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great gray owl

today's words from the Master

Today's words from the Master are from _Hogfather_ (beginning on p. 139, if you have the hard-back British edition published by Gollancz in 1996).

Hex worried Ponder Stibbons. He didn’t know how it worked, but everyone else assumed that he did. Oh, he had a good idea about _some_ parts, and he was pretty certain that Hex thought about things by turning them all into numbers and crunching them (a clothes wringer from the laundry, or CWL, had been plumbed in for this very purpose), but why did it need a lot of small religious pictures? And there was the mouse. It didn’t seem to do much, but whenever they forgot to give it its cheese Hex stopped working. There were all those ram skulls. The ants wandered over to them occasionally but they didn’t seem to _do_ anything.

What Ponder was worried about was the fear that he was simply engaged in a cargo cult. He’d read about them. Ignorant* and credulous** people, whose island might once have been visited by some itinerant merchant vessel that traded pearls and coconuts for such fruits of civilization as glass beads, mirrors, axes and sexual diseases, would later make big model ships out of bamboo in the hope of once again attracting this magical cargo. Of course, they were far too ignorant and credulous to know that just because you build the shape you didn’t get the substance …

* Ignorant: a state of not knowing what a pronoun is, or how to find the square root of 27.4, and merely knowing childish and useless things like which of the seventy almost identical-looking species of the purple sea snake are the deadly ones, how to treat the poisonous pith of the Sago-sago tree to make a nourishing gruel, how to navigate across a thousand miles of featureless ocean by means of a piece of string and a small clay model of your grandfather, how to get essential vitamins from the liver of the ferocious Ice Bear, and other such trivial matters. It’s a strange thing that when everyone becomes educated, everyone knows about the pronoun but no one knows about the Sago-sago.

** Credulous: having views about the world, the universe and humanity’s place in it that are shared only by very unsophisticated people and the most intelligent and advanced mathematicians and physicists.


great gray owl

April 2013

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