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Aaron's Rod

Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile science fiction novels were among the first I ever read. I still remember discovering and devouring Have Space Suit, Will Travel when I was shelving books in fifth grade, in the Molly B. Dawson Elementary School library. Of course, I was far too young to appreciate many of the finer literary features of Heinlein's writings. But somehow it was clear that this was good stuff, well-crafted, not hack storytelling like much of the competition. Within a few years I was inhaling all the classic SF that I could find at all the public libraries around town. Interlibrary loan was my best friend.

But some Heinlein tales had oblique allusions far beyond my youthful ken. Glory Road, for instance, came out in 1963 when I was eleven years old. It's a rip-roaring fantasy, with the obligatory impossible quests, stalwart heroes, magical spells, evil villains, lovely maidens, secret identities, trans-dimensional multi-universe travel, etc., etc. Glory Road also contained a goodly dose of tongue-in-cheek humor. Some things I got, like:

" ... Look, you've got a job. It keeps you busy and it's important. But me? There is nothing for me to do, nothing at all!—nothing better than designing bad jewelry. You know what I am? A hero by trade, so you told me; you recruited me. Now I'm retired. Do you know anything at all in twenty universes more useless than a retired hero?"

She mentioned a couple. I said, "You're stalling. Anyhow, they break up the blankness of the male chest. ..."

I figured that one out. But the following exchange totally befuddled me. Our adventuresome protagonists are trapped on the roof of a featureless building, a black glass tower, and have nothing to attach their rope to so that they can climb down and escape:

Star watched us. When I was forced to admit that a hundred feet short was as bad as no line at all, she said thoughtfully, "I wonder if Aaron's Rod would help?"

"Sure, if it was stuck in the top of this overgrown ping-pong table. What's Aaron's Rod?"

"It makes stiff things limp and limp things stiff. No, no, not that. Well, that, too, but what I mean is to lay this line across the roof with about ten feet hanging over the far side. Then make that end and the crossing part steel hard—sort of a hook."

What was the word that referring to re "... makes stiff things limp and limp things stiff ..."? Call me naïve. I had absolutely no idea until several years later ...

(cf. MentalBandwidthBoosters (1999-06-26), Three Man Boat (2002-01-10), MarryTheOne (2005-05-20), TrimCleavage (2007-08-04), Languages for Smart People (2008-03-12), ...) - ^z - 2009-01-17