The Progress of Error

By what unseen and unsuspected arts
The serpent Error twines round human hearts;
Tell where she lurks, beneath what flowery shades,
That not a glimpse of genuine light pervades,
The poisonous, black, insinuating worm
Successfully conceals her loathsome form.

 

1782
William Cowper

 

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Meet Leviathan

1 Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?2 Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?3 Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words?4 Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?5 Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?88156 Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?7 Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?8 If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!9 Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.10 No-one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me?11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.12 I will not fail to speak of his limbs, his strength and his graceful form.13 Who can strip off his outer coat? Who would approach him with a bridle?14 Who dares open the doors of his mouth, ringed about with his fearsome teeth?15 His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;16 Each is so close to the next that no air can pass between.17 They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted.18 His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn.19 Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.20 Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds.21 His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth.22 Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him.23 The folds of his flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable.24 His chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.25 When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing.26 The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.27 Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.28 Arrows do not make him flee, sling stones are like chaff to him.29 A club seems to him but a piece of straw, he laughs at the rattling of the lance.30 His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing-sledge.31 He makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.32 Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair.33

 

Book of Job 41: 1–34

Gathering a rabble

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In the fields outside the city a mass of men were gathered, a mixture of regular soldiers, foreign mercenaries and green recruits. The city conscripted anyone who was fit enough to hold a spear, mostly impressionable young men from outlying villages who were in town to see the celebrations and had been foolish enough not to go home as soon as they were over. The inns and alehouses were full to overflowing with visitors, so the recruiters had no shortage of unwilling candidates. Yesterday’s farm boys, apprentices and porters woke today as soldiers, ready to be marched off with the army.

Anyone who owed allegiance to the Duke, including the guilds, was honour-bound to contribute to the war effort. Dribs and drabs of men of all shapes and sizes reported for duty. Peasants and servants were forced by feudal laws to fight for their landlords and masters. They wore ancient helmets, odd bits of armour and chain mail, carried rusty pikes and axes, but most only had old farm tools, forks and scythes. It would take a lot of imagination to describe them as soldiers.

The area outside the Southern Gate became choked with men and horses, wagons, mules, ox carts piled high with food and equipment intended to keep them going for a few days. Everything else they needed would be taken from the land along the route of their march. A city of tents sprang up and it hugged the road for over half a mile out of town. Fires smoked under bubbling pots, dogs hunted for scraps and scratched their fleas. Women and children, determined to follow their husbands and fathers on the march, washed, cooked and squabbled, as the men gambled, bragged and scratched their own fleas or stared into the distance, wondering what lay in store.

 

Thumbs: Chapter Fifteen: Book And His Donkey

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Help! Help! Save me!!

Book turns the pages slowly and smoothes each one lovingly. Sofia is like a child, captivated by the two-headed demons, giant serpents, fish that swallow ships, a horse with the head of an eagle and diamond encrusted dragons with flames pouring from their mouths, huge wings and razor sharp talons, being slain by brilliant knights with magical swords. Trumpets and drumbeats waft faintly through the windows, fitting the drama perfectly.

‘What about this one, Soph?’ Book points to a picture of a maiden, chained to a post, watching while a horseman on his white charger skewers a green monster with wings and red mouth. Sofia runs her finger over the page.

‘Why does the knight kill the monster?’

Book thinks for a second and says, ‘You know this story, the monster kidnaps the maiden and the knight rescues her and marries her.’

‘Why doesn’t the monster win?’ It seems impossible for a man to defeat something so big.

‘Because that’s how the story goes. The knight saves the whole country from the monster and becomes a hero.’

‘What if the knight was the one that tied the maiden up? Maybe he was holding her until her family paid a huge ransom and the monster was the one trying to rescue her.’

‘But, that’s not how the story goes, Soph.’

‘But it have could have happened like that couldn’t it?’

‘Or, what if she had herself tied up to trick the knight into rescuing her and the monster just happened to be walking along the road at the wrong time?’

‘That’s just stupid.’

‘No it’s not. She might have wanted the knight to get killed by the monster because he jilted her at the altar.’

She is really animated now and waves her arms about. Book tries to rescue the book but she twists it away. He winces.

‘That’s it! She paid the monster to kill the knight and make it look like she was tied up to lure him into the trap.’

‘But the knight kills the monster.’

‘Yes, it all went wrong. Or -’

Book gives up trying to pull the book out of her hands. He really fears that the pages will tear.

‘Or, the maiden was being offered as a sacrifice by her village to keep the monster happy.’

‘That’s probably not far from the truth.’

‘Why?’ Sofia frowns and slams the book shut.

‘Why what? Please be careful.’

‘Why is it always the girl? Why not a few boys being sacrificed for a change?’

‘I suppose it’s more exciting if the knight rescues a beautiful princess, rather than having a bunch of spotty oiks tied to a post. Nobody would want to save them!’

‘Huh!’

She keeps the book away from him.

‘That’s just the way stories go.’

‘Well I think that’s a great big pile of -’

‘It’s not my fault! And it’s not the book’s fault either!’

‘No, you’re right. Anyway, the monster would have won easily.’ Her interest fades as quickly as it was sparked. ‘It’s all just stupid stories. Books really are rubbish, aren’t they?’

 

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Thumbs: No Such Thing As Fairy Tales

 

Illustration:
Dragon and Captive; Gordon Napier: dashinvaine.co.uk