I, Uqétme hiTetengkáino of the Clan of Black Mountain, Senior Scholar Priest of Lord Ksárul, the Doomed Prince of the Blue Room in His exalted refuge of Hauninngákte Monastery, Distinguished Functionary of the Refulgent Blue Curtain Society, Master of the Secrets of the Strider unto the Encroaching Nullity, do make these notes for those of the faith of the Ancient Lord of Secrets who would learn. May the Shining Silver of His Unknowable Intellect, and the Azure Effulgence of He Who Confronts the Inner Being of Reality guide my hands as I record these words, and protect me from the foolishness of others’ mistakes.
The first and only question concerns the transcendent Introduction to The Book of Ebon Bindings. Our consummate hosts discuss the perspective of the Introduction, and why the Professor chose to write it in this fashion.
[00:01:20] The Book of Ebon Bindings begins with an introduction written by Tsémel Qurén hiKétkolel, a high ritual priest of Ksárul. This is unusual because the priesthood of Ksárul is known for its secrecy.
[00:02:52] Even in the first paragraph, there’s a lot there. He’s not just telling you who he is, but a bunch of important information about his perspective. Tsémel is not unbiased; to the contrary, he’s writing as a High Ritual Priest of Ksárul, among other things.
[00:04:47] “May our Ancient Lord of Secrets hold me safe from error,” has several interpretations.
[00:07:00] While we could perhaps trust the words of an author belonging to the priesthood of Thúmis more than those of a priest of Ksárul, The Book of Ebon Bindings details far more beings who have some kind of relation with the Gods of Change than the Gods of Stability. As a result, they are more properly addressed by a representative of Change.
[00:07:42] The Temple of Ksárul is more than likely not giving us the whole truth, but they would remind us that you would be naïve to consider a similar work from the Temple of Thúmis as motivated by unbridled altruism.
[00:08:25] There are also bracketed editorial comments. Who is supposed to have written these? It’s left open to a certain amount of interpretation. On a surface level, it’s Prof. Barker, the author. But he would argue editorial license as far as who is the actual writer within the fictional world of Tékumel.
[00:10:30] Prior examples of this kind of authorial conceit are noted, included Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air.
[00:12:44] In the Preface, the editor thanks people and addresses them as “Mr.” and “Miss.” The implied conceit of something from Tékumel existing in our world is unusual in Tékumel’s corpus.
[00:14:38] Victor thinks this provides a sense of verisimilitude.
[00:16:15] Prof. Barker did write similar “transportations” in letters. Victor notes a specific letter where Prof. Barker apologizes to the recipient because the Temple of Karakán prevented him from shipping a Ssú skeleton.
[00:17:24] Was this a device that Prof. Barker found useful early on, and abandoned as Tékumel evolved? Victor doesn’t think so.
[00:19:10] Writing in this fashion allowed the Professor to translate his very active imagination, from a world that existed only in his mind. It helped him to give his characters a kind of “fictive reality.”
[00:20:37] It also always allowed him an out. This narrative device preserves his subjectivity. Phil was always concerned that even a dry recitation of facts (whether historical or fantastical) is written from the writer’s point-of-view. He might be horrified by the label, but in some ways he was a post-modernist in this respect.
[00:22:30] This introduction can be contrasted with the description of the Gods of Yán Kór written by Ksamandúish the Traveller.
[00:23:45] If you pay attention to where Prof. Barker uses this narrative device, you get some interesting perspectives on what he does and doesn’t say.
[00:24:30] Even the writer of the introduction is mindful of the perspectives of different peoples, as evidenced by his commentary on other people’s gods (and his subtle contempt for those beliefs).
[00:26:07] “Yet who — and what – are the Gods? This question has plagued the world since the Time of Darkness.”
[00:30:40] You have all these powerful beings in The Book of Ebon Bindings, but why are they not gods? While the answer to this may seem simple, it’s muddled when you really pay attention to the text. Is the ruler of the Fifty-Third Demon Plane (Quyóve) the same being revered as one of the Shadow Deities of the Livyáni? It’s left to the referee or the player to make sense of this.
[00:31:44] James notes that prior to playing extensively in Tékumel, he had a much more Tsolyáni perspective on the gods. Now, having spent some time on Tékumel, he’s not so sure that’s true.
[00:32:19] In original EPT, while there’s an indication of other gods, there’s much more emphasis on the dichotomy of Stability and Change.
[00:33:25] The Book of Ebon Bindings is not the first we see of Stability and Change in print. It’s present in the articles which proceeded it. It’s hinted at in EPT, in the discussion of “good” and “evil.” (EPT § 310, pp. 14-15). The dichotomy was described more fully in the “Seal of the Imperium” article in The Dragon #9 and #11 roughly 18-24 months later. The Book of Ebon Bindings was published two years afterwards, in 1979.
[00:35:05] When was The Book of Ebon Bindings written? The Tékumel Foundation probably has the original galleys for it.
[00:35:30] Prof. Barker had a strong sense of print presentation. His father was a one-time printer. The original Book of Ebon Bindings is straight off of his typewriter and photo-reduced in size.
[00:36:40] A discussion of the Professor’s drafting process. When he revised something to a final draft, he would simply get rid of the prior drafts.
[00:38:38] And we’re now one page further along than we were at the beginning of this episode.
[00:40:15] All too often gods in roleplaying games are reduced to mega-monsters. Prof. Barker takes the opposite view, that the gods are so far beyond humankind, that you have few true reference points in your descriptions of them.
Hosts: Scott Kellogg, James Maliszewski, and Victor J. Raymond.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
The Book of Ebon Bindings is fantastic, but currently out-of-print. The 1978 (or was it 1979?) edition was published by Imperium Publishing. Theatre of the Mind Enterprises re-printed it in 1991.
Empire of the Petal Throne is the original Tékumel sourcebook and rules set. It was first published by TSR in 1975. It can be purchased as a print-on-demand book, or as a PDF from RPGNow.
(The Excellent Names of) The Almighty Gods of Yán Kór and the Lands of the North is available as a PDF from the RPGNow family of sites.
(GPD: For those who are interested in Tsémel Qurén hiKétkolel, more information is given in Mitlányal, p. 151.)
Dragon Magazine was originally published by TSR, and titled The Dragon until 1980 with issue #39. The Dragon #9 was cover dated September 1977. The Dragon #11 was cover dated December 1977 and its above-referenced “Seal of the Imperium” article can be viewed or downloaded free-of-charge from the Tékumel Foundation here.
Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air was published in 1971. It presupposes a world in which the First World War never occurred. It is the first book in the A Nomad in Time trilogy of novels.
Ed Greenwood wrote far too many articles for Dragon Magazine to list here.