Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Things Above

(Now that I think about it, that would be a killer blog title. I'll sell it to you for a tenner.)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:1-2

Surely these verses say more about theology than they do about good writing, but let us push on a little bit.

I recently bought a used copy of God In the Dock by C.S. Lewis, and it showed up yesterday. I've been loving it so far, especially since I have not had the pleasure to read much of Lewis's nonfiction. I've also been working my way through Heretics by G.K. Chesterton, and I can certainly see the influence that Chesterton had on Lewis. The same razor's edge is there, the same ability to cut to the heart of an issue, and divide into logical categories things which, on first examination, might seem more muddled. So in "Miracles," when Lewis discusses different objections to the idea of miracles, he gives a definite and brilliant proof that all of natural life is a miracle, albeit in a slower cycle than those which Christ performed:

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn the water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah's time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see.

Brilliant. I love this guy. Of course, I've loved all the Narnia books since I was a kid and my parents read them to me, but now I can see more clearly the incredible mind behind the incredible creativity.

(I just finished "Myth Become Fact" and it is great. This is lines up with what I've been thinking through lately with archetypes and antetypes, and also makes me really excited for the 7th grade mythology class next year.)

The book's forward ended with a quote from The Four Loves: "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date."

Now, I haven't read the book from which this is excerpted, and so I'm not sure to what he is directly referring, and I'm sure it has a higher initial purpose - much like the verses above - but it made me think about literature. And it specifically made me think about William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. In it, he says:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

This is what we get when we apply the Colossians verse to writing. Not that everything needs to be explicitly about Christ, or other "things above," but that the eternal themes that are contained in the grand narrative of Scripture should permeate our writing. So The Lord of the Rings is not a story of how Jesus Christ takes the "Sin" of the world (the Ring) upon himself, to destroy it (Frodo), travels and preaches "the good news" (Gandalf), and, through humility, becomes the reigning King (Aragorn). But each of these characters bears a mythical and mystical connection to the person and work of Christ. Because The Lord of the Rings contains many eternal things connected with Christ (humility, service, duty, sacrifice, honor, etc.), it is an eternal book. And because it is an eternal book, it will last the test of time. There's a reason that we still read The Illiad and The Odyssey, thousands of years later, and it's the same reason why we probably won't be reading something like White Noise thousands of years from now.

As a bit of an aside, and something that I'll talk about later (maybe over the summer, after I've read the last book), this is the reason why I don't think G.R.R. Martian and the Song of Ice and Fire series comes even close to Tolkien's work. (for background, someone at Time called GRRM "the American Tolkien")

GRRM is a great writer. There should be no doubt about that for anyone who has seriously read his books. The man knows how to craft a story, how to make (and name!) characters, and keep interest through some very long books.

But what he doesn't write are eternal themes. There is no pity in these books. There is no (or precious little) honor. There is no sacrifice, except in the sense that the strong sacrifice the weak for their own ends. In this way, it might be a more accurate picture of reality (people with power taking advantage of people without), and it might be a more accurate picture of fallen and unredeemed man, but that is exactly why I think it will fail the test of time.

The world has enough examples of wanton destruction, and cruelty for it's own sake, and battles fought for nothing, and greed to the extreme. We (I) don't want to see more of that. We (I) don't want our (my) fantasy worlds populated by the same filth and offal that swallows up the evening news.

I want a hero that will forsake his comfortable home for the sake of all people, even if it means his life.

I want a hero that is tireless in encouragement, in compassion, in Righteous anger.

I want a hero that will lay aside his claim to Kingship to help the least of these.

That's why I do and will keep re-reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. And that is why I doubt I will re-read any of ASOIAF.
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