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Dear Yulegoat

Posted on 2015.10.16 at 23:14
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Ancient Egyptian Religion - Ma'at, Imhotep, Set, Thoth

(Please feel free to take this as ‘OR' not "AND" - you don't have to fit all of them in.) Anything at all with Ma'at, whether stories that could have been told about her, or how her presence speaks to her followers. A hymn, or a story made up from fragments, or a story where she hovers always around the edges ... whatever you like. Or something dealing with Imhotep's role as god of science and magic, or with his position as a god who was once a man. Or perhaps one of the less well known stories about Set? Or something about his relationship with his worshippers. Or Thoth/Imhotep, or Thoth&Set (or indeed Thoth/Set), or anything about Thoth and his worshipers, or the scribes under his protection.

[Read More - quite long owing to all the characters and combinations]I've written for this fandom myself with anything from a cult hymn to a philosophical text to a modern story tinged with horror, so you can see I like a very wide range of approaches, and you should feel free to indulge your imagination.

Set

Seth has a number of aspects I find fascinating. He's god of the desert and the margins, of boundaries and liminal places, and not only physical boundaries but theological ones also: a god associated with chaos and disorder, he is nonetheless the adversary of true chaos (as symbolised by Apophis/Apep); a god closely associated with death, he is also noted for his long life and indestructiblity, putting him at the boundary of the transitory and the everlasting; his very threats to good order are in some sense necessary, for complete unity would be a return to the primordial nothingness, and it is only with the advent of duality and potential conflict that anything could exist at all. (I have always liked that he is not only the god of the desert, but also of the desert oases.) Then, too, for all he is Egyptian, he is god of foreigners (and his worship increased markedly as Egypt became more cosmopolitan, with extensive trade links and successful foreign conquests) - one notes that despite being the god of foreigners, Set was held to support Egyptians in battle.

Then there is the imagery potentially associated with him: the red of the desert, the savage storms that sink ships at sea or whip up the desert sands, the enduring grey iron ('the bones of Set').

If you want more specific prompts: you could flesh out the fragmentary Astarte Papyrus, or give me anything at all about Set and Astarte (and Anat, if you like), or Set battling Yamm (or Apophis/Apep). Or expand on that bit in the Pyramid Texts where Thoth as well as Set is said not to mourn Osiris - why? Mostly Thoth seemed to be on Osiris's, or possibly Isis's, side, always offering them aid - was it more complicated than that?

Thuthmose III called himself at times 'Beloved of Set'. What sort of relationship might a mortal man have had with Set? Or, given that Set is in at least some versions portrayed as cunning and intelligent, and is associated both with skilled labour (e.g. ironwork) and with magic, and is also a god set apart from the rest, associated with foreignness and with things out of the normal order: how might he relate to Imhotep?

Imhotep

Pharaohs became gods automatically, but not important gods with lasting and individual characters. Than you have Imhotep, who was not a pharaoh, not supposedly already semi-divine, who nonetheless becomes a god, retaining the interests and character he had as a man. What is it like to become such a god? How did it happen? Was it something to do with how intensely he lived, or his curiosity, or his determination, or what he achieved? (Obviously, I'm not a socio-political explanation of how he really came to worshipped! Admittedly, there are later versions in which he was half divine after all, whether on his mother or his father's side, which could also have potential - someone semi-divine but not in the usual and expected role of king.)

In a way, Imhotep is a god concerned with right order, and the world working correctly: science and religion are the study of the underpinnings of the world, of the way it functions and can be made to keep functioning correctly. Even medicine is, when you think about it, the study of how things can malfunction, and how to make them right again. (It's also an interesting field for a god who was once human: how does he feel about the suffering and death of people who will not, as he did, have a glorious and powerful afterlife awaiting them?)

Or, you know, you could slash him with Thoth. That would work too.

Ma'at

Some of the Ancient Egyptian hymns and, in particular, the lyrics that survive are beautiful; I like, too, the indications of daily life we can recover from so long ago. So how you want to write this is very much up to you: write about Ma'at as an individual goddess, with a personality and history, rather than just a concept; create new hymns to her praise, or invocations to survive her judgement; tell me about the life of the priests at her temple; tell me how she reveals herself to a worshipper, or to someone who had never thought to care about her ...

The concept of ma'at is fundamental to the Ancient Egyptian view of life: ma'at is order, and the way the world was created to be, and justice, but at the same time ma'at must be constantly created. Ma'at was given to mankind by the gods, and is also what man conveys back to them in offerings: man and god acting together in partnership against disorder and non-existence - a battle in which the gods created the world, and mankind gives it purpose and significance through their experience of the gods. Considered as a goddess, there isn't much to go on, story wise, for all that Ma'at was a figure of worship and not merely an abstraction, but all the same she's always been one of my favourites.

Thoth

Thoth who is straight and true (unlike, it must be said, a fair number of his fellow gods). Thoth who invented writing, making him the record keeper who both tracks the passage of time and perhaps also in a sense controls it (it is he who assigns long reigns to favoured kings). Thoth who is master of magic, who knows things secret even from the other gods. Thoth the trusted and impartial judge.

I believe I already mentioned Imhotep/Thoth? Although a gen relationship would also be interesting. What was Imhotep's relationship with Thoth while they were man and god? How did it change when it was god and god? Imhotep's role in life, and Thoth's role under Ra are very similar.

And of course Thoth/Ma'at is canon (or at least, one version of canon). Then there's Thoth's role in maintaining equilibrium (including between good and evil, chaos and order), which makes for an interesting relationship with Set, and there is that fascinating bit in the Pyramid Texts I mentioned above.

Or, if you want to write about Thoth alone, you could tell me about the life a scribe who worships him; how he reveals himself to a worshipper; about his Ptolemaic position as the master magician (e.g. the tale of Setne); or anything about how his job of maintaining equilibrium and order, of upholding ma'at, makes him both a peacemaker and a remorseless executioner.

Other Prompts

I tossed up whether to ask for Any, or for specific gods: on the one hand, I would be happy with any story you wanted to write, for whichever god; on the other, I couldn't think of suitable prompts for all of them, and since I like getting prompts, I try not to request things where I can't provide them. Also, it seemed unfair some gods would get three paragraphs of enthusiastic prompting, and others one sentence, if you might have matched on the one sentence god. But if you feel now you would have preferred to write for one of the other gods, do go ahead and do so. I've provided the best prompts I could come up with below: they aren't anything like as comprehensive as the ones above, but if something catches your eye, feel free to run with it.

Sobek

In a way, Sobek is another liminal figure. He is associated with the wild marshes, which are both areas of pleasure and delight (the dead, for example, are frequently shown hunting in the marshes), and also areas of great danger, what with the lurking crocodiles. As lord of the fishes, he has a somewhat unusual role, the ancient egyptians being less keen on piscine deities than animals and birds. What was his underwater kingdom like?

Then there is his role as Lord of Bakhu, the mountain on which the sky is said to rest, where he dwells in a temple carved of carnelian. (Worldbuilding welcome! Whether for his underwater kingdom or his palace on the horizon.) Bakhu is, of course, also said to be home to Apophis/Apep. What is relationship between Sobek and Apep, or Sobek and Set?

Geb, Nut, Anubis

There might be some interesting possibilities for Geb/Renenutet/Sobek? Or his association with healing (and the grave) might offer a way to link him with Imhotep?

I feel something could be done with Nut as protector of the dead: on the one hand, that's a very positive thing, a nurturing and protective role, giving the dead a safe place in the sky, and food and drink; on the other, it does link her very much with death, and she is after all the sow that eats her piglets, and yes, that is a reference to the sun and stars, but then the dead were sometimes said to become stars… There a mixture of beauty and darkness about Nut that's very attractive.

Anubis as psychopomp? Whether in Ancient Egypt or later. Either something where he is mostly appearing around the edges of the story, or a full-on description of a soul passing from life to death (either based literally on Egyptian accounts of the process, judgement etc, or taking the Egyptian accounts as somewhat metaphorical/symbolic).

Or any other story you want to tell! Truly, I'm easy to please here. If you already have an idea, I will be very happy to read it.




The Arrival - William Timlin

Although this was originally an illustration from the artist's own novel, I'm not at all asking for fic of that story (which I have not, in fact, read, never having come across a copy) - I'm asking for a story based solely on this piece of art. A ship sailing through the skies! A path of birds! The lake with the elegant bridge, and are those towering spires a distant city or a mountain range? And who is the single figure by water's edge?

[See picture]The Arrival, by William Timlin

Link to larger version




Golden Age 1,001 Nights Illustrations - Any

Large and ornate boxes with unknown contents, trees that grow human heads, cities that fly, mysterious spells performed in the wastelands... just tell me what is going on with one or all of these.

[Read More]Obviously all these illustrations were created to match existing stories, and in this case I know perfectly well what they are, but I'm firmly ignoring them and hope you will too. I find these illustrations fascinating because, as soon as you divorce them from their context, they hint at so much, and are so obviously of moments of emotional importance, without supplying any answers of their own. (Of course I don't mind you drawing on the general themes, story types and motifs of the 1,001 Nights, along with whatever folktale elements from elsewhere seem appropriate to the artwork, but if you're writing for say the Virginia Sterrett piece, there's no need to retell, or even be familiar with, The Story of the Blind Man Bâbâ 'Abdallâh.).

Anton Pieck: Youth on horseback
This is a spectacularly creepy image: the twisted tree growing the leering faces; the darkness; those birds, which seem like a dark reflection of the glorious firebirds of Russian myths. Is that the moon he's riding in front of, or his own nimbus? Who is he, and why is he in that forest?

Kay Nielsen: A lady's lover
So, those boxes. Are they coffins? Treasure chests? Something else entirely? Where did the key come from, and how do you end up sneaking around half naked, wrapped in a large red cape (or is it a sheet)?

Viriginia Sterrett: The Story of Baba Abdallah
So, someone is going somewhere. But are the two men travelling together, or has the younger one come upon the older one in the desert? What is going on with the fire and whatever is being dripped into it or heated over it? Is the older man summoning those birds, or sending a message, or performing some spell to open the mountainside and reveal a hidden passage or a mysterious kingdom?

Thomas Mackenzie: 'Tis little good to chase the deeds of magic
What a very resolute figure that rider is. But what is the city among the clouds that he is glaring so fixedly at, and what role do the birds play?

You could write based on any one of these illustrations, or combine two, or three, or all four.




كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة | Kitaab 'alf layla wa-layla | One Thousand and One Nights - جعفر بن یحیی برمکی | Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki

Famous for his power and wealth, and the favour of his Caliph, famed too for his eloquence and liberality, but led suddenly away to death in the midst of all his prosperity by that same Caliph. What sort of man was Ja'far, and did he live always with the knowledge he might fall, or was it an unthinkable betrayal?

[Read More]Before we get to Ja'far, I want to talk for a moment about Hârûn al-Rashîd. He appears within the Nights as the exemplary figure of the supreme ruler: his curiosity and love of learning and the arts, his ready friendship and generosity, his sense of justice, the unparalleled luxury of his court ... and also his cruelty. Often he is shadowed not only by Ja'far but by his executioner also, a reminder of the dark side of absolute power. Perhaps in a sense Ja'far and and Masrûr reflect two sides of their sovereign. In another sense, Hârûn reflects Shahriyâr himself, turning with arbitrary violence on those who should be closest to him, leaving Ja'far dead as Shahriyâr leaves his nameless wives. (I've always been inclined to see an accidental real life reflection also, of Suleiman the Magnificent and Ibrahim Pasha.)

So, what is the relationship between Hârûn and Ja'far, and in particular, what sort of man is Ja'far to live with it? Is he a fatalist, who thinks if he is destined to fall, there is no escape from it, so he should make the most of his life while he has it? Does he trust Hârûn not to turn on him? Does he, famed as he is for his kindness and generosity, see Hârûn's dark side and think it his duty to temper it? Does he take pride in his place and his family, and see everything he does, from serving Hârûn to his legendary generosity, as the duties and obligations of his position, duties that don't include worrying about the future?

Which isn't to say I want you to write about Hârûn, or even that you need mention him explicitly - I just can't think of a better way to explain what interests me about Ja'far's character except by reference to him. But Hârûn definitely doesn't need to appear in the story: Ja'far being introspective in a courtyard! Ja'far with some other lover, or with his family! Ja'far with some of Hârûn's other companions - the poets and the singers (this would be fascinating). Ja'far helping someone out! (Think of the stories later, where those whom he helped continue to mourn him despite the risk, e.g. Ja'far and the Bean Seller.) Ja'far going about his duties as vizier (it's easy to forget at times he wasn't just a boon companion). Backstory about Ja'far as a young man! I just want to know what sort of person you see Ja'far as being.

If you do want to include Hârûn in your story, I'm inclined to slash him with Ja'far myself, if you want to go that way, but any other close and longstanding relationship would be just as interesting, if you prefer. If you want 'Abbâsa in some sort of triangle with the two of them, that's fine,* if you'd prefer not to, that is more than fine - even within the Nights, there are various different accounts of what leads to his death, and envy of his wealth and fame works perfectly well - Hârûn wouldn't be the first or the last ruler turn on his friends for just that reason.

(I do prefer competent characters, so if you do want to include the whole three apples story, I'd be happier with a reading that accepts there was no practical way for him to solve the mystery, other than trusting to god, rather than focussing on him failing to do anything useful.)

* Incest isn't a kink of mine, so I'm unlikely to find it hot for its own sake, but it isn't a squick either, so if you want a proper triangle rather than a V, it's a perfectly reasonable reading, and I shan't be offended by it. Just, if you mean to make it hot rather than (or as well as) messed up, it's more likely to work for me if you include other reasons for its hotness as well as its incestuousness.




The Reluctant Widow - Georgette Heyer - Francis Cheviot

More Francis Cheviot! Going to his tailor, playing cards, spying, seducing French agents … anything at all.

[Read More]I was amazed and saddened when I realised there were people who didn’t like Francis. How could you not? (I mean, as a reader. I can quite see why a number of people in the book might dislike him rather a lot.) But he’s one of my favourite character types: you have the surface appearance, and you have the reality, and the two are quite different, and yet still part of a seamless whole, so that you can’t quite tell what is acting alone, and what is acting based on truth, or acting that deceives only by showing the truth at an angle.1 You have the ruthlessness; the competence; the principle2; the sense of humour (you won’t convince me he doesn’t take a good deal of satirical pleasure in many of his interactions in the book); the cultivation of his appearance and behaviour into almost an art form, at least in part for his own private amusement.

What is his life like? Did he really get involved in recovering the stolen memorandum only out of self-interest, because he didn’t want to go down with his father, or was he merely not mentioning he has some sort of intelligence job (he does after all say he comes to hear many things he shouldn't)? Or is he involved with something else dangerous? It seems unlikely that even the most efficient and cold-blooded of men would spring quite so quickly to calmly and competently executing a close friend, with no training or experience. (Though if he did, that would be interesting to read too.) How does he normally spend his time - how much on fashion and socialising, on cards, on associating with attractive young men of good family? Who are his friends, and how much of him do they know? How does his world look, seen through his eyes?

(I see Louis de Castres was nominated too. I didn’t ask for him, because there are so many things I’d like to know just about Francis Cheviot, but if you want to write him, please do. Maybe Cheviot/de Castres back in happier times, before the whole spying for Napoleon bit, or when Francis comes to suspect him (if indeed he didn’t set out to deepen their acquaintance because he already suspected). To what extent does he kill Louis to avoid a scandal (undesirable to both himself personally and to England), and to what extent does he consider it a better death than arrest, disgrace and execution? Or even something from Louis’ point of view, both what he thinks of Francis, and what he thinks of England.)


1 If he is as high stakes a gambler as John claims, it should be obvious he can’t be the mess of nerves he presents himself as, but John takes it merely as more evidence of his frippery, worthless nature. Likewise, his tendency to comment on the appropriateness of his own behaviour undercuts any suggestion he really is overcome by any emotion at all, including fear or distress, but again, somehow this makes him that much easier to dismiss - even his claims of nervous prostration aren’t to be taken seriously. Yet it rarely occurs to anyone to wonder what he’s really like, if what you see isn’t true.

2 Though what exactly it is he believes would be interesting to know - he denies patriotism, but is he telling the truth? If he is in his way a patriot, is even that partially an act - a pose he considers elegant and appropriate to live up to in his private life, as he publicly lives up to the fine points of fashion? Or is truly only self interest, as he says?




Liáo zhâi zhì yì | Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio - Pú Sônglíng - Any

I'm interested to see whatever you choose to make of this. Retell one of Pu Songling's stories or tell one of your own. Play around with language and allusions or concentrate on plot or on character. You could do something with the ever present fox spirits - they're viewed in such a range of ways, from meriting death through to the ambivalence of stories such as Cut Sleeve to admirable heroines (e.g. in Lotus Fragrance). Or you could do something with the relation of dreams to reality, or the extent to which stories are a type of dream. If you want to stick to a single story, you could look at Shican and Huang's relationship in Cut Sleeve - there's a lot of emotional ground at the end of that story the remains unexamined. Make your language as densely allusive or as simple as you please, your tone as light or as dramatic as you want. Gen, slash, het; light-hearted, bitingly satirical, restrained or sly or melancholy ... anything that strikes your fancy.

[Read More]Liaozhai is a collection of short tales of the bizarre, the supernatural and the out-of-place; they're playful, occasionally satirical, boundlessly interested in the world and at times melancholy. It has something for everyone: canon gen, het, slash, poly, gender swap, genderqueer, platonic friendship ... well, alright, it doesn't actually have canon femslash, but there are plenty of relationships you could take in that direction.  The original is a masterpiece of classical (as opposed to vernacular) Chinese, both elegant and difficult. English translations generally don't attempt to reproduce the style and are content to be simple and straightforward - which happily licenses you to write in whatever style you prefer. 

You can approach many of the tales purely as ghost stories or horror stories, and several modern writers and filmmakers have done so, but that's by no means the only approach you can take. A number of the tales play with the line between dream and reality, sometimes to comment on the nature of fiction itself, other times from a religious perspective from which reality itself is a kind of dream. Some tales are about obsession (by no means always sexual), and thus by extension about what counts as valuable and whether it's worth suffering or dying for. Other tales could readily be made into fascinating character studies. The mood can be melancholy or light-hearted, serious or satirical.

I will be delighted with fic based on any tale at all, or a new story in the style of the collection, but if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and unsure of where to start, I’ve included below a few suggestions of tales fitting different things you might want to write. These are only meant to be helpful! If you already have some other idea, that is what I want to read about. These are only meant to provide a starting place if you’d like one. [I will try to find time to scan the example stories I mention in the next few days, and put up links to them.]

World as Illusion: There are hints of this in many of the tales, but if you want ones where it’s a particular theme, try Flowers of Illusion (aka Taoist Miracles) or The Painted Wall; also, at least by implication, Friendship Beyond the Grave and Twenty Years a Dream.

Fox Spirits: These turn up in many of the tales, sometimes as admirable figures, such as in Grace and Pine (aka Miss Chiao-No) and Lotus Fragrance, sometimes more ambiguous and dangerous, as in The Laughing Girl and Cut-Sleeve, sometimes as evil creatures to be killed with impunity, as in BirdFox Enchantment and The Merchant's Son|The Trader's Son (although only in the last is there no trace of sympathy at all for the foxes).

Other notes: Bird is particularly interesting for its family dynamics, both Bird's relationship with her abusive mother and sister and her subsequent treatment of her son. The son in The Merchant's Son|The Trader's Son shows something of the same cruelty, though there it's treated as resourceful and praiseworthy. The most vivid individual characters are probably in Cut-Sleeve and Lotus Fragrance.

Gen: Flowers of Illusion|Taoist Miracles and Friendship Beyond the Grave are themselves gen. The Merchant's Son|The Trader's SonGrace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No and Bird all have important gen elements.

Het: You could try Fox EnchantmentLotus FragranceThe Laughing GirlThe Painted Wall or Twenty Years a Dream.

Slash: Cut-Sleeve - canon slash. And definitely an opportunity here to flesh out the characters: this is, after all, a story in which the protagonist has a conversation which could be summed up as 'Dearest cousin-in-law! What fond memories I have of our affair in my past life - the one where you consumed my Yang until I fell sick and died. Which reminds me, there's this official who's bothering me - I was thinking, maybe you could go seduce and kill him. What do you mean, you don't want to?' Both Friendship Beyond the Grave and Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No have subtext. A good bet for femslash subtext would be Lotus Fragrance.

Poly: Lotus Fragrance again, and if you want to read the subtext that way, Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No.

Friendship: Try Friendship Beyond the Grave (m/m friendship), Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No (m/m and m/f friendship) or Lotus Fragrance (f/f friendship).

Penguin Classics has a selected translation by John Minford. A much earlier translation by Herbert Giles is available online, but keep in mind it’s from 1880 and is heavily bowdlerised. There's also the recent six volume complete translation by Sondergard. Judith T. Zeitlin translates a number of tales of particular interest in Historian of the Strange (which I very much recommend).

You may, depending where you are, be able to read a couple of pages on Google books about The Painted Wall, a small selection of stories translated by Arthur Zhu in The Painted Skin, Lotus Fragrance and Grace & Pine. Elsewhere there's a discussion of Twenty Years a Dream, and of Grace and Pine among others in an article about scholar's studios. If you belong to a library with access to Literature Online, I think you may be able to get e versions of a number of tales, possibly in the Minford translation.

(One note: where the ages of various characters are historically appropriate but distressingly young by current standards, I would have no objection at all if you, say, discreetly age up fourteen year olds, or failing that at least treat them as adults within their own cultural context, rather than dwelling on their extreme youth. Physically sixteen or above would be great, and preferably mentally older than that - after all, even young foxes may well be centuries old if they can take human form, and a ghost who died in her teens may have been hanging around being a ghost for some time. Not that you need to make a point of ageing them up, but I'd really prefer it if you didn't make an obvious point of keeping them that young.)




In General

I really would prefer you to write the best story you can, and one you're happy with, rather than trying unsuccessfully to do something that doesn't suit you to fit what I asked for. I'm most interested in what you, dear writer, make of the source material.

[Read More]Things I like (provided only as indicative of my taste, not in any way as particular requirements of your story): established relationships, clever and competent characters, witty banter, slash (incl. femslash), political intrigue, moral ambiguity, apparently simple conversations with a great deal going on under the surface, angst if done with restraint, metaphor, clever use of literary allusions, relationships where each party things the other has all the power. Fierce loyalty (the tear the world apart for you variety, not the sit here passively putting up with anything variety), complicated love/hate relationships with lots of backstory, unflappable characters, arrogance if the party concerned has the requisite ability to back it up, committed partnerships between people who see the world at the same angle (even if they aren't always on the same side) ... 

Things I’d prefer you avoided: I’m not terribly keen on stories focussed on pregnancy or children, humiliation, or stories told in the 2nd person, and I do have something of an embarrassment squick. Oh all right, I also don't tend to like issuefic, but I'm not sure that's something people generally set out to write - one person's issuefic is another's searingly honest portrayal.

(For several fandoms - I've made some vague attempt to balance consistency with AO3's spellings with what are the most commonly found spellings. Do not feel you need to follow my example! Use whatever romanisation seems good to you.)


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