At least five times during lunch, Francie mentioned that she had a story published. At last mama said, "Yes, yes, I know. I saw it all coming. There'll be more stories printed and you'll get used to it. Now don't let it go to your head. There are dishes to be washed."
This passage from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn came to mind as I contemplated one scholar's opinion of the fantastic world of King Arthur. He noted that in Howard Pyle's Arthur there were no servants, no people to keep things running while the chivalrous knights and fair ladies experienced their adventures. I wish I could quote what he finally said here, but I have misplaced the book. (Erg.) The gist of it was that Pyle was attempting to make a beautiful world (he even went so far as to call it a new Eden) in which things like mucking out stables and washing dishes did not exist. The beautiful and noble took precedence over the commonplace and messy.
Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world like that? But we keep bumping up against laundry and dirty walls and bugs and weeds to pull in the garden.
Triss and I were talking about the clash between prosaic and poetic in everyday life this morning, and so I invited her to post her opinion:
Triss: I think the prosaic world does not intrude on the epic world. If anything, it's the other way around. The prosaic world is much improved if while doing some menial or displeasing task you are able to do it well while your mind is in a 'parallel universe'. For example, even doing dishes is interesting, in my mind, if I change merely the location to somewhere out of *The Treefleet Band* or *Redwall*. Also I can follow Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's advice and change myself to her beautiful princess. The possibilities are endless - even for dishes.
MA: You are thinking in terms of Redwall! My thought is that if life is epic, it is the Epic of God's story.
Triss: Even God's Epic is prosaic to some measure. Part of it *is* everyday life.
MA: I agree. The Epic is prosaic as well as poetic. His Story has everything-- high adventure, romance, sacrifice, nobility. It also has the grinding, everyday life that is our due because of sin. (I am a little embarrassed to write about our life as "grinding," since we live in 21st Century middle class suburbia, quite comfortably, compared to others. But there are those things that repeat, ad infinitum, and, like Mr. Incredible, I would just like the world to stay saved for five minutes! I just cleaned this place! Not that I am a superhero or anything. But it would be nice to maintain an empty sink without washing dishes every few minutes.) The Epic is the story of the Lord making the world, and all the complex tales and adventures involved in His lessons to us and His saving of us-- and, difficult for us to understand, His bright purposes that ripen fast. It is sometimes hard to remember that when dishes are involved. I think the ideal Christian life is one that responsibly deals with the details of the prosaic, while simultaneously maintaining enough faith and imagination to embrace the high poetry of the Lord's love for us; and keeping our eyes on the Resurrection. Like Corrie ten Boom and her sisters as described in The Hiding Place; or Gladys Aylward leading her orphans to safety across the mountains of China; or even Francie and her mother, enduring hardness throughout turn-of-the-century poverty until a salvation of sorts occurs.
Triss: Go to the library, spin around three times and pick up a random book. I can assure you it will have some part of The Epic in it, whether you picked a cliff-hanging mystery or a how-to book on putting a bike together.
MA: That's a hasty generalization! But I do think the mark of a good story is that it reflects some part of the epic. There is a lot of well-meaning, yet mediocre, and even detrimental, writing out there, though, so I don't think you can pick up a book at random and be assured of finding a reflection of the epic.
Triss: I didn't consider that possibility. I agree. That is how you find the kind of books I like - by the book's "reflection of the epic". Shakespeare is like that. *Much Ado About Nothing* is romance and human nature; *Othello* is how jealousy can completely turn someone's mind upside down; *The Comedy of Errors* is how the senses are confused by several people that are exactly alike.
MA: Each story is a portion of the main epic of the ages. Even our lives are that. We are, like the Hobbits, a small part of a large story.
(Bonnet Tip to The Equuschick. I have been catching up on posts I missed for the last week or so-- that's a lot of Common Room posts, ya'll! And I dearly enjoyed all the discussion of words, and 24-hour days, and especially the Equuschick's post on organization and recalcitrant thoughts. Our post was prompted in part by her vivid description of the inner workings of her mind.)