Monday, July 15, 2002

Summoning the Ace of Nitwits

by guest contributor, Ron Sharp:

I am a Bellairs neophyte. I have not read all of his books, and consider myself barely knowledgeable regarding the worlds he created. I have only recently, in fact, began reading his works at the behest of those who maintain this site. I am well read and have always been interested in magic in life. In particular I’ve been fascinated by the magical way of life described in the many books written about the Toltecs.

The Toltecs were a group of artists and scientists who formed a society thousands of years ago in southern Mexico. They have been associated with the Maya and the Aztecs, but the Toltecs were not a race as such, but more a gathering of men and women interested in studying and perceiving the unknown, or unseen, elements of our reality. At the core of their beliefs was the necessity for one to practice “not doing” as a means of forcing one’s perceptions to shift, thus enabling oneself to perceive and to interact with energies other than those available in our normal state of awareness. “Not doing” is a practice where, simply put, one looks at all of one’s daily habits and logical responses to repetitive events, acknowledges them, and then doesn’t do them. Does anything but them. This is a practice that is supposed to shock one’s normal perception into a state of heightened and more fluid perception.

Uncle Jonathan describes what he calls logical magic, which to me is an oxymoron, and I took it to mean the normal state of being. The way things were usually done. He says:
It has been my theory, ever since yesterday, that the old hag is just waiting for the proper time to use that wretched key. The proper action at the proper time to achieve the proper effect. That would be like her. And like her old husband too. His magic is logical. It proceeds from A to B to C in nice, neat steps. As logical and neat as the movement of a hand around the face of a clock.” [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 157].

If this describes a predicament brought about by the characters doing things the regular way, then Uncle Jonathan’s next statement perfectly illustrates "not doing."
Then there’s no point in being logical, is there?... I mean, that we’re no good at that sort of game. Our game is wild swoops, sudden inexplicable discoveries, cloudy thinking. Knight’s jumps instead of files of rooks plowing across the board. So we’d better play our way if we expect to win.

Mrs. Zimmermann folded her arms and looked grumpy. "I see," she said. "It sounds very reasonable. If you're in a chess game, draw to an inside straight. If you're playing tennis, try to hit a home run. Very intelligent." [House; 157].

Wild swoops, sudden inexplicable discoveries and cloudy thinking are ideal ingredients in the Toltec way of interacting with unknown energies, or magic. These energies, as believed by the Toltecs, are not a part of rational, logical, everyday life, therefore, in order to access them, one must intentionally not be rational and logical. One must shift one’s perception from the familiar to the unknown. Mrs. Zimmerman reiterates this by saying, "If you’re in a chess game, draw to an inside straight. If you’re playing tennis, try to hit a home run." Uncle Jonathan telling Lewis to make up the silliest set of instructions he can think of restates this, and the obscure way in which they summon the Ace of Nitwits and eventually find the clock are perfect examples of the Toltec approach to life in general.

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