Monday, December 2, 2013

The humanities "crisis" - a perspective

This piece in The New York Times on 'The Real Humanities Crisis' lays out the case pretty clearly. As a writer and a scholar in the humanities (first English Literature, now Creative Writing) this concerns me closely.

As the article notes, and I've mentioned before, talented writer, musicians and artists cannot make a practical living by their craft, and must pursue secondary, less fulfilling jobs as though they were careers. Even so, these Arts graduates earn less over time. And in universities (as at the University of Canterbury, as reported here), the corporatist pressure to profit and commercialise means that the Arts are steadily dismissed, devalued and defunded.

There are many reasons for this decline, and the causes differ in different contexts. But at all levels, managerial and corporatist thinking, an emphasis on economic rationales and benefits, have pushed humanities to the periphery.

I also believe that the humanities sometimes failed to push back, and the discipline compromised itself at many points. In English Literature, the rush towards theory, particularly deconstruction, which began (tardily) in the late eighties in New Zealand, opened the door to willed obtuseness of language and impenetrable thinking, rejecting imagination, memory and experience in favour of abstraction and the mechanical moves of deconstructive reading. The discourse of theory presented itself temptingly as a technology, a paradigm and a technical language, which in the fervour of post-modernism and post-humanism distanced criticism from writing and human creativity. This is not to reject theory, because it was necessary and useful to set aside preconceptions and to reconsider language and meaning in the literary text, but to say that literary theory and the denial of meaning and authorial agency it implied to many people led the study of literature into its own backwater. Literary theory, embedded in its own technical jargon, could not mount an effective defence against the ideology of the management technocracy.

Is there a way out? For starters, the skills that the humanities prefer — critical thinking, writing, knowledge of the genealogies and trends of human culture — are required universally, and urgently. I've argued elsewhere that we are drowning in 'word junk', that fuzzy language leads to fuzzy thinking, particularly in management culture, which has certainly brought us few real rewards outside of the constant process of rising inequalities and aimless restructuring. Having worked in the corporate sector for many years, I can say that there are no skills here that a degree in commerce or business management would have provided that cannot be acquired with ease in the course of the job, or by the simple application of order and good sense, whereas skills in research, thinking and design, as well as clear communications, are all grounded in my university studies. But there is a danger in pursuing this too far and packaging graduate skills as if they were a commodity. Selling education for its commercial utility alone lends too much credence to the notion of learning as a product that has led the humanities to this pass.

In Hard Times, Dickens was well aware of the dangers of this rigidly utilitarian way of thinking. The people need education, no doubt, but human beings also need to dream, to imagine and to be entertained. We still need to escape the dominant perspective, the market, the office, the ideology, the industrial complex that confines thought and creativity. Over the years, new ideas have emerged to 'save' the humanities: data-mining and digital humanities, Darwinist criticism, neurocriticism, but all of these offer another technology, another narrow approach. What will rescue the humanities is the practice of the humanities: writing and reading and an opening of critical perspectives. Theory can formalise and encourage insight into literature, but only more reading, more writing, more stories and more human experience will bring us back to literature. The humanities, after all, represent the study of human creativity, the one field that can always surprise and escape us. The humanist goal is to aspire to our fullest potential, our fullest awareness of ourselves. There can be no humanism if we cannot consider, articulate and study what it means to be human. We need universities, artists, Arts and Arts graduates to do that.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Night Land - William Hope Hodgson

The Night Land (1912), William Hope Hodgson's science fantasy of a decaying Earth darkened by the death of the Sun in a vastly remote future, should be regarded as unreadable. The pseudo-archaic language lumbers along, the plot is simple and largely descriptive, there is virtually no dialog, the characters are thin, there is an unpleasant thread of misogyny in the character relationships, and the whole mass is excessively long and repetitive.

But The Night Land is, after a fashion, a masterpiece.

The Night Land is less a narrative than a prose-poem, a setting, a mood, an evocation of entropy and dread in a world so old that human progress is over, the Sun is dead and only the end of all things, inevitable but hugely delayed, remains. Humanity has retreated to one last Redoubt, and can only wait for extinction. The world is desolate, ruled by threatening monsters, but their nature is utterly alien. Whatever the hero of the text can gain, it will be ultimately eclipsed by the destruction and failure of everything else. Hence, in a real sense, progress, narrative advancement, is futile. The book is really about a setting, a world of alien things and impending destruction, which can be barely named, let alone described.

Hence, the archaic language is an evocation of distance, of the alienating effect of so much time. The vague names of creatures – Watchers, Silent Ones – suggest their menace and unknowability. The routine story is really the only action that is possible when all human beings can do is rescue the remaining fragments and wall them up against the gathering darkness. Hodgson's fantasy edges closer to the logic and stasis of a dream. The Night Land is about creating an impression, a sense of dread, of the night closing in and a flicker of human resistance.

This, and the scope and boldness of the author's vision of a dying universe, is what makes The Night Land unique.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A comment about the Potterverse and fantasy

A critical note about the Harry Potter series. An unused fragment of my creative writing dissertation, which is not wholly fair, or reasoned, but represents my disquiet with this otherwise admirable series:
In the world of Harry Potter, magic has become procedural, teachable and formulaic (though we rarely, if ever, glimpse the history of those formulae). Hence, magic becomes a mechanical task, a technology, and is represented as heavily bureaucratised. The only character who defies the bureaucracy, who acts as if magic has personal, transformative power, is the antagonist Voldemort, the leader of a cabal of racists in a fascist coup. Rowling’s work is so committed to the coherency of her world and magic that she discounts or smothers magic’s transgressiveness, its dangerous potential.

Reading, libraries, fiction and imagination - Neil Gaiman

Although somewhat late, it's a pleasure to post this brilliant defence of reading, libraries, fiction and imagination by Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.

It's a stirring celebration not only of reading and imagination, and the libraries which facilitate and represent that need, but of entertainment and popular fiction, and reading for pleasure.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The past is a dusty window

Working on A Hangman for Ghosts, I'm put in mind of the strangeness of historical fiction. All histories carry particular views; all stories strive to make you see, but how can we make that picture seem complete and compelling?

A Hangman for Ghosts opens on the outermost bounds of the Empire: the prison colony in New South Wales which eventually became the city of Sydney, Australia. Anyone interested in this history knows Robert Hughes's magisterial The Fatal Shore, but Hughes's vivid history of the convict period is a story of administrative cruelty, of transportation, exile and suffering, dispossession, forced labour, hangings and the lash. Grace Karskens, in her new history of Sydney, The Colony, tells the same story quite differently. She focuses on the material development of the colony, the landscape, the story of convicts, emancipists, administrators and settlers who strove to adjust, survive and prosper, and set the foundations of a new nation in a strange landscape.

As a writer working on an historical mystery, I need to drag a story out of this research, to form these different views into one narrative. I want to imagine early Sydney, understand its topography, its bustling, conflicted society, its gaols, barracks, pubs and gallows, its farms and roads and grand houses in their own light, as a lived experience. But the past is a dusty window: we swipe at the pane, we see shapes, motion, flashes of light, activity, human drama unfolding and flowing, but always dim and strange and a little distant.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Reading and sympathy

If there's a question as to why we should read for pleasure (or with pleasure, for that matter), rather than just for information, this little snippet might help us understand that reading can truly broaden our empathy, or what writers would have once called our sympathies:
Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people's emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.
Now, I don't believe that we need science to save literature (or literary studies), or even to make the moral argument for us, but this is an intriguing bit of evidence. It shows that as we might expect, reading is reading: it exercises our perceptions and our sympathies, requires and enhances skill, and connects us with the world and the characters we read about.

I take issue with the distinction between literary and popular fiction, since of course, Dickens was once one of the most popular novelists of his era, but I wonder if what the study might suggest is that other genres could enhance additional sympathies than just our 'theory of mind'. Can science fiction make us more philosophical or analytical? Can fantasy make us more imaginative? And could mystery make us more observant, more cued to perception and environmental subtleties?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Short fiction: transition or rediscovery?

Having, like most writers early in their careers, worked my way into short fiction and the occasional published story, and still looking at short fiction as part of my studies in creative writing, I was deeply interested in this recent piece in Public Books, on the short story in transition.

I'm particularly happy to see the short story move from its rather austere, elliptical and domestic form of modern realism towards something looser, more experimental and broadly imaginative. But this is hardly a transformation so much as a shift towards and even a recovery of older, more entertaining or speculative forms.

I felt the same dissatisfaction with the formal boundaries of contemporary short fiction (particularly the literary journal sort) when I started writing in the area, and so I moved steadily into the fabulists, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, and Borges. I also felt the imaginative influence of the science fiction I had read as a child and teenager: Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin and the classic SF collections. These writers opened up the possibilities of the short story again. And now we find contemporary writers such as Karen Russell and Junot Diaz retracing the footsteps of Borges and even Poe (whose Gothic tales were entertainments, not slices of reality).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Slow Reading The Lord of the Rings, part II

The Two Towers remains the volume of The Lord of the Rings I relish most, perhaps because in the context of my 'slow-reading' project it is not just a bridge between beginning and end but a wonderfully developed story on its own (though, when reading time is short, I start to question the length of the Treebeard passages).

The Two Towers is really two books, or two stories. One, a heroic epic, a tale of battles and strange encounters with magic and myths; the other, a more personal quest, a journey built around character and the subtle triangulation between Frodo, Sam and Gollum, and the delicate moral and practical choices imposed on them.

To my mind, the battle sequence around Helm's Deep is particularly fine, since Tolkien's epic view allows him to balance the movement of armies and great forces with personal struggle, and the action is expansive but never unclear. But what sticks for me in the slow reading is rather the brilliant confrontation with the defeated Saruman, for the voice of Saruman in the modern context represents the peril and corrupting power of political language, the elegant and insidious lie that worms its way into thought and cannot be stilled even in the midst of the destruction it has brought. Saruman is defeated, of course, but how many political Sarumans remain, still persuading us from the ruins of their towers?

The mountains of New Zealand and the paths, steps and ravines around Ithaca, NY are now permanently fused in my imagination when I think of the climb towards Cirith Ungol.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Worldbuilding and the maker's hand

Worldbuilding has been on my mind recently, following the AULLA Conference at The University of Queensland, this item on the '7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding' on, and my own efforts at shaping the world of my new novel, A Hangman for Ghosts.

Writers of speculative fiction are often positioned at the forefront of worldbuilding, encouraged to consider everything from consistency to tactile detail. The late Iain M. Banks was a masterful world builder because his worlds were vibrant, present and sturdy, and he could shift between them effortlessly. The Raven's Seal was also an effort in world-building for me, because the city and its society had characteristics that were critical to the mystery, but the true pleasure as a writer was to animate that world and make it feel like a lived experience rather than a static stage-set.

But as I argued recently in a paper at AULLA, I've come to suspect that worldbuilding in conformance to elaborate rules of procedure and solely in service of verisimilitude is in danger of making fictional worlds dull, prosaic, uninteresting even. Invented worlds can never be complete, and trying to catalogue all their features and account for all their internal mechanisms is a mere technical chore. The economy of Airenchester can't be found in micro-economics. The prison colony of A Hangman for Ghosts is not merely an administrative relic. Worlds come alive when we see them not as constructs, but as metaphors, figures, characters. This is something that Iain M. Banks understood implicitly, and this is what drew me to the complexities and wonder of worldbuilding in the first place.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A new review of The Raven's Seal

An excellent review of The Raven's Seal from novelist and reviewer Judith Starkston can be found on her blog. Starkston identifies some of the thematic and figurative elements of The Raven's Seal and describes them deftly (if I may say so).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Resolve, write, revise

A particularly interesting piece (for the practising writer as well as reader) in the Boston Globe on how technology and our ideas about writing and expression have changed writers' approach to the business of drafting and revision.

I draft, I revise, I revise again. To my mind, the process is like transforming a sketch into a painting: laying down rough marks, and redrawing and colouring until the final work emerges.

Dickens, writing from number to number in serialisation, had an opportunity to correct the page-proofs based on his hand-written pages but could never return to drafting and reviewing his work. Although later in his career he relied on more notes and memoranda to plan, there remains a directness and unrehearsed liveliness about his writing that our careful processes of word-processing and editing cannot capture.

This may be what we lose by revision, but for the mystery writer, revision is also the power to refine the mystery even as the first draft becomes a rougher series of notes and approximations, an exploration of the idea rather than its final expression.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A speculative review of Sorcery! - The Shamutanti Hills

I've been reading -- if that's the right word, because you could also say 'playing' -- Inkle Studio's impressive e-book version of Steve Jackson's classic gamebook The Shamutanti Hills, the first volume of the Sorcery! series. The Shamutanti Hills is a game, a map, and a story: an interactive fiction in which the reader exerts choice over the path he or she takes to the end of the book.

Now, all fictions are interactive in that they involve engagement, the creation of a world between the reader and the text, and the play of speculation and imagination: guesses, expectations, and reversals. But interactive fiction enhances the possibility of interplay by giving the reader choice over the path of the narrative at key points. The most popular of these, and the ones that have interested me for some time, are those based on games and quests. The idea of a path is not incidental: the gamebook often resembles a map or chart, or even a labyrinth, where the ideal play is to find the optimal path through.

The Shamutanti Hills does a fine job at this. What I most admire about it is the sense that the hills constitute a real, if fantastic, terrain: a landscape of mines, villages, hills, woods and ruins, inhabited by goblins, giants, witches, elves and wizards, villagers and monsters, that one can pass through and explore, rather than a simple series of challenges. One feels that the stories of the hills intersect and carry on their own life, and this is enhanced by the game aspect of surviving and mastering the various challenges that the hills represent. The Shamutanti Hills rewards play because each play-through reveals something new about them.

Although the fantasy quest provides a way of structuring the forking narrative of the gamebook, I speculate that the form could also be applied to the mystery. Imagine a mystery in which the reader takes up the role of investigator, choosing clues, hunting leads, suspects, uncovering the plot (or not), building the case on the basis of decisions made in reading.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guest post on The Maiden's Court

There is a new guest post related to The Raven's Seal on The Maiden's Court, a blog dedicated to reviews of historical fiction and movies.

In this post, I take a closer look at the delicate matter of the relationship between Cassie and Grainger. The interesting thing for me about these posts is how they force even the author to look at their own work from a new angle.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves - Karen Russell

Karen Russell is a significant new author and her work, particularly her short fiction, has generated substantial interest, perhaps because she obviates the distinction between the mimetic and fantastic genres, between speculative and realist fiction, simply by writing as if the distinction did not exist.

And so in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, we encounter insomniac prophets, boys hunting the ghost of their dead sister, titanic spiral shells as fairground exhibits, spirit possession, werewolves, and minotaurs on the Great Western Migration. These inhabit stories that focus on the uncertainty and difficulty of the transition to adulthood. The difficulty for the reader is not so much in identifying the fantastic as in determining how these elements are cogent to the story. What does it mean, for example, that the narrator's father in "from Children's Reminiscences of the Western Migration" is a minotaur? The figure is neither wholly figurative nor wholly mundane; not simply an image of the strength and stubbornness of purpose a child might project onto a father, or an ironic transplantation of the mythical beast of the Labyrinth into the linear myth of western expansion. Russell's stories excel in this deadpan delivery of the fantastic, masked by the heightened, almost hallucinatory quality of her prose, teasing us with the scent of multiple implications that never lead to fixed points.

Russell's stories often end unhappily, or on the ambiguous verge of disaster, as though succumbing to a kind of narrative entropy in which all the choices and possibilities of maturity are bad ones. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can make the reader uneasy, ambivalent about the reading experience itself.

One of Russell's techniques struck me in an oddly personal way. In a couple of stories she has the habit of injecting exotic sounding names (Toowoomba, Aokeroa [sic], Rangi, Waitaki Valley, Mr Oamaru) into her text. Perhaps they are picked at random; perhaps they are consciously chosen to create estrangement, to suggest dislocation. But I have spent a lot of time in the real Waitaki Valley, and for me this transposition of place-names was disconcerting, an overlay of fictional terrain and real spaces, which seemed to pose an interpretative puzzle, a cypher for which the key is still absent. Perhaps that's the aim.

Nevertheless, these are fluid, imaginative, inventive stories that mark the edges of new terrain for fiction.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

E-book Deal on The Raven's Seal

Although I can't say too often how impressed I am with the print production of The Raven's Seal, right now the e-book is on sale until Wednesday, April 24 for 0.99$ US.

You can find this deal on Amazon, iTunes for iBooks, Google and Kobo.

Even better, the deal has fired The Raven's Seal up to number 190 on the Kindle bestseller lists, and a brilliant #2 on the historical mysteries bestsellers list and the historical fiction list overall.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cross-posting: Imagining Airenchester on Reading the Past

This week, I'm honoured that Reading the Past, a blog dedicated to news, views and reviews of historical fiction, has posted my short essay on imagining Airenchester, the broader fictional setting for The Raven's Seal.

In this piece, I speak to the creation of an imaginary city as the location for a historical fiction. What interests me most about this is how research and imaginations, and the techniques of world-building, can all lead into the creation of a fictional place that feels realised and is yet ephemeral.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Iain Banks news

Sad news today that the writer Iain Banks has been diagnosed with cancer. To my mind, Iain Banks, or Iain M Banks in his works of speculative fiction, is one of our most interesting and important contemporary writers.

Iain Banks was hugely influential on me in my twenties and thirties: one of the few writers who bridged the gap between speculative fiction and literary fiction, his work incorporated literature, fantasy and science fiction. But more than that, he wrote with intelligence, ferocious energy and humour. He taught me that a novel can be incorporate many things, but it should always drive forward and never lapse into dullness.

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On the future of writing

A piece worthy of comment in the The New Yorker, looking forward to the future of writing in the US in the context of Philip Roth's retirement:
The future of writing in America—or, at least, the future of making a living by writing—seems in doubt as rarely before. Thanks to the Internet, the disproportion between writerly supply and demand, always tricky, has tipped: anyone can write, and everyone does, and beginners are expected to be the last pure philanthropists, giving it all away for the naches. It has never been easier to be a writer; and it has never been harder to be a professional writer. The strange anatomy of the new literary manners has yet to be anatomized: the vast schools of tweets feeding on the giant whales of a few big books, the literary ecology of the very big, the very small, and the sudden vertiginous whoosh; the blog that becomes a book; the writer torn to pieces by his former Internet fans, which makes one the other.
It is certainly true, though perhaps not absolutely news, that writing has become a profession with very little renumeration. Few writers of literature make a living thereby: some make their living in communication, editing, or professional and technical writing, or as teachers of creative writing, but this always feels like a kind of hack-work, selling skill at loss of the creative output that is a writer's true mission and satisfaction. It seems that technology has multiplied the channels for writing (although there are never enough good publishers) and yet diluted thereby the commercial value of writing.

By the same token, the article notes, 'it is a matchless time to be a reader. The same forces that have hampered writing as a profession have empowered reading as a pastime: everything ever written, it seems, is now easily available to be read, and everything is.' I argued something of this availability of works from all periods in my post on E-books and the classics. Bookstores, online and offline, libraries, digital and otherwise, offer an ever growing archive for readers. And yet, in the flood of new and old works, where are those books that really change, thrill or divert us? Are they easier or harder to find?

There are no clear answers to these questions, not while we are in the middle of the revolution that spurs them. Like most writers, it's paradigmatic that I write and publish where I can, but in my career I've never heard from anyone that this business is getting easier. As a reader, I'm only looking for more time to discover and relish the books that are out there. But as Philip Roth departs the stage, maybe the idea of one great book or one great author to definitively witness our era is also, necessarily, about to fade.

Monday, March 11, 2013

ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist

I'm delighted to learn that The Raven's Seal is a finalist for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year in the Historical (Adult Fiction) category. It's also a tribute, I think, to Top Five Books' book design.

Another reason, if I may, for readers to check out a copy, particularly the e-book edition if the print copy is out of reach.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Orwell, clarity, language and power

There is an odd strain of 'anti-Orwellianism' starting to appear, as evidenced in this essay in the New Statesman, in which the author argues that Orwell's famous correlation between insincerity and long words is no longer true, that indeed,"When politicians or corporate front men have to bridge a gap between what they are saying and what they know to be true, their preferred technique is to convey authenticity by speaking with misleading simplicity."

I have some sympathy with the view that:
There is a new puritanism about the way we use words, as though someone with a broad vocabulary or the ability to sustain a complex sentence is innately untrustworthy. Out with mandarin obfuscation and donnish paradoxes, in with lists and bullet points. But one method of avoiding awkward truths has been replaced by another.
And I tend to agree that literary language is sometimes needlessly austere, as is the mantra to show and not tell.

But, having been confronted with a fair share of official bullet points and managerial language, I would say that bullet points can be perfectly deceptive in their plainness, and that the language of policy remains one of vagueness, distortion and opacity, where acronyms, keywords and catch-phrases (plain though they may be) conceal intention as surely as Latinate phrases.

Although Orwell favoured clear, plain language, I'm sure he was under no illusion that short words and blunt sentences in and of themselves could not be used to conceal political intentions. Long words, circumlocutions, were in Orwell's time the marker of political deception. Now talking points, market-speak and bullet-points have the same function. My only reservation is that the later also corrupt and diminish thought, making the liar duller rather than devious -- but then this is what newspeak was for.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beginning in 2013

Few things are as creatively daunting as starting a new writing project, particularly a novel. I'm one of those writers who always begin at the beginning with writing, even while the end is a distant, vague shape on the horizon. Nothing is as revised, edited, read and reread in anything I write as the first chapter of a novel.

But I ask myself this morning: why start to write if your topic is not daunting? Why undertake the work if it will not test all your skills as a writer?

This, and a personal loss, will explain why my posts have been scanty since the start of the year. The Raven's Seal is holding up well with reviews and recognition. Astute readers will guess from my Goodreads reading profile the starting point of my new work, but the endpoint is still remote.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The End of Dickens's 200th

It's now the end of the bicentennial year of Dickens's birth: a great year for Dickens scholars and writers. As the next year starts, I can only speculate about how strangely Dickens's concerns come back to us in new forms, how poverty and need and the intransigence and short-sightedness of power - frequent themes and tensions in his work - recur with equal urgency two-hundred and one years later.

This year, I'm encouraged by the generous reviewers on Goodreads and the support of my readers to begin a new mystery. There will be a Dickensian link (perhaps subtly so), and a thematic connection to The Raven's Seal, but I am also inspired by some other favourite authors (Conrad in particular) and new experiences to move in an interesting direction.

Character and Choice in The Two Towers

Slow reading Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings can expose surprising nuances in the text. One of the criticisms of Tolkien I've come across is that his characters are uninteresting, flat, reflexively good or heroic, yet their heroism lacks depth because ultimately it is easy, all achievement and no sacrifice.

Yet in the first chapter of The Two Towers we see Aragorn at his lowest: confused, grieving, doubting himself and all his actions. He has no clear path, and rather than confidence and assertion he is trapped in uncertainty. The choice (pursue Frodo and the Ring, or rescue Merry and Pippin) is by no means clear, for the one requires the sacrifice of innocents, the other a terrific risk to the world. In truth, Tolkien has derailed the quest narrative precisely to bring his characters to this point of testing.

One of the odd pieces of received wisdom of modernism in literature is that 'good' characters are inherently dull, whereas 'flawed' characters are automatically interesting. But making the right moral choice is often a complex problem for the good character but irrelevant to the selfish. The interesting choices, then, confront the good and not the bad, and reveal depth in these characters.

Tolkien does not show us Aragorn's bravery or skill in combat in this chapter, but rather his compassion and forbearance for Boromir (the failed hero, lost on the quest). This is what restores Aragorn's sense of direction and sets him on the uncertain path to his inheritance.