The work of Professor R.L. Smith hardly requires introduction; her books of history in particular are amongst the most cherished and acclaimed in all the Lands of Dream, noted for their beautiful language, devotion to detail, and carefully laid-out Marxist analysis. She is also noted for the inclusion of part of her life story in the Book of Living Magic, and in various translations and transubstantiations of that work.
We met Professor Smith in her office in the Infinite Cellar of Oneiropolis University, where she is currently researching her next work, Ithaka of the Clouds.
Honoured to meet you, Professor Smith.
Please, just call me Raven. I got used to the name a long time ago.
Speaking of a long time ago, how do you view the events recorded in the Book of Living Magic?
Fondly, I would say, in a way that sometimes breaks my heart. It was such an innocent time in my life, when it seemed you could just walk away from an unjust system and find freedom on your own. Back then, it really did seem possible that to change the world, you needed to change yourself. Now I’ve come to realize that changing yourself does matter, but only in so far as it means actively opposing the powers that be. I was making that choice, though I’m not sure I fully understood the extent of the consequences. I suppose few do, at first.
And how do you feel about the transubstantiated version of your story?
It’s not bad. I can’t complain. It can’t fully capture the experience of really opening the Book of Living Magic, but it carries enough of the truth in it that those who have never seen the Mountains of Oddness will get a glimpse of that beautiful land and its stories. And after all, I’m pretty much trying to accomplish the same thing with Ithaka of the Clouds.
I was going to ask about that. What exactly are you working on?
Well, as you probably know, troll stories are, by their nature, like the Book of Living Magic. Many scholars believe, in fact, that the Book of Living Magic was created by a troll, or at least made in the troll way. Ithaka of the Clouds is one of the most beloved troll stories, though its fame does not extend as far outside the troll diaspora as it deserves to.
My project is twofold: to make the story and its historical context better known in the Lands of Dream, and to create a transubstantiated version for those lands where the authorities would not allow the importing or distribution of troll stories. In the process I am also translating and annotating a remarkable work called The Book of Trollish Wisdom that was recently discovered in the reading toilets of Undertree Library.
Why have you chosen to work on Ithaka of the Clouds? What is it about this story that appeals to you?
Partially because I believe it deserves to be known, partially because I believe it is deeply relevant to the events of our time. Understanding the past is the only way to change the future; and sometimes this understanding can also give us hope, in ourselves and in the world.
What do you make of the recent attempts to silence your colleague and collaborator, Kohlrabian Dialecticus?
A disgrace, but not a surprise. Always watch for those who claim not to be friends of Urizen, but do not fight in the struggle against him.
Agents of his?
Do you think your radicalism has caused you problems over the years? Many think that to speak out so loudly is to invite trouble.
Urizen marches on Oneiropolis. How much more trouble could we be in? How much worse do things have to get before certain “moderates” let go of their precious illusions? But I’m not as worried as you might think. Here in Oneiropolis itself, the doctrines of self-delusion have never caught root.
Do you have any plans for after Ithaka?
I do, actually. If the political situation permits it, my old friend Provatica and I will go out on the road. Ithaka of the Clouds has inspired me, you might say, or perhaps simply reminded me of the value of seeing the world with your own eyes.
Another adventure, then! We look forward to hearing about it, and to Ithaka of the Clouds. Thanks for your time.
You’re welcome. By the way, was that mushroom already growing on you when you came in? If not, you might want to drink this potion. Quickly.