What can you do in this degenerate age? Women are either nuns, mothers, or witches. If she’s a nun you’ll never have her, if she’s a mother she died abed, and your best chance, lad, lies with the witch.
… and in future days perhaps you will call John Mandeville a liar, and my shade will laugh at you and say: true, true, I was, but not always, not so. When the world was good enough in my sight, when it behaved as wildly and gorgeously as I always knew it could, I told the truth of it.
Books can harm you, and a careless John I would be if I were to let you open this volume and think you had a nice plump dog on a satin leash who would do your bidding and ask for no more than you liked to give. Books are not like that. They want to eat you up. They want you to spend yourself on their iron hearts and submit to their wills. An unsuspecting man who happens to find himself in this unfortunate world which is practically ruled by books has but two choices—give in and go under the page with the secret smile of the slattern on one’s lips, or become the thing the book spends itself upon, become himself the iron princess with horns of gold, become fantastical and gorgeous beyond measure, nearly impossible to believe, but not so impossible that the spell is broken. Become the thing the tale tells of, something so strange that some book somewhere simply bursts into being to record your supereminence.
You’d like to think such simple lies wouldn’t work, that they would be too feeble to carry their own weight, but a straight back and a level gaze will purchase more or less anything you might like to possess if you are comely enough of face and sufficiently quicksilver of tongue.
The Dirge for Prester John, specifically book #2, The Folded World. Absolutely no competition, seeing as a) she did not write anything good before Deathless b) OH MY GOD THE FOLDED WORLD, sometimes my secret giddy medievalist heart thinks it loves The Folded World best, and then it gets chided (“no, you just want to make out with John of Mandeville real bad” “WELL”) but it’s a really grapple-y fierce second-best. The prose is SO MUCH and the books are SO WEIRD and the voices are SO GOOD and the whole thing is an illuminated manuscript illuminated only by the grace of its words. Monsters in holy love and men consumed alive by the act of making meaning out of words. It’s incredible and (I do not say this lightly, it is rarely true) there is nothing else like it.
I am not a monster, John,” she said gently, and not without affection, I imagined, her words dropping into the darkness between us.
“Didn’t you hear me? I know you’re not.”
“I did hear you. Now you think I am divine, like your Ophanim, and so your God might permit a kiss. That is no different. It is just another way of saying: this thing is not like me, and so does not deserve what I deserve, nor need what I need.
Did I even want him? I didn’t know. I wanted—yes, I wanted to show him his wrongness, my beauty, even to corrupt him, as he claimed, but not in a wicked way. In the way that says: this world will swallow you, and I am first in line.
Books think they can boss me about. They think they have the upper hand, and can make me read them and pay attention to them and say nice things about them after I am done. They are snooty and think they are smarter than me. They insist on being read page one to page whathaveyou, and no stopping for good behavior.
There was a great war, he told me while we cut pages for his improved Bible. Some say it was over a woman, some say over trade routes. I did not understand why anyone would fight a war over a woman. She chooses the mate she chooses. You cannot force her, I insisted, but John promised me you could.
I had begun to tire of them if I am frank. I have many talents but only a few are of any interest to children, and the day would go better with me if I had something alcoholic and a bored queen in my sight.
Cat Valente, The Folded World (via whoistorule)
JOHN OF MANDEVILLE LOVE OF MY LIFE