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Light from the West
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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56
Fine Art


Dear Sam,

Yes. Guilin will play Faramir now. I remembered he had told me he had done some acting, and he already had a small part in the play--he is playing Shagrat the orc, of all things. When I told him Dûndeloth had agreed to let him play Faramir, he seemed pleasantly surprised after I told him what Nessima had told me. It’s hardly the part he would have chosen—he would have liked to play Saruman, he told me chuckling. But, if Nessima fancied Faramir….

It was a daring move, I know. I don’t even know how good an actor Guilin is. But something tells me he can pull it off. And he can still play Shagrat.

“You are not trying unconsciously to turn him into Faramir, are you?” Dûndeloth asked me that night. I stared at him for a moment in shock, then laughed.

“Of course not,” I said. “I am not trying to turn him into anything or anyone. That would be nearly impossible, even if I wanted to do it, I am afraid. But…perhaps I had some idea of planting a bit of Faramir in him. I’ve thought that when the actors play certain characters exceptionally well, it is because there is a bit of those characters within them. Even when they are bad characters. And I have noticed that they truly enjoy playing those bad characters. I suppose it’s because they have a dark side they must keep hidden from all, and there comes a time when they get tired of concealing it from the rest of the world. Portraying an evil person is a way of enjoying their inner darkness without guilt.”

“Or of trying to expunge it,” Dûndeloth suggested. “Which, I fear, is also impossible. Then again, perhaps it would not be such a good thing if it were possible. There can be no light without the dark.”

I told only Anemone of my plan, and asked her to keep it to herself. I said naught to Nessima of it, deciding to surprise her on opening night. Meanwhile I told Guilin that sending her an occasional little gift would not hurt. Maybe a pretty trifle to set on her shelves, or something.

Now he is doing rather well for himself. Besides the hair formula, which he named after Lady C.—since she was the originator of it—he sells other things as well. His glass-blower friend makes colored beads of glass and crystal and little knick-knacks, and Guilin peddles these for him. He has his own cart and horse now. Sometimes Raven or Northlight rides with him also, and sometimes all of us do. It looks as though we are going on a family-outing, but it is very pleasant to see the countryside, some of which is new to us. Once I heard Guilin telling proudly a customer, “They are my family.”

~*~*~

Raven has a new art-teacher. There is an artist on the Island who is giving art-lessons at Raven’s school once a week. Her name is Findëmaxa…although I doubt it is her real one. It means “soft haired” and we had to laugh about it, in view of the new hair-formula; Northlight said maybe we should have named it after her instead of Lady C.

I have seen a few of her paintings in one of the salons at the Palace. One depicted a fair maiden picking flowers in a garden, another showed two lovers sitting discreetly apart on a bench, their hands barely touching, also in a garden; in still another stood a young mother holding a baby with two older children, a boy and a girl, and a pretty puppy, looking delightedly at the baby in, you guessed it, a garden, and the fourth showed a young girl in a swing, sailing high against a garden backdrop. They were painted very well, certainly, the paintings full of light and soft color. And yet, looking at them, I was at a loss for what to say or think about them. Most Shire-folk would have liked them, I’m sure.

And now she is teaching drawing in Raven’s school. I don’t know what to think of that, either.

Raven has shown some aptitude in drawing. I doubt she’ll ever be a great artist, but I think she could be just as good as Findëmaxa at least. If I were to choose a teacher for her, it would definitely not be Findëmaxa. But it looks as though I am alone in thinking so, for the mothers of the other girls are thrilled that such a famous artist will be teaching their daughters.

We met Findëmaxa the day before she went to give her first lesson. She came to the home of each pupil to “make our acquaintance.” She is pale-haired, very slender and wistful, yet smiles a great deal and seems very fond of exclamation-points. She favors shades of very pale blue, pink, and grey. I would say she is very young; yet she has lived in Middle-Earth.

“What a lovely home you have!” she said as Anemone and I escorted her into the cottage. “So soft and sweet and secluded! I would love to paint it sometime! With both of you in front of it, of course!”

Anemone barely suppressed a grimace. A good many artists have painted our portraits, and a couple of sculptors made images of us in stone. She says it gives her the creeps to see statues of herself. “It looks like another me who has been turned into stone by a sea-monster,” she told me once.

She invited the artist to sit down for tea, and we went back onto the terrace. Anemone went inside to fetch the goodies and Findëmaxa and I sat at the table.

“What a dear, charming creature!” she said, predictably enough. “I thought I should never meet you! And it’s so delightful you have adopted an elfling! The practice of adopting other people’s children is something I’ve always found rather questionable, I’m afraid. One never knows what one may get! But I admire those who do take that step, and throw caution to the winds. Caution is such an oppressive thing! I think it’s wonderful when we liberate our minds and allow ourselves total freedom from the stifling bounds of convention. It’s the mark of a true artist, wouldn’t you say?”

I managed a semi-smiling nod of agreement, although I privately thought that her work seemed hardly that of someone who had liberated herself from the stifling bounds of convention. I feared Anemone might be up to some mischief in the kitchen, the way she was taking her time, then told myself she was probably just taking extra trouble for a guest.

And then she appeared with the silver tray and teapot and some perfectly innocent-looking tea-cakes.

“This is perfection!” Findëmaxa exclaimed as she glanced all about. “So untouched…so pristine…so untarnished! It exudes a wild spirit of eternal childhood and virtue, does it not?”

I always thought so,” Anemone said, looking entirely too innocent once more, and I felt her foot brush up against mine in a way I knew was not accidental. “Iorhael and I certainly thought it last night, when we were…celebrating our love on the beach in the moonlight.”

I moistened my lips with my tongue. I have told her she mustn’t speak of such things to people we don’t know well. Yet somehow I felt no desire to take her to task about it this time.

“Oh, how lovely to stroll on the beach at night!” Findëmaxa breathed. “I’ve never done so myself, but I should like to try it sometime. Although I have decided never to marry, but to embrace chastity as a means of transcending the commonplace.”

She talked a bit more about herself. Her parents still lived in Middle-Earth, she said. But someday, she hoped, they would see the light of day and come here.

“I scarcely realized how filthy Middle-earth was until I came here,” she said. “So often I felt as though I were attempting the impossible, purging the earth of its ugliness through the medium of art. But here…it’s entirely different. One can breathe the sweet air, and all impurities are cleansed like the atmosphere after a great storm.”

The peacock sprang up just then and perched on the rail. I gave him part of my tea-cake. He looked rather disdainfully at our guest. But then, he can look very disdainful indeed. She glanced at him curiously and with faint disapproval. I supposed her belief in transcending the bounds of convention did not apply to animals and birds.

“Umm…may I borrow your…facilities…for a moment?” she said presently, just above a whisper. Anemone smiled most graciously.

“Certainly,” she said as Findëmaxa rose. “Let me show you where it is.”

After our visitor had finally left, Anemone and I just sat silently for a few moments not quite looking at each other.

“So what do you think?” she said finally.

“I don’t know what to think exactly,” I shrugged. “What do YOU think?”

I think she may have gotten an enormous shock in the privy,” Anemone said with a wicked twinkle in her eye. “Did you notice how pale and shaken she looked? I conveniently left a certain book in there while the tea was brewing, opened to a rather detailed illustration. I bet she nearly fainted.”

“You didn’t!” I said, shocked. “Why?”

“I don’t like her,” Anemone said bluntly. “There’s something about her that yanks on my nerves. Have you noticed that for all her blather about the ‘stifling bounds of convention’ and ‘the foulness of the ordinary,’ that all the people in her paintings have exactly the same expression? That their features are virtually identical, and one can scarcely tell the males from the females, save by their clothing? That they seem barely able to touch each other, for fear they might become infected? And this is her idea of art? That is hardly what I would wish our daughters to learn.”

I had to laugh a little, yet I found her distaste for this young lady somehow disturbing.

“I think you are hard on her,” I said. “She is merely very young, and has some absurd notions in her head. She will grow out of them eventually. I agree that she is scarcely the teacher I would choose for Raven; however, perhaps she could just teach the basics of drawing, and we could urge her to get beyond all that. You are a skillful artist yourself, for all you never had a lesson. You could take up where Findëmaxa left off, and impart the truth to her.”

“I devoutly hope so,” she said grimly. “I see I shall have my work cut out for me, trying to counter that person’s influence.”

“If anyone can do it,” I said as I helped her carry the things back into the house, “it would be you, I should think.” She giggled.

“I suppose now she thinks we are filthy,” she said.

“And I thought she might go about telling folks how adorable we were, after the peacock invited himself to the table,” I said. “So much for that.”

“We are both,” Anemone grinned. “We’re filthy AND adorable. And no one needs her to tell them so; they know it already.”

But after the first lesson, Raven seemed unwilling to fill us in on how it had gone. She showed us some of the sketches she had done, which looked harmless enough, being of wild flowers and young trees.

Emleth told us, “She said Raven had the makings of a true artist. She told her art might provide a means of commun—comm….”

“Communication,” I suggested.

“Yes, communication--so that her soul might say what her tongue could not,” Emleth said. “I thought that was nice, don’t you?”

“Rather nice,” Anemone admitted. I wondered why Raven did not look very happy.

She was more like herself later in the evening, however, so I stopped worrying about her. She is doing pretty well in school, and I think will catch up enough to join the big girls sooner or later. She is always reluctant to take off her school dress when she comes home, for she is proud of it, but she does so, knowing she must take good care of it. She usually wears her hair in two braids now, as Emleth does, and she has invented signs for us: one finger means “Ada” two means “Nana” three for “Northlight” and four for “Guilin.” On temple-day, she will often get up early in the morning and lay flowers on the breakfast-table beside each of our plates: a blue one for me, a golden one for Anemone, a white one for Northlight, and a pink one for herself. And a red one for Guilin if he joins us, which he frequently does now.

Today Raven came home from school early, Emleth with her. I was not there, but I heard all about it when I came home. It seemed that during art-class, Raven drew an orc with a whip. When Findëmaxa saw it, she became livid, snatched the sketch, and tore it to bits.

“This is UGLINESS,” she said as she dramatically tossed the pieces to the wind. “We do NOT permit ugliness in this class. Art is about the expression of Beauty and Perfection. What WERE you thinking? Were you making a mockery of the True Meaning of Art?”

Raven looked at her, half defiantly, and made a sign. Emleth flushed.

“You should be kind to her,” she said to the teacher. “She has suffered much. We should all be kind.”

You are being impertinent,” Findëmaxa said, flushing also. “Is that how your mother brought you up? Now Raven. I will give you another chance, to show I do have a heart. You drew so prettily last week; I’m sure you can do so again if you try. So, I shall forgive you this time, and—where are you going?”

Raven had dropped all her art supplies to the ground and left them there, and fled. Emleth picked them up hastily and put them into her bag, then sprang up and ran after her. She walked with Raven all the way home, an arm about her waist, and told Anemone what happened. That was shortly before I came home from work. Anemone said Raven had gone off to be by herself.

“There now,” she said. “I didn’t like her at first sight, and now I know why! So what now? Surely you can get her dismissed?”

I was silent for a moment, feeling badly shaken up. “Where is Raven now?” I asked.

“Probably by the falls,” Anemone said. I turned in that direction.

She was not by the falls. I felt considerably alarmed, and called her by name. No answer. I looked up and down for her, over in the glade, in the forest, seized with a feeling of panic. I thought of something Guilin had said, that if she didn't like a place she would run away; then on a thought I crossed the bridge to the spot that would someday be her home and Northlight’s.

I called her name again. I knew somehow that she was about, although I could see no sign of her. Then I had the idea to throw a fit of coughing, and just to be sure I dramatically clutched at my stomach and dropped to my knees. Soon I heard a movement in the brush, and saw her tear-streaked face peeking out anxiously.

“Raven!” I said, springing up and going toward her. She crept out of the bushes and I met her halfway. I put my arms around her and we sank to the ground. She asked me with her hands if I were angry with her. I said of course not. And held her head to my breast and stroked her hair and felt her tears on my shirt.

And I wept with her.

I had not wept in a long time, but I could not stop. I shuddered, and held onto Raven tightly. Before long I felt her stir against me, and after a few moments she was the one holding me, pressing my head against her bosom and stroking my hair. She took my maimed hand in hers and kissed it and held it against her cheek. And we sat like that, wordlessly, sniffling, for I know not how long.

Finally I said that her mum must be getting worried, and so we rose and walked with our arms about each other toward the bridge, and saw Northlight standing there, and she broke away and ran to him and he embraced her tightly. Then she looked over her shoulder at me, and held out an arm, and he did the same, and I went to them and we stood with our arms around each other for a long moment. Then we turned and started back over the bridge to the cottage.

And I heard voices, and saw that we had visitors. Tilwen and Galendur, who had obviously heard about the incident, were on the terrace, Little Iorhael on his daddy’s lap. Raven's lovely smile broke through then, and she ran toward the cottage. Northlight and I grinned at each other.

“She will be all right now,” he said. “She loves that baby.”

We followed quickly, arm in arm, and saw Raven scoop up Little Iorhael, who gave a crow of joy to see her. His hair has gotten quite a reddish cast to it, although I think otherwise he resembles his father most. His eyes are grey with a tinge of blue-green, and he laughs a good deal and can fetch up quite an ear-splitting shriek when one least expects it, so that Galendur calls him a little Nazgûl sometimes. It used to make my blood run cold, but now I’m used to it.

“Look what someone can do!” Til said as she took her small son and set him on his feet. “Stand back a little, dear,” she said to Raven, who backed up a few steps. And Little Iorhael tottered toward her, as she stooped a little with her hands out to catch his. “He just learned that today!” said his proud mummy as Raven caught him and nearly smothered him in another hug. “Sometimes he falls on his bottom, and I’m afraid he will hurt himself, but he always gets up and tries again, and he doesn’t even cry. Such a big boy!”

Raven beamed. Galendur, Northlight, and I all took turns giving Little Iorhael horsy rides in the yard, and Raven had to do it also, and he seemed to like her horsy best. Tilwen watched with the motherly mixture of pride and anxiety, then finally she turned to Anemone and me, who sat together on the swing.

“I’ve met that Findëmaxa person a time or two,” she said. “She’s a friend of Ortherion’s wife. On the face of her she’s as smarmy as her pictures, but it looks as though she’s revealed her true colors in more than just paints. If you want me to go give her a piece of my mind, I’d be VERY glad to do it.”

“And I’ll go with you,” Anemone said grimly, then looked expectantly to me. “You CAN get her thrown out, can’t you, Iorhael?”

“Maybe Northlight can fix her,” Galendur suggested. “Fill her house with talking crabs, or some such. Or spell her brushes so that all her paintings turn out ugly. Full of goblins…or worse still, the Conjugal Arts.” He gave a fake shudder, then winked. I laughed rather weakly.

“I will go and talk to her,” I said glancing back at Northlight and Raven, who were standing facing each other as Little Iorhael toddled back and forth between them, first to one then the other. When he fell on his bottom, Tilwen winced and started to go to him, but Galendur caught her hand, and she looked vastly relieved as Raven reached down to pull him gently upright. “Yes, I do want her out of the school…but…”

“But WHAT?” Anemone said. “Don’t TELL me you are going to take pity on the likes of HER! I may just have to swat you.”

I laughed. “I know how you feel,” I said, “for I felt the same way. I could almost swat myself. But as Galendur says, I’m a disgusting sort of chap, and somehow I just would not deprive her of a position, at least not without explaining a few things to her first.”

“Oh, you needn’t worry that she’ll lack for money,” Tilwen sniffed. “She has plenty of THAT. Which may explain why she’s such a poor artist. Seems that wealth and creativity do not go together, somehow. She only teaches out of some cockeyed desire to ‘impart her vision to unformed young souls everywhere.’ Ha!”

“I shall talk to her, just the same,” I said. “If there is anything I’ve learned on the Island, it is that there is always more to everyone than meets the eye, and sometimes it does not take so much to bring it out. If she will not see reason then…well, then I will have to decide what to do.”

I expected Anemone to look at me with exasperation, but she just studied me for a moment, then looked at me with affectionate pride saying, “You do as you see fit then, my husband. And I shall do as I see fit and take the Bilbo’s Delight from the oven, for it will burn in another moment if it is not removed and be most unfit for human consumption.”

I went out the next day and paid Findëmaxa a little visit—after finding out where she lived from a member of the school board. Raven decided to go back to school that day, and I was enormously proud of her, so proud, in fact, that I was much kinder to Findëmaxa than I felt like being. I had instructed Anemone not to tell Guilin where the artist lived, for there was no telling what he was likely to do when he heard of the incident. I had a feeling he could make Shagrat look like a turtle-dove.

“If I did wrong, forgive me,” Findëmaxa said tremulously as I sat down in her blandly elegant studio, which was situated in a nice flat in the City. Finished and unfinished paintings sat about on easels, and a large window stood wide open, affording a nice view of the Temple. I could hear the murmuring of doves outside. “I acted hastily, I am certain. But, but, when I saw that THING…well, I just didn’t know what to think! Does…does your daughter often have such…fantasies?”

I explained about Raven’s past, and my own. Findëmaxa’s light eyes grew wide and a little frightened.

“But…but…but such an ordeal!” she exclaimed. “Why does she paint such things, if this happened to her? I should think she would want to forget them once and for all!”

“One would think so,” I said, sounding oddly calm although my hands were shaking a bit and felt sweaty. “But sometimes the evil phantoms have found their way into my poems, as well. Perhaps it is as with cookery. One cannot keep a lid on a boiling pot pressed too firmly down the whole time; one must let a bit of steam escape. Art can be a way of letting it do so.”

This concept seemed a bit too much for her. “I cannot think that such things have a place in Art, which should elevate and not degrade the Soul,” she said after a long moment. “It should be a means to escape the hideousness of Reality, not to give expression to it!”

“You have been to see the play, have you not?” I asked her. “All is not pleasant in it, you must agree. In fact, it would be rather dull if nothing dreadful happened in it, yes?”

“Yes…but I did think that some of the dreadful things were a bit much, and should have been toned down,” she said. “War is a most indecent business, and I should think the glory of it could be conveyed on the stage without all the horrors, which only upset people and should not be dwelt upon. The battle scenes could have been skipped altogether, and merely told about by the participants after they occurred. As for that thing with the, the Spider…” she shuddered. “Well, I had nightmares, absolute nightmares, about that, for a long time afterward. I HATE spiders. What could possibly be accomplished, by showing such things? I’ve a good mind not to see the next part, if it’s as horrifying. Could you not see to it that the noble and uplifting aspects of the story are emphasized, and the evil ones played down? I should think you could do it, seeing as how it is your story to begin with?”

Sam, you have no idea how much I have been tempted to do exactly that. And yet…it would make our story a lie…far more so than Rûdharanion’s original abortive version of it.

“No, I could not,” I said. “The story must be told as it happened, not as one might wish it had happened. There is something in me that almost wishes I could do as you suggest. But to tell the truth only in part is to tell an untruth. As Dûndeloth told me recently, there can be no light without the dark. My suggestion is that you learn not to fear the truth. When you first look into it, it seems an evil monster, it is true. And if you look at it longer, you will see the features begin to resemble your own, hideously distorted. If you turn and run from it, it may chase after you, and rend you to bits. But if you learn to stare it down, to defy it, to refuse to back down and let it enter and master you, sooner or later the horrible features begin to soften, and the more you look without flinching, they begin to look more like yours again, but softened and illuminated. It is as the sky after a terrifying storm. Or waking in the freshness of morning after a raging nightmare. But you can only achieve this by standing firm and keeping your eyes open…and asking for your Creator’s protection and guidance.”

After a long moment, during which she stared down at her hands folded in her lap, she looked up at me and asked pitifully, “So, are you going to have me dismissed?”

“No,” I said with a small smile. “I think you may do all right eventually. But I don’t look forward to going home just yet and explaining to my wife why I am not pitching you out, so will you do me the honor of going to luncheon with me? I really am not so filthy as you may suppose.”

She shook her pale head, tears standing in her eyes. “I think you had better go,” she said almost inaudibly. “Thank you for your kindness, but…but I am a bit overwhelmed, and know not what to think. I am sorry that I upset your…your daughter.”

“Speaking of whom, I almost forgot,” I said, taking something from my jacket pocket. “Raven asked me to give you this. Put it in your window and see what it does to the light.”

It was the little glass formation made by the sparks from Anemone’s feet when she had danced in the sand so many months ago, already full of colored sparkles from the sunlight in the window. It looked as though a thousand tears had come together and formed a small tangled rainbow after a long hard storm in the desert.



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