The Moth’s Return: Preface to The Incomplete Encyclopedia

In which I, Owl, first of that name and wisest, do interrogate the natures of things.

First we inquire, for what reason should a creature interrogate the natures of things?

For the primary reason that we live among things and name them; this one this, and that one that, but the names remain empty; we know neither their natures nor the relations between them and ourselves. For it is manifestly the case that in days past the ninth generation of men no longer understood their nature or the nature of their King and did rebellion against him, which act resulted in their destruction; in this the seven hundred and seventy first and present generation, men do not even believe in natures, saying that the name alone is real, or that nature and name are one and the same. To such men I say as Nog son of Nous did that names and natures cannot be the same, for though my name has meaning and accords with my nature, yet could I have been named Moth and remained myself.

For the secondary reason that the naming of things and the study of their natures is pleasurable, there being sundry and diverse methods of dividing one thing from another. And this in so much that the naming of things and the study of their natures might go on for ever without diminishing in wonder. And often one name may be delightfully exchanged for another when the things the names belong to are like to each other in some respect though they be different in every other respect, so that, in example, the sky may be said to be the ocean, or the sun a beacon, when in fact the sky is sky and the sun sun. For in the midst of great difference it is marvelous that a striking likeness is found. And stories and poems are told the better for it.

But not for the reason that the knowledge of all things must be gathered into one place. The first eagle Kandidior, who was so learned that there was never book found big enough to contain all his learning, said that the list of the natures and relations of things is always increasing; at the moment an eagle writes down the complete knowledge of things, this eagle forgets that it has been asking questions of things and no longer listens for answers. And this eagle remains stupid all its days.

To this I add that Kandidior did not say it is foolish to begin writing a knowledge of things in a book, only that one must continue asking questions without pretense of knowing all the knowledge of things. And the present book only adds to the unfinished lists of other books, beginning with things of great importance so that men will remember their natures and the nature of their King even if they do not discover things of lesser importance.


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