Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nathaniel the Noteworthy Eats Delicious Toast

A few weeks ago, someone asked me what the whole "toast thing" was about in Return to Exile. Maybe you remember this. Sky was trying to convince Crystal to help him rather than hunt the Gnomon and he related the story of Nathaniel the Noteworthy, Samuel the Simpleton, toast, and the Tourmaline of Foresight.

In the first draft of Return to Exile the story of Nathaniel the Noteworthy and his encounter with Samuel's delicious toast was far more extensive. An entire chapter in fact. Only a few bits survived. I've included that chapter below to give you another glimpse of how the story evolved over time.

Keep reading if you like delicious toast.

A Note on Curiosity
(Taken from the secret writings of Professor Anastasia Livingstone, Founder of the Livingstone Institute for Science and Mathematics at Arkhon Academy)

Now curiosity is a curious thing, and native curiosity is even more curious—it being such a rare nativity for even a curious person to possess. Take for instance the notorious “Nathaniel the Noteworthy”. Being a common bloke—a non-native curioso, if you will—Nathaniel was obsessed with finding the infamous “Tourmaline of Foresight” (a rare gemstone said to be owned by one “Samuel the Simpleton”).
Nathaniel searched high and low for the gem, traveling from Prestwitch to Germanium in northern Umpshire, until he finally found the Tower of Lowdunderkis, clambered through the Portal of Perfectus the Imperfect, and entered the Edge, where said Simpleton was said to live.
As those of us who have traveled through the Edge can attest, the path was fraught with peril. Nathaniel crossed the Fiefdom of Fidorkun the Fearful, clawed through the Catacombs of Karakus the Cantankerous, and swam the length of the Ingubriate Ocean.
In the Ingubriate Ocean, he only narrowly avoided the Kraken of Trajukistan with the help of Rubber Duckus the Ineffable from the Cape of Lost Hope (not to be confused with Rubber Duckus the Effable from North Emblin, Dorchester County whose drowning in the dregs of an overlarge tea kettle was as tragic as it was unsurprising).
On the Beach of Bungled Dreams, Nathaniel found the Gibbering Pool of Unhelpful Insights and plunged into its fathomless depths. He emerged, confused but determined, and continued on through the Forest of Unfailing Faithlessness until he reached the Desert of Deplorable Deforestation and bought a map off of Oliver the Indirect.
He wandered for twenty years.
After twenty years, Samuel the Simpleton—who had been watching the wandering from his cottage twenty feet away—asked Nathaniel if he was lost, whereupon Nathaniel admitted that he was, in fact, lost and finally asked for directions. Samuel invited Nathaniel in and they had a dialog that went something like this:
“Would you like some toast?” asked Samuel.
“Do you have jam?”
“No; no jam—just toast.”
“How can you eat toast with no jam?”
“How can you eat not toast with or without jam?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What’s that not supposed to mean?”
“I don’t really know what it’s supposed to mean or not mean; how could I know?”
“How could you not know?”
Nathaniel stared at Samuel until Samuel shifted and broke eye contact.
“Um…I have butter…” Samuel admitted.
“Oh, butter’s great then, thank you,” said Nathaniel as Samuel handed him a piece of buttered toast.
Nathaniel took a bite.
“This toast is quite delicious,” said Nathaniel, who hadn’t tasted toast in a good long time.
“Thank you. The secret is to not burn it,” said Samuel, his voice full of confusing portent.
Nathaniel took another crunching bite, the sound echoing in the awkward silence as bits of toast fell and lodged in his beard, which was quite long after twenty years of wandering without a razor.
After another bite—and another minute of awkward crunching—Nathaniel decided to take the conversation in hand.
“I have come for the Tourmaline of Foresight!” he trumpeted dramatically.
Samuel looked up from his toast and stared at Nathaniel until Nathaniel shifted and broke eye contact.
“I knew this day would come,” said Samuel as he took another bite of toast.
“Oh? Did the Tourmaline tell you that?” asked Nathaniel, impressed.
“No. (chew, chew) Oliver told me you were coming after he sold you the map.”
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
“Sooo…can I have it then?” asked Nathaniel.
“What’s that?”
“The Tourmaline of Foresight; can I have it?”
“And what would you do with it once you had it?”
“Why, I would ask it questions about the future and it would answer them. Am I going to be rich? Am I going to find true love? Will I ever have toast this delicious again? What’s the point of it all?”
“What’s the point of all what?”
“All…this,” said Nathaniel, waving his arms around.
“This cottage?”
“No, no; this! What’s the point of all this! This world! This time thing! This life!”
“Oh that; right, I’m with you now. So you would ask the Tourmaline questions and you think it would give you answers, do you?”
“Um…yes; that’s the point of the Tourmaline of Foresight, isn’t it?”
“Maybe (crunch, crunch, swallow), I’ve never really asked.”
“Never asked?”
“I really think you’d be much happier with the Carbuncle of Self-Loathing,” said Samuel as he stood from the table, walked to an old clothes hamper and started pulling out indescribables.
“Carbuncle of Self-Loathing? I didn’t swim the Straights of Stygian Stench to find the Carbuncle of Self-Loathing! I came for the Tourmaline of Foresight and that’s what I shall have!” declared Nathaniel.
“Just so, just so. Ah! Here we are!” Samuel returned to the table clutching a soiled handkerchief in one hand and a yellowed sock made up of more holes than sock in the other.
He opened the handkerchief and dumped a yellow stone upon the table. At the same time, he upended the sock and a purple stone tumbled from the toe.
“I give you the Carbuncle and the Tourmaline!” said Samuel dramatically.
“You give them to me?”
“Figure of speech; more dramatic than saying ‘lookie here’.”
“Oh. Right.”
“Now, you may ask each stone one question, and whichever pleases you more is the one you may have.”
Nathaniel leaned over and picked up the purple gem. Holding it to his eye, he asked, “Am I going to be rich?”
A moment passed, and then an image appeared in the stone, swimming up from its murky depths. Nathaniel gasped as he saw his future self rolling in a pile of gold coins.
Satisfied, he set the purple gem aside and picked up the other.
Holding it to his eye he asked: “What’s the point of all this?”
Nothing appeared.
“Try giving it a little shake,” said Samuel, “sometimes that helps.”
Nathaniel shook the gem and returned it to his eye.
Watery smoke swirled in the jewels depths, and then, from somewhere deep within, words floated to the surface:
What? You mean this cottage?
Nathaniel’s brow creased as he dropped the gemstone from his eye.
“Um…can I see that first one again?”
Nathaniel left the cottage a moment later. Using the purple stone, he avoided the Bickering Bats of Whitmore, slid past the Stagnant Swamps of Revolving Revulsion, took the stairs up the Cliffs of Maddening Madness, and returned to Prestwitch, Dorset County, where he was greeted—as he knew he would be—by a beautiful farm girl whom he knew was, in reality, a rich princess in hiding. They later married and Nathaniel became rich beyond his wildest dreams—as he knew he would.
Now, after hearing this story, most people assume that Nathaniel the Noteworthy left the cottage of Samuel the Simpleton with the Tourmaline of Foresight in hand. After all, the stone he possessed showed him the future: he married a princess, he became rich, and he never did have toast as delicious as Samuel’s again.
But in this, most people are mistaken.
The difference between the curioso (the natively curious) and the non-curioso (the non-natively curious and the uncurious) is that the non-curiosos are constantly looking for solutions—someone to tell them what to do and what’s next, even if that someone is a pushy stone. They look to the future as a set thing, a place full of answers.
This was definitely the case with Nathaniel the Noteworthy who, it should be said, was most noteworthy for being a know-it-all.
The curiosos, on the other hand, are constantly looking for the next question. They look to the future as a place they explore and create. For them, the future is not set—it is only possible.
Samuel the Simpleton was called Simple not because he was stupid, but because he asked a lot of questions—a characteristic the uninformed all too commonly equate with ignorance, when, in fact, the opposite is the case.
The Tourmaline of Foresight had the foresight to know that a life full of answers is a life without choice, for a person who supposes they know an answer always acts on that knowledge and creates a future that mimics the answer they thought they had. Thus, they do not act, but re-act to their own presumption of knowledge, or to the answer given them by another, no matter how wise and all-knowing that other might be. 
A life full of questions, on the other hand, leads to nothing but choice for questions acknowledge multiple possibilities, and thus, multiple answers that can, in turn, lead to more questions and more choices. 
It is for this reason that questions are to be encouraged, not dismissed. For, if we run out of questions, the future really will be set in stone.
A life full of answers—the life of the non-curioso—is a boring life.
Just ask Nathaniel the Noteworthy who, after only two years, took the Carbuncle of Self-Loathing and walked into Fallowmere Lake, never to be heard from again.

(end note)