Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Sylvan Spirit Who Stepped Out of The Laughing Christ

Perhaps the greatest of the forgeries of Denis Lollardy was his Laughing Christ of Creophylus which he had done only short months ago. The original Laughing Christ had disappeared from a villa North-by-East of Rome in the year of the Lord 453. And this one had been dug out of the storied Italian marl-and-loam very near to that place. Was this indeed the original Laughing Christ? people asked.
This was better than the original. Howin was it better? It worked miracles, and there was no tradition of the original statue working them.

What miracles did it work? It cured the melancholy of people who gazed on it. But miracles of that sort are only subjective miracles. It changed the horrible nose of a Roman lady and made it a thing of joy instead of a thing of horror. But really, it had changed the configuration less than a millimetre. And it happened that such was enough to make it into a good-natured and pleasant member instead of a horrible member. It was still not a beautiful nose, but the lady accepted it with pleasure and glee.

Thunderation! The statue did work genuine miracles. And it terrified one man. Denis Lollardy had never been a pious man. He had only been a borderline believing man. But he knew miracles when he saw them, and he was terrified (Oh, but there was joy mixed with the terror also) by the miracles worked by the Laughing Christ that he himself had carved.

Atrox wheezed… “Denis Lollardy, you stole my Laughing Christ out of the holy ground where I had buried him. Bring him back today.”
“You are mistaken, good-natured giant,” Denis protested. “I myself forged the Laughing Christ and buried him in the ground for fifteen months to give him the patina of age. I have never seen the original and I have always considered it to be a fable. This was one of my cases of creative forgery when the forgery was an original. Then I dug it up quite recently and displayed the grand discovery.”
“Not fifteen months but fifteen hundred years it was in the holy ground where I hid it,” the good-natured giant wheezed. ““Tell us how you did this creative forgery, Denis Lollardy. Tell us how you did all your creative forgeries… Go on, Denis, tell us.”
“It is not really myself but the Demiourgikos Pneuma Apatelos, the Spirit of Creative Fraud, who does my creative forging,” Denis Tried to explain as though he had never analysed his techniques before. “I am always seized by this rapture, and then I create. But sometimes I am entirely surprised by the fraudulent (but better then the original – sometimes having no original) creatures that come from my mind. I apparently do them in seconds when they would have rationally required days and weeks. I do not understand my Spirit of Creative Fraud.”
“No, nor shall you,” the giant Atrox wheezed. “I myself am the Spirit of Creative Fraud, as well as the Spirit of Creative Truth. Sometimes I am the one and sometimes the other. If you understood me, then you would be as spacious as I am. For I am your animating spirit entirely.”
And when night came, they all dined on gored ox and Castle cheese.
“You all glare at me today as if I were a malefactor,” Atrox complained, “but perhaps I am not the only malefactor in this group. Denis Lollardy, besides you being a common forger, you are an uncommon thief. You stole from me the thing I most prized in my life, the thing that has authorized my strange continued life. That was the statue or figure or eidolon The Laughing Christ. Well, it has been mistaken for a statue or an eidolon, but I believe that it is the Christ himself in the train of his second sepulture. I buried him, as he had instructed me to do, in the ground of Italy. And after three quinque-centums of years he was to rise out of that ground again and renew the world. But you, you thief and forger, you came and dug him out of the ground betimes, and then you represented him as one of your own forgeries.”
“No, Atrox, you are wrong,” Denis Lollardy said firmly. “You did not bury him in the ground, you buried him in your mind. And I found him there, for all of us can raid into your mind as you can raid into ours. And then I carved him out of fine travertine marble. He was one of my greatest forgeries, forgeries for which there was no physical original. Then I buried my magnificent statue in the ground to age it, and afterwards I dug it up again.
“Atrox, we will be at my own place one of the latter days of this week, I believe. Then we will ask the Laughing Christ just what he is and how many authors he had. I believe that you yourself were Creophylus, and that you only imagined you had carved the statue.”
“No. I am no Creophylus, no sculptor,” Atrox said. “The Christ was alive when I buried him, at his request.”
“I suppose that you feel a towering pride in creating the whole future,” Denis Lollardy said rather bitterly.
“Denis, you stole my Laughing Christ!” Atrox charged once more. “I want him back. No, Denis, what I feel is a towering humility for what I have been doing. Nor did I ever claim to be creating the whole future. I’m but one of seven scribbling giants who do the future. Denis, being a master forger, you are a judge of such things. Study the things that I have made and that the other six have made. You will be stumbling over their work now that you know it exists. You will find, I believe, that I am the best of the whole sorry lot. Did any person ever have so many things to be humble over as myself? And it’s been a weary, weary way.” And the weary Giant Atrox fell asleep.
“Denis Lollardy,” Laughter-Lynn said, “if you did steal the Laughing Christ of Creophylus from Atrox, bring it here, and I will have it buried with him.”
“I did not steal it from him. I carved it out of the best Travertine marble myself. I buried it in the earth to weather it, and then I dug it out again. It was one of my Forgeries to which there was no Original. Perhaps though, Atrox did create it, in the same way that he created us, as part of his fictions. I don’t know. We will look at it when we spend Saturday at Lecco, and we will decide about it then.”
‘O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
Of holy white birds flying after.’
But the greatest of Denis Lollardy’s forgeries, of course, was his Laughing Christ of Creopas or Creophylus.
“The Christ, where do you have him on display, Denis?” Gorgonius asked. “He raises so many questions. Where do you have him?”
“Nowhere. He’s temperamental. He won’t stay on display. He’s back in the hole where I buried him and later dug him up. But I can bring him up by a rope-pull, and he’s usually very pleasant after he’s up.”
They went to a cut in the verdant hillside, just up the slope form the Irish Gardens. Denis Lollardy pulled the rope-pull, and the statue came up to the light of day standing on a pallet. And all eleven of them (including Denis who had carved the statue) drew their breaths in sharply at the sheer beauty and joy and friendliness of the masterwork.
Well, this was the most pleasant piece of statuary that any of them had ever seen, slightly larger than life-sized, and wrapped in the colored cleanliness of its own laughter.
The Laughing Christ! But who was he really?
“No, he is not Christ. He is creature,” Laughter-Lynn said, “and he is alive. Oh, the wonderful eeriness!”
“I think so,” Denis said in a sort of rapture. “Though I cut him out of pinkish marble, yet there is more than that to him now. More and less, for I’m often disappointed in him. He becomes more trivial than I made him, now and then. A sylvan spirit comes into the statue sometimes. I have seen him, but only when I’m half asleep.
“Come out of the marble! Come out of it! I command you. We are the most excellent company in the world here. Come out and share your laughter with us!”
But the spirit or creature that stepped out of the stone statue was not quite in the spirit of the statue. Its laughter was lesser and otherwise.
“Oh, the stone pillar, I use it as sort of a change-station,” the emerging darker creature laughed. Well yes, he did look a little bit like the wonderful statue, in his pleasantness anyhow, but he was no more than half the size of it and hadn’t a quarter of its vitality.
“I use it as Superman uses a telephone booth to change into his Superman costume,” the Sylvan Spirit said. “I used to duck into any hollow tree around here until Denis carved this wonderful statue. I have two states, and I love to change from one of them to the other.”
“Just who are you?” Gorgonius asked. “What species, please?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Memory is a tricky thing and so is classification. I remember being born of a she-goat and living as a faun for a thousand years. Well yes, I do remember it. If that is not exactly what I was, well I was something for that thousand years. I was overwhelmed with my love for the earth, and I still am. When all the other fauns aged and died and were not replaced, I still lived on, still lived on as little more than a boy. Gioioso Lecco, Merry Lecco, was the name given to this region then, and I was a part of the merriment. Well, there was never a happier earth spirit than I was.
“Then I died. And the real fun began. I was canonized by the Church as Saint Faunus the patron of merriment, and I am still honoured that way on the local calendar. In the Laughter of the Saints, before the Day Star, I begot thee is the beginning passage of the Introit of my mass of Saint Faunus… In my dying it was discovered that I was an immortal. But I still did not have to give back the thousand years. Fauns, as you may not know, live a thousand years in joy, and then they are finished. For they are mortal. But humans usually live less than a hundred years in very mixed joy-and-sorrow, and then they die. And after that, for better or worse, for much better or much worse, they live forever. But I could have it both ways. And in another way also I have it both ways.
“I loved the earth so much that I was allowed to divide my time between the earth and the after-earth for my second thousand years. My second thousand years ran out several decades ago, but nobody said anything about it so I’ll not say anything either. I love the deep green joy of the earth! Of course I love the after-earth also, but I’m still a bit timorous about that.
“Oh certainly I know the Scribbling Giants, girl-woman Jane. And you ask me, Caesar Oceano, why don’t the scribbling giants leave this world alone? Why don’t they leave it just as it is?
“The world is never just as it is,” Faunus declared. “The world lives its blessed life with the aid of the extraordinary effort of a small group of extraordinary people added to the ordinary effort of the ordinary people. Why should the extraordinary ones be excluded? The world would never make it without its extraordinary citizens. When the numbers of the Extraordinaries is diminished only by several of them, and only for several days, the difference is manifest.
“The giants, like the fauns, live one thousand years, and they live much more in sorrow than in joy. The world has never understood the deep melancholy of the giants. Their melancholy makes them creative, in a rumpled way, but is it worth it to them? If they cry out at the idea of being extinguished at the end of one thousand years, they are given a second thousand years. But for their second thousand years, the balance is tilted still more to sorrow and less to joy, and their melancholy deepens. There is nothing like the black melancholy of giants in their second or even third millennium. And yet they work hard and try to write the world cheerfully. Perhaps somewhere, some day, they will have their compensation. But nobody would want to be a giant, from free choice.”
“You are fortunate in all ways, Saint Faunus, and nothing untoward can happen to you now,” Gorgonius smiled.
“Not quite. In one form I am safely dead and enjoying the beatific vision, but in my faun form I could be terminated and be no more, as is the usual fate of fauns. I have been told to be very careful while in my faun form, but if I were careful I would cease to be a faun. But it’s been fun entirely. Who wants to go with me up the mountain side to strike new springs of mountain water out of new-splitting rocks?”
“Oh, I’ll go with you, Faunus,” Laughter-Lynn agreed.
“And I,” said Leo Parisi the Wonder-Boy…
“What do you make of Faunus, Gorgonius?” Caesar Oceano asked.
“A little bit pompous. He needs a touch of sorrow and fear. He needs an oceanful of sorrow and fear. And it cannot happen to him. The worst thing that can happen to him is extinction, and he will still never have known a moment’s sorrow. He’s a character that stopped growing, ah, at least a thousand years ago.”
But the wonderful statue, the Laughing Christ of Creophylus still remained a thing of overwhelming joy. Denis Lollardy let it down again by the pull-rope into its enchanted burial cave.
“It’s a rock-slide, it’s a rock-tumble!” Caesar Oceano cried out.
The terrified scream of Saint Faunus the faun was heard on the little mountain. The scream was cut off sharply. Well, he’d had at least one brief moment of fear and sorrow before he was terminated. He was saved from living his lives in completely unmitigated joy.
The infectious laughter of Laughter-Lynn Casement was heard. It would take more than a rock-slide, than a rock-tumble, to kill all the laughter in her.
“From laughter plowed into the earth
“Will grow a thousand years of mirth,” Jane Chantal recited. “Oh Laughter-Lynn, we want you back, come back, come back!” But the openly infectious laughter of Laughter-Lynn was changed into deep-buried laughter, and then the sound of it was far-away and very deep.
And the carrying voice of the boyish Leo Parisi was heard “Goodbye, Perpetua; every minute of it was fun.” Then the voice of the rock-tumble turned to thunder, and the Intrepid Three were buried.
‘He who is throned in Heaven laughs’
‘Oh we buried Laughing Kelly in a box without a top.
“You are dead now, man,” we told him, “and that laughing’s got to stop.”’
Irish Song
Was it possible that the Countess Maude Grogley was whistling that latter tune when she came to them where they had set up the torches and flood-lights at the clattering bottom edge of the rock tumble? Or more likely she was whistling From the Darkness into Glory. It is really the same tune…
The priest of the estate said a brief grave-top mass for the three dead. And then he talked a while with the Nine and with the Countess Maude.
“The faun was not really Saint Faunus,” he said. “The canonization of a few hundred yeas ago was no more than a folk-joke canonization. No, he was never a human, only a faun. And his death leaves only three genuine fauns in all Italy. Since the moment of Christ’s birth, not even one female goat has given birth to a faun, but only to kid goats. So all the fauns left are quite old, though they all keep a boyish appearance. And they are the last of the manifestations from the old pagan days. As a priest I say that it will probably be better when they’re finally gone. As an antiquarian, I’ll miss them.”
“The stones, if they shift but a little, will cover forever the hole where the Laughing Christ has been buried and unburied,” Denis Lollardy said. “I’d better have the wonderful thing up above ground again. We will take him to your Alpine Castle, Gorgonius. Your mountains deserve to know him, if only for a day.”
Denis brought the statue up by the rope-pull. The flickering torch-light made it seem as if it were a live man laughing. And all ten of them (the priest had gone) were again stunned by the sheer beauty and joy and friendliness of the masterwork.
“Maybe some other cheerful spirit will come and live in him,” Mary Brandy said.
-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp. 34-35; 45; 71-72; 88; 93; 134-138, 140, 142-43
(You can also see the Laughing Christ partake of the Mass for the World Mortally Sick and Perhaps Dying, now as a member of the Group of Twelve.)

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'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)