue here is the quirky convention that in English we typically use that word as a name when in fact it is more appropriately a title (and is still used in that sense elsewhere). In the case of a name no article is necessary, any more than we would call our friends "the Dave" or "the Susie." But in the case of a title an article is almost always necessary.

We see this in other constructions: All lowercase instances of god are preceded by an article, as are all instances (upper and lowercase) of Goddess. And in every case it seems just as awkward to omit the article as it does to include it with God.

For example: "Dave prayed to Goddess for guidance." Or: "Susie turned to god for help." Odds are that you'd find both of those sentences more natural if they had an article: "Dave prayed to the Goddess for guidance." And: "Susie turned to a god for help."

In The Curious Tale, neither Christian convention nor English usage is ordinarily allowed to supersede Relancii cultural realism. On that basis, you should not be surprised when a given culture does or does not include an article in the various possible scenarios. Relance has three known major deities: one who is usually considered male (Sourros), and two who are usually considered female (Derishos and Sulvajos). Some Relancii people will refer to Sourros as "God," and others as "the God," just as some will refer to Derishos (or Sulvajos) as "Goddess" and others "the Goddess."

So far so good. What makes matters a lot more complicated is that sometimes the translation of phrasings from their original Relancii tongue into English seizes upon recognizable English conventions and idioms for the purpose of impact or clarity. I like readers to think of the works of The Curious Tale as translations, and I write them as such. In that spirit, sometimes it happens that I leverage something from English to have a more resonant affect on readers—something that doesn't necessarily make as much sense outside of English.

It's a matter of "translating for intent" versus "translating for accuracy." A fine example is the opening sentence of The Great Galavar: "Two robed figures descended down an endless stair, at the end of which awaited God."

That particular usage is perfectly in line with the English quirk of using the title of God as a name. Do the Galans indeed have their own version of this English quirk and thus refer to their deity by his title as though it were a name, then? In other words: Do they call Sourros "God" and not "the God"?

Not necessarily. In The Curious Tale you have to infer when to take a construction literally, and when not. I know that this significantly increases the reading comprehension difficulty of my work, which isn't ideal, but I do it anyway because, at least on this one count, I think the benefit of a richer work outweighs the detriment of a less accessible work.

I built that opening sentence the way I did because if I had used another construction—"…at the end of which awaited the God" or "…at the end of which awaited a god"—then the sentence would not have had as strong an impact. Since it was the opening sentence of the whole story, I wanted a very strong impact. So it's as I said: That sentence is a case of translating for intent.

My intent with the opening sentence of the story was (among other things) to, as best as possible, invoke the dread and power of a deity—of Sourros. Because such conceptions are already heavily developed and commonplace in the god-fearing Christian tradition, it made sense to go with "God" here rather than with any alternative.

This "translating for intent" is ultimately—(but not usually directly; more on that in a moment)—why you'll see inconsistent usages of the article preceding the words God and Goddess throughout The Curious Tale: On one level—the level of continuity—yes, a given culture or person will typically have a consistent style, and you should rightly expect consistency. On another level—the level of art—sometimes the overall impact of a phrase or a scene overrules the argument for consistency.

And the problem here is that I can't just do it all one way or all the other, because what sounds natural to the English-speaker's ear is for the male form to omit the article ("God") and the female form to include it ("the Goddess")…and that inconsistency strikes me as an act of patriarchal reinforcement. Regardless of your views on sexism—and I'm well aware that invoking the patriarchy to justify a deliberate grammatical nonstandard usage is going to cause some eyes to roll—my views are important to me and their guidance pervades my writing.

However, in order to get to the point where I can employ nonstandard usages like "the God" and "Goddess," without making it seem awkward, I need to desensitize you to your perception of awkwardness. That means throwing all the permutations at you until, by virtue of exposure, it doesn't seem as awkward anymore. That, more than anything else, is why The Great Galavar to date has such a broad variety of usages.

And if you're interested in the in-story justification for this inconsistency, there are generally two: The default is that it's a translation for intent and does not represent inconsistency on the part of the Relancii characters. The other justification is that, unless you are informed otherwise, you can assume that a given language on Relance is structured and utilized such that it doesn't sound awkward to omit the article sometimes and include it others.

(There is an English-language precedent for this: the USS Enterprise, which is sometimes called "Enterprise" and sometimes "the Enterprise." (In particular, Captain Picard virtually always called it the latter and Captain Archer the former.) In fact this interchangeableness occurs with some regularity when it comes to proper nouns in English…just not, as yet, with the proper noun God, which, after all, is supposed to be a title and is only by quirk of usage pulling double duty as a proper noun.)

I expect and hope that my little desensitization campaign will work, eventually—for all but the irreconcilably stubborn and those few whose brains can't make the switch to a broader conceptual framework. Thus, the mix-ups will continue. Now you know why!

And Now: A Great Galavar Update!

My mouse died on Monday. My computer Joshiba is of course still usable with the onboard trackpad, but with a significantly reduced efficiency. Nearly all tasks are taking longer.

Consequently I've been putting more time into tasks outside the computer world. These sorts of things—cooking, cleaning, getting ahead caught up on chores—are all worthy of my time and I have no regrets about putting time into them. But it's a tradeoff.

I have put a lot of work into The Great Galavar this week. The transcriptions are long since complete. (Actually I finished them a full week ago.) My synoptic read-through of the Season 1 episodes is halfway complete. This read-through is for the purpose of fleshing out the pages about the story synopsis and the cast of characters, and for guiding my planning for Season 2.

I was also going to do an encyclopedic read-through—for the purpose of gathering entries for the encyclopedia and lexicon—but I stopped at Episode 7 and made the decision that the remainder can wait, and that it can be scheduled in the near future as a parallel task that runs slowly in the background of my other commitments, and thus won't delay The Great Galavar the way it otherwise would as a high-priority serial task.

The synoptic read-through, however, is a serial task, and until I complete it I can't proceed with Season 2. That means at least one more week of delay until the Season 2 premiere episode—i.e., the premiere will now be Sunday, November 1 at the earliest.

Because of my nature I tend to dwell on literal descriptions of my status, and I know that can have a negative tint when delays arise. I suppose if I were to put a more positive spin on all of this, it would be that despite the repeated delays I have been giving The Great Galavar more structural attention in the past two weeks than it got in all the rest of this year combined. The work I'm doing to integrate into the website is vital work indeed for the site's early appeal to my nascent audience.

Also, spending more time developing the story—even on the infrastructural side—plainly and simply results in a better story. This synoptic read-through is a great example. I've intended to do it for almost a year now, and it's very satisfying to finally be getting on with it—especially since there's a whole season's worth of episodes to go through, which offers enough length for me to get a good gauge of the story's attributes.

So I do apologize for the delays in the episode schedule. Most of my present audience is pretty forgiving about that stuff, but I recognize that publishing on-time is a matter of professionalism and it's definitely an area I need to work on. I think what I really need to do is not work faster necessarily, but be more conservative about announcing upcoming publication and project completion dates.

Anyhow, a new mouse is on its way, and next weekend the Great Galavar section of the website will be fully operational. That much I could guarantee: I only missed this week's cutoff by a little bit, and if I were willing to do a shitty job I could actually make the cutoff anyway. But as you know "shitty job" isn't typically my modus operandi. =]

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!