CULTURE: by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
'Tis the season to give the imagination free play
, December 7, 2013
“Were they not happier men than you?... Did they not in fact sing more songs, and dance more dances, and drink wine with more real merriment? That was because they believed in evil... and saw life as the battlefield it is. But you are unhappy because you disbelieve in evil, and think it philosophical to see everything in the same light of grey.”
– from G.K. Chesterton’s The Poet and the Lunatics (1929).
The Enemy has made the world forget it exists, instead claiming it is the world. Many of those who have stood against it have succumbed, tricked by its lies.
The intellectuals with their arguments, the artists with their vanities, the good men giving up their disposition to do “good”, the masses with their daily struggles — all have been tricked into thinking the battle pointless, and so they have surrendered, and have forgotten that there was a battle at all.
But without goodness and truth and beauty, there is nothing that exists — nothing at all.
The Enemy is a parasite; standing for nothing, living for nothing. Its existence is joyless, its mirth a hollow stage laughter, covering its cries of anguish. The Enemy’s victory is also its defeat.
People are good. But they let themselves fall into the trap the Other Side has set. They let themselves believe that they are not good, that forgiveness and justice and redemption are impossible fantasies. They let themselves believe that goodness is itself a fantasy, so that they might cope. And so they fall and they keep falling.
But everything they do, and everything they strive for, has within it the sparks and glimmers that there is more.
Every movie, every story — even those that wallow in despair and depravity — say again and again that we desire love and meaning.
All drama shows the battle of Good and Evil; all art the power of beauty, if only by its absence.
We may be getting only one side of the story; but we shouldn’t be mistaken into believing that it is the only side. It as if the orcs narrated the epic of Middle-Earth; that instead of J.R.R. Tolkien writing from the perspective of the valiant, he wrote from that of the triumphalist foe.
We approach a time of rest and recreation, when families must work out how to manage their children and all the relatives and their feasting and their time together. I had thought of suggesting films and television series with which all could relax; but then I thought: why not suggest something more?
Why not encourage the children to play? Why not have them play at grand adventures and grand quests, of defeating dragons and rescuing the princess? Let them use their imaginations, and assist them to do so.
And for us, for whom wearing a sheet and brandishing a stick to go after a monster might seem a little much — why don’t we join them?
I’m not saying we should dispense with all our responsibilities and escape the world. I’m saying let’s remember all the dimensions of the world and focus on those that bring joy, for there we can find certainty and peace.
If we feel ourselves not up to running around, we can always read. We can read to each other, and read to our children, binding us all with the great good spell of our imaginations.
As the late Colombian writer and philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila (aka Don Colacho) declared: “The collision with an intelligent book makes us see a thousand stars.”
We were made to imagine. We were made as sub-creators, the only beings that can refashion the things that have been made into new and original things. We are the creatures that spin yarns.
We can cook. We can paint. We can make castles from cardboard and the robes of kings and queens and warriors from sheets and our imaginings.
Let us imagine how wonderful the world is, and in this way we will see it as wonderful. And we will see that the Enemy, for all its sway, is little more than a ghost haunting us, and trying to keep us from the truth.
The truth is that the horrors have been vanquished, vanquished by the smile of a child, and that the sacrifices of love have set us free.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).
Dis-graced yet not dethroned
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
– from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mythopoeia (1931).