Monday, 27 September 2010

"Tell them stories"

My favourite story-line from Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' triology is leading the ghosts to freedom, found in the third book, 'The Amber Spyglass'. Lyra and Will contrive to enter the land of the dead – complete with Stygian boatman – to find Lyra's friend Roger, and Will's father. There they find the ghosts of the dead being tormented by harpies, who feed off their misery. Lyra realises that the fantasy world she has invented to protect herself enrages the harpies and make them attack her even more. Then she shows the harpies that they can get far richer nourishment feeding off true stories, and that if the ghosts tell the true stories of their lives, they will be led to freedom through the door that Will makes with the Subtle Knife. That freedom is to become one with the universe, to dissolve into all that is life, which they discover is a moment of true bliss. This is what Mary Malone witnesses when she finds the door from the land of the dead as the ghosts stream out in their thousands:

'Tell them stories. That's what we didn't know. All this time, and we never knew! But they need the truth. That's what nourishes them. You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, everything. Just tell them stories.' (The Amber Spyglass, end of ch 32; Folio 2008, p387)

And so it is in our world. We live lives of pretence and fantasy, thinking we are at the pinnacle of our civilisation, when in fact we are sucking dry the life of our planet, and the lives of one another. We are bombarded, harpy-like, by statistics telling us how bad it will be. But this just drives us more and more into fear and denial, as we sit frozen, rabbit-like, in the awful glare of the future bearing down on us.

This is because statistics and facts can only engage our minds, and the only response available from our minds is either fear or denial. We invent ways of avoiding the truth, thinking we are 'doing our bit' by making trivial changes to our lifestyles, such as recycling more or using the car slightly less.

What we need is motives to drive the necessary change in our lives, and these cannot come from the head, only from the heart, the belly and the groin, - our passion, our anger, our creative action. So where are our stories? Stories of hope and perseverance, of resilience and determination, of heroes and demons, of love and compassion.

Click to see how Fra Angelico saw the freeing of the ghosts from the land of the dead (limbo) (c 1450)

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