Author’s Commentary, Part II

Last week I began to post the author’s commentary to Beauty of the Lilies; this week I’ll continue it, and next week I will conclude it.

Beauty of the Lilies

Author’s Commentary, Part I

Author’s Commentary on The Beauty of the Lilies

Jediah looked at the Vothnians with the same unruffled calm—the only thing the dreaming emperor really shared with his worldly-wise Chief of State.

It’s surprising, how wide the differences between people can be. And knowing that gulf, you can yet be startled by a one significant similarity.

the star cults

What exactly are the star cults? I don’t know. Neo-paganism centered around stars just sounded like a good false religion for sci-fi.

He did not understand Jediah’s reaction at all, but he had an unshakable conviction that Ruark did—wholly and easily.

Already it’s obvious that the relationship between the brothers is complicated, if not strained. Ruark treats Jediah in a way that is almost adversarial at times. Yet here he plainly understands Jediah better than anyone else in the room.

In late 2010 I began a sequel called Summer Leaves. As Beauty of the Lilies was Jediah’s story, Summer Leaves was Ruark’s. I ran out of inspiration, and I was eager to begin my next novel, so I left the story unfinished. Yet writing those twenty pages helped me define, in my own mind, characters and relationships more deeply. This, the most heavily revised section of Lilies, reflects that.

You can’t smell it on the breeze?

One of the characteristics of painters is a heightened sense of the physical world around them.

What is Admon doing …?

Premier Admon was invented during the writing of Summer Leaves. He was not so much as mentioned in the first version of Lilies.

Rosemary,” he said, “means dew of the sea.”

Ruark nodded firmly. “And it is associated with Aphrodite and Mary.”

Everyone else moved on from the rosemary the second after Jediah mentioned it, but he didn’t.

Ruark’s citing of the shrub’s mythological associations is mocking, but it is accurate. Chesterton once referred to “sea-born Aphrodite”. According to legend, Aphrodite rose from the sea covered with rosemary. More nobly, rosemary is also associated with the Virgin Mary. Supposedly Mary once spread her blue cloak over a rosemary bush covered with white flowers, and the flowers turned blue. It was then called “Rose of Mary”.

Flowers and the legends connected to them are things in which Ruark has no natural interest. His knowledge is clearly gained from Jediah; what other things Ruark learned from Jediah, even if he did not respect them, I leave to your imagination.

Ruark gave Tervath the barest glance and the barest nod.

Ruark’s conceding the point is a small moment meant to show that he is not entirely incorrigible. Only mostly.

Timnah looked back, iron gleaming in his eyes for a moment.

The windows are the eyes to the soul—sometimes even for men like Anyon Timnah.

Note that he addresses Akon as “Chief Akon”. The Chiefs are generally less formal with each other. It is Timnah who most often resorts to using their titles—and usually during some dispute.

Trev raised a hand, looking for one moment like the teacher he once was.

This is the second reference to Trev’s university career. Both are additions to the original story. Trev’s former occupation as a professor is a detail borrowed from Summer Leaves.

And the ship?

It is Jediah, ironically but fittingly, who first points toward the truth.

Jediah continued to draw, like a patient child playing through a long, quiet afternoon.

Inspired by G. K. Chesterton, who liked to use a playing child as an image for high and serious things. In “The Ancient of Days”, it is a picture of God:

A child sits in a sunny place,
Too happy for a smile,
And plays through one long holiday
With balls to roll and pile;
A painted wind-mill by his side
Runs like a merry tune,
But the sails are the four great winds of heaven,
And the balls are the sun and moon.

In Book VIII of The Ballad of the White Horse, Chesterton relates the patient, playing child to King Alfred and his fight to free England:

Through the long infant hours like days
He built one tower in vain–
Piled up small stones to make a town,
And evermore the stones fell down,
And he piled them up again. …

And this was the might of Alfred,
At the ending of the way;
That of such smiters, wise or wild,
He was least distant from the child,
Piling the stones all day.

For Eldred fought like a frank hunter
That killeth and goeth home;
And Mark had fought because all arms
Rang like the name of Rome.

And Colan fought with a double mind,
Moody and madly gay;
But Alfred fought as gravely
As a good child at play.

Tervath began to step toward the door. Instead he stepped toward the emperor.

There are two moments of revelation about Jediah. This is the first.

My pictures are the mirrors I hold up, trying to reflect the wonder.

Jediah’s painting has been treated by the Chiefs as a hobby, a waste, a distraction, an eccentricity. But here we see that all of Jediah’s painting is a long effort to capture a glimpse of God.

The lily is the flower of Easter.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this story was researching the myths that surround lilies, and all that lilies have been symbols of. Since then, the lily has been my favorite flower.

Others say that the lilies had their birth in the second garden, where they sprang from the sweat of holy agony.

As Eden is the first garden, Gethsemane is the second garden. The “holy agony” is that of Jesus Christ, who sweated blood as He struggled with the Father’s will that He die on the Cross.

There is another legend regarding lilies and Christ in Gethsemane. It goes that when Jesus was arrested and led out of the garden, all the flowers bowed their heads to Him—all but the lily. The lily lifted her face to Christ, meaning to comfort Him with her beauty. But when He looked on her, she was ashamed of her pride and blushed. The “red lily” still blushes for that moment when she, like Adam, was proud in a garden.

Tervath looked at Jediah, lost in thought, and he respected him.

Jediah does not get enough respect.

Rukh warships

I determined that all classes of Emprian warships would be named after birds. Rukh is an enormous bird of prey from Arabic folklore.

Why are you at them, Akon?

Considering Lilies years after I finished it, I had to ask the same question: Why are all these Chiefs at the negotiations? This is a stab at justification. Besides, it was fun to write.

And it was under kylvath that Vothnia had executed its Emprian prisoners of war.

As a rule, civilized nations do not execute their prisoners of war; to kill captured enemy soldiers—except under extraordinary circumstances—is cruel even for war. It is ruthlessness like this that explains the standing hostility of men such as Akon and Ruark. To them, Vothnia stands guilty of wrongs she has not paid for.

Vothnia has never executed an Emprian who was not guilty.

For an apparent attempt at being conciliatory, this is awfully provocative.

Ruark stared at the Vothnians, and there was something dangerous in how his dark eyes seemed to grow darker yet.

Ruark can be dangerous. Yes, he can.

It is hard to fool a guileless man.

The central idea of what just happened. Jediah, always on the straight path, could not be baited into old fights.

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