Exploring where life and story meet!

Monday, July 25, 2016

A story too large or a reader too small

C.S. Lewis is perhaps my favorite author (or maybe it is Jane Austen, any who…though I have many favorite stories written by various other personalities, he is the one author (besides the esteemed Miss Austen) that I enjoy everything he has written, fiction or not).  I love that he is obviously a genius, but writes in such a way that almost anyone can read it and understand and yet find it interesting, but I think I met my match in 'That Hideous Strength,' the third of his 'Space Trilogy.'  I've read it before, and until now I never really appreciated it all that much, not because the book isn't worth a read, but rather that the reader's mind was too small, I was not ready for such a challenge.  It seems I needed a far more classical and philosophical education before I could tackle this so-called fairytale.  A thorough knowledge of Arthurian Legend, Latin, the fairytales of George MacDonald, Medieval Literature, Greek Mythology, the history of Numinor (Tolkien anyone?), Middle English, Philosophy, poetry…singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages (oops!, there's Jane Austen again)…and a thousand other disciplines are of immense help (thankfully organic chemistry and calculus are not required, I'm a bit rusty) but not required.

The last book I tackled that gave me such trouble was Chesterton's 'The Man Who Was Thursday,' and not even the experts agree on the meaning of that one, so I don't feel too bad.  I love Chesterton's humor and wit, but sometimes I just can't seem to understand what he is saying, but my how he says it, whatever IT is!

Did I like it?  I'm not sure if I can answer that question.  I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that question!  Does my opinion even matter?  I think it is a bit above my ability to like or dislike.  It reminds me of dark chocolate as a child: I loved milk chocolate but thought the dark was nasty, but as I have grown up and my tastes have matured and deepened, I love nothing more than dark chocolate, it is an acquired taste and though I've never acquired a taste for fermented beverages, fine cigars, or coffee, I would assume it is very similar; I am still a child as compared to this book.  It is a complex book, mixing a variety of genres, philosophies, and styles, tackling any number of topics, sometimes deep, sometimes trifling.  Narnia is milk chocolate, Screwtape is semi-sweet, this is a very rich dark.  If you are looking for a book to make you think or to go 'aha!' or to savor or to ponder over, to expand your literary horizons as it were, this is certainly such a book.  How's that for a straight answer!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Practical Parenting and Peter Pan

I once heard that being sick is your body's way of forcing you to take a break (obviously from someone who has never heard of germ theory, just kidding!, stress makes you far more susceptible to illness by weakening your immune system), but it sure is a lousy vacation.  We've had the plague at our house for the last couple weeks, besides the necessities of life, I really didn't feel like accomplishing anything, leaving me time to actually read.  It has been a very long time since I visited either Middle Earth or Narnia, and it was a very enjoyable trip.  What amazes me is that every time I reread a favorite book, I come away with something new every time, exactly like spending time with an old and dear friend.  For some reason, I'm really fascinated by the idea of family, childhood, and character development of late (probably because I'm dealing with just those issues myself).  My attention was specifically drawn to Eustace Scrubb, probably the least loved character in all of fiction, introduced in C.S. Lewis's 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader,' and actually the most recent movie version of that book does an excellent job with that specific character, though I'd avoid the cinematic version of 'Prince Caspian' if you have any regard for the book.

In Lewis's words:

'There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it…they [his parents] were very up-to-date and advanced people.  They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers…he [Eustace] liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators…but as I said before, Eustace had only read the wrong kind of books.  They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.'

As the story unfolds, poor Eustace finds himself in the middle of a fairytale and an adventure, neither of which he wants, but desperately needs.  He began the tale as an abominable sort of creature and by the end of the book, he is actually a person, and one you don't mind taking on an adventure or two.

Now Eustace is one extreme and Peter Pan is another.  I read 'Peter Pan' once and it rather disturbed me.  The idea is a nice one, at least in a story, and has captivated generations, but I'm not sure how many people would actually like to live in Neverland, the Neverland of the book, not the one romanticized in countless movies and spin-off stories.  Eustace has a life deprived of parental love and affection, lacking any magic or mystery or fun.  Peter Pan is a little boy without parents at all, left to an eternal childhood of freedom, but he's alone in a dangerous world with no chance of growing or changing or becoming anything better or even different.  There must be something in-between having no childhood and an unending, meaningless immaturity.  To quote Lewis once more, 'even in this world of course, it is the stupidest children who are most childish and the stupidest grown-ups who are most grown-up.'  I think that pretty much sums up both Peter Pan and Eustace's parents respectively.  But what then is the answer?

There are very few cases where I recommend a movie over a book, but in this case, 'Hook,' is a beautiful exception.  The tale follows a grown-up Peter Pan, now an uptight lawyer with a family he doesn't have time for, played to perfection by Robin Williams, whose journey and transformation is not unlike that of Eustace.  It manages to capture all the magic of childhood without losing sight of the fact that the magic doesn't have to die as you age, rather it only gets deeper and more mysterious and wonderful as you do, unless you lose it or kill it by trying to keep it or yourself from changing or you never believed in it in the first place.

Now you may consider all this bosh, for we also hear that 'it takes a village to raise a child,' and what is so important about parents and family and fun and mystery and magic and wonder after all?  It is all highly impractical!  That is just the sort of thing Eustace's parents might say and the sort of people that make suggestions to certain government agencies that perhaps parents should not be allowed to read bedtime stories to their children because there are children who don't have parents to read them bedtime stories, which puts those unfortunate children at a disadvantage, therefore no child should have a bedtime story and thus all are equally wretched!  I then ask, where then is 'the village' that is supposed to be raising these children, why is 'the village' not reading bedtime stories to 'their' children?  'The village' doesn't care, but parents do (or should) and that's why parents raise children and not a government agency.

Or you might say, what is so wrong with loving childhood and wanting to pursue its ideals your entire life?  It depends what you mean by the ideals of childhood, if you mean an undying sense of wonder, an open and loving spirit, an eagerness to see what the day might hold, a happiness in small things, by all means pursue these ideals, but if you mean a selfish focus on what you want and enjoy and like completely indifferent to the needs and wants of everyone else around you, then certainly not, has that idea not already consumed an entire generation that has now entered its third decade of life and stills lives with their parents?  Let our hearts grow wiser rather than just older!  Only then can we inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Parents of earth and Heaven

I have a very hard time understanding God as the loving, caring Father that scripture describes.  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that He is not just that, He's proved it over and over again in my own peculiar life, rather, the incomprehension is on my side.  I haven't the foggiest how a human parent is supposed to treat their child, even though I am a parent myself, I have never been someone's little girl.  What my son takes for granted every single day, I never had and I have a very hard time understanding the concept in relation to myself, even though God has been a loving, caring Father countless times over in my own starved life, I still can't understand that when He says His blessings are for all His children, that somehow includes me, and they have been, but I still don't get it!  I bless my son without thinking, it is just so natural and right and good, but the very idea that anyone, most especially God, would bless me, is just incomprehensible sometimes.

That's what I struggle with: that I can be blessed, not because I deserve it, but because He delights to do so.  I suppose it goes back to my struggles with my own worth (nothing) and identity (an annoyance and burden) as a child whose parents had their own issues and interests and didn't really want to be bothered with me, which made me think I wasn't worth bothering about, except maybe as the recipient of their own frustration and anger.  I came to understand that any parental attention was a thing to be avoided at all costs.  While certain of my siblings got gifts and praise and attention, I was singled out for abuse and criticism and even things like socks were given only reluctantly.  If that's what my earthly parents are like, what am I to think of this so-called Heavenly Father?

But then I run across articles like this, and I cry and know that He loves all His children, even me!  It takes a bit of hubris to think that God can save everyone but me, that of all people, my sins alone are unforgivable, that He'd somehow leave me out of the divine inheritance when every other child of His is included, as if this perfect, Heavenly Father could be anything like my fallible and broken earthly parents.  I need an eternal perspective, in this, as in all things.  I need my Dad to put a band-aid on it, but He can do so much better than that, He can heal it (and me) fully!  Now there's a gift indeed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Seedling

My past has been fraught with pain and sorrow, and lately my journey has been towards healing and wholeness, and I thought I had turned a corner, put the grieving behind me, and could get on with life, but I fear that is not how life works.  A soul is not a light switch that may be turned off or on at need or when convenient.  Yes, I have gained a sense of peace, have gotten over the initial mourning and grief, and attained some emotional stability, but the pain never, truly goes away when the wound is so deep.  It can scab over and even scar in, but the scar is still there, and occasionally it tingles or aches, just like physical scar tissue in the cold.  My in-laws came over this weekend, and my sense of grief was acute, not because of anything they did or did not do, and really it had nothing whatsoever to do with them at all, save to demonstrate what my family and heritage might have been.  But instead of being embittered by the past, I must continue to walk behind the plow, head bowed and determined to go on, no matter the turmoil of heart, soul, and mind, plowing a new furrow for my own little clan, that some day perhaps, my own grandchildren may one day 'rise up and call me blessed,' but oh the ache amid the seemingly thankless toil!

Then I ran across this little article dealing with just that issue!  Some have a grand heritage to pass on to the next generation, roots that go deep and massive boughs to shade and protect them from the blistering heat as they send out their own rootlets to delve deep into the homey soil, while others must plow a new furrow in soil that has never known the plow, amid rocks and bramble and thorn, the sun unblinking and hot overhead, dust assaulting the nose and eyes, plastered in place by sweat, but so too did the forebears of those with a great and branching heritage once toil, that their descendants might not have to do likewise.  So too must I look not to the end of the row, nor even to the end of the season, but a decade, a century ahead, to the yield and bounty that will be borne to my children's children, but only by one painful step at a time can it be achieved, faithfully toiling in the place, the time, and with the resources and weather given me.