Fairy Land

On hearing about the impact Phantastes had on CS Lewis, I knew I would have to read it someday. My husband had tried to read it to me, but the “fantastical” side of the myth had me struggling to stay focused (I am one of those who was not raised on fairy tales, and had a practical inclination to the thought that fairy tales had no value or use, especially to a grown up.) But GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and other authors began to slowly introduce new and niggling ideas into my mind… Especially dear practical, logical and commonsensical GK Chesterton:

“Of all forms of literature, it seems to me, fairy tales give the truest picture of life… We learn first and foremost that all doors fly open to courage and hope. We learned that the world is bound together in mysterious bonds of trust and compact and precision, and that even Dragon’s keep their promises.”

A second time, I tried listening to Phantastes, and again the “magic” of the fairies, “magical trees” & the cottage on the edge of Fairy Land continued to elude me. Finally, having passed my 40th birthday and earned my first silver hair, I decided to try again… Surely I was now old enough to read fairy tales? I will not say I was magically enchanted, or that my soul danced along to the tune of Phantastes’ Fairy Land. But I did find I could stay, listen a while longer, and wait for the story unravel and the arrival of the “good stuff” I had been promised. Little by little I began to “see the light” in small glimpses, but then more and more bits, scattered and glowing softly here and there. And soon enough I “got it.” I would not be lying if I said that then my soul did dance, just a little… (and perhaps that last would be the lie).  I was so thankful I had waited the story out to the end.  Speaking of, I will get to the end of the story (*spoiler alert*), so if you have not yet, I hope you will give yourself the gift of reading Phantastes. Or listen to Phantastes (download the Audiobooks app by Librivox).

Here are some of the pieces that I found beautiful (that are not too long to share), and made me think; not on Fairy Land, but on real life.

“The Soul never speaks until it speaks in poetry… In our daily conversation we do not speak; we only talk.” GK Chesterton

***

Ere long, I learned that it was not myself, but only my shadow, that I had lost. I learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence. I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood. In nothing was my ideal lowered, or dimmed, or grown less precious; I only saw it too plainly, to set myself for a moment beside it. Indeed, my ideal soon became my life; whereas, formerly, my life had consisted in a vain attempt to behold, if not my ideal in myself, at least myself in my ideal. Now, however, I took, at first, what perhaps was a mistaken pleasure, in despising and degrading myself. Another self seemed to arise, like a white spirit from a dead man, from the dumb and trampled self of the past. Doubtless, this self must again die and be buried, and again, from its tomb, spring a winged child; but of this my history as yet bears not the record.

Self will come to life even in the slaying of self; but there is ever something deeper and stronger than it, which will emerge at last from the unknown abysses of the soul: will it be as a solemn gloom, burning with eyes? or a clear morning after the rain? or a smiling child, that finds itself nowhere, and everywhere?

***

It was evening. The sun was below the horizon; but his rosy beams yet illuminated a feathery cloud, that floated high above the world. I arose, I reached the cloud; and, throwing myself upon it, floated with it in sight of the sinking sun. He sank, and the cloud grew gray; but the grayness touched not my heart. It carried its rose-hue within; for now I could love without needing to be loved again. The moon came gliding up with all the past in her wan face. She changed my couch into a ghostly pallor, and threw all the earth below as to the bottom of a pale sea of dreams. But she could not make me sad. I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved, even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This is possible in the realms of lofty Death. “Ah! my friends,” thought I, “how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you with my love.”

“O pale-faced women, and gloomy-browed men, and forgotten children, how I will wait on you, and minister to you, and, putting my arms about you in the dark, think hope into your hearts, when you fancy no one is near! Soon as my senses have all come back, and have grown accustomed to this new blessed life, I will be among you with the love that healeth.”

***

I hoped, by the adventures that had befallen me in Fairy Land. Could I translate the experience of my travels there, into common life? This was the question. Or must I live it all over again, and learn it all over again, in the other forms that belong to the world of men, whose experience yet runs parallel to that of Fairy Land? These questions I cannot answer yet. But I fear.

Even yet, I find myself looking round sometimes with anxiety, to see whether my shadow falls right away from the sun or no. I have never yet discovered any inclination to either side. And if I am not unfrequently sad, I yet cast no more of a shade on the earth, than most men who have lived in it as long as I. I have a strange feeling sometimes, that I am a ghost, sent into the world to minister to my fellow men, or, rather, to repair the wrongs I have already done.

May the world be brighter for me, at least in those portions of it, where my darkness falls not.

Thus I, who set out to find my Ideal, came back rejoicing that I had lost my Shadow.

When the thought of the blessedness I experienced, after my death in Fairy Land, is too high for me to lay hold upon it and hope in it, I often think of the wise woman in the cottage, and of her solemn assurance that she knew something too good to be told. When I am oppressed by any sorrow or real perplexity, I often feel as if I had only left her cottage for a time, and would soon return out of the vision, into it again. Sometimes, on such occasions, I find myself, unconsciously almost, looking about for the mystic mark of red, with the vague hope of entering her door, and being comforted by her wise tenderness. I then console myself by saying: “I have come through the door of Dismay; and the way back from the world into which that has led me, is through my tomb. Upon that the red sign lies, and I shall find it one day, and be glad.”

I will end my story with the relation of an incident which befell me a few days ago. I had been with my reapers, and, when they ceased their work at noon, I had lain down under the shadow of a great, ancient beech-tree, that stood on the edge of the field. As I lay, with my eyes closed, I began to listen to the sound of the leaves overhead. At first, they made sweet inarticulate music alone; but, by-and-by, the sound seemed to begin to take shape, and to be gradually moulding itself into words; till, at last, I seemed able to distinguish these, half-dissolved in a little ocean of circumfluent tones: “A great good is coming—is coming—is coming to thee, Anodos;” and so over and over again. I fancied that the sound reminded me of the voice of the ancient woman, in the cottage that was four-square. I opened my eyes, and, for a moment, almost believed that I saw her face, with its many wrinkles and its young eyes, looking at me from between two hoary branches of the beech overhead. But when I looked more keenly, I saw only twigs and leaves, and the infinite sky, in tiny spots, gazing through between. Yet I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.

– And so, FAREWELL.

(George MacDonald, Phantastes)

 

~ Watergirl

Advertisements

The Souls That Penned

The wheels keep on turning

In the heart and in the mind,

With thoughts ever churning

Of every shape and kind.

 

So many great conversations

On which to ponder and think,

From all the past generations

That came and went in a blink.

 

And yet in books both word and thought

Remain of those who lived and died,

And fools we’d be to think them naught

For new-bred thoughts of men untried.

 

How easy men tradition break

And some brand-new idea hail,

But oh, the terrors in its wake

The untried thought doth trail!

 

So I will get me to great books

And read of men gone past the stories,

That I might find the humble nooks

Avert some dangers, find men’s glories.

 

Alone we are, yet not alone,

For tales passed down of yonder star,

Still cheer, fill heart and home

With hope no shadow oe’r men can bar.

 

And by the light passed down by these

May I soon rise, and follow suit

Not “held back,” nor bound to please

But now for my charge strap my boot.

 

And yet the comfort it does lend

To know that men have gone before,

Who ran their race to the very end

Some well; some less, some more.

 

All that a man can do is “well,”

(His not to know of time nor tide),

Yet every man when rings that bell

Is called to stand, and thus be tried.

 

Yet it may be that burdens borne

Are made the lighter by friends of old

Who through the page of some lost tome

Reached out kindly, and through its fold

 

Illumine softly the trail of men

Who patiently down this road do wend

For they themselves had in their ken

A light passed on by souls that penned.

 

~Watergirl

On First Things, and Desires of the Heart

Re-reading Letters to Malcolm and finding so many beautiful gems I missed on first reading – I must record them lest I forget. Strike that – so that when I forget, I can be reminded…

 

Your other question is one which, I think, really gets in pious people’s way. It was you, remember, “How important must a need or desire be before we can properly make it the subject of a petition?” Properly, I take it, here means either “without irreverence” or “without silliness,” or both.

When I’d thought about it for a bit, it seemed to me that there are really two questions involved.

  1. How important must an object be before we can, without sin and folly, allow our desire for it to be come a matter of serious concern to us? This, you see, is a question about what old writers call our “frame”; that is, our “frame of mind.”
  1. Granted the existence of such a serious concern in our minds, can it always be properly laid before God in prayer?

We  all know the answer to the first of these in theory. We must aim at what St. Augustine (is it?) calls “ordinate loves.” Our deepest concern should be for first things, and our next deepest for second things, and so on down to zero – to total absence of concern for things that are not really good, nor means to good, at all.

Meantime, however, we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect, but how we should pray being as we now are. And if my idea of prayer as “unveiling” is accepted, we have already answered this. It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire for B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.

Even an intimate human friend is ill-used if we talk to him about one thing while our mind is really on another, and even a human friend will soon become aware when we are doing so…  It may well be that the desire can be laid before God only as a sin to be repented; but one of the best ways of learning this is to lay it before God. Your problem, however was not about sinful desires in that sense; rather, about desires, intrinsically innocent and sinning, if at all, only by being stronger than the triviality of their object warrants. I have no doubt at all that if they are the subject of our prayers–whether in penitence or in petition or in a little of both: penitence for the excess, yet petition for the thing we desire.

If one forcibly excludes them, don’t they wreck all the rest of our prayers? If we lay all the cards on the table, God will help us moderate the excesses. But the pressure of things we are trying to keep out of our mind is a hopeless distraction. As someone said, ‘No noise is so emphatic as one you are trying not to listen to.’ The ordinate frame of mind is one of the blessings we must pray for, not a fancy-dress we must put on when we pray.

And perhaps, as those who do not turn to God in petty trials will have no habit or such resort to help them when the great trials come, so those who have not learned to ask Him for childish things will have less readiness to ask Him for the great ones. We must not be too high-minded. I fancy we may sometimes be deterred from small prayers by a sense of our own dignity rather than of God’s.

CS Lewis – Letters to Malcolm

 

For me there is nothing more that needs to be said, let alone by myself; following the mind of CS Lewis is a joy in itself and I love observing how he works things out. That to me is a beautiful mind. 🙂 But to  answer the commonly put question “But what did it mean to you?”, I liked this piece because I have apparently inherited some stoical tendencies somewhere along the way, and I often think “I shouldn’t ask for that – that would just be silly.” And I liked the humble and human approach in which Lewis takes into account our humanity, and also does not encourage stoicism or the denial of our nature or desires. He grants that there is that ideal which we ought to strive for, and then an honest accounting with one’s self of “where I am today.” Both goodness and truth are to be served; there is no need to deny or “hide” from the one in order to achieve the other (for He of course can see our hearts and remembers with what “frame” He Himself made us ). The guideline I deduce is simple: do what you know is right, from where you are today. And do pray – do! Reckon with your heart and remember where your priorities ought to lie, but don’t try to deceive yourself. I also loved the advice to not to take ourselves so seriously… Our Father knows our heart and He is not so small that He cannot countenance our petty or deep desires, even if they show colors of of frailty or weakness; it is good for everything great or small to be brought before Him, as from a child to a loving Father. And patiently, tenderly and lovingly – to the deepest meaning of that concept and as we allow Him room (more on that from George MacDonald)- He will begin to use every thing brought before Him to help us learn and grow.

– Watergirl