Mr Norrell and the Modern Moral Order

(Some reflections arising from a class I’m teaching.) 
In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor describes the emergence of what he calls the Modern Moral Order, which is (very generally speaking) comprised of the beliefs that (a) God exists but is not active in the world, (b) God wants us to obey his laws/rules/norms in order to maximize our happiness, (c) the successful obeying of those laws/rules/norms requires a social order built on rigorous discipline, and (d) the requisite discipline is expected of everyone, regardless of social class. In the MMO Christianity is redefined to maximize compatibility with the then-emergent system of modern capitalism; it is a necessarily disenchanted world because in an enchanted world discipline can never yield predictable results: one is always dependent on the whims of beings who dwell largely outside the human order. “Seen from this perspective [of the established MMO], the real telos implicit in the earlier forward steps of humanity – the Axial period, the end of paganism and polytheism, the Reformation – was the bringing of disenchantment, the end of a cosmos of spirits respondent to humans, and the coming of the impersonal order defined by the moral code.” We are of course still living with the consequences of these accommodations. 
Taylor explores the long process by which the MMO is consolidated, and by which that consolidation inevitably generates protests and alternatives; the MMO could not but be felt by many as what Weber famously called an “iron cage of rationality.” The various possible routes to re-enchantment are therefore an essential part of Taylor’s story. 
One of the best meditations on this complex state of affairs — in which people are, in Taylor’s apt phrase, “cross-pressured” by the benefits of a disenchanted world of buffered selves and the longings that afflict us when the portals of selfhood are firmly closed — is Susanna Clarke’s brilliant novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and especially the character of Norrell. I want to home in here on a single word that Norrell uses at a key point in the story — a very fateful word. 
The word comes when Mr Norrell, against his better judgment, has decided to try to raise one Miss Wintertowne from the dead, and summons the figure we come to know as “the gentleman with the thistle-down hair.” When Norrell calls out to the gentleman to ask his help, he addresses him in Latin, thus: “O Lar!” Which of course recalls the Roman Lares, and encourages us to ask the question: Are fairies gods? 
Romans would certainly think so, wouldn’t they? So insofar as fantasy is related to fairy tale, and fairy tale to fairies, then fantasy is a genre devoted to exploring a world that, as Thales of Miletus said, is full of gods. 
That the man usually known as the first natural philosopher, this Thales fellow, is also known for saying that “the world is full of gods” is a bit ironic in that so much philosophy (natural and speculative) ever since has been resistant to that move and has striven to disenchant. As do Jewish and Christian theology, for their own reasons. (I’ve mentioned before the oft-noted point that the opening of Genesis 1, which demotes the sun, moon, and stars to created things, is a powerfully disenchanting move.) One way to read all this is to say that our intellectual elites are always pushing us towards disenchantment and we always find stories that allow us to push back and restore, even if only temporarily and partially, our (natural? innate?) preference for a world of many gods. 
The disenchanted world of the MMO, a world purged of gods, is the one into which Mr Norrell hopes to restore magic, and he is almost wholly a creature of the MMO. He is a close cousin of those Manchester magicians who wished to promote “Rational Thaumaturgy”: he condemns the author of a book on The Language of Birds by crying out, “He is mystical, sir! He is mystical!” Norrell is wounded to the depths of his soul when Sir Walter Pole tells him that magic is “not respectable,” because there is nothing he wants more than for magic to be seen as respectable, as a good citizen within the disciplinary society. This is why he always speaks of the restoration of “English magic”: magic for him supports, it never threatens, the established order — including both the MMO and the order of the nation-state. 
He especially admires a book of theoretical magic that lays out thousands of possible magical acts in orderly tables — a thaumaturgical spreadsheet — and though he does not mention it, a footnote tells us that that book excludes as inappropriate (indeed, not at all respectable) magic that requires the employment of fairies. When Norrell expresses his hatred of John Uskglass, the Raven King, the chief items in his bill of accusation are that Uskglass (a) exaggerated the importance to magic of fairies and (b) rebelled against the rightful King of England. 
And yet, when in desperate straits and rightly fearful that his campaign to restore English magic has failed, here he is: O Lar! (So strongly does this run against his convictions that later, when he first meets Jonathan Strange, he denounces the Raven King’s use of fairies and asks “What have I ever achieved that required the use of fairies?” And I don’t think he’s lying; he has simply repressed the discomfiting facts. Which he perhaps needs to do because the consequences of his employment of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair are rippling out further and further.) 
But surely the cause of Rational Thaumaturgy was always impossible. Norrell’s first public work of magic — and what a tour de force this scene is — was to give voice and movement to the statues in York Minster, and when they speak, they speak of all that they have seen over the centuries but that their stony form has disabled them from naming. And the things that they have seen are real — they cry out against murders that actually happened. Perhaps Clarke is just engaging in a marvelous fictional game here, but it’s interesting in that it suggests a version of panpsychism: even the stones have souls and minds, at least, once they are carved into human shape. (See also, later in the book, the figurehead on a French warship who hates the English and is only charmed into co-operation when addressed by a handsome English sailor she takes a fancy to.) Insofar as the magic that Norrell does awakens something that was already in those statues, it is a kind of natural magic. In doing magic at all he is always-already “mystical,” like the author he denounces. And of course that means that he is operating within the world of the Raven King, whose magic is thoroughly natural: his prophecy, the one given to Vinculus, says “The rain made a door for me and I went through it; The stones made a throne for me and I sat upon it.” His use of fairies is only an extension of that natural magic because, as Tolkien notes in his great essay on fairy stories, they are natural, “more natural than we.” (This is surely why, as we are told in the book’s footnotes, that fairies are “beyond the reach of the Church…. no Christ has come to them, or ever will.”) So Norrell is eventually forced, at least in private and to his frenemy Jonathan Strange, to admit that what Strange has publicly declared is indeed true: “It is John Uskglass’s magic that we do. Of course it is. What else should it be?” 
So: enchantment, magic, and fantasy all require an animist world, perhaps even a panpsychic world. They assert its power over against all “disciplinary” efforts at disenchantment and the buffering of selves. This is an argument on behalf of that which is “natural” and, simultaneously and necessarily, on behalf of a world that is “full of gods.”

hunters, farmers, and time

In a wonderful review-essay in the most recent issue of The New Atlantis, Adam Roberts argues that farmers were the first time-travelers:

It is certainly possible to imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors living in some bestial, continuous present of consciousness, their experience of time pricked out with moments of intensity — the chase, the kill, the satisfaction of a full stomach — but indifferent to the distant future.  

But it is quite impossible to imagine farmers prospering in such a frame of mind. Once we humans began to depend on planted crops and domesticated animals, our new mode of life absolutely required us to think ahead: to anticipate setbacks and think through solutions, to plan, to map out the future world — indeed, many potential future worlds.

Time travel as mental exercise must have begun at least that early. And that makes this focus on recent modernity look a little parochial. We are not so special. Indeed, thinking in this way of the future’s origins might make us rethink some of the metaphors we use to articulate our sense of time. Gleick is good on the limitations of these figures of speech — for example, time, as he shows, is not really “like a river.” Farmers, the original time travelers, are likewise prone to think of rivers not first as modes of transport but means of irrigation. Might time be the same for us — not a vehicle for taking us somewhere, as a horse is to a hunter, but a resource to make fertile what we have and hold dear?  

This view would imply that science fiction is at root a farming literature.  

I am intrigued by this idea, and responded to it in an email to Adam that I’m going to adapt for this post. (I should mention here that Adam and I are these days thinking together about fantasy.) If “science fiction is at root a farming literature,” could we not say that the Primal Scene of fantasy is the disruption of the lives of farmers by hunters? And that that disruption is (to stick with Freudian categories) a kind of return of the repressed, the nightmarish recurrence of something that the farmers thought had been banished by their forethought, i.e., their time travel?

It is not just fantasy, of course: when Horace retreats to his Sabine farm he is surely escaping the “hunters” of Roman politics; and when Machiavelli is exiled by the fierce hunters of Florentine politics to the countryside what does he do? He enters his study and practices the time travel of conversing with long-dead men. Maybe the founding myth of this particular pattern is Cincinnatus’s returning to his plow. (On the Lawn of the University of Virginia there is a statue of George Washington standing with the fasces, his plow behind him — and immediately across the Lawn there is another statue, of Jefferson sitting and contemplating this scene. It’s marvelously ambiguous.)

But what if the genre of fantasy uniquely finds its fons et origo in the fear of the return of the repressed hunters? Think of Odysseus’s encounter with the Kyklopes and his deep repulsion at the fact that they do not farm but just eat whatever comes up out of the ground — and then he immediately goes on to note that they have no politics either, and simply deal out whatever they think is justice to their own families. They are hunter-gatherers and therefore uncivilized, as are Penelope’s suitors of course, who behave in exactly the same way. And so the killing of the suitors and the subsequent purging of the halls of Odysseus are a prefiguration of the Scouring of the Shire.

So maybe science fiction is fundamentally about the hopes of farmers, and fantasy about their fears. If the history that David Graeber and David Wengrow sketch out  —the one I described in my previous post — is correct, and there was no smooth sequential abandonment of hunting and gathering in favor of farming but rather a very long period of mixed economies, mixed cultures, then the survival of these complexities into modern literature is not wholly surprising.

The History of Disenchantment

Here’s a brief description of a course I’ll be teaching next semester:

In a wonderful early poem, “Merlin Enthralled,” Richard Wilbur describes the way that magic drains from the Arthurian world when the wizard is no longer around to generate it:

Fate would be fated; dreams desire to sleep.
This the forsaken will not understand.
Arthur upon the road began to weep
And said to Gawen, “Remember when this hand

Once haled a sword from stone; now no less strong
It cannot dream of such a thing to do.”
Their mail grew quainter as they clopped along.
The sky became a still and woven blue.

A hundred years ago the great sociologist Max Weber wrote that “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world” (Entzauberung der Welt). We experience this, he added, as an “iron cage” of rationalization. The purpose of this course is to explore Weber’s great thesis. Is it correct? If so, what are its consequences? What intellectual strategies have we formed to deal with this disenchantment, to break the bars of this iron cage? And if Weber’s thesis is not right, in what forms has an enchanted world persisted?

Major readings:

  • Weber, selected writings on the rationalized social order
  • Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
  • Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
  • Neil Gaiman, American Gods
  • Jason Josephson-Storm, The Myth of Disenchantment

Supplementary readings:

  • various essays on the “secularization thesis”
  • Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age
  • Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (selections)
  • Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (selections)
  • Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (selections)
  • C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien on the “enchantment of worldliness”
  • selected essays and excerpts by Marina Warner

The logic behind many of these choices should be clear — it’s obvious why Taylor’s magnum opus will be the central text here — but a few may need explanation. Gaiman’s novel is a great case study in various culturally particular forms of enchantment and disenchantment, and a profound meditation on how technology affects both. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell explores the conditions and consequences of re-enchantment. Josephson-Storm’s book puts some hard questions to Weber’s thesis and to narratives of secularization more generally. Kass presents Genesis as an intrinsically disenchanting text from the outset, in which it demotes the sun, moon, and stars from the status of deities to that of mere created things — big lights in the sky, worthy neither of worship nor of terror.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

accommodation and perversion

I wrote recently that I see world-building in SF and fantasy as coming in two chief varieties, the speculative and the meticulous, and that those varieties offer different kinds of literary interest and pleasure. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea falls on the speculative end of the spectrum, Tolkien on the meticulous end. Here’s another binary: the accommodating and the perverse.

The distinction applies to all kinds of writing, but I think it especially evident in SF or fantasy or any other kind of writing that evades the constraints of standard-issue realistic fiction. The accommodating writer is one who is content to work within the common shapes of story, the expected arcs and structures of human tale-telling throughout history and across cultures, while the perverse writer suspects those arcs and structures and strives to avoid or subvert them when possible. (So when I recently called Adam Roberts “perverse” I was describing, not criticizing. I think Adam’s fiction is very usefully perverse.)

It strikes me that these two binaries may usefully be juxtaposed to each other. These are distinctions of degree, not kind, so some Cartesian plotting is required, thus:

I’m not sure that I’ve placed any of these texts with precision, but it’s a start. Most of them will be familiar to most of my readers, but perhaps not China Mieville’s Bas-Lag series and Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. I was tempted to identify Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series as strongly meticulous and strongly perverse but then decided that both of those designations are potentially misleading. I’ve also been re-reading Thomas Pynchon lately, and was tempted to mark Gravity’s Rainbow as strongly speculative and off-the-chart perverse, but that needs more thought also.

I’m happy to entertain any corrections or suggestions in the comments below.

two kinds of world-building

The builders of fictional worlds, in science fiction and fantasy, come in two chief types, the meticulous and the speculative. The meticulous world-builder delights us by thoroughness of invention, the speculative by surprisingness. For the former, and for readers of the former, much of the pleasure of a fictional world arises from the working out of details; for the latter, and for the latter’s readers, what especially delights is the quirkiness or oddity of the invention, and the “what-if-the-world-were-like-this” questions so aroused.

The master of meticulous world-building in fantasy is of course Tolkien; in science fiction it’s Kim Stanley Robinson. Speculative world-building is more common, because it doesn’t require so much detail: there is no genuinely meticulous world-building at less than 750 pages or so, I’d think. But that doesn’t mean that the speculative type is easier to do well: it requires an instinct for the telling detail, the most distinctive and provocative ways in which a given world differs from our own, and an equally shrewd instinct for what doesn’t change. Keith Roberts’ Pavane, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist, all strike me as especially wonderful examples of speculative world-building.

There are bad ways to read both kinds of world-building. You cannot reasonably expect a meticulous work to be lively all the time; you cannot reasonably expect a speculative work to be perfectly consistent in all its details. But some readers have unreasonable expectations. The fair-minded reader of the meticulous text will deal graciously with longueurs; the fair-minded reader of the speculative text will smile forgivingly at inconsistencies. The masters of the meticulous are also skilled at limiting drearinesss; the masters of the speculative avoid capriciousness. (Aside: no one has ever handled the need to fill in the details of an imagined world more brilliantly and charmingly than Susanna Clarke, in the footnotes of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.)

Both kinds of storytelling are adaptable to different media, but the requirements of meticulousness incline such makers to books rather than movies — though the rise of the long-form television series is pretty well-suited to meticulousness. The speculative is perhaps more dependent on style than the meticulous, but that style need not be linguistic: it can also be visual.

All these thoughts are prompted by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I saw last night and absolutely loved. I could say a good deal about various elements of the film, but in this post I just want to focus on the world-building, which was, I think, superb. I really do believe that if I hadn’t known that J. K. Rowling wrote the screenplay I would have guessed, because it bears the marks of her particular gift, which is the speculative.

Because there are seven Harry Potter books, and now a series of ancillary media — the little books of Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages, the Pottermore website, a play, this new movie and the four (!) sequels to come — it’s natural to think of Rowling as one of the meticulous world-builders, spooling out stories from a secure repository of well-worked-out details. In fact the Potterverse isn’t very meticulous at all, and has ten thousand holes in its fabric, as readers have pointed out from the very beginning.

No, it’s the curious, provocative, stimulating detail that Rowling specializes in, and here that gift is manifested best in Newt Scamander’s suitcase, which wonderfully extends an idea Potter readers learned about first, I think, with the Ford Anglia that Mr. Weasley enchanted in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: in the magical world, objects can be bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. In Newt’s suitcase the creatures that others fear but that he loves and wants to protect (from “the most vicious creatures on the planet: humans”) find safety and affection. And, in Eddie Redmayne’s wonderful portrayal of Newt, we see an awkward, mumbling, socially uncomfortable man transformed, when he enters the little Ark he has made, into an expansive and confortable figure, a skinny ginger Noah. Watching all this just made me happy.

I’m not convinced that the four movies to come will work as well as this first one did, and I’m especially nervous about the Grindelwald story that will clearly be a prime plot driver. But Newt Scamander proves, to my surprise, to be an utterly captivating protagonist, and I will eagerly await his further adventures — without expecting the strict consistency and precision of world-making that the meticulous craftsmen offer.

brief book reviews: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a historical fantasy, set in late Victorian London, that seems determined to bring in … well, everything you might imagine turning up in a historical fantasy set in late Victorian London:

  • steampunky mechanical things? ✓
  • dark and narrow London alleyways? ✓
  • English orientalism? ✓
  • The Woman Question? ✓
  • stern and bigoted Victorian patriarch? ✓
  • delicate and bigoted Victorian matriarch? ✓
  • Gilbert and Sullivan? ✓
  • The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name? ✓

And yet … it’s a really well-told story, and Pulley is a promising writer. I just hope that her next outing contains fewer predictable elements.

getting off on the wrong foot

Brandon Sanderson’s novel Mistborn: the Final Empire begins with a brief italicized passage, spoken by the protagonist, which contains this sentence: “They say I will hold the future of the entire world on my arms.” Wait — shouldn’t that be either “in my arms” or “on my shoulders”? In idiomatic English people don’t hold things on their arms: they might have tattoos or mosquito bites on their arms, but that’s about it. What mental image arises when you hear the phrase “She held her young daughter on her arms”? Nobody goes to fantasy novels for literary style, of course, but still!Lord knows I have perpetrated greater errors, but this kind of thing annoys me, especially when it comes at the beginning of a book, because it compromises my confidence in the writer’s attentiveness to his task — and readers need that confidence, especially when they’re starting books by writers new to them.Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago when I picked up the one-volume abridged edition of William T. Vollmann’s Rising Up and Rising Down. Here are the first two sentences of the book: “Death is ordinary. Behold it, subtract its patterns and lessons from those of the death that weapons bring, and maybe the residue will show what violence is.” Okay, let me work this through: Vollmann is asking me to take death tout court, death altogether, and subtract that from deaths that are brought about by the use of weapons. That is, he wants me to subtract a complete set from one of its subsets. Doesn’t this leave the conceptual equivalent of a negative number? He can’t mean what he’s saying here. He can only mean that if you subtract “the patterns and lessons” of nonviolent death from the patterns and lessons of death altogether (the whole set) you will be able to learn something about violent death. (Note also that he is equating “violent death” with “death caused by weapons,” which is wrong but at least is a comprehensible statement.) In other words, Vollmann didn’t even come close to saying what he meant. Didn’t get within a mile of it. And this is how he starts his book!How much farther did I get into Rising Up and Rising Down? That’s it. No further. Which is probably foolish of me. But I just didn’t have any confidence that a guy who can so completely butcher the first sentences of his book would take significant care with the rest of it.I’m moving ahead with Sanderson, though. A hundred pages in, the story has real potential, even if he writes in that wooden way that’s so common in fantasy and science fiction. I’m not totally unforgiving. Besides, in the first few pages a character was introduced who has a curious network of scars . . . um . . . on his arms. So maybe that fifth sentence of the book wasn’t a slip after all? Maybe it’s possible to pass judgment too quickly . . . ?

Mr. Bowman and the fantasists

In a forthcoming issue of The New Atlantis, James Bowman writes:

Tolkien and the other old-time fantasists may have felt themselves to be working within the Western tradition, from which they would cite the gods and heroes of classical literature as their precedents. But to believe that is to overlook the fundamental difference between their fantastical creations and Homer’s: Homer believed in the reality of his gods and heroes and they did not. More importantly, Homer’s audience thought his gods and heroes were, or had been, real; that was why they incurred the censure of Plato. When Milton, two and a half millennia later, proposed to write the English national epic by making use of the legends of King Arthur, he reluctantly abandoned the project because he had come to think that the Arthurian stories weren’t true, weren’t real. Of the Fall of Man, which replaced them as his subject, he naturally had no such doubts.

(Before proceeding, let me pause to note that, while Milton indeed doubted the historicity of the Arthurian tales — in his History of Britain he wrote, “But who Arthur was, and whether ever any such reign’d in Britain, hath been doubted heretofore, and may again with good reason” — he never explained anywhere the reasons for his change of topic. It seems far more likely to me that in the aftermath of the Commonwealth’s failure he was scarcely in a patriotic mood. But in any case, Bowman is guessing here, not reporting.)(While I’m at it, let me also note that Tolkien certainly wouldn’t have cited classical literature as his precedent: all of his key models are medieval.)(And did Homer really believe in the personal, physical existence of Zeus, Hermes, Athena and the rest? How would one know? Okay, that’s enough. . . .)Confronted by howls of outrage from fantasy-lovers, Bowman has further developed his critique: his chief point in mentioning Tolkien et al. is that “the fantasy actually being produced in our culture today, [including] that which is, in one way or another, merely derivative from Tolkien or Lewis . . . represents a break with the Western mimetic tradition to which the fantasies of yesteryear still, more or less, belonged.” I am pretty confused by what Bowman says in elaborating this point. Is The Lord of the Rings one of those “fantasies of yesteryear” that “still, more or less belonged” to “the Western mimetic tradition”? If so, this contradicts what Bowman wrote earlier. If not, at what point do we place the historical line that separates the acceptably fantastic from the unacceptably fantastic?Again, Bowman writes, “Fairies were believed in by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as recently as a hundred years ago, and I would not take my oath that Lewis and Tolkien did not believe in them too.” But in his New Atlantis article he says flatly that Tolkien did not believe in his “fantastical creations.” So which is it?By the end of this second post Bowman seems to have shifted his critique from Lewis and Tolkien to the people he takes to be their contemporary successors. “What I objected to in our contemporary fantasists — the question of their predecessors was too complicated for me to go into in such a short article — was that they deliberately and as a precondition of their art cut me off from any possibility of belief in the worlds they represent to me because they do not believe in them themselves. And if they don’t believe in them, why should I?” But Bowman did indeed “go into” “the question of their predecessors,” as can be seen in my first quote above. So is he withdrawing the charge he made against “Tolkien and the other old-time fantasists” that they only, and erroneously, “felt themselves to be working within the Western tradition”? Or is he prepared to reassert it? If he doesn’t address these questions, then he’s not answering many (most?) the people who were angry with his article.

Bad Humbug, Good Humbug, and Bah Humbug

Blogger Michael Anissimov does not believe in Santa Claus, but he does believe in the possibility, indeed the moral necessity, of overcoming animal predation. To put it another way, he does not believe in telling fantasy stories to children if they will take those stories to be true, but he has no compunctions about telling them to adults with hopes that they will be true.

An obvious difference Mr. Anissimov might wish to point out is that adults are more likely than children to be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. He can (and does) submit his thoughts to their critical appraisal. While that difference does not justify what Mr. Anissimov regards as taking advantage of children by telling them convincing fantasies, it does suggest something about the difference between small children and adults. Small children cannot readily distinguish between fantasy and reality. In fact, there is a great deal of pleasure to be had in the failure to make that distinction. It could even be true that not making it is an important prelude to the subsequent ability to make it. Perhaps those who are fed from an early age on a steady diet of the prosaic will have more trouble distinguishing between the world as it is and as they might wish it to be. But here I speculate.

In any case, surely if one fed small children on a steady diet of stories like the one Mr. Anissimov tells about overcoming predation, they might come to believe such stories as uncritically as other children believe in Santa Claus. I can easily imagine their disappointment upon learning the truth about the immediate prospects of lions lying down with lambs. We’d have to be sure to explain to them very carefully and honestly that such a thing will only happen in a future, more or less distant, that they may or may not live to see — even if small children are not all that good at understanding about long-term futures and mortality.

But in light of their sad little faces it would be a hard parent indeed who would not go on to assure them that a fellow named Aubrey de Grey is working very hard to make sure that they will live very long lives indeed so that maybe they will see an end to animal predation after all! But because “treating them as persons” (in Mr. Anissimov’s phrase) means never telling children stories about things that don’t exist without being very clear that these things don’t exist, it probably wouldn’t mean much to them if we pointed out that Mr. de Grey looks somewhat like an ectomorphic version of a certain jolly (and immortal) elf: