Keeping It Gweel

Gweel & Other Alterities, Simon Whitechapel (Ideophasis Press, 2011)

This review is a useless waste of time. I can tell you very little about Gweel. It’s a book, if that helps. It’s made of paper. It has pages. Lots of little words on the pages.

What I can’t do is classify Gweel into a genre, not because none of them fit, but because the concept of a genre doesn’t seem to apply to Gweel. It stands alone, without classification. Calling Gweel “experimental” or “avant garde” would be like stamping a barcode on a moon rock.

It may have been written for an audience of one: author Simon Whitechapel. If we make the very reasonable assumption that he owns a copy of his own book, he may have attained 100% market saturation. However, there could be a valuable peripheral market: people who want to read a book that is very different from anything they’ve read before.

It is a collection of short pieces of writing, similar in tone but not in form, exploring “dread, death, and doom.” “Kopfwurmkundalini” and “Beating the Meat” resemble horror stories, and manage to be frightening yet strangely fantastic. The first one is about a man – paralysed in a motorbike accident, able to communicate only by eye-blinks – and his induction into a strange new reality. It contains a rather thrilling story-within-a-story called “MS Found in a Steel Bottle”, about two men journeying to the bottom of the ocean in a bathysphere. “Kopfwurmkundalini”’s final pages are written in a made-up language, but the author has encluded a glossary so that you can finish the story.

Those two/three stories make up about half of Gweel’s length. The remainder mostly consists of shorter work that seems to be more about creating an atmosphere or evoking an emotion. “Night Shift” is about a prison for planets (Venus, we learn, is serving a 10^3.2 year sentence for sex-trafficking), and a theme of prisons and planets runs through a fair few of the other stories here, although usually in a less surreal context. “Acariasis” is a vignette about a convict who sees a dust-mite crawling on his cell wall, and imagines it’s a grain of sand from Mars. The image is vivid and the piece has a powerful effect. “Primessence” is The Shawshank Redemption on peyote (and math). A prisoner believes that because his cell is a prime number, he will soon be snatched from it by some mathematical daemon (the story ends with the prisoner’s fate unknown). “The Whisper” is a ghost story of sorts, short and achingly sad.

No doubt my impression of Gweel differs from the one the author intended. But maybe his intention was that I have that different impression than him. Maybe Gweel reveals different secrets to each reader.

I can’t analyse it much, but Gweel struck me as an experience like Fellini’s Amarcord… lots of little story-threads, none of them terribly meaningful on their own. Experienced together, however, those threads will weave themselves into a tapestry in the hall of your mind, a tapestry that’s entirely unique… and your own.

Original review

Jesús say: I… S….. R… U… B… B… I… S…. H…. B… O… O… K…. | W… H… A…. N… K… C…. H… A… P… L…. E…. I… S…. H… I… J… O…. D… E…. P… U…. T… A…..

Previously pre-posted:

It’s The Gweel Thing…

Ear Will An Thee

(This is a guest-review by Norman Foreman, B.A.)

Yr Wylan Ddu, Simon Whitechapel (Papyrocentric Press, ?)

If, like me, you froth at the mouth and roll on the floor biting the carpet when you hear the phrase “Pre-order now”, then relief is at hand. You might have thought that “pre-ordering now” was as logical as “ordering pre-now”. You were wrong. Here is a book that really can be pre-ordered now, because it doesn’t exist yet. If it ever does exist, it will cease to be pre-orderable now. In the meantime, you’re pre-ordering it whether you know it or not. In fact, the less you know, the more you’re pre-ordering it. All life-forms in the Universe, actual and otherwise, are pre-ordering it at this very moment, from the humblest virus to the mightiest hive-mind.

Front cover of yr wylan ddu by slow exploding gulls

Yr Wylan Ddu (2003) by Slow Exploding Gulls

There’s no escape, in other words. And no more review, you might think, given that the book doesn’t exist yet. True, but I can review the title. It’s Welsh, it means “The Black Gull”, and it’s pronounced something like “Ear Will An Thee”. It was also originally the title of an album in 2003 by the Exeter electronistas Slow Exploding Gulls. Whether S.E.G. will object to the appropriation remains to be seen. If they do, it can be pointed out that Dirgelwch Yr Wylan Ddu, or Secret of the Black Gull, was the title of a children’s book by Idwal Jones (1890-1964) published in 1978.

Front cover of Dirgelwch Yr Wylan Ddu by Idwal Jones

Idwal Jones’ Secret of the Black Gull (1978)

There is nothing corresponding to “of” in the original title of that book, but then Welsh grammar doesn’t work like that. Yr Wylan Ddu contains some good examples of how it does work. It’s an active, almost clockwork or organic, phrase compared to its static English equivalent. In isolation, the Welsh words for “the”, “black” and “gull” would be y, du, and gwylan, pronounced something like “ee”, “dee” and “goo-ill-an” in southern Welsh. But put them together and they mutate in more ways than one: Yr Wylan Ddu (adjectives generally follow the noun in Welsh). The similarity between gwylan and “gull” isn’t a coincidence: the English word is borrowed from Celtic.

However, it is unlikely that Yr Wylan Ddu will actually be written in Welsh or any other Celtic language. First, Whitechapel doubtless feels that this would reduce his already small audience. Second, he doesn’t speak Welsh. Or write it. So the book will probably follow past trends and be written in English. It’s also safe to predict that it will refer to at least one black gull. So: pre-order now. And please carry on doing so until further notice.

Puro Lojo

Los Ojos

He was haunted by eyes. It had begun quite slowly, quite simply: a feeling that he was being watched whenever he went out, that hostile eyes were staring out at him, down on him, from the windows of the town, tracking his progress, feeding the nectar of data to the honeycombs of brains, for savouring later, when he had passed. He started to find quieter, gloomier streets, to stay indoors on sunny days, to keep his curtains drawn. He felt calmer when he knew he wasn’t overlooked, wasn’t being watched, couldn’t be. But then the calm began to evaporate, for he realized that there were eyes even in his house, even here, where he was cocooned in privacy.

The eyes of his books – indeed, the eyes of “books”, the two o’s, the two little eyes staring out between the “b” and the “k”. There were hundreds of eyes, thousands of them, in every book, ready to stare out at him, to watch him, whenever he opened a book and tried to read. Even “eyes” itself, with the twin e’s, seemed to peer at him, if not to stare. It had half-closed lids, ready to open on him, to glare its full. In Spanish, the word opened fully: ojo. The word reminded him of two eyes with a nose between them, with a bindi over the nose, the mystic dot of Hinduism, symbolizing the third eye. In Hindi, though, the word didn’t threaten him: आँख, ānkh. When he’d first started to worry about his books, about the eyes in his books, he’d gone to the public library and spent an hour searching through the dictionaries, making a list of the eye-words he did find threatening, as though he could trap them, confine them, on a single piece of paper.

The “oog” of Dutch. The “öga” of Swedish. The “øje” and “øye” of Danish and Norwegian, which reminded him of the razor-blade slicing the eye in Un Chien Andalou. The “oko” of Czech, Polish, and Russian. The “ojo” of Spanish, the “olho” of Portuguese, the “occhio” of Italian, all from the “oculus” of Latin (“oculo” in the ablative and dative). Then there was the “göz” of Turkish, entirely unrelated, but staring out at him like a cyclops. And what about the “ojú” of Yoruba? It was unrelated to Spanish, but disturbingly similar. Disturbing in a different way was the οφθαλμος, the “ophthalmos”, of ancient Greek. It was such a juicy, gelatinous word, like the juice and jelly of an eye itself, like a mechanism of chemicals and flesh from which the two o’s stared out at him, watching him, judging him, storing data about him for use in his trial, the secret trial that was being prepared for him.

He felt relieved, at first, that modern Greek had a less threatening μάτι, “mati”. But then he discovered that Malay had a word that was very similar, “mata”, though he knew that Malay and Greek were entirely unrelated. He felt his skin prickle as the first hint of a conspiracy trickled into his brain. The lower-case a’s of “matia”, the Greek plural, like the lower-case e’s of “eyes”, were like peering eyes, as though the words were beginning to take on the same form as “ojo” and “oko”, as though they would open fully one day too. He wondered if, one day, all the world’s languages would have eyes in their words for “eye”, would have twin o’s gazing out, glaring out at the reader. The biter bit. The reader read. Or what about a script, a font, a language, that was entirely ocular, entirely based on o’s, that read its readers as they read it? You could do that, could create one. There were enough forms of “o” in the alphabet, or the alphabets, the Latin and French and Czech and Yoruba and Vietnamese.

It was then he realized that he hadn’t looked at the Vietnamese dictionary, having missed it near the end of the shelf. He went to look at it, carrying his eye-list with him. He took the dictionary off the shelf and flicked to the right page. He nearly dropped the book when he saw the word staring up at him: mắt. Like Greek, like Malay. He would discover later, after more research, that the Vietnamese and Malay words probably had a common origin, something he’d half-suspected, after that moment of shock. The language families were spoken in neighbouring regions, after all. But for that moment of shock it had seemed a confirmation of something at work, something beneath the surface, or beneath the lid, peering out, ready to be fully exposed, fully opened, ready to stare its full, to drink his soul.

After his visit to the library, he found it more and more difficult to read English and Spanish, both with eye-like eye-words, both full of o’s. He was haunted by a line from Lovecraft, from “The Shadow over Innsmouth”: “I could not escape the sensation of being watched from ambush on every hand by sly, staring eyes that never shut.” But in English, in Spanish, they were not in ambush. They were there openly, eagerly, greedily. He sought refuge in French and German, whose eye-words were asymmetric, un-eye-like, and where “o” was blessedly far down the list of letter-frequencies. English ran e-t-a-o. All those to’s and of’s and not’s. Spanish was even worse: e-a-o. All those masculine endings, those past tenses, those no’s and lo’s. But French ran e-a-s-i-t-n-r-u-l-o. German was even better: e-n-i-s-t-r-a-d-h-u-g-m-c-l-b-o. He began to sellotape his English and Spanish books shut, as though each were an eye that he was closing by force, blinding so that its myriad inner eyes could not watch him. He felt much calmer reading French and German, much better able to cope when he came across a reference to eyes, and he even laughed aloud when, returning to À Rebours, he read of how the ancestral portraits of des Esseintes alarmaient avec leurs yeux fixes, “startled one with their fixed gaze”.

The disaster, when it came, came without warning. He picked up a French guide to butterflies one afternoon, meaning to browse through it before lunch, and almost at once came across a slip of paper handwritten on both sides. The writing was neat but small and he had to concentrate to read it. It was all part of the trap, he realized too late, to make him focus, to bite more deeply on the poison bait that had been dangled before him. Ice began to form around his viscera as he read, but he could not stop himself until he had finished:

Die einzelnen Worte schwammen um mich; sie gerannen zu Augen die mich anstarrten und in die ich wieder hineinstarren muß: Wirbel sind sie, in die hinabzusehen mich schwindelt, die sich unaufhaltsam drehen und durch die hindurch man ins Leere kommt.

With sick horror, he noted that the passage contained exactly two o’s, near the beginning and near the end, like the grotesque eyes of a distorted, teratomorphic face. Then he turned the slip over and found that the other side contained a translation in English, full of o’s, full of eyes, staring at him, eager to drink the emotion in his face, the realization that he had been trapped. Again, he could not prevent himself from reading to the end:

Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes that stared at me and that I was forced to stare back into – whirlpools that gave me vertigo and, reeling ceaselessly, led into the void.

He let out an involuntary cry. Where had the slip come from? Who was the author of the German? Who had translated it? Who had written the two languages down, hidden the slip in the book? He looked again and realized that it was his own writing, slow, careful, half-disguised, but unmistakable, now that he looked. There was a conspiracy, yes, there was, and he was the author of it, spinning a web for himself, plotting his own destruction, with hidden motives, hidden hatred. He moaned. Things were moving in his head. The slip was a linguistic key, turning a lock in his subconscious, releasing a phrase that he himself had hidden there. Esse Est Percipi. Berkeley’s great dictum. “To Be Is To Be Perceived”. He knew the truth now. He could not escape, could find no refuge, draw no curtain, close no door, find no darkness to hide in. The universe itself was an eye all around him and he was its eternal focus, naked always, visible always, pierced through and through by a torturer’s gaze that created its own object of torture.

A Swirl of Shadows

I tell of the planet of Gdarrujh, far, very far, in space and time. There is a spot there, by a vanished sea, whereon, at certain times of the year, a swirl of shadows will appear on a broken floor of ancient marble. And these shadows are very strange, seeming those of living creatures, yet with likeness to none ever known on that world. Travellers who return from the spot compare the shadows to those of autumn leaves able to hover and flutter at will between sun and earth, shading the latter with their shape. Yet these shadows have heads and limbs, after a fashion, and certainly pertain to the animal, not the vegetable, and even to the human, as though the arms of Gdarrujh-folk were broad-bladed oars and men could row the very insubstantiality of air, ride there at will, though they remained solid flesh and sturdy bone.

And this shadow-swirl has nourished several schools of speculation on Gdarrujh. Some philosophoi say it is nothing real, being a mirage or trick of some long-dead, high-cunning’d mage, whose magick works on down the millennia, tempting the foolish to belief in nonsense and chimæras. But others say, nay, nay, the shadows are those of real creatures, past or to come, and are shown by design of the gods, that men might throw down their walls of dogma, topple their towers of certitude, and know that the Universe holds more than man sees or woman dreams. And a smaller school of the realitarians holds that the shadows are not of the past or future, but rather of the present, being cast somehow through a chink that separates known Gdarrujh from another Gdarrujh that exists in hidden parallel, where creatures dwell not only the land and sea, but also the air, being able to take to it, delight in it, partake there of the lightness of leaves and the grace of fish.

And the creatures of the shadow-swirl have mouths like knives, which gape as though they call, but, in repudiation of whose claims, in confirmation of whose, in relevation of what mysteries, no sound reaches the speculators of Gdarrujh.

Palace in Numberland

The Palace of Primes

“Cur ad uvas per Zeusim depictas accursabant volucres?” – Iordani Bruni Ars Memoriæ (1582).

“Why did birds flock to the grapes painted by Zeuxis?” – Giordano Bruno’s Art of Memory.

“To mnemonicize the primes is to partake of the mind of God, as though one dipped a shell into plumbless nectar and drank thereof.” So runs the saying in the Cult of Primes, wherein prodigious feats of memory are demanded even of the neophytes, who must enthrone in a memory-palace the initial 931 primes (from 2 to 7,307) ere they can begin climbing, rung by jaden rung, the ladder of the Hierarchy. The Cult has a number-system based on thirty: which is to say, where we, with a base of ten, have nine number-symbols and the cipher, they have twenty-nine ditto and ditto. To each symbol, in their mnemonics, they assign a beast, bird, and flower; a metal, gem, and wood; a fur, cloth, and silk; a food, drink, and condiment; a colour, scent, and sound. Thus, a hummingbird hovering above an emerald amid scent of vanilla symbolizes the prime 1,667; an eye upon a silver harp the prime 5,059; and a porphyry scarab upon a cheetah’s fur the prime 11,173.

When once the neophytes have mastered the system of mnemonics, each sets to constructing his Palatium Primorum, his Palace of Primes. Herein, each Prime has Its Room, wherein It sits on a Throne studded with symbols of its attributes, whilst courtiers feast and musicians play before It. And in the Left Wall of the Room are many doors symbolizing numbers from 1 to 31. If one is in the Throne-Room of 137, for example, and one steps through the Door of 13, one finds oneself in the Throne-Room of 199, the Prime 13 places higher in the List of Primes; and similarly, mutatis mutandis, for other numbers and other doors. And in the Right Wall are an increasing number of doors leading to Primes lower in the list. Thus, the Throne-Room of 2 has no doors on the right; and of 3 has one door; and of 5 two doors; and so till 131, the 32nd prime, whereat the Right Doors reach their maximum. And each priest of the Cult, from his neophycy on, will toil a lifetime bedecking, manning, and extending the Palace, till it seems to him more real than the World, vaster than the Universe, and dearer to him than his heart-beat.

Nor, if earthly misfortune overtakes him, does the Palace fail of consolation, for a priest can resort thither for surcease of pain, if upon the rack; for oblivion of want, if destitute or starving; and for foretaste of Paradise, if dying. Yea, Paradise is a Palace, in the teaching of the Cult, a Palatium Omnium Primorum, of All Primes, primes numberless as beats of a deathless heart, as sands of an endless shore, as stars of a boundless heaven. And Herein the Doors of the Left Wall are infinite and the Doors of the Right increase for ever.

Lulu Lunatic Luz

It’s disturbing what you can find online…

Tales of Silence & Sortilege, Simon Whitechapel, Paperback, 111 Pages

May 28, 2012

If you love weird fantasy, if you love the English language, even if you don’t love Clark Ashton Smith, you should read this book. The back cover describes it as “the darkest and most disturbing fantasy” of this millennium, but that’s either sarcastic or tragically optimistic, because what these stories really are is beautiful. The breath of snow-wolves is described as “harsh-spiced.” A mysterious gargoyle leaning from the heights of a great cathedral has “wings still glistening with the rime of interplanetary flight.” Hummingbirds are “gem-feathered… their glittering breasts dusted with the gold of a hundred pollens.” If you cannot appreciate such imagery, then perhaps you are dead to beauty, or simply dead. These tales are very short, but some of them have stayed with me for years, such as “The Treasure of the Temple,” in which a thief seems to lose the greatest fortune he could ever have found by stealing a king’s ransom in actual treasure. Most of the stories are brilliant, one or two is only good, but the masterpieces are “Master of the Pyramid” and “The Return of the Cryomancer.” The sense of loss and mystery evoked by these two companion stories is almost physically painful, it is so haunting. There is nothing like these stories being published today. Reading them, I feel the excitement and wonder that fans of Weird Tales magazine must have known long ago when new stories would appear by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. Simon Whitechapel doesn’t imitate these authors so much as apply their greatest lessons to new forms of fantasy. This is one of the cheapest books I own, but I accord it one of my most valuable. It is easily the best work of art you will find in any form on Lulu. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Roses of Hsūlag-Beiolă, Simon Whitechapel, Paperback, 154 Pages

Jun 8, 2012

This collection of weird fantasy is filled with mystery, wonder and a sense of the ineffable. Not every story is a mind-blowing masterpiece, but the best of them are absolutely spectacular. Even the worst are good and all are haunting in one way or another. My two favorites were: 1. “The Mercy of the Osmomancer,” wherein a knight on a mission to investigate the tower of a scent-wizard encounters demons made of smells and even learns the language of odors… 2. “The Swans,” in which a pawnbroker tracks down all the known paintings of a seemingly insane artist who paints his canvases entirely black, nothing but black, for reasons best and most poetically left to Simon Whitechapel to explain… Any fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Allan Poe, Comte de Lautréamont, Charles Baudelaire or William S. Burroughs will find something wonderful to love in here. I sure did.

Even more disturbing is the thought that this individual may be able to pass themself off as normal in real life: there are no spelling mistakes or solecisms. (Then again, perhaps I’m reviewing my own books in my sleep. (But I wouldn’t compare myself to B*rr**ghs, surely? (Unless it’s a bluff or double-bluff. (Disturbing, as I said. (I agree.)))))

Ink For Your Elf

The Majikalph Script

Majikalph was created by Simon Whitechapel in 2012 to combine his interests in artificial alphabets and recreational mathematics. It is based on the patterns created when lines are drawn between numbers of various 4×4 magic squares. In a magic square, every row, column, and diagonal of numbers adds to the same total. In the 4×4 magic square below, the most interesting patterns are created when each number is connected to the number 2 or 4 places higher than it (e.g. 2 goes to 4 or 6; 13 goes to 15 or 1).

Majikalph is used for writing English and is written from right to left. There is no distinction between upper and lower case. No character of the script is invented: each is based on one or another of the 880 possible 4×4 magic squares (for further information, please see

The sample text is an extract from Tennyson’s The Princess (1847):

Oh, hark, oh, hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
Oh, sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).

Sample Text

Hymn to Herm

The Cult of Infinite Hermaphrodites

When neophytes enter the Cult of Infinite Hermaphrodites at Xidar, they are taught, amidst their initial duties of sweeping and service, the operations of simple arithmetic. Then, at the end of their first year, now most practised in this arithmetic, they are asked to say which number it is that, self-mated, beareth 4. And they reply, of course, that 4 is born of self-mated 2. And asked the same of 9, they reply 3; and of 16, they reply 4. Thus it is (they now learn) that 2 is called by the Cult the hermaphrodite of 4, as 3 is the hermaphrodite of 9, and 4 of 16. Then the neophytes are asked to say which number it is that, self-mated, beareth 1: which is to say, what is the hermaphrodite of 1? And they reply, of course, that 1 is auto-hermaphroditic, self-mating to bear itself. And then, in mildest, most deceptive tones, they are asked to name the hermaphrodite of 2. And here, in this simplest of questions, they stand (tho’ they know it not) on the brink of a Mysterium Magnissimum et Tremendissimum, a Riddle Most Mighty and Awesome.

Now, ’tis evident that the hermaphrodite of 2 falleth betwixt 1 and 2, for 1 is the Auto-Hermaphrodite, self-mating to bear itself, and self-mated 2 beareth 4, as remarked above. But where-betwixt doth the requested hermaphrodite fall? The neophytes know not. So they are told: test the mid of 1 and 2, which is 1½, or 3/2. Self-mated, this bears 9/4, or 2¼. And this falls too high. So, subtract a ½ of a ½ from 1½, for 1¼, or 5/4. Self-mated, this bears 25/16, or 1 and 9/16. And this falls too low. So, add a ½ of a ¼ to 1¼, for 1⅜, or 11/8. Self-mated, this bears 121/64, or 1 and 57/64. Again, too low. So, add a ½ of an ⅛ to 1⅜, for 23/16, or 1 and 7/16. Self-mated, this bears 529/256, or 2 and 17/256. Too high. And thus the neophytes proceed for a day, dividing and subtracting, dividing and adding, ever approximating the hermaphrodite of 2.

But do they ever reach it? Could they ever reach it, by this or any other mode of rational approximation? And here is the Mighty Mystery, the Riddle that Wrencheth the Brain, for the Cult replieth: Nay, Nay, Never! For It hath an incontrovertible proof that demonstrateth, by easy steps of simple logic, that the hermaphrodite of 2 is impossibly a ratio of finite integer to finite integer: which is to say, it must be infinite. Were the sky all parchment, the seas all ink, and gulls all plucked for quills, the hermaphrodite of 2 remained irrecordable. And more than this: the Cult can prove, by adaptation of the aforementioned logic, that the hermaphrodites of all integers, save the perfect squares, are similarly infinite and irrecordable, eternally elusive of finite man, yet definable even in their boundless nature by his skull-boxed brain-speck. And this truth the Cult flaunteth to the profane in its very name, which titillateth and tempteth, yet yieldeth not the guessed-at, the hoped-for fruit.

Now sing:

All hail, O World, the lowly Worm,
Which, same to same, exchangeth sperm!
And twines its twin, beneath the moon,
To grant itself renewal’s boon!

Next bow, yea bow, and loudly hail
The spiral-foot, the crawling Snail!
That twines its twin, ’midst nuptial slime,
To slay the slayer, scything Time!

From The Hymn to Hermaphroditi.

It’s Only Rot’n’Roll…

It’s Only Rot’n’Roll

A Porphyropolyhedric Tribute to Clark Ashton Smith

Banal, mundane, and dreary. Something needs to be done about the writing of Clark Ashton Smith — and I’ve tried to do it. The problem seems to me that the writing of CAS has been Roman in the gloamin’: that is, its twilight mystery, touched with Grecian glamor, plods across the page in the Roman alphabet, which is highly functional, but aesthetically unadventurous. Has any edition of CAS in English tried to match the beauty and complexity of the text with the beauty and complexity of a font? Not to my knowledge. Calligraphy, in the wider sense, is peripheral, at best, to English literature and and even the hyperlogomania of a book like Finnegans Wake takes place on a highly restricted graphological stage. Imagine what Joyce could have done with other alphabets, other ideographies, to stir into his mad meadish Sternen-stew of polyglossemanticity! And imagine CAS printed, or hand-written, in a script that reflects something of the beauty and complexity of his language. The beauty and fluidity of Georgian or Arabic would suit his tales of Zothique, for example; the complexity and density of Devanagari or Tamil would suit his tales of Hyperborea: but best of all would be a script invented specifically for CAS.

I haven’t supplied that, but I’ve tried to point the way with what I call a CAS-Whole, or porphyropolyhedric tribute to Clark Ashton Smith. It consists of a dodecahedron of paper and purple matches that uses four invented scripts to capture the opening lines of five of CAS’s best stories. In Plato’s cosmology, four of the regular (or Platonic) polyhedrons — the tetrahedron, the hexahedron, the octahedron, and the icosahedron — represent the four elements of which the universe is composed. The final regular polyhedron, the dodecahedron, represents the universe as a whole.[1] Hence, “CAS-Whole”. The purple matches — creating a porphyro-polyhedron — recall CAS’s words in The Black Book: “Strange pleasures are known to him who flaunts the immarcesible purple of poetry before the color-blind.”[2]

The dodecahedron itself, consisting of twelve regular dodecahedrons, is replete with the golden ratio, long regarded as of special significance in aesthetics.[3] One face is entirely black and might be called panglossic, representing all possible scripts in all possible languages; another, on the opposite side of the CAS-Whole, is entirely white and might be called an’glossic, representing silence and the blank page. Between the two, in a kind of “Goldilocks zone” between too much meaning and too little, are ten faces enscribed in four invented scripts with the opening words, in English, of five of CAS’s stories. Eight faces use a single, unadulterated script of the four, spiralling to the centre; two faces combine the four scripts. Given that the scripts are used for standard English, the stories can all be deciphered with a little effort and ingenuity. We are used, when reading in our mother tongues, to understanding with little effort and ingenuity, so the CAS-Whole might be regarded as a reminder of something we should not so carelessly take for granted. Furthermore, like all the Platonic solids, the dodecahedron can serve as a die, so the CAS-Whole reflects those central CASean themes of chance and fortune. Due to my ineptitude and impatience, not all of the faces are good regular pentagons, but that too can be woven into the symbolism of the CAS-Whole. The dodecahedron is not perfect, but I am not CAS and perfect dodecahedra do not occur in nature. Nor will the die roll true: fortune is biased.[4] Critics have pointed out that almost all CAS’s stories about death, so I hope that, imperfect as it is, one might say of the CAS-Whole: “It’s only rot’n’roll — but I like it.”


1. “There still remained a fifth construction, which God used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven.” Timaeus, c. 360 B.C. See

2. The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, Arkham House, 1979. See

3. For more on the golden ratio, or golden section, please see

4. A biased coin can be thrown “fair”, using a simple technique that can be adapted to a biased dodecahedron. Suppose a coin is much likelier to land heads than tails (or vice versa). Simply toss it twice. If it lands HH or TT, toss again. Otherwise, use the first of the two throws: simple probability will prove that even on a biased coin, HT is as likely as TH. Similarly, for a a biased dodecahedron, roll it twelve times. If any face repeats during the twelve rolls, roll twelve times again. When you have a sequence of twelve different faces, choose the first face. Based on my (far from reliable) caculations, there are 8,916,100,448,256 ways to roll a dodecahedral die twelve times, of which 479,001,600 contain no repeating number. One would therefore have to roll the die 18,614 times, on average, to produce a sequence in which no number repeats.