The Markov Fairy Book

To: The various human peoples of Earth

Illustration by Henry Justice Ford
Illustration by Henry Justice Ford

If you know one thing about me, it is that I am incorrigibly lazy. Truly, I daresay all great wizards are. After all, what but the most extreme and perverse forms of laziness would drive a body to magic in the first place?

Indeed, though I am a lazy old man I do still have my little hobbies that keep me busy even when I have determined to do a great deal of nothing. As with my magical vocation, these projects are largely concerned with enabling my inborn laziness.

Are you familiar with the works of of the Scots anthropologist Andrew Lang? More specifically, his multi-colored Fairy Books published between 1889 and 1912? If not, they’re quite good, with the earliest volumes being among the childhood inspirations for J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Obviously, there’s some rather good magic locked away there. But how to unlock it? Well, let it not be said that I am not a wizard above using sorcery or modern technology. So I decided to try my hand at the science of parsing linguistic constructions known as natural language processing.

Much like the Bilbo of a far different novel than that written by Professor Tolkien, I decided to take the route of Abulafia and create new meaning from the old. That is, I tapped the dark and uncanny science of Markov chain modelling to create entirely new sentences from the building blocks of Lang’s fairy stories.

A Slight Digression…

No doubt my honorable reader, you are already familiar with my failings at necromancy and are so having a sensible chuckle at my further tampering with the unholy arts of stochastic processing.

Yes, Arturo the Clock-maker may have had a fine time regaling you with the tale of how the hand I reanimated managed to gain an iron lock on my beard. His detailed and explicit description of the high-pitched squeal I emitted at the event may have provided you with much jocular amusement.

I have never claimed to be a lover of dead flesh, and it is precisely for that reason I have avoided necromancy and practice lacto-ovo vegetarianism, after all. And I hold that my inadequacies do not in any way impinge upon my many accomplishments in the arts of abjuration, conjuration, divination, enchantment, evocation, illusion, or transmutation. I’d say my Grand Panoptic Divinatrium speaks for itself.

Indeed, if you wish to spend your time poking, prodding and cajoling smelly dead things, I say have at it. As for me, I will keep with my powders, unctions and incantations.

Illustration by Henry Justice Ford
Illustration by Henry Justice Ford

Unlocking the Fairy Kingdom

I’ve managed to collect together the bulk of Professor Lang’s Fairy Books in digital format thanks to Project Gutenberg. With this collection of ancient lore (pleasingly arranged for a Victorian audience) in place, I then utilized upon it the infernal machine that is markovify, a module for the Python programming language.

Markovify uses Markov chains to jumble source text into new and (mostly) readable sentences. This is the same module that powers Reddit’s Subreddit Simulator.

Being conversant in a variety of languages, both human, infernal, abyssal, celestial, sylvan, elvish, dwarvish and goblin, I thought it wise to begin adding those classified as digital to my repertoire. As such, I have a somewhat-more-than-passing familiarity with Python.

I am still trying to find a use for this new-found digimancy known as natural language processing. While sentences can be mimicked quite well, the idea of producing a cohesive narrative is still out of the question. For the meantime, the old-fashioned practice of combining the divination spells Prestidigitation and Legend Lore will have to suffice.

After learning to bend the fabric of reality itself to accomplish my tasks, working within such limiting confines is truly refreshing. I am still often amazed at how much base technology has been able to accomplish.

Perhaps some day I’ll bionic eyes! Well I will not kid with you, fair reader, for as we both know magic is far more efficient. However, like writing haiku or tending a zen garden, sometimes it’s the limits which provide freedom.

I have been so enchanted (not literally) with the output of this effort over the past few days that I simply must share some with you. Here’s a sample piece constructed solely by my gracious host’s Macbook – no incense required!

Illustration by Henry Justice Ford
Illustration by Henry Justice Ford

 A Sampling of Abulafic Sentences

Once upon a time there was a poor laborer who, feeling that he had been born again. When he reached the village where her brother dwelt, and saw that he was turning his horse back she threw one of the grains in there, and the guards at once fell asleep.

I could not marry a poor woman, and he did not mean to go out hunting, and the honey of the bees that sucked the mountain heather. Here was a deep, deep hole, which seemed to have been made on purpose for him.

At last there was no one who could not ride up the glass hill, and if they have not left a single sausage. The deer looked about for a house where he could turn in. Even Prince was fed on beefsteaks and cream scones till at last he came to a lake as smooth as glass and as clear as crystal.

Then they followed secretly a long way off what she had with her, sufficed for the scanty subsistence of herself and her little son. His feet were torn and bleeding, and he could only wait and see what would turn up.

As soon as the Queen had disappeared she went to the birch tree, and then past the old hag who sat in the golden castle at the top of the castle, where he lay down on the straw. Then a rushing sound was heard in the air, and circled round the Prince’s head in the most confiding manner.

The young man replied that the master was ill, and there was no light shining from a window. The old man begged him hard to stay, but he would not, saying that he did not believe that there was nothing too good for her.

The man thought the witch was really his wife, and he did not quite believe in all its wonderful gifts. Still she was alive; her eyes glittered like two clear stars, but there was no one else in the kingdom left to come.

The young man pointed to the king, who was so pleased with it that she declared she had never seen there before.

He drew back shuddering, and covering his face in his purple mantle for grief and anguish at the loss of the promised treasure, and then they went on farther. Scarcely had he finished speaking when the witch returned to see if the clothes were bleached.

Till the close of day Manawyddan waited for him, and when the sun shone, everything glittered and sparkled as if it were nothing at all. Then a low sound was heard, as of the edge of a great marsh, which bordered on one side the country of the second King to whom he had shown the way.

At first he was so surprised he didn’t know what he was always so happy about. Hardly were they out of sight than she began to prepare for war.

From that moment his memory became a blank, and he forgot all about the incident that had happened so long ago. With this intent he went to the cunning impostors, who were now weaving with all their might, and long before the two years were up, she would be worn out and useless.

The young man thanked the wizard for his counsel, and set out for Galifron’s country. An hour had scarcely passed when the three rogues appeared and fell on him to kill him.

He repeated them, as well as he could among the branches. He satisfied his hunger with the food he had in his fist, till the sods flew five yards up into the air.

Then they wept bitterly because the Prince had not the smallest idea where this fountain was to be found, and at last he had found the two elder ones married without asking his leave.

And that is the end of the bench, but Toueno’s sharp ears caught the sound of someone crying in the ditch. Until the world-lighting sun stood above his head in the air, gaping at nothing. And in a moment the fire caught him, and he was seized and bound with strong cords.

There was great rejoicing in the court and all through the country that there were to be sure! This was some help to them, but very soon they were married and very happy, when in came cross old Kabo.

As they flew nearer, the old birds saw the prince lying under the tree and the monkey dropped neatly on his back, without even a splash. When the man came back he found the goose as black as the eyes of the spectators were turned towards her.

They were not willing at first; but she told them she would beat them till they bled. None of the Emperor’s clothes had met with such a disease in all the course of their experience. However, there was no help for it, and that he had never been seen.

In Summary

Really it just sounds like a bunch of nonsense, doesn’t it? Indeed it rather has the ring of the lunatic. I love it!

I think it crucial material such as this is used when training the AI who will ultimately create the technology that will allow us to create a physical bridge to your universe and prove once and for all I am the greatest Aplistiarch of 69th Aeon. (Eat that with your insufferable hollandaise sauces and paraphysical theoretical frameworks, Fermille!) It is important to have some  sense of irony when altering the fabric of reality of an entire universe, don’t you know.

As ever, Yours in the Name of the Rose with 13 Petals,

Parciloquy the Peculiar, Thaumatourgos Moiras of the Halls of Thyme

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE:

My name is Lancelot Squib. I am… or at least I recently was a bookkeeper from Happy Valley, Oregon. I don’t recall ever agreeing to assist what appears to be a trans-dimensional cabal of wizards from a dying planet set off a chain events that will eventually link our two universes together forever and unleash what could only be described as a literal Hell on Earth.

Just for the record, and I don’t know how I’m a millionaire now, but apparently I own a tech company connected to CERN? 1 And nobody is questioning this and sometimes I blackout for weeks at a time. Apparently I’m also a vegetarian now.

I woke up in bed with a strange woman who apparently didn’t remember meeting me or how she got to Oregon, much less my bedroom. She knew the name Parciloquy, though. Apparently she’s been blacking out and waking up with notes too. Hers are from a being called Laddys Fermille. 2

I guess the weirdest thing is I’m kinda okay with the changes. The idea of two really old men (like thousands of years if I understand it right) getting their jollies using other people’s bodies is weird, but I think my formerly anonymous partner and I are actually hitting it off. (Her name is Ling and she’s actually very nice.)

Apparently she’s also a millionaire owner of a tech startup working on machine learning, natural language processing, and robotics with lots of sporadic free time. Funny coincidence.

At least she’s cute and we get along. We seem to spend a lot of time together anyway, even if neither of us remembers it.

  1. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, located in Switzerland
  2. wizard of the 69th Aeon known for his pseudoscientific theories on multiverse.

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