Before I get into the main post, some quick statistics. I just finished grading the midterm test in my academic writing course. The grade breakdown was as follows: with the bonus points available, the number of students who scored 100% or above was 6. Scoring in the nineties, there were 7. In the eighties, 9. In the seventies, 5. In the sixties, 3. Those numbers made me pretty happy. On the one hand, I’m teaching the material — no one was clueless. No one failed. On the other hand, the test I wrote was a good measuring tool — with no curving or manipulation of numbers, the students differentiated themselves nicely across the spectrum. Not trying to vaunt myself here — soli Deo gloria! — I’m just saying that, when it’s going well, teaching and learning are things of beauty.
Anyway, I was going to do the Part 2 of the World Fantasy Convention, but I came across something far better. (That Part 2 is still coming, never fear.) With the kind permission of the author, here is another guest column. This is by friend-of-the-blog Nicholas Ozment. You’ve met him before in an interview on these pages. Any introduction of Nick is bound to leave something out. He writes pretty much everything, and does it well. His own site is over there in the blog roll, or just in case, it’s Ozmentality: http://ozment.livejournal.com.
Nick’s new humorous fantasy book Knight Terrors: The (Mis)Adventures of Smoke the Dragon was just released this fall from Ancient Tomes Press, an imprint of Cyberwizard Productions. It’s beautifully illustrated by Richard Svensson.
Anyway, here is his essay, our guest column:
The Power of Words
I wish for you to have some first-hand experience of—I wish for you to know—the power of a master storyteller, of a golden-gifted writer.
The future washes over us and washes over us again, becomes the present tide, recedes into the past. In the universities, the English departments shrink, the philosophy departments dwindle down to one or two full-time professors—a token formality, for did they not give birth to the university? The humanities are jostled aside by the colleges of business, computer science, engineering.
Yet before all our sciences, all our technologies, there were words. Without them, nothing we have achieved is possible. And without Story nothing achieved could have been first imagined.
Fewer and fewer people read. They don’t read books or newspapers or magazines. Yet the word is still powerful, far more powerful than most realize. “The pen is mightier than the sword” is as true today as when Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned those words in 1839.
Words are powerful, and stories are the power harnessed and directed. Go ask Homer. Go ask Shakespeare. Go ask Dickens. Sit at their feet and they will still tell you, though they are centuries dead.
When a student reads Cormac McCarthy or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison, he/she may discover what it is like to be in the hands of a master — a storyteller who binds you with words, and your enchanted response is, “Storyteller, take me where you will; show me what you will. I will go.”
Such writers can reach inside us and make us think thoughts we never thought. Combinations and permutations of thought our minds would never have conceived on their own. We may feel great emotion or conflicting emotions. We see pictures in our heads we have never seen. This is still a more potent magic than images projected on a screen. And even before a filmmaker and his crew creates the moving picture, a writer has crafted the words that made them see it, to interpret and show to us.
When technologies fail and civilizations fall, words remain. They are often the one legacy to survive when all else has crumbled. And the stories. Which never grow old, as long as there are humans to hear them. And perhaps, when humankind has passed from the face of the Earth, they will still be stored in the mind and echo in the ears and flow from the breath of God.