Good for something

“Not only must we be good, but we must also be good for something.”

– Henry David Thoreau


I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

– J.R.R. Tokien (from The Two Towers, spoken by Faramir)

Faramir became one of my all-time favorite fictional characters the moment he entered this book. (If you’ve only seen the movies, you’ve only seen a pale shadow.) Faramir loves peace, he is principled and self-controlled, and he does what he has to do. I want to be like him.

One foot in earth and the other in fairyland

“The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency…

“The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”

– G. K. Chesterton (from Orthodoxy)

Mystery makes a lot of people uncomfortable; I love it.

Rapt clean out of ourselves

“In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be eloquent, should run thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers, and the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson (from “A Gossip on Romance”)

To coral and ivory and pearls

“There is no competing with the sea in a man’s affections, since she is both mother and mistress, and she will wash his corpse also, in time to come, wash it to coral and ivory and pearls.”

– Neil Gaiman (from the book Stardust)

I am fascinated by the sea and by sailing, even though I would probably find it largely monotonous. So where did all this romance about the sea come from? It’s beautiful out there on the ocean, and boats are beautiful, but that can’t be it. It is because it’s so dangerous and lonely? Because, once upon a time, it was all about exploring the unknown? 

What did Jack Sparrow say? ‘A ship is freedom,’ I think. The sea means freedom and adventure, and that’s why I love it, too.

(By the way, I enjoyed the movie ‘Stardust’ quite a bit, but the book significantly less so.)

An inconvenience is an adventure

I’ve been posting a lot of quotes lately about the benefits of stories and reading, about how they can teach us (even the fun, fictional stories) to see our real lives in a different light. That’s what my favorite section from “Date a Girl Who Reads” was about:

“Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.” (Read the whole thing here.)

Apparently, G.K. Chesterton agreed. Here are two thoughts of his on the same subject:

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.”

– G.K. Chesterton

I love this second one especially, because so many of my favorite fictional characters are deeply flawed people. I mean, how can I love fictional characters who are immature, or short-sighted, or have easy tempers, and then quickly get angry at people in my life who do one thoughtless thing?

Maybe next week I’ll make a list of my favorite fictional characters, their flaws, and why I like them. Hmm…

So here’s a question, are there any characters you love in a book or movie, but you couldn’t stand to hang around with them in real life? For example, Shawn Spencer from the tv show Psych. That man would drive me crazy, but he is hilarious to watch on tv.

General good is the plea of the scoundrel

He who would do good to another, must do it in minute particulars
General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer.

– William Blake (from the poem Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion)

Do I want to make the world a better place? Well, I could give money to an organization, I could “raise awareness” (whatever that means), I could write your Representative about fairer laws, and those would all be good. But I think Blake is right here: the most good you can do is love your neighbor in a real, practical way. Find a particular person with a real problem and help them.

If you follow your star

“I will give you some free advice.”

“Will it cost me anything?”

“You could say it’s priceless. Are you listening?”


“Good. Now… if you trust in yourself…”


“…and believe in your dreams…”


“…and follow your star…”


“…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

– Terry Pratchett (from Discworld’s Wee Free Men)

Have I mentioned that I love Pratchett? The quote above is advice from the ever-practical Miss Tick to apprentice witch Tiffany Aching, who’s also pretty practical and an awesome heroine.

I have nothing against dreams and plans, but advice like “follow your dreams” is pretty useless unless the hearer understands how much work it’s going to take.