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Characters in Poictesme

Friday, April 11, 2008   |   Literature
Koshchei the Deathless
Mr. Cabell, in this and other romances, seems to use Koshchei as the supreme deity of the universe, the universal demiurge, the god of things as they are. In Russian folk-lore, Koshchei is the personification of evil, appearing sometimes in human shape and sometimes as a snake. In the legends concerning him, he is generally discovered, imprisoned behind a forbidden door, by a bridegroom prince. He tricks the prince into releasing him, and promptly carries off the prince's fairy wife, who is rescued only with the greatest difficulty. Koshchei is not really deathless, but only hard to kill; as his death lies in an egg, that is in a duck, that is in a hare, that is in a casket, that is under an oak in an inaccessible place.

James Branch Cabell used the spelling Koshchei in several of his books. His character, however, was a sort of over-deity who presides over all the "first-level" human gods (such as Jehovah and Loki). Robert A. Heinlein used Cabell's version in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice.
Dom Manuel, a.k.a Manuel the Redeemer
Dom Manuel was the legendary redeemer of Poictesme, whose life history is set forth in Figures of Earth, and whose metamorphosis from a rather fallible human being to a holy redeemer is described in The Silver Stallion.
  • Niafer (wife)

  • Melicent (daughter)
    Melicent was Dom Manuel's eldest child. Her story is related at length in Domnei.

  • Dorothy la Désirée (daughter)
    This was Dom Manuel's third child. She plays a prominent part in Jurgen only.

  • Ettarre (daughter)
    For the chaste, but somewhat protracted, love affairs of this youngest of Manuel's daughters, see The Cream of the Jest.

    Lin Carter's introduction to the 1971 Ballantine Books reprint of The Cream of the Jest includes this comment:

    ...about "Ettarre", the eternally pursued, ideal woman, it has, not unnaturally, been suggested that she may represent some lost love of Cabell's youth even as Felix Kennaston/Horvendile obviously is meant to represent Cabell himself. This may or may not be so: at any rate, Cabellists usually derive "Ettarre" from the medieval French romances. But only last week, I was browsing through a reference work called Mythology of All Races (Boston, 1918) and, in Volume III, devoted to the Irish myths, I ran across a reference to "Caibell and Etar, rulers of the sid-folk, the sidhe, or Fairies..."

48 [40] Messire de Montors — Ayrart de Montors was the second son of Dom Manuel's half-sister, Matthiette. (For additional comments about Matthiette, see also the entry for Math (page 50) in Notes on Figures of Earth. — DR) According to Mr. Cabell, he held the papal chair as Adrian VII from 1268 to 1271. His method of obtaining election to this high post, as described in Domnei, is very similar to that which Dumas, in his Celebrated Crimes, relates of Pope Alexander VI. Historians less well informed than Mr. Cabell say there was no Pope Adrian VII and that, from 1268 to 1271, the papacy was vacant. The events of the "replevined Wednesday" referred to, are more fully set forth in the early chapter of Domnei.

[DR]: This Wikipedia entry describes a satiric novel, Hadrian the Seventh, written by Frederick Rolfe in 1904, in which an Englishman is rather oddly elevated to Pope. He takes the name of Hadrian (or Adrian) VII.

48 [40] Brunbelois — Brunbelois was a mountain in Northumberland in which the fairy Mélusine was fabled to have imprisoned her father, Helymas.

49 [40] Perion de la Forêt — This was the lover of Manuel's eldest daughter, Melicent, and the hero of Domnei. According to The Lineage of Lichfeld, he was the father of Raymondin de la Forêt, who figures in the famous Lusignan legend as the husband of Mélusine.

49 [40] Vicomte de Puysange — This is the philanthropic gentleman who gave his name and title to the child of Jurgen and Félise. It is related in Domnei how Perion, also, for a brief while, stole this same name. Jurgen
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Félise de Soyecourt — Later Félise de Puysange. For Jurgen's dealings with her, see the foreword to "The Wedding Jest" in The Line of Love, page 8. One of her descendants was that Florian de Puysange who, in The High Place, so notably conformed to his neighbors' notions of what was proper.
Horvendile
Horvendile is the name Mr. Cabell takes when he enters his own romances. In reading of Horvendile is must be remembered that he is always conscious that the other characters are but creations of his own imagination, and puppets with which he may do as he pleases. This, of course, does not apply to The Cream of the Jest, for in that book Horvendile is the double of Felix Kennaston and not of Mr. Cabell. In this connection see Book First, Chapter VI, of The Cream of the Jest; and page 46 of Figures of Earth.

This name may come from the Hystorie of Hamblet, where a Horvendile is governor of the province of Ditmarse and the father of Hamblet. However, the name is written in Chivalry as Orvendile and in The Eagle's Shadow as Orven Deal. A passage on page 273 of Figures of Earth also connects him with Scandinavian mythology. There Manuel asks, "Is he the Horvendile whose great-toe is the morning star?" This obviously refers to a passage in The Prose Edda, where Thor carried Orvandel on his back in a basket from Jotunheim. Orvandel's toe stuck out of the basket and froze, so Thor broke it off and cast it into the sky, where it became a star. There can be scarcely any doubt that Horvendile is Mr. Cabell himself, entering his own books in masquerade. A careful reading of Book First of The Cream of the Jest and other passages where he appears will make this clear: and Mr. Cabell, writing of his books on page 10 of The Lineage of Lichfield, throws additional light on the subject when he says, "Yet underlying all, of course, is the profounder 'connecting theme' that Horvendile is the erratic demiurge who composes and controls the entire business extempore, without any prompter except his own æsthetic whim. . ." In a very interesting discussion of Horvendile's origin in the Author's Note to the Storisende edition of Gallantry, Mr. Cabell confesses that in that book Vanringham foreshadowed Horvendile and played the author loose in his own book; while Ahasuerus performed a similar function in Domnei.

Horvendile is an anagram of "hinder love"

If you want to play the anagram game, it also devolves into "hired novel" and "horned evil", not to mention "hone drivel" or "devil honer" or even "veiled horn" or maybe "devil her on". (But Cabell probably didn't consider "Oh, evil nerd".)

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but "Horvendile" (so spelt, anagram or not) is a late Frenchified form of a name earlier attested as Aurvandil or Orwandil. This was a companion of Thor who suffered frost-bite in a journey. Thor broke off his great toe (or both of them?) and threw it into the sky as a star. It has traditionally been identified with Alcor, next to the end of the handle in the Big Dipper. The other toe is Rigel, Orion's left foot, if both toes are intended.

The name appears as the name of the star itself later, and in Old English as "earendel", in which form Tolkien found it, and eventually produced the tale of Eärendil the Mariner, who yet voyages over the world (or does he? the cosmology isn't quite clear) with the Silmaril bound on his brow. The transformation of Orwandil's toe is one of the oddest known to literature.

Cabell does refer to "the great toe of Horvendile" somewhere.

Lin Carter's introduction to the 1971 Ballantine Books reprint of The Cream of the Jest observes the connections between Cabellian names and historical literature, and speculates that "[The name] 'Horvendile' derives ultimately from Saxo Grammaticus."
  • Felix Kennaston
    In The Cream of the Jest the hero, Felix Kennaston, is a modern poet-turned-novelist whose first success, Men Who Loved Alison, seems closely similar to The Soul of Melicent. Like Cabell, Kennaston strives to write perfectly of beautiful happenings, set in "an epoch and a society, and even a geography, whose comeliness had escaped the wear-and-tear of ever actually existing." Thanks to an ambiguous talisman known as the Sigil of Scoteia, his dreams take him to just such times and geographies, including his creator's own unreal land of Poictesme. A region of mediaeval France no longer found on maps, Poictesme somehow borders on even more fabulous realms and is central to Cabell's fantasies.

    In these haunting dreams, Kennaston appears as Horvendile, a potent demiurge of the Cabell cosmology: who in the world of stories wields more power than an author? But though authors may write themselves into their tales, their female creations remain, for them, unattainable. Horvendile longs for his Ettarre, who like Melicent is a daughter of the redoubtable Dom Manuel of Poictesme; but touching her invariably ends the current dream.

    Meanwhile in waking life, Kennaston is troubled by hints that his literary inventions are not wholly fictional. Notable persons, including a bishop, question him obliquely about the presence in his work of the Sigil and a sinister rite involving a mirror and white pigeons. (The latter is frequently mentioned though never described in Cabellian fantasy.) Eventually, though, the sigil itself is ironically explained away as half of the patterned metal top of a modern cold-cream jar, as though the powers behind reality are now papering over the cracks that allowed Kennaston to look behind the scenes. A final jest which even Kennaston never detects is that the sigil's "meaningless" characters, reproduced as a frontispiece in most editions, can if turned upside-down be read as a message from the Author. "James Branch Cabell made this book ..." it begins, and concludes by universalizing Ettarre the unattainable: "All men she must evade at the last and many are the ways of her elusion."

Miramon Lluagor
In the legend of Dom Manuel, this powerful magician seems to stand in much the same relationship as Merlin stood in the Arthurian legends. Although his championship of Manuel sometimes seems dubious; he is on the whole Manuel's friend and aids him materially. A better picture of Miramon's life and deeds may be obtained from The Silver Stallion, in which he is one of the Fellowship.

Miramon Lluagor, we are told in Figures of Earth, was a noted magician, lord of the kind kinds of sleep and prince of the seven madnesses, who helped Manuel to conquer Poictesme. During Manuel's reign, we learn from The Silver Stallion, he became Seneschal of Gontaron and one of the Fellowship of the Silver Stallion. After Manuel's death he returned to his magic making, and was finally killed by his son, Demetrios.
Perion de la Forêt
This was the lover of Manuel's eldest daughter, Melicent, and the hero of Domnei. According to The Lineage of Lichfeld, he was the father of Raymondin de la Forêt, who figures in the famous Lusignan legend as the husband of Mélusine.

Guiron des Rocques
In The Cream of the Jest, Sir Guiron is the most moral and high-minded champion who, for a while, at least, wins the love of Ettarre.