I needed to think backwards for a while. Thinking backwards I could remember the comfort of being curious and alone.
—Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table. Vintage, 2012
"The god, Tyr, was a hunter and a fighter. He wore a wolfskin as a cloak; the great dead head lolled above his bearded face, hairy, blind and snarling. When Odin hesitated over how to dispose of the Fenris-cub, Tyr said he would take it, and feed it, and tame it perhaps, so it could hunt with him. Fenris growled in his throat and laid back his ears. … Tyr believed he knew the wolf, because he knew the wild. He took him to the woods of Midgard, fed him, and ran with him through the trees. They played together: when the beast was bigger, they would hunt together.
The wolf grew. Like his father (Loki) he was inordinate. His voice deepened and opened out – he had a gamut of growls, chuckling barks, full-throated howls which could be heard, louder and louder, in faraway Asgard. Tyr heard it as the music of the wild. He was the only one. The playful cub became a lolloping youngling the size of a boar, and growing every day. He killed for pleasure, which Tyr put down to juvenile playfulness. He left bleeding hares in the snow, and gutted fawns in the forest. He grew to the size of an ass, a colt, and then a young bull. Midgard resounded to his racket, and his silences were ominous, because when he was silent, he was stalking, and no one – no god – knew what he would take it into his head to stalk next. Tyr brought him flanks of pork, and dead geese, to placate him, to have his confidence. Fenris swallowed, and howled, and killed.
The gods decided to tie up the wolf. … To do this they needed guile, they needed to trick him into co-operating, they needed him to submit.
They made a strong fetter, which was named Leyding, and they went in a gang to the wolf in the woods, and spoke to him pleasantly and said they had brought this plaything for him, to show off his power. They would bind him in it, for fun, and he would break out, and show them the power of his sinews and nerves. The wolf’s hackles rose: he looked at them with cold, calculating eyes, the pupils narrowed to pin shots. He could do that, he said, rolling his wiry muscles under his glistening hair. But why should he? They had been betting, they said, facing the beast at the edge of the clearing, from where he could vanish into the dark wood, or spring tooth and claw upon the gods – they had been betting on how long the breakout would take him. Heimdall, the herald, who guarded the high gate of Asgard, could hear the grass grow on the earth, and the wool springing from the hide of sheep. He could hear the wolf’s blood pounding and pumping, he could hear his pelt expanding. ‘Play with us’, he said to the beast, who took a calculating look at Leyding and lay down on the forest floor and held out his great clawed pads. So they took the fetter, and bound his feet, trussed them together, bound his jaw, avoiding the smell of his hot meaty breath, and left him like an ox made ready for roasting. He made a strangled sound, and shook his head from side to side, and coughed in his constricted throat, and coughed again, and shook himself, swelling all his joints, and the fetter cracked and buckled and fell to the earth. The wolf stood on his feet and glowered at the gods and made a sound between howl and purr, which they knew was laughter. He looked at them, almost expecting further play, but they fell back and returned to Asgard.
They told their smiths they must do better. They made a new chain, with double links, cleverly fused together. Its name was Dromi. They took this to the wolf, who put his head on one side, measuring its strength. He said it was very strong. He said also that he himself had increased in size since he shattered Leyding. He would be a famous beast, said the gods, if he could deal with such an intricate piece of smith craft. He stood and thought, and told them that this chain was indeed stronger. But then, he himself was also stronger. So he allowed them to truss him again. And then he shook himself violently, twisted and strained, kicked with his feet and broke the fetter into fragments which flew this way and that. And he smiled at the gods, his tongue lolling out, and snickered. And went on growing; Heimdall could hear him.
The gods sent Skirnir, a young messenger, down to the dwarves, who lived deep down in the home of the dark-elves. And the dwarves made a supple skein from unthings. There were six, woven together: the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish and the spittle of a bird. The thing was light as air and smooth as silk, a long, delicate ribbon. This they took to the wolf, to whom they said with cunning that this band was tougher than it looked. They tore at it with their own hands, one after the other, and it was unmarked. The wolf was suspicious. He wanted to decline, and feared they would mock him. He told them that he suspected them of bad faith. Of trickery. He would play this game if one of them placed his hand in between his jaws, as a gage of honesty, of their bond of good faith. Then Tyr put his hand on the hot head of the beast, as he would with a nervous hound, and then put his hand quietly into Fenris’s mouth. And the gods wound their floating ribbon round and round flanks and thighs, pads and claws, neck and rump. And the beast shook himself, and twisted himself, and the fetter clung and tightened. This was inevitable. And it was inevitable that he should snap his teeth together, slicing through flesh, skin and bone. And the gods watched the wolf gnash and swallow, and they bound Tyr’s bleeding stump. The wolf glared, and said that if a god’s hand can be eaten, it will be possible, in the time of the wolf, to kill the gods. The gods’ answer to this was to take the cord which was part of Gleipnir – the name of this rope was Gelgia – and thread it through a great stone slab, which also has a name, Giöll. And this they drove into the earth, and attached to another great rock, Thviti. The wolf howled horribly, and gnashed his teeth. So the laughing gods took a great sword and thrust it into his mouth. The hilt is lodged against his lower gums; the point in the upper ones. The great beast writhes in pain, and amongst his howling a river springs from his open jaws. Its name is Hope."
ALDOUS HUXLEY, born 26 July in 1894, wrote some of the most famous and enduring books of the twentieth century. His works include the classic novels Brave New World, Island, Eyeless in Gaza, and The Genius and the Goddess, as well as the nonfiction volumes The Devils of Loudun, The Doors of Perception, and The Perennial Philosophy.
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
"Stuff your eyes with wonder … live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories."
"Eternity is not a long time; rather, it is another dimension. It is that dimension to which time-thinking shuts us. And so there never was a creation. Rather, there is a continuous creating going on. This energy is pouring into every cell of our being right now, every board and brick of the buildings we sit in, every grain of sand and wisp of wind."
— Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light
"We must never forget that human motives are generally far more complicated than we are apt to suppose, and that we can very rarely accurately describe the motives of another."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot
"Keep good company, read good books, love good things and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as you can."
Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom
"When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?"
— Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
"So please ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it."
The Outlaw Varjak Paw by Dave McKean
illustrated by SF Said
Varjak Paw is a Mesopotamian Blue kitten. He lives high up in an old house on a hill. He’s never left home, but then his grandfather tells him about the Way - a secret martial art for cats.
Now Varjak must use the Way to survive in a city full of dangerous dogs, cat gangs and, strangest of all the mysterious Vanishings.
"There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city."