The Backs of the Melons

by Diane Duane
Carved leaves and acorns. No melons.

(This post via Tumblr, where it originally appeared.)(And still does, here, but some people don’t care for the new data permissions on Tumblr, and who could blame them?)

In a reply to @sophies-sideshow at Tumblr:

Has anyone ever told you that the little details about your young wizards ‘verse are tantalizing and lovely? Because they are. I for one love seeing the little glimpses into the world you’ve created.

You’re very kind to say that! Thank you.

I guess, too, that worldbuilding for me isn’t all broad strokes and big design. It’s also about the small things, the details that characters notice and the way they use (or maybe a better word is “exploit”) what you give them. For example, I once got a very nice note from somebody at NASA about the fact that in SPOCK’S WORLD, our eponymous Vulcan is using transporter technology in a very off-label manner to keep his Captain’s ground coffee fresh over long periods. 🙂 That’s the kind of thing that makes a world real for me. A world should be complex enough to be exploited in ways the author didn’t expect. (Or would have expected if they’d taken more time to think about it.)

There are a lot of details in the YW universe that nobody but me will ever see: which is as it should be. It’s only the insecure creator who gets obsessive about Showing All Their Work.

…And we now cue the Mel(l)on Story. It may be apocryphal, who knows? But I don’t care. It goes like this:

Cathedrals are never finished. Bits are always falling off and having to be put back on again; and the interiors can take years and years to complete, even if they were “finished” centuries ago.* Now, as it happens, the National Cathedral in Washington for a long time still matched this description. It was years being worked on. The inside was a mess of scaffolding for a good while, and sculptors in particular were busy there for ages.

There was (and still is, as far as I know) a big banking family in the US by the name of Mellon. (They had banks in the Philly area when I was living there.) They were a big contributor to the work on the Cathedral, and as a result the carvings in the place are full of punning references to them: melons and melon vines and gourds and pumpkins and whatnot all over the place.

So there’s a stonemason (this one, I’m betting) way up high in the scaffolding working on the back of some kind of pumpkin or whatever. And he’s taking forever over it. And somebody passing through watches him at this for a while, and then yells up at him, “Why are you wasting so much time on that? You’re forty feet up, you’re halfway behind a pillar, there’s no light, nobody’s ever going to see that!”

And the stonemason pauses and peers down at whoever’s yelling at him, and yells back, “God will see!” And then goes back to what he’s doing.

Leaving aside the religious resonances (obviously assisted by being in a cathedral at the time), that guy (I think) had exactly the right idea. The way to do the Work – regardless of one’s religious inclinations or lack of them – is to proceed as if God would see. If you’re going to be a subcreator (in the Tolkienian sense), then be a good, thoughtful, thorough one, and don’t leave something half-finished or half-thought-through because you don’t think anyone will ever see it. You will see it (or its lack). And its presence, or absence, will invariably affect other things in the interior structure you’re building, whether you notice that happening or not.

You don’t have to show the work. But you have to do it as if people might come and look at it at any minute. Because who knows, someday (should you have good reason to show it) they might. But also: you do that because that is your responsibility as a Creator. Creation wants to be treated respectfully. If you don’t do so, it will find ways to get back at you. But the important thing is to treat small detail as if it’s as vital as large structure… because it is… and also, because it’s the right thing to do.

Meanwhile: glad you’re enjoying the way things are going. It means a lot. 🙂

*Check out, BTW, the online home of the gorgeous workshop of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany. Here they build new bits of the Fraumuenster to replace the old ones that fall off or get damaged. And you can buy some of the old bits to take home, sometimes, if you want a piece of one of the most exquisite Gothic cathedrals in Europe. The funds go toward continuing repairs and maintenance of the Muenster.



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