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Our Lady's Juggler 
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Joined: Fri Apr 11, 2008 5:08 am
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Post Our Lady's Juggler
Another spinoff from the thread on "Life-Line"...

Bill Patterson wrote:
Heinlein's prose models obviously don't derive entirely from that tradition [early
20th century American magazine fiction
]. And in fact if you look at the stories he
talks about in his writing and in his essays, it's fairly clear that he is just as influenced
by European fiction as he is by American. In fact, when Spider Robinson asked him
to select and discuss one of his favorite short stories, he chose "Our Lady's Juggler"
by Anatole France. Now that's a very interesting choice, and that by itself is a potential
subject for another discussion.

An amazing choice indeed. It is a neat little piece, with excellent construction ;
yet it is usually considered as a rather minor work of Anatole France's. I was
surprised to learn (in Spider Robinson's anthology) that it was even available
in English.

However, what's relevant here is that this particular story has absolutely none
of Uzzell's qualities, _including dramatic conflict or resolution._ The story makes
a highly abstract point - that the gift you make to whatever you honor gets its
value from its personal meaning to you. If what you can do is juggle, then juggling
for Our Lady is as acceptable (to Her) as gold and fine linen. There is no
development of dramatic arc, because the story doesn't have any.

That's obviously the traditionnal point — the story is actually a variation on a classic
thirteenth Century "mystery", which probably also hinted to a more mundane point
— that being an artist might be morally acceptable, after all.

Anatole France's story is quite respectful of the medieval original, and this level
of reading is obviously available in his version.

But I think that he hints toward another reading : even deities can get bored
with traditionnal worshiping, and welcome an occasional break. Which is
to say that's it's okay for a reader to put himself in god-sized shoes.

Yet... France is somewhat of an atheist, although in a complex, often both
indulgent and ironic way — not unlike Heinlein's own attitude toward
the matter, actually.

So there are still other levels of reading, to this religious tale told by
an atheist and taught in confessional schools...

Since in The Best of All Possible Worlds, "Our Lady's Juggler" is associated
to "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants" (probably also my own favourite
short story by Heinlein), I'll at least count among them the (quite heretic)
idea that everyone can have his own personnal deity/paradise (and even
hell, as later demonstrated in Job...).

Thus, my bet would be that Heinlein was really impressed by the contrast
between the classical soberness and simplicity of the story, and the
multiple levels of reading, and deepness, it nevertheless allowed
— a skill he himself fully mastered at least from Stranger in a Strange

Fri Aug 08, 2008 5:00 am
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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
Eric Picholle wrote:
Thus, my bet would be that Heinlein was really impressed by the contrast between the classical soberness and simplicity of the story, and the multiple levels of reading, and deepness, it nevertheless allowed ...
I certainly didn't understand "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants" when I first read it in my early teens, but eventually figured it out, to my satisfaction at least. Anyone who's seen RAH's sense of personal artistry in that story may see why he appreciated "Our Lady's Juggler".

A critical sidepath might investigate why some commentators on RAH seem to give him so little credit for subtlety. Is it because he's so good a storyteller, or is it just political correctness? Similarly, I am occasionally bemused by references among the literati that such-and-such a story "actually appeared in Campbell's Astounding!" (or Analog!) Well, yeah.

_________________ - recurrent inspiration

Fri Aug 08, 2008 1:41 pm
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
Heinlein is deceptive, because he wasn't interested in having readers distracted by signs saying, "Look at me! I'm being literary! Look -- I'm a symbol!!"

He operated in a commercial market, and learned to craft the well-told tale that sold well.

But he was a master of slipping into that commercial market the thing that must have satisfied him as much as the sale -- an underlying structure, meaning, and unsettling quality that most great art possesses.

People used to think Hemingway wasn't all that much of an artist either, until you start to look at how perfectly crafted his works are (at least prior to WWII, before the manic depression and alcohol began eroding the art).

Heinlein, like Asimov, deliberately chose to construct a simple prose that anyone could read. Asimov was the single best nonfiction writer this country has ever produced; he could explain anything to anybody (I passed all my college science courses by reading him first on the topic). But where Asimov's fiction has begun to age (badly, I might add, with a few exceptions), and rarely rewards re-reading, because what's on the surface is all there is -- Heinlein, on the other hand, has deliberately laid in multiple layers of meaning and questioning that rewards deep reading, and re-reading.

That he could do all that, and still sell commercially, was unprecedented in SF, and most other genre fiction as well.


Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:52 pm
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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
Nicely put, Robert. I've never been a big fan of most of Asimov's fiction, although I think "The Gods Themselves" is still worth reading after thirty years. His non-fiction, however, is brilliant and in many ways inspired me in my career path. (I'm a technical writer hoping to become a full-time science writer one of these days.)

Much of Heinlein's fiction, however, remains among my favorites after innumerable rereadings. "Stranger in a Strange Land" was, unfortunately, the first Heinlein book I ever read and completely freaked me out in high school, but now it's a favorite. ;-) "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is *the* favorite, thirty-seven years after I first read it. (Also in high school.) Ditto so many other books, both "early" and "late" Heinlein. I find something new in them each time I read them.

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Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:58 am
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
"The Gods Themselves" would be my choice for Asimov's best work of fiction -- he pushed himself harder and farther in that piece than any other work of fiction he ever created, I think.

Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:32 am
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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
You know, it's odd - I could barely struggle through TGT and have failed in two attempts at rereading it. I much prefer his short works and the two original Daneel Olivaw novels - iffy on the third.

There are several "must read, best of the author/genre" novels I just can't get a grip on. I don't know why.

"Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders." - Luther
In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.

Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:57 am
Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
Jim, it's not unusual for certain novels to not work for certain readers. I like Caves of Steel, but I've had no impulse to go back and re-read it at all; on the other hand, much of the short fiction is getting badly dated, at least for anyone who expects dialogue that doesn't sound like it was being cranked out by a man with a tin ear for names and how people actually talk....

Asimov's gifts were in explaining things, clearly and concisely; there's a reason he largely abandoned science fiction in the early sixties, with rare exception. He knew he was a literary dinosaur, and said so repeatedly; his eighties Foundation novels, bestsellers though they were, are a travesty. Nostalgia for the audacity of the original stories, and a lack of a finish for the series, really drove those sales.

I keep trying to read Philip Dick, and I can't seem to work up any enthusiasm.

Oddly enough, he is now the hottest SF writer for college students, in the way that RAH used to be....

I just don't have any emotional or intellectual resonance for a writer who suggests we have no way of knowing what reality me, reality kicks us in the ass nearly every day...

Sat Jul 25, 2009 5:28 pm
Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
I find a lot of Asimov dated - and Clarke, for that matter (although how much of that is, "Gee, this is clichéd," when they invented the cliché?), but I can reread the Foundation trilogy until the end of time (which may be in about 2 years...?)

Sat Jul 25, 2009 7:58 pm
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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
PeterScott: I have tried every 5 years or so for decades, without success, to get into the Foundation Trilogy. The three separate Doubleday hardcovers were in my junior high library, which also offered Heinlein (not only the juveniles but also the Three by Heinlein omnibus). Also there was Asimov's Nightfall and Other Stories and the Silverberg story collection The Calibrated Alligator, both of which I found nourishing.

Shortly thereafter (early 1970s) I ended up getting a Science Fiction Book Club edition of the Trilogy, and I had Asimov autograph it (just his signature, no dedication) when he appeared at Lehigh University a year or so later. It's still in good condition. If you want it, you can have it for a very nominal price - I don't want to bother with eBay.

Sat Jul 25, 2009 8:56 pm
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Post Re: Our Lady's Juggler
Ah, The Foundation Trilogy. Psychohistory. Science fiction holy scripture. It's been years (decades?) since I read it. You guys have prompted me to pull my single-volume Doubleday edition off the shelf and blow off the dust. :mrgreen:

"Being right too soon is socially unacceptable." - Heinlein, Expanded Universe

Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:17 pm
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