Look at the reading list for any university literature course, and you will find Mansir Paelen, nestled amongst the other greats in his rightful place. His heady prose, with its inexplicable yet inexorable logic, and his capricious plots where the anodyne has hidden teeth and trickery waits around each corner, are now a familiar part of the Buentoilliçan literary canon, but this was not always the case; Paelen was both a writer and an activist, and wrote scathingly about the failings of the monarcho-capitalist system, and his works were, as a result, repressed thoroughly by the Traitor King and his predecessors.
It was not only in his Polemical Treatises (as Paelen’s non-fictional writings, published only via samizdat methods, have come to be known) that Paelen’s politics were expounded; he also wrote a great deal of fiction, most of which was allegorical in nature. The most famous of these novels and short stories was called The Entrapment of Ersa Cerna, which was actually taken on by the publishers Quine House before it was found out that Morgan Morganson, the alleged author, was actually one of Paelen’s pseudonyms. Quine House promptly dropped it from production when they found out, for fear of losing their license, but by that time there were already thousands of copies of the book in circulation, not all of which the censors could track down. It is around this book that the celebrations today are based.
You will likely see them, if you travel on Goldphelious’ Annulus today: the literary critics, the teachers, the appreciators and literary historians. They all gather with their copies of The Entrapment and various other texts with the name Paelen emblazoned on their covers, a stark contrast to the original publications which employed misdirection on their covers and deception so as not to incriminate their readers. Besides the book covers, the scene would not have looked so different about two hundred years ago, when the gathering first began, save that there would have been many more revolutionaries and social activists amongst the crowds, fewer books, and the conversations they had would have been quieter, more measured, though not lacking in the enthusiasm for Paelen’s work shown today. Why did they choose to gather on this train? For two reasons; firstly it was a fairly inconspicuous place to gather and discuss banned works, and any caught could claim they were just a commuter, so long as they didn’t bring their book with them (most chose not to). Secondly, it was the setting of The Entrapment of Ersa Cerna.
In the book, the beleaguered protagonist, Ersa Cerna, is trapped on a train (which, though not named, is identified by several small details to be that which travels around Goldphelious’ Annulus) because she cannot pay the ‘exit fee’ of the train after accidentally dropping her purse out the window. When she reveals this to the attendant who staffs the door, he tells her that as she cannot pay she must also pay a fine before she is allowed to leave. This farcical episode is only the beginnings of Cerna’s nightmarish struggles with bureaucracy and debt, which slowly grows as the ‘fee’ begins to accrue interest as the train travels onward.
In this dreamlike alternate world in which the protagonist finds herself, she must beg others for money and take on strange work in exchange for spare change. Her moral compass begins to deteriorate, and she begins to steal from other passengers, but can never earn enough money to both pay the exit fee and feed herself with the extortionately priced food that the railway sells. She attempts to jump out a window, but cannot fit though and is fined even further. Eventually she strikes up a relationship with another woman who brings her food, allowing her to steal enough money to get out, but is told that her debt has been sold on to another rail company, who have raised the interest rate. The book ends darkly: Cerna hangs herself in the train toilet, never having obtained her freedom.
The allegorical tale has been described as a ‘surgical excoriation’ of the economic systems that create and perpetuate poverty, and is considered a classic in modern Buentoille. In an interview with the socialist paper The Sound of Morning, Paelen claimed that he thought up the plot when he was momentarily trapped in a similar situation; there really was an ‘exit charge’ on some privately run Buentoilliçan rail lines before the Great Rail Conglomeration of 1907, and Paelen had not known that the particular exit fee he was supposed to pay had been hiked that day, so had not brought enough money with him. Thankfully, in Paelen’s case he was allowed to leave the train but ordered to pay up later.
It is perhaps ironic that those who gathered to discuss his work, and to organise against economic injustice, all paid the entry and exit fees that kept the immoral rail companies going, yet these sessions no doubt spawned many of the anti-monarchist, anti-capitalist groups which later brought about the Revolution, so most would agree it was worth it. In contrast, today there are no charges for travelling Goldphelious’ Annulus, and there will even be free copies of The Entrapment laid out on the tables, on this, the birthday of Mansir Paelen.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Misplaced Scorn
- The Essence of Her Breath Festival