Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mossy and Tangle

I didn't grow up reading a lot of fantasy, per se. I suppose I was exposed to enough of it, through fairy tales and cartoons, but I didn't read a lot of it myself. Then I went to GU. My second year there, I read CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew in my Philosophy of Ethics course. Later on I took the same professor's course on CS Lewis and worked my way through the all the Chronicles of Narnia, the space trilogy, a large portion of Lewis' essays, and his master work, Till We Have Faces (I should read that book every year there's so much to glean from it!). It was as if a new world opened up to me--that fantasy, good fantasy written with the intent to tell a good story, could be so uplifting was novel and exciting. Even when T and I started dating (T, the Tolkien-buff whose mother predicted that the woman he married would have already read, and loved, the Silmarillian before T met her), I hadn't read a word of Tolkien, though I had been taken to see the Lord of the Rings movies with friends. Tolkien was a new world, too--Middle Earth and hobbits and elves and orcs and Ents and all manner of strange and wonderful creatures. T and I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud on our honeymoon. I think Tolkien intended much of his writing to be heard aloud. It was grand. Then... I found MacDonald, the "Grandfather" of the Inklings (the writers group to which both Tolkien and Lewis belonged, as well as fabulous writers like Lewis' brother, Tolkien's son, and Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams). MacDonald's fantasy is truly strange and wonderful, in the best and most bizarre senses of the words. His writing transports the reader so effortlessly into another world that, as it happens, is right outside one's window. I read The Golden Key again today. Of all his works I've read so far, I think this one sums up particularly well MacDonald's writing style, his sense of the truly masculine and feminine, and his clear grasp of reality (and eternity) and how fluidly he transforms it to fantasy outside-of-time. If you have an hour or so to spare today, I recommend reading this story. We are all a Mossy or a Tangle, making our way to the land whence the shadows fall.
"As they walked they waded knee-deep in the lovely lake. For the shadows were not merely lying on the surface of the ground, but heaped up above it like substantial forms of darkness, as if they had been cast upon a thousand different planes of the air... After a while, they reached more open spaces, where the shadows were thinner; and came even to portions over which shadows only flitted, leaving them clear for such as might follow. Now a wonderful form, half bird-like half human, would float across on outspread sailing pinions. Anon an exquisite shadow group of gambolling children would be followed by the loveliest female form, and that again by the grand stride of a Titanic shape, each disappearing in the surrounding press of shadowy foliage. Sometimes a profile of unspeakable beauty or grandeur would appear for a moment and vanish. Sometimes they seemed lovers that passed linked arm in arm, sometimes father and son, sometimes brothers in loving contest, sometimes sisters entwined in gracefullest community of complex form. Sometimes wild horses would tear across, free, or bestrode by noble shadows of ruling men. But some of the things which pleased them most they never knew how to describe."

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