“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.
“Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
I like this quote, but it seems a little strong to me. I don’t agree that we can grow in godliness only by myth-making, but I think it can be one good way.
When you love a story, and you ask yourself why, you can find out what your heart is really yearning for. I love stories full of ordinary people becoming heroes, finding courage, making sacrifices, and out-smarting the bad guys. I want to be a hero, and I want someone who loves me enough to make sacrifices to save me.
Do you agree with all or part of this quote? What do your favorite stories say about what you love?
“Not till we are completely lost or turned round — for a man needs only to be turned once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost — do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature. Every man has to learn the points of the compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or an abstraction. Not until we are lost, in other words, not until we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I can get very caught up in the day-to-day stuff of life. It’s easy; there’s a lot of stuff, and some of it is essential. But we can’t be like that all the time. We need to get away from what we know, from time to time, and see the whole world as it is.
This is why I love fantastical stories. I know that isn’t what Thoreau was getting at, but for me, they are a way of getting lost to find your self. Good fantasy and science fiction describe real people (with real flaws and real emotions) in completely unreal situations, helping you to see things in a new way.
One of my favorite groups of poems is Men and Women by Robert Browning. Each of these long poems is a monologue by a different person, and the ones I’ve read are fascinating. One of my favorites is Fra Lippo Lippi, about a (medieval?) monk who paints art in churches and monestaries.
In the poem, Lippi meets some men (city watchmen, I think) and tells them his story. He was homeless, living on the street at 8 years old, when the church took him in. He can’t read much Latin, he says, but he’s a shrewd judge of people and can paint them as they are. The trouble is, the head monks think his paintings are too realistic, saying:
Your business is not to catch men with show,
With homage to the perishable clay,
But lift them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men—
Give us no more of body than shows soul!
Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head
With wonder at lines, colours, and what not?
Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!
Lippi disagrees, of course. Here are my favorite parts of his response:
Why can’t a painter lift each foot in turn,
Left foot and right foot, go a double step,
Make his flesh liker and his soul more like,
Both in their order?
Can’t I take breath and try to add life’s flash,
And then add soul and heighten them three-fold?
And my whole soul revolves, the cup runs over,
The world and life’s too big to pass for a dream,
For me, I think I speak as I was taught;
I always see the garden and God there
A-making man’s wife: and, my lesson learned,
The value and significance of flesh,
I can’t unlearn ten minutes afterwards.
You speak no Latin more than I, belike;
However, you’re my man, you’ve seen the world
—The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises,—and God made it all!
—For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no,
For this fair town’s face, yonder river’s line,
The mountain round it and the sky above,
Much more the figures of man, woman, child,
These are the frame to? What’s it all about?
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,
We’re made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
And so they are better, painted—better to us,
Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;
God uses us to help each other so,
Lending our minds out.
This world’s no blot for us,
Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:
To find its meaning is my meat and drink.
You can read the whole thing here. It’s long, but it’s worth it.
If I know the road home and go along it drunk, staggering from side to side, does that makes the road along which I go a wrong one?
– Leo Tolstoy
Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I got this quote, so I don’t know what the context is. And since all I’ve read of Tolsty’s is the first few chapters of Anna Karenina, I also know very little about his philosophy.
I like this quote, nonetheless, because I think it’s saying, “An idea or philosophy shouldn’t be judged by our ability to follow it.” Things are either true or false, no matter how we respond to them. And we should follow the truth even if we find it difficult and aren’t very good at sticking with it.
So, am I right? Is that what Tolstoy is really saying?