The Word of the Day today is Thaumaturgy. I discovered this word today while reading Alice Munro’s Runaway (great book, by the way):
At college she had mentioned how her father had explained to her what thaumaturgy meant, when she ran across the word at the age of twelve or thirteen.
According to Merriam-Webster, thaumaturgy means “the performance of miracles.”
This is how H.G. Wells used the word in his short story The Man Who Could Work Miracles:
There were astonishing changes. The small hours found Mr. Maydig and Mr. Fotheringay careering across the chilly market square under the still moon, in a sort of ecstasy of thaumaturgy, Mr. Maydig all flap and gesture, Mr. Fotheringay short and bristling, and no longer abashed at his greatness.
And if I were forced to use the word in a sentence, I might conjure up something like:
On a bustling Friday afternoon, the wandering monk walked into the town square, and to everyone’s astonishment, miraculously transformed the water in the big fountain into Shasta Orange Soda, an unequivocal demonstration of thaumaturgy.
The Word of the Day this summer is Augean. According to Merriam-Websters, Augean means “extremely formidable or difficult and occasionally distasteful”, as in an Augean task.
The reason Augean means what it does should become clear once we learn about the fifth labor of Hercules.
If you’re not familiar with the story of the twelve labors of Hercules, I’ll outline it briefly for you now. Hera (wife of Zeus) wished to make life difficult for poor old Hercules, so she caused him to go insane. While he was out of his mind, he killed his wife and children. When he came to his senses, he asked Apollo what he she do to atone for the murders he committed. Apollo said that he should serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years. Eurystheus proposed twelve labors that Hercules must perform to absolve himself of his sins.
Well, I won’t bore you with all the twelve labors. The fifth labor, however, is in what we’re particularly interested. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to clean the stables of King Augeas (hence Augean). King Augeas was very wealthy and owned a great many herds of cows, goats, horses, and sheep. So cleaning out the stables would take a, excuse the pun, Herculean effort. Hercules proposed a bet to King Augeas. If Hercules could clean the stables in one day, then Augeas would give Hercules one tenth of his cattle herds.
Well, my money is on Hercules, of course! Hercules diverted two rivers, which then flowed into the stables and cleaned out all the dung, much to King Augeas surprise.
In the end, Augeas reneged on the bet and the matter had to be taken up in court.
And that is how the word Augean came into existence!
So, I recently finished reading The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer. I rather enjoyed this book. It was well written, and the character of Dr. Fu-Manchu is intriguing. It isn’t any wonder he has infiltrated our popular culture.
The chapters of the book were originally serialized short stories that were first published in The Story-Teller (1912-1913) and then in Collier’s Weekly (1913). Rohmer turned those stories into the first Fu-Manchu novel. Many more were to follow. They became wildly popular, and Rohmer was able to make a nice living off the sales of his books.
Dr. Fu-Manchu employs his deep, arcane knowledge of chemistry, plants, insects, and animals, and even hypnotism to assassinate key figures in the British government that are trying to undermine the growing power of China. In the book, he has found temporary residence in London, and two British men, Nayland Smith of the Scotland Yard, and his friend Dr. Petrie, are fast on his heels.
At any rate, enjoy my favorite quotes from the book!
No one spoke for a moment, and in the silence I could hear the whispering of the Thames outside–of the Thames which had so many strange secrets to tell, and now was burdened with another.
“Love in the East,” he had said, “is like the conjurer’s mango-tree; it is born, grows and flowers at the touch of a hand.”
There are few states, I suppose, which exact so severe a toll from one’s nervous system as the anticipation of calamity.
There was a world, I learned, upon the confines of which I stood, a world whose very existence hitherto had been unsuspected. Not the least of the mysteries which peeped from the darkness was the mystery of the heart of Karamanèh. I sought to forget her. I sought to remember her. Indeed, in the latter task I found one more congenial, yet, in the direction and extent of the ideas which it engendered, one that led me to a precipice.
And I was a medical man, who sought to build up a family practice!—who, in short, a very little time ago, had thought himself past the hot follies of youth and entered upon that staid phase of life wherein the daily problems of the medical profession hold absolute sway and such seductive follies as dark eyes and red lips find no place—are excluded!
“Dr. Fu-Manchu,” replied the former, “was the ultimate expression of Chinese cunning; a phenomenon such as occurs but once in many generations. He was a superman of incredible genius, who, had he willed, could have revolutionized science. There is a superstition in some parts of China according to which, under certain peculiar conditions (one of which is proximity to a deserted burial-ground) an evil spirit of incredible age may enter into the body of a new-born infant. All my efforts thus far have not availed me to trace the genealogy of the man call Dr. Fu-Manchu. Even Karamanèh cannot help me in this. But I have sometimes thought that he was a member of a certain very old Kiangsu family—and that the peculiar conditions I have mentioned prevailed at his birth!”
That she valued human life but little was no matter for wonder. Her nationality—her history—furnished adequate excuse for an attitude not condonable in a European equally cultured.
Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green: invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect . . .
Dr. Fu-Manchu! Fu-Manchu as Smith had described him to me on that night which now seemed so remotely distant—the night upon which I had learned of the existence of the wonderful and evil being born of that secret quickening which stirred in the womb of the yellow races.
My child lovingly fashioned a silhouette
from dream fragments and broken trances,
and wistful moments on a park bench tottering,
and behind bars crookedly drawn by rain drops
winding down an upper story window.
And you walked into it.
You may be wondering how Janus, January and Mystery Science Theater 3000 are connected. And what or who is Janus, anyway? Join me, please, on this fascinating journey.
In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of doorways, passageways, journeys, and new beginnings. He had two faces, one that looked into the past, and one that looked into the future. In terms of a doorway, he watched over either side of the door. The month of January is derived from the god Janus, as January marks the beginning of the new year.
Bryant Haliday was an American actor of no particular consequence and has largely been lost to history. His brief sojourn as a film actor was confined to horror movies, of which he had an abiding interest, produced by Richard Gordon. Two of these films were Devil Doll and The Projected Man–films that would also have been lost to history, because they were absolutely awful, had they not been mercilessly lambasted by the crew of the Satellite of Love: namely, Michael J. Nelson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
However, Bryant Haliday did co-found Janus Films, a film distribution company which was largely responsible for introducing the work of such great directors as Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa to the West.
Bryant Haliday “starred” in the movie Devil Doll as The Great Vorelli, an evil ventriloquist and hypnotist. The movie also “starred” William Sylvester, who played a minor role as Heywood Floyd in 2001: A Space Odyssey
In the 8th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Michael Nelson and the bots decided to riff Devil Doll, and now the circle of life is complete!
I’m currently reading The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer. I’m really enjoying it. The character of Dr. Fu-Manchu is fascinating. I’ll blog about it later. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, however, I’d like to briefly mention a couple of words used in the book.
A dacoit is essentially an Indian bandit. Dr. Fu-Manchu employs many dacoits for his nefarious purposes. Here is a quote from the book using the word:
You remember the cry in the back lane? It suggested something to me, and I tested my idea – successfully. It was the cry of a dacoit. Oh, dacoity, though quiescent, is by no means extinct. Fu-Manchu has dacoits in his train, and probably it is one who operates the Zayat Kiss, since it was a dacoit who watched the the window of the study this evening. To such a man an ivy-covered wall is a grand staircase.
Phansigar is another word for Thuggee. A thuggee is also an Indian bandit or assassin. It is also the origin of our word thug. Here is yet another quote from the book:
“The man was a phansigar – a religious strangler. Since Fu-Manchu has dacoits in his service I might have expected that he would have Thugs. A group of these fiends would seem to have fled into Burma; so that the mysterious epidemic in Rangoon was really an outbreak of thuggee – on slightly improved lines!”
I rather enjoyed this book. I recently took an introductory course in conversational French, and that knowledge proved helpful for reading this book. Fleming drops quite a bit of French in it, especially during the scenes where Bond and Le Chiffre are dualing at the Baccarat table. The dealer called out the hands in French, so knowing the French numbers was advantageous.
At any rate, here are some of the, in my opinion, more memorable quotes from the book. Enjoy!
Luck had to be accepted with a shrug or taken advantage of up to the hilt. But it had to be understood and recognized for what it was and not confused with a faulty appreciation of the odds, for, at gambling, the deadly sin is mistaking bad play for bad luck. And luck in all its moods had to be loved and not feared. Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued. But he was honest enough to admit that he had never yet been made to suffer by cards or by women. One day, and he accepted the fact, he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck. When that happened he knew that he too would be branded with the deadly question-mark he recognized so often in others, the promise to pay before you have lost: the acceptance of fallibility.
“People are islands,” she said, “They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.”
“For those two jobs I was awarded a Double O number in the Service. Felt pretty clever and got a reputation for being good and tough. A Double O number in our Service means you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job.”
With most women his manner was a mixture of taciturnity and passion. The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement. He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affair. The conventional parabola – sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness – was to him shameful and hypocritical.
“Torture is a terrible thing,” he was saying as he puffed at a fresh cigarette, “but it is a simple matter for the torturer, particularly when the patient,” he smiled at the word, “is a man. You see, my dear Bond, with a man it is quite unnecessary to indulge in refinements. With this simple instrument, or with almost any other object, one can cause a man as much pain as is possible or necessary. Do not believe what you read in novels or books about war. There is nothing worse. It is not only the immediate agony, but also the thought that your manhood is being gradually destroyed and that at the end, if you will not yield, you will no longer be a man.
Trees and a cool breeze and the damp, pungent odor of summer just begun. Diaphanous noon rays burst here and there through a canopy of green, rustling leaves.
My child skips lightly along a dirt path and wonders at it all. He wonders if he loves life too much. He doesn’t much care. It is only idle curiosity. Right now, he wants to love.
Perhaps he’ll wrap the question in a soft, white virginal cloth and leave it at the philosopher’s doorstep and let it haunt his sleepless nights.
Out there. Just beyond touch, but close enough to see, she sits upon a raft drifting farther out into the broad ocean. Amber moonlight casts her long, undulating shadow upon placid waves lapping on the sandy shore.
I call out to her, but she does not respond. Her eyes mirror the opaque water, its depths all but unknown to me, unperturbed it seems, by my temporal pleading.
Farther and farther still she drifts out to sea. She gazes upon me, her eyes not questioning.
I bow my head for just a moment, and when I look back up, she is gone.
And then there is nothing but a heavy silence, although I can hear myself breath.
Goodbye, B. I loved you so.
The son knelt beside his dying mother. He held her hand and stroked her hair, and tears fell from his face.
A silver necklace hung around her neck with a silver cross, upon which hung a crucified Jesus. She held it tightly, and said, “Save me.” She said it over and over again.
Her son held her right hand, and her left hand held the cross.
When she breathed her last breath and the light went out of her eyes, her son cried, “He will not save you, mother. I will save you. It is your spirit that gave me life. It is your spirit that is divine.”
And her spirit rose from her body into the air, and upwards through the sky, and into space, and into the heavens, and finally she was at the door of her home. But the door was locked and would not open.
In her right hand was a key. She unlocked the door, went inside and laid down to rest, smiling.
Inspired by the song Wings for Marie by Tool