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Dear Yulegoat

Posted on 2014.10.17 at 20:59
Ancient Egyptian Religion - Ma'at

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.

Ma'at is so fundamental to the Ancient Egyptian view of life - order, and the way the world was created to be, and justice, but also something that must be constantly created; something too that the gods gave man, and man returns to them in offerings, a partnership to support each other in the battle against disorder and non-existence, in which the gods created the world, and mankind gives it purpose and significance through their experience of the gods. There isn't much to go on, story wise, for all that she was a figure of worship and not just an abstraction, but she's always been one of my favourite figures.

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 ... 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 should feel free to indulge you imagination.

Chinese Mythology - Cháng'é, Ch'ing-nü | Qing Nü

I'd really like something dealing with Chang E's rise to the moon, or her life there: the loss of mortality, immortality gazing down on a beautiful but transient world, the loneliness of the cold, white moon. For Ch'ing-nü, something about the beauty of frost, delicate and fragile yet deadly, ushering in the killing cold of winter even as it provides a longed for respite from summer’s heat. (I would be very happy with fic about the two of them, rivals in elegance in an empty world, but I would also be happy with a story about just one or the other.)

For Cháng'é, there's the doomed beauty of the transient world below, or the beauty that comes from constant change and loss. Then, purely as a matter of imagery, I love what can be done with the moon, all frost and white jade. There's its associations with beauty but also with coldness - both perfection and otherworldliness, something to be admired but not touched.

Or you could slash her with Ch'ing Nü (see below).

Or there's the contrast between mortality and immortality - I'm really not a fan of 'oh, naturally being mortal is really ever so much better' and if immortality were an option I'd be signing up for it right now, but it isn't, and since mortality is our common lot, immortality is a good mirror in which to examine it. In other words, I'm not looking for a reassuring story about how dying is just great and immortality is obviously a punishment, but any other interpretation would be wonderful and eagerly welcomed.

For a goddess of frost and snow, the colour association for Ch'ing-nü seems quite unclear. Is she the Dark Maid, the Blue Lady, the Green Girl or the Grey Woman? A case could be made for any of them. Frost and snow are ambiguous imagery: symbols of purity and beauty, but also of death and suffering. Mentioned in conjunction with Autumn, Ch'ing-nü shares the ambivalence of the season - the excessive heat of summer is over, and the nip of frost in the air encourages an autumnal bounty of fruit and nuts, but heralds also the hardships and scarcity of winter. Or, of course, there’s this poem of Li Shang-yin's:
First calls of the migrant geese, no more cicadas.
South of this hundred-foot tower the water runs straight to the sky.
The Dark maid and the White Beauty endure the cold together,
Rivals in elegance amid the frost on the moon.
Li Shang-Yin, trans A.C. Graham

As soon as the migrant wild geese are heard, the cicadas are silent;
The hundred-foot tower overlooks the water that touches the sky.
The Blue Maid and the White Lady both can endure the cold:
The one in the moon, the other in the frost, they compete in beauty.
trans James J.Y. Liu
So, slash with Chang E seems like an excellent idea, or just gen with the two of them together. 

There isn't much I can find about Ch’ing-nü in English, so I’ve gathered together what scraps I could find and listed them here for you:
Painting of Ch'ing-nü and Chang E, scroll down for short English description and notes.
Poem by Du Fu, scroll down fro Autumn Fields No. 4, and accompanying note.
Yang Yi's poem on the peach tree, and accompanying description in The Literary Works of Ou-yang Hsui (1007-72) by Ronald C. Egan (If you can't access Google Books, the relevant line is translated as "The dark maid of nine-autumn enhances the flavour with frost", and Egan adds "The dark maid (‘ch'ing-nü') of line five is the frost goddess, and ‘nine-autumn' alludes to the ninety days of that season."
Wucai cup inscribed with a poem by Luoyin
Poem by Hanshan, scroll down for No. 115 and accompanying note.
The Huainanzi, trans Major, Queen, Meyer & Roth. Enter ‘Gray Woman' in the internal search box on the upper right. (Check out notes 33 and 34 at the bottom of the page, too.)
Poem by Qian Qianyi

As I said in my prompt, I would love the two of them together, but I'd also love them separately, so you have my explicit permission to treat the matching on this fandom as 'or' rather than 'and' if you want to. For that matter, if now wish you'd matched with someone asking for different characters, here's the prompt I give for Māzǔ last time I asked for her, if you want to write about her instead: something about the seductive power of the sea and the grey savagery of its storms, or the loneliness and desperate hope of those who wait on shore and the fitful presence of the divine that lets her save her brothers (or, if you prefer, that leads to her death and apotheosis) - the intervention of the supernatural in daily life, the moment when one person on shore had, through longing, prayer, meditation, desperation or just luck, the power to save others. How might it feel to step outside nature like that, and what might the potential cost be?

The Prydwen Sails Again

What I want is the ship, and the broken seas, and Caer Siddi. The glory of youth and strength, and the promise of its return, always just out of reach, but the quest never abandoned.

And before the door of hell
         lamps burned.

Preiddeu Annwn, trans Sarah Higley

So, something that's very probably the land of the dead, from which a youthful Arthur returned defeated, with only seven men remaining. The elegiac tone of the song (and, alright, my preference for stories about the other world, and also for stories about confronting the inevitability of loss and death) makes me take this as being at the end of his life, the second time he sails for the other world, after the final battle. Which may traditionally have been across a lake etc, but after all Arthurian legends have been being reshaped since they were first created, and if Arthur is supposed to return one day, it seems reasonable to suppose he might have to win his way to the cauldron to do so. Is the singer's loved one dead or dying alongside his lord, and she determined to follow after? Does Arthur recall his first attempt, in pride of youth, and the failure that prefigured his ultimate fall? But mostly what I'm looking for is something, anything, with the other world, and, well, as I said in my prompt: the ship of Summer's pride, and the broken seas, and Caer Siddi itself.

The Song
The Lyrics
Preiddeu Annwn, because it seems appropriate.

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.

Every year I point out that if you're now regretting whatever we matched on, this would be a good alternate possibility, although this year in fact some of my other request are also easy to pick up. (Although it's more obvious what they are, and how you might go about researching them, so if this is what we matched on, please excuse me a minute while I attempt to interest other people in this excellent fandom.) 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, gender queer, 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.

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.

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 manner of man was Ja'far, and did he live always with the knowledge he might fall, or was it an unthinkable betrayal?

Before we get to Ja'far, consider 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 lord. 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?

None of which is to say you should include Hârûn in person, unless you want to. It's just I'm not sure how else to explain what interests me about Ja'far's character except by reference to him, but he definitely doesn't need to appear himself. 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). What sort of man is he, and does he know or guess what end he may find?

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 also 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 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, you'll need to include other reasons for its hotness than its incestuousness.

In General</u>

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.

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.

(One note for Strange Tales: 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 huge, obvious point of it, but I'd really prefer it if you didn't make an obvious point of keeping them that young.

Also, for several fandoms - I've made some vague attempt to balance consistency with AO3's spellings and commonly found spellings. Do not feel you need to follow my example! Use whatever romanisation seems good to you.

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