Sunday, May 25, 2008

Longing for Home

So, today was the ward conference in the Oxford Ward. The theme was drawn from Paul, "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:5). The general gist of the meeting was about man's spiritual nature, making sure that we didn't allow the general banality of our lives supersede and overcome our spiritual nature. Our Stake President discussed his roses, which he worked hard to prune and take care of, but which he hadn't yet appreciated. The Bishop, speaking on the same theme, took on Richard Dawkins (although not personally) and discussed the further idea that the only way to know things of God is from God (1 Corinthians 2:11 and 12), but because we are spiritual beings the Spirit can communicate with our spirit. It was a very intriguing Ward Conference, and one which gave me much cause to think.

Again and again, the idea was expressed that we were spiritual beings. The rogue Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was quoted by several of the speakers: "We are not human beings have a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings have a human experience." A good quote, and reminiscent of the thought expressed in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 93, "For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy" (verse 33). Of course, D&C 93 deserves discussion on a 'blog dedicated to Latter-day Saint theology, and not a humble fantasy 'blog like this one (so why am I quoting it? Patience, friends, patience). I have often pondered over this idea of being spiritual beings sojourning on this earth.

What does all of this have to do with fantasy and therefore what place does it have on my 'blog. Well, in addition to merely discussing fantasy books, movies, et cetera, part of what I am doing is discussing theories about fantasy, at least from my point of view. My teachers in this are those two stalwarts, Jack Lewis and Prof. Tolkien, both of whom saw the impulse for fantasy derive from the same impulse of religion, and that on some levels it was their Christian understanding that they were spiritual beings that led to the writing of the fantasy novels for which they are most famous (although the Christianity is much more explicit in The Chronicles of Narnia than in The Lord of the Rings--however Tolkien's theory of sub-myths was the more developed, something which will come up in later posts).

The scriptures are replete with a longing for another kingdom, which is expressed by Paul (this 'blog is about fantasy not the Bible, so I can just say that Paul wrote this epistle without discussing authorship) in Hebrews: "and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country" (Hebrews 11:13 and 14). In the Biblical text Paul makes it clear, of course, that the country which the faithful were seeking is Zion, the city of God. However, we all have in our hearts a certain sense that we don't really belong here, a sense which fabulists tie into.

It is not, of course my intention, to say that fantasy is on the same level of scripture (although I often quote Hugh Nibley, who once identified science fiction as "folk-scripture"). I am only expressing an idea, common to my masters in the fabulist arts, that we are looking for something else in our life. As a Christian and a Latter-day Saint I believe that this is a searching for God, because of our nature as spiritual beings, we are yearning for that which we left behind (this yearning is expressed perhaps most familiarly in Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality and the First Epistle of John, "we love Him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

This yearning for another country took many forms in the myths and legends of the world (myth being the forbearer of fantasy--or fantasy perhaps being the poor cousin of myth). Of course, moderns idealize the myths, but I personally think there is nothing wrong with this. The Celts had their Summer Country, an Other World which eventually leads us to Faery and Elfland. The Renaissance humanists had their Arcadia, named after the abode of the great god Pan (the great god Pan is dead, but I am also in Arcadia), the true shepherd's paradise. And Paradise itself, modeled after a Persian pleasure garden, reminding us all that like Twain, we are headed back to Eden. Whether back to Eden or forward to the Summer Country, fantasy taps into this longing and feeling that we are "strangers and pilgrims."

For Lewis, fantasy, much like the myths which led him to Christianity, lead properly to the better country alluded to by Paul. For Tolkien, since all myth (including fictional myth like his) was essentially true, sub-creations made by sub-creator reflecting the glory of the Great Creator. Other fantasy writers do not feel this way, and they are welcome to, but I tend to agree with my masters, and ascribe fantasy to sub-creation. Certainly such thoughts give hope and validity to my own fantastic endeavors (such as my writing and my role-playing), so they may only be good for me, and not essentially true. I tend to disagree, but your own usage and experience will vary, of course.

Our final thought comes from Puddleglum in The Silver Chair:
"Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.... [W]e're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland."

Thoughts or experiences with the Summer Country? Please share them in the comments.

Further Up and Further In!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

And Now, For Something Completely Different

You will, I hope, have noticed the changes on my 'blog, including but not limited to a change in title, and with it, the entire theme of my 'blogging. You see, my previous 'blog wasn't satisfying me. There was nothing I could put my finger on, but I wasn't enjoying 'blogging. There are likely a number of reasons (including, perhaps of the limits in discussing any of my scholarship--see a relevant discussion from a friend of mine here), but in some ways the reasons are not relevant. After I write this thing for fun, after all, and for the benefit of my friends, so as long as they are getting benefit and I am enjoying myself, it shouldn't be a big deal. The trouble was, as I said, I wasn't enjoying myself, and so I wouldn't write. Which didn't help anybody.

So, I have decided to change my 'blog. While it may still contain random musings on my life, I have decided to encourage this 'blog as a outlet for my hobbies as a fabulist and a role-player and a medievalist. I hope that this will give me continual impetus to write, and my readers impetus to comment and improve the general character of this 'blog. For news of my life, my lovely wife does a splendid job of cataloging that, and is a good writer to boot. Additionally, although this 'blog will contain a number of musings on role-playing, I will attempt to not neglect my other role-playing writing responsibilities.

I have resisted making this change, for a number of reasons. In part, because I was afraid of being labeled as terminally uncool, and this in spite of being well aware of my actual coolness level. You'd reckon that I'd be beyond such things, but it is not so. Another point is that I did not want to limit myself. Closely related to that, my readership extends to people who don't role-play (perhaps, I never get a quarter of the readership that my wife does), and didn't want to be to off-putting. One of my earliest attempts at a role-playing post was the worst received of anything I had written, and almost put me off writing altogether. However, my attempts to be all things to all people were preventing me from writing in general. As my friend Matt has said, there is a lot of inertia preventing one from writing.

So, this change in focus. It is off with the kid-gloves. I will be writing unapologetically about fantasy, science fiction, comic books and role-playing, without an eye for my audience. As the good old Ricky Nelson song goes: "But it's alright now, I've learned my lesson well. You see, you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." Perhaps an unfair convention of writing for a medium which is intended to be read, but we'll try it for a while and see how it goes.

For the first time in months I am excited to write again.