“In [man’s] mouth is ever the bitter-sweet taste of life and death. . . . Without respite he is dragged by the two wild horses, memory and hope; and he is tormented by a secret that he can never tell.” — Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist
Memory and hope, two wild horses, dragging us without respite. . . . The taste of life and death always in our mouths, bitter and sweet. . . . The reason Lud-in-the-Mist belongs on our small shelves of the ten or so greatest works of fantasy is because Ms. Mirrlees understood: she truly got what it is that makes us human. Her book is full of that agonizing, ecstatic interrelationship of time, nature, and us feeling mortals.
Memory: from our earliest years, are we not filled with nostalgia for the past? Are we not haunted by things which were but no longer are? As we age, memories pile upon memories, the falling of golden leaves. These shape our identities; they are treasures which give us pain and strength. Perhaps there is no strength without pain, in the same way that our growing bones hurt before they lengthen. And when we try to envision Heaven, do we not search among the troves of our memories, seeking out those moments which, in the gentle rounding of time, seem to have been far better than the ordinary days in which we now find ourselves?
Hope: from our earliest years, do we not choose to live, when we close our eyes or gaze into the distance, in the realm of what we fancy will be? Hope colors all that we do, for we look to the light of possibility that shines just ahead of us, glowing in the open door. In a little while — so we tell ourselves — when the seasons change, when we reach the clearing or the landing, all will be better, and there will be again something like the joy of the golden moments that are gone.
I can’t help thinking of the last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
So we are odd creatures, trapped in our freedom, hurt by our joys and rejoicing in our hurts. “For the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad: for all their wars are merry, and all their songs sad.” We ride our carriages pulled by Untowards; we are made full only by what lies behind and by that unknown country ahead.
Updates on The Star Shard: my agent is enthusiastic about the revisions, and he is sending it on to the book editor who has expressed a strong interest. That editor, if he is equally excited about the rewritten draft, then will have to convince his fellow decision-makers of the book’s potential. So — there are hurdles yet ahead, but right now, things are going well! Many prayers. . . .
Finally, I referred several postings ago to a contest held by Cricket in which they encouraged their readers to try writing poems/songs the Urrmsh might sing. [The Urrmsh are a race of beings in my story “The Star Shard” which is being serialized in Cricket Magazine right now.] The winners of that contest have been chosen, and the editors have graciously allowed me to read them. The work is absolutely amazing, and again, I can’t describe the feeling of having young people all across the nation writing poetry based on these characters in this story. They turn their poetic spotlights not only onto what is made clear in the story, but also into the dark corners; they delve into the parts of the greater tale that lie beyond the borders of the pages. One, for instance, explores the journey of the Urrmsh toward their present state; one focuses on the romance between Cymbril’s parents. I see Cricket‘s wisdom in launching the contest precisely when they did, when just enough has been revealed to give the poets maximum grist.
A fascinating thing I’ve noticed about the poems is that the poets seem most drawn to the conflict Cymbril feels — should she go or should she stay? How can she move forward? How can she say goodbye to the Rake and her friends there? What lies ahead?
And does that sound familiar? Does it sound like the opening number of this post? Cymbril, too, is “dragged by the two wild horses, memory and hope.”
I believe all the winning poems will be published in an issue of Cricket coming up soon — start watching with the April 2009 issue, in which “The Star Shard” will come to its end. They really are beautiful, outstanding pieces.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us: but unto Thy name be glory given.”