Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Challenge - the books we keep close

What books do you keep close to your writing? If you're like me you might have Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Stephen King's On Writing and about a dozen more writing books. You probably have a good dictionary, Fowler's Modern English Usage and Strunk & White's Elements of Style.  Perhaps you have a thesaurus and maybe even a rhyming dictionary. But I bet you have some other books too. Magical books that you keep on hand just for the vibe they radiate. Here are mine - A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot, Brewar's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Barbara Walker's The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects, Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces, and the I Ching.
Tomorrow I turn 60 and some of these books will be opened and perused - the I Ching, The Hero with a Thousand Faces undoubtedly and perhaps all of them, as I look for portents and signs as how to go forth with this next decade.
The challenge for today is to take one of your magical books and open it up. Shake the dust off it and peer into it for guidance. I once shared a home with a law student. My other room-mate and I often found him lying in bed, asleep, with a heavy tome laying against his face. He said the knowledge would seep down into his brain and perhaps it did as he did become a lawyer. I believe that occasionally, despite his example, we must look into the books that we hold dear. Why do I keep these near - it can't be just the magic of them?

I opened The Hero with A Thousand Faces this morning. It fell open to the chapter entitled 'The Return'. If you know his work on the hero's journey (and what Star Wars' fan doesn't?) you will recognize The Return as an essential part of the journey.After you have accomplished the quest you must still return with the goods. Often the hero refuses this part of the journey - at least initially. Included among these are the Buddha who was tempted to not communicate his awakening, and several saints of the Christian sort, who died in ecstasy. Do I get this? It means that when you finally get to your bliss state you hang out there, chatting with the angels and drinking mead or mimosas or whatever the nectar of the gods is. Returning is the act of bringing your hard won booty to the world. It isn't enough to hide out in your garret, thrilled to bits with your wonderful prose. You MUST bring it to the world or it is all for naught and you've only fed your ego.
The return is almost as fraught as the initial going forth. Think of Orpheus and Eurydice. Who could imagine that you could rescue your love from the netherworld? But he almost did - at the end his backward glance, his human frailty giving a sad ending to a glorious story.
Today I will think of The Return and what it means in the context of my novel. I will consider where my protagonist has refused The Return and when she gets it, making sure that I have both of these clearly explicated. How about you? What magical book are you going to open today? What will you take from it?

6 comments:

Bob Stark said...

"The Soul's Code" by James Hillman. I will take from it that I should probably get some of the books you mention, especially "The Hero with A Thousand Faces".
The other old crow.

DeniseCovey_L'Aussie said...

Hi Jan. I have to study The Hero with a Thousand Faces every year with my Year 9 students when they do a fantasy unit. I hadn't come across it before then. Now I see where the fantasy authors get their ideas, JK Rowling and Star Wars.

I love to see Bird by Bird mentioned too.

Have a happy Christmas!

Denise

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - I've never thought about what the books we hold close say about us. What an amazing insight. I have to think about that, I admit, but it's so interesting. And definitely a good challenge...

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Happy Birthday, Jan! I have many writing books I absolutely love and I regulalry take them out and re-read them - especially when my own work seems to be stagnating or I need a little extra inspiration and/or motivation. Does the trick every time!

Words A Day said...

I must get that book, (hero...) I never thought of the return in that way...thankyou.

Writing The Bones, Stephen Kings On Writing, Rogets Thesarus and Grimms Fairytales are my touchstones. A great challange:) I think I'll open my fairytales and see what comes up, hope its not bluebeard:)

May you have a wonderful birthday:)

Susan Lee said...

Hope you will share what the I Ching tells you!