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*WISE Passage of the Day* No. 3 - The Pity of Bilbo
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Advising Elf
Rohan


Apr 10 2007, 5:12pm

Post #1 of 147 (1027 views)
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*WISE Passage of the Day* No. 3 - The Pity of Bilbo Can't Post

You will note that I have not named this series 'Wise Passage of EVERY Day". I have intended to post more often than once a week, but an inconvenient thing (RL) has been interfering.

Today's passage was the first one I ever memorized. If I had a gun to my head, I'd name it as my "favorite" passage. In the absence of firearms, I know that there are others that would vie for that title, and being the indecisive slob that I am, I probably couldn't pick a "real" favorite.

*ponders* You know, I think I'll only post the first half of the passage that I've got copied and ready to paste into this post (PM me if this catches your interest). There are really two different subjects in it, and I think I'll deal with each separately. Not only does this allow for more clarity, it also gives me my next post. ;o)


************************************
What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!’

‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.’

‘I am sorry,’ said Frodo. ‘But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.’

‘You have not seen him,’ Gandalf broke in.
************************************

I prefer this to: "The quality of mercy 'tis not strained. It droppeth as gentle rain from heaven." *googles just to make sure quote is correct* Oops. Well, I was close.
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven." I knew there was an apostrophe in there somewhere.

Of course, this sets up an unending cycle of argument, which will be made only worse by including the rest of the passage, about when Pity and Mercy should be exercised, and when they shouldn't. Knowing the end of the story, we see how important it is here. We will also see how Frodo grows through his Pity and Mercy (another post in the future: "Now that I see him, I do pity him.")

I'll leave the rest of my comments for the next post. I've run out of time anyway.

RL is *so* inconvenient!


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(This post was edited by Advising Elf on Apr 10 2007, 5:15pm)


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 6:41pm

Post #2 of 147 (319 views)
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Pity can be seen as condescending, however. [In reply to] Can't Post

Disabled activists sometimes use the slogan "p*ss on pity." Does Gollum want Frodo's pity, or Bilbo's, or Gandalf's? Mercy, too, implies a position of power in the one showing it. Your quote from Shakespeare is an appeal to a judge, and flatters the judge by comparing him to God. In today's egalitarian world we don't want or admire pity or mercy as much as sympathy or empathy, which implies a feeling between equals.

Middle-earth, however, is extremely hierarchical. The history of Middle-earth is a history of Great Men, or Great Elves, or, at the end of the Third Age, Great Hobbits. That last phrase seems unlikely or even laughable when the book begins, but not when the book ends. Frodo's suffering makes him great and wise, as Saruman is forced to acknowledge. Sam and Merry and Pippin count the Great and the Wise as their close friends, and essentially rule the Shire on King Elessar's behalf. This is the right order of things in Middle-earth. The Enemy is a rebel, and the orcs are a rabble.

The orcs are not, however, shown any pity or mercy whatsoever. Perhaps because they would reject it if offered -- after all, the orcs at Helm's Deep refuse to surrender, and those at the Black Gate kill themselves in despair. But Tolkien also manages to have it both ways; the orcs and other monsters give us an enemy we need not pity, while Gollum, Wormtongue, and Saruman and humans in Saruman and Sauron's armies give our heroes the opportunity to show pity to those who are not fully monsters.

All of this works quite well in Middle-earth, but is it applicable to the Primary World? Are we right to pity any human, no matter how poor or sick or weak or evil? Should we save pity for animals? Should we reject pity altogether and aim for empathy instead? Or should we dare to be great, and accept the responsibilities of greatness, instead of attacking those of us who try to rise above the crowd?

And what about the lesson Tolkien didn't mean to teach? Are their orcs in the Primary World? Are there people so monstrous that we should not let pity stay our hand? Would you show pity to a child molester? A serial killer? A terrorist? Hitler? Would they accept it if offered?

It all gets very complicated when we turn to the Primary World. Middle-earth is far more comforting.


Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 10 2007, 7:01pm

Post #3 of 147 (290 views)
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Well... [In reply to] Can't Post

...who would want justice if they could have mercy? Mercy must be followed up by redemption if it is to mean anything. While people show plenty of mercy to Saruman, Wormtongue, and Gollum, no one bothers to redeem them. I think that is a failure in Tolkien's legendarium. The heroes get easy credit for being merciful, but don't have to put out the really hard work of rehabilitation. The bad guys all conveniently self-destruct leaving the good guys with clean hands. Life don't work that way. For example, I can show mercy to a child molester, but if I don't rehabilitate him/her I'm not doing anyone any favors.

I met a Balrog on the stair
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today.
I wish he would just fly away.


(This post was edited by Darkstone on Apr 10 2007, 7:05pm)


Advising Elf
Rohan


Apr 10 2007, 8:53pm

Post #4 of 147 (259 views)
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A brief reply [In reply to] Can't Post

I believe that when The Prof uses the word "pity" he refers to "compassion". "Sympathy" and "empathy", IMnsHO, are just PC versions of the concept of pity: an emotional response to the plight of another. I mean by this an emotional response of wanting to help another, not just a "Cheez, sure sucks to be you" kind of response.

"P*** on pity" is as bad a response as condescension. A person may be able to overcome a handicap, but denying that it's a handicap is still denial, no matter how you slice it. Equality and equivalence are 2 different things. Shaquille O'neal and Willy Shoemaker are equals. But "The Shaq" could never have been a jockey, and Willy could never have been a basketball star.

Your comment about "monsters" is what I was referring to when I said "unending cycle of argument" about pity and mercy. Due to time constraints, I will not elaborate on this until my next WPotD post.

Yes, M-e is far more comforting.

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FarFromHome
Valinor


Apr 10 2007, 8:55pm

Post #5 of 147 (260 views)
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Perhaps that's why movie-Frodo's pity [In reply to] Can't Post

is actually empathy. He doesn't show that attitude of cool, condescending pity that book-Frodo does, but instead recognizes Gollum as a fellow-sufferer and tries to rehabilitate him. The hierarchical, feudal world-view of the book is subtly altered to reflect modern attitudes, and it sets both Frodo and Aragorn onto a different path towards their destiny.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Advising Elf
Rohan


Apr 10 2007, 8:59pm

Post #6 of 147 (276 views)
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Responsibility and redemption. [In reply to] Can't Post

Redemption is not possible without acceptance of responsibility. One may be responsible *to* someone to help "redeem" (rehabilitate) them, but it means *nothing* if they don't take responsibility for their own actions and seek to improve.

Saruman was offered forgiveness (through which redemption or rehabilitation would be possible) but he flat-out rejected it because of pride. The last thing he ever wanted to do was admit that he had done something wrong. *No one* can help someone like that.

As far the orcs are concerned, I think that's a spiritual reference that I don't have time to get into here (probably not the desire either). ;o)

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FarFromHome
Valinor


Apr 10 2007, 9:13pm

Post #7 of 147 (269 views)
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I have to disagree [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Saruman was offered forgiveness (through which redemption or rehabilitation would be possible) but he flat-out rejected it because of pride. The last thing he ever wanted to do was admit that he had done something wrong. *No one* can help someone like that.



If Gandalf had cared about Saruman and really wanted him to repent, he could have made it much easier for him than he did. Gandalf's only offer of mercy requires Saruman to lose face completely, which he's understandably not prepared to do. Gandalf's attitude seems to be "well, we have to give him his chance, but there's not much hope." Not "I really want to save him, so how can I best help him?"

Gandalf offers Saruman a kind of pro-forma mercy, but not much brotherly love, I'd say.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 9:20pm

Post #8 of 147 (257 views)
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There is some redemption in Tolkien's world. [In reply to] Can't Post

Boromir, the Shadow Host, and Lobelia are all redeemed, although they pay a steep price. The Dunlendings and many men in Sauron's army are given amnesty, apparently. Those men are portrayed as misled rather than evil, at least in comparison to the orcs. But in Middle-earth oaths are truly binding, so it is easier to release someone based on an oath.

We get two examples of what happens to those who go back on their oaths: the Shadow Host and Gollum. In both cases, breaking an oath has terrible consequences. Rehabilitation is much harder in the Primary World, where breaking oaths seemingly has fewer consequences.


Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 10 2007, 9:22pm

Post #9 of 147 (255 views)
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True [In reply to] Can't Post

Redemption is not possible without acceptance of responsibility. One may be responsible *to* someone to help "redeem" (rehabilitate) them, but it means *nothing* if they don't take responsibility for their own actions and seek to improve.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change. But the lightbulb, or child molester, or Saruman still needs a guiding hand to rehabilitation. It takes a very strong person to do it alone. But if they were that strong they wouldn't be in that mess in the first place.

I met a Balrog on the stair
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today.
I wish he would just fly away.


Advising Elf
Rohan


Apr 10 2007, 9:23pm

Post #10 of 147 (265 views)
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Moral relativism. [In reply to] Can't Post

Post-modern thinking accepts the concept of moral relativism: all points of view are equally valid.

This is opposite of the way that The Prof thought, and is dangerous for that matter.

Form this point of view, Gollum, who murdered to get The Ring, murdered after he had The Ring, and murdered after he lost The Ring (I'll use a quote I was saving until next post:

The Woodmen said that there was some new terror abroad, a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles.

was the moral equivalent (exactly the same in every way) of Frodo who abandoned comfort for the sake of those that were comfortable:

‘I should like to save the Shire, if I could—though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them. But I don’t feel like that now. I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.

and:

‘Bilbo went to find a treasure, there and back again; but I go to lose one, and not return, as far as I can see.’

There *is* a moral heirarchy. To deny that erases even the concept of "good" or "evil". The problem with this is not that there is a heirarchy, but that people try put themselves above others on it. This is pride, the disease of Saruman.

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Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 10 2007, 9:26pm

Post #11 of 147 (250 views)
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But... [In reply to] Can't Post

...does anybody pity Boromir or the Shadow Host? And though Lobelia receives pity, she only receives it after her redemption. So there seems to be a disconnect there.

I met a Balrog on the stair
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today.
I wish he would just fly away.


Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 10 2007, 9:29pm

Post #12 of 147 (270 views)
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Exactly my problem. [In reply to] Can't Post

Bilbo's pity affected the lives of many. Including those numberless babies snatched from their cradles. Bilbo's mercy was a very evil thing for them.

I met a Balrog on the stair
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today.
I wish he would just fly away.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 9:33pm

Post #13 of 147 (275 views)
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Wow! A bit harsh on Gandalf, no? [In reply to] Can't Post

We know that the Dunlendings and Easterners and Southrons were all granted amnesty, but only after very public unconditional surrender and various binding oaths (and as I have noted elsewhere, in M-E oaths really are binding). If Saruman had been able to publicly repent, and take the appropriate oaths, he would have been trusted instantly. If, on the other hand, Gandalf had spoken to him privately as Saruman wanted, what would Theoden have thought? How could he be sure that Gandalf had not succumbed to Saruman's powers? Saruman's repentance had to be public in order to stick. It's all a function of the power of oaths in Middle-earth.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 9:43pm

Post #14 of 147 (233 views)
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Not every redemption [In reply to] Can't Post

is the result of pity. My point is that redemption without rehabilitation is possible in Middle-earth, because of the power of oaths. Indeed I'm not sure anyone would know the meaning of rehabilitation in Middle-earth, because oaths make it unnecessary.

That doesn't mean redemption is easy in M-E, though. But the price is not AA meetings and 12 steps, nor probation and parol officers, but instead the doom of the universe or your own broken oaths coming down upon your head. Or your son's head, in Lobelia's case.


Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 10 2007, 9:48pm

Post #15 of 147 (243 views)
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But... [In reply to] Can't Post

...where in M-e do pity and/or mercy lead to redemption? Or are they just showy feel-good virtues unto themselves? In which case, what good are they?

I met a Balrog on the stair
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today.
I wish he would just fly away.


Morwen
Rohan


Apr 10 2007, 10:03pm

Post #16 of 147 (237 views)
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Hmm... [In reply to] Can't Post

I do see your point. So should Bilbo have killed Gollum while he had the chance, as Frodo said to Gandalf in the beginning? Should Gandalf have had Saruman killed, or kept him in a real prison with less merciful guards? LOTR certainly would have been a very different story.

Middle-earth is sort of an idealized world to me, no child molesters, drug pushers or everyday evils we deal with on our planet. And what Curious says is true, oaths are far more binding in that world than in ours. If every criminal who stood in front of a judge and promised to change his ways was bound by that we could all afford to be more merciful.

I'm not sure of my own opinion on this, so I have plenty of questions.

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I wish you could have been there
When she opened up the door
And looked me in the face
Like she never did before
I felt about as welcome
As a Wal-Mart Superstore--John Prine


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 10:06pm

Post #17 of 147 (248 views)
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And it is a significant departure from the book. [In reply to] Can't Post

You are right, Jackson went to great lengths to knock Tolkien's characters off their pedestals and inject modern sensibilities into the story. But some of us like saintly heroes to stay on their pedestals, at least in our heroic romance.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 10:11pm

Post #18 of 147 (234 views)
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As I said above, [In reply to] Can't Post

The Dunlendings and many men in Sauron's army are given amnesty. That is a significant number of people. For that matter, one might include the Shadow Host in that number. Kings have the main redeemer roles in Middle-earth, because they have the power of judgment.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Apr 10 2007, 10:18pm

Post #19 of 147 (261 views)
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Well, yes [In reply to] Can't Post

If, on the other hand, Gandalf had spoken to him privately as Saruman wanted, what would Theoden have thought? How could he be sure that Gandalf had not succumbed to Saruman's powers? Saruman's repentance had to be public in order to stick. It's all a function of the power of oaths in Middle-earth.

For political reasons, Gandalf did what he had to do. He gave Saruman only one choice - to humiliate himself publicly and totally, which Saruman, in his "pride", refused to do. Who wouldn't?

I don't think the scene is meant to seem the way I've described it, however, and in its own context I don't think it does. LotR is a mythic, stylized story in which archetypes of justice and mercy, Good and Evil, are seen in a particular light. The power of oaths, which you mention, is one very strong element of that mythic world. It's only in terms of the real world that Gandalf's mercy seems lacking - in LotR terms, we know that someone who has turned to evil is incapable of accepting mercy in any case.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Apr 10 2007, 10:30pm

Post #20 of 147 (251 views)
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That's true [In reply to] Can't Post

Jackson went to great lengths to knock Tolkien's characters off their pedestals and inject modern sensibilities into the story.

One of Jackson's first ideas was to have real, human characters for his story. That certainly involved moving away from the mythic archetypes of the book, and making the heroes look correspondingly weaker because they are prey to real human doubts and fears. That was the approach he chose, which I like particularly because it makes it much easier to set the two styles - book and movie - apart and understand better exactly what Tolkien is doing to create his mythic heroes. In effect, I think he edits out all the elements of human nature that don't fit the archetype he's creating, to create a kind of "essence of hero" - very powerful stuff!

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 10:42pm

Post #21 of 147 (244 views)
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The Professor knew his words. [In reply to] Can't Post

I somehow doubt that he used one word to mean another. Instead I think Tolkien believed in a natural hierarchy, not political but spiritual, with God at the top, and Pity and Mercy flowing down to those below.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 11:08pm

Post #22 of 147 (261 views)
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How about humble himself? [In reply to] Can't Post

And apparently thousands upon thousands of surrendering Dunlendings, Easterners, and Southrons were willing to take such an offer. Gandalf's mercy seems lacking to you (in your first paragraph, at least) because you judge him as a man, not the angelic representative of the Vala, or indeed of Eru Himself, since he came back from the dead. Gandalf had a right to demand public confession, especially in front of Theoden, who had been so deeply wronged by Saruman. It's like a parent demanding that one child tell another he is sorry. This isn't a matter of politics, it's a matter of judgment by one with the authority to judge. And again, if Saruman had confessed, and I believe Gandalf deeply wished he would, he would have instantly been forgiven and trusted as of old.

I agree with some of what you say in your second paragraph, although I think Tolkien believed that the Primary World is also hierarchical in a spiritual sense, and that there are some people with the authority to judge, and in some cases to demand public confession of sins -- at least to the one who was wronged. Indeed isn't that one of the twelve steps in AA? I also don't quite agree with the idea that M-E is a world of archetypes. I'm not comfortable with that language, especially since every major hero in LotR goes through a period of despair -- even Gandalf. Instead I would simply call it a heroic romance, as Tolkien did, and judge it by those standards.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 11:33pm

Post #23 of 147 (233 views)
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We don't know if those stories are true. [In reply to] Can't Post

Gollum certainly ate orcs, which is creepy enough, but we don't know if he ate babies. I tend to doubt it, myself, precisely for the reason you note -- if it were true, that would cause me to wonder if the long string of people who took pity on Gollum were wise. I think Tolkien presents it as a rumor, never confirmed, for a reason. Tolkien's heroes have excellent intuition about these matters, and I trust their judgment over any unconfirmed rumors.


Curious
Half-elven

Apr 10 2007, 11:38pm

Post #24 of 147 (234 views)
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Are heroes unreal? [In reply to] Can't Post

You make it sound like heroes are as unreal as elves or dragons. I'm not sure Tolkien agreed, even if he did set LotR in a fictional world. Or to put it another way, perhaps Tolkien truly believed in elves, dragons, and heroes.


a.s.
Valinor


Apr 11 2007, 12:26am

Post #25 of 147 (284 views)
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You should get some perspective before you dismiss this concept [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

"P*** on pity" is as bad a response as condescension. A person may be able to overcome a handicap, but denying that it's a handicap is still denial, no matter how you slice it. Equality and equivalence are 2 different things. Shaquille O'neal and Willy Shoemaker are equals. But "The Shaq" could never have been a jockey, and Willy could never have been a basketball star.


This slogan has nothing whatsoever to do with denial of "handicap". In fact, it is about radical ACCEPTANCE of "handicap", a recognition of the diversity of "handicap", and is a human rights policy statement and radical call to action, not a moral or ethical statement.

"Piss on pity" means as long as an entire group of people are viewed as pitiful BECAUSE OF the defining characteristic that makes them recognizable as a group (in this case, a disability), there is no hope of being seen as individually competent---so piss on that. Pity makes for VERY poor disability policy, encumbers people who don't need it with paternalistic policies based on perceived deficits, and gets no one out of the disability ghetto. It keeps segregation possible and inclusion difficult. "Pity oppresses" as Joseph Shapiro (and other activists) say it.

I presume you are not in a wheelchair with a significant and obvious disability, and therefore have not suffered from the indignity of pity misplaced. It is one thing to truly be--individually--pitiful. It's another thing entirely to be viewed as pitifiul simply because you are a member of a group that as a group is subject to extreme bias. And in fact it's the "handicap" of society's desire to equate disability with incompetance and the level of need for assistance with a moral value that harms disabled people more than their disabilities.

Disability is a normal part of life, and "they" differ from "them" and "us" only in amount and kind---we are all only "temporarily able". Pity for the disabled gets them "placed" and "taken care of" and put into "programs", and patted on the head, and subject to all kinds of misguided nonsense. It gets them made into posters illustrating the "plight" of the "handicapped" (especially children in wheelchairs).

Curious is right that pity in THIS SENSE (and not the entire sense that Tolkien intended, which is understanding of the sinner coupled with mercy) is condescension: the superior to the perceived inferior.

I say piss on that, too.

a.s.

"an seileachan"

Some say they're going to a place called Glory, and I ain't saying it ain't a fact.
But I've heard that I'm on the road to Purgatory, and I don't like the sound of that!
I believe in love, and live my life accordingly,
And I choose: let the mystery be.
~~~~Iris DeMent

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