Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If I Were You - Part 2 - Spirits Out Of Bond

A break in the paragraphs, and we get a sentence that allows us to guess the rest of the story's plot.

If I have to be a midget another minute," cried Little Tom Little, "I'll - I'll use a stretcher on myself!"

No, the omitted opening quotation mark isn't a mistake on my part, it's either a typo or a byproduct of the paperback starting a new section with a larger-than-usual capital letter.  But yes, we have here a fellow with body image problems, who has now been given magical spellbooks.  So he's going to find some way to alter the body he's in, and since the novella's title is If I Were You, this will probably involve swapping bodies with someone.  And since this power was bestowed upon him as a dying wizard's final act of vengeance, either these body swaps will end badly or with Tom learning an important lessons about being happy with the skinvelope you're enveloped by.

So we don't really need to read the rest of the story, since we have a good idea now of how it will end.  So... how about The Force Awakens?  I loved it, though with some big reservations.  I can understand why it played it safe and did a retread of A New Hope, but it desperately needed to slow down for a moment and talk about why every one of the original trilogy's characters are in exactly the same situation they were in decades ago.  Leia's still a rebel general even though the Republic has been reestablished, Han is still a roguish smuggler even though he's a hero of the Rebellion, and unless we are to pretend that Return of the Jedi never happened it's vital to explain why everyone's back where they started.  Maybe cut out that pointless action sequence aboard Han's freighter with the CGI monster chase and have some exposition beyond the opening crawl.

And the battles were a real step back from even the prequel trilogy.  No capital ship-on-capital ship action, and I'm pretty sure more fighters were involved in the original Death Star run than the attack on Starkiller Base.  And

Okay, okay, focus on the story in the post title.

Tom is standing on his stage in his tent, complaining about the body God gave him, the jerk, while a distant announcer describes how the great Gordon will now be handling twenty lions and twenty tigers all at once.  This makes Tom flinch, because he hates big cats, especially after a loose lion almost killed him in Kansas City.  Given the tiger on the cover, I do believe we can identify this as foreshadowing.

With him is fellow performer Maizie... Corny?  Anyway, she's an inch taller than Tom and doesn't like these rants since they put her down by association.  She tries to reassure him that "it's better to be the best midget star in the world than a failure as a big person," but Tom is hearing none of it - he'd rather be a ditch-digger who can look his fellow man in the eye than someone gawked at by patrons who find him "cute" or "darling."  But what he wants to be is the circus ringmaster, and vows that someday soon, that's exactly who he'll be.

This makes Maizie nervous, and she asks if he's been reading "those books" again.  She alone suspects that the Professor's deathbed repentance wasn't genuine and remembers the evil looks that guy gave Tom.  "There's such a thing as vengeance after death, Tommy!", she warns him.

Naturally, our hero doesn't listen, and with another paragraph break, we cut to

Late that night Maizie lay wide awake and apparently sound asleep in the dark of the stateroom berth, fearfully watching Tommy, king of the midget showmen - who did not want his crown - sitting gnomelike at the dressing table, surrounded by a litter of cracked and weighty tomes whose parchment pages were like mummies' skin in the gloom. The book he was studying was so unwieldy that he had propped it with greasepaint cans to save his arms.

Eh, I appreciate the effort, but when I think of mummified skin I think of tissue that's shrunken and leathery, not exactly book page material.

It's all Maizie can do not to cry - she's known Tom for years and has long admired his great spirit and skill with words.  She's also privy to his deepest secrets, and has seen him alone in his tent, cracking a whip at imaginary animals.  Now here he is, reading a copy of the Necronomicon left behind by "a vulture of bad omen, a cadaver without a coffin, a man whose eyes gleamed at the tidings of misfortune."  Much better, Hubbard.

Tom notices Maizie's not sleeping, but when he asks if something's wrong, Maizie, seeing how "abstracted" he was... not so good, Hubbard.  Anyway, she lies and he goes back to flip through forbidden scrollery, before Tom suddenly declares that "tomorrow I'll be ringmaster of this show!"  She asks how this will happen, and Tom explains that the tome he's studying talks about the transmigration of the soul, spirits leaving a dying body to enter a new one, that sort of thing.  And wow, it looks like the Professor even marked these pages specifically as relevant to Tom's interests.  He must have been a good guy all along, huh?

"Oh, Tommy," she whispered.  "Are you sure it won't mean-"

But Tommy's excited voice swept on and his thirty inches of height seemed to double themselves already.  "It says if the transmigration of the soul can be effected after death, it is logical to conclude that it can be done in life.  It says the only vital, thinking portion of man is his soul energy, and that it can be projected from one body to another.  Maizie, think what this means!"

Grand theft body, that's what.  Tom is thrilled, and rants about how you'd be able to leave your past mistakes behind and get a grand new start in a spiffy new body.  And the actual mechanics for this?  Literally "All you have to do is miss a few meals, say breakfast and lunch, and then begin your concentration upon the object into which you desire to transfer."  Yep.  Starvation and staring, that's all it takes to project your spiritual essence and dislodge someone's soul from their body, taking it over for yourself.  Then their soul would have to occupy your former body, "or else die."

Wait, the soul would die?  It can't have an existence independent of a meatsack?  So there's no life after death after all, unless souls are constantly flowing into new(ly-born?) bodies, except the numbers for that don't stack up, and we'd have to determine where all the new souls are coming from to inhabit the increasing number of people in the world.

"Tommy... this is dangerous!"  But she could not say more, for the possibilities of this terrible idea were overwhelming.

"And it's so easy!  It says here that man becomes everything he senses, even for the briefest of instants.  If you look at a hero in a story, you are, for the duration of that story, the hero.  You take on his mannerisms and his way of speech.  But because he is just the hero of a story he cannot return that concentration.  

Just goes to show that Hubbard had... unique ideas about metaphysics even early in his literary career.

It says that all men, when talking to other men, are too watchful of the other's words and actions and too conscious of self to achieve this feat.  But if one refuses to be aware of the possible menace to the self from the other ego, then it is simple to completely assimilate the other person and to project oneself into the other."

I don't think "assimilate" and "swap bodies with" mean quite the same thing.

Tom hasn't eaten since lunch, he's pumped, and he plays the "do you love me?" card to get Maizie to cooperate... and fails.  She tries to protest but is hit with a strange chill and floating sensation, and after a second attempt, suddenly Maizie's wearing a tie and belt and sees Tom in the mirror, while Maizie looks astonished by her dress and long blonde curls.

They stared at each other, then, silent and numb with awe.  When minutes had passed, Tommy laughed shakily.  "You see - it works."

"But... but Tommy... how are we doing to get back?"

But he was triumphant now and growing bolder.  "Why should we?" he teased.

Just goes to show that Hubbard's heroes were dicks to their love interests even early in his literary career.

Tom reverses the swap, Maizie throws herself at his feet and tries to beg him to give up black magic, but Tom is thrilled that the spell worked.  Oh wait, there are magic words involved after all, "the right words to think" as you stare at someone with an empty stomach.  Anyway, he vows that he'll never look another person in the shin again, and tomorrow he'll be the ringmaster.

So tune in next time, when a halfling with several new levels of wizard has a rematch with a Prussian half-ogre.

Back to Part 1 

1 comment:

  1. Parchment is made from animal skin, so it would be leathery.