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Saturday Storytime: The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

And a week after the Tiptree Awards, perhaps my favorite short story by any of the Tiptree winners. Eleanor Arnason has a lovely habit of breaking tradition in the most matter-of-fact way possible. I recommend this story at the slightest opportunity. An excerpt:

Finally, the bag was empty except for nasty words. As slimy reached out a tentacle, the third daughter pulled the drawstring tight. Slimy shrieked in pain. Below it in the bag, the worst adjectives rumbled, “Unjust! Unfair!”

The shaman, a tall, handsome person, was nearby, trying on various adjectives. He/she/it was especially interested in masculine, feminine, and androgynous. “I can’t make up my mind,” the shaman said. “This is the dark side of our new condition. Before, we had clear choices. Now, the new complexity puts all in doubt.”

The sound of complaining adjectives attracted the shaman. He, she, or it came over and looked at the bag, which still had a tentacle protruding and wiggling.

“This is wrong. We asked for an end to starkness, which is not the same as asking for prettiness. In there — at the bag’s bottom — are words we might need someday: sublime, awesome, terrific, and so on. Open it up and let them out.”

“Are you certain?” asked the third daughter.

“Yes,” said the shaman.

She opened the bag. Out crawled slimy and other words equally disgusting. The shaman nodded with approval as more and more unpleasant adjectives appeared. Last of all, after grim and gruesome and terrific, came sublime. The word shone like a diamond or a thundercloud in sunlight.

“You see,” said the shaman. “Isn’t that worth the rest?”

“You are a holy being,” said the daughter, “and may know things I don’t.”

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