26 May 2017
Library Musings - Always Learning
Give me time in a library and this is what you get. Words spilling out onto my pages. My hand scribbles to write quickly in hopes of keeping up with the thoughts.
I am sitting at the library now, facing the great floor to ceiling windows looking out to Lake Morton. A lovely view. It took me about 3 minutes to find a book to browse before I selected this spot to sit; a very weighty book - The Fellowship: The Literary Life of the Inklings and I am reading the prologue. It is 500+ pages of goodness that I will read one day (this book has been on my wish list for awhile).
The library is quiet, chilled, and an ideal place to read and write. It forces you to, by being what it is. At home, one has many distractions. Here at the library, you have only your own thoughts to contest with. The quiet atmosphere and shelves of books provide ample space to think. Your thoughts can wander the aisles of books, if they need to walk about. The lake view does not distract me, but rather, inspire me when I look up from pages. From this cosy spot I can view peacefulness of the lake and the life it supports without sweating on this very hot day.
Here, I will read and be filled with thoughts. I will pretend I am writing something important. I'll imagine my own Oxford, Florida style. In my own way, I do study as if I were a student, because I am a life-long learner. There is no end in sight. I will learn all I can about the world of English literature, words, history of language, and story. That means reading more, and reading broadly. I desire to dig even deeper into the historic context and the origins of the writers I love. To read the older books is to understand the foundations and the beauty that (pagan or Christian) drew in the imaginations and helped produce the layers of book-work for the centuries of great authors in the wake of them.
I have a purpose in all my research (you may deem it all unnecessary, so I will defend in advance). To be a better reader, writer, thinker, person. To have knowledge of history, culture, traditions. To see as through another's eyes. If we do not study the richness of our past, how can we fully appreciate what we have today and set up a good future? It hasn't always been this way. Where did our thoughts and processes come from? We tread on the ground that has been built upon the bones of our previous thinkers. If they didn't read the old books they wouldn't have fed their imaginations to create in this world (or sub-create as Tolkien said) wonder-filled stories that profoundly shape our lives. A book is a branch that reaches outward in many directions.
C.S. Lewis said that if we read a modern book, we must never allow ourselves to read another new book until we read an old book in between, for he was serious about knowing the true classics, and not solely reading the new because there is something important about works that have passed through many ages.
Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. ("On Reading Old Books", C.S. Lewis)
I thought about this as I finished reading The Poetic Edda, an ancient text from a pre-Christian era. I caught so many glimpses of names, hints of tales, and stories that would influence literature like Tolkien's Middle-earth and C.S. Lewis's stories. These pagan, Norwegian beliefs became entwined in Christianity when it reached outward in St. Paul's day, all the way to our modern day. One cannot fully understand the newer stories of Middle-earth if there is no knowledge of the predecessor stories. This is a fascinating field of study. I love to find these traditions that, as part of life, became part of our Christian liturgy.
In the best stories, the tale points to a purer world and higher being. It incorporates myth and symbol, a presence in telling without telling so directly, enabling us to think and interpret on our own. While the good story keeps us thoroughly engaged, there is even more resting beneath the surface if we ponder and have an open sense of wonder, because as Owen Barfield said- words have a soul.